Judge Paul Pritchard is not frightened by things that go bump in the night; it's the things that crawl up your butt.
Terror Is Skin Deep.
According to the text that opens director Gabriel Cowan's Growth, one in four Americans has a parasite, many of which are deadly. Ewww!
Facts of the Case
The isle of Kuttyhunk was the scene of a major scientific breakthrough back in 1989, when a team involved in advanced parasitic research found themselves on the brink of the next stage of human evolution.
Using parasitic organisms, the scientists found their human test subjects showed increased physical and mental strength. And then, just as they prepared to make their work known to the public, something went terribly wrong with the parasites attacking their hosts and anyone else unfortunate enough to cross their path. Before long three-quarters of the islands population had either been killed or forced to flee.
Now, 20 years later, Jamie Ackerman (Mircea Monroe), a survivor of the original outbreak, returns to the island to help sell the old family house. But wouldn't you just know it, before you can say "bad idea," those pesky parasites make their return, only this time stronger, and threaten both the islands population and potentially the rest of the world.
With its story revolving around parasites controlling their human hosts, Growth will earn immediate comparisons to Cronenberg's Shivers, Dekker's Night of the Creeps, and the more recent Sliver by Phillip Noyce; comparisons that don't really do Growth many favors as it just doesn't have the chops to stand up against such cult classics. Put those comparisons aside though, and you'll find director Gabriel Cowan has crafted a nasty little movie that will entertain the more patient horror fan who doesn't mind waiting for the claret to start flowing.
When it comes to recommending Growth, there is one major stumbling block which is very likely to overshadow the entire production for many viewers. Simply put, the film suffers from uneven pacing, with the first half of the film in particular proving to be problematic. Focusing on establishing the group of twenty-somethings that make up the film's main protagonists, and then the effects of the parasites as one of the main characters becomes infected, the first 45-minutes are a little dull and lacking in real incident. While character development is to be encouraged, here it seems pointless, as the characters are stereotypes we've seen in a thousand other movies who all fail to add anything new to the mix. Even seeing the effects of the parasite are not as interesting as they might have been, as the increased libido and almost superhuman abilities granted to the host are never explored in an interesting way. In fact, all we get is a comical attempt at picking up chicks in a bar and a brawl when one of the girl's partners takes offense at an out-of-towner trying it on with his gal. Once the film reaches the midway point, and mad scientists are thrown into the mix, along with revelations about the original outbreak and the towns attempts to cover up this latest episode, the film really gets going; only to be let down by an unsatisfying conclusion that, ironically considering the slow first half, feels rushed. Had Growth gotten into gear about 20-minutes earlier, we may have been talking about a much better movie.
Overall the cast is pretty good, with Richard Riehle (Office Space) and Brian Krause (Charmed) being the most recognizable faces. Lead Mircea Monroe carries the film well, while Christopher Shand clearly has fun when his character, Justin, is infected by the parasites. The two female leads, Mircea Monroe and Nora Kirkpatrick (Greek), comply with horror rule #245, which states that female characters, unless portraying a villain, should be attractive. In fact, you could say they…(Review censored due to inappropriate joke about "Growth" in Judge Paul Pritchard's under-pant area).
A couple of short behind the scenes featurettes show how the special effects were handled, as well as how a sequence filmed in Korea was accomplished. A few deleted scenes and a trailer complete the set. Though short, the featurettes help give the viewer a better understanding of the dedication from cast and crew towards the project, and if I'm honest, influenced my judgment a little.
Presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, Growth offers good levels of detail and is consistently sharp. The 5.1 soundtrack contains plenty of oomph, with a surprisingly decent score underpinning proceedings.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Whatever your final opinion of Growth ends up being, there's no doubt that the opening sequence, which fills in the backstory through a combination of news reports and video recorded at the time of the initial outbreak, is excellent and a superb way of getting the viewer into the film without the need for lengthy exposition. It's just a shame the rest of the film isn't able to maintain the standard.
Despite being a fairly uneven film, Growth excels in making the most of its limited budget, especially with regards to the use of special effects. The parasites, which make use of CGI, are well realized and only occasionally remind the viewer this is a low-budget movie. As pointed out by the "Growth in Development" featurette, a team consisting of six people was responsible for the CGI employed by the movie and they should be commended for their stellar work. Indeed, all elements of the gore, whether CGI or practical effects work, are solid. And, like all good gore-soaked horror, it may be advisable to lay off eating while watching Growth-just ask my wife who soon regretted her decision to have some fruit when a character vomited up a torrent of puke and parasites. The camera also lingers on a particularly brutal headshot that will please gore-hounds no end.
Director Gabriel Cowan's also produces moments of genuine horror, particularly an early scene involving a young girl riddled with the parasites. The second half of Growth also shows him capable of crafting an exciting horror movie. If he can just get over the pacing issues that plague Growth, there's no reason he can't go on to make better movies, and hey, this is his first effort as a lone director. The techniques he employed to get his film in the can show that he has the skills required to move onwards and upward.
The company it keeps (e.g. Shivers, et. al) means that Growth is going to be judged unfavorably against some genre classics. But put aside those comparisons, and Growth is revealed to be a flawed but entertaining low-budget movie that is still better than 90% of DTV horror and earns a recommendation.
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