The Devil's Playground
I have this picture in my mind of foreign moviegoers being wise enough to avoid the sort of low-grade cinema Americans gobble up by the truckload. But that mindset took a nose-dive the minute I began watching Trackman. This Russian slasher film is perfect for breaching cultural barriers, since it's every bit as lazy and derivative as the majority of its counterparts on this side of the pond. Those wary of anything with subtitles need not fear Trackman, for its cliched nature speaks better for the movie than any words.
In the aftermath of a botched bank heist, a group of thieves are making a quick escape with a few hostages in tow. Unfortunately, their plans include fleeing into a system of underground tunnels rumored to be home to a man warped by the effects of the Chernobyl disaster. Sure enough, just as tensions are starting to rise in the group, the titular fiend makes himself known and begins stalking the group. One by one, they fall victim to the Trackman, who has a nasty habit of plucking out their eyes just before they die. But with this madman on the loose, the crooks and their captives decide to band together and find a way out before they all meet the business end of a pickaxe.
I think it was Roger Ebert who mentioned how the slasher genre is its own star. Nobody goes to these movies expecting award-worthy acting or stirring dialogue; such patrons are there for the shocks and the shocks alone. Trackman isn't a good film by any means, yet it gets bonus points for knowing exactly what its viewers want. While maintaining an extremely bare-bones approach, it pairs the psychopath du jour with a new crop of victims and pretty much leaves them to their own devices. You might say Trackman is the sort of movie that could direct itself. Unfortunately, its creators take this approach a bit too literally. They muster up the bare minimum of ingredients and throw them together without the slightest hint of energy or style. Even at a mere 81 minutes, the pacing seems incredibly sluggish, and the film's idea of visual flair involes tilting the camera anytime the Trackman pops up.
There's nothing about Trackman to give the movie its own identity. For the most part, it plays like a mishmash of My Bloody Valentine and See No Evil, combining the miner's get-up of the former with the latter's arbitrary eyeball gore. You'd think the filmmakers would compensate by including some outlandish bloodletting, but aside from the occasional gouging, this movie is pretty dry, which makes the "unrated" tag slapped on the cover art something of a misnomer. Also, don't expect the Trackman to earn a place in the Slasher Hall of Fame, for he's shown walking around most of the time rather than actually killing anyone, which doesn't really contribute to a foreboding reputation. Weirdly enough, though, one thing the film succeeds in doing is making you remember who its characters are. Half their dialogue consists of screaming each other's names, but it's a nice change of pace from the genre's usual roster of dispensable faces.
Worse horror movies have been made, of course. However, considering Trackman came from the same country responsible for bringing the trippy Night Watch series to the world, I definitely expected it to include more oomph. Chalk this one up as the latest straight-to-DVD chiller consigned to horror obscurity.
MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Ghosthouse Underground; not rated by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.passportcinema.com .