Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Side FX - review

region 1 dvd

Director: Patrick Johnson

Release Date: 2005

Contains spoilers

This is a low budget, straight to DVD effort that really tries to rise above its limitations with a clever storyline that, despite a few logic flaws, works rather well.

Following some notation about designer drugs and the lack of knowledge about the side effects we start with a scene, no dialogue involved, of a man buying drugs from a Bad side effectdealer. He goes into a club and meets a woman and, whilst she is away from the table, he spikes her drink with the clear drug. She begins to get friendly and they leave the club and end up in bed. She is somewhat aggressive and then suddenly she attacks, biting his neck and drinking his blood.

What we are dealing with here is Ayce, a designer drug that causes strong sexual feeling and, in some users, causes a blackout state in which they feel like they are burning up and only drinking blood can cool them off. The need to drink blood effect was reminiscent of the described effects in Masterton’s Manitou Blood, released the same year – although that was supernatural in basis. There is, of course, a very strong anti-drug message in the film.

It is the run up to Halloween and Matt (Todd Swift) and his friend Rod (Aaron Garrett) are putting up fliers for Matt’s Halloween rave. We see a newspaper with a picture of the man killed in the prologue with the headline student killed by dog. Matt is collared by Tuesday (Amanda Phillips), whom he has been staying with for a few weeks and she wants her apartment back. She feels she cannot concentrate on studying with his loud music and all night video game sessions. He generally ignores her protests and invites Monica (Marta McGonagle), Ashley (Eryn Broke) and Andy (Ryan Freley) to his rave. He tells them all about the new designer drug he has got for the party, which is of course Ayce.

After the others have left, Andy and Ashley persuade Matt to try out the drug. Later that night an irate Tuesday ends up paying for Matt’s pizza delivery and he spikes her drink with Ayce, Andy and a rather aroused Ashley leave the flat.

Ayce takes effectWe see the immediate effects of Ayce via Tuesday. She begins to feel warm, she sweats. She orgasms. We then cut to Ashley ‘persuading’ Andy to pull over for some in car sex. They hear something moving round the car. Andy goes out to investigate and asks a person unseen what they are doing there, he is attacked. We then see cops around the car. The official explanation is dog attack, and if you are wondering how the police could be so stupid it is just a story for the press as we hear the cops say it was a human who left the bite marks.

vomiting bloodWe see Tuesday wake up and run to the bathroom. She copiously vomits blood. Scared she phones her friend Shay (Amber Heard) and goes to the hospital. On examination there seems little wrong with her but the doctor has noticed that her pupils are dilated and non-responsive and asks her what she was on. She denies drug use and when asked if she could have been spiked she denies it could have happened – though it is clear she has realised what Matt has done. She vomits blood again and a sample is sent for testing.

Once home there is obvious tension with Matt but then they hear about Ashley and Andy and go to the hospital to see Ashley who is in a comatose state through shock. She awakens when they are there and starts screaming when she sees Tuesday until she is sedated. A news crew try to interview them on their way out and a man (unnamed in the movie, so I can’t tell you who plays him) notes their faces from the report.

you smell goodAs the film goes on the film plays some nice games with Tuesday. She meets a friend in the street and is attracted to her neck, asking if she is wearing anything as she smells so good. There is a scene in a library where it appears that Tuesday’s hearing has become acute and it feels as though the bookstacks are closing in on her. Following this she is, from her perspective, attacked by the man who watched the video as he demands to know where the drug is. A judicious knee to the groin allows her to escape and we are unsure if she hears him say that the drug makes people vampires.

the old milk into blood routineThere is a sequence when she awakens, gets milk and as she drinks it the milk becomes blood and then she awakens. The scene is nothing new, in fact though different in structure it reminded me somewhat of a sequence in Thirst, but it is well handled. There are also sequences of her seeing Andy, bloodied and dead, on the city streets. This came across as less supernatural and more psychological, as though her subconscious mind was trying to fill in the blank of her drug induced blackout.

Through this she is also stalked by the strange man and eventually decides to meet him. We discover that he is the re-inventor of Ayce, a drug that was used in medieval times and produces the effects we have sanctioned way of dealing with dealers During this sequence we get scenes from the past, as the church stamps out the drug – with extreme prejudice, destroying literature and supplies and killing those who can produce it. One throw away referential that I felt was unnecessary was the suggestion that Vlad Tepes was a known abuser. Tuesday and Shay rush to Matt’s rave to stop the worst happening.

The rave is being held at an abandoned farmhouse and they arrive too late. too late - the drug has taken effectFrom what has been a fairly well structured psychological thriller we move into a gore-fest that owes much to Night of the Living Dead (1968) in that we have the farmhouse, survivors and bloodthirsty killers. The big difference is that these are not the dead returned, these are kids stoned and thus until they frenzy they can pass as normal, so we enter a who is on Ayce (and can be effected) and who is not scenario.

Monica's blood splattered cleavageThere is a line in this sequence that I want to mention as, although it might be throwaway, added another dimension to the film. The on Ayce and tied up Monica says to Tuesday that the desire is within them, the drug just lets them actualise it.

The film is low budget, manages to throw in some naked breasts and an obligatory lesbian moment that ends up with bloodshed. The camera work is sometimes shaky but the director does do a good job in building tensions, certainly in the first part of the film with respect to Tuesday.

a victim is bittenIn the main the acting is average, perhaps even amateurish, though it is clear that all the actors tried their hardest and kudos for that. The exception is Amanda Phillips who acts her heart out and is superb. I would be disappointed if she did not have a bright future ahead of her. I was less impressed by Todd Swift as Matt, although the character was so annoying, and appeared to have been designed so, that I might be doing him a disservice as he may have produced that effect purposefully. The special effects aren’t bad for the budget, and a judicial use of lighting hides the worst sins.

The story itself does have logic holes. We know the drug is on the street; in fact Tuesday is accosted early on by a girl with blood on her mouth asking for help. more blood drinkingHer friend Troy (Jamal Wimberly) suggests that event was a Halloween prank but we are left with the impression that she was an Ayce user. Why the police hadn’t worked out what was going on was beyond me. It is strongly indicated that Tuesday attacked Andy (though the strange man suggests it was actually Ashley). Ashley and Andy had been driving, how did Tuesday catch up with them and why didn’t she attack someone at random? Why, when Tuesday woke up after her night on Ayce, had she no blood on her until she vomited, the users aren't exactly clean eaters? Why hadn’t the police picked up Tuesday, she had someone else’s blood in her stomach? Finally everyone at the rave who took Ayce seemed to be effected but we already know that it only effects some people like that. A long list but actually hyper-critical and not that problematic as you watch the film.

accidental stakingObviously these are not your traditional vampires, although we do get at least (in the past) one purposeful staking and in the present one accidental staking. This film tries to build a reason for the myth (in the past, before it was realised that the drug was to blame vampires were the scapegoat). Thus we have no trappings of the standard genre, there is no sunlight effect, no fear of religious icons and these vampires can be killed by standard human killing means. We do have the hyper hearing, as illustrated through Tuesday, and sense of smell – but that could be seen to be a metaphor of the psychological trauma as well as a side effect of the drug. The vampires are very strong, with a frenzied drug-induced strength. Just to note that the DVD covers, either the region 1 (which is the version I have) or the region 2, have vampiric images complete with fangs - for shame, as there isn't a fang in sight.

6.5 out of 10 seems to me to be a fair score. An intelligent idea, good tensions and Amanda Phillips performance push the film that far, overcoming budget restrictions, occasionally shaky camera work and some poor performances. It would be nice to see this done with more budget.

The imdb page is here.

No comments: