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“LOST AFTER DARK” (Movie Review)

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“And you thought the ’80s were dead…” So states the tagline above the bloody-machete centerpiece of poster/disc art that couldn’t get any more retro if it dispensed McDLTs in two-sided polystyrene containers and aerosol blasts of Aqua Net.

Alas, director/co-writer Ian Kessner’s attempt to recreate the slasher salad days via the threadbare high-school-archetypes-meet-deformed/depraved-killer-in-woods narrative of LOST AFTER DARK (now on no-frills DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay) falls almost entirely flat, mistaking rote box-checking and dogged mimicry for homage and rejuvenation. Based purely on the preceding words, an average horror fan possessing even a nominal familiarity with this classic subgenre—i.e. every living horror fan—could likely, sight unseen, pen as accurate a synopsis of the film as I can muster after sitting through it twice, but certain film-reviewing obligations must be met, and so…

LOSTAFTERDARKREVA typical high-school dance, year of our lord 1984: crimped hair, loud clothes, the works. Goody two-shoes Adrienne wants to impress her jock-with-a-heart-of-gold crush Sean (they’re played by DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION alums Kendra Leigh Timmins and Justin Kelly, respectively). What better way than to offer up her family’s cabin in the woods for a soiree rounded out by a standard-issue gaggle of peeps whose chumminess requires a greater degree of suspension of disbelief than PLANET OF THE APES?

This is how our protagonists end up on a stolen school bus alongside a weed-packing nerd, an “as-if”-ing party girl, a blustery townie and a sorta-Gothy, sorta-punk-rock rebel girl smack dab in the middle of nowhere. This mode of transportation (naturally) breaks down near the abandoned former domicile of a cannibal family, which (of course) our teens immediately take as the perfect place to make out and spend the night, despite decrepit-chic furnishings that serve as the equivalent of a CANNIBAL LIVES HERE! flashing neon sign. And would you believe one li’l cannibal survived the police massacre that took out the rest of his family?

Oh, you would? Well, would it blow your mind if I told you he’s grown up to be a disfigured, utterly feral, murderous hillbilly who has a collection of tools that suggests he can somehow nonetheless navigate through the aisles of the nearest Home Depot?

Seriously, though, the problem with LOST AFTER DARK isn’t that the film is predictable—hell, that’s the sole hook the marketing department is hanging the film’s hat on. Predictability is the film’s raison d’etre! Rather, the trouble here is threefold:

First, LOST AFTER DARK is almost wholly bereft of the kind of clever or subversive winks that might imbue the movie with a bit of the renegade spirit that gushed out of the early slasher flicks like viscera from a fresh wound. One need not advocate a full-blown meta-sizing to make the argument that taking the reductive and painfully literal approach seen here demeans rather than celebrates the genre.

Second, the not-so-sly nods the film does give the audience—e.g., characters named after horror-flick royalty, “Reel Missing” notes, digital faking of film imperfections, TERMINATOR 2 cyborg Robert Patrick as an overwrought, Reagan-loving principal ranting about “commies” and “the ’Nam”—are as stock and milquetoast as the characters. Perhaps deep subtext was never in the cards, but even a smidgen of effort or incisiveness would have gone a long way.

Finally, the filmmakers do not even give themselves the benefit of choosing halfway decent source material to imitate. Instead, they appear to have modeled LOST AFTER DARK on the paint-by-numbers, lowest-common-denominator dreck that doomed the ’80s slasher boom to oblivion. Killer and kills alike are unimaginative, the performances are hamstrung by the conceit and, with the exception of one early and unexpected death, the film never climbs out of the rut it has so proudly dug for itself.

It would be so easy for a film like LOST AFTER DARK to twist the audiences’ own expectations against them. To make them jump. To make them laugh. To—God forbid!—make them think.

Instead, it is an 89-minute lesson in how imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery.

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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