Sunday, June 20, 2010

Slaughter Island

Originally published at

At first glance, “Slaughter Island” looks like it is going to be nonstop gore covered T&A from start to finish. Now don’t get me wrong, you will see your fill of Japanese girls in bikinis splattered with blood, there is certainly no shortage of that, so if that’s your jam, you’re good. But somewhere along the line, director Hisaaki Nagaota manages to make a pretty decent horror movie that fits in nicely in the teens-in-the-wilderness/slasher/mystery killer type genre.

A group of ten friends who loosely think of themselves as an adventure club, though their adventuring primarily consists of partying on the beach, travel to a deserted island. Perhaps this is the mysterious phantom island that local legend tells about, the one that appears and disappears without warning, the one that no one has ever returned from alive. It makes for a good, creepy ghost story as the teens sit around the campfire.

Before long the teens start dying off one by one. Is there someone else on the island? Is it the island itself that is killing them? Are they dealing with something they can stop, or something supernatural that they have no chance against? When their boat disappears they find themselves stranded, with no hope of rescue since the skeevy guy, Nabuo, who led them to their doom, neglected to tell anyone on the mainland where they were going. Right away you know they’re screwed.

Nagaota takes a standard set up and tweaks it enough to make it interesting. The killing/haunting/whatever you want to call it is actually pretty original. I’m not going to tell you what it is because that will ruin the entire movie, but watching it, “Slaughter Island” does a nice job being creepy and creating an atmosphere of suspense and dread.

“Slaughter Island” is a good example of filmmakers doing a lot with a little. There isn’t much to this film. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense, but it is true. Here are the elements the film contains: teens, beaches, woods, and blood. There are no sets aside from a campfire and some tents, no effects except blood, and a small cast, but they still manage to make a decent movie. The film focuses on story instead of eye-catching gimmicks and unnecessary frills, and the end result is that much stronger for the emphasis.

This feels like a movie that a group of friends could have made quickly for little money. Normally when I say that I mean it as a negative, but here it works, and they produced something worthwhile.

The one aspect where the film’s minimalism might be a detriment is in the appearance. It is obviously shot on video with little to no industrialized lighting. This leads to a dreary, monochrome color palate. The colors are muted and blend together into a dull, lifeless background. Even bright colors, like yellows and pinks, somehow melt into the blues and greens and browns of the scenery. Sure this makes the blood pop that much more, the vivid red stands out in sharp contrast to everything else in the frame, but it makes the rest of the film appear flat and bland.

There are ultimately some unanswered questions in the story, like the implied connection between Nabuo and the island (at one point he claims to be “the guardian of the Island”), but in the end, they prove to be unimportant.

“Slaughter Island” may not be the best, or most frightening, movie, but it is pretty good. With minimal resources, the cast and crew manage to make a horror movie that, while not groundbreaking in any sense, is original enough to be entertaining and worth a look. This is proof that a decent idea can translate into something worth watching, regardless of budget.

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