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(aka "The Plague" )

 

directed by Hal Masonberg
USA 2006

 

One day in the mid-1990's, David Russell (Arne MacPhearson, POPULATION 436) wakes up to find his son in a comatose condition. Rushing him to the hospital, he discovers that all of the town's children are similarly non-responsive. Waiting for someone to attend to his son, he sees a news report that confirms that every child in the world under nine years of age have simultaneously fallen into this catatonic state. Ten years later, they are still unresponsive. David's younger brother Tom (James Van Der Beek, THE RULES OF ATTRACTION) is released from prison and comes to stay with him. While most of the town's children are cared for in the high school gym-turned-medical ward, David has been caring for his now grown but still catatonic son Eric (Chad Panting). Tom also hopes to reconcile with his ex Jean (Ivana Milicevic, CASINO ROYALE) but she wants nothing to do with him. The same night of Tom's return, all of the comatose children simultaneously wake up and attack the adults in a vicious massacre. Tom escapes with Jean's brother Sam (Brad Hunt, BLOW) and they head to the high school to find Jean. They baricade themselves in a supply closet with eight surviving members of the medical staff and Tom climbs into the air ducts where he finds Jean. Meanwhile, Sam helps the others down a laundry chute and inadvertently right into danger. The survivors run into the sheriff (John P. Connolly), his wife Nora (Dee Wallace, THE HOWLING), his deputy Nate (Bradley Sawatzky), and teens Kip (Joshua Close, DIARY OF THE DEAD) and Claire (Brittany Scobie) who escaped the plague by a year and seem to relate more to the catatonics than the adults. Sam is injured and the group hold up in the church when they discover that the children now have guns and know how to use them.

The feature debut of Hal Masonberg, THE PLAGUE seems from its synopsis like any other "killer kids" movie (and that was what it was pitched as by the producers) but Masonberg's cut is thoughtful and suggestive (the catatonic-yet-receptive state is also a wonderful metaphor for the way in which we shield children from more overt adult things while believing that children are deaf to things they should not be able to comprehend). Van Der Beek and Milicevic may actually be physically old enough to play their characters but neither of them look it. Neither are particularly compelling leads but they make the pivotal climactic scene work. The supporting cast is mostly fine (with nods to MacPhearsen and Wallace who jumps right back into terrorized victim territory without even the luxury of an introductory scene (even in the director's cut). While Masonberg largely resists MTV editing in favor of artful transitions, sometimes he does let some shots linger a trifle too long (the long pullback from the meaningful deaths of two characters shifts from anguish to "get on with it" in a few extra frames) but the measured pace is largely effective and refreshing. The cinematography of veteran DP Bill Butler (ROCKY) features consistently provocative compositions and naturalistic lighting (although some of this is dulled by the DVD dailies resolution and lack of more sophisticated color correction tools). The orchestral temp music is fitting although sometimes the levels dampen some of the sound effects.

THE PLAGUE was taken out of his hands by distributor Screen Gems who re-edited the film without his input. Several character bits are lost (and contained in the deleted scenes as they appear in the director's cut - looking slightly better here but still in 4:3 widescreen). While the director's cut had all of its credits at the end, the producer's cut adds a cheap-looking 34 second opening title sequence on black followed by about 40 seconds of second unit footage. Several other bits of second unit establishing shots take the place of Masonberg's more artful transitions in the producer's cut. Not all of the deleted scenes were completely removed. Some were trimmed to clip the long, tense pauses (like David and Tom's reunion) while others feature alternate takes with some different dialogue. The producer's cut seems to want to render the plague in a more visual and ambiguous manner while rushing the character bits. For instance, a scene of Tom watching a talk-show interview in which a woman talks about the plague (as seen in the director's cut) is replaced on the TV screen with some stock news footage of world chaos while Tom's reunion with his brother-in-law Sam features some extra dialogue in the producer's cut emphasizing all that Tom had to lose when he got in a bar fight that resulted in manslaughter and a prison sentence. The Father Jim character completely loses his introductory scene (it is featured in the deleted scenes) which was one of the film's many references to John Ford's adaptation of THE GRAPES OF WRATH. The suspenseful scene of the teens beginning to rouse from their catatonic states is differently edited here and lacks the setup seen in the director's cut. Overall, the differences were to pick up the pace, erase any subtle rendering of character and mood, as well as removing one bit the producer's thought too strong (featured in the director's cut and in the deleted scenes on the Sony release of the producer's cut).

Fortunately, Masonberg was able to secure his own in-progress cut in the form of DVD dailies along with other footage. In the days when Dimension Films was a relatively interesting genre company, a handful of their more ambitious projects were similarly tampered with and have not seen wide (or any) exposure in their intended forms (Guillermo del Toro's MIMIC and Kevin Yagher's HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE come to mind). The Clive Barker presentational credit had already lost some of its cache by this film's release in 2006 (Barker's fans expect his name to be attached to unusual projects - and the occasional tired HELLRAISER sequel - but his own LORD OF ILLUSIONS was perhaps the last really worthy film to bear his name and it has been reported that he actually had very little involvement behind the scenes on this one) and it did not seem to get the film much notoriety when it finally hit DVD in compromised form. These days, home video editing can render professional results and Masonberg was not only able to assemble something close to his original concept but also to render visual effects and prepare a double disc special edition (although it is not for sale) and a project once dumped directly-to-DVD can find new exposure on the internet (Masonberg's website features links to several articles about the film, interviews with the cast and crew, and detailed comparisons of the director's cut and producer's cut with flash video excerpts). Is Masonberg's director's cut superior to the theatrical version? Certainly. Vastly. Is it an unheralded masterpiece? No, but it is an assured feature debut with an ambitious treatment of a familiar story (which recalls THE CRAZIES and CHILDREN OF THE CORN as much as it does Narcisco Ibanez Serrador's incredibly disturbing WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?) that respects its audience's intellect and their willingness to get to know characters gradually and take in details of the setting without being hit on the head with them (as the producer's cut is wont to do).

Eric Cotenas

Theatrical Release: 5 September 2006 (USA - theatrical cut)

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DVD Review: Off Leash Films (Writer & Director's Cut) - Region 0 - NTSC

Big thanks to Eric Cotenas for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

This review is for the Writer and Director's Cut of the film but we've compared some captures with the Sony version below - which is available here:

 

Distribution

Off Leash Films

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 1:46:32
Video

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.26 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
Subtitles none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Off Leash Films

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen letterboxed - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• DISC ONE:
• Audio commentary with director Hal Masonberg
• Director's Cut Trailer (4:3; 1:56)
• About the Transfer (text screens)
• DISC TWO:
• Spreading the Plague: featurette (4:3; 71:21)
• Storyboard to Film Comparison (4 sequences)
• Early Animated Storyboard (4:3; 7:43)
• Deleted Scene (4:3; 1:04 - with optional director commentary)
• Director's Production Bible (text screens)
• Behind the Scenes Photo Album (27:59)
• Director's Statement (text screens)

DVD Release Date:
Amaray

Chapters 31

 

Comments

This DVD is NOT available to the public. The set was prepared by the director as a proposal to distributor Screen Gems to fully restore the feature (the director's cut is compiled from an offline edit and workprint dailies and, as such, is presented in 4:3 widescreen). His website www.spreadingtheplague.com features an online petition to Screen Gems to convince them of interest in restoring the film's original cut. The extras include a commentary by director Masonberg in which he explains the intent of every turn of the plot and every choice of shot (and the producer's reaction to his deliberate pacing). Disc 1 also features a director's cut trailer and a text screen statement about the transfer. Disc 2 features "Spreading the Plague" a 71 minute documentary (indexed and encode with 17 chapters) featuring input from several of the cast and crew members. It not only features behind-the-scenes info but also covers the post-production struggles in more detail. The Storyboard-to-Film featurette shows 4 sequences in splitscreen with the film scenes and the computer-drawn storyboard versions (all with optional commentary). This is followed by an animated storyboard version of one of the major sequences. A deleted scene with optional commentary depicts Jean saying goodbye to a wounded Sam when she, Tom, and Kip sneak into town to look for a working automobile (this scene is featured in the producer's cut). The production bible section features the director's notes on nearly every scene discussing visual inspirations, themes, etc. The director's statement is a piece that Screen Gems asked Masonberg to write for potential investors about his intents with the film (it seems in line with what his cut reflects in contrast to the producer's cut).\

Sony's DVD of the producer's cut features 5.1 audio, a jokey, intermittently informative audio commentary featuring the editor and actors Brad Hunt and Joshua Close (from which the director is noticeably absent) and 18 minutes of deleted scenes. Obviously, this transfer looks better (it is single-layer as the DVD9 accommodates both 4:3 and 16:9 versions of the Super 35mm feature) having been derived from an HD master - albeit one that was color corrected without the input of experienced DP Bill Butler - but the 18 minute difference in running times is not explained by the 8 deleted scenes (the director's cut set also has its own deleted scenes with optional commentary) as there are major structural differences. Although the director has said that this version does not reflect his vision, it might be worth checking out to give you an indication of how good the film is meant to look transfer-wise and to see some alternate versions of scenes in the director's cut (sort of like watching both GANJA AND HESS and the re-edit BLOOD COUPLE). Although the film was shot in Super 35mm for 2.35:1 matting, neither version exposes the entire periphery. The Sony transfer shows more info on the left while cropping the right side while the director's cut transfer shows more on the right side of the frame while cropping the left.

While the director's cut is not for sale, several of the extras are available in whole or part on the director's website including the hour+ "Spreading the Plague" featurette with cast/crew interviews.

  - Eric Cotenas

 



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Screen Captures

 

 


 

 


 


 Writer and Director's Cut - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Sony - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


  Writer and Director's Cut - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Sony - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


  Writer and Director's Cut - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Sony - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 

 


   Writer and Director's Cut - Region 0 - NTSC TOP vs. Sony - Region 1 - NTSC BOTTOM

 


DVD Box Cover

This review is for the Writer and Director's Cut of the film but we've compared some captures with the Sony version below - which is available here:

 

Distribution

Off Leash Films

Region 0 - NTSC

 




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