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Meadowoods (2010)

Director: Scott Phillips
Starring: Michael Downey, Kerry Goodwyn, Conner Thorpe, Ila Schactler
Rated R 88 min

MEADOWOODS is a story about three friends: Travis, an obnoxious frat boy who constantly mugs for the camera and doesn’t seem to take anything seriously; Jennifer, a very bitter and angry young girl, who enjoys rambling on about how much life sucks; and Ryan, a passive, bordering on spineless, young man who videotapes everything. The trio, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, have decided to kill somebody and to document the act on film. After some discussion about how’s and the where’s of the deed, the three friends decide to kill a classmate of the angry young girl. Kayla is friendly, intelligent, talented, and his a sense of direction in life, qualities that these three would-be killers lack. To add some additional sadism to the act, they trick Kayla into agreeing to an interview under the pretense that it's for a documentary on college life. The real reason, however, is to find out what fears she may have so that the group can torment her in her final moments. But as the day raws closer, the dynamics within the group begin to shift, and things don’t work out quite the way they planned. 

When a “found footage” movie is done right, it can become a totally immersive experience that almost transports you into the action (BLAIR WITCH PROJECT; [REC]). When it’s done wrong, the entire film will unravel and expose every flaw. MEADOWOODS unravels the instant the actors appear onscreen. The movie attempts to convince the viewer that they are witnessing a crime-in-progress, but it never once seems natural. It didn’t help matters that director Scott Phillips chose to add soundtrack music and to incorporate editing techniques that feel entirely out of place in a movie like this.

Putting that aside, it certainly wasn’t a boring story, despite the fact that very little happens in the movie. Intentional or not, the young actors do a very good job of making you really, really dislike them. I’m not sure who was more annoying: Travis with his arrogant smirk, or Jennifer with her all-around shitty disposition. It’s Ryan who comes off the best, mainly because he has the least screen time of the three. While the film is at successful making the characters hard to identify with, it completely fails at giving insight into how these people got to the point that murdering another human being would be such a fulfilling act for them. Later in the movie, you get the sense that it’s Travis who is the one really driving this plan, with the other two just going along with it. I wasn’t convinced that Travis was charismatic enough to hold that kind of power over anybody. I also doubted that these three people would be friends under normal circumstances, much less being close enough to plan a murder together. On the other hand, Ila Schactler gives a very natural and convincing performance as the group’s target. She does an excellent job at conveying innocent naiveté  earlier in the film, and stark terror near the end. Hopefully, she will find her way into better movies.

The movie swings for the fences with a strong, BLAIR WITCH-styled shock ending. While it is somewhat effective, it can't overcome the many huge problems that exist in the rest of the film. It's easy to see what MEADOWOODS set out to accomplish, but weak characterization and a bungled "found footage" motif make it an occasionally interesting miss.


Hard Ride to Hell (2010)

Director: Penelope Buitenhuis
Starring: Miguel Ferrer, Kathryn Isabelle, Brent Stait, Brendan Penny, Laura Mennell, Brandon Jay McLaren, Sebastian Gacki
Not Rated 94 min.

In this silly direct-to-video horror/action flick, a group of travelers in an RV run afoul a demented gang of devil-worshipping bikers. Their leader, Jefe (Miguel Ferrer), is an immortal brujo so evil that even Aleister Crowley wanted nothing to do with him. Jefe is looking for a Miss Right to bear his demon baby, a child that will ultimately go on to take over the world. But rather than go the subtle, seductive route, Jefe and his gang ambush travelers on lonely desert roads, rob them, rape them, and then eat them. Among the group of doomed travelers is a woman (Laura Mennell) who has recently suffered a miscarriage, and may have permanently lost the ability to bear children. Human children, that is. Jefe takes a shine to the woman, and thinks she might be that special lady that could be his demon baby mama. Her companions, however, will have to survive the gang’s cannibalistic onslaught.

There’s a lot of really dumb things going in HARD RIDE TO HELL. Stupid dialogue, weak acting, and a story that rips off a half-dozen other movies, with RACE WITH THE DEVIL being the most obvious influence. It also has the look and feel of a movie that, with a little editing, would be right at home on the Syfy Channel. While the movie approaches TOOTH & NAIL levels of stupidity, unlike that movie, HARD RIDE TO HELL actually ends up being fairly entertaining. If you can make it through the painful first act, the movie gets much more lively once the cannibal-devil-bikers attack the campsite. The violent action scenes are done well enough to make you overlook the fact that the bikers look like a group of pro wrestlers and masked stuntmen, which they probably are. The movie maintains a zippy pace from this point on to its over-the-top and appropriately ridiculous conclusion. It was interesting to see Miguel Ferrer playing a more overt heel, rather than the weasely, conniving types he’s played in the past. While I can’t say he’s especially convincing as the immortal villain, he’s still a fun actor to watch, and is much better than the material deserves. The scene-stealer here is Brent Stait as Bob, a special forces commando turned traveling knife salesman. Stait brings a very fun element to the movie as the genial badass who ends up being the only person keeping the campers from becoming satanic biker chow. Kathryn Isabelle, as Kerry, is mainly required to act scared for most of her screentime, which she does very well, and looks pretty cute doing it.

I’ll never convince anyone that HARD RIDE TO HELL is a good movie, because it’s not. However, it’s one of those movies, like SIMON SAYS, that manages to be an entertaining train wreck IF you can put your brain on standby for an hour and a half. I enjoyed it, but I can’t help to wonder what it could have been if a little more attention went into the writing. 2.5 out of 5