Preservation

Imagine being camping in woods and being set upon by assailants, who steal your boots and make off with your supplies. Wait, that’s the Canadian tax-shelter survivalist horror, Rituals.

Along the same vein, Preservation (2014), a horror with sassy, smart chops and an interesting dynamic that sputters out midway with a long skid into silliness.

The Neary brothers, Mike and Sean drive into the wilderness with Mike’s wife, Wit. Minute One is the survivalist-horror trope of the long, meandering drive into nowhere to establish sense of place.

Sean is a hard-drinking no-nonsense veteran (the doer), Mike his white-collar corporate counterpoint (the thinker). Wit is caught in the middle, especially when Mike suspects Sean has designs on her.

There’s some interesting chat about the ethics of hunting, as well a wild and inspired slurred campfire speech by Sean about Artemis, daughter of Zeus, and goddess of the Hunt.

After a night of boozing, the turn in. So far so good.

In the early AM, they awake to find assailants have made off with their belongings (including firearms), their German shepherd is missing, and their foreheads marked for target practice.

There’s a lot of wasted opportunity here:

  1. for starters, the group’s destination — a national park — doesn’t appear particularly off the beaten track, despite being closed for the summer (Aqueducts and drainage pipes which doesn’t exactly lend themselves to a sense of remoteness).
  2. Key moments appear off-screen, including an animal trap escape (really tired, as an aside, of traps)
  3. Nothing transpiring in the dark. Darkness combined with remoteness produces additive horror.
  4. The masked antagonists. Even since the Purge series, masks have been over-used
  5. The idea behind the killers was interesting, but not handled as well as it could beFor survivalist alternatives, check out the Aussie Killing Ground, or the Canadian flicks, White Raven or Rituals.**1/2 (out of 5)

Mystery of Chessboxing

Forget Scream’s Ghost Face Killer. This is the movie that actually originated Ghostie, one of the all-time legendary kung fu antagonists (Mystery of Chessboxing also inspired Wu rapper’s Ghost Face Killah  moniker).

The plot couldn’t be any simpler: revenge. That’s the lighter fluid that fuels a thousand of these films.

Old, ruthless Ghost Face has killed Ah Pao’s father. And Ah Pao needs to go find the geezer with the monster eyebrows and the long wig that’s always threatening to come off his noggin. Problem is, Ah Pao doesn’t know kung fu and Ghost Face isn’t ready to be put out to retirement home pasture, as he’s kicked the ass of everyone else in this film. What to do? Find a kung fu school, of course!

Why? To pad running time with lengthy exercises, montages, and bits of feel the Qi jibber-jabber and everyone should be glad they did. At the first school, teachers and pupils alike torment poor AP, who is as low in the pecking order as you get without a janitor outfit and a mop. He has to bring them all bowls of rice, eventually, become such a proficient server that he’s the flare bartender of doling out rice, flipping plates over his head and behind his back and displaying such incredible dexterity that he’s…a star pupil shown everything the sensei knows?

Hardly.

Ah Pao is booted from the school, and ends up under the tutelage of a chess master, hence the film’s title. It’s there that he finally gets instruction necessary to beat the holy living tar out of the Ghost Faced Killer.

Their ultimate showdown is one for the ages, a throw-down of epic proportions.

Genre fans will get a kick out of (no pun intended) Siu Tin Yuen as a humble cook. He’s best known, of course, for his turns in Drunken Master and Story of Drunken Master.

[check out a full discussion of Mystery of Chessboxing on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]