Lionsgate // 2009 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // October 6th, 2009
Extinction will find you.
Three college kids think they're getting the opportunity of a lifetime when they're chosen to work with their hero, Dr. David Kruipen (Val Kilmer, The Island of Dr. Moreau). Kruipen is an environmentalist/eco-warrior who has long been warning the world that if we're not nicer to nature, nature is going to stop being nice to us.
Joining the undergrads is Kruipen's bitter, needy, yet knowledgeable daughter, Evelyn (Martha MacIsaac, Superbad), who's there to settle a few scores with her pop and is not so interested in saving the world from itself.
When the group arrives at Kruipen's Arctic base, they find not the doctor and his associates waiting for them, but an empty station with an odd centerpiece: A decaying polar bear. When helicopter pilot Bart (Viv Leacock, Are We There Yet?) gets bitten by a bug from the carcass, everyone assumes it's an aggressive flea. But then someone else gets bitten and has a disconcertingly violent reaction...and then, one of Kruipen's assistants shows up, near death, muttering, "Don't let them leave" and breaking the helicopter controls.
And slowly, our adventurers realize that the bugs they're facing are not of the ants-at-a-picnic variety but something far worse: mean-spirited and deadly parasites.
Just looking at the DVD case, The Thaw doesn't seem too promising.
* It's part of a Lionsgate horror series ("Ghost House Underground"), like 2008's "After Dark Horrorfest," which gave us mediocre fare like Lake Dead and Tooth and Nail.
* It features a "name" actor (Val Kilmer) who has seen better days.
* It's "From the Makers of the Evil Dead Trilogy," though I couldn't tell you who from Evil Dead had anything to do with The Thaw.
Despite these inauspicious beginnings, The Thaw is a surprisingly suspenseful and bleak doomsday tale. While the idea of people trapped in a remote location with a menace (be it zombies, aliens, or plague) is hardly novel, The Thaw earns its many scares and chills.
I think the idea of having bugs crawling on you is a fairly universal fear. It's certainly disgusting -- you can get bitten before you even realize the creature is there. In The Thaw, the bugs multiply at an alarming rate -- far quicker than the students can figure out the puzzle. They also don't merely bite, they burrow into your skin, where they execute a nefarious and grizzly plot.
In addition to many frightening scenes of menacing bugs, there is a fairly high grue-and-gross-out quotient. A highlight: an impressive and grisly amputation.
The film also takes itself seriously, a nice change from the winking Cabin Fever-style horrors that have made some indies less than effective. Nothing here is played for laughs, and director/co-writer Mark A. Lewis not only builds tension, but offers some pretty great payoffs, as well. Behind all the awfulness is a twisted ecological message, a "told you so" moral that ties everything together and sustains the dark tone.
The disc looks great and sounds even better, the 5.1 track giving a nice, creepy rendition of the increasingly threatening bug sounds. For extras, there's a short but comprehensive "Behind the Scenes," a trailer for The Thaw, and "Ghost House Micro Videos," which are clips from the various Ghost House films set to music.
Creepy, icky, and a tad disturbing, The Thaw is well worth a look for horror fans.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R