Friday, 22 April 2016

the zero boys

the zero boys follows a group of 'weekend warriors' - three young men who like to spend their free time shooting guns in simulated combat scenarios to impress their non-participating girlfriends. however, the zero boys soon have an opportunity to put their skills to the test in real life when a weekend retreat turns into violent conflict with the local crazies.

the central concept of zero boys is actually pretty cool. yes, this is a film about six young people deciding to stay the night in an abandoned cabin in the woods only to be picked off one by one by machete wielding killers. even in 1986 this idea must have been starting to feel old, and now, after scream de-constructed the slasher and cabin in the woods de-constructed it even further, watching a movie with that particular setup can be tough going. however, the fact that our protagonists are wannabe war heroes and are going into this armed to the teeth does put a different spin on things.

pacing in a slasher film is one of those things that's really tough to get right (i have begun to realise this having just started writing one myself). start the kills to early and we don't know enough about the characters to care, start too late and we're bored by the time it kicks off. personally i think the latter approach can work brilliantly if the characters are well-written and we are made to care about them. the best recent example of this was in the norwegian movie cold prey, which doesn't add anything to the genre in terms of originality but the characters are so interesting and likeable that we want them to survive, which adds a huge amount to the tension. the zero boys attempts a similar approach with the violence not really starting until around forty-five minutes in, but unfortunately the characterisation isn't there to justify spending so much time with these guys. the three men are basically the same character - they even look the same. the women are only more diverse in that one of them has a plaster cast on her leg, otherwise they are pretty much indistinguishable. the only story we have to hang onto is that kelli maroney's character has been forced to go on the trip because the lead guy daniel hirsch's character won her in a contest. she goes along reluctantly, and that's the only real drama we have for the first half of the film.

that said, kelli maroney is the only one in the cast who really stands out and actually for a slasher film blonde her character is pretty interesting. she mentions studying anthropology at one point and later on there is a moment where she and the other girls change into army gear, which made a nice change from the way women are usually treated in slasher movies. also, both times the bad guys are bested it's down to the women in the group and overall the men are portrayed as being pretty pathetic. in that respect perhaps the zero boys is a more forward-thinking slasher film than it first appears, although i'm not sure carol clover would approve.

i did wonder if there was some hidden anti-war message here too because the zero boys does bear some similarities to the far superior walter hill movie southern comfort (if you haven't seen southern comfort first of all fuck you, and second of all what are you doing still reading this? go watch that film right now and don't you dare show your face around here until you're finished. then we can talk). ultimately, for all their training and preparedness the heavily armed zero boys fare pretty badly against two hicks with a machete and a crossbow.

one element that works really well is the idea that the bad guys are making snuff films and when the heroes first discover the camera set-up it's actually quite disturbing. unfortunately when the killers do eventually reveal themselves they are kind of disappointing, and mostly look like guys from the crew, like kane hodder and gunnar hansen pulled out at the last minute so they pulled in a couple of grips to take their place. there is, however, a brilliant shot of one of them at the end of the film that's so great it actually feels like it's from another movie. hard to describe without spoiling it, but trust me the final shot is amazing.

for a film we've all seen a thousand times before the zero boys actually has some really unique ideas and a few nice moments to make it stand out. unfortunately the main characters really let it down and the film feels incredibly slow-moving at times as a result. that said, it's certainly an interesting watch and you will want to watch the extras afterwards just to figure out what everyone on the crew was thinking.

arrow video release the zero boys on dvd and blu-ray on 25th april 2016

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