Dismal: Movie Review

Dismal Movie starring Bill Oberst Jr.
by Jason Lees, MoreHorror

DISMAL (Gary King, 2009)

There are three basic types of low budget independent films. There are the small personal films that showcase the personal vision of the filmmaker. No one sees these unless they helped pay for them.

The second group is made up of the films that go for the shock and awe to get their audience. They’re the ones that cross the line to get attention and notoriety. His honorable Lloyd Kaufman of Troma has made an art form out of this tier.

The third type of indie film, at least when it comes to genre pics, is the type that ignore that they have no budget and just set out to make a movie no matter what. They tend to play by the same rules as big Hollywood flick but only cost a fraction of the budget. Whether they succeed or not is really up to the viewer, but to get a movie released that cost about what Avatar’s valet parking budget was is an accomplishment in itself.

DISMAL, directed by Gary King and written by Bo Buckley, does its part to fall a little in each category.

DISMAL starts out a bit slow with its HATCHET-like opening (and I’m sure the filmmakers are tired of hearing that) in the swamp as two poachers are taken in by the shadows. Next, we travel to a more urban setting where we meet our heroes as they prepare for a swamp trip for extra college credit. More time is given here than in most scare flicks setting up our characters, and maybe it goes too far in trying to add depth to our cast. We don’t need to know when everyone has to pee. There’s a line between character development and just plain boring. DISMAL walks that fine line. While I thought the opening was too slow, it must have worked because when the carnage finally does start about thirty minutes in, I actually found myself caring about who was getting clubbed, and that’s a rare thing these days.

And that’s where DISMAL takes an odd turn. Not a plot twist, really, but a concept twist. What was going to be another entry in the “kids lost in the woods” flick becomes, to be totally honest, the next WRONG TURN movie. This is where DISMAL falls into the indie trap of trying to be a big budget release by aping what’s come before. To give credit, when the backwoods (er, backswamp?) killers start to track our leads, there’s no more surprises to be had. We’ve seen this plot before. I admit, I think I enjoyed DISMAL more than I did the original WRONG TURN, but that’s not saying too much.

When that bloodshed does start, it’s a surprise. Not so much as how it starts, but just how much they tried to bring to the screen. On a low low budget, you’d expect more practical effects, but DISMAL attempts some pretty tricky CGI bloodwork and even an Argento-type eye opener. I’m not saying it worked, but I have to give them serious props for trying. It would’ve been easy to just splash on some Hershey’s syrup and call it good, but they wanted to go a little further. And why not? This is America. We should reach for the stars.

And that’s another thing DISMAL has going for it: the cast.

I was again surprised by how much I cared when certain characters bought it. The first half seemed so slow and clunky, with lines being delivered almost apathetically, that I was hoping to see the students get eaten. Or axed. Or worse. However, by the time Bill Oberst Jr. starts to crank up his malice I was ready to root for the co-eds. Oberst, for a guy who gets press for being one of the nicest guys working today, is uber-creepy. We’re talking Bill Moseley level creepy here. There’s no winks or nods to Oberst’s portrayal and that might be why I was rooting for the kids. This guy’s cold stare should’ve been the box art.

DISMAL isn’t going to set new standards in indie horror, but it’s strong work, better than I expected going in. For its budget, it attempts to be more than it should, and that’s a badge of honor I think. Too many flicks settle for being crap and blame the lack of dollars. DISMAL at least makes the attempt, and it does it in a straight forward manner without pandering. This may seem like a backhanded compliment, and maybe it is, but dollar for dollar, DISMAL manages to pull it off pretty well.

Bill Oberst Jr. in Dismal

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