Nadia FarÃ¨s as Pia
John Brumpton as Poppy
Robert Taylor as Rob
David Lyons as Jimmy
Mathew Wilkinson as Brett
Directed by Jamie Blanks
Somewhere along the last six years, Australian director Jamie Blanks grew a pair of balls. If the name doesn’t jog your memory – and why should it, Blanks has been away for a spell – perhaps his previous horror offerings will make you feel a few familiar pangs of contempt. In the heat of the “Scream” hype, Blanks directed “Urban Legend” with 30 Seconds to Mars emo crooner Jared Leto and in the great teen horror recession of the new millennium there was “Valentine” – back when “Grey’s Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl was payin’ her horror dues with this sophomoric slasher (featuring a wasted “killer” design by KNB EFX), “Bride of Chucky” and “Bug Buster.” Blanks all but disappeared from the horror map even after finding a dubious place on Fangoria‘s list of “Top 13” fearmakers to watch. A credit in “The Making of ‘Bubba Ho-Tep'” cites him as camera operator in ’04, then there was a composing gig on the Aussie romantic yarn “Say I Do” the following year. Other than that, his name has been fodder for “Whatever happened to that guy?” conversations. Well, what appears to have happened is that he took a leave of absence for the greater good. Blanks is back with an acerbic and bestial take on survival horror that breaks no new ground but is deserved of kudos for being his best film to date (not a tough accomplishment) and for manifesting genuine unsettlement.
The protagonists at the center of this tumultuous plot, Rob and his beautiful French – younger – wife Pia, suffer the fate many do in films of this ilk except here it’s not their car that breaks down, yet its not exactly their boat that they take out on a fishing excursion on an overcast day that gives them trouble either. Nearing the end of their restful day, Rob sees an island he wants to explore. Coasting through the area’s inlets, the tide ultimately leaves this pair stranded too far from the ocean to return so they opt to hoof it across dry land in search of the island’s residents. As night falls, and the impending rumblings of a storm roll in, they discover a destitute farm and a greenhouse flourishing with pot. Yee-haw! This is, of course, a waving red flag to the natural lawyer instinct in Rob and it immediately prompts him to want to seek help elsewhere, but it’s too late. The three bears of this cave (an analogy Pia refers to) have come home and they’re none too happy about their curious visitors.
A confrontation ensues and we’re introduced to gnarly brothers Jimmy and Brett and their cantankerous “Poppy,” whose reveal is a secretive one at first. When he comes out to play later, what Rob and Pia have to fear in the siblings is nothing compared to what this codger has in store. Altogether these f**ked up family members respond unkindly to Rob and Pia’s well-to-do class status (they particularly hate that Rob drives a Volvo) and once they realize the pair are privy to the Mary Jane growing out back, all bets are off. Rob is knocked around. Pia is racially berated, forced to cook for Jimmy and Brett in nothing but a shirt so the duo can admire her ass much to the chagrin of Rob who can do nothing to oppose them. The thrust of the film then turns to the barn outside where the sexual tension mounts and there’s the constant threat that Pia will eventually be raped. And if that’s not bad enough, Rob has his leg broken. Oh, then there’s a family dog prowling the surrounding area that has a thing for gals “on the rag.” Tables soon turn, however. Pia’s hidden survivalist mode – perhaps the biggest question mark of this picture – kicks in and she resorts to some humiliating and deadly methods to keep her and her man alive.
How? Well, the brothers have left their prey in a barn brimming with potential weapons – an implausible decision on behalf of these killers, but they’re supposed to be a bit thick in the head. Besides, who’d believe Pia would break out the mad MacGyver skills for a hellish trap? Certainly not them and definitely not us. Still, it’s a passing discrepancy that’s worth overlooking for the gruesome pay-off that follows. Additionally, Pia’s actions lead to one of the most grotesque and evil moments of female empowerment ever put on screen.
Blanks’ grasp on his construction of tension slips only momentarily when Rob and Pia appear, to the audience, to have a few good opportunities to escape: When Brett is “pre-occupied” elsewhere and Jimmy looms over Rob to mock his crippling condition, Pia has plenty of time to smack the creep in the head. Even when Rob and Pia are left alone, they sneak out of the barn with ease, the latter noting, “This is too easy.” Very true, and they would have done just fine if they’re flight didn’t involve some nonsensical turns.
“Storm Warning” evokes a slight you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it all feeling because, let’s be honest, it’s a variation on hillbilly hell we’ve seen before in “Wrong Turn,” Deliverance,” “Wolf Creek,” et al. But writer Everett De Roche – who penned the phenomenally creepy “The Lost Weekend” and my personal fave, “Razorback” – ensures that every scene slings a sleazy or jagged edge. A searing portrait of the family dynamic shared among Jimmy, Brett and Poppy comes when we find them sitting around the television watch a woman getting freaky with the horse. Brett is nestled close to his father, a pillow over his crotch attempting to hide the fact that he’s fiddling with his diddle. Vile? Absolutely, yet it builds a palpable unease in us because these fellas, you just know, have Pia on their minds. Actors Wilkinson, Taylor and Brumpton are superbly devilish and run laps around their co-stars Nadia Fares and the rather stale Robert Taylor.
Compounded with Karl von Moller’s atmospheric nighttime photography and claustrophobic set design, the film is a deft exercise in creep-out fare. Blanks wields unrestrained confidence and a true arousal for down ‘n dirty, back-to-the-basics storytelling and bloodshed which will please gorehounds. “Storm Warning,” if anything, shows the skies are clearing on Blanks’ future and it’s suddenly looking very bright.