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Movie Review: The Shunned

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Once upon a time not long ago, the folks at Anchor Bay were dedicated to giving neglected, forgotten, and mistreated films the proper DVD treatment they deserved. When you dropped your hard-earned dollars to bring home one of their snazzy products, you knew you were getting something worthwhile, something you could add to your collection without being ridiculed by your elitist friends. Those days, it seems, are long gone. Feel free to cry into your favorite handkerchief and whine to anyone within earshot. It always helps me feel better.

Anyway, this once-dependable company has joined the greedy ranks of Lionsgate and Asylum, dumping countless subpar horror pictures into a market already saturated with half-assed backyard productions and cheap turn-a-buck motion pictures. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, any local yokel with a digital video camera and a few friends can lens a movie in a matter of days. Hollywood is just a small investment away.

And when they've returned from their slipshod journey into the dodgy world of micro-budget filmmaking, those money-hungry distributors are quick to toss these wonky epics onto cluttered video store shelves across the nation, where they ultimately fall into the unsuspecting hands of die-hard genre fanatics. We live in an age of the amateur — just look at this review.

Why I decided to waste my time and money on Christopher M. Downs' pathetically low-budget horror disaster The Shunned is truly beyond me. Maybe I was hoping for a solid "western" horror picture, something along the lines of Dead Birds or even Ghost Town. Unfortunately, I wound up with the type of listless production that usually finds its way onto those budget-line Brentwood DVD horror collections you see in the cut-out bins every Halloween.

This never should have been picked up by Anchor Bay or any self-respecting distributor who wants to continue making money off a very loyal fan base. It takes a lot to turn my cinematic stomach these days, so imagine my pained surprise when The Shunned managed to create a bloody tidal wave of acidic fury in an otherwise ironclad gut.

The story is horribly trite and entirely forgettable, but I'll sum it up for you anyway since I have nothing better to do with my evening. It seems that a psychopathic slasher with a potato sack on his head is cutting up the slow-moving residents of your proverbial one horse town using a variety of razor-sharp weaponry. How brutally original.

Seeing as how the local sheriff is completely incompetent and entirely bald, a United States Marshall is called in to investigate the murders and hopefully put a stop to the man responsible for these heinous crimes. Can they locate, subdue, and dismember this sadistic bastard before he strikes again? More importantly, do you even care?

I'm sorry if you were expecting more, but that's pretty much all the film has to offer in the way of plot and characterization. It's not unlike a drunken story told by your toothless grandfather right after he suffers a crippling stroke that prevents him from using the left side of his face. Sure, things get a bit more complicated as the film progresses, but you'll have to stay awake in order to discover them. Try as you might, I seriously doubt you'll make it past the half-hour mark. Hell, I'll be surprised if you make it past the first five minutes, which features quite possibly the worst pair of breasts I've ever seen in my entire life. You'll never look at your overweight great aunt the same way again.

Western horror is a truly untapped subgenre, full of possibilities for the savvy director talented enough to put the pieces together. Sadly, Christopher M. Downs isn't the right man for the job. His direction — if you can honestly call it that — is lacking in every possible way. I'm not sure if people are aware of this, but there's actually more to filmmaking than picking up a cheap camera at Big Lots and conning your friends and family into participating in what could easily be described as a very bad idea. If you're that desperate to make a picture, that gung-ho about lensing your own production, perhaps some time spent in a library with a how-to book is in order. That is, of course, if you can actually read.

What's wrong with Christopher's limited directorial skills, you ask? Well, let's see. The film is way too dark, coated with too many cheap video effects, and appears to have been shot on a two-dollar camera phone in the middle of the night. Is that enough for you? No? Well, let's add some horribly inconsistent sound design to the mix. At times the audio is crystal clear and rather enjoyable, then suddenly muffled and tinny. I've seen YouTube videos with better clarity, resolution, and execution.

The acting isn't too bad, but since you never really get to see the actors doing their thing, separating the good from the downright awful is a seemingly impossible task to accomplish. So I'll skip it. I'll also skip over the quality of the special effects, since they too are shrouded in unnecessary shadow. If you're going to take the time to actually film a death scene, be sure you know how to light the set properly so your audience can get an unobstructed view of the carnage. Unless, of course, you've got something to hide.

I've wasted enough time with this one, folks. The Shunned is a flat-out failure, a sorry excuse for a horror picture if there ever was one. Anchor Bay should be ashamed of themselves. Releasing this kind of novice trash into a market overflowing with cheap productions will ultimately make people like me turn their back on a genre that needs all the support it can get.

Likewise, films of this nature do nothing to help horror's already dodgy reputation. In fact, it just pounds another rusty nail into its cheap, splintered pinewood casket. If you see this so-called "movie" lurking in your favorite video store, kindly ask the manager to toss it directly into the wastebasket. The Shunned isn't worth your time.

But at least its appropriately named.

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About The Film Fiend

  • I heard from the filmmaker after I reviewed it myself. According to him, it was made just to see if they could do it and was never intended to be released, but then Anchor Bay offered them money for the rights. That should tell you a lot about the mindset behind many of these companies will to snatch up and release damn near anything horror related to DVD and why the bubble on the horror DVD market is about to burst.

  • That’s really pathetic. REALLY pathetic. Taking a chance on any straight-to-video horror release is risky business these days, which may explain why I find myself turning my nose up at most of the stuff I see at the video store. Anchor Bay should be ashamed. I know the name of the game is to make a buck, but dumping this kind of nonsense into the market is embarrassing for all involved.

    Then again, some of the blame has to fall on Christopher Downs. If I had made something this subpar, I wouldn’t want the damned thing ruining my reputation before I had a chance to create something that was a true reflection of my talent.

    I wonder how much integrity goes for these days, anyway?