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Stream It or Skip It?

Now fresh and rotting on Hulu, Carrion is an indie-auteurish horror movie from first-time director Michael Zaiko Hall, a veteran visual effects specialist whose credits include a pile of Pixar and Disney animated films. Don’t expect bright, cheery family fodder, though — a few minutes into the movie and the primary question is whether Hall really loves David Lynch, or really REALLY loves David Lynch. 

CARRION: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

The Gist: “F—. I’m back in California,” Carrie Anne (Jenya Chaplin) says in voiceover. She wakes up in the back of her VW Bug, does a bump of cocaine and cruises along winding roads through the woods, back to the place where her mother was murdered 10 years prior. She’d been in Russia since then, and now wants to find the killer for… some reason. It’s 1988.

Carrie Anne unexpectedly drops in on her cousin Guinevere (Kay Coburn), although maybe it’s not so unexpected, because Guin’s an astrologer, fortune teller and “part-time witch” — a good gig if you can get it, I suppose — so she probably saw this coming in the crystal ball. Guinevere lives in a middle-of-nowhere mood-house that’s pitch black and lit with crazy primary colors even in the middle of a sunny California day, with her brother Jonathan (Oliver Caspersen) and his fiancee Ruth (Sierra Goddard). Guinevere and Carrie Anne go on the first of their many long walks, and it seems pretty clear that there’s Something Lurking in the Forest near what’s unofficially but rather conspicuously known as Suicide Lake. These Cali vibes are rotten like the thing in the title that sounds a lot like the protagonist’s name.

Jonathan is a weirdo, silent type with greaser hair, a beatnik goatee, tinted glasses and a thing for heavy-duty booze. He’s a strange match for judgy-judgy Ruth, who’s overly concerned with whether Carrie Anne has found Christ or not. There’s a flashback to a greasy, grinning lunatic in white Italian leather shoes named Karne (Marc Victor) — pronounced like “carnie” —  driving a black van and strangling Carrie Anne’s mom (Chloe Caro) with a phone cord. Karne is supposed to be dead. But the same black van bombinates by Carrie Anne and Guinevere in artsy slow-mo, which surely must just be a coincidence, and doesn’t function as foreshadowing for terrible things to come.  

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Carrion is what might happen if David Lynch half-assedly directed Cabin in the Woods, tossing in a couple Sam Raimi Evil Dead camera-whooshing-through-the-woods shots.

Performance Worth Watching: I’ll be blunt: the acting is atrocious. Blame the script, which is full of big heavy blocks of verbal granite, such as…

Memorable Dialogue: “Whenever I see her, it’s like slipping into some nocturnal reverie,” Guinevere says about Carrie Anne, with a straight face even.

Sex and Skin: There’s a big, gooey wad of nookie smack in the middle of the movie as Hall cross-cuts between hetero and lesbian lovemaking scenes, with significant male-gazey emphasis on the females.

Our Take: Horror mavens who like to split a hair thrice might appreciate the unusual choices Hall makes as a storyteller, and not deem Carrion a steaming load of nonsense. As for the rest of us, our tolerance for turgid pacing and stilted verbal exchanges will be tested like a bungee cord stretched between two F-16s. It makes one believe that turgid pacing and stilted verbal exchanges should be the exclusive property of Lynch and Werner Herzog, who conjure atmosphere like no other, and that’s it, forever.

And yet, you won’t necessarily want to erase it from your head. You almost have to admire the movie for its surreal flourishes and something that resembles thematic ambition. Hall has the visual language down, but it’s too often extraneous and indulgent, e.g., the bad-dim-artsy-kitschy lighting.

The rest of the film is a hodgepodge of influences and half-realized experimentation. Awkward performances and extensive passages of clumsily overdubbed dialogue give the film an amateurish air. The score ranges from ’80s slasher synths to jittery-skittery plucked string sections — you know, the sound that brings to mind swarming masses of centipedes and millipedes and godzillapedes. The story is all but torpedoed by incoherent plot twists and the characters’ inability to, I dunno, get in a car and drive away instead of wait around for the killer to kill them? The sex scenes are gratuitous, and Hall’s attempts to go FULL TABOO are borderline laughable. There’s an (unintentionally?) uproarious scene where Jonathan faces troublesome circumstances and says, “I’m gonna go make some hooch.” I held out hope that he might reach through the screen and share some of his tasty blackout sauce.

Our Call: SKIP IT. Carrion aims to be suggestive and provocative, but it’s mostly just vague and bewildering. 

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Stream Carrion on Hulu

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