Sunday, June 23, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Ogre (2008)

Some time in the first half of the 19th Century (or the late 18th, as the film's not forthcoming or, one suspects, doesn't actually know the difference), a small town in some American woods that look disturbingly like British Columbia is beset by a terrible plague. The townsfolk are so desperate, they agree to a dark plan of their local magus (I'll have you know in the olden times every village had its own magus but curiously, no priest) Bartlett Henry (John Schneider) to keep away the plague. After having been made magistrate, Bartlett casts out all of the town's illness, which then concentrates itself into a horrible monster, an ogre.

The ogre is a ravaging beast by nature and has to be kept away from the town by the yearly sacrifice of one of the townsfolk's own. On the plus side, those people who aren't sacrificed will never get ill, don't age, and don't have to think about contraception anymore either - it's all part of the spell. The townsfolk also aren't able to cross the town limits and live anymore, but everything has his drawbacks.

In the now of 2008, a quartet of hikers (among them Ryan Kennedy and Katharine Isabelle in a performance so dreadful and annoying I really didn't think she had in her) in search of the rumoured and lost town stumble upon the charming little place that hasn't changed at all in the last centuries (except for the sacrifice-shrunk population, of course). Their arrival signals the beginning of a change. Those among the townsfolk who disapprove of the whole immortality and sacrifice culture - among them Henry's own daughter Hope (Chelan Simmons) - finally decide to stop whining and do something about their situation. Clearly, that's not a thing ogre and magi approve of.

As is obvious, Steven R. Monroe's Ogre belongs to the group of SyFy Channel productions that attempt to change up the whole monster mash formula by adding monsters to some ideas borrowed from other movies (in this case, The Village without the crap twist-ending nonsense of our buddy M. Night), closing their eyes and hoping for the best.

That technique works well enough in this particular case. While the matter-of-fact presence of a magus in a rather normal village and some of the plot's other basics are of course quite silly, the movie really isn't a bad example of that well-worn narrative in which an isolated group of people first makes one horrible decision and afterwards can't face up to what they've down well enough to change their situation until some strangers demonstrate courage in the face of adversity to them. It's nothing new, but the minimalist set-up works quite well for that very traditional story as seen in many a Western (just without the ogre). I think the film goes for the archetypal here, even though I know well enough that the plot's simplicity is a result of Ogre's low budget.

Monroe's direction is often atmospheric, particularly if you've grown up with American TV shows filmed in British Columbia, and can't get enough of that wet autumn look. There are, alas, some very obvious continuity gaffes and - particularly during the first act - some rough editing that don't fit into the picture of Monroe's general technical competence and Tom Harting's fine cinematography at all. Ogre's other problems are often weak dialogue - particularly in the villagers' unconvincing olden time speak the modern characters ill-advisedly even make fun of, and in every fucking word Isabelle says - and one of SyFy's shittier CGI monsters. On paper, it's a funny enough idea to use an ogre designed to look like an evil, brown Shrek, but in practice, the thing looks particularly unthreatening even as part of a series of TV movies that often seems to go out of their way to not let their monsters look threatening at all.

Yet still, despite the clear and obvious problems, Ogre is a worthwhile little movie, making up for everything that's wrong with it with Monroe's ability to tell a simple, decidedly not stupid, story in the simple, decidedly not stupid way that befits it.

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