Monday, 2 November 2015

It's Alive

Josef Rusnak, 2008, USA

Another mediocre remake which only goes to reveal just how sharp-toothed the original was. Larry Cohen - who created the initial “It’s Alive” films (the first in 1975) and drew out the concept and implications thoroughly and interesting across the sequels - also has a hand in writing this remake, but there nothing here updates or expands the idea. This version seems neutered by all the mannerisms that have often compromised mainstream contemporary horror. 

Firstly, as contemporary horror films are apparently only fleeting interested in real adults, we have ludicrous casting in Bijou Phillips and James Murray as a hot young expectant couple who look as if they have only just graduated from High School Musical. If there is an enlightening horror film about young women giving birth to monsters as an analogy for post-birth mental illness, this is not it. For his part as dad, Murray gets to do very little but maintain his designer stubble and turn up for the denouement. For all of his early interest in looking after the kid, he actually seems to do very little of it. No agonising conflicts of the roles of fatherhood for him: there’s world of difference between his part here and John Ryan’s father from the original – one is nuanced and interesting and one isn’t. We are left with the mother as the focus, but Bijou Phillips - who maintains her attractiveness no matter how messed up we are told she looks or how crazed she is becoming - cannot hold up a role that asks for so much more maturity. Her motivation and mental health are never truly explained or convincingly rendered as she tolerates her baby’s slayings and hides the mess (with barely a trace left, it has to be noted). Just because, you know, she actually really, really wants a baby, just like all girls do, and all mommies love their babies, no matter what they do - to the point of mania, right? 

Another side effect of the youth of this central couple is that the supposed ‘son’ role from the original “It’s Alive!” is now a younger brother. We are presented with details for him - he is wheelchair bound, a loner and melancholic, and a girl at school tries to befriend him - but this go nowhere. Similarly, the missing cat - disappearing in the film’s one great surprise moment - is barely mentioned. Corpses pile up and get disposed of with so much ease, it’s a wonder Bijou just doesn’t slap her head and put her hands on her hips and go, “Oh, not again! Will you quit this, monster baby?” The film looks slick, has a general aesthetic of moodiness but suspense is squandered and emotional involvement is nonexistent.

This is one of the films generated by the revived Amicus studios, and it does seem a misspent opportunity, full of aimless performances and subplots that go nowhere. Again, a mediocre re-imagining feels simply like a cash-in on a cult favourite. By reducing the scope of the original to one family and one remote house (and how do they afford that big place??), the wider social commentary evaporates and all we are left with is a queasy pro-life morality tale warning that girls who have sex young and then try to abort will be punished with monstrous children. 

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