The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Venom (2011)

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This is another of the films submitted to us by Kevin at MTI Home Video.  We've done our share of snake films here at the DTVC, including another one called Venom, a Klaus Kinski thriller from 1981.  In fact, our first ever review was a snake film, Boa vs. Python, so the snake film had a special place in my heart.  Let's see what this edition brings.

Venom is about a mother and daughter, Jessica Morris and Oliviah Crawford respectively, who go on a trip to the desert after Morris finds out her husband cheated on her.  Taking a turn off to an outlook, Morris runs over a snake, and all hell breaks loose.  She's bitten, the car's starter is jacked up, and now they're wandering the desert with some angry snakes chasing them.  At the same time, there's some bad drug dealer stuff going on, with one guy running off with another guy's cash (the other guy played by Roberto "Sanz" Sanchez).  So not only do the ladies have to deal with the snakes, they have drug dealers now too.

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I was trying to figure out why this one wasn't working for me, because it didn't seem so horrible for a low-budget snake thriller.  It wasn't really one major issue, but a few that came together.  First, we never had a consistent threat.  The snakes came and went, but there wasn't a sense that they had to run and hide from them, or that they were always going to strike.  They could take time to sit on a rock, check the mother's wound, hash out their mother-daughter issues.  And the mother's sickness from her wound seemed to come and go as it seemed convenient to the plot.  Also, the drug dealers never posed a constant threat either, and when they finally meet up with our heroines, their threat is resolved rather quickly.  I think it would've worked better had they met up with them earlier, and then had to elude them.  Then there was Jessica Morris as the mother.  We had this element of her as a recovering addict, also that perhaps she was more big sister to her daughter than mother.  The problems here with that were two-fold: first, she was compelling in that part, and on some levels I wanted more of that, and didn't get it as this devolved into snake movie; and second, it's hard to watch a character that's consistently making bad decisions.  We want resourceful heroines overcoming impossible odds, not heroines who throw their cell phones in the middle of the desert, then decide it's faster to walk many more miles into the desert instead of a few miles back to where the phone was after the car breaks down.  And when she compounds her bad decisions with more bad decisions, it's even harder to watch.  But moreover, because she's compelling as this broken character, any schlock fun horror factor this might have had goes away, because I don't want to laugh at her.  All that said, I think for someone who likes the snake sub-genre of thrillers, this might be worth looking at.

Continuing on Jessica Morris's mother character, because she was an interesting one.  There were definite inconsistencies.  She's maybe or maybe not a famous singer, and that's only discussed at a very surface level.  Morris's imdb lists her as my age, but she looks younger, and I think the character she was playing was younger, and that element isn't really explored either: is her husband older, is he her manager, was the pregnancy planned if she was younger, how much did she do in raising her daughter, or did a nanny do most of it?  All of these things are slightly more than hinted at, but not delved into enough leaving me wondering what was going on; yet seemed to impact the way Morris and Crawford are supposed to be interacting.  There's also the mother's addiction, which she's either recovering from and relapsed the night before, or she's not really taking recovery seriously.  Again, another element that isn't delved into, but brought up enough that it's there.  The problem with all of these, is that Morris really sells the mother, especially the fact that she's young and doesn't know what she's doing.  We always see these bad horror movies where the girl goes down to the basement to check on some sound, and gets (as my old anth professor used to say) her hair parted in a most unusual fashion, and we laugh.  Here, it's hard to laugh at Morris's character because of who she is, even when she's doing silly things, and in a movie like this, that's kind of what we want.  While I enjoyed the snake aspect of the film, and the tension of the looming drug dealers, I almost would've rather had a film about the mother and daughter making sense of their relationship, and all the things that were just hinted at in passing could've been explored further.

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Last week we reviewed the film Wild Girl Waltz for writer/director Mark Lewis, and in that I discussed how the film met the Bechdel Test, and how we don't get many films like that here.  Now two out of our last three meet it.  Again, it's: at least two named women, having a conversation together, about something other than a man.  Doesn't seem that hard, but it's very rare.  I just watched Fast Five a few days ago, and it was listed as a Bechdel film, but it didn't meet it, even by the hairsplitting standard the person used to classify it.  This film has long stretches, like Wild Girl Waltz, that met the test, and again, my head didn't explode, I didn't run from my DVD player crying, and if I found any issues with the film, it had nothing to do with the fact that we had so many scenes with two women talking about something other than a man.  Hollywood, stop being so afraid of movies that meet the Bechdel Test.

Do we count the evil snake that was chasing them as a man?  Even then, there were other scenes where Morris and Crawford talked about other things, but still, it's an interesting construct to have an animal as the main antagonist when discussing Bechdel criteria.  The snake as a villain in itself is an interesting one, because a large part of it depends on how much one is afraid of snakes.  I'm not, but I grew up with ones in my yard that weren't poisonous, so that's different.  Our heroines don't seem to have any specific fear of snakes either though.  They fear being bitten, but as the film goes on, they seem okay with the idea of snakes themselves, as long as they're not being bitten.  For me, I love the idea of anthropomorphizing the snakes, inserting my own dialog when we see them on-screen.  The only thing better than snakes are CGI dinosaurs for that kind of thing.  And cows.

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I want to go back to the opening credits scenes, where we have Morris's character out partying, drinking, doing coke, and eventually finding herself close to passing out on a curb in Hollywood.  This just felt like a different movie.  The sets, the cinematography, Morris's acting, this was very 90s indie film about a woman who parties too much or is dealing with addiction.  We find out after that this is actually a relapse because she found out about her husband's indiscretions.  I guess it was necessary to set the stage for who Morris's character is, but it wasn't a snake movie kind of thing.  It was good, I liked it, but it didn't fit, and it had me wondering what I was in for, and later, wondering where this part of the movie was.

I know this review is a little all over the place, so I'll wrap it up here.  You can get it at RedBox, so if you're looking for a snake film, maybe give it a try through that.  For me, it just had too many disparate elements for me to latch onto anything; and while it had its tense moments, there were also lulls with no sense of impending danger, and often the danger that was there was resolved too quickly to have the impact it wanted.  I feel like it would be a better bet on Netflix Instant, but it's not on there, and it's not like RedBox is that expensive either.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1931601/

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