QUARRIES (2016)

Quarries.jpg

Studio:       Diamond Cutter Films
Director:    Nils Taylor
Writer:       Nils Taylor, Nicole Marie Johnson
Producer:  Nicole Marie Johnson, Nils Taylor, Carrie Finklea, Dean Alioto, Warren Zide
Stars:     Nicole Marie Johnson, Carrie Finklea, Leisha Hailey, Sara Mornell, Luke Edwards, Joy McElveen, Nicole DuPort, Rebecca McFadzian

Review Score:


Summary:

Six women on a wilderness retreat have their survival skills tested when they are pursued by a group of murderous hunters.


Synopsis:     

Review:

Kat¡¯s desperation to put distance between herself and an abusive boyfriend has the battered woman headed on a hike 250 miles into nowhere.  Arriving two days late means she missed the preparedness training crash course.  Her new boots are giving her blisters.  But this wilderness weekend with six other women hasn¡¯t even begun to test the limits of Kat¡¯s skills or stamina.

Lurking among the trees is a pack of five fearsome men with murder on their minds.  One of them is feral and the rest are armed with rifles.  And this killer quintet has its sights set on the trespassers in their territory.  A dangerous game of cat versus mouse is now underway where the mice must overcome their emotional burdens if they are to summon the strength to survive.

¡°Quarries¡± is caught between the rock of a minimalist premise and the hard place of stretching its sparse story into a fully fleshed feature.  It¡¯s a fair effort for a straightforward suspense film.  But put up against similar thrillers with less simple setups such as ¡°Black Rock¡± (review here) or ¡°A Lonely Place to Die,¡± ¡°Quarries¡± is missing a hard hook to distinguish itself in the survivalist stalker subgenre.

The screenplay by director Nils Taylor and Nicole Marie Johnson, who also stars as Kat, completes the first step of character creation.  Heroines and villains have individual tics and traits.  For instance, Wren is the pill-popping punk girl who beats her own drum.  Ted is the hat-wearing hunt leader whose burned face hints at an ominous origin.

But the chase-fight-flee-repeat formula for action doesn¡¯t take ¡°Quarries¡± in a direction where these differences matter.  One girl is shaded as a prissy princess who pointlessly paints her nails and frets over charging her phone in the woods.  Standard story structure suggests her distracted debutante quirks should ultimately be her undoing.  Except someone else¡¯s inadvertent action causes her literal downfall, making her particular personality unnecessary for the narrative.

The men are separated in the same way.  Chris is a charging bull hothead.  Zeke is a hardheaded yes man.  Zeb is positioned as the group¡¯s newbie who appears apprehensive about unprovoked murder, and watches the others with slightly wide eyes.  Zeb¡¯s sheepish traits seem to telegraph where his thread will take him when he finally faces the women.  Yet his singularly unique emotional edge ends up not coming into play whatsoever.

Keep only their gender alignment, and the script could swap any two characters without consequence, because there isn¡¯t a payoff for subplots.  Kat¡¯s worry that the drug abuser might suffer withdrawal at some point?  It doesn¡¯t come up again after their conversation.  Ted¡¯s awful scars and the opening credits montage about a local mining accident?  Those dots are never connected.

What remains are unexplained motivations for the murderers and irrelevant personas for the protagonists.  This might be immaterial if breadcrumbs weren¡¯t already dropped with the promise of reveals that never come.

By abandoning additional development after introductions are over, ¡°Quarries¡± staffs its roster with interchangeable identities.  That¡¯s no way to craft characters an audience can connect to.  And that¡¯s no way to deepen drama that can compellingly complement suspense.

¡°Quarries¡± comes out as something of a desexualized ¡°Friday the 13th¡± film where the killers are hillbilly hunters instead of a hockey-masked boogeyman, and the targets have more survival sense than a teenage camp counselor.  On the outskirts of the movie exists a frame for a fine enough thriller.  The story neglects to fill that frame in though, leaving a pure predator versus prey scenario to carry every ounce of the water.

¡°Quarries¡± makes it partway on the strength of engaging exterior cinematography and the empowered action of women who refuse to roll over as victims.  Fight scenes are energetic, if repetitive.  Acting ekes out some intrigue from underdone material.  But a script taken out of the oven too early forces the film to fall down a steep ravine into mediocrity.

Review Score:  50