Reeker (2005)

There are a lot of things to like about Reeker. And it gets off to a pretty good start -- after a particularly effective pre-credits scene featuring a dead deer, half a dog and a man lacking most of his face, the movie proper follows a group of college students stranded in a strange motel in the middle of the desert. Their car has broken down and their mobiles don’t work; dying people are everywhere, and what can only be described as a stink-monster (manifesting alternately as a wave of hot air or a gas-masked Nazgul) is picking them off one by one.

The group of kids are actually a pretty interesting selection: Gretchen, a no-nonsense South African; her boyfriend’s roommate Jack, who just happens to be blind (but in a blessed stereotype busting move, not actually psychic); ditzy hippie-child Cookie; a long-haired Derek Richardson, looking girlishly pretty as the inept Nelson; and the obligatory unpleasant frat-boy type, Trip. None of them are particularly likeable, save perhaps Jack, but they’re not quite your typical horror movie teens, which is refreshing. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, Reeker’s main downfall is its ham-fisted execution, and its cringe-makingly obvious “twist.” This is #2 on the list of rubbish twists relied on by not very clever moviemakers -- i.e. the Sixth Sense twist, not the Fight Club one, and it’s not even a particularly worthwhile version. Most recently, this twist was done (with a certain amount of black humour and finesse) by Dead End. Reeker is a much stupider version, and it’s also far less subtle; by around 20 minutes or so into the movie, after the three hundred and seventeenth close up on the neon “Motel Halfway” sign, I’d already figured it out and become slightly irritated by it.

It’s all the more irritating because there are some decent moments in the movie that suggest it could have been so much better. The death scene involving the toilet was brilliantly gruesome, and the scene with the shatterproof glass had me laughing at a rather obnoxious volume. Most of the jokes come off pretty successfully – most notably, a sight gag involving Jack and a flare gun, a rare moment of near-subtlety amidst a sea of dick and poo jokes, was brilliantly done – but most of the time, the jokes come at completely inappropriate moments. It feels like the screenwriter had heard about horror movies employing humour at key moments, but never actually seen it done. As a result, the jokes aren’t used for comic relief or as a foil for the darker, more gory or tenser moments, but are instead shoved in any old where. Often, something will make the audience laugh merely seconds before a main character gets brutally butchered, thus negating the effect of both events. There’s also an utterly bizarre moment involving a dead deer in an office which is possibly too strange to even be funny.

The early characterisation goes out the window about halfway through, when something apparently goes horrendously wrong with the script resulting in one scene between Jack and Nelson that makes very little sense, in the context of the first half. That said, I should reiterate that the humour is probably Reeker’s strong point. It probably would have played better as a horror-parody, playing up the humour – after all, it’s already funnier than all the Scary Movie instalments put together – and forgetting about trying to be scary; a heavy-handed soundtrack alone is not effective at building any real tension. The “At least you can still see” “At least you can still jerk off” exchange between Trip and Jack is possibly worth the admission price in itself, but again it’s in a completely inappropriate place.

I hate to say it, but there’s something else wrong with this movie (apart from, for those keeping score, the patchy script, ill-timed humour and ridiculously clichéd ending) – the monster is laughable. It’s a prime example of Jeepers Creepers syndrome: when you can’t see what’s stalking you, your imagination does a pretty good job of filling in, and the heat-wave air-distortion was an interesting idea. Sadly, once the monster makes an appearance, it’s just silly. Hopping around like a kid in a Halloween costume, with reception blips like Channel 5 in the Valleys, the Reeker itself is a completely ineffectual villain.

In the end, Reeker had a couple of good ideas, and a few near-brilliant lines of dialogue, but in the end, its lack of originality and failure to execute any of its scares effectively render it an almost entirely pointless exercise in futility.

IMDB link

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