Thursday, December 12, 2013

SyFy vs The Mynd: Scarecrow (2013)

Detention - it's more dangerous than you think, at least if it's the very special kind of detention teacher Aaron (Robin Dunne) offers his misguided students (among them Chupacabra vs the Alamo's Nicole Munoz). It's off to the supposedly haunted farm just in the process of being sold off by Aaron's ex-girlfriend Kristen (Lacey Chabert) for them to do some good for their community.

Unfortunately, the haunting's not just a supposed one, and soon, Aaron, Kristen, Kristen's other ex-boyfriend and the kids find themselves hunted by a black husk of a thing that really, really likes to kill people in messy ways. There's also a bit of time for awkward moments of teenage romance, and even more awkward moments of grown-up romance for all and sundry but mostly, it's time to run, scream, and die, and for some people to show their most unpleasant sides in the face of death.

Sheldon Wilson is one of those curious directors who are actually doing much better work when working for SyFy than when on their own. Scarecrow isn't quite as great as Wilson's magnum opus Carny but it's such a fine, well-paced piece of low budget horror it's difficult to feel too disappointed.

It's all very traditional in form and set-up, of course, but Wilson has the required pacing for this sort of thing down pat, with little time wasted on filler. Instead, there's a lot of fun monster action, a smidgen of gore, and characterization that is just the decisive bit more interesting than in other movies of this type. Why, before the first hour is over, you can't even play "who dies next" bingo properly because Wilson doesn't follow the very specific order of deaths as closely as you'd expect - Chabert's the obvious final girl of the piece, though. This doesn't sound like a big thing, but really, shaking up traditional genre structures in little ways is a good method to make the well-known interesting again.

It does of course help Scarecrow's case too that the acting's mostly decent and that the design of the not-exactly scarecrow monster is pretty creepy, its abilities not without their surprises. There's also rather well-done feeling of escalation to the plot, and some rather clever use of the characters moving from unsafe looking claustrophobic places to supposedly safer open ones, and back again. Again, it's these little structural changes (generally, horror movie characters move into increasingly claustrophobic places) that help make Scarecrow work as well as it does.

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