Sunday, 28 August 2016

Downhill (2016) - Horror Film Review

Downhill is a horror film that takes place in the wilderness of Chile, it combines horror of two different types, along with an extreme sports bend to it. Being on the cutting edge of news here at The Rotting Zombie I can report it was shown at Frightfest 2016 at three different times today in the main stand, I use the past tense as I am a bit late to be telling you that!

Stephanie (Natalie Burn) and her former mountain biking star boyfriend Joe (Bryce Draper) are out in the wilderness of Chile testing a route for a bike race when they stumble across a strange sight. They discover a crashed truck that has in it an injured man who seems to be suffering some type of strange infection. They and their friends try to help him, but then a group of psychotic hunters show up and soon they find themselves on the run from these men who seem to want to kill them all. From here events only go...Downhill.

There are a lot of moving parts to this film in that there are various slightly disjointed segments, some which work well, others that seem a bit surplus to requirements. For instance there is a whole back story about Joe's friend dying during a bike race, we see this played out via a helmet mounted camera, a novel device that is used at several points in the film. This part of Downhill goes nowhere fast, I guess it could be seen as misdirection for the story proper, but it did not make me sympathetic to the main cast which I assume it was meant to. There are four main good guys but they are not really fleshed out enough to make me care about them, they are all have bits which hint at further story but this never comes, such as the affair Joe and Magdalena have which seemed an utterly pointless inclusion due to coming up once then never being mentioned again. The bad guys fare better in that they do quite a decent job of coming across as despicable people, their leader (Luke Massey) has an intimidating presence, while one of his key henchmen (I believe Andres Gomez) is amazing, all the more so as he doesn't actually have any dialogue (as far as I can tell). In fact aside from the leader pretty much none of the antagonists really speak at all making them all a bit of a mystery. Their initial introduction at a service station was a really tense scene, it is just a shame that it didn't tie in well to the rest of the movie, another part that was bizarre in it's inclusion, though also one of the best scenes of the film.

Camera techniques use a variety of modern stylings, as well as helmet mounted cameras there are some found footage style moments, a decent shot made using a drone, and even a Skype conversation thrown into the mix. Some of the editing gets a bit crazy at times, this fits the later tone of Downhill well, but an early gun attack looks plain weird with close ups of various goons firing their weapons. There are a lot of CGI effects used as well as practical make up effects, sadly a lot of the CGI does not look very good. A load of guns are fired throughout this 82 minute film, all of which have CGI used to simulate bullets hitting various objects, all of which look kind of fake, this is not helped by stock recordings of generic gun shots which sound too loud and repeat too much. This all ties into the first horror type Downhill fits in. There is a Straw Dogs vibe to the way our heroes get involved in a situation that they needn't have, them deciding to rescue a stranger is the tipping point for the horror to come. Being stalked through the woods should have been thrilling but there is a randomness to the hunt that makes it not seem very kinetic.

There is also the second type of horror, one which would have been surprising had the introduction to the movie not hinted at this later development. There is an infection that turns it's victims into almost zombie like boil covered husks, strange insectoid creatures are seen to writhe under the affected's skin until finally tendrils burst out of the stomach, it both reminded me of the Las Plagas from Resident Evil 4, as well as the zombies of The Last of Us. This gave an interesting twist on the plot, hints of a demon worshipping cult that is never explained. The infected have the best special effects of the film, the insects under the skin look cool, as do the tendrils, while the state the hosts become look awesome, quite messed up.

The plot feels a bit all over the place, I pieced together the general gist of what was going on but there was no real resolution for anything, it all felt like a moment in time rather than an actual story as nothing really gets achieved. There are some fun moments in the later half where Downhill benefited from this madness, one scene involving goats, a demonic orgy, and a heavily infected person wearing biking gear became very surreal. One great scene had a door with a '6' on it suddenly change into a '666' after a character has walked in front of it, then when she again passes by it, it again is once more a '6'. More moments like that would have been good, though maybe there was and I just missed them! The film at times feels more like a concept piece, it displays fantastic effects for the zombie like creatures, but then lots of scenes that felt unnecessary and didn't add anything to the experience. Also it became kind of funny how whenever a character gets behind the wheels of any type of vehicle they almost immediately crash.

This hasn't been my best review, kind of hungover today so struggling a bit to convey just what I did think of Downhill. It has some good parts, it has some parts that would be decent where it not let down by average looking effects, and it has the beginnings of a decent plot. It just felt a bit too patchy for me which felt like missed potential.


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