Review: Ogre

ogre-coverOgre (Canada/US-2008; dir. Steven R. Monroe)

Looking like something Hammer Films might have concocted as their take on the giant monster sub-genre in the Age of CGI — replete with overt melodrama, an effectively used mini-budget, second-tier but professional actors (though sadly no Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee), a large mythic beast and period setting — Ogre weaves a fantasy-horror narrative that rarely strays too far from its own generic safety zone yet manages to offer an entertaining B-level film experience nevertheless — and one that feels fresher than it actually is.

In a Hammeresque prologue set in 1859, the town of Ellensford, Pennsylvania enters into a pact brokered by their resident sorcerer to incarnate, in the form of a gigantic ogre, the mysterious disease that’s killing them off. This will, he says, save them. The downside is that their survival will be dependent upon an annual human sacrifice.

But survive is exactly what they do — in a sort of diminishing-returns way. The town and its population are frozen in time — safe from the ravages of disease and ageing, and all for the cost of one recurring moment of terror each year when, at the allotted time, a chosen victim is dished up for the lumbering ogre’s annual meal. Of course, given that procreation has been suspended, this means the population will die off eventually, just at a snail’s pace.

In the present, four hikers come seeking the legendary “ghost town”, not really expecting to find it but stumbling upon it nevertheless. It is their entry into the town’s displaced reality than precipitates the first change in the cruel, decimating ritual for over 100 years.

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As far as low-budget monster flicks that premiered on the SciFi Channel go, Ogre isn’t so bad. There’s plenty to criticize, but if you enter it with some sort of reasonable perspective on cinematic budget levels and horror subgenres, you might find that it’s less dully typical than the run of straight-to-TV monster flicks and rather entertainingly realized. Of course the Usual Suspects among internet critics disagree, but their rampant kneejerk negativity isn’t really warranted and perhaps reflects the fact that the film’s underlying aesthetic tone is more Canadian than American.

One thing that’s positive about Ogre is the competent acting. Of the cast, Katharine Isabelle — whose extensive CV runs from the sublime (Ginger Snaps) to the unfortunate (2004’s pathetic mangling of Earthsea) — even managed to interest me in the stereotypical twenty-something “potential victim” she was given to portray. But the other cast members acquit themselves professionally, too, including John Schneider (Smallville, The Dukes of Hazzard) as the one-dimensional sorcerer Bartlett Henry. The cast is helped by dialogue that is edgy enough to survive the potential disaster of the townspeople’s archaic language usage and it is also refreshing to have a ghost town where the inhabitants aren’t maniacs, but ordinary, generally well-meaning folk caught in an ethically dubious situation born of their own weakness.

The outcome may be fairly predictable — some of that predictability being inherent in the concept — but Monroe’s direction keeps things moving and again creates a sense that, while we may have seen this before, he’s willing to do what he can with the material.

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Something that may be an issue is the monster itself. Someone coming to this film under the mistaken expectation that they’re in for the sort of hi-octane SFX spectacle we’re used to from even mid-range multi-million dollar epics such as, say, The Fantastic Four is likely to be less than impressed. But in fact the low-level CGI is competent, with good detail and some imaginative angles, and gives a sense of heaviness to the Shrek-on-a-very-bad-day creature, even if the lumbering monstrosity is hardly elegant and its skin has a fluid digital mushiness that isn’t totally convincing. But to tell you the truth I’m tired of the rapidly moving monster gymnasts that CGI has spawned in SFX films of late and so the Godzilla-like awkwardness of the ogre suited me fine. This monster is big and ungainly, awkwardly affected by gravity — an unreal, magic-spawned incarnation of disease and evil intent — and the unrealistic CGI resonates with that idea. The ogre’s relative size may be less-than-consistent, but that’s about as much as I’d want to criticize it for. Otherwise the beastie is fiercely present and bloodily vicious enough for the purposes of the plot.

Maybe I was just in a good mood, but I enjoyed this B-monster flick on its own terms and didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time. Even the redemptive, self-sacrificial ending felt so integral to Ogre’s thematic structure that it came over as affecting rather than weak-kneed and cynical.

If you like creature features in the Hammer mode, you might enjoy Ogre. If not, why would you rent something with a title like that?

Review originally published on Horrorscope

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2 Responses to Review: Ogre

  1. Avery says:

    Wow! It sounds and looks better than I had expected. I’ll have to give this one a spin. Thanks Rob!

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