First, in Stripped, debuting feature director J.M.R. Luna updates the been-there scenario of college-age assholes on a holiday of hell by applying a coat of found footage to it. In this case, four friends gather to make the 21st birthday of one of them memorable, beginning with 8 a.m. bowl smoking before heading to Vegas, baby, Vegas!
As horny, 20-something guys are wont to do, they take advantage of the strip’s strippers and Nevada’s lax laws on prostitution, only to find themselves smack-dab in a rather Hostel situation: namely, scantily clad ladies seducing them into “donating” to a black-market organ ring. The very box gives this away, almost as if the lure of exposed skin just isn’t enough to entice viewers. Unlike a lot of no-budget exercises in found footage, Stripped has just the right amount of tick marks to make a one-and-done watch tolerable. Barely.
Better is Nailbiter, yet I fully understand if Central Oklahomans want to hold off seeing it or perhaps skip it altogether, being that director/co-writer Patrick Rea’s film uses a deadly tornado as a jumping-off point. Twisters are truly terrifying, and the one here is impressively rendered on a shoestring, but the movie is not about the danger of being sucked up; it’s about the danger of being eaten.
That fate is faced by Janet Maguire (Erin McGrane, Up in the Air), a military wife and mom eager to meet her homebound spouse as he steps off the plane in Kansas City. But Mother Nature has other plans, sending Janet and her three daughters off their planned route and temporarily underground at a nearby farm. Unbeknownst to them, at least at first, is that something inhuman lives down there, and his/its teeth are like nails (hence the title).
Spending almost the entirety of Nailbiter
in such a locale is intriguing, as is Rea’s making Janet a recovering
alcoholic. Girl power becomes a theme that bubbles to the surface, and
also informs American Mary, our third movie for discussion here and easily the best of the bunch.
Recently seen as being the best thing about the 13 Eerie ensemble piece, the sharp, sexy Katharine Isabelle dominates the American Mary showcase as Mary Mason, a med-school student studying to be a surgeon until loan issues put a kink in her plans. Desperate, she turns to a strip joint to use what God gave her, but she’s in luck when her “sewing skills” are needed discreetly and for a cool $5,000.
From there, word spreads of Mary’s prowess at surgery; without intending to, she becomes a freelance Frankenstein. Requests for her services get really weird, from a woman wanting her nude body to look like a doll’s, to a set of twins (writers/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska) wishing to swap their arms.
The film takes the body horror of David Cronenberg’s CV to a new extreme, and represents a major step up for the Soska sibs, whose Dead Hooker in a Trunk debut of 2009 was woefully unfocused — no such problems here, even if the ending feels abrupt. The Canadian production comes dedicated to Eli Roth, which won’t surprise anyone by the time that credit arises. —Rod Lott