Friday, September 7, 2012

'Slices of Life' is interesting but flawed

Slices of Life (2011)
Starring: Kaylee Williams, Jack Guasta, Toya Turner, Thurston Hill, Deneen Melody, Galen Schloming, Helen Alter-Dyche, and Judith Lesser
Director: Anthony G. Sumner
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love anthology films. There's a sense of fun about them that you don't get with other kinds of films--each segment is like a new movie and you never know what you're in for... and in the best of them, the framing sequence offers a little bonus story that may or may not tie in the others. Anthology films are like Forrest Gump's box of chocolate in every way.

Which brings me to "Slices of Life", a film I first watched early last year but never finished writing the review of for some reason. The initial notes and my memory both indicated that the film started weak and finished strong.

And sure enough, I my notes and memory were correct. The film is uneven in quality, but, ultimately the good outweighs the bad, making it a fun viewing experience if you can look past the sections where the ambitions of the director and special effects crew overreaches their budget and forgive some of the weaker actors for their transgressions.

Like the best anthology films, this one features a "bonus story" by way of a framing sequence that connects the other segments. A young woman (Kaylee Williams) wakes up on a lawn in front of a motel, not remembering who she is. The creepy owners insist she works there and that a trio of sketchbooks filled with elaborate drawings are hers. The girl paging through the sketchbooks are what leads us into the three stories within the framing story. These bridging sequences get creepier as the movie unfolds, and together they earn Six Stars.

First up is "Work Life: W.O.R.M.", the weakest of the three tales. In it, an unpleasant and isolated office worker (Jack Guasta) unleashes a nanite computer virus that turns all his co-workers into murderous zombies. He spends the rest of the segment trying to fend them off as he is chased through the building. While this could possibly have been an interesting and amusing cross between the cyberpunk and zombie genres, it ends up falling flat because writer/director Andrew Sumner chose to replace clever storytelling and characterization with a string of meta-references. Just like merely referencing other movies doesn't make a comedy like "Disaster Movie" funny, neither do wink-wink references to oher sci-fi and horror flicks make "Work Life" scary. It rates a generous Four Stars.

Things look up after that false start, however. With "Home Life: Amber Alert" Sumner delivers a tale of a very pregnant cop's wife (Toya Turner) who finds herself haunted by the ghosts of children who have been murdered by an elusive serial killer.  The way the hauntings are presented is quite scary and this could have been the best segment in the film, and certainly better than what is featured, if Sumner perhaps had trusted in the fact he had a powerful story here and refrained from engaging in cheap and predictable tricks as it built toward it's finale. What he probably thought was improving the segment actually undermines it, dispelling the atmosphere of dread that had been building with clumsy melodrama and unneeded gore. The segment also suffers from the fact that Thurston Hill gives a terrible performance that is made to look worse by the fact that Toya Turner is rather good in her part. This segment rates a low Six Stars, because of the way Sumner drops that ball toward the end.

The best episode of the film, "Sex Life: Pink Snapper", is the third and final story. It's a cleverly constructed tale that interweaves seemingly unrelated events involving a couple on the run (Deneen Melody and Galen Schloming). It's a story where the characters who are ostensibly the heroes of the piece are not exactly conventional and the villains are not at all what they seem to be. The segment draws its plot threads into a clever payoff that is just as creepy as it is satisfying due to the mixed feelings that viewers will have about the sort of poetic justice that is embodied by the fate of the various main characters.  The acting here is also more solid, with the entire cast giving a good accounting of themselves, and Deneen Melody being especially excellent as a heroine that's intentionally hard to like. This could easily have been a Seven Star segment if not for the fact that Sumner once again either didn't have faith in his story, or wanted to show off his horror geek-cred by tossing unrelated horror tropes into the segment. Yes... we all known Countess Bathory was a horrible, evil person, but did throwing references to her into this story doesn't add as much as it detracts because of its unnecessary randomness, and it drags the segment down to a rating of Six Stars.

When those ratings are averaged out, and Sumner's habit of mistaking horror cliches and references to other horror movies as story telling is taken into account, the entire package ends up rating a solid Five of Ten Stars.

"Slices of Life" is one of the better low-budget horror anthologies of the direct-to-DVD set. If you like the genre and the anthology format, I think you'll enjoy it. Sumner might also be a talent to look out for; if he had a little more faith in his material, I think he could deliver some excellent horror movies.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds pretty good to me - I'll watch out for this one!