Movie Review: It’s not the drive that kills, it’s the Quebec destination — “Death Trip”

You can’t review a movie based on the degree of difficulty in getting it finished. Even if it’s “Fitzcarraldo.” Ok, maybe if it’s “Fitzcatraldo.”

The Canadians who filmed “Death Trip” suffered for their art. Characters run into the snow in shorts and shirtsleeves. The wrestle and pummel each other on the snowy surface of an iced-over lake.

You can see their breath and their goosebumps. Even Canadian actors would have to be cold performing that.

But to bend a phrase, once they’ve suffered for their art, it’s our turn.

“Death Trip” — stupid misnomer of a title, BTW — is a stumbling, obscurant stab at horror littered with logic lapses, inexplicable violence, flash-forwards and gore.

Some years back, a bunch of American indie filmmakers built a genre out of characters who talk and talk and talk, jokey, relationshippy films that even included a few stabs at horror. “Baghead” and “Creep” were the two best known “mumblecore” horror titles.

Director/co-writer James Watts and co-writer/star Kelly Kay, making their feature filmmaking debut, may have invented a variant on that genre — “prattlecore.” Honestly, nobody in this movie ever seems to shut up, until the bloody finale, that is.

Four Montreal friends head off the a “cottage” “in the North,” out in the country. It’s winter, a great time for Kelly (Kelly Kay), Tatyana (Tatyana Olal) and Melina (Melina Trimarchi) to pile into Garrett’s old Dodge Caravan for a little wilderness partying.

Garrett (Garrett Johnson) is taking three women and a lot of booze to the nondescript ranch house his granddad just died in. There’s a lot of kvetching about who actually sleeps in the bedroom where Grandpa died. Garrett, being gallant, lets Kelly take that hit.

But bumps in the night notwithstanding, that’s not what this thriller is about, any more than it’s about a “Death Trip” to a “remote cottage in the woods.” The “trip” is “meh.” The cottage is in a village. There are neighbors, including a young woman whom the gauche, drunk and unfiltered city slickers peep at as she changes clothes with the curtains open.

“Her Dad killed her mom,” is the gossip. Maybe. Maybe not. Will we find that out the hard way?

Kelly is the cute blonde we saw having sex in a bathroom mid-party in the film’s opening scene. Her spooky walk home is the first red herring this red herring festival serves up.

Melina likes the booze, the weed, and has no boundaries or real inhibitions. Her pal Tatyana is Black and notes that “White people are crazy all the time,” and gets no pushback for that.

“Flash forwards” used to be super rare, and even though they’re a lot more common these days, in films like “Death Trip,” showing this character covered in blood or that one staggering across the ice with a hammer is just a spoiler very early in the film.

“Death Trip” doesn’t have a good scene until the third act, when the loud, mouthy out-of-towners are invited to a party with locals the same age. That sequence of scenes has genuine suspense — fear of date rape, suicide, fistfight, murder orgy all cross the mind as it plays out.

“Anything could happen” is how you pull viewers to the edge of their seats. “Nothing happening but people prattling on” is the perfect way to kill the mood.

MPA Rating: graphic violence, drug abuse, sex

Cast: Kelly Kay, Tatyana Olal, Garrett Johnson, Melina Trimarchi

Credits: Directed by James Watts, script by Kelly Kay and James Watts. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:41

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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