Sunday, June 19, 2016

In short: Venom (2005)

The young population of the appropriately named Louisiana swamp town of Backwater is under attack, for an accident involving a suitcase full of magical snakes has left the corpse of town outcast and gas station owner Ray (Rick Cramer) possessed by all the evil the local voodoo priestess milked out of people (don’t ask). That’s obviously a whole lot of evil, and so Zombie Ray first kills the coroner, then Method Man, and then starts on the town’s young.

Will obvious final girl Eden (Agnes Bruckner) manage to save some of her friends from certain doom? And how will she get rid of a tow truck driving zombie?

Despite appearances, Jim Gillespie’s throwback to the supernatural slasher stylings of the 80s is a rather fun little flick. As it goes with its particular subgenre, it’s not a terrible clever film, but at least it is not the kind of film where the bad guy is dispatched by a kung fu kicking Bustah Rhymes. Instead the film takes its own silliness seriously and expects the audience to roll with it.

That’s not particularly difficult, for there’s quite a bit to recommend here. For one, the film puts in a decent effort to portray its Louisiana dead end town as a place, if the kind of place where only our young murder victims, Ray, a sheriff and deputy, a coroner and a mother seem to live. It’s not exactly a naturalistic approach, but the film does have quite a few atmospheric shots of swamps and the always empty (apart from the diner) town, driving home that this isn’t a generic backwater, but indeed much more specific Backwater.

It also puts a bit of effort into giving its meat broad stroke character traits and conflicts slightly above and beyond the question of who sleeps with whom. It’s not deep, but it’s deep enough to make most of the characters feel a bit less disposable, even though I have a hard time imagining anyone being crushed by anyone’s death.
These deaths aren’t half bad either, realized with decent practical effects and a good eye for the slightly gruesome (it’s mainstream horror and not a gore movie after all) and embedded in just as decent slash and stalk scenes.

The longer Venom goes on, the larger its sillier vein becomes, and once we enter the final third, bets are off enough that a completely straight-faced scene where the more survivable of our protagonists use the dead body of one of their friends as an oversized voodoo doll with an assorted discussion about the morality of such a thing is just par for the course. I’m not complaining, mind you, because I do prefer imaginative nonsense played straight to the alternatives of unimaginative nonsense or awkward irony, or worse, a combination of both.

So, while Venom certainly isn’t an overlooked classic, it is a good-sized chunk of effective, slightly crazy fun, just the thing to watch when you’re not up for something more involving.

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