Saturday, February 2, 2008

HACK! (2007) d. Matt Flynn

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Whether you are a scientist or an artist, creating a hybrid takes a great deal of vision, skill and intelligence. Hybridized crops have revolutionized agriculture, while hybridized music has set new trends. Sometimes though, there are some species that just can’t be combined. There is no way to cross a billy goat and an owl and expect you’re going to get a hoot nanny. Marrying the best elements of serious horror satires like SCREAM with sophomoric spoofs like SCARY MOVIE would be an ambitious undertaking. There are some projects though that no amount of ambition can accomplish.

HACK is the story of Emily and her college class mates, who blithely head off to a remote island to study wildlife as part of a “school field trip”. While “studying”, they meet amateur film makers Vincent and Mary Shelley King, who welcome the coeds to their eccentric island home and begin to weave them into their movie making designs. Before long, students begin to disappear and suspicion grows as it becomes obvious that the Kings want to do more than just create films.

HACK works hard to bring together two seemingly related subgenres of horror films that just can’t be successfully grafted. HACK starts out trying to be more like SCREAM in its slightly more “serious” satirizing of the horror genre. All the characters are obvious stereotypes, there are blatant references to better films and film makers and the attempt to make the characters unsympathetic so that their demise will be that much more pleasurable is painfully apparent. This strategy backfires though, for some of the characters and much of their dialogue is so immensely irritating that the viewer’s connection to the story is stretched to being tenuous at best. When the plot begins to twist and a somewhat more sophisticated form of ludicrous humor begins to unfold, it is too late and the damage has been done. In the end, it is unfortunate for there are some enjoyable performances by Danica McKellar as Emily and William Forsythe as Willy. There are some intentionally ridiculous death scenes and outlandish comedic moments that create a smirk and some equally deliberate plot devices that are worth a chuckle. After a rocky start that was reminiscent of the putrescent SAW films, which sadly are referenced, there is some reasonably good camera work on occasion, and some nicely done sets/exteriors. Gabrielle Richens is magnificent eye candy and even Danica McKellar gets into the act, putting on the sex appeal after spending most of the film as the archetypal geeky student. For fans of THE WONDER YEARS, I am sure that they will enjoy seeing “Winnie” strut her stuff. All of these laudable efforts keep HACK from being a disaster, but they are not enough to cancel the force of inertia. Once this film began its downward spiral, gobs of energy keep the ship from descending into the Black Hole, but no amount of power can help it to escape the gravity whirlpool, and HACK is destined to remain in a fixed orbit, far below the lofty aspirations that it may have set for itself. In the end, I don’t think it was a lack of effort and carefully spent cash. Some projects can’t be made to work no matter how hard you try.

As is too often the case today, this dvd is another bare bones offering. In addition to Ms. McKellar and Mr. Forsythe, this film’s cast includes Juliet Landau (yes, Martin’s daughter) and Burt Young, so that it stands to reason that some cast interviews would have been advisable. Director Matt Flynn also produced HACK and wrote the script. A commentary with the man at the helm would have also been nice, and even better would have been a commentary with Matt and producer/actor Sean Kanan or Danica McKellar. Hell, just a stills gallery of Gabrielle Richens’ best glamour pinups should have been a consideration, but there was nothing to be had. As has been said before, an entertaining extras menu can often soften the heart of the most caustic critic. When there is a pedigree to a film like HACK, an extras menu with irresistible goodies becomes a moral imperative. Is it that expensive? If so, better financing needs to be arranged.

In a world filled with super cheap, direct to dvd movies that have more in common with a sewer pipe than they do a feature film, HACK is a more carefully crafted specimen, but it is not high cinema, nor is it lightning in a bottle created under the most unique of circumstances. HACK’s humor will probably appeal to some and its ham-handed referencing of better films may seem witty to others, but it is not SCREAM, and it probably never tried to be. It will probably end up being one of those films that takes its place on a rental shelf, finds its way to the bargain bin and finally enters the last journey of being traded from owner to owner through used dvd stores or used on-line sites, never quite knowing what it means to be real.

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