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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

GROWTH -- DVD review by porfle

Back in the 70s and 80s, low-budget horror filmmakers who weren't wandering around in the woods doing serial killer POV shots sometimes thought of different ways to gross us out than severed limbs and entrails.  Some, like David Cronenberg, focused on body horror in films such as RABID and SHIVERS.  In NIGHT OF TH7E CREEPS, slithery parasites invaded human hosts and attacked them from the inside out while turning their victims into monsters themselves.  Sort of a throwback to the films of this era is GROWTH (2009), which has elements of those earlier efforts along with the same creepy and sometimes dreary atmosphere.

Jamie (Mircea Monroe) is returning to the small New England island where her great uncle Mason (Ian Patrick Williams) and her mother were once involved in an experiment in which genetically-engineered parasites were used to enhance the bodies and minds of their human hosts.  The experiment went horribly wrong, of course, partly because the scientists seem to have forgotten the definition of the word "parasite."

Jamie and her half-brother Justin (Christopher Shand), along with her boyfriend Marco (Brian Krause) and best friend Kristin (Nora Kirkpatrick), are there to clean up the old house and research facility which Jamie has inherited in order to sell them for a large sum.  Unfortunately, the parasites that wiped out the research team and much of the local population years earlier have also returned and are multiplying like crazy.

Writer-director Gabriel Cowan has a fairly good cast to work with and keeps the camera moving nicely.  He also knows how to stretch his limited budget and, for the most part, manages to keep his film from having that "cheap" look.  Makeup effects are good, while the CGI runs hot and cold--some shots, such as a corpse sitting in front of his TV while parasites slither in and out of the holes in his face, are quite pleasingly icky, while others just seem to say, "Look at me, I'm crappy CGI."  But for the most part, the digital effects are serviceable. 

Rather than building up a head of steam and barreling on toward the finish line, the story meanders its way around the various plot points in a fairly involving though somewhat listless manner.  When a large number of the slithery creatures finally escape from a secret lab and disperse into the wild, the free-for-all epidemic we expect to see is confined to a shot of several people sitting in an emergency room, while the climactic action takes place on a small scale.  An interesting little epilogue which takes place in Korea sends the movie off on a high note. 

There's an autumnal feel to the whole thing that reminds me of some earlier low-budget Canadian horrors.  The Cronenberg influence is seen mainly in the SHIVERS-like parasites that are passed from person to person, although here, there isn't much of a sexual element.  Even when one character becomes infected while having sex with another, the "venereal" aspect which Cronenberg would have stressed is missing.  (The bar scene from THE FLY is also paid homage to when a parasite-enhanced character picks up a girl in a local dive and then easily dispatches the local boys who try to intervene.)

The main difference between GROWTH and the similarly-themed NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is that here, aside from a little bickering between Justin and the irritating Kristin early on, there's very little attempt at humor of any kind.  Not that the film takes itself too seriously, though--director Cowan is intent simply on making a giddily gross-out scare flick to the best of his ability, and pretty much succeeds. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 sound and English captions.  Extras include two audio commentaries--one with director Cowan and producer Aimee Clark, the other with cast members Monroe, Krause, Shand, and Kirkpatrick--a "making of" featurette, a look at how Cowan directed the Korean segment over the internet, deleted scenes, and a trailer. 

Not an outstanding film by any means, GROWTH is still a worthy effort that should please horror fans who enjoy a good queasy chill now and then.  It's just the sort of grotesque, communal-infection type of scenario that would've made a good episode of "The X-Files"--you almost expect Mulder and Scully to show up at any minute to investigate.

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