What I'm Watching: Lost After Dark
Happy Octoberween, Triskelions! I fell behind AGAIN on Watchings posts, so I am going to try again to get some catch up done on movies I want to talk about, and hopefully keep some momentum going.
Starting with this little flick, Lost After Dark. It's by a friend of a friend, Bo Randsell, but don't think that means I am going to go easy on the movie. When I first heard that some guy I know made a movie, I winced. I winced hard, because that always feels like it's going to be some movie some people shot with handheld cameras running around their backyard, with zero production values. I was instantly surprised, pleased, and impressed when I started watching the movie and saw oh! This is a *real movie* with an actual budget and skill put behind it! Okay! Bring it!
"Lost" is set solidly in 1984, in your typical 1980s town with typical 1980s fashions. And a lot of people have said this is an homage to that era of films, and I don't think it's *quite* that. It doesn't quite fit squarely into that sensibility. But it is still definitely a love letter to that era, and heavily influenced by the time period, if not a pitch perfect homage. But it does make sure to get in a few quick tape splice edits and even the ever present in throwback homages "reel missing" moment, but I'll come back to that.
We follow your typical group of 1980s high school kids, each one you can probably already name their character type without me saying anything more. But don't get too comfortable in that familiarity... Anyways, the kids *steal a bus* which is the ballsiest thing I've seen kids do in a movie in a long, long time, to go spend the weekend partying at a cabin in the woods owned by the family of one of the kids.
But, before they can reach the cabin and enter an entirely different movie genre entirely, the bus runs out of gas, the kids have to hoof it to the nearest house, and isn't it just their luck? It's the house of the Joad family, some local folklore that once went around kidnapping, killing, and eating people. They were all believed to be dead, but one of them survived the massacre, which is a good thing. Otherwise this movie wouldn't be here!
The cast is very likable. Even the 'stuck up girl' archetype has her moments. I also really like how the girls are named after actresses from famous horror movies (Adrienne King, Jamie Lee Curtis, etc) and the guys are all named after directors of same. Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, et al, and I *think* the girls all pair up accordingly with their respective directors, but I might be off on that. It's a cute nod for the fans of the genre, shows the love the creators have, but also doesn't get in the way if you aren't in on the joke.
There's also Robert Patrick as the hilariously over the top post-war vet vice principal. And I can't think of anyone who would be this PERFECT and amazing. He gets this movie, and the role. He knows the tone, he gets this is a little tongue in cheek, and is clearly having a blast.
We've also got an annoying dog, and my gods the dog. I'm not going to spoil what happens to it, but it is one of the most hardcore things I've seen in a horror movie.
The villain of the piece, Junior Joad, is one of the weaker points for me. I really hate the whole "backwoods family of cannibals" trope, but I am MUCH more okay with it in this setting. When the X-Files or Torchwood does it, and try to shove a story of "Aliens aren't the monsters, HUMANS ARE THE REAL MONSTERS!" story at us, with no supernatural elements at all, I roll my eyes. Movies like this are their own thing, and I can roll with it a lot more readily. That said, the guy is brutal, bloody, and kills people in some of the single most creative ways I've seen in a long time. If you're gonna give me a backwoods cannibal, THIS is how you do it. Sick, disgusting, and a thrill to watch on screen.
Another issue for me, is the lighting. Or lack thereof. The movie is sooo dark at times. Or more accurtately, I think they shot day for night and dark blued things up a lot. The movie is so dark, even the light from cadles and flashlights are swallowed up in the darkness! It's a stylistic choice, and while everything remains easy to follow, things feel really murky at times, and not even the bright colours of '80s fashion can combat this darkness. Overall, this is a small thing really, since it never gets in the way of the story, and even arguably adds a level of realisim to just how much light they'd be casting, but I would've liked a little more colour.
A little while ago, I mentioned in my review of Tormented how I felt they went too far by having their survivor of the movie wake up safe and sound, only to find the killers still alive. Lost After Dark pulls the same trick, but does it MUCH better, and does it right. It ended with a simple escape of Junior Joad, and not a gigantic over the top massacre that really should have been addressed. It lets you have a good, solid victory with this movie (Albeit a Pyrrhic one) and still give you that last good gasp, and setup for potential sequels.
Also, the movie gets weirdly randomly philosophical about cannibals and taking a person's power and soul when they're eaten, which seems at odds with the rest of the tone.. But hey, I'm down for a good Wendigo discussion, so I'm ultimately okay.
Besides the lighting, sometimes the sound didn't work for me either. People keep asking, Did you hear that?? and my answer is always no! I didn't! I'm not sure WHAT happened there.
Lost After Dark takes WELL over half the runtime for things to start happening, but the writing is sharp, the characters are likable, the actors are good, and the movie keeps just enough of a lurking sense of dread that it feels really well paced. Even though there's just kids wandering around the woods and getting into place for the second half's massacre, Joad is always watching from the trees, much like Michael Meyers. And once the first death occurs (After the one that starts the movie that is, to whet your appetite), the pace rockets until the end.
On the subject of deaths, I really hate the decisions Lost makes with which characters die when, damnit. ;) And I know it's deliberately done to screw with expectations, and it could have been worse with who survived, but I am still not forgiving the movie for killing whom they killed first!
That said, the deaths are some of the more creative ones I've seen in awhile, and pretty gruesome and bloody. I enjoyed them all, and the shock of how they were handled really drew gasps.
The movie does a good job of setting up some weapons/deaths on both side of things for people to use, and uses the location spectacularly well. The abandoned house looks great, the barn is super creepy, and it all looks right and not too much like a set. The location helps to sell a lot of the terror these kids are going through.
And back on the subject of homages, I am a bit tired of these time period style homage movies pulling the 'missing reel' gag. It's getting to be overdone in a number of these movies, but at least here it did allow the movie to pull a small surprise later on when a character reappears.
Overall, Lost After Dark is a solid 80s homage in style, but largely ignores some of the more common tropes of the era, like the obvious sex and nudity. Although it does provide some titillation in its place, which was just as common in movies of the period if they couldn't manage to swing nudity for ratings or contractual reasons. And we ALMOST get some sex, so there's that. And really, an abandoned farmhouse is not exactly conducive to lovemaking, either as a mood killer or just plain sanitary reasons!
The movie plays with expectations, while homaging a lot of familiar tropes, and works as more than just an homage, but as a story in its own right. It was fun, kept me guessing on who was going to die (Because the story itself is pretty straightforward with zero mystery about the killer), and knew exactly when to insert some self-deprecating humour to lighten the mood and let us know that the filmmakers are in on the joke.
This is a super easy movie to recommend to fans of 80s horror, or just horror in general, as it's a solid indie effort, with some amazing production values for what it is. I said I was surprised to see that Lost After Dark was a "real movie" and not just something thrown together in a backyard, and I am happy to say the surprised didn't stop there, since the movie totally delivered a good, entertaining ride.