Three Thrillers from Rogue Pictures
Altered (January 15/07)
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez, Altered follows four friends as they successfully capture an alien and bring it home with the intention of doling out some payback (one of their own was killed by similar creatures years ago). Chaos ensues after it becomes clear that said little green man possesses powers greater than the men might've anticipated. The movie marks Sanchez's debut effort as a solo filmmaker - he famously co-helmed The Blair Witch Project with Daniel Myrick back in 1999 - and there's little doubt that the movie's mild success can be attributed primarily to his effective directorial choices. Though clearly shot on an extremely low budget (most of the film transpires within a single set), Altered generally comes off as an engaging and genuinely creepy little horror flick - although, admittedly, Jamie Nash's screenplay is occasionally a little too talky for its own good (a problem exacerbated by the unusually deliberate pace). The inclusion of at least one seriously disgusting sequence should keep gorehounds happy, while the film's performances are uniformly strong (The Blair Witch Project's Michael C. Williams is especially good here). In the end, Altered isn't quite as riveting as its premise might've indicated - yet there's no denying that the movie is practically a horror masterpiece when compared to some of its straight-to-video brethren.
The Hitcher (January 18/07)
Based on the 1986 film of the same name, The Hitcher follows young couple Jim (Zachary Knighton) and Grace (Sophia Bush) as they encounter a deranged psychopath (played by Sean Bean) passing himself off as a harmless hitchhiker. Director Dave Meyers has infused the movie with a sense of style that's virtually identical to that of most contemporary horror flicks, while the two leads come off as competent yet thoroughly bland (to such an extent that the viewer has almost no rooting interest in their survival). Bean, on the other hand, transforms his sketchily-drawn character into an exceedingly sinister figure; there's little doubt that the film comes alive whenever he pops up, though one can't help but wish that screenwriters Eric Red, Jake Wade Wall, and Eric Bernt had included some kind of rationale for his sociopathic behavior. And aside from a couple of impressively brutal sequences, there's not a whole lot here to appeal to gorehounds - with Meyers substituting made-you-jump moments for actual scares. The outlandish premise requires a leap of faith few viewers will be able to make, particularly as the coincidences and flat-out ludicrous sequences start to pile up (that being said, one can't help but admire the scene in which Bean's character takes out four police cruisers and a helicopter armed with only a handgun). The end result is a film that's sporadically entertaining but mostly dull, although - admittedly - this is far from the worst that the genre has to offer (the recent Turistas was much, much more intolerable than this).
Waist Deep (January 18/07)
Despite the inclusion of several refreshingly old-school action sequences, Waist Deep remains strangely uninvolving throughout its overlong running time - a vibe that stems primarily from the film's tremendously uneven structure. Tyrese Gibson stars as Otis, an ex-con who finds himself drawn back into the life after his son is kidnapped by a notorious criminal named Big Meat (The Game). Director Vondie Curtis Hall - along with co-writer Darin Scott - has infused Waist Deep with a gritty sensibility that admittedly suits the material quite well, although some of his stylistic choices are questionable (ie the unfortunate use of choppy slow-motion during a pivotal gun battle). But it becomes increasingly difficult to overlook the familiarity of the storyline, particularly as Hall and Scott start throwing in one ludicrous plot twist after another (something that's especially true of the unbelievably ill-conceived romance that forms between Otis and an erstwhile hostage). Gibson is slightly more effective here than he's been in other films (though that's not exactly saying much), while The Game is appropriately sinister as Big Meat (that name alone is probably the best thing about Waist Deep). Hall's refusal to allow the movie to end at an appropriate point (ie there comes a point at which everything is tied up and yet the story goes on for an additional 25 minutes) leaves the proceedings with an extraordinarily sour aftertaste, and it's hard not to feel some disappointment at the film's failure to live up to its intriguing premise.