Judge Paul Corupe tactfully avoided any "hoser" jokes.
They're not what they seem.
Oh, Canada! For the greater part of the last two decades, respected Canuck filmmakers like Atom Egoyan and Denis Arcand have focused almost exclusively on churning out art house fare—respectable, film festival-bound pictures as far away from mainstream Hollywood as you might expect. In many ways, this recent wave of auteur cinema is an attempt to live down the decadence of the early 1980s, during which Canadian film was synonymous with the gaudy box office success of Porky's and Happy Birthday to Me, top grossing schlockers that resulted in much embarrassment and hand-wringing among the critics and the cultural elite.
Although the heyday of Canada's low-budget commercial films ended some time ago, the stateside success of the Ginger Snaps trilogy and a recent change in government funding policy has led to the resurgence not only of genre films, but in genre franchises. Ginger Snaps may have garnered a modicum of critical acclaim by spinning the age-old werewolf story for the fairer sex, but faces north of the border are once again set to go red with the DVD release of Decoys, a film that combines two of the most critically disparaged Canadian subgenres, the sex comedy and the horror film, into a conventional teen flick that is sure to leave most viewers cold.
Facts of the Case
At St. John's College in New Brunswick, freshmen roommates Luke (Corey Sevier, Edge of Madness) and Roger (Elias Toufexis, Brilliant) hope to melt the ice with blonde bombshells Lily (Stefanie von Pfetten, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2) and Constance (Kim Poirier, Dawn of the Dead (2004)). But while Roger is busy making elaborate plans to lose his virginity to the first sorority queen that will have him, Luke drunkenly spies the sexy pair spraying each other with liquid nitrogen and sprouting enough tentacles to keep the adult manga industry going for years. After the bodies of several frat boys are found flash-frozen from the inside out, Luke is convinced that the girls are sexual predators from outer space who kill by slipping an icy proboscis down the throats of their victims in the throes of pleasure. His arguments are completely lost on his friends, though, including jive-talking DJ Gibby (Enis Esmer, How to Deal) and Luke's obvious love-interest-in-waiting, the tomboyish Alex (Meghan Ory, National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Family Reunion). Worse, Roger seems determined to bed Constance despite any intergalactic complications. With the help of Alex and a sympathetic cop (Nicole Eggert, Baywatch), Luke tries to save his friends—and himself—from becoming student-sicles by thawing the girl's evil plans before they can conquer the Earth…or at least Canada.
Blending Species and the gross-out comedy of American Pie into a chilly Canadian cocktail, Decoys is an eye candy-heavy film with absolutely no illusions about what it is. Horror and hot (or rather, cold) blondes are in served up in equal, PG-13-sized doses, all set to an almost constant rock soundtrack of the greatest Canadian bands you've probably never heard of. Encompassing science fiction, horror, comedy, and even a little drama and romance, it seems like Decoys is a film that offers something for all audience members, but unfortunately, chief among the film's many problems is this blind insistence on genre-hopping; in trying to desperately appeal to all audiences, the film ends up a distinct disappointment.
I'll gladly concede that the first third of the film works well enough. Balancing some reasonable stabs at humor, a bit of sex, and a few scares (albeit cheap shocks via Luke's daydreams), the film initially seems headed in the right direction. But just when it looks like first-time director/writer Matt Hastings might have something on his hands, Decoys hits a major stumbling block and never quite recovers. It's just after Luke tells his disbelieving friends about the awaiting frosty death that the plot seems to go haywire in a desperate attempt to give these kids something to do until the finale. Besides an annoying habit of dropping unrelated and unresolved plot points in the laps of the viewer—including Luke's oddly unspoken past with Nicole Eggert's cop—Hastings embarks on a strange subplot about the sorority house's "Ice Queen" contest in a misguided attempt to bring some humanity to his aliens. The invading tentacle-creatures are revealed to be not exactly the tight military unit that you might expect—just petty, jealous beasts, looking for a little non-lethal loving themselves. Even in the film's ribald, campy atmosphere, you have to wonder exactly why the aliens would delay their mission to "take over the Earth one dick at a time" in favor of winning beauty contests.
Decoys also has significant trouble finding its tone. Outright slapstick is haphazardly jammed against tender moments between friends, while romantic scenes are juxtaposed with sexual violence; it's not always obvious in which direction the film is trying to pull its audience, and I'm not sure if Hastings knows either. Although comedy seems to outweigh the science fiction and horror here, sometimes it's hard to tell if you should be laughing with the film, or at it. While I can appreciate the campy absurdity of a one-liners like "Belt of Orion? How about the belt of O-Fryin!" as Luke cuts loose with a flame thrower, having Nicole Eggert's cop character slide in the same room with a gun while proclaiming "Baby got backup!" is certain to produce far more cringes than chuckles, no matter what the filmmaker's intention.
Instead, Decoys is far more fascinating when trying to find ways to offer the intended teenage audience some carnal thrills while maintaining a PG-13 rating. With a brief tinge of sorority alien nudity offered right up front, the rest of the movie employs lovingly-shot scenes of the girls licking away at ice cream cones and lollipops, kissing each other, and in once surprisingly depraved case, the camera luridly lingers over one girl tied up with duct tape.
Admittedly, most of the actors in this production are pretty green, but generally speaking, the performances here are simply not up to snuff. Corey Sevier lacks the needed screen presence to carry the picture, and Elias Toufexis and Meghan Ory are the only ones who manage to do anything with the embarrassing, gratuitously "hip" dialogue their characters are expected to speak. And don't even ask me what Nicole Eggert is doing in this movie.
On the plus side, the sparing use of CGI effects works quite well for this particular film. The girls' alien forms aren't anything particularly special, but they're adequately rendered, perhaps distant cousins to David Cronenberg's Fly. Much more interesting and effective is the subtle use of visual tweaking to show the kids freezing up, sub-zero limbs shattering, and in one case, an alien bug crawling out of student's mouth. Decoys isn't going to impress any gorehounds or special effects geeks, but it is a nice change from the usual unconvincing computer effects that go for quantity over quality these days.
As if reinforcing the film's theme that beauty is only skin deep, Sony has graced Decoys with an eye-popping anamorphic transfer that showcases the film beautifully. Despite being shot on high-definition video, Decoys sports an attractive film-like look. Excellent detail, deep blacks and a lack of compression and source artifacts only add further to the experience. The DVD takes full advantage of the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix with good use of the surround channel to amp the few scenes of tension up another notch and gives the generic modern rock soundtrack an added punch—which the film's intended audience will likely appreciate more than I did. A first rate job all around.
There's little in the way of extras, I'm guessing mostly because this film is going to sell far more copies to rental shops than collectors. Besides some trailers for other recent Columbia releases is a twenty-minute made-for-TV promotional tool called "Decoys: Behind the Scenes." Created to be aired on Canada's Space channel, not coincidentally one of the funding sources for this film, this extra offers a few interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, but it mostly comes down to the actors talking about how "cool" this movie is going to be.
The only thing that really differentiates Decoys from most direct-to-video horror films clogging the shelves at Blockbuster is that it happens to be explicitly Canadian. While I respect the film for its blunt patriotism and its admirable attempt at creating a memorable genre spoof in the mold of Ginger Snaps, I just wish the script could have gotten another polish or two to tighten up some of the plot holes, which extend all the way to the film's preposterous conclusion.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• "Making Of" Featurette
Review content copyright © 2004 Paul Corupe; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.