Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick…Brett Haley’s The Ridge.
The Ridge starts off with a pretty familiar setup: A group of friends head to their family’s vacation home far out in the woods, isolated and away from society. When they arrive the house is trashed, but after a bit of cleaning they break out the beers and the party begins. Since you’re reading this on a website called, “Wicked Horror,” I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you that the party doesn’t exactly go as planned.
With the first half or so of the runtime dedicated to character development it’s immediately apparent that writer/director Brett Haley has ambitions beyond making this a cheap exploitation film for a quick buck. The characters themselves are generally better-written than the budget and genre would require, with pretty much every one of them having a distinct personality and well-defined and developed interpersonal relationships. Blake and Noah are brothers and their family owns the house. Noah is the cooler older brother and Blake is the awkward younger one. Director Brett Haley plays Blake and I have to give him props for choosing to be the most obnoxious character in the film. This isn’t to say that he’s a bad actor, because he isn’t. This character is just a painfully awkward jerk who borders on pathetic. We also have Noah’s girlfriend Anna as well as Cara and Ethan, who are at the very beginning of a new romance. The onscreen chemistry between them is great and feels very real. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife, but they’re still at that awkward stage where they’re both trying to see who’s going to make a move. It’s all surprisingly natural.
Most of this I would chalk up to the writing. The cast is fine but I wouldn’t expect any of them to be at the Oscars any time soon. This is a low budget horror movie with an all too familiar premise, so I’m cutting them some slack. That being said, the writing and dialogue really flesh these characters out, with a lot of screen time spent finding out who everyone is, where they come from, and where they stand with each other. It’s a refreshing change of pace from having five interchangeable nobodies who are only there to drink and get laid. Additionally, the dialogue is fairly well-written, having a really naturalistic style to it. These don’t feel like movie lines, they feel like things real people would say, including all of the odd timings, overlapping lines, and awkward pauses that entails.
Haley’s directing is shockingly on-point as well. This came out in 2005 and it definitely feels like it’s a product of a post-Scream horror climate. The camerawork is slick and stylish, with some genuinely inventive shots throughout the entire film. There isn’t a ton of blood and gore, with Haley instead attempting to build suspense with long sequences of silence and characters slowly wandering around the darkness. Even the look of the film in general resembles the 90s-era slashers. The high class swanky vacation home with the indoor pool lit with ambient blue lights looks like something right out of I Know What You Did Last Summer or even Final Destination. This isn’t a gritty movie and in terms of both style and writing, Haley is attempting to reach far beyond what the bottom of the barrel budget would imply… until the second half.
Eventually the movie takes a turn away from all of the character development and becomes a proper horror movie, and this is where it goes downhill. For a film that’s written and directed like it’s attempting to be something more than a run of the mill bargain bin splatter flick, it ends up as simply yet another slasher movie. The first half promised that they were trying to be better than that. I wanted something more clever and creative than a guy in a mask killing people one by one, but that’s what I ended up with. It’s a bit of a let down after how well handled all of the characters were, and there’s an uncomfortable mix of styles. The killer himself is something more along the lines of the titular character from the ’80s slasher Madman than Ghostface, so seeing this brutal-looking masked hillbilly with an axe running around this slick and stylish movie is weird. The kills are basically bloodless, which supports the style they had originally gone for, but is kind of a waste in a slasher flick.
To continue with the “movie falling apart in the second half” theme we have going, there are some seriously strange pacing choices made towards the tail end of the film. The big one being that we find ourselves at what feels like the end of the movie when something completely and utterly random happens to tack another 15 minutes on for no apparent reason. On the upside, the very last shot before the credits is kind of inspired and leaves on a melancholy tone that I quite enjoy, but the sequences leading up to it feel like an afterthought.
The Ridge isn’t a bad movie. I want to make that clear. It’s quite low budget and there are a number of small technical issues that wouldn’t fly in something higher profile, but I can forgive these things. The Ridge is simply an uneven movie. It’s written and directed like it’s something slick and classy, but it has the plot of an early 80s exploitation film, so I’m not exactly sure who this was aimed at. If Haley wanted to make something as simple as “guy in a mask kills partiers” then this needed to be way grittier and we needed to get to the kills way faster. Alternately, if he wanted to stick with the “suspense over gore” approach we just needed something to tide us over until the deaths start. Have some brief moments of the killer lurking in the woods watching them or something. Maybe throw in some POV shots. Some of the creepiest moments in Halloween are the scenes where Michael Myers is just lurking in the distance during the first half, but in The Ridge we don’t even see the killer once until way too far into the movie.
Brett Haley is really good when it comes to the characters and the dialogue, but the horror side of things almost feels like an afterthought. Looking up his more recent work it’s no surprise that he moved away from the genre and found great success in the drama/comedy field with I’ll See You in My Dreams currently sitting at a 92% over on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m pretty conflicted about The Ridge. I feel bad giving this one the “trash” rating, but I can’t really recommend this one either. It’s right on the line, but I have to do what I have to do, and there are just better slasher movies out there.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.