Thursday, 20 August 2009

Seed (2007)

Guess who in this photo is about to die.
The answer may surprise you.

It's kind of surprising that it took so long for Boll to jump on the "torture porn" bandwagon. The genre seems to be at the end of it's life cycle which is probably a relief to a lot of people, although I'm probably easier on these films than most. I really liked Wolf Creek and Martyrs and I thought the first Saw film was okay. I don't think Eli Roth is worse than Hitler; I actually thought that Hostel and Hostel II were okay (not great, but okay). When Seed was released it spent a long time languishing in the depths of imdb's bottom 100, and I guarantee you that most of the people who had rated it hadn't actually seen the film. I tried to keep an open mind and review the film on it's own merits.

Boll tries to push your buttons straight away, opening with the killer watching some PETA stock footage of real dogs getting skinned and beaten on TV. PETA may have pulled some pretty stupid stunts over the years but getting in bed with Uwe Boll? That's a new low. Preceding this footage is a disclaimer insisting that it is being used to make a statement about humanity. I guess the statement is that humanity totally blows. Or something. That kind of thing wasn't all that effective a device in Italian cannibal films and it isn't here either. Besides, if he really wanted to be shocking he would have had the killer beating off while he watched it.

The disturbed individual is Max Seed, a serial killer who in 6 years has managed to off 666 people in the small town of Sufferton (this film is not exactly subtle). That's a little over two a week, pretty impressive batting average. During his rampage he sent the police video tapes of his animal and eventually human victims starving and decaying in time lapse photography, including a baby. Detective Matt Bishop manages to track the killer down and capture him at his booby-trapped farmhouse, although several policemen are killed in the process. Seed is send to the electric chair, but Ol' Sparky has seen better days and isn't up to task: After three jolts Seed is still kicking. This is unfortunate, since due to state law after three unsuccessful execution attempts he must be set free (the movie claims this is true but it's an urban legend), but the Warden decides to bury him alive anyway. Naturally Seed manages to dig his way out of the grave and kill everybody involved in his execution. After that he swims back to mainland, determined to continue his rampage and seek revenge on the man who put him away.

This whole story is told non-linearly, Pulp Fiction style. The movie starts with Seed's failed execution and then mixes together scenes of his pre and post execution rampages. It doesn't really add any revelations about the killer or the detective, all it does is muddle things. Throw in a few dream sequences (including one where Seed kills a baby) and flashbacks with flashbacks, and you've got a recipe for confusion. I'm still not sure where a couple of scenes fit in the timeline.

The cast is made up of all of Boll's usual suspects. Rolf Moeller appears as Warden Calgrove and it's kind of weird that he's played by an enormous German, but I guess it's no worse than Schwarzenegger playing a small town Sheriff in Raw Deal so I'll let it slide. The hero, Detective Matt Bishop, is played by Michael Paré and seed's executioner is played by Michael Eklund. These guys were okay surrounded by the campiness of Boll's other films, but here they are asked to carry the burden of an atrocious script that takes itself entirely too seriously.

Seed himself is played by Will Sanderson, and most of the time he's just a big slab of beef standing around in silence with a creepy sack on his head (gotta love the sack mask, always a classic look). Apparently his face was burned in a childhood accident but you never see him without the mask, they even let him wear it in jail which is pretty thoughtful. The only time it's removed is immediately before his execution and in a rare and commendable bit of restraint from Boll you only see the reaction shot from the crowd watching. When he's in action he's one of those ridiculous horror-movie juggernauts. There's a good bit when a few cops try to beat him up in his cell but he breaks a guard's arm, gouges out an eye and finishes with a cool effect where he kicks a guard's head through the bars of his cell. Then he just sits down calmly and waits for backup to arrive.

There's a lot of other decent kills, Seed impales a guy with a pipe, bites another guy's face off and puts his would-be executioner in the electric chair (irony). The most impressive kill of the film is a scene where Seed ties a woman to a chair and beats her head around with a hammer. They really drag it out too, he starts with a few light taps and gradually ramps things up until he's pounding her skull into mush and painting the walls with blood. The scene is done in one continuous take except for a few camera jolts used to mask some dodgy CGI. It's really brutal, but the impact is a little lessened by the fact that I didn't know who the fuck she was. The audience should have some sort of attachment to the victim, Uwe. Maybe you should take note of that for next time, write it down on the back of your hand or something. Pass it onto the Saw guys too.

Eventually Seed decides to get at the Detective through his wife and daughter. I don't know if it's intentional but the daughter is kind of creepy. There's a bit where they are sitting in front of the TV and her mother brings her an enormous tub of popcorn, as if they are about to watch a movie. She immediately announces that she is going to bed and takes the popcorn with her. Who the hell does that? Anyway, Detective Bishop comes home to find his bathtub crammed with body parts and his wife and daughter missing. He immediately leaps into his car and drives to Seed's isolated farmhouse for the final showdown. I kind of expected him to scream or cry or something, but he just glowers and mutters "son of a bitch" as if he realised he'd forgotten his wallet. It goes without saying that the film has a serious bummer of an ending. Kind of goes with the territory I guess.

The film is set sometime in the 70s and although it never really feels authentic (this ain't Zodiac) there are some other surprising attentions to detail. There's a couple of scenes where characters pore over their scrapbook of newspaper articles. I paused, expecting to see some amusing gibberish, perhaps "insert article here" cut-and-pasted a couple hundred times, but somebody had gone to the trouble of writing out entire articles. Nice job. Boll's improved in other areas too. Apart from a bobbly handheld camera, the cinematography, coming courtesy of Boll longtime DP Matthias Neumann, is actually pretty decent and he makes some effective use of natural lighting. Maybe it's the fact that I've seen a lot of crappy horror films but I thought this was tolerable. I tolerated the fuck out of it. If you're in the mood for a shocking and pointless exercise in nihilism, you could do a lot worse.

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