DREW AND JOHN ERICK DOWDLE!
Yo! AS ABOVE, SO BELOW...how many of you got a chance to stumble down the dark and dank Parisian catacombs this past weekend? Was it worth it? Well whatever you thought about the flick, no one can deny the ever-growing presence of filmmaking brothers Drew and John Dowdle, who, since 2007, simply continue to flourish in the world of horror cinema. After making their presence known with the underrated POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, the Minnesotan siblings raised their profile by aptly redoing the found-footage Spanish chiller REC (QUARANTINE) a year later, before finding producorial support from M. Night Shyamalan in the Mephistophelean whodunit, DEVIL, in 2010. Dude's are definitely on the uptick, which makes Drew (the writer) and John (the director) perfect patients for this week's salutary-surgery! Ladies and gents, please prep the scrubs and sterilize the goddamn scalpel, it's time to do wise and Dissect the Dowdle brothers!
I have a feeling things are about to get quite controversial up in here. So be it! You see, I might be the only one around these parts who actually thinks QUARANTINE is the Dowdles' finest film to date. But I truly feel that way. Now full disclosure, I've yet to see AS ABOVE, SO BELOW, but judging by The Arrow's review, it isn't likely to eclipse my take on QUARANTINE - the 2008 remake of the hyperkinetic Spanish chiller REC. Now I'll be honest, I happened to see QUARANTINE before I saw REC, so right from the jump, I wasn't watch the film through a biased, comparative lens. Instead I was able to sit back, and enjoy what essentially amounts to a fast-paced, highly immersive first-person zombie slalom. Real shite, the flick plays a like a hyper-pumped-up game of Duke Nuke'em!
But even more than the jarring immediacy and claustrophobic trappings, QUARANTINE is simply a very effective remake. Even after seeing the original REC, which is wonderful, I came away thinking the Dowdles understood exactly what made the original so well and translated exactly that. Not just the hand-held, docu-style visual aesthetic, but in how the zombies themselves are comported...as voracious, quick-moving, mouth-spuming animals. I loved that shite!
Of course, for all this to work, you need likeable characters to go on a journey with. And I'll admit, I wholeheartedly bought into Jennifer Carpenter's charming news reporter character, as she traded flirty repartee with the equally game firefighters played by Jay Hernandez and Jonathan Schaech. The early ingratiation of these intro scenes really paved the way for an emotional toll to be paid off horrifically down the road. I actually found Carpenter slightly more rootable than the Manuela Velasco in REC, but that's likely due to foreign language barrier. Even so, remake or no, I think QUARANTINE is a better movie than the so called original, M. Night Shymalan's DEVIL.
Boy I really wanted to love DEVIL. And for the first hour or so, I quite did. Let's be clear, I love me a good whodunit, and as an admitted Agatha Christie inspiration, DEVIL started out beautifully. Great setup, wonderfully varied characters, and a suspenseful single-set location. And in the end, it's not even a bad film, it's just that, with such a small sample size, we have to call out the weakest link in the Dowdle canon. And because the last half of DEVIL became so predictable and rife with horror cliches - not to mention ones springing from the mind of hack-tastic M. Night - I remember at one point yelling at the screen...fuck this movie! Why? Well, in the end, as we're left with only a few remaining survivors, it's so obvious that the least unassuming person is the culprit. Shit, 40 minutes in I correctly guessed who the DEVIL was. That said, I blame M. Night and writer Brian Nelson, not the otherwise swift direction from the Dowdles. They made the movie better than it should have been!
With only a handful of flicks under their belt, it's difficult to really pin-down aesthetic motifs in the Dowdles' work. That said, I do think Drew and John have worked wonders with the format of, if not the outright found-footage narrative, at least a semi-verite, hand-held shaky-cam visual style. The trend started with the exhilarating POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, which quite literally featured hours and hours of grisly serial killer footage "found" on a collection of videotapes. Proving more than capable with such, the two bros took their kinetically jarring visual stylings and applied it to a movie that absolutely called for it...the 2008 American remake, QUARANTINE. Not to be outdone however, Drew and John got to use similar visual techniques in DEVIL, where intercut security camera footage (CCTV) sufficiently mounted the tension inside the ill-fated, un-communicable elevator. It's as if they knew exactly what worked so well in their first two flicks, and made sure they refined it to even higher level of suspense.
It's hardly a tucked away nook now that I've mentioned it so much, but trust us, if you've not already popped-in THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, you really ought to! First off, it's a very well crafted found-footage flick, made slightly before the unbearable stretch where it seemed like every other horror flick was a found-footage one. So, the Dowdles were a bit ahead of the curve in that regard. Always worth a few points! Moreover, here's a movie whose that suffered an odd purgatorial release. You see, even though the flick was completed in 2007 and had a trailer attached to many high-profile horror joints, it never got an official release...theatrical or otherwise. In fact, it wasn't until two months ago, in July of 2014, that THE POUGHKEEPISE TAPES finally saw the light of day via VOD on DirecTV. A hidden gem indeed!
As for the story, get this. In a ramshackle abode left for dead out in the upstate town of Poughkeepise, New York - police investigators discover a large score of mysterious videotapes. When they toss those suckers in the old VCR, instant horror and regret follows suit. You see, on the tapes is a whole barrage of barbarous torture, mysterious murder and malicious mayhem. Who are the victims? Who's the killer? Who filmed these ghastly goings on? What the hell?
Despite its low-budget, limited resources and cast of relative unknowns (dare I say amateurs), THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES is truly one of the best examples of found-footage horror I've come across. The violence is nastily flagrant, difficult to watch at times, yet the narrative structure with different forms of exhibition keep the ghastly action fresh and consistently watchable. For all you Dowdle completists, do yourself a solid a peep THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES on demand ASAP!
As you know by now, Drew and John's latest - AS ABOVE, SO BELOW - is currently unspooling in theaters around the globe. We won't expound too much on it in this article, as you can simply scope The Arrow's Review of the flick here, but we will run-down a quick plot-crunch for all of you who aren't yet familiar:
Miles of twisting catacombs lie beneath the streets of Paris, the eternal home to countless souls. When a team of explorers ventures into the uncharted maze of bones, they uncover the dark secret that lies within this city of the dead. A journey into madness and terror, As Above, So Below reaches deep into the human psyche to reveal the personal demons that come back to haunt us all. Written by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle (Quarantine, Devil) and directed by John Erick Dowdle, the psychological thriller is produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Drew Dowdle and Patrick Aiello. Alex Hedlund serves as the executive producer.
Has to be better than that awful Shannyn Sossamon flick CATACOMBS, right?!
Anyway, after toiling away in the independent world for the better part of the last decade, largely unafforded the luxury of casting a bankable star, the brothers Dowdle are definitely raising the stakes with their upcoming project, THE COUP. First, consider the headlining cast. Pierce Brosnan, Owen Wilson and Lake Bell assume the top three leads. Must be some script then, right? Well here's the synopsis:
In their new overseas home, an American family soon finds themselves caught in the middle of a coup, and they frantically look for a safe escape in an environment where foreigners are being immediately executed.
Sounds pretty damn enthralling, especially since the horror seems to derive from the harsh realities of a day-to-day geopolitical fracas. I love movies like that, where the horror plays secondary to a larger, more socially relevant scenario. It makes the terror, when it finally does strike, that much more gripping, visceral, and that much more believable. You with me?! THE COUP takes to the streets March 6, 2015.
Even though they only have a handful of flicks to their name at this point, Drew and John Erick Dowdle are definitely two dudes to keep an eye on in the future of horror cinema. Whether it's found-footage flicks, serial killer genres, zombies, devilish whodunits, psychological terror - it doesn't seem to matter, the Dowdles are up to challenge. THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES, QUARANTINE, DEVIL, AS ABOVE SO BELOW and the upcoming COUP - while wildly different in terms of story and subgenre - they all have that eminently watchable Dowdle touch of realism. Real shite, I'm truly excited for what these dudes have in store for us in the future!