DVD Review: Dismal
Studio: Fearmakers Studios
DVD Release Date: 2008
Directed By: Gary King
Cast: Lydia Chandler, Tim Morris, Bill Oberst Jr, Meagan Reedy, Jade Arnold, Capel Kane
Brutal As Hell Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars
Review By: Dustin Hall
Dismal is the 4th film from director Gary King and the 4th script by its writer Bo Buckley. So, I guess you could say this movie constitutes their senior project. Now, I’m not going to say it’s plagiarized, but there aren’t a lot of new ideas to be found here. Dismal takes place in the swamp of the same name (bridging the borders of Virginia and North Carolina) where a family of cannibalistic hunters lay in wait to eat a group of backpackers who get too close.
This isn’t to be confused with Ray Brown’s 2007 film Dismal, which takes place in the swamp of the same name, and focuses on a group of backpackers being stalked by a reclusive hunter. Neither of these should be confused with Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Deliverance. Of course, horror has always been a genre as cannibalistic as the deformed villains it showcases, each movie really has to be taken on its own merits. What’s Dismal got going for it?
For those with a discerning eye, there’s some great swampy shots and time-lapse photography from cinematographer Shawn Lewallen. Something everyone can appreciate is the performance by Bill Oberst Jr. as Dale, who has great screen presence as the patriarch of the flesh-eating family. Only two years into his film career, Bill’s played a variety of business and small-town sheriff types, now he lends a malicious glee and a disturbing, penetrating stare to Dismal to surprising effect. There’s also a pretty good ‘survivor girl’ performance by rookie Lydia Chandler, who is a pretty bland good girl at first, but shows a competence for terrified screaming, and goes crazy in the film’s climax with vehement intensity.
Aside from that, you won’t find much to make this film memorable. Cast includes the standard ensemble of victims: good girl (brunette), good girl (blonde), nympho, nerdy guy, jock guy, average guy, and token black guy. And yes, the token black guy does die first. Other than the two already mentioned, all the performances are really flat, though Nerdy guy does stand out as being particularly annoying and unconvincing, and then makes a totally nonsensical turn into an unconvincing bad guy towards the end. (A twist that makes the movie’s set up not make any sense whatsoever. (Ask yourself this; did traitor kid slash his OWN tires? And if he had murder on his mind, why did he tell other students, like jock guy, where they were going?)
The film meanders about through the standard 25 or so minutes of set up scenes and sex gags that run just a tad too long, hitting all the beats. Eventually the teens having sex in the woods run into the deformed killer. Dismal hits about every standard beat of the horror genre, offering no surprises. Not to say it isn’t a solid effort. While I wouldn’t recommend Dismal of its own merits, the film looks pretty good, and would serve pretty well as a talent showcase for what the production team could put together with an expanded budget and, hopefully, a better script. The show’s biggest weakness is its dependence on digital techniques. Computer-rendered explosions and gore come off as remarkably fake, and are criminally over-used. Simple things, like a close-up of an iris contracting (ala Requiem for a Dream) and even gunshot wounds are sloppily animated over the characters. The rented cabin explosion, I can understand, but a gunshot? How much does a squib cost these days, anyway? Editing also appears to have been done on Imovie ’06, scene strung together by terrible transitions.
I’ve seen much worse, Green River Killer springs instantly to mind, but there’s nothing new to the formula here. There are a few good moments here to make a highlight reel from, and I could see this group doing some good films eventually, but this isn’t their breakout by any means; keep an eye open for future works. Don’t feel bad passing Dismal by. You’ve seen it before.