Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Road To Nowhere: Zzyzx

[EDIT: Elisabeth is reviewing the other Zzyzx film here, the one that has been available for free - and legally - on Google Video. Essentially, it's makers were looking to get it some publicity off the back of Zzyzx mania surround Leo Grillo's film. We obliged because, well... all publicity is good publicity, right?]

There are certain movies I will go out of my way to avoid.
Zzyzx is one of these. It’s one of those “psychotic” movies that up and coming directors lovingly fill their IMDB pages with; a movie full of all kinds of bloody coincidences and throwaway character bits that only seem to exist in the minds of film school graduates.

The premise is simple enough, although buried within a lot of quick cuts and burnt lighting to make you think it is far more complicated. Lou and Ryan are on their way to Vegas (one suspects they may even have watched Swingers beforehand) and take a little side trip down Zzyzx Road. Ryan has been avidly researching the dark and twisted history of a cult that existed out in the desert and is hoping that the trip to its remains will change his life. “It’s the road to nowhere,” declares Lou. And that aptly describes the film too—as a reviewer, you have to love when your sarcastic title is handed to you on a golden platter. Especially when it’s a film called Zzyzx. Please, let the fascination with that name end.

Lou and Ryan are your standard horror movie characters. Lou is a bully, Ryan’s a twitchy geek whom his pal nicknames “Mitch” because it rhymes with bitch. Naturally, Ryan gets bullied into doing all sorts of crazy things out of a desperation for a friend as manly as Lou. You know, like killing a guy wandering on the side of the road.

Of course, as the two characters “what the f*** are we going to do” screech for about ten or fifteen minutes, they run into none other than the dead man’s wife, Candace. She’s wandering down a hot dusty road looking for him. Their RV has broken down and her now-dead husband Manny was trying to get back to the highway for help. She didn’t see them kill Manny, but they know she will put two and two together. So naturally, they befriend her and what follows is roughly an hour or so of “What the f*** are we going to do?” “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do” every time Candace isn’t looking. Lou and Ryan grow increasingly paranoid and twitchy while Candace happily indulges in drugs and alcohol with two perfect strangers.

In between, we’re given snippets of a Blair Witch sort of mythology involving the Zzyzx cult, scenes of a Mexican family who slowly reveal what happened to our hapless characters, and Lou’s Iraq flashbacks—because you just can’t have a sweaty psychotic film without a crazy war veteran. It's the mythology and the Iraq flashbacks that make for the most painfully amateur sequences of the film, though I suppose there’s something charming about the director buying his props and costumes from Halloween and Army Surplus stores. (You’ll see what I mean if you actually watch this—check out the wig on Sophia.) It all ends in a violent and gory twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan stand up and say “I call BS on that.”

Now, I will cease my cruelty and give a few kind nods. The acting is actually pretty good, the characters descend into madness in a cheese-free manner. The title sequence is quite original, and the soundtrack is sparse and tense. The opening shots of the desert set up a forbidding menace that the film does use very effectively. If you’ve ever broken down in the desert—and I have—it should send a nice chill up your spine. (Hmm, maybe I should make a film about spending New Year’s in Holbrook, Arizona...)

I will confess that I’m not the target audience for a film like this. Other people might watch this with a few beers and get a kick out of it. But even if you are one of those people, the film is nothing you haven’t seen before, and seen better. In my opinion, there’s more appealing ways to spend 80 minutes and if you’re really in the mood for seeing crazy stuff happen in the desert, just rent Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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