Tank Girl (1995)

As much as I love Birds of Prey, I’m still in shock that a Major Studio superhero movie ended up landing in my personal Top 5 films of 2020, much less Swampflix’s collective Top 10. The hyper-violent, hyper-femme irreverence of that film feels like a major disruption of the usual smash-em-up superhero tedium, if not only for the novelty of watching Women Behaving Badly in the context of a mainstream action movie. That doesn’t mean that Birds of Prey is a total anomaly, though. In fact, its major precedent is decades-old at this point, a similarly anarchic Girls Doing Violence superhero gem from the way-back-when of the 1990s. There is strong proto-Birds of Prey energy running throughout the 90s adaptation of Tank Girl, right down to Margot Robbie & Lori Petty doing the same Sadistic Betty Boop Voice as their films’ respective antihero leads. It’s a shame neither movie was a hit, since they’re easily the most exciting specimens of superhero media since Burton revamped Batman as a fetishistic horndog.

Lori Petty stars as the titular Tank Girl, a sugar-addled rebel scavenger in the not-too-distant-future of 2033. Water is in scarce supply, leaving a power vacuum filled by the mega-corporation Water & Power (not to be confused with the infamous enema porno Water Power) under the direction of evil overlord Malcolm McDowell. The water-rich oligarchy in this Mad Maxian desertscape entertain themselves at Hype Williams-style future-brothels; the resistance is led by mutant kangaroos; and Naomi Watts hangs around as a sidekick brunette. As with Birds of Prey, none of these plot details or set-decoration eccentricities matter nearly as much as the central performance that anchors them. Lori Petty bounces off the walls as a manic Bugs Bunny anarchist, openly mocking every inane indignity that distracts from the one thing she loves: blowing shit up in her girlified battle tank. Like with Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Petty’s Tank Girl is the blinding fireworks show at the center of this film, and everyone else is just there to gaze at it in wonder – even the mutant kangaroos.

It’s incredible that the Tank Girl movie doesn’t have more of a prominent legacy in the pop culture zeitgeist. The only time I remember this film being around was when Comedy Central was looping some cut-to-ribbons edit of it to pad out their daytime broadcasts in the early 2000s. I was fascinated by the out-of-context snippets I would catch from those broadcasts as a kid, but never enough to watch it from start to end (a feat I’m not sure anyone’s accomplished with any commercial-padded Comedy Central movie broadcast). I was taken aback, then, that the actual movie is so unapologetically Vulgar. Tank Girl has enough Saturday Morning Cartoon energy that it feels like it was made for kids, but Petty’s hyperactive antihero is an omnisexual social anarchist who challenges every taboo she can point a tank at, like Bugs Bunny smooching Elmer Fudd in drag. In just a slightly better world, that kind of horned-up flippancy would be celebrated as one of the all-time-great superhero performances, but 25 years later we still live in a world where Birds of Prey was allowed to tank at the box office (even though it improves a lot of this film’s already stellar chaotic highs through revision). I don’t get it.

A lot of early-MTV Cool was deployed to boost this movie’s marketability, including a Björk-scored strip club routine, an Iggy Pop cameo, and an opening-credits remix of DEVO’s “Girl U Want.” Still, you can tell it was underfunded & under-supported in its time, if not only because many of its transitional exterior shots & action sequences are supplanted with panels from the original Tank Girl comic. I found that choice to be a boon to the movie’s stylistic paletteborrowing a post-Love & Rockets indie comics patina from the source materialbut it’s also frustrating that a vision this fun & this idiosyncratic was left so scrappy while contemporary superhero tripe like Spawn, The Phantom, and Judge Dredd were just torching piles of cash. I would have loved to see Rachel Talalay’s Tank Girl vision on the scale of Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey budget. Recent history has only proven that it would’ve still been ignored & discarded, but you can’t account for general audiences’ lack of taste. This is the superhero media that should be culturally celebrated & exalted, but instead we’re still struggling to shake off the dour, self-serious conservatism of the Nolan era; shame on us all.

-Brandon Ledet

Space Sweepers (2021)

There haven’t been any new releases during this neverending pandemic that have made me miss the big-budget blockbuster experience. Maybe it’s because titles like Tenet, Mulan, and Wonder Woman ’84 have been locked behind exorbitantly expensive paywalls, followed by a mile-high wave of tepid reviews. There have been plenty of mind-melting arthouse experiments released straight to VOD in the last year that I would have loved to have seen in a proper theater, but it feels as if the bigger studios have been holding back The Good Stuff when it comes to their money-making popcorn movies. Space Sweepers is the definitive end to that drought. The straight-to-Netflix Korean blockbuster is the exact kind of sci-fi pulp entertainment I miss seeing on the big screen with easily pleased opening-weekend crowds and buckets of overpriced snacks. It’s doubtful that Netflix would have ever released Space Sweepers to giant-screen multiplexes even in “Normal” times, but all the same it’s the first film released in the past year that truly made me miss the summer blockbuster ritual.

Like with all multiplex blockbusters, the action sequences in Space Sweepers are a confounding CGI cacophony, just as difficult to remember after the credits as they are to comprehend in the moment. I was genuinely lost during the opening set piece, in which rival crews of space-junk scavengers race for possession of a malfunctioning satellite or cargo vessel or whatever. It’s the character beats between those blurred-CG action sequences that distinguish these monster-budget sci-fi spectacles anyway. In this case, the audience plays stowaway with a motley crew of intergalactic junkyard scavengers captained by The Handmaiden‘s Kim Tae-ri. Their go-nowhere routine of working their way deeper & deeper into debt is disrupted when they accidentally scoop up a dangerous bomb disguised as the most adorable child in the universe. That pricey, lethal, cute-as-a-button cargo puts them at odds with an evil white capitalist who runs what’s remaining of humanity as a technocratic megacorporation. The resulting conflict is essentially The Guardians of the Galaxy vs. Elon Musk, with all the money-torching glut & irreverent, character-based humor that descriptor implies.

Space Sweepers works best as an intergalactic hangout film. Any scene that doesn’t involve the ragtag space crew interacting with their adorable kid/bomb cargo can only feel generic by comparison, including all the laser shoot-outs & space-chase action sequences that eat up most of the budget. The more you get to know the crew the easier it is to be charmed by the film at large. From the tough-guy lone wolves learning to care for a defenseless child-bomb to the transgender android scrounging spare credits to purchase their ideal body (a much more explicit version of the allegory teased in Alita: Battle Angel), it’s a pure joy getting to know these reformed reprobates. I also cannot stress enough how cute the kid-bomb they’re debating whether to sell is. The cutest. It’s the exact effect I get from most big-budget crowdpleasers at the multiplex: I may forget everything that happens to them, but if the characters are likeable enough than I don’t really care. These characters are very, very likeable, and I’d happily pay money to see their adventures continue with an in-the-flesh crowd on the other side of this eternal hell year.

-Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country (1991)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer and Brandon discuss The Undiscovered Country (1991), the farewell movie sequel for the original Star Trek cast.

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherYouTubeTuneIn, or by following the links below.

– Mark “Boomer” Redmond & Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: Snowpiercer (2013)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer and Brandon discuss Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut Snowpiercer, which was selected as Swampflix’s Movie of the Year in our very first week as a website.

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherYouTubeTuneIn, or by following the links below.

– Brandon Ledet & Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Black Box (2020)

Black Box is the story of Nolan (Mamoudou Athie), a man suffering from amnesia following severe injury in a car crash that also claimed the life of his wife. He struggles with keeping up with the basics, like eating breakfast, making dinner, turning off the coffee pot, and picking up his daughter Ava (Amanda Christine) after school. Although he wants to go back to work as a photojournalist, his editor (Gretchen Koerner) gently rejects his new portfolio, citing both budget cuts and that his work doesn’t have the spark that it used to. After receiving nothing but negative prognoses for the return of his memories from multiple doctors, he’s not very optimistic when his doctor brother Gary (Tosin Morohunfola) recommends he see a noted specialist, Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad), who works in the same hospital as Gary. Brooks, through a combination of hypnotherapy and virtual reality brainwave augmentation, tells Nolan that there is hope to retrieve his seemingly-lost years with his wife and daughter. As Nolan starts to go deeper into the titular black box, however, what gets pulled out of his subconscious doesn’t seem to match the life he’s living now. Was he someone else once? Was Nolan once the person who could have done the things that he now remembers? 

Charmaine Bingwa and Donald Watkins also star in this sci-fi thriller from first time feature director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, who also shares a writing credit with Stephen Herman. Both men have experience with several shorts, and it’s not immediately apparent that this is their first feature. It does feel a little slight in places, and it’s not a surprise when Jason Blum’s Executive Producer credit shows up in the early credits, as this feels very much like a slightly off-brand episode of Black Mirror, which is an appellation that could also be applied to some of the more sci-fi slanted episodes of Into the Dark, like All That We Destroy or Culture Shock, but with a sensibility that’s more in the realm of Bloodride. This works better than any of those, however, as it never feels like a TV show, but it does exist in the realm of the near-future speculative fiction indie realm that features pictures like Marjorie Prime.

Between the time that I first started writing this review and picking it back up to complete it, I reread the Wikipedia page for it, and wouldn’t you know, there’s a reason it feels so much like Into the Dark: it’s an “installment in the anthological Welcome to the Blumhouse film series.” Still, it’s worth noting that Into the Dark has still produced multiple films that are actually quite good, and one of them (New Year, New You) even made it into my best of 2019 list. Like New Year, New You, Black Box uses its “smallness” as an asset instead of fighting the smaller budget and trying to make something outside of its grasp, creating a world in which the stakes are personal and rooted in internal struggles with the worst elements of our nature. The twist that centers the film comes very late in the game, but it’s well-seeded with just the right amount of foreshadowing, and there’s still sufficient screen time in the movie’s relatively lean 100 minutes that follow that reveal to let us explore the implications of what we’ve learned and the ethics of what our lead has to do next. But one of the ways that Black Box spins its humble budget of straw into passable onscreen gold is in its cleverness.

For instance, the representative mind world inside the box features a frightening creature in human form but which moves with distinctly inhuman noises (like the cracking of bones) and motions (crabwalking in the upward bow yoga pose); this is accomplished by the hiring of contortionist Troy James for the role, but instead of attempting to CGI a different face onto him, every face in the dream world is initially blurred Ringu style. This is incorporated into the narrative as part of the process, as the blurry face represents an incomplete memory for Nolan to reconstruct. A lesser movie would try to do something more complex and ultimately overcomplicate things, but by leaning into the limitations, Black Box turns them from flaws into strengths. 

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the film because writing around the twist is always a little tricky. In films like this one, that’s often the main drawing point, and my lifetime love of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, and Twilight Zone proves that I’m always on board for it, as long as the twist is good. This one’s a little more complex than normal, and it requires a bit of suspension of disbelief, but you’d have to be a real taskmaster for realism to be unwilling to go along with this one. It’s not the strongest one I’ve ever seen in this type of film, but as someone who has the unfortunate writer’s tendency to try and guess the next twist instead of letting the work take me on a journey, this was one in which I couldn’t guess the twist, and that’s always a plus. Luckily, Black Box doesn’t depend solely on that twist, as it becomes a different story afterward, about what the reframing of what has happened so far and what could happen next is a pivot that changes the film but doesn’t muddy it at all, which would be a feat for even a more experienced director. Its only real crime is that it lacks a truly cinematic eye, which is clearly a matter of budget in this case and not behind-the-camera crew. It remains to be seen how many pies Jason Blum can stick his thumb into, and Into the Dark has already run thin in a few places, but you wouldn’t know it from Black Box

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020)

Bill & Ted Face the Music finds our lovable slacker buds, William S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves), still at the great work that Rufus (the late George Carlin) foretold for them: the song that would unite the world. They’re also middle aged, with daughters of their own, named for the other: Wilhelmina “Billie” Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine) is dark-haired, shy, and androgynous like Ted, while Theadora Preston (Samara Weaving) is blonde, confident, and hyperactive like Bill. The film opens on the wedding of Missy (Amy Stoch), who was once our hapless duo’s babysitter, then was Ted’s step-mother, then Bill’s step-mother, and is now marrying Ted’s younger brother Deacon (Beck Bennett, taking over for Frazier Bain). At the reception, Bill and Ted plan to perform the first three movements of their latest composition, entitled “That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical, and Biological Nature of Love and the Exploration of the Meaning of Meaning — Part 1,” and it starts with throat-singing and theremin, so I’m on board, but it’s not a crowd pleaser. At the suggestion of their wives, the princesses (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays), Bill and Ted attend couple’s therapy with their respective spouse, as a quartet. 

Meanwhile in the future, time and space are falling apart. Rufus’s daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) and widow The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) have different interpretations of the prophesied Wyld Stallyns song, with the latter believing in her father’s vision of universal unity through the power of music, and her mother hoping to put things back on track by reluctantly killing the Stallyns. To that end, she sends a time-traveling murderbot (Anthony Carrigan) to hunt them down across space and time. Learning about the dire situation, Bill and Ted steal their old phone booth time machine and move progressively forward in time along their own lifelines in an attempt to acquire the song from their future selves. Meanwhile, Billie and Thea travel through time to acquire various historical musicians (and Kid Cudi) in preparation for the performance. 

The sad thing about Face the Music is that, all too often, Bill and Ted are the least interesting things in it. This movie made me feel young, and then it made me feel old, and then it made me feel young again, but not in a way I was happy about. There’s just a little too much happening here, in a sequel to a movie that knew just how many juggling pins it could keep in the air at one time, and there are too many narrative threads. Offscreen, the princesses have been invited by future versions of themselves to see all of space and time and see if there’s any way they can actually be happy in their marriages to the men of the title (not to sound too much like the boys, but, like, that plot is majorly a downer). Meanwhile, the daughters are having their adventure, which is a mixed bag; Weaving and Lundy-Paine are both great here but are sometimes forced into delivering dialogue that hits the ear with neither subtlety or comedy. They have a kind of abridged version of Excellent Adventure as they collect Mozart, Hendrix, and Louis Armstrong (Daniel Dorr, DazMann Still, and Jeremiah Craft) and others, to form a supergroup rather than for a history project, but each encounter feels more expository than fun. They encounter one instance of resistance in their plot and overcome it almost immediately, then have nothing but easy success from there on out, which doesn’t make for a compelling watch. Conversely, each future version of the adult Bill and Ted is drunker and less helpful than the last, and these encounters go on for too long (especially in 2025), making the whole thing feel more like a labor than a good time. Then, as if that weren’t enough, we get a slight rehash of Bogus Journey with a trip to Hell, where the guys, their daughters, several time-displaced musicians, and Ted’s dad once again meet up with Death (William Sadler) to get back to the world of the living in time to perform the song and prevent the end of existence as we know it–because, if there’s one thing you have to remember, it’s this: the clock in San Dimas is always running. 

I didn’t even get into the plot that’s running concurrently in the future in which The Great Leader keeps getting summoned into the same amphitheater to look at the hologram of space and time (represented as the earth as a turntable, with a record deck at the equator like Saturn’s rings) to fret, which seems to happen nearly half a dozen times. In an overstuffed movie, it’s crammed in there too for some reason but there seems to be a disconcerting lack of a narrative purpose for us to keep going back there. Obviously one would want to get their money’s worth when hiring Holland Taylor, but from a story standpoint, there’s just no reason to keep doing this; a ninety-three minute movie shouldn’t have 125 minutes of plot crowding it up like the suitcase of a Looney Tunes character, as it leaves no breathing room and creates the situation mentioned earlier, in which character dialogue is rushed and overly expositional.  

I loved Bill & Ted in my youth, and no one wanted this movie to be better than I did. There are a few solid jokes here, but even some of the best are in service of generating a nostalgic feeling, which isn’t the wrong way to go with this particular franchise, but could have been scaled back by about 35% and had both more room to breathe and been just as effective. Lundy-Paine and Weaving are doing a lot of heavy lifting, and they’re up to most of it, but there are lines that they’re asked to sell that are simply impossible to pull off, and while Reeves has continued to carve out a niche for himself with John Wick and one-off minor roles in things like Neon Demon, Alex Winter has remained largely out of the public eye, mostly making documentaries. It’s great to see him here; he seems to be having the most fun of anyone, and it’s infectious, even when the film drags. It’s a less than delightful end(?) to a franchise that had a better ending in Bogus Journey.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Possessor (2020)

The most often repeated observation about actor Andrea Riseborough is that she loses herself in roles to the point of being unrecognizable.  Among other examples, Riseborough’s turns as the titular metalhead loner in Mandy, the titular grifter in Nancy, and the daughter of the titular dictator in The Death of Stalin are all so distinctly unique in both performance and physicality that it might not even occur to you that the same actor was cast across the roles.  That chameleonic quality might be frustrating for Riseborough’s professional need for name recognition, but it is fascinating to watch in terms of pure excellence in craft.  It’s also, I assume, a major factor in why she was cast as the lead of Brandon Cronenberg’s latest feature, Possessor, which seemingly took note of her absence of persona and built an entire fucked up sci-fi horror around it about the loss of Identity.  A damn good one too.

Riseborough stars as a near-future corporate assassin who hacks into unsuspecting marks’ bodies to pin her public executions on them, avoiding arrest and collecting massive bounties.  We catch up with the assassin one too many missions into this grotesque routine, losing her grip on her own persona as the borders blur between her host bodies and her original self.  Much of the film involves an especially disastrous mission where she cannot escape the host body she intends to assassinate a Jeff Bezos-type Big-Tech Asshole with, trapped inside his dirtbag son-in-law and becoming increasingly violent the longer she loses herself in the role.  The two dueling personae inside that one shared meatbag start to fight for control in increasingly upsetting ways, represented onscreen through surrealistic melting wax figures & video art freak-outs.  It’s a fight between actors Riseborough & host-body Christopher Abbott to take over as protagonist just as much as it is a fight between assassin & unsuspecting scapegoat.  Both performers are spectacularly upsetting as they squirm uncomfortably inside their own warring bodies, but it’s a struggle that speaks directly to Riseborough’s reputation as a chameleonic actor in particular.

Brandon Cronenberg does little to avoid the inevitable comparisons to his father’s previous triumphs here.  As the assassin’s bloodlust for grotesque, pointless cruelty escalates, the film’s genre shifts from pure sci-fi thriller to outright surrealist body horror in the Cronenberg family tradition.  Casting Jennifer Jason Leigh as the assassin’s handler and using plug & play brain ports as the company’s means to hack into host bodies at least serve as direct acknowledgements of this cinematic inheritance, directly referencing the iconography of eXistenZ in particular.  There’s plenty of modernization & innovation at play here that elevates Possessor above mere tracing-paper ditto work, though.  The horrors of the Jeff Bezos-funded surveillance state that completely obliterates the boundaries of privacy & autonomy to the point of hacking into our goddamn bodies feels distinctly of-the-moment and a worthy application of the body horror tropes that David Cronenberg helped pioneer.  There’s so much about Possessor that’s unique to our current, nightmarishly inane hellscape, including casual use of the term “cuck queen” and non-stop onscreen vaping.  It’s indebted to body horror classics of the past, but not at all tangled up in attempts to recreate them.

It’d be outrageous to claim that Possessor is about Andrea Riseborough’s eerie absence of a solid persona.  On a conceptual level, this is clearly a film that’s most interested in the identity & autonomy we’ve all given up in our march towards a corporate data-mining hell future.  Casting Riseborough in that central role of a professional impersonator who can’t hold onto her original persona as she loses herself in her assignments can’t help but feel like a deliberate, knowing choice, though.  It builds off her established reputation as an actor in fascinating, terrifying ways, which adds additional depth to the bodily & technophobic grotesqueries that drive the plot otherwise.

-Brandon Ledet

The FP (2011)

As the pandemic continues to rage around us virtually unchecked, threatening to bring the age of movie theaters to an ignoble end, the Alamo Drafthouse has continued to work hard to keep itself afloat during this year and with an eye on the next. Alongside the mind-boggling and largely unnecessary loss of life, Austin has seen the permanent shuttering of two of its pop culture stalwarts, Vulcan Video and I Luv Video, both of which managed to survive both the large scale destruction of independent video stores by corporate giant Blockbuster and its competitors as well as the endangerment of the home video rental marketplace as a whole when Blockbuster was itself ousted by the rise of DVD-by-mail retailer turned streaming giant Netflix. Drafthouse is still hanging in there, and one of its COVID-necessitated diversifications was the introduction of Drafthouse at home, which saw the delivery to one’s home of a mixed six pack of beer, six single serving liquors, and one Drafthouse Films DVD. Two months into the pandemic, my old roommate and one of his current housemates were kind enough to send two such packages on to me as a gift for my birthday. It’s a kind and thoughtful gift, and I wish I could say those same adjectives held true for the first of the films I watched. 

The FP is trying very desperately to be something greater than the sum of its parts, but is held back and ultimately defeated by some extremely questionable choices with regards to world-building and humor. 

Our setting is the real world California suburb of Frazier Park, but in an alternate reality. Most plot descriptions you’d find tucked away in various corners of the internet refer to it as an apocalyptic future, but what we’re presented with isn’t really a potential future of our present reality (or of the potential future reality of the film’s release year of 2011); it’s situated firmly in a not too distant future as imagined by the sci-fi creators of the 1980s (you know, Turbo Kid rules). For example, despite being made within the past decade, all communication is done via payphones and pagers, and the most advanced technology that appears on screen is one of those programmable raver kid LED scrolling text belt-buckles, as worn by our protagonist JTRO (Jason Trost) and his older brother, BTRO (Brandon Barrera). The film’s commitment to that 1980s aesthetic, even when using what is clearly digital video, is admirable and reflects the sincerity of the film overall. It’s just too bad that the film’s worst choices render it nearly impossible to defend. 

We first meet JTRO, of the “248” gang, on the eve of his planned battle with the lieutenant of the leader of the rival “245” gang in the FP, or Frazier Park. After getting a pep talk from BTRO, he faces off against his opponent in combat—at Dance Dance Revolution, er, I mean “Beat Beat Revelation.” JTRO wins his match handily, but when BTRO steps up for his fight against rival gang leader L Dubba E (Lee Valmassy), his legs give out and he dies in his younger brother’s arms, ceding control of the FP to 245. We then flash forward to a year later, when BBR emcee KCDC (Art Hsu) tracks down JTRO in the forest, where he’s been working as a lumberjack. Citing that the FP has become a hellish place since the 245took power, made even worse by L Dubba E inheriting his family’s liquor store and thus having control over the sole source of alcohol for the entire community, KCDC convinces JTRO to come home and restore the FP. 

Upon his return, JTRO learns that an old flame of his, Stacy (Caitlyn Folley), has taken up with L Dubba E in order to maintain a steady supply of booze for her abusive father, lest he turn to harder drugs as many others have in the intervening year. He also learns that getting the community back on its feet won’t be simple, as JTRO must first gain enough street cred for L Dubba E to consider his  challenge (as Dubba E says in his one good line, this is because of “Politics and shit”). To help out, KCDC brings JTRO to BLT (Nick Principe), who serves the role of the “wizened master” in this hero’s journey. Can JTRO train hard enough to beat L Dubba E and save the FP, win Stacy’s heart, and avenge his brother’s death? 

On the face of it, the idea of a gangland showdown revolving around battles performed using an interface that is essentially-identical-to-but-legally-distinct-from Dance Dance Revolution is funny, and has a lot of potential charm. You’d think that if there was going to be a failure in the film it would come from these sequences, as there’s only so much investment you can expect from an audience watching someone else play BBR, but these clashes are generally some of the more fun parts of the movie, with dynamic and innovative camera choices, synchronized movement from the opponents, and great shots of extras hamming it up as colorful eighties-style punks. The training montages that appear throughout the second act are also effective in capturing the essence of the films of this type that came before, and there’s a shot where JTRO is ambling down a mountain road en route back to Frazier Park and comes to an unobstructed view of the valley below that is legitimately beautiful. The performances are also much better than you’d expect from a low ($45,000) budget film starring mostly people from the neighborhood. Trost is fairly wooden, but I feel comfortable giving the benefit of the doubt here and saying that’s deliberately evocative of the antagonists of the films from which this plot is lovingly cribbed. Special mention should also be made of Folley, who, although amateurish in some of her delivery, displays genuine vulnerability and internal conflict at other points, and her mimicry of well-meaning-but-dimwitted tropes is well-studied. 

Where this film fails is in its South Park-esque edgelordery. Trost is not only the lead here, he also has a Story By credit, and he gets co-credits with his brother Brandon Trost for both Screenplay By and Director, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but he’s openly stated that the idea for the film came to him when he was 16, and … it shows. If you were to sit down and read this script without any context, you’d expect this to have an all-Black cast based on how frequently the n-word appears, or at least you’d pray that it wouldn’t be an almost all-white cast. Spoiler alert: you’d be wrong. There are no Black people in this film at all*. A late-in-the-game “explanation” that the “n***a” variant used almost exclusively but pervasively is an acronym (that I won’t bother transcribing here) does nothing to quell this problem. Most of the uses come from KCDC, a (non-Black) POC character doing so as part of his hype man schtick, but again, there’s no real excuse for this: the people who made this were young white kids from Frazier Park and thought that the co-option of BVE/AAVE and gangsta archetypes was hilarious (in case it needs to be said: it is not). And did I mention that the L Dubba E had a giant golden grill that encompasses the entire upper row of his teeth? Or that his gang uses Confederate imagery? Or what about the fact that when we finally meet Stacy’s father, whom we’ve only heard screaming from offscreen to this point, he emerges from their trailer wearing femme undergarments, just because it’s “hilarious” to make a couple of transphobic jabs at the expense of a character we’re supposed to hate? If this were floated as a Drafthouse film in 2020 instead of 2011, it probably wouldn’t get past the first round of consideration. At least I hope it wouldn’t. 

The FP almost has a lot going for it. An original concept, a specific vision, an encyclopedic knowledge of the material being reimagined and rebuilt: all great things to have when building what this movie wanted to be. But an uncritical adoption of Black culture (which isn’t to say that a critical use of AAVE by white kids as inspected by these particular filmmakers would have been better–it definitely would not have) and tone-deaf jokes that misgender and actively engage in othering turn what could have been a worthy part of the pantheon of eighties reimagination that contains treasures like Turbo Kid and Son of Rambow into another forgotten amateur indie. If I had a storeroom full of DVDs of this, I’d be foisting them off on people if I could, too. 

*Shockingly, this reflects a 0.0% Black/African American population for the real-life Frazier Park, which tells us that virtually every aspect of Black culture present in the real Frazier Park and in the film is completely appropriated, which kind of says everything, doesn’t it?  

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Body Snatchers (1993)

It turns out not every movie adaptation of the 1958 novel The Body Snatchers is Great; some are just Okay. The 1956 and the 1978 adaptations—both titled The Invasion of the Body Snatchers—are reputable sci-fi horror classics, but that streak apparently ended when the material was imported into the 1990s. Body Snatchers ’93 had ample talent behind it to match the reputation of its looming predecessors, including the same producer as Invasion ’78 (Robert H. Solo) and creative contributions from genre film legends Abel Ferrara (director), Stuart Gordon (co-writer), and Larry Cohen (story). Unfortunately, that deep talent pool doesn’t amount to much onscreen. This particular Body Snatchers is serviceable but forgettable, something that might be easier to overlook if there weren’t so many superior realizations of the same material to compare it to.

Whereas the first two Body Snatchers adaptations explored themes of Conservatism, conformity, and paranoia in American cities & suburbs, this 90s Kids™ update moves its action to a military base. A moody teen brat who’d rather listen to her Walkman than her parents is horrified when her family moves to the rigid, regimented confinement of a military base to accommodate her dad’s career. That horror over militarized conformity only worsens when alien pod people start replacing the humans among the macho brutes in her midst, eventually including the few burnout friends she’s made on the base and members of her own immediate family. The manifestations of that horror are familiar: alien tendrils invading sleeping victims’ orifices and already-converted pod people snitching on still-human holdouts with hideous shrieks. They’re just updated with a new backdrop location & updated 90s era effects.

Weirdly, the film that most makes Body Snatchers ’93 feel obsolete is not any of the preceding direct adaptations of its source material but rather a loosely-inspired work that arrived to theaters five years later. Between the film’s 90s grunge sensibilities and its moody teen girl POV, it recalls a lot of what Robert Rodriguez later achieved to greater success in The Faculty. Body Snatchers is dourer & less fun than Rodriguez’s film, though, which I suppose is the Abel Ferrara touch. As a result, it’s difficult to find much in this film worth recommending that hasn’t been bested elsewhere, except maybe in a few standalone scares: a deflated goo-filled skull here, an alien-infested bathtub there, etc. Still, it’s a moderately serviceable sci-fi horror that sneaks in a few effective chills & practical gore showcases in a tight 87min window – even if they aren’t in service of something spectacularly unique.

-Brandon Ledet