The Anniversary at Shallow Creek (2010)

Description (from http://www.breakinglasspictures.com):
When Sam and Paige decide to escape the stress of medical school for a romantic getaway in the mountains outside L.A., their four best friends end up tagging along and turning it into a weekend of partying. Little does the group know that their beautiful lodge has a dark history: exactly one year before, the house was the scene of a grisly double murder – and the killer was never caught. Now, as night falls and the group drinks beer by the bonfire, a predator hides in the darkness, watching them all through the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. In an instant, the friends’ night of partying turns into a bloody fight for survival.
The Anniversary at Shallow Creek is a slick homage to horror classics and a clever update of the genre that never leads where the audience suspects. As the kill count rises, the remaining friends find themselves to be pawns in a horrifying game – one that promises to test their survival skills and the strength of their relationships.

Cast:
Brianna Lee Johnson as Paige, Eric Mark Fischer as Sam, Brick Patrick as Anthony, Katharine Brandt as Lindsay, Marina Shaw as Betsey, Josh Schell as Mike, Annie Burgstede as Katie, Jonathon Runyon as Chris, Jeff Perry as Cashier

Special Features:
None (Screener Copy)

Written by Eric Fischer, Brianna Lee Johnson
Directed by Jon D. Wagner

I expected very little out of THE ANNIVERSARY AT SHALLOW CREEK; to read the description above it sounds like just your average stalk-and-kill slasher flick with no nameable stars or crew.  How many more times can the “hot people in a secluded house being killed by a masked psycho” story be made, much less can it be made interesting?  Well, at least once more, as proved by TAaSC.

I loved the opening of TAaSC; you are introduced to young lovers about to go out on a date, and they feel like they will be the protagonists of the film.  The idea is quickly wrecked when the dude’s head is blown apart with a sniper rifle, and the girl is hunted down and killed in the house.  We then realize that this is the prologue to the story we are about to see: this is what happened last year, and we are about to watch the anniversary.  I have no problem with movies that start slow and build up to a great climax (see THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL for an example of an awesome slow-burn type of horror), but I also really like when there is a good hook right at the beginning to get things started. TAaSC has that hook, and it cuts deep.

After the intro, we then meet the actual protagonists of the film, a motley crew of six twenty-something’s, some in med school, some working as servers, some that don’t do much at all.  There is nothing really outstanding about any of the characters that make up the bulk of the film… don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about them, but there was nothing that really REALLY got me emotionally attached.  The play of brother vs. boyfriend was nice (and to not ruin any surprises the film holds, that’s all I’m going to say about that) but I wasn’t really emotionally invested in the characters enough to care too much.

The poster / DVD cover of TAaSC plays up an element of the film that really seemed to be more of an afterthought to me.  “As the kill count rises, the remaining friends find themselves to be pawns in a horrifying game…” and on the DVD cover, the slug line is “A boyfriend.  A brother.  A choice.”  This element (which, like I said before, I’m not going to go into much) shows up late in the film, and felt to me like “HOSTEL was good, maybe we should throw a little bit of that into our movie!”  I was really liking the slasher element – mixing distant, scary-‘cause-they-come-out-of-the-darkness-kills with a sniper rifle (a wholly under-utilized weapon in the average slasher flick), with your more common (but still scary) up-close-with-a-big-knife sort of kills – but then was disappointed when the “choice” element was added.  It really felt tacked on and unnecessary, the film would have done just fine if all of the friends had succumbed to the same fates as the early kills.

I did enjoy the ending and the play on the last-girl trope.  I don’t want to give away much, so I’m not going to go into detail.  All I will say is that there is a nice twist to TAaSC in both its handling of the standard slasher type ending, and in the plot itself.  It wasn’t a complete shock to me when the twist was shown; I had a pretty good idea it was going to happen, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The directing was solid all around.  I felt that every actor gave a decently good performance, and some excelled more than others… while some of the characters were pretty whiny and annoying, I felt that they were supposed to be whiny and annoying, so again, job well done.  The camera work was competent; there were never any shots or angles that made me say “hot damn, that’s a nice shot!” but on the other hand, I was never bored by the camera or composition, and all of the shots were nicely framed and well executed.

The production was well above average.  The video quality, the lighting, the production design all made TAaSC feel big budget.  And the gore, while not over the top, was effectively done.  I actually thought the gore element of the film was tastefully subdued; while TAaSC is a slasher flick, it has more emphasis on the suspense elements rather than the horror, and that may be a major reason I felt this film was above the average stalk-and-kill type movie.  When the movie gets gory, the red stuff flows, but it never over the top or gore for gore’s sake.

Overall, there was a lot to like with TAaSC.  It was a nice play on the average hot people dying in a secluded place story, it was genuinely suspenseful and even scary, and it was well made.  I know I would be a lot more into this movie if the “choice” element was not a part of it, that really left a sour taste for me.  Other than an unneeded detour in the plot, I really enjoyed TAaSC.  I guess there are still ways to make this story interesting.

Overall 6.5 / 10

TAaSC on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1754589/

TAaSC for sale: http://www.breakingglasspictures.com/index.php?option=com_jmovies&Itemid=2&task=detail&id=108

TAaSC site: http://www.tascthemovie.com/

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