Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #454
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 13, 2015
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Steve Wolsh
Producer: Steve Wolsh
Screenplay: Steve Wolsh
Special Effects: Ben Bornstein, Mike Kadomiya, Christopher Dooly
Cinematography: Michael Solidum
Score: Dan Marschak, Miles Senzaki
Editing: Jon Jorgensen
Studio: WithAnO Productions
Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: Lachlan Buchanan, Puja Mohindra, Bryce Draper, Stephanie Danielson, Laura Jacobs, Grant Alan Ouzts, Lauren Francesca, Jaclyn Swedberg, Kane Hodder, Gia Skova, Audra Van Hees, Ashley Green Elizabeth, Peter Hart, Victoria Sophia, Leila Knight, Victoria Meincke, John S. DeSimone
Suggested Audio Candy
 Kim Logan “Voodoo Man”
 Hilary Parkin “Heart Gone Cold”
Never trust an aggregate site. At the time of writing, Steve Wolsh’s debut directorial effort, Muck, sits on a lowly 2.6/10 average on IMDb which suggests it to be little more than bottom feeder material and to be avoided at all costs. Ordinarily there is no smoke without fire and, most movies that achieve such a dubious rank, do so with good reason. However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and Wolsh has every reason to feel a tad aggrieved by being judged so harshly. I love nothing more than a challenge so, upon hearing a recommendation from a trusted source, decided to check it out for myself and I’m pleased as punch that I did as Muck is a far better movie than its damning aggregate score suggests. Dare I say that it’s actually bloody good fun and, moreover, has the brass balls to attempt something entirely different from the competition.
Therein may lay the problem. When horror aficionados enter into the fray, we like to feel like we’re in familiar territory and, while there is much about Wolsh’s film which we will have seen numerous times before, there is also a great element of the unknown, particularly in his fragmented approach to storytelling. If you’re looking for a tidy chronicle then I would suggest paying Netflix a visit and renting a Merchant Ivory period drama as you won’t find much here that conforms to even the most basic of narrative structure. In short, it’s all over the show, and many will struggle to comprehend his decision to tinker with the tried and tested slasher formula. However, should you lend yourself to its many lucky charms, then you will likely find rather a lot to commend.
Shot entirely in the peninsula of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, notably in the New England wetlands over almost three weeks of taxing night shoots and using the Red Epic in 4K Ultra HD, there’s a particular visual style to Muck which instantly sets it apart from the majority of genre efforts. Having acted for camera myself for the first time last August for Matt Farnsworth’s The Orphan Killer: Bound X Blood, and finding myself gazing into the lens of a similar piece of Red Epic hardware, I know just how much of a beast this can be when used to its strengths. Wolsh shows great command of his equipment and has other fish to fry besides. Having stated that he had “no desire to direct computers”, he decides that there is no cause for CGI and I could kiss him on the forehead for realizing there is no place for it in such a modestly budgeted, and crowd funded, effort for anything other than practical effects.
The Screen Actors Guild expressed concerns for the riskiness of the project, particularly given that the cast would be forced to battle all manner of swamp critters and extreme conditions, and this only heightened when Wolsh revealed what he had in store for the actors. High impact falls, including a butt naked girl thrown through a window, cars flipped, glass showers, full body barbecues, the usual spraying geysers, and some good old-fashioned hand-to-hand fisticuffs, whilst wading through a bayou. That’s an impressive roster of stunts, especially considering he designed many of the props himself, and most of the action was completed in a single take due to both budget and time constraints. Suddenly, we are seeing great passion, and all signs point to a rollicking romp through the quagmires.
So we’ve ascertained that Muck looks purty, despite its murky locales, uses entirely practical effects, and has plentiful incident, much of which tests the boundaries of what can be achieved on a modest kitty. But there are other ingredients critical to our investment and none more vital than relatable characters or, at the very least, some human tofu for the kneading. Once again, he comes up trumps, firstly because his screenplay contains all manner of smartly observed quips and nods to his filmic upbringing, and secondly as every actor involved seems to be in on his trick. It speaks volumes when a director can effectively coax performances from their entire cast, particularly when some of them have never acted a lick beforehand and nobody lets the side down.
This is all the more remarkable when you consider how frenetic and chronologically challenged Muck is. Memento it isn’t but I would hedge a bet that he loves him some Pulp Fiction amidst his staple diet of slasher. We have no real clue as to where we’re being marched from one scene to the next and, astonishingly, any confusion felt merely adds to the overall experience. He even has time to assign his key protagonists their own distinctive theme music, courtesy of Dan Marschak and Miles Senzaki’s orchestrated score which employs everything from oboe to ukulele although not nearly enough cow bell if you ask me. As tempted as he must have been to include a synthesized composition, there’s simply no mains supply on-hand to plug in a Yamaha DX7. He really is the gift that keeps on giving.
Speaking of donations, our next bounty has provoked many critics to suggest that the clue is in the title where Muck is concerned. There is a copious amount of bare flesh on exhibit and I’m sure he would hold both hands up on this count the moment he has zipped up his pants. When you consider the bitter weather and nearby sea serpents, it is admittedly not the finest conditions to prance about in one’s skivvies and occasionally less but that’s precisely what pretty much all of the females do. These include Playboy Playmate of the Year 2012, Jaclyn Swedberg, and I’m reasonably assured she wasn’t cast for her vocal gymnastics, as well recited as they may be. Wolsh likes titties. Well guess what? I like titties too. What’s more, I will never be culpable of biting any hand willing to feed me fresh meat. Maybe a playful nibble but that will only ever be out of appreciation.
Despite the shameless skin quota, his roving lens is actually rather respectful for the most part. Nudity is but one element and, as we can see by this point, he’s spinning a number of plates and can’t be expected not to lose a little crockery. That’s where everyone’s favorite juggernaut, Kane Hodder, comes in handy. After enduring six hours in a make-up chair every evening, he arrives to make his presence felt in no uncertain terms. In truth, he is but one of many albino outlanders, and his pasty brethren collectively resemble the extras from Alien³ minus Brian Glover. However they do possess a certain level of presence and make up for any fallibility with sheer weight in numbers. Our survivors have already visited their ancient burial ground and escaped by the rims of their panties but we can only but imagine what lies beyond the reeds.
If Muck is sounding decidedly like a field trip worth taking then I feel duty bound to inform you that not everyone will relish the walkabout. At times it threatens to derail in spectacular style but Wolsh is mindful of when it is required to rein himself in a little and does so accordingly. By the time his film has unspooled we are none the wiser and this is where his next move becomes critical. Currently the prequel, Muck: Feast of Saint Patrick, is preparing to shoot and he evidently has bigger plans than a simple single-pronged assault. I see a trilogy beckoning and it pleases me to my central pip to see that Victor Crowley will finally have some company in the swampland. Looks like Hodder will be needing those galoshes again after all.
If you’re looking for precise science then I urge you to remember we’re out in the elements here. That means we’re on Mother Nature’s watch and the old gal loves nothing more than a good old-fashioned hootenanny. As for any desperately shallow aggregate standing, it really need not be any great indication as far as quality is concerned. The fact that Wolsh manages to have his finger on so many pulses and somehow, almost inconceivably, come up with more than Muck is great credit to this young filmmaker and I wish him all the very best in his future pursuits. As for Keeper, I’ve already packed my mosquito net.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: There is plenty of mindless violence playing out, much of which is aimed squarely at the ladies, and more brutality than you can shake a muddy stick at but I get the distinct vibe that he is holding back on us until the next Muck outing for the real meat and potatoes. However, there are standout moments, particularly a pitchfork balancing act, which is rather effectively orchestrated. People get crushed by automobiles, perforated, flung, hacked, beaten beyond pulp, and generally mistreated and it only benefits from throwing a little harmless gristle in the den for all us ravenous alphas in the form of semi-naked harpies aplenty. Good work fella.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™