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Wednesday 2 October 2013

Killer Kart (2012)

Director: James Feeney
Stars: Christine Rodriguez, Ray Bouchard, Elly Schaefer and Britt Michael Gordon
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I don't know what they're putting in the water down in the Sunshine State, but the horror filmmakers emerging from Florida State University's College of Motion Picture Arts are making themselves rather noticed. There was only one set of horror shorts at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival this year, but two of the best films in it have ties to FSU: Killer Kart was made there and The Root of the Problem was made by an alumnus of the school who shot Kirksdale there, a festival selection in 2008. This one works as a companion piece to Quentin Dupieux's Rubber, but its questions about technique are not posed on screen but only in our minds. The goal, of course, is to make a slasher movie with a plainly ridiculous antagonist but to play it so straight that we can't help but be affected even against our better judgement. In Rubber that antagonist was a tyre, able to explode its victims through some sort of psychic power; here it's a shopping cart seeking revenge on mankind for years of abuse.

To explain how well this fifteen minute short was constructed, I should point out that there isn't one thing in the entire movie that you haven't seen before, merely with a different villain. The whole thing is so archetypal that you could easily use it as a template. Conjure up a new monster, then take this script, change the location and character names and shake up the dialogue until you're not going to get sued for plaguarism. You'll then have a framework on which to build your horror movie. Rinse and repeat and you'll have a dozen of them ready to go. Don't feel too bad about it either, as it's nothing new: Charles B Griffith reused some of his scripts for Roger Corman three or four times. Of course, to make a generic script worthy, it takes a crew to make it work and a cast to make it shine. Fortunately those aren't problems here. The crew hit their beats so well we could set our watches by them and the cast play their roles delightfully straight, however many takes it must have taken them.

We follow Cass, a young lady on her first night as closing manager at the Victory supermarket. It's not going well for her: the phones are failing, the comm system is failing and the lights go out while she's in the bathroom. Her boyfriend Ryan, who stocks shelves, wants to get frisky in the aisles. Bailey, the only cashier still working, disappears with her till open. That leaves Hale, who's been the maintenance man forever and looks like it. 'There's a lot of years there,' suggests Cass, 'and they weren't all good.' He gives good jibe though and he's a joy from his first moments on screen. Ray Bouchard channels a Bill Moseley vibe as he delivers the serious lines, putting the case for the abused carts with a straight face that deserves our admiration. His performance would play well next to Christopher Bradley's in Black Gulch and for most of the same reasons. It's hard to pick a favourite, but I'd have to go with his line after realising Bailey is still alive. 'Jesus!' he cries. 'I thought she'd be the first to go!'

Elly Schaefer does well as Bailey, although she has little to do except scream. She's good at that and she is in the ice cream aisle, making it all a bad pun too. Christine Rodriguez comes out best as Cass, because, surprisingly for a short film, she grows believably throughout. In the beginning, she's just a nervous young store manager but, by the end, she's ready to kick ass and take names, as nervous but now able to work past her fears to do what has to be done. When she screams, 'Shopping carts can't kill people!' it feels right and, given the line, that's pretty astounding. Of course the main characters in slasher movies always take a back seat to the monster, even more the case here because of what it is. Writer/director James Feeney obviously had a lot of fun contrasting wild reactions with benign motion; Cass's pans across the parking lot to find the killer are hilarious. He had even more fun modifying his cart to pay homage to Jaws or Alien. And at the end of the day, that's what this is all about: great fun.

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