The Remaining (2014): Christian morality porn

The-Remaining-I-2014The Remaining (2014) was recommended by a friend who knows my interest in cheeseball horror or, indeed, cheeseball anything else; given a choice between a four-star film and a zero-star film, you’ll find me curled up in front of the piece de merde with a big smile on my face. I always say you can learn more about filmmaking from a terrible movie than a good one; a good film is seamless and it takes three or four viewings to come a full realization of, say, how the camera angles contribute to a sense of dread, or whatever. Whereas if you’re watching Sharknado or one of its fellow crapfests, you’re constantly thinking to yourself, “Wow, I would have avoided doing THAT,” and you start to learn the difference between good and bad filmmaking.

imagesBelieve me, you’ll learn a lot about filmmaking from this one!

Author: Chris Downing and Casey La Scala, who also directed.

Cast: Alexa Vega, who was the older sister in the Spy Kids movies and is now all grown up. Her Wikipedia biography cites her strong Christian faith. The remainder of the cast is a bunch of, generally, unknown actors who have small TV roles to their credit and who presumably needed the work.

The-Remaining-movie-church-photoOther data: According to Wikipedia, it grossed $1.7 million. Nobody’s apparently willing to disclose production costs, but I suspect this didn’t make back its money since there is no mention anywhere on the internet of The Remaining 2 being a possibility.

remaining_rapture-eyesAbout this film: This film starts out with an overlong sequence before the Rapture occurs at the 11-minute mark which establishes the characters and situation. It’s part of the currently very awful handheld camera trend, which started out as clever when The Blair Witch Project did it and is now a way of making a movie if you have a very low budget; one character clutches his camera despite all trials and tribulations. At the precise Raptorial moment, a viewpoint character is running his camera while coming down in an elevator with the bride’s parents; her mother is just saying that she wishes her daughter had been married in a church when — in a nice little moment — you can see the characters’ breath as everything gets very cold. Wham, half the wedding guests fall down and die, and their eyes glaze over. Weird things begin to happen; a little earthquake, some sort of sonic boom, and people start running from the building. In what has to be the nicest piece of production in this whole film, a huge airplane falls out of the sky and crashes into a nearby building. A handful of young people leave the building and head for a library to protect themselves as chunks of ice fall from the sky; they immediately decide it’s the Rapture because, as the bride sententiously remarks, “All the good people are gone, and all the bad people are left here.”  Well, the bride may be a bad person (I think we’re meant to believe she and her new husband had premarital sex) but she has grasped the concept immediately. She finds a bible in the library, buried under a stack of Nora Roberts novels, and, sure enough, everything was foretold precisely as it’s happening! They pick up a pretty young blond woman, who comes along with them for no apparent reason. They go to a church to find the bride’s BFF who, unbeknownst to her boyfriend, heads there every time they have a fight. The bride gets picked up by an invisible flying thing and gets dropped to the ground with terrible claw marks in her back; the bible she was clutching is now burned to ash.

images-1The kids meet up with the BFF at the church, engage in some hokey moralizing to cheer themselves up, and get patched up by a woman who is apparently the only person of colour left on earth. Some people head out to a hospital to get the bride some medical assistance, but of course there isn’t any. All the young people start to speculate about what’s going on and why they were spared (one girl says, without a hint of a smile, “I’m a good person. I’m just not a churchy good person, that’s all.”) The handsome bearded pastor who is holding down the church reveals that he was a bad person because even though he sort of believed in Jesus, he didn’t really; he was paying lip service, as it were. The church gets attacked by what might be demons, and everybody heads for the basement; the handheld video switches to the green of low-light shooting, which is both difficult to believe and damn near impossible to see. The pastor gets swept up by the invisible demons and disappears. At daylight, the young people (almost everyone in this film is meant to be 18-25) decide to make their way out through the now destroyed church and past the very-dead pastor. (People seem to develop sudden urges to move to the next location for no really good reason, almost as though the set rental had expired.) Off to the hospital, past a bunch of 18-25 extras wandering aimlessly around, only to find that the hospital is empty of medical help and supplies. The bride dies in her groom’s arms in what is meant to be a dramatic and poignant scene — she sees heaven and whispers how beautiful it is. The groom heads outside and curses God because she died — oh-oh, bad idea.  Yeah, a gigantic spike comes out of nowhere and kills him, then whisks him off into the sky. An invisible force in the hospital kills a few more kids. The few remaining kids, including the cynical videographer, head off to what appears to be a refugee camp. Golly, it’s almost as though the American system has come through and is restoring order! One of the hospital victims has left a video on her phone for her videographer boyfriend where she realizes the futility of her former life, where she was “spiritual” but not religious — now, oh, how she regrets it all. “We all have to make a choice.” She weeps and chooses God; whoops, she gets killed! The boyfriend goes off and gets baptized, while “Amazing Grace” plays in the background. But the other kid realizes that all that churchiness will draw the demons, and the newly baptized videographer gets torn apart by invisible demons. The two remaining kids, cynical boy and non-churchy girl, clutch each other — she decides to choose God too, and leaves the cynical guy behind as dark creepy demons start to come out of the sky. Cynical guy gets dragged away by demons as the movie ends.

This movie is very low budget. There are a couple of expensive pieces of SFX (airplane hits a building, and a quick scene where the young people walk past a burning helicopter) but by and large, the demons are literally invisible. So if you’re accustomed to movies that actually show you the monsters with which they’re trying to scare you once in a while, you will be disappointed; they couldn’t afford it. All the actors are fairly good, but they struggle with the dialogue they’re given. Alexa Vega’s death scene is just awful; it’s as though she said, “I’m not doing this film unless you give me one scene where I can go all out.” The trouble is, the underlying emotions are conceived by people who probably haven’t experienced them, and so they’re burlesqued and hokey. Cheap sets, no costumes, almost zero in the way of good special effects. And that extremely annoying handheld camera throughout, which makes me think merely that they couldn’t afford Panavision. Inserts that are obviously stock footage from Weather Channel. And the whole cast is (a) 18-25, (b) white, and (c) unconvincing. The whole thing is rather like Ed Wood Jr. had converted to Christianity and made this cheese log in honour of his newfound faith.

maxresdefaultWhat does this all mean? Now, as I mentioned, I do enjoy cheeseball horror. What struck me as sufficiently interesting about this film to warrant a blog post is something that I noticed about it, and its companion pieces about the Rapture, Left Behind/Left Behind II, two gloriously awful pieces of cinema starring, in #1, the execrable Nicolas Cage, and in #2, the execrable Kirk Cameron. Essentially, the Rapture flips the horror narrative by killing the good guys and making the bad guys suffer; I think I might have figured out why.

Back at the dawn of the slasher movie, people realized that there was a common pattern to be seen in horror movies intended primarily for a teenage audience; if you were a morally unsound person, you got killed, and if you were a young female virgin, you had a chance of surviving to the sequel. This gave rise to the umbrella description of this genre as “fuck and die movies”. It’s always the kids who are making out in the car who are the First To Die; the bullies, mean girls, sexually advanced, LGBT, petty criminals, disobedient kids, and even cigarette smokers were doomed to be chainsawed, or whatever the killer’s mode of choice happened to be for that property. Bad people die; good people live.

Here, though, all the good people die 11 minutes into the movie, and the rest are merely marking time until Satan’s minions snatch them up. Oh, they’re not REALLY bad; it seems clear that most of these good-looking youngsters are the kind of kids we would think of as good, it’s just that they had the misfortune to not have devoted themselves heart and soul to a Christian church. It’s the equivalent of premarital sex in a Jason Voorhees slasher; if you’re not good, you have to live through — according to the bible — seven years of torture and punishment. (Being strapped to a chair while Left Behind II played on endless repeat, for instance.)

The-Remaining-2But if you think about it, there’s something wrong with this idea. Who is the audience for this movie? I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that the only people who are taking this seriously — and who are not, like me, reeking of marijuana and giggling uncontrollably in the back row — are your basic hard-core dedicated Christians. And the movie is telling them that what they have to look forward to is dying 11 minutes into the movie. Oh, sure, they go to live with Jesus and all. But they die.

So is this meant to be a kind of “scared straight” moment for the pot smokers in the back row? I suppose there are some hard-core Christians who are stupid enough to believe that that could happen. But honestly, if a single person sees “the error of their ways” as a result of viewing this potboiler, I suggest his mental stability was none too solid in the first place, and Christianity is liable to be supplanted by Scientology, weightlifting, or anti-psychotics, in the very near future.

No, I think what this is is actually a particularly nasty kind of porn; Xtian revenge porn. (My regular readers know that I use the word “porn” to describe artistic endeavours that have the trappings of strong emotion without actually delivering.) The message here is, “Teenage evangelical Christians, you are RIGHT. Yes, your classmates all think you’re an idiot; you aren’t allowed to have sex before marriage, are constantly wracked with guilt for your ‘sins’, and are no longer even close to being the dominant paradigm. But you know what? Here’s what’s going to happen. When the Rapture comes, you’re going to go live with Jesus in heaven, and all those people who laughed at you — they’ll be torn to bits by mystical demons.” So your typical evangelical teenager in some rural flyover red state gets to experience what will happen to his enemies — that pretty girl who mocked him for being a virgin, that cynical popular guy who called him a dork, that pastor whom he suspected wasn’t really, really a true believer — in as much grisly detail as the budget could afford, which isn’t much. Yeah, that’ll teach YOU, you bastards. Just you wait till the Rapture comes, then you’ll be laughing out of the other side of your mouth. And I’ll be in heaven! All their lives they’ve watched Freddy Kruger whisk people off to hell, but for the wrong reasons … it makes perfect sense that they would believe that this large-scale revenge on the unchurched would be both imminent and this violent. Because if a little seed of doubt begins to creep in …

And that’s the trouble with the moral high ground — you have to be a really, really good person to claim it, and when you do, it’s awfully easy to slide off. If you think about this logically, taking any pleasure in this movie is a sin (because you REALLY should be trying to lead all these unchurchy people to the Lord, right?) and so by enjoying the suffering of the infidel you render yourself susceptible to be whisked into the sky by invisible demons. Oh, too bad, so sad.

I think I’ll risk the demons. Besides, if I actually did end up in heaven, I might have to endure Kirk Cameron being a pompous dick; I’d rather be in hell with my friends, thanks.

Notes for the collector:

You can get a used DVD of this for $4.82 on Amazon as of today. Why you’d bother I have no idea … but then, I’ve found in the past that it’s the significantly awful artistic items that become the most desirable and expensive in the future. If there is still the equivalent of a Blockbuster in your town, you should be able to pick this up in the bargain bin for $1.49 in about two years; see if you can manage that. But this is not a film for viewing; this is a film for laying down and avoiding.

Sharknado (2013)


The best worst film of the summer!

sharknadoAuthor: Written by a gentleman whose name is apparently Thunder Levin. This name is not, as you might imagine, a 21st century take on Alan Smithee. Mr. Levin is a real person who wishes his association with this film to be known; he also co-wrote and directed the recent piece de merde, Atlantic Rim — released the same month as the much more expensive Pacific Rim, but this one stars David Chokachi, previously known for Baywatch, and features Canadian First Nations actor Graham Greene, who should have known better but probably had a granddaughter who needed dental work or something. Anyway, Thunder Levin is proud of himself, and who can gainsay that? I’ve never had a film script produced, although apparently all I have to do is think of a plot that goes with the title Shark Tsunami.

Perhaps more worthwhile to consider is the production company in charge of this; The Asylum. This is a production company busily doing what I think of as “garbage mining”; they seek out niches of genres that do not appeal to people with good taste and exploit them for all they’re worth.  If you look them up on IMDB, you’ll see that they’re heavily invested in films that have the words “Shark” and “Zombie” disproportionately represented in their titles. They also have produced a number of coattail movies; for instance, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter came out in 2012 and so did The Asylum’s production of Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.  Similarly, Atlantic Rim and Pacific Rim, as noted above. It is a sobering thought that you hope to make money by appealing to people who are too stupid or forgetful to know what the exact name of a film is, or who fondly believe that someone has erred and released a brand-new film to Netflix 20 minutes after it came out in theatres.

Other Data:  July 11, 2013, according to IMDB.  The film has become well known for the social buzz which accompanied it.  “According to the Syfy network, Sharknado, which aired on Thursday night, brought in nearly 5,000 tweets per minute.  This … came within 2,500 tweets of Game of Thrones‘s Red Wedding episode when it aired in early June.”

Cast: Ian Ziering as, believe it or not, Fin Shepard.  Mr. Ziering is perhaps best known for his work in the original Beverly Hills 90212.  Tara Reid as April Wexler.  Ms. Reid is perhaps best known for being a drunken slut whose antics never fail to sell a few extra tabloids.  Her appearance in this film means to the mediaologically savvy that her career has now become a joke; people no longer expect her to act but merely to be sufficiently well known that someone will recognize her name when they see it near the title.  She made a film in Vancouver a few years ago that required her to pretend to be an archaeologist; it was perfectly obvious that she would need three or four tries to spell “archaeologist”.  Cassie Scerbo plays the beautiful girl with large breasts who is not Tara Reid. Supporting cast includes a bunch of people no one has ever heard of, playing roles like “Nurse”, “Beach Victim,” and “Beach Attack Survivor”, and Adrian Bustamante, who actually is an interesting actor.  He did a great job of playing Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace’s murderer, in a made-for-TV movie a few years ago.  This is proof that no matter how good you are, you have to work for a living.  Even Tara Reid.

About this film:

sharknado-attackIt’s called Sharknado. What can I tell you? Did you actually need a plot recap for Snakes on a Plane? The central premise is that a tornado, or waterspout, actually gathers up a bunch of assorted sharks and sprays them at high velocity all over Los Angeles. No, I’m not kidding; this defies everything that anyone knows about weather systems and marine biology, but what a high-concept premise, huh? This leads to a typical moment where an unpleasant character says, “Sharks in the swimming pool?  It’s impossiAAARRRGH!!”  People drive around during the sharkocalypse (sorry, it’s absolutely irresistible) for no really good reason except that if you stay indoors it’s hard to get menaced by a shark.  Sharks land on the roof of your car and try to chew their way through to get at you.  Sharks rain down on the beach and force innocent extras to bury their limbs in the sand and pretend that they’ve been amputated.

The opening sequence is saying something about the illegal harvesting of sharks’ fins for the Asian market, but it’s never mentioned again. Perhaps it explains why sharks appear to throw themselves suicidally into a series of waterspouts, so that they can rain down upon helicopter pads and SUVs in Los Angeles.  Ian Ziering plays a guy named Fin — hilarious, right? — who owns a bar. His ex-wife is Tara Reid, and after her new boyfriend discovers that, yes, there really ARE sharks in the swimming pool, Tara and the horrible bratty kids require rescue, because, you know, staying in the basement would be too sensible.  The rest of this plot is even more chaotic and incomprehensible.

There is a long sequence in the middle where a group who is speeding across town for some stupid but putatively urgent reason stops and spends what must be two hours rescuing children from a school bus by winching them up to an overpass. Because apparently the LAPD et al are occupied elsewhere. (You know if this really happened CNN and Fox would be giving you a blow-by-blow of the rescue in real time and their choppers would be interfering with the rescue efforts.) The chubby, nerdy bus driver says, “Gee, my mom always said Hollywood would kill me!”  He is then immediately splattered by a flying letter from the Hollywood sign that has been swept up by the wind. We are meant to laugh at this. The part I laughed at was when I realized that the producers couldn’t afford any kind of special effect so they settled for a spray of red paint onto the flying piece of sign.

CRO_money_Sharknado_07-13-thumb-598xauto-7238There’s a moment near the end where Ian Ziering, armed with a chainsaw, deliberately catapults himself into the mouth of a huge shark and then cuts his way out of its belly, emerging unscathed.  This is, of course, indescribably stupid and over the top.  The internet literature surrounding this film suggests that Thunder Levin, when asked by cooler heads if such-and-such a piece of dialogue or plot twist was not too indescribably stupid or over the top, replied, “It’s called Sharknado, for chrissakes!” I suppose since I actually picked up my remote control and invoked this film, I can’t complain that it’s too indescribably stupid or over the top.  I do intend to suggest it, though. Strongly.

As I have said elsewhere in this blog, notably about a film from the same production company, I enjoy bad art. I am, in fact, one of those incomprehensible people who likes to smoke a joint and put on a double bill of, say, Plan 9 From Outer Space and The Brain From Planet Arous and laugh my ass off. Given the success of this film, though (the Internet is saying they’re already making a sequel), I think it’s necessary to make an important distinction. The kind of bad art that I enjoy is art that was not created as bad art, but, like Ed Wood Jr., where someone set out to make a fine film and ended up with Glen or Glenda.  I have never enjoyed films like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes which deliberately set out to BE bad art; I don’t care much for the “nudge nudge wink wink” school of cinema.

Thunder Levin cannot possibly have made a good movie, given the raw materials; you cannot hire Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, restrict the budget to $2 million, and expect work at the level of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. As a character on Modern Family said recently, “Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice.”  It works the other way: Tara Reid could play a drunken slut and be the wrong choice. Not every film can hire Meryl Streep and play with $150 million worth of special effects; I get that. But if you’re restricted to making a small movie, I can’t see that there is any choice other than trying to make a good small movie, unless you are The Asylum. The Asylum deliberately casts actors who have more reputation than talent, trying to parlay a tiny budget into some kind of recognition factor. In the past they have used  Carmen Electra, Jaleel White, Tiffany, Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson.  This is not an accident; they’re trying to make you laugh at the spectacle of a washed-up 80’s pop star with little or no acting talent being menaced by either Mega-Shark or Giant Octopus.  In short, what this is is meretricious.  They’ve avoided the arena of “good” or “bad” filmmaking and settled for counting up the number of times someone tweets “OMG Lorenzo Lamas is such a cheeseball!”  In other words, apparently in the progression from direct-to-video to direct-to-Netflix, someone has realized that you don’t actually have to create a film at all — you merely have to create something that people will talk about as if it were a film.

I think it’s quite telling that even though I am one of the few reviewers who is willing to engage with a bad film and try and assess it rationally, I ended this experience wishing that I had not had the experience of watching this.  I can only hope that this fad for deliberately bad art will be over soon.  Given the fact that they can make money without actually spending much, I tend to doubt it, but I can hope.

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the one thing that made me laugh for the right reasons. Not content with the heavy-handed mockery of naming the central character Fin, the closing slide, in an echo of fine foreign movies of a certain vintage, says merely “Fin”.  THAT, I laughed at.

Notes For the Collector:

The film is currently being shown on television in Canada on Space and in the USA on Syfy.  If you do not live in one of those countries, or don’t have cable, you can purchase a copy on Amazon for about $11.99 as of September 3, 2013. Why exactly you would want to do that is a matter between yourself and your artistic integrity, but it’s there if you want it.