Film Reviews

PLAGUE TOWN

By • Jul 28th, 2008 •

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Director/co-screenwriter David Gregory has a long, strong background in film-oriented docs, both the mini ‘making-of’ kind, and longer-form documentaries such as THE SPAGHETTI WEST (Docurama Films). Personally it got to the point where I looked forward to the supplementals on many of the DVD releases more than I awaited the feature presentations because he had such a grasp of narrative structure, an understanding of the necessity for conflict – even in documentary drama.

So I waited impatiently for Gregory’s first narrative feature, PLAGUE TOWN, shot in Connecticut-for-Ireland (just as George Romero has recently been shooting Toronto-for-Pittsburgh). Well, the wait’s over, and we’ve got ourselves one of the very few memorable horror flicks of the year, with daring forays into areas fright films generally fear to tread in their adherence to ‘genre rules’.

A normal, dysfunctional American family is hiking across Ireland in search of family roots. There is a Brit amongst them (James Warke – quite effective), the recent boyfriend of eldest daughter Jessica (Erica Rhodes). She’s a royal pain in the ass, and he’s a bit too cocky. Her younger sister (Josslyn DeCrosta) is on the defensive, the father (David Lombard) is a stiff, rational pedagogue, and the step-mother (Lindsay Goranson) is sadly saddled with all this family drama. Act one establishes their hostilities, and doesn’t quite work. I didn’t particularly care for this fistful of ill-fated fish-out-of-water, hence their bickering grew stale. It reminded me of the first act of a classic horror flick from the 70s, Wes Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES, in which the director was unable to pull off a similarly-structured first act. But everything afterward clicked with HILLS, and the same can be said for PLAGUE TOWN…

…because once the horror starts, we’re in for a relentless, surrealistic brutalizing of the family by mutant adolescents and toddlers whose identities are withheld for most of Act Two. The narrative takes on a nightmarish life all its own, and any attempts to maintain the carefully constructed logical behavior in Act One are abandoned as this ‘civilized’ family encounters the aggression of an entire ‘uncivilized’ and (by our standards) illogical community.

A few words about logic. There are directors who’ve blithely done without it, such as Italian violence-maestro Dario Argento, and while certain reviewers vigorously defend his plot dropouts as premeditated, I think they’ve been the major weaknesses in his flawed body of work. Dario is in love with orgasmic montage to the exclusion of practically everything else in his projects. In my estimation, his lapses in logic are not planned, and are almost never successful.

PLAGUE TOWN is a very different story. Referencing filmmakers as far removed from today’s familiar horror auteurs as Jean Cocteau and Georges Franju, we are clued into the journey this film will take – a harrowing descent into a hideous, toxic, but remarkably poetic third-world DNA dump where something unknown has played Hobb with our genetic code, and all rational logic will be justifiably discarded. The young inhabitants hold masks up to their deformed faces in fleeting gestures of vanity, but their dominant instincts are gleefully homicidal. And the hapless US interlopers are quickly decimated in the wake of such unexpected behavior.

Among the treats to be had, and to be enjoyably creeped-out by, are the best Sound Design so far this year (and that includes such heavyweight competition as HELLBOY 2 and BATMAN), and some of the best editing of ’08 as well. If you want to conjure other horror flicks that have used sound – both ambient and specific – as effectively, check out THE EXORCIST, 1978’s remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and Polanski’s THE TENANT. Next year, when the DVD comes out, you’ll want to replay it just for the sound effects.

Then there’s the haunting imagery, of which my fave was the delicate, doll-like poise of Kate Aspinwall as Rosemary, a young, lethal thing being promoted into some kind of quasi-matrimonial event with a badly-wounded member of the international contingent by her deceptively-benign matchmaker of a mother. Ms. Aspinwall essays long, silent takes effortlessly, communicating both waiflike soulfulness and foreboding malignancy. I was glued to the screen for every moment of her pantomime performance, not to mention her pale make-up and chilling costume design. You’ll carry her image with you for weeks.

Spectacularly produced by Derek Curl, PLAGUE TOWN should be a paradigm for conjuring extraordinary locations and art direction within a limited budget. The score, composed and otherwise supervised by Mark Raskin, is inventive and often used as counterpoint, a smart decision. Brian Rigney Hubbard’s cinematography abets the sense of dislocation so essential to the underlying horror of the narrative. The pervasive make-up effects are uneven, but never allow us to escape the film’s sense of dread. Editing and Sound design – in both of which Mr. Gregory had a strong hand – as mentioned earlier, are stand-out elements in a wonderful genre excursion.

Were I you, and I’m not of course, but were I, I would not pass up an opportunity to see this flick. There’s hope for the genre yet.

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9 Responses »

  1. kate is in my geometry class, it’s kind of funny because she doesn’t act as if she was in a movie. she just sits in the corner doing her geometry work, and isn’t cocky. nobody really talks to her.

  2. I agree that PlagueTown is great. I am working with David Gregory now in early talks to remake my classic (1974) DERANGED, which Gregory will direct, if he wishes.

    Tom

  3. I’d have to agree, in saying that plague town was really an excellent movie. Kate did a really good job in portraying her character. I go to school with kate, and I’m really good friends with her. I think it’s really great that she’s been in a movie, but she’s not cocky about it at all. She’s got lots of friends at school, and the reason she probably doesn’t talk to them in class is probably because she’s a really good student, and is trying to get her work done. Again, plague town was a great movie!!

  4. omg plague town was awesome!!!!! it was scary and just really exciting to watch especially because my friend kate was in it!! kate was amazing!!!!!!! i go to school with her and she is so kind, nice ,considerate and OUTGOING!!!!!!!!! not to mention shes freakin gorgeous and a model!!! kate is so diverse because she’s an athlete, model, artist, and honors student!!! kate also has TONS of friends, everyone LIKES her!!!!!!!!! And i second Meg when she says that she probably doesn’t talk in class cause shes actually a very good focused student who actually wants to do well!!!! so to everyone that thinks no one talks to her…well they do! okayy again plague town awesome movie!

  5. I saw the trailer for this and it looks very creepy. Is this ever going to make it to the US or have I missed it already?

  6. First, hello to KATE. (HI Kate!!!) It’s interesting that you’re here posting about how many friends you have, using various aliases to do so. What’s up with that, Kate?

  7. Sebastian you don’t have to be such a pri** how do you know if it’s Kate? Maybe she does actually have good friends who are proud enough of her to post good coments on this website. Anyway the dates between the responses are fairly different so I wouldn’t go drawing conclusions when you have no idea what really might be.

  8. hi does any one have any pix of kate and what she looks like for real as there doesnt seem to be any on the net anywhere and us uk fans would love to know what she looks like for real.

  9. Where is Kate Aspinwall from?

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