15 November 2014

TRAIN/2008/THORA BIRCH

It does seem there are things worse for groups of horny, drunken American teenagers to deal with while on holiday than having their car break down somewhere in the Smoky Mountains, and one of those would be traveling and partying through Eastern Europe. The type of demented local folk running around the villages and forests of Belarus or Romania make the hicks in the backwoods of Georgia and Mississippi look like a bunch of happy Mormons. The vibe of 2008’s Train, directed by Gideon Raff, is just too reminiscent of 2006’s Hostel to not bring it up at the beginning of things here. It is obviously inspired by Eli Roth’s film and at times inspiration seems to blend into simply redoing the film in some ways. But it is not really a rip off film as far as I am concerned though fans of Hostel will see the similarities in the film's atmosphere, general story line and intense gore and violence. The film was shot in Bulgaria and is supposed to take place in the Ukraine, where an American wrestling team has traveled for some sort of tournament. Among the wrestlers is Alex, played by the usually capable Thora Birch. She does well enough here but I had some problems with her in this, though I loved her work in films like American Beauty and Ghost World. And my problems were not that she did badly at all, but that she seemed to not fit in to the mood of the film. I cannot explain it really, but had she not been in the movie it may not have been a movie I would I would have liked at all. So there you go. Lot of hostility towards the film online as far as reviews goes. Actually hard to find a few that were favorable. And while not a great film, and not one for the squeamish or people not on psychotropic medications, it is not really a bad horror film in terms of story, direction, photography, acting and special effects. People who hate the way CGI effect looks should be happy since the effects here seem to be all old school practical effects. And they are done very well and at times they were more than a bit unnerving. I seem to have gotten a hold of the unrated version of the film which includes quite a few scenes trimmed by Lionsgate to get an R rating for some limited degree of commercial distribution in the States. The gore and violence in this thing is simply over the top and I cannot recommend this one to everybody. And of course, that is probably going to make more people run out and check it out, which is my actual thinly veiled intention.

While the focus of Hostel (a film I did not much care for really and which, like Train, I will probably not watch twice) was a group of teenagers being tortured by high-paying thrill seekers, the bad guys in Train are essentially harvesting organs and body parts to sell on the insidiously evil black market, in East Europe. The team is in a rush to get to Odessa for their wrestling meet and take an offer from a skinny, gaunt faced woman also on her way to Odessa , to buy tickets through her on the train. A couple of goofy yokels help the team aboard and then take all their passports, to “keep them safe from thieves”. The passports end up in the incinerator in no time and the members being gathered up and tortured, murdered and cut into pieces by a gang of Eurotrash butchers. Leading them in the mayhem is brawny and ruthless Vlad. The teens realize something is up and seek help from the conductor, but it is a simple case of not being able to trust anybody and that everybody on the train is involved in some way or another, either actively or passively. And since they are on a train there is no escape though the film never seems to be able to capture the real claustrophobia this situation should have created. But even though they only have these long corridors to run up and down they do seem to manage to avoid detection and manage to lose one another quite a few times. Once one of the team is caught and winds up in the machine room, where Vlad does his work, it is all pretty grisly. Like I said, the effects are pretty darn good and really unsettling for the most part.

This is all just torture porn of course. Much of the gore and violence is gratuitous and deliberately over the top. Gore hounds should not be disappointed. I have seen plenty of gore films in my day and while not a fan of the genre I like to check it out here and there. I enjoy well done violence in films and have to say, again, that the effects in this one are pretty convincing. Much can be said about the cinematography as well and music score. Over all the film is very well made and acted. The problem of course is with the rather lowbrow story that, like Hostel, makes Eastern Europe look like some sordid hell hole of sleazy discothèques and neo-Nazi types with nothing better to do than stalk tourists. Hell, it might be true for all I know, but it just seems like the formula of lost/stranded/stalked city teens was transplanted from rural USA to the Ukraine. But to be honest, I sort of like that twist. And for whatever reason a lot of films are being produced and shot in East Europe anyway, though the location is sometimes supposed to be the US still. This was the case with Amusement (review coming shortly) and with the The Hills Run Red (see recent review). I am not sure why this is though I suspect saving money is somehow involved. So far have not found information online why studios prefer former communist bloc nations to the heartland of America, but it seems to be a trend. If anybody has insight to this please let me know.


As far as Thora Birch goes she looks great and does not let the fact she is basically playing a “final girl” type make her work any less hard. She gives it her all and does great, but in the end she is playing the type of role most actresses play at the start of their careers, hoping for some recognition. I am just not sure why someone who can act as she does basically stepped down to do this film, though horror films are on her resume (The Hole, Dark Corners). I don’t know any of the other actors in the film by face or name but they all do well enough for this type of thing. Like I said above, doubt I will set through it again. Not because I thought it was bad, but seeing a Peeping Tom teenager get his faced beat in by brass knuckles over and over and have that same bloody face urinated on by snickering Eurotrash is not my cup of tea. Nor is having the camera angle being shot up from the floor into the cascading whizz something I can say is an example of brilliant cinematography. Okay, it was interesting. I am open. But some of the film was a little too much for me and it lacked any humor or larger message (as if any movies on this site have “larger messages”). Worth one watching for horror/gore fans but I can assure you it is really bloody ass violent. Take that as a warning or recommendation depending on the state of your mental health.

Video captures are mine. 

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