The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) started last Thursday, and over the next three weeks, I’m going to be seeing several of its films. Most of my selections so far have been from the horror or sci-fi sections, but I threw in a few “serious” movies just to keep my brain balanced out. Watch this space — I’m seeing about four or five more this week alone.
Oddly enough, the two movies I saw opening weekend could not have been more different in terms of plot, yet were nearly identical in theme. I say “oddly enough” because one is a horror comedy and the other is a mumblecore drama about a marriage that takes a bad turn. Both movies, though, can be boiled down to one simple description: terrible things can happen when people fail to communicate.
Let’s start with the fun one, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. This funny, gory, delightful movie is about two hillbillies, Tucker (Alan Tudyk, better known to us geeks as Wash) and Dale (Tyler Labine, better known to us geeks as Sock), who recently bought themselves a “fixer-upper” summer cabin in the woods of West Virginia. They’re on their way to their first weekend getaway when they encounter a van full of college fraternity/sorority kids heading to roughly the same area for a camping trip. The college ladies aren’t too impressed by our heroes (in part because of a hilarious introduction involving Dale and a scythe), and the college guys are downright hostile. But the two groups soon go their separate ways, and a great weekend appears to be on deck.
Late that first night, the kids decide to go skinny dipping while Tucker and Dale are out on the lake fishing. When one of the girls, Allison, falls into the lake and nearly drowns, Tucker and Dale save her, pulling her into their boat while her friends look on from the distance. When Dale yells out, “We’ve got your friend!” they immediately assume the worst and form a posse to try to rescue Allison from the crazy inbred hicks in the woods. As the miscommunications pile up, the kids keep accidentally getting themselves killed, while all the while, Tucker and Dale are caring for Allison and trying to reunite her with her buddies.
This movie is riotously funny at times — every hillbilly horror movie cliché you can think of is whipped back around in a perfectly curved satirical arc, and the filmmakers didn’t miss a single beat. For example: there’s a great scene in which Tucker is out chainsawing some wood when he accidentally cuts into a bee hive. He begins running, flailing the chainsaw around madly at the bees swarming around him, while the kids look on in horror from the woods, thinking he’s a crazed serial killer straight out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One kid, in his rush to flee to safety, ends up impaling himself on a broken tree branch, and the bodies keep piling up from there.
Terrified by all the deaths he keeps witnessing, Tucker returns to Dale and, confused as hell, tells Dale the kids have clearly come out to the woods with some kind of suicide pact in place. Meanwhile, the kids can only see Deliverance, one of them finally completely losing his marbles and going authentically berserk by the end (he becomes the literal “Evil” in the title, but, really, the true evil is assumption — clever job, filmmakers. I was impressed).
The Freebie, on the other hand, tells the story of miscommunication in a marriage. It’s about a young couple, Annie (Katie Aselton, who also directs) and Darren (Dax Shepard, playing essentially the same charming character he plays on Parenthood, hurrah), who are happily married but whose sex life has begun to wane. I found this movie painful to watch, because their communication problems seemed so, so horribly obvious to me (lots of, “Well, do YOU want to?” “I don’t know — do you?”: repeat ad nauseum) and the solution to their sex life problem could’ve been as easy as simply sitting down and having a direct conversation with each other about what they were feeling and thinking. Instead, they decide what they need to do is have a “freebie” night — a night where they go their separate ways, have sex with someone else, and then come back together reinvigorated with passion for each other.
The audience literally groaned in unison when this idea was suggested. Because, like, STUPIDEST IDEA EVER, you guys. Jesus. And not because I necessarily think having sex with someone other than your spouse is a stupid idea — it depends. But you could tell neither Annie nor Darren was fully on board with the plan — it’s just that neither one wanted to be the one to back out.
Even worse, after the freebie night is over, neither wants to be the first to admit they had sex (or admit they didn’t), and so the communication problem that got them into this mess in the first place continues to spiral out of control, leading to absolute misery and a complete crushing of all trust in their relationship.
Both movies made me go ARGH! about a thousand times in my head, but The Freebie got the most arghs from me total. Open, direct communication is kind of my thing, see? The minute you give up on talking, everything — EVERYTHING — will crumble at your feet, in the most painful ways imaginable. I’ve seen it happen. There is nothing more frustrating and more avoidable.
Luckily, while both movies are about a serious concept, they also both have excellent comedic timing (I’m so in love with Dax Shepard these days, I can hardly stand it, and that affection was doubled during The Freebie). Additionally, The Freebie has an interesting story structure, one that confused me initially but became a very powerful construct as the film progressed (it’s told out of order, with chunks of before and after mixed together). Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, on the other hand, had me laughing so hard and so often my stomach started to hurt, and by the end of the movie, everyone in the audience was madly in love with both those adorable li’l hillbillies. We were calling out, “awwww!” just as often as “ewwww!” and the entire audience clearly enjoyed the hell out of the entire thing. (This was less true for The Freebie, I’m afraid — listening to people talk as they left the theater, I got the impression many found it too slow and too long. Such is the nature of film, I suppose — not for everyone.)
All in all, two terrific films and a superb first weekend at SIFF! And to all of you readers out there: TALK TO EACH OTHER. Otherwise, you may one day find yourself head-first in a woodchipper. And/or divorced. (Same thing?)
TUCKER & DALE vs. EVIL:
[Prequeue it at Netflix | View trailer | Official Site (to watch for screenings/release dates)]
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons
[Prequeue it at Netflix]
Cast: Katie Aselton, Dax Shepard, Joshua Leonard, Bellamy Young