Lionsgate // 2009 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // October 23rd, 2009
The sacrifice begins.
If Al Gore made a horror movie...
In the arctic researching the effects of global warming on polar bears, environmental scientist Dr. David Kruipen (Val Kilmer, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) discovers a wooly mammoth unearthed by melting glaciers. That's not all down there, however. The mammoth is also holds a parasitic insect that has laid dormant for millennia waiting to find a new warm host. A group of graduate students who have won a grant to help in Dr. Kruipen's research, but what they find is a horror from the past intent on punishing humanity for its mistakes of the present.
Part of Lionsgate's "Ghost Hose Underground" series of indie horror fare, The Thaw is an inventive, briskly paced thriller with it's heart in the right place, despite the heavy handed, overbearing message in the screenplay, but I'll get to that later.
Those with eye or bug phobias, be warned. Those with both might want to steer clear of The Thaw because, as somebody with neither, it gave me the creepy-crawlies. These bugs are everywhere. A cross between a centipede and a cockroach, these little guys don't look like much but, when thousands upon thousands of them are pouring out of a polar bear, they're pretty freaky. The fear of bugs is pretty easy to work with, and writer/director Mark A. Lewis does well to not make them more than they are. They don't get more powerful or evolve into something more dangerous. No, they do one thing: the males bore holes into the skin so the females can lay eggs inside which, once hatched, ravage the host. They are insidious parasites, a collective mass of a monster instead of one giant villain, and this helps to make the threat believable and effective.
Lewis keeps the story simple, limiting the number of characters and getting quickly to the horror. The kids are fairly interesting; they are grad students, after all, but once they start to figure out what's going on, the action ramps up fast, leaving little time for further character development. Aside from Martha MacIsaac (Superbad), who plays the scientist's daughter and isn't attached to them, all we really learn about the students is their individual stances on environmentalism. I don't want to know more about them than this and, once the screaming starts, we don't have to. The actors do a pretty good job as they head to the climax, none of them spectacular but all of them adequate. Val Kilmer's role is the classic example of the faded big star in an indie horror film. He's in it for about ten minutes, has one scene with the main characters, grabs his check, and hits the road. He's fine in the role, but his presence is unnecessary, though I suppose it adds name value and helps the film get distribution.
The best part of The Thaw is the effects. While some of the bugs are CG, the majority of the effects are done with prosthetics and, for a film with this kind of budget, they look great. These critters do some nasty things to their victims; the signs start in the belly and in more sensitive areas. Sores fester into deep fissures in the tissue, leaving empty, dark, rotten flesh in a truly disgusting effect. The best effect in the film is a harrowing amputation that makes up the majority of the bloodletting, and it's more than enough. There's nothing especially stylish about the film, but the shots are functional and effective.
The Blu-ray disc of The Thaw from Lionsgate looks quite good, better than I would expect from an independent film of this level. The 1080p Hi-Def image is crisp most of the time, though it's sometimes inconsistent. At times, it looks a little flat and black levels sometimes vary in depth, but the colors are strong, the polar whites are bright and sharp, and overall, is a strong transfer. I'm unsure how it compares to its standard definition counterpart, but it looks good in Hi-Def. The 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also quite strong and the best technical aspect of the disc. All channels are clear and easily discernible with plenty of spatial effects and separation. The sound design is fun in general, with squishy noises all over the place. The bugs even scream when burned, a nice and cheesy old school touch. The only extra worth noting is a brief behind the scenes featurette, but it isn't anything too special. Otherwise it's trailers and what's called the "Ghost House Micro Video," which is just another trailer that incorporates footage from all the films in the collection at once.
While I like the fact that The Thaw takes a legitimate issue, global warming, and uses it to wrap a horror story around, the timeliness adds to the realism. As a premise, it works well. I completely buy the prehistoric parasite angle. As for the dialog, its execution is awful. Whenever the characters aren't talking about the matter at hand, they discuss, in detail and significant length, their individual views on eco-terrorism and global warming. Maybe it's fitting that the dialog among graduate environmental studies students is so mind-numbingly banal but, no matter your level of support for environmental reform, I guarantee that you'll roll your eyes at these kids' drivel.
The Thaw works. While it isn't scary, it's both adequately performed and very gross. If you and your Sierra Club friends are looking for a fun Halloween evening, pair this with the Korean monster flick, The Host, for a super eco-double feature. Bonus points if your entertainment system runs off of solar panels.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R