A horror film about a group of horny twenty-somethings who go to a secluded area and uncover some kind of horrible mystery isn’t exactly original...
...That very scenario was plenteous in the film industry during the mid 1990’s, following into the early 2000’s. Writer/director Taylor Chien seems to have a nostalgic relationship with slashers of old, as his new film, The Resort, offers somewhat of a resurgence of the 90’s slasher, for better or worse. I always have admiration for someone who writes and directs their own film, but that isn’t always a recipe for surefire success. Fortunately, originality isn’t the only determining factor and The Resort has more to offer than one might guess at first glance.
Our story follows Lex (Bianca Haase), a young writer who has fixated on a supposed haunted, abandoned resort. She hopes to collect material for her upcoming book, and talks her friends into going with her. Lex is accompanied by her three friends, Bree (Michelle Randolph), Chris (Brock O’Hurn), and Sam (Michael Vlamis). After Lex convinces her friends to go with her, they head off to the abandoned resort. Not long after arriving, the once bright eyed and bushy tailed friends start to realize the island may actually be dangerous. Lex and company push on through to the resort, but they have no idea what horrors lay in waiting for them.
While it’s true that this film does imitate other slashers, it also tries to imitate more exotic, cerebral films like Danny Boyle’s The Beach (2000). The Resort seems like it wants to be too many things and can’t really find a place to settle. It starts out like any other film, where they get a host of attractive young people and an excuse (the book Lex is writing) to get them alone and vulnerable. Once on the island though, while the slasher tone is still going strong, the film turns into a premature lesson in philosophy and a hollow character piece. The whole movie grinds to a halt when it wants to act deeper than it actually is. In one scene Lex and Sam are talking about skeptics and those who believe and the film shifts into this more intellectual study that just comes off as pretentious. To make the inconsistent tone worse, there are a few scenes scattered throughout that are extremely gory and visceral. Visually it looks cool, but tonally it’s completely off. It seems like Chien wants to have his cake and eat it too, which I completely understand, but when a film seems to have an identity crisis, it can make for a jarring, inconsistent experience.
The characters themselves are pretty forgettable, with one exception being Sam, who, at the beginning of the film, I thought would be my least favorite, but he ended up being the one with the most personality. That, and Vlamis’ gave a particularly sincere and nuanced performance in his portrayal of a goofball party guy. They actually peel back some layers on this character, which I was very pleased about. I’m always looking for better characters in horror films and while the other characters are serviceable at best, there’s no way I could have written this review without mentioning him. Lex, Bree and Chris have very little character at all. Chris looked like Chris Hemsworth’s stunt double, mainly just doing a lot of posing and trying to look tough in the face of danger. Then there’s Bree, who isn’t as uninspired as Chris and Lex, but still isn’t a character you’re going to remember.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel here. For all its blemishes, The Resort still manages to be a drop-dead gorgeous film. The look and color timing/grading is proficient in its consistency and quality. We’re getting a very balanced image in terms of what they chose to do with post processing effects. Technical prowess aside, the film’s location and set work is brilliant. They struck gold with their location scouting, as the main resort structure, while not gigantic, is a star in of itself. The building and sets are also dressed appropriately, as if it actually had been abandoned for many years. On a horror level, there is some particularly disturbing imagery and one horror gag that comes straight out of Hellraiser (1987). However, the many different types of horror sparingly strewn about in this film don’t offer any consistency. By the time you think they’re getting you warmed up with the good stuff, the film is nearly over. Even so, The Resort is a feast for the eyes and should be praised as such.
The Resort isn’t a “good” film. But it is a film that offers a solid looking production, with carefully constructed shots and impressive visuals on all fronts. It also goes into some uncharted territory, which made the film more inconsistent in my mind, but I applaud Chien and company for their experimentation. I think there is a seed of a great idea in this film, but I feel like somewhere along the way the focus on story shifted and that always needs to be a central aspect to honor. Go in with tempered expectations and you might just find yourself enjoying this one.
The Resort comes to select theaters and VOD on April 30th from Vertical Entertainment.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth