Monday, April 4, 2016

CURVE (2015) [Joe's Review]

. . . She winds up eating a rat, trying to drink her own pee, and feebly trying to saw her own leg off . . .

A woman on a road trip decides to give a handsome hiker a ride, but when he turns out to be a psycho, she drives her truck into a ravine. Stuck in her truck with the psycho on the loose, she’ll have to fight to survive!

Curve gets off to a romantic start. Mallory, played by Julianne Hough, is stranded when her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Cue charming hiker, who gets her back on the road with a folksy car-starting trick he learned from his dad.

In return, she offers to give him a ride to a little motel in the woods. Everything up until this point suggests “romantic fling," but you know Curve will take a turn for the worse, you just don’t know how, or when.  Cue the charming hiker and his rant about all the variables that had to come together for them to meet, and whether or not it’s fate. His manner goes from smooth and macho to agitated, nerdy, and a little manic.

As an agitated, nerdy, and manic person, I was fascinated by this scene. “So that’s where my own romantic conversations always fell apart!” I thought, “It was when I started talking really fast about variables and probabilities!”

The hiker’s speech was not obviously wrong or creepy. But because every interaction leading up to it had been so dreamy, it still represented an off-putting return to reality.

And then the charming hitch hiker said “I’m not flirting with you. Besides, I don’t think you could deep throat my monster cock.”

I understand the writer’s strategy here: you wave the tiniest red flag then follow with the biggest red flag ever, like a conversational jump-scare. But where the hiker’s manic rant ruined Mallory’s sense of fantasy, his sudden filthy jest crushes any semblance of plausibility. It snaps you back to the reality that you’re watching a movie, it’s so incongruous.

And then Curve reminds you that you’re watching a streaming Netflix horror movie. The hiker follows up the cock-line with a speech befitting an anime villain, to the effect of:

“Clearly you made the decision to depart upon this journey with me, having the opportunity not once or twice but thrice to drive away, ipso facto I am not at fault in this circumstance!”

This is the voice of a writer, not the voice of a psycho woodsman. Only a writer would over-explain so much.

This sets up the unintentionally funniest moment in Curve, when Mallory realizes the hiker isn’t wearing his seat belt, and there’s a sharp curve up ahead. At the same moment, the hiker notices the dinging of the fasten seat belt chime, to which he says something like “Man, that dinging is so annoying!” and reaches for his seatbelt.

But *DRAMATIC IRONY* Mallory drives off a cliff! Ha ha, psycho hiker! Joke’s on you!

Actually, the joke is on Mallory, because she’s stuck upside down in the truck with her foot caught in the floorboard, and the hiker, though ejected from a truck travelling upside down at high speed through a ravine, is totally unscathed and free!

This brings us to the debasement section of Curve, where Mallory is humiliated by both circumstance and the hiker. He offers her food, but says she has to tell him dirty stories about her sex life. She winds up eating a rat, trying to drink her own pee, and feebly trying to saw her own leg off. It’s a solid 30 minutes of powerlessness, futility, and humiliation.

Through it all, I was bothered by the question “Was Curve written by a man or a woman?” I’m not going to get all serious on you, but writers are complicit in the stories they tell. If a movie features terrible things happening to women, then someone had to sit there and daydream about it before they wrote it. And so when I see a movie like Curve, I wonder "Why was this the writer's dream of choice?"

Kimberly Johnson, who is in fact a woman, apparently wrote this screenplay right after her battle with Hodgkins lymphoma, and the whole scenario is kind of a metaphor for cancer. Well, there you go! That is deeply personal, and frankly, I think using cancer as an inspiration for a horrific scenario is a compelling approach.

Unfortunately, the execution is dubious. The last third of Curve sees Mallory escape the car and defeat the hiker, but there’s no catharsis. Mallory’s escape is an act of deus ex machina (when a freaking storm causes a flood to wash the car off an embankment, and the collision jars her leg free), and her final triumph is completely impossible, and comes after a baffling series of incredible errors on her part.

Two in particular will be deeply frustrating to anyone who plays first person shooter video games:

Case 1 – Mallory is standing with a pistol, she can see the bad guy, and he can’t see her. She could definitely shoot him, probably starting at the legs in order to let the hit box carry her firing pattern upward!

Outcome – Mallory decides to free the hostage.

Case 2 – The hiker hears Mallory freeing the hostage, and investigates. Mallory hides behind a door, and can shoot him all over the place from virtually point blank range. SHOOT! SHOOT, right?

Outcome – Mallory tells the bad guy to freeze, so he charges and knocks the gun out of her hand.

Well, shoot.

Mallory finally convinces the hiker she jumped out a window, and when he goes to investigate, she charges and knocks him over the railing…onto a bear trap.  The end!

Hey, at least Curve came from something real, and meant something to its author. When I wonder why Kimberly Johnson wrote what she wrote, I understand, whereas when I think about The Chosen, or Pod, I don't know where that s**t came from! I hope Ms. Johnson keeps it up, and I look forward to whatever she does down the road. Even if Paul and I make fun of it.

Questions for Paul:

1. I lost count of how many days Mallory spent in the truck. How many did it take her to start actually looking through things?

PH:  I don't know, but it seems like quite awhile before she finds the pack of cigarettes.  When she finds it, she mutters something like "last one, my ass" which threw me because she seems to be referring to an exchange that we didn't see.  Whose cigarettes are those?  The sadist's?  But when did she ask him for a cigarette?  Or maybe they were Brad's and he left the pack in his truck? 

And then, having found the pack and a lighter, she doesn't even smoke one.  Maybe she doesn't smoke, you say, but she then why was she asking for a cigarette in the first place?  Why would she be upset that someone told her that it was his "last one" if she didn't want one herself?

*Ponders for a moment*

Oh!  I get it!  Brad didn't say "last one, so I can't give you one," but rather "last one, and then I quit smoking for good."  So Mallory is mad that Brad is still smoking, not that he's hiding cigarettes from her.  Man, shake Brad's truck and all sorts of dirty secrets fall out.

But is this really my mistake?  I'm not willing to concede.  For Mallory could have said, "And I thought you quit, asshole" or "hiding cigarettes in your truck, classy."  Or, if she were less self-centered and spiteful, she might say something like, "Oh, thank God you couldn't quit smoking, because now I've got fire!"

The more I think about this movie, the more I think Brad is the one dodging the bullet.  

2.  When she built that fire next to her head, what did you think was going to happen?

PH:  Honestly, I thought she was going to burn down the whole forest.  And if she had, it somehow would have been Brad's fault.  Like if Brad had quit smoking then she wouldn't have a lighter and wouldn't have been able to burn down the forest for no particular reason.  Gee thanks Brad!

JD: Is that all the meat you can get from a rat?

PH: I wouldn't think so, but did you know that one of the best ways to lose weight is to cut down on portion size?  Mallory doesn't look like the type to eat the whole bag of chips in one sitting, so maybe the same applies to rats? 

JD: Didn’t the hiker get stabbed in the stomach at one point? How was that not more of a plot point?

PH: I don't remember that happening at all, which probably just underlines rather than answers your question.

JD: What would have made the hiker a more compelling bad guy?

PH:  I think he might be more compelling if we saw him actually doing something evil in say the first hour of the film.  Here's a list of the evil things he does for the first two thirds of the film:

(1) says some heinous stuff
(2) waves a knife around
(3) doesn't help the woman who tried to kill him
(4) gives her a saw so that she can have a chance to escape

The first thing is creepy and screwed up but really is no worse than the average youtube comment section.  The second thing could have come from a 40s radio show--"gimme your wallet, or I'll cut ya, see?"  The third thing is bad, I suppose, but in such a passive aggressive way.  I'm going to torture you by not doing anything!  And then the fourth thing is supposed to be awful but from another angle could be seen as him actually helping her.  He gives her a saw!  That's way better than being trapped in a car without a saw.

He's a bad guy, obviously, but he isn't fearsome.  Somehow this is all Brad's fault.

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