A key film of writer-director Rene Daalder, Canada’s answer to
American grade-B auteurs like Larry Cohen and Jack Hill. A quasi-science
fictionish account of monstrous vegetation and biological mutation, the
film contains many interesting concepts but is crippled by (among other
things) a ridiculously low budget.
The Dutch-bred Rene Daalder is best known for the 1976
exploiter MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, a film marked by audacious concepts
and frankly crappy execution. The same can be said for HABITAT, which
was not a success upon its 1997 release but has attained a minor cult
following, with the out of print DVD currently selling for exorbitant
sums on the internet.
Sometime in the future global warming has turned the
Earth into a parched wasteland. Hank Symes, a biological scientist, is
looking to save the planet through “accelerated evolution,” accomplished
via mutated plants. Hank moves to a spiffy suburban townhouse together
with his wife Clarissa, teenage son Andreas and retinue of genetically
engineered vegetation. One day while Clarissa and Andreas are out Hank
has an accident in his basement lab that causes the vegetation to grow
out of control.
Before long the house is suffused with unearthly plants
that inevitably claim a human victim: Hank himself, who literally
vanishes into a puff of green mist. This leaves Clarissa and Andreas to
subside in an increasingly tropical environ, with food provided by plant
scrapings--as Clarissa claims, “Our food does not have a shelf life, it
lives on the shelf.”
Hank still exists as a particle swarm, and as such
causes odd sores to break out all over the body of one of Andreas’
friends, while his coach has a violent allergic reaction upon setting
foot in the house. Andreas himself evinces some bodily oddities, such as
the fact that his skin doesn’t seem to burn when exposed to direct
Eventually Hazmat suit wearing guys invade the house,
which is just what Hank, in his new subhuman form, wants. Mass
bloodletting and physical mutation are in store.
This being a Rene Daalder movie, the muddy lighting and
high school play-worthy art direction are to be expected. So too the
wooden dialogue, overwrought score and primitive CGI.
Intelligence and audacity are Daalder’s real (and only)
strengths. I’m not sure he ever succeeds in imparting a coherent
ecological statement, but Daalder does conjure some striking David
Cronenberg worthy grotesquerie. His terrifically fecund ideas,
unfortunately, aren’t done justice by the painfully low budget and bland
filmmaking (a complaint that tends to recur with Daalder’s movies).
A further problem is the mutated Hank’s third act
appearance as a Tinkerbell-esque dancing beam of light, a silly idea
that should have been rethought. Also, too much of the narrative is
lavished on Andreas’ problems with the school bullies and his bland
courtship with the coach’s daughter (Laura Harris of THE FACULTY).
There are at least some strong performers in the cast,
including the always-game Alice Krige (fresh off her signature role as
the Borg Queen in STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT) and the French accented
Tcheky Karyo. Both deserve a better movie.
Transfilm Kinsborough Pictures Ectopia B.V.
Director: Rene Daalder
Producers: Claude Leger, Pieter Kroonenberg
Screenplay: Rene Daalder
Cinematography: Jean Lepine
Editing: Gaetan Huot
Cast: Balthazar Getty, Alice Krige, Tcheky Karyo, Kenneth Walsh, Laura
Harris, Brad Austin, Christopher Heyerdahl, Chris Holdenfried, Daniel
Pilon, Bruce Mackay