Jill Wagner and biology major Paulo Costanzo are a young couple on a camping trip who run afoul of a similarly aged couple, escaped convict Shea Whigham and junkie girlfriend Rachel Kerbs. The lowlife duo take the other couple hostage, and all four end up at a gas station. To make a long story short, they come across a nasty, splintery parasite that uses humans as hosts, creating a sort of human/hedgehog hybrid that only knows two things; spread to another host, and kill.
I came to this Toby Wilkins (who went on to helm the dull sequel “The Grudge 3”) flick rather sceptical. I knew little about it except it had a no-name cast, a Ninja Turtle-inspired title, and a title design and poster clearly modelled on the “Saw” films. Don’t you just love pleasant surprises? Well this one didn’t start out so pleasant. The hyperactive editing and handheld camerawork are actually pretty annoying, never really allowing you to get a look at the monsters/creatures. True, that helps hide any deficiencies in the presumably low-budget FX, but it becomes annoying fairly quickly. And it also doesn’t end on the best note, being rather anti-climactic. Having said that, the film has enough in the plus column to make it easily one of the best creature features I’ve seen in the last five (if not ten) years. Call it “Resident Evil” meets Sonic the Hedgehog. Yes, I did just type that sentence.
The acting is rock solid, and all four characters are if not likeable, certainly far more interesting than the norm, and indeed a little left of centre. Casting actors who are clearly more in the late 20s/early 30s than the early 20somethings we tend to get, helps immensely. Also of tremendous assistance is lead actress Wagner’s tank top and shorts attire. However I have to wonder; If the human-hedgehogs are attracted to heat, how is it that Wagner lasts so long? The girl is the hottest thing in the film! That said, the science was pretty damn convincing otherwise, to an ignoramus like me. Meanwhile, I especially appreciated the dynamic between Wagner and Costanzo, as the former is the physically capable one, and the latter, whilst knowledgeable on science matters, is the nerd who doesn’t know anything useful about ‘macho’ stuff like cars. The fact that Costanzo looks like a dark-haired, able-bodied version of me, is kinda interesting given I’m not the most typical ‘macho’ bloke out there, either.
I gotta say, I loved the idea of the creatures, too, half-man, half-hedgehog, and for a simple creature feature, it’s not nearly as cheesy as you’ll likely expect (I was expecting giant hedgehogs, not a parasite that creates some kind of human-beast hybrid). In fact, the FX are way better than the crummy stuff you tend to get with these sorts of films in recent years (especially those SyFy turkeys). The gore is definitely a plus, with a nice bit involving a blood-thirsty severed claw. The standout moment, love it or not, is the most nauseating amputation I’ve ever come across (and yes, I’ve seen “The Ruins”). Not sure why the amputee turns into a chatty Cathy afterwards, though, a bit unrealistic. There’s also an absolutely nail-biting scene as our heroes try to retrieve a police walkie talkie with a long piece of wire dangling out the door of the convenience store. It’s predictable and a cliché, but tense and effective nonetheless.
If it weren’t for the annoying camerawork and editing, this could’ve been truly something. As it stands, it’s a memorable entry in a subgenre that as of late, has been in pretty dire straits.