Necrosis (2009) – By Cary Conley

Necrosis is a nifty little ghost thriller in the vein of The Shining.  The plot concerns a group of six young people who travel to a beautiful cabin in the woods in the dead of winter for a little getaway.  Unfortunately for the group, the cabin sits directly on the land where the ill-fated Donner Party was stranded in a huge snowstorm over 150 years ago.  As we all know, the actual Donner Party resorted to cannibalism in order to survive their winter ordeal in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, eventually making it into California in the spring of 1847. Although the locals try to warn the group of young people, their warnings go unheeded.  As the snow begins to pile up, so do the mysterious occurrences as well as the number of corpses.  Are these events truly caused by ghosts, or is cabin fever causing certain members of the group to lose their grip on reality?

Director Jason Robert Stephens has assembled a terrific cast, including Heroes star James Kyson-Lee, indie scream queen Danielle De Luca, 7th Heaven star George Stults, Penny Drake (of Zombie Strippers fame), and 80’s mall-pop icon Tiffany in her first starring role.  The women are beautiful and the acting is generally strong, a real plus for a low-budget horror film.  As a bonus we get cult horror film actor Michael Berryman who plays the misunderstood local who tries to warn the group of their impending doom.

Although only his third feature, Stephens shows he is a good director that can turn out a quality product.  I especially enjoyed his scene transitions using shots of nature such as clouds forming and reforming as well as wintery scenes.  Stephens also knows how to set up a shot, so there are plenty of unique angles and tracking shots that keep the movie interesting.

While the plot isn’t terribly original—it’s the same basic idea as The Shining, including the open-ended idea that the hotel (or cabin in Necrosis) could be haunted or it could be the imagination of a mentally unbalanced person suffering from cabin fever—Stephens is able to keep the story fresh enough that it doesn’t seem like a complete ripoff and manages to be fun.

Kyson-Lee plays Jerry, a man with a history of mental illness who manages to keep his illness in check with the use of medication.  As the snow sets in, the men find the body of the cabin’s caretaker who apparently froze to death.  Deciding to keep it to themselves so as not to upset the girls, Jerry later realizes that the body has disappeared.  While the others rationalize that an animal must have taken the body, Jerry remains unconvinced.  Shortly thereafter, Jerry begins to see the ghosts of the Donner party.  Before long they begin to talk to him.  Some of the group members die in mysterious accidents while others are murdered by Jerry. 

There are some flaws in the film.  While the acting is generally strong, I found Danielle De Luca’s character to be a bit too whiny and annoying for my tastes.  She is constantly whining and harping on her boyfriend, Jerry (Kyson-Lee).   I found all this incessant henpecking to be quite irritating, creating an unsympathetic feeling towards De Luca’s character.  There is also a terribly unrealistic scene where Samantha (De Luca) slips on some ice and “falls” down a steep hill, having to be rescued by her friends.  The entire scene was not only horribly fake, but didn’t need to be included because it doesn’t move the story along.  That being said, I don’t blame these faults on De Luca herself; rather the director is to blame for creating such an irritating and helpless character and for including this brief but laughable scene.  But the strengths in both characterization as well as story far outweigh these relatively minor quibbles.

While the use of CGI was minimal, it was also unrealistic enough to be picked out fairly easily.  There are a couple of snow scenes that are obviously digitally enhanced which distracted me enough that it took me out of the picture.

I also felt like the climax of the film occurred too quickly.  While the remaining two survivors (Drake and Stults) are able to subdue Jerry (Kyson-Lee), the film ends with them still trapped in the cabin, still in the middle of a snowstorm, and with the generator running out of gas.  Worse still, one of the survivors is beginning to see strange things.  So the viewer is left not knowing whether the two survived or whether they didn’t.  And if they didn’t, were the ghosts real or was cabin fever beginning to set in again?  Normally I prefer open endings like this, but in this case I didn’t feel like there was any resolution at all and that too much was left for the viewer to decide.

There is a decent amount of gore—a few gunshots, several relatively quick scenes of cannibalism, and a fairly protracted scene showing one character picking the buckshot from another character’s gunshot wound.  The violence is realistic and effective but is over fairly quickly, so even the squeamish shouldn’t be too put off.  In fact, the film is billed as “unrated” but it looks more like an R-rated film to me.  I suspect it is unrated because it wasn’t submitted to the MPAA.

Overall I really liked this film.  It’s not without its flaws, but it is a solid effort and looks really good, even for a low-budget movie.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a fun film to watch.  The packaging is also really nice and DVD extras include the trailer, Making of Necrosis, and director’s commentary.  If you would like to purchase this DVD, you can get it from BrinkDVD.