Review Date: October 5, 2008
Released by: Anchor Bay & Critical Mass
Release date: 10/21/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
One of my favorite scenes in horror, and it’s from a film I’m not particularly fond of, Curtains
, is when a killer in a disfigured witch mask skates slowly on ice with a scythe, about to kill her next victim. I’m Canadian, so I’m biased, but still…how many times do you see murder on ice? More than that though, the white emptiness of winter creates a desolation and isolation that no other setting can replicate. There’s never a second in The Thing
where their escape seems remotely plausible. No matter how effective these films though, filmmakers, Canadian or otherwise, hardly ever set their films outdoors come winter time. So when Scarce
hit my doorstep with a slipcover in brutal blanche, complete with a stream bleeding blood red, I was in. Put on your toque, we’re going to unchartered territory.
Three buddies head to the snowy slopes of Colorado to catch some powder before the end of the snowboarding season. They listen to metal and say fuck a lot. Before they head back home to Illinois (Read: Ontario) they decide to throw a party. They smoke a pipe and the one with a hairy chest feels up a chick as they have drunken sex. The blonde haired one (who someone remarks looks like Guile from Street Fighter
) also manages to interrupt some topless chicks dyking out. Just another day. They wake up hung over, shoot the shit for a bit, and then trek off through a blizzard in their little Jetta. The Seth Rogen-looking one talks about how these people found a barrel of whiskey, drank from it and found out only later that inside was a dead body. That’s foreshadowing.
The blizzard continues to whirl on, so strong that not only does visibility become an issue, but the entire interstate gets closed down. The boyz stop in at a diner in the middle of nowhere, and like any rural location in horror films, the patrons and staff are all entirely off their rocker. The food sucks too, but the trio eat up and prepare to leave. One of them dares the other to talk to the most freakishly unattractive man in the room (naturally) for directions. The man turns out to be really nice, giving a long and convoluted set of directions. Guile takes it all in first time through in his mind, they pay the bill and leave. Off to Illinois!
Turns out the directions were totally bogus though, and the guys find themselves in an even bigger storm on even smaller roads. They crash, and Seth is badly injured. He tells the boys to go on without him, and he looks at this Little Insignificant Personal Artifact That Will Come To Signify That He Is Dead Later When Found In The Killer’s Room. Guile and the hairy guy come across a shanty-looking cabin and meet an eccentric, but seemingly sincere local, Ivan (Steve Warren
). He volunteers to help, but Rogen is long gone. They go back to his place for shelter and some really bad meat. Let’s just say it isn’t deer, and it wasn’t bought from the supermarket…
is a ragtag bit of hoser horror – grainy, meandering, unpolished and amateur. It feels like a student film you make with your buddies in college, and considering the directors also play the leads (who are essentially themselves), it basically is. The dialogue feels mostly unscripted save for forced moments of exposition in order to string one scene or event to the next. The cinematography feels that way too, with nary an expressive shadow or color that doesn’t conform to your standard three light setup, and even then exposure seems a tough thing to master.
The film was shot on Super16, an ever increasing rarity these days, but honestly, it looks like shit. The grain may be organic, but it’s so prominent it nearly overshadows all those CGI blizzard effects in terms of flurries. Film can look beautiful in the right hands, better still than anything in the HD world yet, but with the medium requires a lot more planning. There’s no riding the monitors to tweak the image on-set, you have to trust your expertise and your prep work. You can hear it in the dialogue, feel it in the hazy plot and see it on the screen – it wasn’t thought out. As a first feature for most involved, excitement certainly superceded storyboards, and as a result, the choice to shoot film rather than digital became a vice rather than a virtue. An expensive one, at that.
It’s cool though, good on these guys for getting outside and actually getting a film in the can. They certainly had a blast making it, and thanks to the checklist of exploitable elements like nudity, drug use, profanity, death and gore, it got picked up at Cannes. I’m sure they learned a lot from it. As a viewer though, there’s little more to get out of this other than the desire to do something else. Even if it involves cannibals, lines like “soon you’ll be my shit” and running naked in the snow, it all just feels so insubstantial and ordinary. I guess that’s one of our talents as Canadians raised by the National Film Board. It’s like a sweater (The Sweater for those NFB watchers), where the seams are so glaring, so haphazardly strewn together that it no longer looks like a sweater, but instead a patchwork of a lot of hard work made eyesore.
When Argento made his debut, he storyboarded the shit out of every scene. Spielberg too. If you don’t have the experience, then at least make up for it with pre-production. Construct a sharp story that doesn’t linger in redundancy and spontaneous plot motivations. Then take the script and find a way to actually visualize a style rather than just capture a frame. The supplements really encapsulate the excitement and intense dedication that come with getting a film made. When you see all the work these boys put into everything though, you just sort of wish they took the effort to develop their property to a significant amount of quality before burning off all that time and money. It’s polishing a turd with preparation this scarce.
It may be progressive and it may be anamorphic, but Scarce
is a pretty hard watch. The 1.78:1 frame is ridden with grain, a likely product of shooting on low light 16mm stock and poor overall lighting. You can tell the boys tried a few things with some tinting and freeze frames near the end, and the occasional dolly throughout, but it’s almost amateur looking, and the grain and debris definitely show up here on DVD. Almost all the interiors have a harsh CGI snow composite applied as well, so the resolution and clarity noticeably suffers there as well. Contrast is very poor, consistently grey, and the colors muddy and desaturated. When you’re dealing with white snow and black shadows, you’d think contrast would be of the utmost importance. It isn’t.
The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.0, so sorry bass lovers, but your LFE will have to sit this one out. This is a ready made mix for cable, no frills and pretty generic. There are at times, especially during the more improvisational beginning, where the sound levels are a tad hard to hear. The jarring nu-mteal music also comes in at odd and distracting decibels at the start and end. Let’s just say, not reference material.
While the film and transfer may be sub-par, the feature-length documentary “Frostbitten”, on the making of the film, is pretty special. For those with an interest in low budget filmmaking, there is little better, with a totally comprehensive overview of the entire production, with problems, frustrations and (relative) triumphs along the way. You really get to know the entire crew, not just the principals, and it is nice to see the other crew members normally on the fringe getting a voice. While planning may have been an issue, there’s no doubt everyone really worked hard on set, and this doc is just oozing with the life of creation that film brings.
Also included are two commentaries, one with the writer/director/producer/actor team of John Geddes and Jesse T. Cook, and one with production and set designers Cody Calahan and Gavin Peacock. Despite being a celebrity in his own right on the “Frostbitten” doc because of his status as “Set Legend” on the production, Peacock, as well as his partner here, don’t have much of legend to speak about. It’s a pretty quiet track, with several stretches of silence. It’s all anecdote driven, so don’t really expect any comparisons with other films or broader statements about the story. The most entertaining thing is the celebratory Canadian-ness of the whole affair, they wear their inner “Eh” with pride. The director commentary is a better listen, although it still plays second fiddle to the doc. There’s a fair bit of overlap between the two, but the commentary still offers some nice nuggets of information, like how they came upon the main hillbilly at the last minute because of the ACTRA strike at the time of filming.
has a hoser horror Canadian energy, but is a mostly frozen affair of weak plotting, amateur photography and a poor editing structure. The sound and transfer suffer as a result of the ultra low budget, with weak audio levels and major film grain throughout. As with most young, low budget affairs though, there’s energy to spare, and that’s why the feature-length making-of documentary “Frostbitten”, is easily the best thing about this package. I’d wholeheartedly recommend it over the film itself, even though it pains me to slam an earnest Canadian production. Maybe next time, my brothers from the east.
Movie - D
Image Quality - C-
Sound - C+
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 33 minutes
- Rated 18A
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.0
- "Frostbitten" feature-length making-of
- Audio commentary with writer/director/producer/actor team of John Geddes and Jesse T. Cook
- Audio commentary with production and set designers Cody Calahan and Gavin Peacock