Dead of Winter (Lost Signal)
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Dead of Winter (Lost Signal)

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Lately it seems that every other independent movie that comes along is a horror flick. This is a venerable genre and at its best it can provide thrills and chills for the audience. Unfortunately most new directors are taking the easy way out with the excessive use of blood and gratuitous nudity. While both of these in moderation have their uses in cinema the current horror movie director uses them in lieu of any merits the film may have achieved. The movie under consideration here, ‘Dead of Winter’, also known as ‘Lost Signal’ is flawed. However, it should be given credit for an earnest attempt to break away from the usual modern conventions of this type of movie. This is the way cinema grows as an art form; film makers willing to break away from the pack and venture out in a different direction. There is a certain degree of trial and error inherent in this process and although the film make not completely live up to expectations or even its goals it is still to be admired for making the try. This film was made for an estimated budget of only $2 million. It may seem like a lot but for a Hollywood big movie this wouldn’t cover the cost of the catering company. It had a South American television showing followed by a region two DVD but now it is our turn to get the movie over here. Lion’s Gate has released it to DVD here in the States so you can judge for yourself. The film may be mis-categorized as a horror flick. Sure, it has some of the required elements but it feels more like a suspense flick with a dollop of thriller. The film certainly has its moments and will get and hold your interest. It would make a reasonable choice for a movie night with some friends over a pizza and a few beers. When you tired of watching teens running from some demonic killer you might want to give this one a try.

The movie was written by Robert Egan and Graham Silver. This is the first script for Egan although he has worked on several films of similar genre mixtures in the field of production. Silver is also a first timer for screenplays and has a previous credit in production. It may seem odd for someone to move from production to writing. There is a case to be made for such a transition though. I know a couple of writers who are great at crafting a story but find it difficult to present it in a fashion that is conducive to filming. These men are at least familiar with how to construct a movie. The story has some problems in its execution but it flows as a screenplay. Like the director the writers have moved away from the usual horror story. In most horror flicks the required sense of danger comes from an external source. This typically takes the shape of some unimaginable, completely evil and un-killable creature. In this case the terror lays within the two protagonists; Kevin Healy (Al Santos) and his girlfriend Tiffany Matthews (Sandra McCoy). The situation is somewhat believable; getting lost in a dark and secluded wood. Isolation from safety and rescue is a cornerstone of many horror flicks. In recent times you have to make some effort no matter how implausible as to why the victims can’t just pick up their cell phones and call for help. Nicely secluded woodland is just perfect for this. This story is more in line with the feel of a psychological thriller since the two kids in trouble here are basically fighting their own fears and paranoid. They do have to wok some on getting a third act to tie things up properly and it is possible to guess the ‘surprise’ ending long before it is shown. Overall the story is about on par with a ghost story told at summer camp around the fire. Now if you remember back to those stories they did manage to get a scare out of you. Considering most horror flicks and thrillers provide more laughs than anything else this is a plus.

Director Brian McNamara has a face that will be familiar to many television and film fans. He has been a working actor for over two decades now, mostly in series TV with a few forays into film. In this time McNamara has held several pivotal roles in several series although usually they were ancillary characters. Now he is one of the male stars in the female oriented popular TV series ‘Army Wives’. This is his freshman opus for McNamara and while he is not there yet he shows a lot of promise. There is an old adage that every director wants to act and every actor wants to direct. Most of the time the results of switching jobs is disastrous but in this case McNamara exceeds most of his contemporaries. Some of his decisions may come across as dubious by die hard fans of the genre but I felt they were returning horror to the right direction. This is not a bloodbath that most have come to expect. The special effects people out there did not get much of McNamara’s meager budget. There is also an extremely low body count and some of that was done off screen. He is not going for the quick and dirty visceral scare instead finding the psychological approach more satisfying. I know that many fans find this a detriment for a flick but it is the way to go. Too many films are overly infatuated with Rube Goldburg like means of torture. This film is not up to the old classics but McNamara is point us in the right direction once again.

The premise is simple enough and as the title card announces it is based on a true story. Okay, we all know what that means; somewhere, sometime there were a couple of teens that got lost and were pulled into something sinister. A woman is driving down a deserted woodland road. We cut between her and Tiffany terrified and running for help. She comes to a house but it is locked and no one is there. Meanwhile the driver has to pass a couple of cars partially blocking the road; their lights are on, doors open but no one is in sight. One is a police car. Here McNamara suitably sets the tone for what is to come. Tiffany and her boyfriend were out partying and they got lost in the woods. Their phone keeps dropping its signal and they find themselves afraid of a menace that seems to be closing in on them. Much of it may be do to something that happened at the party they left. They were just going to do some crystal meth but someone slipped them some LSD. Much of the fun here is trying to tell what is real for the kids.

This is a solid flick although not a masterpiece by any means. McNamara should continue to act; he is very talented, but he should continue on the track he is on with directing. Lion’s Gate has always been a great place to go for a DVD of a quirky little Indy gem and this is a prime example.

Posted 11/13/08

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