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)

Raising Cain

With his affinity for odd angles, maybe Brian De Palma could’ve been a billiards champ. Here, he brings those gradients and kicks his Hitchcock aspirations into high gear with a largely forgotten, though underrated 90s thriller, Raising Cain.

John Lithgow plays multiple roles (and multiple personalities), as unhinged child psychologist Dr. Carter Nix, who is skirting regulation and probity trying to procure kid subjects for his unethical research project.

De Palma is a filmmaker smart enough run another subplot counter to that one, and here Nix is being cuckolded by his oncologist wife, Jenny (who in audacious fashion, hooks up with the widower of a woman she’d been treating for cancer — with make-out sessions on her bed too, while she’s falling in and out of consciousness!).

De Palma is also savvy enough not to delve into details about exactly what kind of child research the maniacal doc is up to.

Genre fans will get a kick out of Gregg Henry (Body Double/Slither/Guardians of the Galaxy) as a cop hot on Nix’s tail, and to a lesser extent Gabrielle Carteris (“ON”drea from Beverly Hills 90210). Lithgow is as per usual, really darn good. Later, he’ll explore the role of a devious sociopath living the veneer of a doting suburban dad as Dexter’s top competition, The Trinity Killer (a bit like real-life Kansas butcher, BTK).

While Raising Cain doesn’t hold up entirely, marred by 90s Lifetime Movie histrionics, you can’t help but be impressed by the narrative vision. The obvious nods to Psycho are forgivable too.

Of note, a much more coherent fan-cut made its way onto the Blu-Ray, and amazingly, De Palma admitted it adhered much more to his initial vision than the muddled mess of the original release. The Raising Cain re-cut is, to say the least, “a dramatically different viewing experience.”

***1/4 (out of 5)

[For a more in-depth discussion about Brian De Palma, check out the Really Awful Movies Podcast discussion of Raising Cain]