When two mercenaries head out for one last gig with the promise that it will set them up for life, they soon find out that it may cost them their lives
Death Valley is about as formulaic a movie as they come but it is slightly elevated due to the time and dedication to its lead characters, in spite of how two dimensional that come across, they’re still entertaining with their odd couple buddy routine
There’s Mr. Serious, play things by the book and the soldier who comes up with the plans, James Beckett (Jeremy Nibaber), plus he’s a family man
And there’s the joker, cowboy who is struggling to reach maturity and always resorts to wise cracks, Marshall (Ethan Mitchell). Thankfully he’s a crack shot sniper who delivers when things come to the crunch.
Their latest mission sees the duo answering the call from a female scientist who holds secret information which if it falls into the wrong hands will spell certain doom for mankind.
Naturally when they reach the remote laboratory bunker, they discover that all is not what it seems and several things are stalking them in the underground warren.
The creatures hold a pretty cool design and provide enough fear to instill a sense of dread and the desire to complete their mission and find freedom. This is amped even moreso wit the threat of a militia who will stop at nothing to bring the science experiments to an end.
Death Valley may be prone to predictability and could easily fall foul as a result, but what is presented is mildly entertaining and ticks along at a descent pace.
Just don’t be surprised by the cheap choice ending and the dialogue which can be ropey at times.
Death Valley is currently streaming on ShudderANZ.
For a directorial feature debut, Egor Abramenko is able to inject a thrilling, psychological piece that despite not necessarily offering anything new, does deliver a solid dramatical experience. This Russian entry into symbiotic alien invasion, creature feature horror plays its strength through grounding the fantastical elements into something that feels real.
Whilst most people would associate the name Sputnik with one of Russia’s finest achievements in space as the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth, it’s literal translation into the English language can mean ‘travelling companion’, both interpretations can be closely connected with this film. The film is set in 1983, towards the end of the Cold War, when two cosmonauts encounter a strange experience on their return journey back to Earth; an encounter that leaves only one human survivor, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov). His partner Averchenko is revealed to have had his skull ripped open and Konstantin clearly inhabiting unspeakable ills with an unknown entity harbouring inside his body. At this stage it is unclear if Konstantin is possessed or something far more sinister, but his ‘travelling companion’ will definitely become more clear as the story unfolds. This creature too, could spell a new world for the Soviet Union, with the first human encounter with an alien species.
What extent could this finding have on the country and the world is part of what fuels the narrative, and we’re led through this paranormal investigation through physician neuro-scientist Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), and her controversial hard-hitting approach that brings her before Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk), the man in charge of finding out what exactly is lurking inside of Konstantin’s human frame. Tatyana is instantly likeable despite her cold demeanor, thanks to Akinshina’s performance offering a glimpse of humanity and frailty beneath the tough exterior.
Much like Konstantin’s condition, Sputnik holds a cool exterior but buried beneath each character is a warren of emotions and in some cases when unleashed can herald some darkly disturbing truths. Konstantin himself is troubled by abandoning his son to an orphanage and therefore feels that the alien infestation is no more than what he deserves for his past actions. Semiradov also likes to keep things close to his chest and the more we learn about his motives, the more shadowy his methods appear. This is Tatyana’s story though and the biggest twist in her character arc doesn’t rise to the surface until the film’s epilogue, but is worth the wait.
Sputnik must rest on its depiction of the alien and with some incredible visual effects brings a stunning creature that invokes a combination of fear and vulnerability that spreads dread through the hearts of all those that interact with it. Fueling this animosity is much like the human fear of the unknown is that our own interpretations foster at night when we too are at our weakest.
Sputnik deserves high praise and is worth your time and attention, a journey into the core of humanity, ripping it apart the soul and unleashing cortisol from which fear and our base animalistic minds can feast upon.
IN CINEMAS NATIONALLY OCTOBER 1 *Excluding Victoria
There’s a lot to be said about the stellar work produced by director Steve Miner, having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham (on set of their respective experimental directorial debut features, Last House On The Left, and Friday the 13th) before giving charge to oversee the birth of Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2. Despite its gimmicks, Miner’s sophomore feature would project Jason out of the screen in all its 3D glory, but more importantly witness the now infamous hockey mask for the first time. By the time he rolled out his third feature, House, Miner appeared to have hit his stride with an off-beat blend of comedy and horror. That is until the diabolically awful Soul Man was released and then Miner went through the wringer serving up mediocre comedy drama movies that seemed to leave him trailing in the dust of his glory years in the directors chair. Fast track to 1998, and Miner finds himself thrust in the limelight once again and in charge of resurrecting another slasher villain Michael Myers in Halloween: H20. It looked like Miner had found his niche once more and showed that he was more than able to slide into the slasher world with relative ease.
The following year, Miner would step into fairly new territory, the creature feature and look to subject horror onto the screen in the form of a 30-foot-long man-eating saltwater crocodile. It’s been 20 years since Lake Placid graced the celluloid art and my only memories of the film was of Bridget Fonda (who had already captured this young man’s heart in 1993’s The Assassin), Oliver Platt (who at the time was only known to me as the guy with the camera in Flatliners, and playing Porthos alongside Kiefer Sutherland in The Three Musketeers. So, does this film still stand the test of time today? I went into my most recent viewing with pretty low expectations, but I was surprised to find out that it’s not too shabby.
Before, you raise your quizzical eyebrows at me, let me present a few interesting points about the movie that lift it out of the quagmire of cheesy dialogue and one-note characters.
Firstly, the cast are strong enough to mould some shape into their characters, starting with the afore-mentioned Fonda as a paleontologist called in to investigate the owner of a prehistoric tooth found embedded in a victim of an underwater attack. To begin with her frosty, cool demeanour is a little off-putting admittedly, but by the time she warms up, so does our reception of her, which helps with her flirtatious relationship with the charming Bill Pullman (playing the local Fish and Game officer). To round out our quartet of intrepid explorers, there’s Platt as mythology expert Hector (a sure thing to become croc fodder, but somehow survives the odds) and his own heated relationship with the often underrated Brendan Gleeson as the Local Sheriff. And let’s not forget Betty White as the batty old lady who’s been hand-rearing reptiles from a lakeside abode.
The effects are actually pretty gnarly too with a man ripped in two, and a nasty decapitation scene, there’s enough to whet the appetite of your average movie-watcher, but the real hero is in the croc, which could so easily fall prey of poor results, but thankfully this beast still looks remarkable solid, and that has a lot to do with the late, great Stan Winston who oversaw the creature effects. Even the climax of the movie, despite its faults does enough to step up and deliver.
Sure, Lake Placid plays it fairly safe, but it wins you over with charm and a bit of grit, a hallmark of Miner at his best. There have been other croc movies since that arguably have pushed the boat out and delivered a stronger film, but if you wanna just kick back, take it easy, and still be entertained, this croc movie more than holds itself above water.
As for Miner, he drifted away from the feature scene after this following a forgotten western starring James Van Der Beek (Texas Rangers) and a Day of the Dead remake, and has since been cruising the odd tv show instead. Who knows, he may well wash ashore again to resurrect a whole new franchise. Until then, we’re left with a few classics to measure him by.