DWIFF Discovery: The Rain World Premiere
Rain, rain, go away…
No, really, please, do.
This eerie children’s chant is the opening theme for the film The Rain, directed by Michigan filmmaker Douglas Schulze, which had its world premiere last week at the second-annual Detroit Windsor International Film Festival.
And all I have to say about it is…wow. Just…wow.
The Rain follows the interwoven stories of three different generations in the small, drought-ridden farm town called Perseverance. The lands are dry, crops are dying, people are dying, the solution? Sacrifice some kids.
I suppose it’s all relative—as far as horror films go, this is hardly the worst. I mean, a far cry from the best, and barely staying afloat in mediocre, but certainly not nearly as campy and cheesy as films like Night of the Demons and the like.
But at least Night of the Demons is in on the joke—The Rain takes itself so seriously as to be laughable…and that’s not just for the bad acting, the stilted dialogue, or the premise so painfully generic and poorly executed it is an insult to the far superior piece of classic literature exploring the nature of men and morality, tradition and bloodlust, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
This film is a mess of motifs it can never quite settle on: water as both a giver and taker of lives (it heals sick people and kills healthy people? Is that the idea?), as well as a mode of transportation for the Max Schreck-looking character—whose very existence and preternatural abilities are never even remotely addressed, but rather just some extra spookiness thrown in for effect—and a top hat that is Evile Incarnayte. Oh, and did I mention that the basic idea is that the whole town is afflicted by a curse from an Indian shaman for stealing his land and murdering his children? ORIGINAL! Because Indians = SPOOKY! And what self-respecting horror film doesn’t have a good old-fashioned Indian curse?
The film also cheapens the themes explored in the story on which it claims to be based: what made Jackson’s The Lottery so bone-chilling was less the idea that people (of any age) were being sacrificed to ensure the continued prosperity of the community (which is in itself a stomach-turning thought), but more that the community had been doing it for so long that they may have fallen victim to their own potentially meaningless and wholly unnecessary traditions, and not one of them so much as bothered to question those traditions—THAT is what makes the story truly frightful. In The Rain, adults, afflicted with a disease only curable by the rain, sacrifice children in order to save themselves. Frighteningly selfish and violent, yes, but not on the same psycho-social playing field as Jackson.
And also, well, before the adults were sick they were just sacrificing children to make the rain come and stave off destructive drought and famine…but I suppose, in this great day and age of irrigation, that could no longer be a plausible excuse for infanticide so the writers (including director Schulze) had to come up with some other reason for the continued sacrifices.
Except that, only it wasn’t an issue when the Evile Incarnayte top hat was buried, but then there was still a drought, but before when there was a drought I guess some Indian guys approached the white men and were all, “Hey, we’ll give you rain if you give us your children’s SOULS,” and they were all, “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do…” I’m telling you, this thing is a mess from start to finish, and the loose ties that are supposed to link the three simultaneously-told stories just seem to jumble it even more.
Another thing, and this holds for any film that tries its hand at a novel approach to narrative story-telling: when interweaving three separate yet linked stories in order to tell one whole story overall, there needs to be some sort of consistency and narrative flow to the order of the three stories. For example, each sequence should in some way connect to the ones before and after it, perhaps explaining a portion (in this case, perhaps a backstory or a character’s motivation) of the sequence preceding it and then setting up the big reveal for the one that comes after it. What is should not do, and pay attention to this here, is take three different but loosely related stories, chop them up into pieces, and then reassemble them in a way that is jarring to the viewer and in no way contributes anything of value to the natural flow of the story (i.e., giving this Burroughs-ish cut-up format an advantage over a chronological tryptich-style telling). In addition to jumbled and inconsistent motifs, viewers were also treated with a jumbled and inconsistent narrative, one which never fully gelled in a way that explained, really, anything.
Except that the rain is bad. Or good? Or neutral? Guilt by association? Oy.
Let’s see, what else…hoaky? Have I used the word hoaky yet? Consider it done. In this presumably low-budget independent feature that relies heavily on child actors, it is of no great surprise that the acting is a little…bad. But the problem isn’t the children—it’s the adults. When dialogue isn’t delivered as if reading from a cue card, the roles are so overacted that I felt like I was watching Telemundo (minus all the good hair). The children are mostly okay, if a little wooden, and David Carradine…poor David Carradine. How the hell did David Carradine end up in a film like this? He glowered. And growled. And generally did his David Carradine thing (similar to a Clint Eastwood thing, only much more sinister…have you seen Kill Bill?). May he rest in peace, and may this not be his final film (a quick troll through IMDB says it’s not…*whew*).
I can’t decide if this is an example of a writer/director biting off more than they could chew, or if this is simply the work of—and I do hate to say this—an amateur. The film exhibits amateurish understandings of the horror genre and overuses genre tropes to the point of abuse (Music! Seclusion! Disfigurement! Disease! Screaming! Moaning! Rain! Blood! Forests! Nighttime! Indians! Kids! Top hats!).
I wanted to like this film. I really did. I hate panning a local filmmaker because (a) I always want to support the homegrown, and (b) there’s a really good chance I’m going to meet him professionally somewhere at some point and he’s going to ask point-blank about this review and tell me about how the film was 20 years in the making and how dare I call him an amateur and truth be told, I’ll probably deserve it, much as this film deserves the review I gave it.
The one saving grace this film has is that it occurs within a genre that is consistently poorly acted, written, directed, edited, and so forth. Again, in this particular genre, it’s all relative, and as far as entertainment value goes…yeah, I was entertained. Even if that entertainment came in the form of me thinking to myself, “How in the hell do these stories connect, and what’s with Nosferatu? How does he fit into all this? And, wait, are they sacrificing kids because they need the rain for their crops or because they need the rain for their illness? Okay, so first it was the crops, THEN the illness? And why isn’t the dad in the middle segment being healed by the rain? Why is he all disfigured anyway? Wait, is he Nosfertau? Wait, nope…no, Nosferatu was around in the first segment too. And why did the ‘50s mom die in the water when she was sick when everyone else was healed from it? What in the bloody hell…?” and so on.