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Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Surely one of the oddest film genres ever is the "stalker vs. terrified teen campers" flick. The basics are always the same, the only variable being what stalks and terrifies the teen campers. How much or how little actual imagination goes into that aspect can make the difference between whether it's a worthwhile effort or just another negligible knock-off.
In the case of director Renata Green-Gaber's debut feature WHAT'S EATING TODD? (2016), the "what" in the title gives it that little extra bit of horror appeal that keeps the film from being the usual shaggy dog story littered with boring dead teens. One thing's for sure--it ain't the same thing that was eating Gilbert Grape!
After a promising opening in which a factory in the middle of the woods is attacked by what appears (in several effective shock-cuts) to be a horde of flesh-eating zombies, we jump ahead several years to join birthday boy Todd himself (Adam Michael Gold, THE Z) and his girlfriend Valerie (Madison Lawlor, CLOSE RANGE, RISE OF THE VALKYRIE) as they set off on a camping trip with their buddies Alex (Phil Biedron) and Duane (Scott Alin).
Here's the catch: the spot they choose as their campsite, for some damn reason, is none other than the abandoned, rusted-out factory where we just saw people being eaten alive by zombies. (I guess if you're going to foreshadow there's no point in fooling around.) So now, we need only watch our hapless teens have a camping-out fun montage (which, naturally, includes getting wasted) and wait for whatever horrible thing that's going to happen to them to happen.
This time the group's too small to include all the usual stereotypes--none is particularly jock-ish, they're ALL pretty much weed-head goofballs, and since there's only one girl (who is neither slutty nor overly prudish) we don't have to wonder who the "final girl" is going to be.
The resident "dick", in fact, is Todd's Uncle Carl (Danny Rio), who drops them off at the site in his pickup and stays around just long enough to recount the scary "urban legend" about the old factory that makes everyone wet their panties before he drives away cackling. He also points out the fact that they're in a "dead zone" which means (uh-oh) no cell phones!
Needless to say, they spend the afternoon having massive amounts of fun doing the camping out thing, which neither I nor any of my friends in high school ever thought would be even remotely fun to do so I guess we really missed out. Anyway, once that's over and they've all gotten sufficiently stoned around the campfire, Todd wanders off to "commune with nature", so to speak, and is never seen again.
What follows is the standard procedure for movies like this, with the search for their friend leading to more attacks, the discovery of a mutilated corpse or two, lots of unbridled panic, ugly recriminations and tortured personal confessions, and of course the gradual one-by-one lessening of the immediate population.
For the most part, the acting isn't quite stellar (especially when the need to express constant hysteria sets in) and the script tends to be short on logic and long on dumb dialogue. But director Green-Gaber does a capable job and actually manages to keep the suspense level fairly high in the second half.
This is helped by the introduction of a new character, a gun-toting poacher (Carlos Antonio) with a car parked nearby, giving the surviving teens a possible means of escape as they're being stalked by the horrific flesh-munching boogeyman lurking around out in the dark. Other good points include some nice gore makeups and an outstanding original score by Andy Georges.
WHAT'S EATING TODD? is not all that great, to be sure, but at least the filmmakers are trying and it's sort of fun in its own dumb way if you watch with lowered expectations. I was ready to give it an overall negative review, and yet when it was over I actually heard myself saying, "Hmm...that was pretty good." So I guess it was pretty good!
Runtime: 89 minutes
Format: 1:85 Flat (35mm)
Sound: Dolby SR
Rating: R (equivalent)