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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Nicholas Mastandrea
scr Robert Conte, Peter Martin Wortmann
with Michelle Rodriguez, Oliver Hudson, Eric Lively, Taryn Manning, Hill Harper, Nick Boraine, Lisa-Marie Schneider
release UK 27.Apr.07,
US 22.May.07 dvd
06/South Africa First Look 1h27
Bad doggies: Rodriguez and Lively
While there's nothing terribly original about this stranded-and-terrorised thriller, it's at least well made and effectively suspenseful, with strong characters.
A group of five college friends head on an idyllic island getaway at the disused family holiday home of brothers John and Matt (Hudson and Lively). Sibling rivalry threatens to boil over, since Matt's girlfriend Nicki (Rodriguez) is John's ex. But hey, this is vacation! And comical buddy Noah (Harper) keeps the mood light, while Sarah (Manning) flirts shamelessly and cuddles a puppy she finds outside. But that puppy has an angry mother. And soon a pack of ravenous and strangely intelligent dogs surrounds the house with the clear intention of having them for dinner.
Mastandrea directs this with a sure hand, heightening tension by playing with genre cliches (don't go in the basement!) and unnerving us with red herrings and witty insinuations. It's also nice to see a film in which the animals are real, not animated, and there's no super-immortal monster-dog turning up for a final conflagration. The script also plays with stereotypes and interrelationships, although anyone who has seen a few of these films will know instantly how it's going to end.
The actors are solid, making even the script's most ludicrous touches (archery and rope-climbing?) vaguely believable. Hudson and Lively hold things together adeptly, while Rodriguez and Manning get beyond their bikini-babe scenes. Harper struggles in the silly sidekick role--talking to himself, cracking lame jokes, and never looking very comfortable in the movie. And the dogs are fine, although they look far too cuddly to be ruthless killers, despite added growl and snarl on the soundtrack. If they'd only cast cocker spaniels instead of Alsatians, the film would at least have had camp originality going for it.
Because that's really what it needs. Even with the light-hearted antics, the film has an overserious tone to it, trying to hint at government conspiracies and past emotional damage. And frankly, it's not grisly enough to satisfy most horror fans. But it's an efficiently made, good-looking, nicely contained little thriller that at least keeps us gripped right up to the requisite final shock.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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