“My father said to me once: to catch a mad dog, you must think like a mad dog… only madder” - Pia (Nadia Farès), becoming pro-active by finding her inner Rambo
Multi-hyphenate Jamie Blanks returns to film directing after a 6-year absence, and although Storm Warning doesn't eclipse the disappointment of his second American studio picture, Valentine (2001), it's a return to form for a director who loves wide roving camera shots and doses of shocking gore.
Like Urban Legend (1998), Storm Warning looks gorgeous, and the high-def cinematography is ravishing, from the wide open sea and marsh locations to the crumbling farm where the good versus bad hillbilly scum battle takes place.
The film's real curio value lies in Everett De Roche's own return to the thriller genre, given the unconventional writer was involved in Australia's film boom during the seventies and eighties, penning the supernatural classic Patrick (1978), the vicious The Long Weekend (also 1978), the beautifully written occult oddity Harlequin / aka Dark Forces (1980), and Roadgames (1981).
Storm is apparently a 30-year old script that's been dusted off and somewhat updated for audiences accustomed to sado-porn imagery, but while the graphic material is restricted to a handful of killings, neither Blanks nor De Roche wallow in gore or prolonged torment, and the revenge aspect is a bit more mature than the standard dumb youths being tortured and chopped up.
The relationship between artist Pia and her barrister hubbie Rob is neither expanded nor weakened by the three rustic sickos; in fact, Pia's transformation to a Rambina is too fast and too slick simply because her reliance on Rob's guidance and her aversion to killing any living thing is so pronounced. The forced killing of an animal to save Rob's crown jewels is clearly the stressor that pushes her to accepting desperate self-defensive measures (all very grisly and highly appropriate punishments meted out to the three rustic monsters), but her macho persona is quickly subjugated in the film's finale, which basically has her sliding into the loyal wife-seat after she's done all the hard work to free herself and hubbie Rob.
De Roche's plotting is unique in quickly rendering Rob narratively impotent by having his leg broken a third into the film, leaving Pia to save them from awful fates, but one does sense Pia, on the scripted page, was a far more classical feminine character – clichéd, dated, and lacking self-confidence outside of her art studio – compared to the athletic, taught physicality that actress Nadia Farès inherently brings to the role.
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Fares kicked butt in Crimson Rivers / Les Rivières pourpres (2000) and more so as a combat guard in Hornet's Nest / Nid de guêpes (2000), so she's physically wrong for the part of Pia if De Roche's original concept was to take a clichéd female stereotype and have her victimization transform her into a resourceful rebel – the flipside of vengeance films being produced when Storm was being written. (In Straw Dogs or the original The Hills Have Eyes, it's the men who do the defensive work, whereas sexploitation fodder such as Thriller: A Cruel Picture and I Spit on Your Grave were the exception in having a brutalized woman becomie the vicious killer.)
Blanks also uses Pia's first kill to craft a kinetic montage, and one has to assume her artistic creations involve interlaced objects d'arts, since her ‘mad dog' snare is far too elaborate, and ridiculously precise. Once that first killing occurs, however, the film kicks into gear, and becomes a satisfying revenge thriller where two brothers are nicely (and uniquely) shredded, and their father is himself rendered impotent through several prolonged and deserved torments.
The most disturbing aspects aren't the violence or character assaults, but the misogynistic subtext that's splattered all over scenes through sickening set décor – a half-inflated sex doll rests on the sofa, and pornographic pictures are plastered all over the house, including the kitchen – and dialogue that constantly refers to women as sub-human. It's designed as a counter-balance to Pia's vengeance spree, but De Roche's script piles on the grotesque insults in thick handfuls.
Blanks' film is a straight B-movie, and where it transcends its own derivative elements is probably in the twisted family setup of a dope-growing widower (by choice) and the sons he's trained like dogs to follow his own twisted worldviews; their bonding is tied to drinking, shared rape, and watching bestiality videos. They're not a pretty bunch, but they have their own special place among cinema's most dysfunctional families.
In addition to co-editing Storm, Blanks also scored the film (a gig he did on a number of genre films before Urban Legend), and it's a functional, basic electronic score that's preferable to the mushy sound design tracks usually slapped onto remakes of classic seventies shockers (such as the recent The Amityville Horror, and The Hills Have Eyes 2).
De Roche is currently remaking his Long Weekend with director Blanks. Prior to Storm, the screenwriter reunited with Roadgames director Richard Franklin for the late director's last film, Visitors, in 2003.
Storm Warning – billed as ‘from the producers of Wolf Creek' - is also available on a Region 1 release as part of Miramax' Dimension Extreme series, and includes a commentary track with the director, writer, and others.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan