Friday, June 15, 2007

Masters of Horror - The Screwfly Solution (2006)

With a sudden spike in violence aimed at women, two scientists, Allen (Jason Priestley) and Barney (Elliott Gould) discover that this alarming trend is spreading throughout the world much like a disease would. They link the disease back to the eradication of the screwfly. In the 1950s, the screwfly caused so much devastation to livestock that the government sterilized as many of the male flies as possible. Since they could not reproduce, the species was soon wiped out. Allen and Barney have adapted this practice for use in other countries, slightly altering the formula to effect only the species they want to get rid of. Now, it looks like someone has turned the tables on the human race and is using the same technique to wipe us off the face of the earth.

The disease is triggered by sexual arousal, turning men aggressive and violent. They then brutally kill women and can spread the disease to others. Those infected claim that God made them do it and they go on to speak about beautiful, but different-looking, angels that spoke to them. Soon, a religious fervor grips those inflicted.

It’s up to Allen and Barney to find a solution for the epidemic before the men kill every last woman and the human race no longer has the ability to reproduce. Can they stop the infection from spreading to themselves?

Meanwhile, Allen’s wife Anne (Kerry Norton) and daughter Amy (Brenna O’Brien) must worry about the increasingly aggressive male presence that threatens them and the rest of the female population.

The Screwfly Solution is Joe Dante’s second entry into the Masters of Horror series (after first season’s Homecoming) and it is quite a cut above the usually ho-hum entries. This entry is a stand out, and like Homecoming, has social commentary aplenty for those that like their horror nice and meaty. It touches on everything from global warming, environmentalism, fundamentalist and extremist religious views, feminism, misogyny and the “battle of the sexes.” This film tries to bring to light these issues and at least makes the viewer think.

The violence towards women in the film is brutal and unflinching. It never objectifies or eroticizes the violence but keeps it frightening and horrible. There are some bloody bits here and there, but it is not a gore-drenched episode. Violence towards women in horror movies is nothing new, but something about it in this episode makes it all the more vile and inexcusable. The way the military responds to this tidal wave of women’s deaths is appalling and made my fists clench. This episode also shows how disposable women are considered in other countries and will perhaps give pause for people to think just how bad it is for women all over the world. In the film, as the bruised and battered pour into a women’s shelter, one former victim remarks how while she always thought she was alone, she was actually in the majority and “normal” when she was being beaten by her male partner.

The Screwfly Solution has some above-average acting, especially by lead Kerry Norton as Anne. Her character works at the local women’s shelter and is strong, self-assured and happy with her family life. She is married to Allen (Priestley doing a surprising good job, despite a few overly dramatic scenes) and has a teenage daughter named Amy. Norton does a great job playing the confident character from successful career and family woman to a woman on the run from the male populace. Elliott Gould was also a delight to see in a more serious role (even if he did throw in a few quips here and there). I only wish I had seen more of Gould throughout the episode.

Sam Hamm and Joe Dante have done a great job adapting the short story from James Tiptree, Jr. While I’ve never read the short story, I do hear from others that the film does follow the story quite closely. It is a little uneven, with the second half slowing down considerable as circumstances get more and more dire. I have also heard gripes about the pretty abrupt ending, but I actually enjoyed it. We finally get to see the ethereal “angels” that everyone who has the disease is talking about, and lemme tell ya, these aren’t no ordinary halo-crowned, white-robe-wearing pinnacles of glory!

If you are looking for a tense, smart and sociopolitical Masters of Horror episode, Joe Dante’s The Screwfly Solution comes highly recommended.

Available from Amazon!

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