Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Reeds (2009)

A group of six friends makes a weekend trip into the Fens of eastern England (Norfolk, in this case). There's not much necessity to go deeply into their relations, suffice it to say that they are two couples, designated horror film heroine Laura (Anna Brewster) and a guy called Nick (O.T. Fagbenle) who is thought of as the match-making attempt of the day.

The little trip does not start out too promising. The owner of the boat rental service where the group had reserved a boat tells them they can't have it because it is damaged. He can only offer them a boat situated in another part of the area, far away from the more touristy place they were planning on staying at. Of course, a vacation that's not going as planned is still better than no vacation at all, so the friends take the boat rental guy up on his offer.

When the friends arrive at the boat, they have a disquieting meeting with a group of silent, strangely intense teenagers who aren't exactly doing anything outwardly threatening, yet still put a damper on the good mood. Nonetheless, the meeting is soon forgotten.

Once on the boat, it doesn't take too long until the tourists are getting lost in the labyrinthine complex of water and reeds, so that they are still trying to find an exit when night breaks. At the same moment when Nick seems to see a copy of himself lurking outside in the reeds, the boat runs onto a metal contraption in the water. One of the thing's - that will later turn out to be a cage full of human skeletons - beams rams right through the boat's bottom, and one of the party manages to get skewered on it.

This is just the first catastrophe that will befall the friends in a night of very bad luck. They will be plagued by visions, decidedly more disturbing encounters with the teenage tribe, Murphy's Law and a man in a dark rain coat with murderous intentions.

At first, I suspected The Reeds to be an utterly conventional piece of backwoods horror, just set in the UK for a change. In part, I was right. About half of it follows the conventions of survivalist horror closely. The other half belongs to a (also quite conventional) ghost story, but the film manages to fuse both genres a bit, which hasn't been done as often as each of the genres alone.

It really is a bit surprising that survival horror and ghosts aren't coming together more often. After all, where the country populace murders as regularly as is the custom in these films, there must be an overabundance of souls seeking vengeance.

Director Nick Cohen handles the survivalist part of the film extremely well, with just the right amount of ruthlessness, and a quench of terrible absurdity in the way the catastrophes the characters have to suffer escalate. Cohen paces his shocks very well. At first, everything is slow and harmless, but once the bad stuff is beginning to happen, chaos strikes faster and faster.

Cohen's handling of the supernatural is not as sure-handed as his handling of the non-supernatural horrors. There are some very creepy moments in the movie's first hour or so, mostly based on things the audience just barely glimpses through the reeds and the lost beauty of the natural landscape, and the things the audience imagines them to mean.

Alas, the more Cohen shows of the ghosts and their actions, the less impressive they become. Little flaws in the ghost make-up and some peculiar sound design decisions begin to hamper the believability of the supernatural until the ghosts stop to be frightening. Fortunately, this happened about 70 minutes into the movie, a point where I had become invested enough into the proceedings to just go with it. Go with it, that is, until the never welcome plot twists started to happen and the film gambled away most of the atmosphere and much of the goodwill it had won with me until that point.

The first of The Reed's plot twists is merely annoying because it tries to lead the film to an ending that is much too pat to work, but the second one tries its best to ruin what came before completely and quite brilliantly manages to a) have nothing to do with what the film showed us to happen and b) make no fucking sense at all. I really wish horror directors would stop doing those nonsensical shock endings. There's no good reason for them besides convention, and being as conventional as possible seems like a strange goal for a genre supposedly interested in transgression.

Fortunately, there are still the Fens. The landscape truly is The Reed's main attraction as well as the most effective actor on screen, giving the film a creepy mood even when nothing untoward is actually happening on screen.

This doesn't mean the human actors aren't doing their jobs alright - they're not exactly overwhelmingly good, but believable enough in their projection of normality.

Cohen must certainly thank the film's photographer Dennis Madden for his very impressive work in making the reeds come to life as they do and for his very effective use of the location's muted colours as sign posts for danger and decay.

The fact that the type of landscape the film takes place in isn't as overplayed in horror films as the good old woods is certainly improving The Reeds' overall effectiveness too.

It's just too bad about the film's final ten minutes.


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