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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Muck (Blu-ray)
Muck (Blu-ray)
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // March 17, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 19, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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"Billy, you're gonna be fine. You've got half-naked, hot chicks and apparently booze."
"Exactly! This is a fucking horror movie, and, fuck, there's way too many of us left."

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Let's pretend for a minute that we're watching...oh, I don't know, any other slasher flick, ever. You'd meet up with this whole gaggle of twentysomethings as they're still piled into their SUV or whatever, juuuust about to arrive in their hopelessly remote house in the middle of fucking nowhere. They'd joke, they'd drink, they'd grope, they'd say each other's names way too much so you remember who's who, and you'd get to know 'em just well enough so that when they eventually start getting mercilessly butchered one by one, maybe their deaths would mean a little something. Along the way, some random townie would warn them about the terrifying legend of wherever-they-are, something we already know a whole bunch about since we just finished watching the pre-credits stalk-and-slash. It's a formula that's been tried and true for decades now. That's how slasher movies are supposed to work.

Okay, and here's Muck, chucking you head on into the deep end of the pool. Yeah, there's your typical small army of college-aged Spring-break-whooo kids out for a week of debauchery in not-literally-Timbuktu, and in true slasher form, it's even set during a holiday, but all the usual prelude...? Nope. Nothing. It's as if writer/director Steve Wolsh just tore out the first forty pages of the script. From the very first frame of Muck, these five are already caked with blood and shit and mud. They've seen their friends savagely slaughtered. One of 'em is a bloodied sack of meat that can't stand on his own two legs. They've clawed their way to something close enough to safety from whatever it is that's been hunting them, but they have no way of defending themselves and no way to reach out for help. As much as Billy (Grant Alan Ouzts) cracks jokes about being in a horror flick, he hasn't clued in that this movie has just started...

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On one hand, Muck strips slasher conventions down to bare metal. No weepy monologues, no long, lingering flashbacks, no montage of newspaper clippings about disappearances or whatever in the sleepy little town of West Craven (WINK), and not even an explanation about whatever the fuck it is that's trying to maul and mutilate these poor bastards or why. "Try not to be gruesomely murdered" is about as close to a story as you get. I know basically nothing about freshman filmmaker Steve Wolsh, but I'm going to guess he was a Joe Bob Briggs acolyte back in the day because Muck is all about those drive-in totals: blood, beasts, and boobs. The creature makeup and geysers of viscera sure look to my eyes like 100% practical effects, shrugging off CGI at every turn. This tribe of hairless, mute, murderous monsters is menacing in all the right ways, boasting a design that's relatively simple but really effective. Two Bs down, lotsa double Ds to go. Pretty much every woman in front of the camera either gets topless, strips down to skimpy lingerie, or what little clothing she's wearing is so tight that something is about to pop. A slasher flick needs T&A like...oh, what's a good comparison?...like a kabuki needs makeup. Muck careens way off the deep end with it, though, so shamelessly leering for such a long time that it's almost in Skinemax territory. The movie gets so entranced by its eight hojillion closeups of tits and ass that it genuinely gets in the way at times. I didn't keep a running tally or anything, but it seriously feels like you could shave 10 or 15 minutes off the movie's runtime if you lost all the most gratuitous T&A. Then again, at least Muck is equal opportunity about it, having its hardbodied guys strip too. Hell, Kane Hodder's bare-chested the entire time he's in front of the camera.

Throughout the opening stretch of Muck, I figured that the idea was to carve a path straight to the heart of the slasher genre: y'know, all killer, no filler. There's an element of that, yeah, but Muck is more of a deconstruction of the slasher/monster movies of days past. There are tributes to genre tropes like The Shower Scene and The Car That Doesn't Wanna Start. Sometimes it marches in lockstep with slasher formula seemingly just to lull the audience into a false sense of security -- letting you think you know what different characters' roles in the whole thing are, who's going to die in what order -- and then yank the rug out from under you.

With as pronounced as its sense of humor is, you might even chalk Muck up as a horror/comedy. Some of it works, and some of it...well, not so much. In the same way that the excessive T&A can get kind of tedious after a while, Muck's offbeat tone sometimes works against it. Early on, Noah (Bryce Draper) runs off in search of help. He dashes past a bunch of houses towards a bar, where he washes his hands first, buys some Russian girl a drink for her birthday, and calmly asks for her phone. Whatever urgency or intensity there would've been is completely drained away. There's a bit that drags on forever about the birthday girl and one of her pals swapping clothes with zero payoff. Well, non-titty-related payoff, anyway. When Noah finally does get around to calling someone, he doesn't ring up the police but instead dials up his cousin Troit (the endlessly awesome Lachlan Buchanan). Noah later tries to justify avoiding telling Troit anything about what kind of danger they're in, but he doesn't even give them an address or anything -- just mentions the town they're in. How is he supposed to find 'em? On his way back to the remote, mysterious house, Noah stops to ogle a naked chick through a window. Okay. Instead of just making a quick sight gag and moving on, things like that just make Muck stop dead in its tracks. For the red shirts back at the house, they chuckle about the carnage, they make no effort at looking out for the pasty, white monsters, and they kinda just kick back and relax. Muck proves itself capable of building suspense when it wants, so the constant tonal shifts and stop-and-go pacing can be a little puzzling. Again, it's less about the concept and more about the execution. There are times when it's just..."yes, I saw her tits! Move onto something else" or "why does this scene with Troit and his gal pals in the bar feel like it's forty minutes long?" For a movie that makes such an effort to skip the foreplay and go straight for the jugular, it's a little unexpected that it's twenty minutes before we see any of the creatures, there's not an attack until the half-hour mark, and, because these monsters prolong the torment of their prey, a whole lot longer before anyone actually dies. Some of the attacks, especially late in the movie, feel like someone's taken a few too many pages from the Zack Snyder playbook, overusing the whole slow-mo-speed-up thing and quick-cutting to the point of being disorienting.

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Here's the thing, though: I make it a point to try and get my hands on basically every slasher/body count flick that comes out on Blu-ray, and the overwhelming majority of them are soulless, aggressively formulaic movies trying to rake in a few bucks by parroting someone else. Muck is one of those rare splatter flicks like Detention or Feast that march to the beat of its own drum. Sure, the quality of the acting is all over the place, and it overindulges its sense of humor and exploitative eye. Shrugging off the familiar first act of a slasher flick is a daring and successful move, but the overly abrupt ending feels like a cheat. The tonal shifts, erratic pacing, non-linear storytelling, and near-total lack of plot are going to turn a lot of people off. Some of those are calculated risks, and others are just bad ideas. For my money, anyway, I appreciate how defiantly different Muck is from the usual stalk-and-slash routine, and the things it gets right more than make up for the times when it kinda goes off the rails. Warts and all, I loved the hell out of Muck, and I'm onboard for the next installment that's already been funded on Kickstarter. Recommended for adventurous slasher fanatics.

Shot in 4K with the RED Epic, Muck is as sharp as the blade of that axe that Kane Hodder is swinging around. The image is exceptionally crisp and well-defined, and its use of color is every bit as impressive. The majority of the flick is set under the dead of night with very little light available, but it's never oppressively dark, and Muck continually finds ways to keep the palette from ever looking too stale or more-of-the-same. Contrast is rock solid, and the digital photography holds up remarkably well despite frequently not having all that much light to play with. Muck fills up this single layer disc as close to capacity as pretty much any release I've come across, giving the bitrate plenty of headroom to stave off any hiccups in the AVC encode. There's no "well, for a low-budget horror flick..." grading on a curve or whatever here. 'Spretty much perfect.

The same goes for Muck's big, booming audio. This 24-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is one of those suckers that engulfs every square inch of the room. Every last element in the mix is rendered cleanly, clearly, and distinctly. This isn't one of those movies where the whole five point one thing is an afterthought. The sound design really likes to play with directionality, something that'd be lost in a straightahead stereo setup. The surround channels never relent, and the subwoofer repeatedly unleashes low-frequency slugs to the gut and thunderous, punishing waves of bass. I'm also loving the wildly eclectic music throughout the movie, showcasing everything from hellspawned Deliverance banjos to softly-strummed singer/songwriter stuff to smoldering blues to chugging, overdriven guitars. The soundtrack refuses to settle into a comfortable rut, and even with as frantically as it leaps from genre to genre, the musical selections gel together astonishingly well. Again, no complaints or criticism this time around. Crank up the volume and go.

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Also along for the ride are subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.

Absolutely nothing -- not even a trailer. That's kind of a surprise for a movie that's obviously such a passion project.

The Final Word
Muck isn't one of those movies you'll watch, shrug, and think "eh, whatever". This go-for-broke slasher honors and subverts the subgenre in ways you'll intensely love, you'll completely fucking despise, or...well, maybe both, actually. There are a lot of seethingly negative reviews of Muck floating around out there, and I get it. Even by slasher standards, there's not really a story, and its appetite for excess is both the best and worst thing about the movie. It's as if first-time writer/director Steve Wolsh felt like he had one shot at making the horror flick he'd been dreaming of his whole life, and he was hellbent on making it count. The end result can be kind of scattershot, and not all of the experimentation and exploitation stick the landing, but...man, Muck is the slasher I didn't know I was waiting for. It's more of a roll of the dice than usual, but if you were weaned on '80s body count flicks and are salivating for something different, Muck is well-worth seeking out. Recommended, although the polarizing reception and lack of extras make this something you'll probably wanna rent or stream first.
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