Why is it a class can't take a field trip into the woods anymore without running into some kind of trouble? And why is it that trouble, more often than not, turns out to be cannibals? And furthermore, why is it, with all the maneaters out there hiding in the woods, people still insist on going into the woods?
This is a question I would like to ask Dana from the 2009 movie DISMAL. Granted, she's failing college biology and her creepy teaching assistant convinces her to come along with a few other students that Saturday to get some extra credit by doing field research in the Great Dismal Swamp outside town, so she's kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Fail out of college, risk getting eaten by gators, or worse. Well, she's certainly not failing out of college.
So to the swamp she goes, accompanying the A student who just wants to hook up with the C student he's been in love with since grade school, plus the party-boy who just wants some alone time with this skank he brought along. And the creepy teaching assistant. Sounds like a fun time.
But they're not even at camp a full day before the bodies start to pile up. Party-boy and his skank girlfriend are the first to get it. Party-boy's black, though, so it's ok; the horror movie trend lives on even in the low budget world of DIY filmmaking.
Creepy Assistant and A-student hear the screams and go check it out when they're confronted by a camouflage-clad hulk of a figure who knocks out Creepy Assistant before A-student runs back to camp to gather the girls and get out of Dodge. The SUV they arrived in has four flat tires, though, so they call Base Camp for help, but this is a movie about backwoods cannibal hillbillies, and the law states very clearly, "[I]n backwoods cannibal hillbilly movies any attempt to contact the normal outside world must be a fake-out as the `straight' character who shows up to `help' must really be a normal-looking backwoods cannibal hillbilly." Hey folks, I don't make the rules, but I must abide by them like everyone else.
So when the characters are woken up from being attacked by the normal-looking cannibal and the giant hulking cannibal, they find themselves in a pretty good-sized cabin, with lots of space and not too many gaps in the walls, along with electricity provided by a generator out back. A-student becomes dinner while the girls, Dana and C-student, are invited to dine with the hillbillies.
C-student protests, though, so she's sent into the woods with a pitchfork to catch something more palatable to her city-upbringing. And instead of using that pitchfork to skewer at least ONE of the hillbillies, C-student earns her name by actually heading out into the woods. Granted, she's thinking of escape, not dinner, but still. It seems a no-brainer when your tormentor hands you a weapon you could easily kill him with, you don't take off running the other way. But whatever. I'm sure the laws are pretty clear on that, too, but I'm too worn out to bother looking them up.
And anyway, C-student's escape attempt allows Dana time to slip her bonds and try to get away, too. Except the groans she hears from inside the cabin cause her to stick around. What she finds in the back bedroom just plunges her even further into this backwoods cannibal hillbilly nightmare. If you're familiar with the rulebook on this, you already know what she finds. And if you're not, well I won't give away the ENTIRE movie. But if you don't know what she finds, then you've obviously not been paying attention and if that's the case, a bunch of us are going into the woods this weekend to do some field research. Wanna come along?
DISMAL isn't a terrible movie, it's just a typical one. In the world of backwoods cannibal hillbilly movies, there's absolutely nothing about this one to set it apart from the rest of pack, and that's unfortunate, because otherwise why am I watching it?
The movie was written by Bo Buckley, who hasn't done much you may have heard of, and directed by Gary King who, again, hasn't done much you may have heard of. Perhaps you recognize the team from their 2011 collaboration DEATH OF THE DEAD? No? You're sure? Yeah, me neither.
The pair managed an okay horror movie with DISMAL. The script wasn't especially bad, and the direction didn't show any huge missteps other than Creepy Assistant's over-the-top creepiness. That could be due either to Tim Morris's portrayal, or King's attempt at foreshadowing; which if it was it brought the movie down and made it too predictable.
The rest of the cast don't have a lot of credits to their name. Lydia Chandler, who played Dana, has "One Tree Hill", and nothing else besides DISMAL. C-Student Capel Kane has only 3 others, while A-Student Will Triplett seems to work almost exclusively on Gary King pictures, and Party-boy Jade Arnold and Skank Meagan Reedy have another 2 credits between them--and they both belong to Arnold. In fact, of the entire cast, only Father Hillbilly Bill Oberst Jr., who has 76 titles to his name, has done much besides DISMAL, and as good as he was in this movie, I'm not surprised to see he carried the role of Abraham Lincoln in ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES as well as the role of Sheriff Gaston in THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. He was a real pleasure to watch when he got going full-hillbilly, so at least the movie has that redeeming quality.
In truth, though, other than some predictable plot twists you can see coming from miles away, DISMAL isn't that bad of a movie. It's just too typical to stand out. It's nowhere near the quality of something like the first WRONG TURN, but I'd say it's easily on par with WRONG TURN 3 or 4. Okay, those movies sucked, so maybe that's not a good comparison. However, I think they only sucked as bad as they did because of the comparisons to the first WRONG TURN, which no one can deny is awesome.
I had some trouble with some really goofy CGI effects toward the end of the movie, but other than that, I don't have much bad to say about this movie. It's not setting any new standards, but it's also not the worst of the lot when it comes to this sub-genre. DISMAL is probably the very definition of middle of the pack backwoods cannibal hillbilly movies. I won't praise it and insist everyone see it, but I won't say it's so bad you should avoid it, either.