Women on Films – Reeker

5/13/13

Reeker (2005). Directed by Dave Payne

I am bummed that I have to write a blog today. I live in Southern California. It’s beautiful outside. It’s Saturday. Something must have really lit a fire under my ass.

I watched a horror film today that I’d been avoiding like the plague for the past year. I dismissed the film partially because of its title, but also thanks to the ridiculous synopsis it received on my cable network’s programming guide. What thankless person gets chosen to sum up something as complex as a cinematic work in a single sentence for a cable guide? I’m sure it’s often a challenging job. The synopsis read like so:

“An unseen, foul-smelling force terrorizes five stranded travelers in an abandoned town.”

To make matters worse, the film’s title is Reeker. Now for me, this just spelled trouble from the start. The description implies a derivative piece of caca that has been done in some form a million times, at least.  But most of all, the title immediately made me think of gratuitous schlock horror, or maybe a horror/comedy featuring a lot of scatalogical humor. In my opinion, horror/comedy is one of the hardest genres to make work. The balance between one extreme and the other has to be just right. And I’m the kind of person who usually longs for one or the other, but not both at the same time. There is a time for schlock, but today wasn’t the day. I wanted to be scared.

And a scare is what I got! What happens to Arielle Kebbel’s character, Cookie… wow. Oh no he didn’t! Think of the woman vs. trees scene in Evil Dead. I found this scene amazingly disturbing, yet not so much as to compel me to spend the rest of the day cowering under blankets and emotionally wrecked. Director Dave Payne could have been really gratuitous with this scene. He could have taken a lot more sexual liberties with it, but he stopped just short of that by leaving out as many elements as he showed onscreen. For that I give him points in my women’s book. Then again, those who are not so affected by this type of thing might have said that Kebbel underplayed the role and was not convincing enough. To be fair and balanced, it could go either way.

Speaking of women, I admire the heroine in this film, played by Tina Illman. As street smart Gretchen, Illman reminds me of Evangeline Lilly’s character on Lost. She’s a woman with a past you wouldn’t expect, to look at her. Her past makes her tougher, need I say more valuable than everyone else involved. All horror films have expendable characters, usually those with the least character development or the less exciting back story. You actually care whether Gretchen lives or dies; at least I did. And it’s impressive to see just how far she’ll go to defeat her adversary. With this comes the cliffhanger, and then a sense of not knowing. You almost root for a nihilistic ending. After all, there is only so much a human mind can take, and you wonder if she’ll even get a chance to be in a position from which to overcome the ordeal.

The trippy death scenes where the victims’ lives flash before their eyes in rapid succession- the vivid colors- are a nice break from the murky scenes which dominate the rest of the film. These “moment of death” scenes are pretty and vibrant, yet still manage to remain as disturbing as the scenes which take place in near darkness. They also imply a feeling of sweet relief, which makes it easier to say goodbye to the characters who do not survive. I must say I’m a stickler for horror films that leave at least a small margin of hope.

I like the ending. I’ll stop there in order to avoid any spoilers.

I’ll admit, for the longest time I could not even speak the movie’s title without laughing. This may be why I avoided it for so long. I had convinced myself that it would be nothing more than super-silly schlock. Speaking of the title, what is really impressive is that this film’s creators had the balls to basically name their movie after a word that has become- in our modern urban slang- synonymous with major failure. Yet this film far from fails. It is in fact very scary, and not so gratuitous as I thought it would be. Watch it and see.

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