Welcome to Monster Movie Madness, where we take a look at flicks and films dealing with threats and things that aren’t exactly human. Hell, most of ’em aren’t human at all—and those are the really fun ones!
Do you know what it’s like to be in trouble? I don’t mean talking too loud in the library trouble, or getting caught parking in a yellow zone trouble, but the kind of trouble that sends you flying a hundred miles from civilization, where you have to set up a tent to sleep in, dig a hole to poop in, and whatever you do, avoid falling victim to the beef jerky machine from space? No? Well, you will. Put on your hiking boots and grab your tent and shovel (and some White Cloud™, if you’re of a mind), because we’re heading out into the wilds of Utah with Thirst (2015—not to be confused with Thirst , a very different movie)!
I was surfing through Amazon, searching for a movie to stick up on the Monster Movie Madness wall, when I came upon this description:
“Stranded in the desert, a group of campers are hunted and attacked by a chameleon-like alien that feeds on the fluid of it victims, leaving behind a dehydrated, dusty corpse. They must find a way to destroy the creature or suffer a horrible death.”
A chameleon-like alien? Dehydrated corpses? Horrible death? It was like my mouse clicked the Rent button all by itself!
Written by: Elizabeth Hansen and Greg Keifer
Directed by: Greg Keifer
Warning: this review may contain spoilers.
A sphere, looking suspiciously like the Death Star under construction, rolls through space toward an unsuspecting Earth. On that Earth, kicking up dust along a dirt road in—you guessed it—the middle of nowhere, and at night, we find a battered Ford pickup. Seriously, this thing’s about old enough to have a push-button AM radio with an FM converter—kids, ask your parents.
Lenny (Jay Pease) puts down his beer—adding just one more to the many empties rolling around the floor of the cab—and stops the truck to take a leak. Suddenly the headlights start to flicker, the radio squawks with static, and a moving light fills the sky. I’ve seen The X-Files (1993–2002, 2016–), and I’m pretty sure I know what’s about to happen: Lenny’s going on an amusement park ride called The Flying Probe, and he’s not going to be very amused.
But no, rather than being swept away by beings who have traveled billions upon billions of miles just to play doctor, Lenny watches as the light streaks across the sky only to crash to Earth with an impressive amount of violence and flame—and within easy walking distance. Of course Lenny goes to investigate (there would be no story if he just got in the truck and drove home), and finds what appears to be a huge hollowed-out meteorite . . . and what’s that nestled inside this wide-open space barrel? A great big space egg?
Though as grizzled and old-looking as that truck he drives, Lenny turns out to be as tech savvy as my fourteen-year-old, whipping out his smartphone and taking some hi-res pics—right up until something huge and threatening looms out of the dark. Lenny panics, bolting for safety with all the hustle of a pre-teen chasing down an ice cream truck. He gets in his pickup and speeds away—well, for this truck, he’s speeding—but to no avail: the huge, chasing shape lands on the hood and a thick, obviously organic strand—a tongue?—smashes through the windshield and into his chest. The tonguey thing pins him to his seat, and despite his struggles Lenny starts to lose weight before our very eyes, desiccating to ancient mummy status within seconds. The crazy straw from the stars withdraws, and the battered old Ford, now sans intergalactic hood ornament, and with the freshly-made Lenny jerky behind the wheel, drives on through the night until it fails to make a turn and falls into a canyon. End scene.
And that’s all before the opening credits!
As the credits roll we watch Roth (John Redlinger) zip around on his ATV, tearing up the Utah desert. He’s late meeting up with his uncle Burt (Karl Makinen), and Burt’s partner, Claire (Jes Macallan), who run a “second chance” program for kids in trouble: they take teams of teens for weeklong hikes through the desert, where they can live minimally, learn about themselves, and hopefully choose to become productive members of society. Before he arrives, we discover the program is in trouble: they’re about out of money, and Burt may be in some legal trouble over disciplining a former “client” a little too hard. Have I mentioned Burt’s a fairly large man?
So the kids show up (helicoptered in—I told you it was the middle of nowhere), and we meet the usual assortment of characters for a heading into the wild/cabin in the woods scenario: Meeka the princess (Ashley Santos), Wes the stoner (Bryan Dayley), Luis the hacker (Ryan Zimmer), Trapper the selfish tough guy (Cardiff Gerhardt), and Courtney (Clare Nedierpruem), the quiet girl with undescribed “family issues” who’s pretty much just there to be a love interest for Roth, who is roughly the same age as the kids. Right off the bat, Burt “disciplines” Trapper (read: puts him on the ground), and Luis recognizes him as “the Mad Dog Crusher,” one of the greatest cage fighters ever, who killed a man in the ring and then disappeared from the public eye.
So they start hiking, and the kids start whining. They see a herd of wild horses, which some of the kids find beautiful—and which Trapper promptly screams at to frighten away, firmly entrenching him in our hearts and minds as a major asshat. The herd has its revenge, though, as a stampede in the night destroys their campsite. No one is hurt, but their sat phone is destroyed, along with quite a bit of their supplies.
They salvage what they can and decide they have enough left to push on. Halfway through day two, they come upon the space barrel, still in its crater but now completely empty, no sign of the egg. While the kids are ogling the thing in the crater, arguing about what it might be, Burt and Claire discover Lenny’s truck, the stick of fresh Lenny jerky still behind the wheel. With the sat phone broken, Burt wants to turn back—they have to report this find to the authorities. Claire insists they can’t go back; not only do they need the money from this trip, she found out just before they started the hike that that potential lawsuit against Burt has come to fruition, and there’s a warrant out for his arrest.
They push on.
That night, after they’ve made camp, Trapper walks off into the trees to make use of the shovel (he opted for the White Cloud). Burt, uncertain what happened to Lenny but made nervous by the obvious hole in the old meat treat’s chest, goes in search of Trapper to stand guard. It’s a good thing he does, because the alien creature is making its presence known to the hikers, grabbing hold of Trapper in a vehement argument for the use of Angel Soft™. Burt intervenes, screaming for Trapper to run, and as a watcher I was all set for a battle royal between the Mad Dog Crusher and the Intergalactic Dehydration Machine.
Nope: instant Burt jerky.
The creature fades into the night, leaving the group without its main protector, Claire riddled with guilt over forcing Burt to continue the hike, the kids all terrified, and Trapper’s tough-guy exterior collapsing, leaving him back-stabbing weasel of epic proportions. They’re still in the middle of nowhere with no communications, being hunted by something that seems to have confused them with meat Slurpees™ . . . and it falls to Roth to get them home alive. Is the young man up to the challenge? Can he guide them all out of the desert alive? Can he continue to make moon eyes at Courtney while he’s doing it?
There’s really only one way to find out: watch the damn film.
Okay, now for what I think: Thirst (2015) is a mixed bag.
As something random I found on Amazon, I didn’t go into this film with any preconceived notions or expectations. The opening, also known as “Curiosity Killed the Lenny,” wasn’t bad—there were no real surprises, but it was done well enough; you didn’t really see the creature, but you got to see what it could do, and it wasn’t just a throwaway—Lenny and his truck play a part later in the film. The camera work was also impressive, with long shots of Roth riding his ATV showing some beautiful countryside as well as giving a great impression of just how empty and far from civilization that countryside was.
Then we got the second-chance-camp scenario and met the kids, and it was a bit of a downer. I’ve seen this same setup before, many times—take a look at my first MMM column, way back in 2015, where I looked at Axe Giant: the Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013). As I watched, however, I found that wasn’t bad either. The performances ranged from decent to good, with none of the over-acting one so frequently sees in flicks of this nature. Everything was actually falling nicely into place: the writing was good, the acting was good, and the cinematography was spot on for the setting and the type of film. Hooray!
However, the film started to lose me a little more than halfway through. Part of it was that the creature started stalking them in the daylight, and you could finally get a good look at it. The CGI was well done—smooth, realistic motion and interaction with the world around it (with one really notable exception)—but I wasn’t a fan of the creature’s design. Though the description said it was chameleon-like, it actually looks as if one of the monsters from the ALIEN series (1979–) mated with a centaur, and then the offspring grew up with mania operativa (surgical addiction) and came to Earth because we’re like protein potato chips: you can’t eat just one! With the organic body and partially mechanical limbs, it struck me as something trying a little too hard to be otherworldly and terrifying, and it kind of overshot the mark.
Okay, that’s a little nitpicky, and turned out not to be the main problem for me. What really got under my skin, and I had to think about it to put a name to it, was that once the creature started stalking them in the daylight, the entire film seemed to shift from a horror flick to an action/adventure movie. Suddenly it wasn’t so much stealthily stalking as clumsily attacking, and rather than panicking and fleeing in terror, the humans were angry and fighting back. It still had all the things going for it that it had before—decent acting, good cinematography, good CGI—but the tone was completely different than it was for the first half of the film.
It’s almost two—two—two movies in one!
Was it a terrible film? Not hardly. I just found it a little unsettling, and not in the way the filmmakers intended. Would I watch something else from Uncork’d Entertainment? Sure. Would I recommend this film to a friend? Maybe—but I’d give it a little so-so hand wiggle into the bargain. It’s a little iffy for me.
If you’ve got a film you’d like to shout out about, a monster movie you feel the world’s just got to see, please, let me know about it in the comments below—or if you’re shy, you can always shoot me a line through the Contact Us page.
I’d love to hear from you.
I do love me some monster movies.