Thursday, April 24, 2008

CARVER (2008) d. Franklin Guerrero Jr.

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

One of the first artistic experiences I can remember where I learned that “less is more” was finger painting in kindergarten. I recall being transfixed by the heart-breaking colors of blue and red on the pure white paper. Then I remember my disappointment when I added other colors and the reds and blues began to weaken as I swirled everything around. In an effort to rescue the situation, I added more color, only to get a sludgy end product that resembled black/brown. What do you get when a once novel film concept of backwoods, inbred monstrosities preying upon unsuspecting young people becomes tired, expended and incessantly copied so that you have to add in all manner of fetid filth? You get CARVER.

CARVER is the story of brothers Pete and Bryan, who meet up with their friends Zack and Rachel for some camping in the woods near The Queen’s Gambit tavern in the town of Halcyon Ridge. Pete and Bryan also meet fellow camper Kate, who has somehow lost her friend Gina. Before the camping begins, the friends agree to aid Billy Hall Carver in return for a small amount of hospitality he extended to them when they arrived in town. Before long, the campers stumble upon a nightmare of torture, blood and death from which it seems there is no escape.

It was said in Ken Burns’ CIVIL WAR documentary that “life for the average soldier was long periods of tedium punctuated by moments of extreme terror”. The CARVER storyline is more like a long initial stretch of irritating and boring stupidity, interspersed with dollops of refuse and then grafted to an escalating series of the vilest depravity one can imagine that is not in a true snuff film. The opening acts of this movie felt like they had been scripted in a singles bar as the screenwriters watched drunken and debilitated youngsters ineffectively interface with each other and their surroundings. Add to this already tottering house of cards three immeasurably irksome characters. Bryan is so whiny and cowardly that he makes Lost in Space’s Dr. Zachary Smith seem like a knight upon errantry. Bryan’s annoying nature is nothing in comparison to that of Zack and Rachel. These two swerve mindlessly between the poles of infantile and pestiferous behavior and build up such a critical mass of infuriating energy that it is surprising that a thermonuclear reaction of imbecility didn’t ensue. What screenwriters just don’t understand anymore is that making characters impossibly unpleasant does not make their demise more enjoyable. By the time the axe falls, most viewers have already checked out of the mental motel and are either ready to rip the disc out of the player or are watching the clock until the film ends. I struggled with the urge to do both. Finally, the last acts of the plot were marred by illogical and ridiculously “convenient” story devices. This did nothing to relieve this weary trudge of a tale of its predictability and banality, rather the reverse. Any film that is trying to mine the dark side of “cinema verite” needs to have a sense of reason and build its twists and turns around reality that the viewer can’t shake but also can’t see coming. Just as the “buddy cop” movie has run its course and needs to be euthanized, someone needs to take this putrescent pustule of a genre and see the motion picture dermatologist so that it can be lanced.

If the story weren’t bad enough, the imagery in this slough of sludge calls to mind quotes that Roger Ebert once made about “The Geek Show” in his book I Hated, Hated, Hated this Movie. A Geek Show is simply an effort on the part of a huckster to lift cash out of your pocket by using grisly shocks. CARVER goes even further than that. Beyond the sawn and hacked off body parts, nails, serrated knives, awls and other sharp instruments driven into flesh, slashes and bashes that produce sprays, spouts, dribbles and torrents of blood, there are even more wretched moments that lie in wait. You can see genitals popped like a ripe grapes, vomit spew down the front of someone’s shirt, feces dumped all over a character’s face and chest, urine sprinkled across the ground, a grime-encrusted toilet used the crush a man’s legs as well as bullets tearing chucks out of people’s bodies. When the narrative well is not only dry, but you’ve pushed at the pump handle so many times that only dust and sand will gush from the spigot, the only choice left is to delve as deeply into the vilest and basest instincts seeded in the murkiest corners of the primitive brain. One of the “stars” of this “film” said in an interview clip that they hope that CARVER will provide “a lot of scares”. It won’t, because none of this is scary. It is disgusting and those who made this movie don’t know the difference. What made Tobe Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE so scary was what you thought might happen or the threat of what was going to happen. The violence in that film was grisly at times, but more effective were scenes like Leatherface, roaring chainsaw in hand, chasing Sally across a darkened landscape, the audience not knowing whether she would escape or not, but feeling her terror because you identified with her. CARVER chooses to finger paint with its elbows and once the characters have been rendered thoroughly unlikable, it then proceeds to create scenes that are equally as unwatchable. I felt I had reached the lowest levels of desolation when I watched SAW III, but I was wrong. CARVER took me down to a level I had not realized existed. Maybe the lovers of the SAW and HOSTEL franchises will like this film. I guess I really don’t care.

There is an extras menu on this “unrated: grisly edition” disc and I did plumb it. The 13 minute “behind the scenes” featurette was the best part of the experience, yet even that was mishandled. The interviews with Neil Kubath, Jonathon Rockett, David G. Holland and lovely Kristyn Green, spliced with production footage was interesting and gave me a look at some of the thoughts/motivations of the actors involved. However, every time a clip from the film was edited into the sequence, any empathy I had begun to engender for the cast evaporated. There is a small section of deleted/alternate scenes that were of minor interest. There are also two commentary tracks with director Franklin Guerrero Jr. on both and producer Richard Finney accompanying the director on one track while producer Eric Williford chimes in on the other track. Normally I am always interested in the views and recollections of the cast and crew in any project, but in this case I didn’t want to hear what these men had to say.

One of my closest friends once told me that he had seen a film, “that made him a worse person”. I sincerely hope that viewing CARVER has not lead me farther down the ruinous path into the void and that somehow I can find some redemption after this transgression. Just as I learned a valuable lesson from my finger painting experience long ago, maybe I can take from this incident the awareness that this film may have sworn me off of that corrupt avenue of birthing nightmares from the deepest corners of a person's colon called “torture porn”. The problem is that when one becomes exclusive in their habits, they can miss out on opportunities. I feel that watching THE GIRL NEXT DOOR was a “worthwhile” experience because of the valuable literary themes woven into that very powerful and unsettling film. CARVER has made me re-evaluate my standards and re-assess why I am watching certain sub-genres. If I can emerge from this horrifying viewing a wiser person, it can be said that I my have found a “silver” lining in one of the darkest clouds imaginable.

No comments: