It seems like a majority of horror these days is of the psychological variety. Not that there's anything wrong with that. To the contrary, I am reveling in the recent crop of thriller/horror features shoring up the volatile genre. It's just that sometimes I crave some good ol' fashion slasher/monster/ phantasmagorical style scaring. Well, lucky me because APPLECART, fits each of these criteria and then some. When you hear a horrific story of a person who brutally murdered his or her entire family, do you ever wonder what could possibly have made them snap? APPLECART entertains the idea that sometimes there might be more to such a crime than can be explained by conventional thinking.
In traditional form, the story begins as a family makes their way to a remote cabin in the woods...I know, I know. We've all heard this one before. And while APPLECART certainly follows some of the well worn genre cliches, it also diverges from the usual in a totally fresh and unique way. Casey, the young bubbly matriarch of the family planned the trip to this particular cabin in order to take advantage of the energy in the solid iron located directly under their weekend dwelling. Though Casey is a nurse and her practices are typically based in traditional western medicine, she is desperate to try anything and everything to help her husband who has recently been diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. Little does Casey know, the mountain's energy also attracts a creepy band of hooded, monster-ish figures that appear to be the custodians of the cosmic epicenter. When the family saves an unconscious woman they find outside freezing in the snow (again, you know the drill) the story takes a sudden and terrifyingly macabre turn.
Though this all reads like a paint by numbers, isolated-in-nature scare fest, director Brad Baruh utilizes three different thematic formats to weave together a much more complex story than your average cabin in the woods fare. Shortly after the premise is established, Baruch interrupts the traditional narrative with an episode of an investigative report type show that prematurely reveals the gory conclusion to the family's ill-fated trip. In this Dateline-esque telling (complete with cheesy dramatizations) we learn that Casey planned the trip in order to brutally torture and murder her family one by one. Between segments of the show, yet another format emerges in the form of a political ad for gubernatorial candidate Leslie Bison, who has a striking resemblance to the mysterious woman the family finds in the narrative thread. From here, the "official" version of events via the TV program contrasts and terribly contradicts the drama that actually plays out in real time.
I'm am fascinated by a film that tells the ending from the get go leaving the mystery in how things actually unfold rather than the conclusion. In this case, the duplicitous story line enables not only a fun way to showcase divergent perspectives, but it also provides a vehicle for showing twice the horror. And boy howdy is there some horror to show! At it's core, APPLECART is a classic creature feature complete with epic transformations and bloody good gore. The supernatural aspect of the plot definitely provides just the right phantasmagorical goodness while incredible practical FX as well as some fun stunt and fight coordination keep the film firmly grounded as straight up horror. As usual, the age old last survivor ploy is in full effect, only this time the final girl is an indomitable mom.
Barbara Crampton is wickedly charming as the surprise house guest whose presence kicks off the series of ghastly events. Crampton perfectly sets up an overall feeling of obtrusiveness with a subtly unnerving- almost cheerful- performance. AJ Bowen is his usual charming self, once again dispensing some much needed comic relief throughout the first act. In the meatiest role of the bunch, though, Brea Grant takes on the part of the desperate mom with total gusto. Not only is her portrayal of the frazzled matriarch incredibly emotional as she deals with the impossible circumstances she faces, Grant handles the incredibly physical aspects of the role with totally convincing aplomb.
I would be remiss not to talk about the make up and special effects here as well. Without giving away spoilers, I have to give a nod to a couple of jaw dropping transformation sequences that would make Rick Baker proud. Paired with impressive physical acting by the performers, the creature sequences in the film are outstanding. From demonic disfigurement to full on splatter, the gore factor in APPLECART is just right without completely jumping the shark.
I really dug APPLECART. So many times a director attempts to do something new within the genre and the end result doesn't always gel. Thankfully, Brad Baruh and company have come up with a traditional horror film that doesn't exactly break the mold, but certainly bends it to great effect. Definitely check this one out when it hits theaters.
aka Annette Kellerman