So, let's talk about Meadowoods.
Meadowoods was produced on a shoestring budget for Monterey Media in 2009; it was released this year and has been steadily attracting both positive reviews and brickbats, generally (and oddly) for the same moments in the film.
At this point, it has its own army, and apparently, quite the coterie of fans; and if you're not sure about running out and renting it, you can see three clips on Film Arcade to get an idea of the film's style and presentation.
There's been significant press on the film, from diverse sources. Two of the film's leads maintain--or least maintained once--a Facebook presence, though--considering Facebook's draconian "reveal all" anti-privacy policies, they likely don't now.
And on the surface, it's nothing that special--'real' camera-work, a la Blair Witch; typical bored college students; friends who kill; it's almost clockwork as it moves through the standard tropes.
The difference? On more than one occasion, I had to tell myself I was watching a horror film, not some new reality show. The main performers--and there are really only four, this is a small and intimate work--never slip. Not once. They are absolutely believable, start to finish.
And--as is so often in these works--there is a weak link.
In this case, we only hear the weak link through most of the piece, as he's the one responsible for the bulk of what's being filmed. Ryan's his name--if characters matter, the tall, charismatic blond is Travis, and the sullen, nihilistic blonde is Steph--and Ryan's been given the task of finding out what really, really scares long-haired brunette Kayla (the fellow student Travis and Steph have decided to kill), deep down.
I, at least, find it difficult to get to know someone without sharing that moment of understanding with them; that, because I know more about them, I am at least friendlier towards them, if not precisely friend. Ryan is much the same. He's insecure, he's not sure what's going on, throughout most of the film; but when he's assigned the task of interviewing Kayla on camera, he cracks. He shows her his worry, and she--gullible, open, far too trusting--does what she can to alleviate it.
What struck me vividly about this film, though, is how much Travis looks like Dylan Klebold. I don't think it's too much of a stretch at all to think the filmmakers--or at least the screenwriter--may have been influenced by the Columbine high school shootings. At the end of the day, all the excuses pushed to one side, Harris and Klebold wanted to do one thing: kill people. And they wanted to be remembered for it.
Eleven years later, that wish has been fully granted; their actions have saturated everything from comic books to feature films (though personally, I think one of the most unnerving moments of cultural dissonance came when DC Comics refused to publish Warren Ellis' Hellblazer comic, entitled Shoot, due to the events of Columbine; yet quite presciently, it was written before Columbine ever happened).
But, because of Columbine, and other incidents, I (being a child of my times) can easily accept a trio of 20-somethings who want to kill for--no particular reason. Boredom. Thrills. The death of faith. Pick a reason, any reason, spin the wheel: any reason why is likely to be as accurate as any other explanation. There's at least one moment where I was fairly sure Steph was going to offer to trade places with Kayla, because her own death wish was so great. But even that prospect holds no joy for her.
In a raw and real sense, that's part of what makes this film almost unbearable to watch at times, even for a solid horror fan. What we see through Ryan's camera eye feels real, hits us emotionally as reality, and the film does not at all, not once, back down from its premise. The three are plotting to do harm to someone. And no one notices; no one gets in their way; no one sees the danger in their midst.
One of the reviewers brought up the true horror in this film was the savage groupthink; that individuals would not necessarily do such terrifying things on their own. I don't agree. I think groupthink definitely played its part, but these were damaged people looking to damage others, for...the fun of it. If 'fun' is the right word.
There's a moment in Rebel Without a Cause where Sal Mineo's character is asked what he's rebelling against. He replies, "Whaddaya got?" At the time that Rebel was filmed, that was a shocking and horrifying statement for parents.
Now? Kids these days. It's par for the course. And on that score, if for no other reason, Meadowoods becomes one of the more horrific independent films made this decade.