Sunday 5 September 2010

Trippin' (2009)

Directrix: Devi Snively
Stars: Zed Wilson, Heathyr Clift, Ken Dusek Jr, Nicole Buehrer, Jake Perry and Lindsay Robertson
This film was an official selection at the 3rd Phoenix Fear Film Fest in Tempe in 2010. Here's an index to my reviews of 2010 films.
I was privileged to talk to writer/directrix Devi Snively after a screening of Trippin' at Trash City's Fear Fest 2010 and I don't think I've ever met someone working in film who seemed more capable, professional and destined to go serious places. On the face of it, this is exactly the sort of horror movie I don't like, a horror comedy populated by young idiots who spend most of their time drunk, stoned or both, the sort of thing that Kevin Smith would make. Of all the films on the schedule at Fear Fest, this was the last one I was interested in seeing but it turned out to be the surprise of the festival, the best picture shown. It's funny as a comedy, sharp as social commentary and scary as a horror story, a success on every front. It takes the incredibly tired kids in a cabin story and turns it on its head, not least by starting out with complete stereotypes and subverting them throughout the movie. Everyone involved lives up to the levels Snively sets them too.

There are six kids this time out, three couples. Joe and Mickey are the nominal leaders, Joe being the one who books the cabin in the woods and drives them out there in his big van. He's done time for a practical joke that went too far and he throws all the ludes into the spaghetti sauce he cooks up on the first night in the cabin. His wife Mickey is a photographer who takes pictures of roadkill. 'That's revolting,' comments Giselle. 'Thank you,' says Mickey. Giselle is the straitlaced one of the bunch, the outsider in this group who's only come along to spend time with her boyfriend, Jeremy. She's so straight laced that she has bunny slippers and seems to be against everything, though she takes amyl nitrate for a heart disorder. Jeremy is stereotypically normal. That leaves Holly and Zed. Holly is the free spirit who flashes the truck behind them on the road and Zed does every drug in the book, has a guitar and a pair of bongos and laughs at the word 'angina'.

Zed is also the reason the film exists, given that it sprang out of a real life incident involving actor Zed Wilson. No, the character isn't just named that to set up a 'Zed's dead, baby, Zed's dead,' line, it's actually based on the actor playing it, though he does have a real life band called Better Zed Than Dead. Devi Snively met him in a bar and noticed the horrific scar on his leg. She paid him in beer to tell his story and when he was done suggested that it would make a great movie. She was right and he plays himself, even appearing at the very beginning to introduce the story too. 'It isn't exactly what happened,' he tells us, 'but it's sorta what happened.' Of course, we have no clue as to what really happened but it doesn't matter because we get a wild ride of a story that doesn't let up and continues to shake up our expectations throughout. There's even a great trip scene in which Zed turns into a puppet, eyes appear everywhere and he stabs himself with a screwdriver.

All the actors are excellent, whether it's Ken Dusek Jr setting up yet another practical joke as Joe or Nicole Buehrer as Jizz destroying a frog with extreme vengeance after it jumps on her shoulder while she pleasures her man orally in the bathroom. Best of all may be Heathyr Clift, who seems to throw no end of acting into her role as Mickey, but inevitably Zed Wilson and Lindsay Robertson are the most obvious as Zed and Holly respectively, given that the former is a natural born scene stealer and the latter is the one who gets to show off her body. Rounding out the troupe is Jake Perry as Jeremy, who manages to be more than just the straight man to the rest. They get plenty of good material to work with, not just the characters and their dialogue but the setups too. Even on the way to the cabin, what appears to be a human corpse falls out of a flatbed truck in front of them, the same one Holly flashes. There are many more little subplots to keep it all interesting.

This is far from just a slasher movie or a kids in the woods movie or a practical joke movie, but it's hardly surprising for it to be seen that way. What struck me most, whichever of these subgenres it ends up fitting best, is the attention to detail. It's a low budget film that doesn't look it, but there's so much in the background if we pay enough attention. Each little story, like the one about Eagle Eye Johnson, a hunter who shot his wife by accident, spent ten years in jail and came back a little strange in the head, has a number of reasons to be there, generally one more than we expect. In every scene there's something going on beyond the focal point, whether it be actors carrying on in character even when the scene isn't about them or props like the copy of Home Taxidermy for Fun and Profit that I'd love to have myself. I don't know how likely an indie film like this is to break into the mainstream market but what's the competition, Transylmania? This deserves to succeed.

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