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Don't blow a gasket
A UK region 2 DVD review of WRECKAGE by Gort
 

When it comes to spinning a prologue, director John Asher clearly likes to paint his characters in archetypal strokes. A trailer trash mom walks into her living room and loudly orders her two young boys to turn the damned TV down. They ignore her and carry on watching like they've slipped into a coma. A few seconds later, mom's heavily tattooed boyfriend rolls up in a pickup truck with a malfunctioning door, snorts some unspecified drugs (well sniffs – I'd be amazed if anything went up his nose) and strides indoors. Mom demands to know where her shit is and tattoo boy tells her to "Chill out, bitch," then demands that the first kid hand over the TV remote. The child flatly refuses and the boyfriend decides to teach him a little respect. Clearly (if unemotionally) fed up with this brute, the second boy grabs a gun and, seemingly impervious to the effects of .45 calibre firearm kickback, calmly shoots the boyfriend and then turns the gun on his mother. The kid is incarcerated, but 15 years escapes and runs off into the night. Yes, I've seen Halloween too.

A short while later, a different pickup truck pulls up behind a car belonging to sing-song voiced bubblehead Savannah. Her vehicle has broken down and she's apparently waiting for the arrival of her boyfriend and his tow truck. The driver of the pickup, who calls himself Kane and looks about the age our young shootist would be after 15 years inside, takes a look at the engine, decides he can't fix it, and continually pesters the grinning Savannah until she agrees to go sit in his car. She's clearly not seen the Korean film I Saw the Devil nor is blessed with an ounce of common sense. Once in the said car, the two hear a handily timed radio report about the escaped killer, then Kane shows Savannah a very big knife and assures her that she'll be fine if she does as she's told. She immediately jumps out and runs into a nearby wrecking yard, where she does a particularly crap job of hiding. Kane soon spots her, but before he can reach her is killed by an unseen assailant. If it wasn't for my pledge to avoid major spoilers, I'd be returning to this scene later with a couple of serious questions pertaining to its logic in relation to later events. One thing's for sure, this is a junkyard you don't want to find yourself stuck in at night.

Cue our main characters, or as I like to call them, modern American horror's Achilles heel. It's a position they share with the genre's endless borrowing from earlier works, something Wreckage is less guilty of than a good many of its contemporaries. I'll get to that in a minute. For now we have Jared (Mike Erwin, an actor who's older than his teenage features), a good-looking ex-soldier who interrupts the joys of tuning up his car to propose to his pretty girlfriend Kate (Cameron Richardson), giving those who know their way round modern American horror cinema a good idea who is marked for survival. Their celebratory snog is interrupted by Jared's friend Rick (another engaging turn from Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul) and his girlfriend Jessica (a rather good Kelly Kruger). Jessica is pregnant and pissed off at Rick, who doesn't want the baby and certainly doesn't want to start looking at engagement rings. Uh-oh, things don't look quite so good for this pair.

As it turns out, the reason that Jared was tuning his car was for a road race with some unspecified rich twerp in a sports car, a race that grinds to a halt when Jared's car blows a gasket, whatever that means. I'm not good on car engines. It's a four mile walk back to town from there, but Rick remembers that they're only a mile from the aforementioned wrecking yard. Maybe they can get a spare part there. This plays out more convincingly than it probably reads and actually makes sense, at least when compared to the idea of throwing a Halloween party in an old abandoned asylum. Of course, to completely isolate this unfortunate quartet we have to disable their mobile phones, a plot point that lumbers even the smarter modern horrors with at least one default cliché. Wreckage is no exception, and even has Jessica hold her phone in the air to confirm there's no signal, though it does win a point back for Rick's refusal to carry a mobile because they give you brain tumours.

I presume these guys are the world's slowest walkers, which would explain why it goes from daylight to pitch black in the time that it takes them to cover the mile to the wrecking yard. They go looking for the spare part and Jared strikes gold. But wouldn't you know it, Rick's got a gun and decides it would be fun to start shooting at wreckage, despite Jared's angry threats about just what will happen if he doesn't pack it in. It all goes bad when one of the bullets ricochets and collides with Jessica, who falls to the ground and start bleeding profusely.

Wreckage, I have to say, doesn't play out quite how you might expect, and I mean that as a compliment. Everything about the setup suggests that the four leads will find themselves trapped in the wrecking yard and systematically hunted by the killer from the prologue. Yet the first person hurt when they reach their location falls victim to the stupidity of one of the group. Then instead of running around in a desperate panic, the hero tells his friends to take care of her bleeding and runs back to town to get the police, and makes it there without being attacked or run over. And, by God, they take his claims seriously and drive straight to the junkyard with paramedics in tow. The only thing is, all three of Jared's friends have mysteriously vanished. My heart sank a little when gruff Sheriff Macabee (Roger Perry) starts accusing Jared of making it all up, but the blood from Jessica's wound is still on the ground, and the cops have to admit that the story is probably true.

All of which sounds rather good, and to a degree, it is. The problem, as so often with modern low or medium budget American horror/thrillers, has less to do with what happens than the people it happens to. Jared himself seems solid enough until things get fraught, then he takes to arguing defiantly with Macabee like a stag facing off to rival mate. Mind you, the cops are obviously out of their depth. Early on at the station they assure a caller that they do not rescue cats from trees, but in truth they're probably too dumb to do much else. Thickest of the lot is Deputy Dave Berry (played by director John Asher), who clearly won his job in some sort of backwoods lottery that he only entered at all because the tickets were shiny. It's a trait that he openly admits to his boss, who praises his honesty then wonders out loud why a serial killer would come to this God-forsaken place. Yes, serial killers are usually so picky about where they hang out. Completing the trio is Deputy Riley (Justin Allen), a mouthy lothario with greased-back hair whose eventual demise filled me with a comforting sense of calming relief. But winning the prize for the film's most infuriating git by a considerable margin is junkyard weasel Frank Jeffries. A ludicrous, squeaky-voiced cartoon of a character who is presumably intended as comic relief, he's portrayed by the talented Scoot McNairy (see him in Monsters if you've got any doubts) as a crazy old coot as played by the class goon in a college review. Two minutes in the company of this two-legged nightmare and there's a bloody good chance that I'd become a murderer too.

From this point on the film settles into a more familiar groove, as the party split up and chase about the junkyard in a fruitless search for a killer who sets about picking them off one by one. Jared continues to argue with Macabee, one of the paramedics goes into screaming hysterics at the sight of a dead body, our hero is prepared to risk everything to save his missing princess, and infectious stupidity prompts two gun-toting policemen and an armed ex-marine to react to an angry advancing dog by running away instead of just pointing their guns and shooting the bugger. It rallies rather well for a double-twist ending, which while not exactly ingenious and telegraphed a little by both the opening scene and Jared's final confrontation with a man who we all know isn't the real killer, still managed to catch this poor sap by surprise.

I'm left unsure exactly how I feel about Wreckage. It does kick against a few expectations and delivers a couple of effective surprises. But in the manner of a few too many of its contemporaries, it asks us to bond with and fear for the safety of shallow and sometimes annoying characters, when all we really want to do is slap some sense into them. There's also a sense that director Asher can't really settle on a directorial style, ramping things up to show-off speed for the octane-fuelled road race, but plunging headfirst into cliché every time someone remembers something, which is replayed on screen with the dialogue all echoed... echoed... echoed... Oh yeah, and if you like watching fireworks, stick with the credits right through to the end, though it does mean more exposure to the horrible Frank.

sound and vision

The film was apparently shot on 24p HD on Sony CineAlta and Panasonic cameras. The resulting anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is solid without ever rising to the level of outstanding, with detail levels reasonable but never quite as crisp as the CineAlta is fully capable of delivering. The contrast varies a little in places, but for the most part is well balanced, thanks in part to night lighting that keeps the action clear, even if it does just occasionally toy with realism. In a pleasant change to the current norm, the colours are reasonably naturalistic.

The Dolby 5.1 surround track is a little brighter than the stereo, particularly in the rock-driven road race. For the most part it's still very front-weighted, with only the occasional effect thrown to the rear. Jared must have presented real problems for the sound man – at one point he screams "I DON'T KNOW!" so loudly at Macabee that it actually distorts. Carl Johnson's score is punchy throughout.

There are no hard of hearing subtitle options.

extra features

All we have here is the Trailer (1:09), which is non-anamorphic, littered with artefacts and stuttering action, the result of what looks like a conversion from NTSC. The trailer itself is a bog-standard sell, increasing in pace as it progresses and backed by loud rock music that drops to a heartbeat for the title.

summary

An interesting and reasonably well structured story with a few surprises is hampered by variable performances, moments of stupidity, a couple of plot holes and characters too shallow to care that much about the fate of. For some, of course, this won't matter a hoot, but if you come for the gore you'll be in for a long wait. Not much on the DVD, but the transfer is OK.

Wreckage

USA 2010
83 mins
director
John Asher
producers
John Asher
David Frigerio
Russell Jones
Kristen Kirchner
screenplay
David Frigerio
cinematography
William Eubank
editing
Russell Eaton
Rebecca Asher
production design
Dawn Serody
starring
Aaron Paul
Mike Erwin
Cameron Richarson
Scoot McNairy
Kelly Kruger
Justin Allen
Bevin Prince
Lisa Ann Walter
Roger Perry
Travis Aaron Wade
Chris Mastro

disc details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages

English

subtitles
none
extras
Trailer
distributor
Chelsea Films
release date
22 August 2011
review posted
23 August 2011

See all of Gort's reviews