Friday, July 28, 2006

It Came From Netflix! Decoys (2003)

Every once in a while I watch a horror or sci-fi movie that makes me wonder why a picture with even moderately entertaining qualities so often seems surprisingly superior to much of its (especially) DTV brethren. Decoys is a film like that. On it’s own, it’s a decent, technically sound timewaster with the nice moment here and there. Even with such modest attributes, however, it’s still quite a bit better than a lot of such stuff I’ve seen. Something’s terribly wrong when a film that should be a C+ (which is fine, as sometimes that’s what your in the mood for) is more like a straight B when you grade on a scale.

Sort of a horror/comic knock-off of Species (about ten years too late), Decoys is the story of Canadian college student Luke. He considers himself quite lucky when two gorgeous fellow students, cousins Lilly and Constance, appear in the dorm laundry and hang all over him. However, when he ends up hiding in their closet (don’t ask), Luke learns that he’s maybe not so lucky after all. He’s more than a little nonplussed when one of the hotties sprouts a bunch of tentacles out of her chest.

Among the film’s good points is that this all occurs maybe ten minutes in. When you watch these sorts of things, you generally know what the movie’s about before you pop it into your DVD player. Therefore there’s usually little point in dragging out the ‘mystery’ portion of the film. (Of course, it’s a venerable tradition. Back in the ‘50s, we often waited half an hour to ‘learn’ that, say, the menace of The Deadly Mantis was a giant Mantis.)

So they don’t waste our time. There’s a prologue about a student finding some flash frozen corpses, but again, once we get to Luke the main points are established pretty quickly. The girls are aliens, they dig extreme cold (hence Canada), etc.

Things were looking grim, I admit, as we then moved into a highly cliché-ridden section of the film. Luke can’t convince his friends of what he saw. Luke has a beautiful ‘tomboy’ friend who he thinks of as one of the guys but who is not exactly secretly in love with him. Luke’s best friend and roommate is a virgin desperately trying to get laid (although this is ultimately handled better than you’d expect).

Most tiresomely—we all have those certain clichés that set our teeth on edge—there’s the boneheaded police detective (played by The Sentinal’s Robert Burgi) who wants to nail Luke for the deaths. That’s a plot thread I always find extremely wearisome, especially when it depends on the cops being morons. Sure enough, in this case the cop apparently fails to follow up several obvious leads while focusing on Luke.

Luckily, though. things pick up a bit after all this. While there’s nothing new under the sun, the filmmakers do manage to throw in a nice couple of turns here and there. For instance, the aliens are not only “sympathetic” (i.e., killing at least for a reason rather than just general orneryness), but they eventually become actually likeable. And I found it funny how human they are, to the extent that Constance even has a bit of a “Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!” jealously sort of thing going on with Lilly. And when they rush a sorority, it seems less like an attempt at human camouflage than because, you know, they want to join a sorority.

The thing that struck me the most is that everyone in the film can act. I mean, they aren’t going to be handing out any Oscars here, but the level of acting is at least as good as your average episode of a WB teen drama. This again raises the question of why competent to good acting throughout an entire cast is so often a rarity in these things. Look at the casts in the majority of those Sci-Fi Channel Premiere movies. They’re awful. Certainly these guys here couldn’t have had that much more time or money to work with.

Then there’s the main premise. While a total cliché, it’s hard to say aliens beguiling horny partying college students with the promise of hot sex isn’t a workable plan. Not everything the film tries works, but when there are so many movies where nothing works—and I’m not even talking about the sort of dreck Scott Foy specializes in these days, but films that actually hit theaters, like the recent and quite dismal When a Stranger Calls remake—you take what you can get. The acting is good, some of the jokes are actually funny, some of the plot twists actually are sort of surprising, the special effects are at worse serviceable, etc.

If one thing keeps this movie from getting good reviews from many (check out the IMDB comments), it’s in failing to satisfy those hoping for a T&A and gore fest. Indeed, the film’s pretty mild. There’s a little nudity, if not much, and no gore to speak of. So if you’re looking for a Species knock-off with all the sex and violence of Species, look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a film to add to your weekend stack of five for five dollars rental movies, you could certainly do worse.

Unsurprisingly, a sequel seems to be in production. Chances are that one will be far worse.


At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Kurt Von said...

I suspect part of the acting woes shows like this have is because the producers/directors often cast based on looks instead of abilities. I don't mean "casting couch" type decisions -- it's just that they often have a look they want for a role, and select the actor that "fits the shirt" so to speak.

It's funny, because I recently saw a student film done on professional equipment, but still knew it was a student film the second it started not because of the quality, but because the people didn't have the right look for their roles. The main character was so obviously the comic relief it was kind of surreal, even if he was the best actor in the film he just looked wrong.

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Henry Brennan said...

I'm reminded of several films that turned out better than I expected. We all know how poor H.P. Lovecraft adaptations can be. Then I watched "Dagon" and was pleasantly surprised. The same can be said of Jeffrey Combs in "Re-Animator" and the unusual film "May" (although that film is definitely not for everyone). In most cases, it's the acting that makes all the difference, compensating for various flaws in the screenplay, plot holes, etc.

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

To state the obvious, I think it's a case where they just don't care to make them any better than they need to. You just wish that weren't true.

Companies like UFO and such (who provide the generally awful Sci Fi Original movies), obviously are just conveyor belt film companies. They make their nut by grinding out x number of movies a year, and as long as nobody complains too much (i.e., ratings hit the targeted mark), whether the movies are good or not is largely beside the point.

I know that, but it's irksome, especially since it's evident that with a bit more care, they *could* make these films better. Again, at the baseline quality of these movies, another 10% of effort could easily make these films twice as good. (Sadly, this is also true of mega-million dollar studion films in many cases.)

The reason people like Roger Corman are so fondly remembered is that he did everything he could to make his films as good as they possibly could be, short of spending another dime on them. And hence even complete junk flicks like Viking Women vs. the Sea Serpent have some substance to them.

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous John Carpenter said...

Ken, this is an easy film to like. It has that certain charm that many low budget films have when the director and cast give it their best effort. While the two female aliens are stunners, I couldn't take my eyes off of the not-so-secret admirer Alex, played by Meghan Ory. Unfortunately, she is not a listed cast member for Decoys 2. Also, the director is different for the sequel. It will indeed most likely be inferior to the original. I have no shame in admitting that I have Decoys in my dvd collection.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Yeah, it's no classic, but really, isn't this exactly the sort of film (along with the very occasionally, really, really good film) that keeps up trodding through all the muck.

I think 'charm' is a good word. It doesn't aim above itself, and it's not embarrassed of what it is, and doesn't seem to look down on its target audience (which actually happens a lot). Nice stuff.

I saw the director change, too, and that pretty much cemented my feel that the sequel would not be as good. As for Ory, I am in total agreement, which despite the attractiveness of the other actresses really had me kind of rolling my eyes at her 'invisible' status.


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