Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Aberration (1997)

It’s said that gentlemen prefer blondes.  If this is a truism, I wonder what it says about folks like me who prefer brunettes.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Scorpio, or maybe it’s some bizarre psychosexual thing none of us should probably delve too deeply into, but the darker the hair, the more I like it.  What’s even more bizarre, I like women with odd-colored hair, to boot.  Blue, green, or fire truck red, girls with “bubblegum” hair coloring interest me immensely.  Oh, sure, blondes like Marilyn Monroe are truly creatures of beauty, and to be fair, there are quite a number of blondes who I find deeply attractive, but let’s not forget, before she was Marilyn, Norma Jean Baker was a brunette.  This brings up one of the things that I feel limns the difference between the flaxen and the dusky.  A great many blondes aren’t blondes at all.  In the spirit of honesty, there are a number of blondes who turn toward the dark side as well, but usually (or at least more noticeably) the trend is to go from dark to light, not the other way around.  What’s incredible to me is that a great many of the bottled blondes I’ve seen are actually more attractive as they were (not all, certainly, but a lot).  Yet, society holds the golden-haired up on a pedestal while pushing the darker-haired into the shadows.  But maybe that’s where they should be.  Maybe if they were more popular, they wouldn’t hold the same allure for me.  It’s like the Eddie Murphy routine about how if you just have the same old crackers every day, you don’t appreciate it, but if you’re starving, one cracker is the greatest thing in the world (he tells it funnier than we’re going for here, and his routine’s not actually about crackers, but work with me on this).  I will say this, though, Pamela Gidley, the star of Tim Boxell’s Aberration, has been on both sides of this follicular coin, and I have to say, she is utterly stunning in either mode.

Amy (Gidley) and her cat Frankie drive into the remote mountain village of Langdon (somewhere in the USA, I assume) in the dead of winter.  Returning to her family’s old, dilapidated cabin, she stashes a money belt under the loose floor boards.  Meanwhile, lethal, leapin’ lizards roam around, picking off what animals and people they can and tormenting Amy with their shenanigans.  When her car fails, though, she manages to bum a ride back to her cabin from local biologist (and all-around pantywaist) Marshall (Simon Bossell) on the promise of letting him look at some grotesque egg sacs lying all over her place (talk about a come-on).  Needless to say, the lizards are more than they appear (well, yes and no), but they may not be the only threat once a blizzard sets in, stranding Amy and Marshall with no option but to fight for their lives.

Weather is one of those devices which seem tailor made for films.  The dead heat of summer can reflect the sweat-drenched strain of heightened sexuality as well as a strong nostalgia for childhood (which many people consider the summer of their lives).  A thunderstorm can denote a maelstrom of emotion as well as the impending inevitability and chaos of a final confrontation.  Weather is one of the things I appreciate when it’s used meaningfully in a movie, even when it’s somewhat cliché.  A storm is always a-brewin’ in films (especially Action and Horror) and particularly as they enter their third act.  But what’s interesting to me in this film is the idea of the “mean season.”  It’s not just winter, it’s a brutal winter.  You don’t just snuggle up in your comforter and nap your way to spring.  No, everyday is a struggle for survival.  Food is scarce, and every step you take out of doors could easily be your last.  Snow blindness is omnipresent, making everywhere menacing, since (like the dark or the ocean depths or a thick fog) you can never be totally sure what’s out there only inches away until it’s upon you, and you’re already dead. Sure, the bears are hibernating for the winter, but that’s because they’re smarter than the humans who try to last out the term.

And here’s where I need to bring up one of the larger aggravations in Aberration.  At no time is there any sense of urgency nor is there any indication that the characters feel they are in danger of any kind.  Amy and Marshall wreck a car on a snow-covered road, but they behave as if they stubbed their toes.  Surrounded by mutated lizards who can scurry inside the walls and attack at any moment, our heroes act like they’re just some mice that need exterminating, not a menace that could cost them their lives at any moment.  Every plot point reeks of nugacity, and I can only assume that everyone in front of and behind the camera were only concerned with enjoying a relaxing vacation in New Zealand (where the film was shot, from what I gather) rather than portraying any sense that they take any of this seriously or selling said feeling(s) to the audience.

Like the creatures in the Alien series, the lizards in this film hatch from disgusting-looking eggs and have a knack for evolution.  However, unlike the Alien, these miniature Gila monsters, don’t actually go through stages, and their adaptations are so rapid and unsignaled, they play like the facile plot conveniences they are just to keep the plot (such as it is) alive (though not necessarily moving).  Matters are entirely unaided by the special creature effects, which appear to me as if a bunch of lizard toys were bought at the local McRory’s (or whatever five-and-dime store they have in New Zealand, if they even still had them by 1997) and then tugged around the sets on fishing line.  The idea inherent in the beasts, that they constantly become something new, shed skin as reptiles are wont to do (at least to my knowledge), and reveal themselves reborn, is a strong one, and it is evinced to a slight extent in the human protagonists.  Sadly, like damn near everything else in the film, it’s little more than capricious veneer and wasted opportunity (a trait I always find deeply regrettable in movies).  I have seen movies where the budget wouldn’t buy a can of Coca Cola (with or without inflation), but they were still more entertaining than Aberration, because the filmmakers cared about what they were putting onscreen (even if what they were putting onscreen was crap), and unless the viewer is completely oblivious, they will feel it, and if they care even remotely about cinema, they will resent it.

MVT:  The setup is solid for a low budget Horror film, and it contains all the elements it needs to be a solid low budget Horror film (including capable actors).  That the film fails the premise isn’t the premise’s fault.  It’s the fault of the filmmakers.

Make Or Break:  If you’ve read any synopsis for this film, you know that the money Amy hid in the cabin floor is not entirely hers.  When the money’s owner (or co-owner, it’s all semantics) Uri (Valeriy Nikolaev) shows up, the movie suddenly becomes an exercise in ridiculousness.  This guy flops around like he’s practicing Mad Monkey Kung Fu (he’s not, just so we’re all on the same page and you don’t go getting your hopes up), and instead of creating another formidable obstacle for the protagonists, he instead creates a target for the viewer’s derision.

Score:  4.5/10

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