Review: Reeker [2005]

Dir. David Payne

Cast: Devon Gummersall, Derek Richardson, Tina Illman, Scott Whyte, Arielle Kebbel, Michael Ironside, Eric Mabius, Marcia Strassman, David Hadinger.

It's become increasingly more arduous to formulate something fresh and inventive within the horror genre of late, what with ceaseless remakes and reboots that only succeed in disquieting and piquing real genre fans. So it's invigorating to come across a film that is bold and tries something new and idiosyncratic, Dave Payne's Reeker plows the, as yet, unfurrowed turf of effluvium related horror... baffled? Well read on dear friends.

This tale opens with a cadre of college students who get together to take a trek out to "Area 52", a grandiose rave party in an un-named desert hideaway. Encountering each other for the first time, this coterie is full of interesting partygoers. There's Trip (Whyte), the party animal with a predilection for MDMA; Gretchen (Illman), the tenacious, worldly-wise South African; Cookie (Kebbel), the ditzy blonde fledgling; Nelson (Richardson), the trendy DJ'ing asinine one; and Jack (Gummersall), the token blind guy... ok I know 'token blind guy' is not your conventional horror staple... and that is the first clue that this film is just a wee bit atypical.

There's just one problem for this heteromorphous assemblage: Trip has swiped a capacious amount of Ecstasy from Radford (Mabius), a drug dealing, blackballed, medical intern who is now hell-bent on retrieving his stolen goods. So, as you may imagine, it certainly is not the ideal time to have car troubles and find yourself stranded at a forsaken gas station in the middle of nowhere. As night thunders in and with no one in sight, they elect to set up camp and have Trip go out to try and find some assistance. Unexpectedly a malignant malodorousness swirls in and by and by the college partygoers are fighting for their lives against an invisible scourge with body odor, literally, from Hell!

Now, let's get this said from the off, I had no expectations of Reeker to be anything but a formulaic 'ripened teens in peril' horror movie, especially at the bargain price of $2.50, little did I know that I was going to get an idiosyncratic, veraciously pithy and concise avant-garde fable with several effective scares and a hipness that many of it's big budget brethren would be well served to feign every once in a while.

The production is, without a doubt, diminutive, filmed mostly at one desert location, but thanks to some sublime cinematography from Mike Mickens fused to Payne's dexterous direction, Reeker contradicts it's low budget origins amazingly effectively. The motel set is fastidiously realised and resplendently alluring, while the colour scheme is low key and elusively malignant, all cadaverous yellows and bloody reds. Especially potent is the way that Payne utilises visual contrivances to convey the none-visual phenomena of a repulsive malodorousness which accompanies the putrefying phantom, ruses the viewer soon becomes comfortable with as a signpost of the immanent horrors to follow.

The whole endeavor has a very "classic horror movie" feel, bearing a closer semblance to Identity, with fragments of Herk Harvey's exemplary Carnival of Souls, with a smidgen of Hills Have Eyes/Death Valley style stalk-and-slash and Cube's existential abstruseness, rather than the usual, banal modern day 'slasher' fare. The characters are all intensely convincing and well-acted by a cast of almost (as then) unknowns, the standout being Devon Gummersall as Jack, the rare example of a handicapped character being utilized to enhance a plot rather than just being portrayed as a burdensome victim. There is a twist ending, which for me tend not to work well in 'slasher' genre pictures, in the case of Reeker, this is the primary reason why the film consummately feels so satiating, with a disclosure that will make you wish you'd paid closer attention to the foregoing story threads. Much like Fincher's Fight Club you will find yourself hungering to go back and rewatch it just to see what you missed.

I presupposed nothing from this film and despite that, it left me enamored, it is a cogent, gory and well made little horror film with a killer twist. Director and writer Dave Payne has augmented, what may seem on the surface to be, just another case of unequivocal horror fare and constructed something novel and beguiling. It's invigorating to unearth an independent movie that doesn't take itself too seriously and prosaically enthralls.

Verdict: Watch it twice, you won't be disappointed.

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