The Cycle 2009
aka The Devil’s Ground
Directed by: Mark Bafaro
Starring: Daryl Hannah, Leah Gibson, Luke Camilleri
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
“Never forget where you came from as one day you may have to return”
True words. Especially in the case of Daryl Hannah. Back in the summer of 1981, she was a young starlet when she signed on for the early killer in the woods flick, Campsite Massacre. Her career rocketed thereafter as she soon became the poster girl for the light-hearted Ron Howard romp, Splash. She then developed her actress chops in the underrated street flick, Pope of Greenwich Village and became a box office babe in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. After a few less successful roles, she was reinvented in 2003 by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill parts 1 & 2, but struggled to find a role that was as successful thereafter. Eventually, she accepted this new age genre piece from director Michael Bafaro, which would be her second addition to the stalk and slash group.
Bafaro’s casting decision was most definitely inspired by the fact that he is a massive Tarantino fan, who has himself directed 5 prior movies. The best of them was The Barber from 2002; a serial killer flick with a nicely written plot and a sharp momentum. He always works on small budgets, but has brought good performances from his casts and shows a flair for ambitious storytelling.
Five students head off on an exercise to stop a coal mining project in some secluded forest. They are targeted with finding the bones that prove that it is a sacred Native American burial ground, so then it cannot be built upon. What they discover however is something far more threatening…
The slasher genre is like no other. Take the most recent title that you’ve seen. For me, it’s Demons Never Die. Now take one from thirty-years earlier during the peak period. I don’t know, let’s say Final Exam for example. Now aside from the obvious fashion sense and modern technology, what’s really changed between these two stories? Hardly anything at all. The bare basics, or the source code so to speak, has and always will be a psycho killer against a group of stranded victims. Anything else just doesn’t seem to work. Now The Cycle is most definitely a slasher movie, but in fairness, it’s something of a fresh restructure, which throws in a few extras.
It kicks off with a fast-paced chase sequence through a forest that puts us straight in to a Friday the 13th mindset. This is a SLASH above the usual cheap shot on an iPhone footage of a killer in a dime store mask running through a few trees in a park that we find in DTV efforts. Instead, it’s a stylish, credibly planned sequence with the wide desolate locations being conveyed to provide an unusual claustrophobia. Next up we meet Daryl Hannah for the first time and the plot begins to reveal itself; mostly through flashback. There’s a fair amount of intrigue thrown in to the build up, with mentions of the aforementioned burial ground and constant shots of crows and haunting visuals. I also was incredibly impressed with the intelligence of the dialogue, which touched on some thoughtful subjects. You just can’t take your eyes away from the screen for the first thirty-minutes, but The Cycle struggles to maintain the audacious momentum that it kicked off with.
Perhaps the reason for this is that Bafaro doesn’t live up to the expectations he set for himself. There’s a night attack scene on the camper’s Winnebago, which is electric and rapidly photographed. Funnily enough it reminded me of a very similar sequence from Hannah’s previous venture in to stalk and slash territory. But when the butcher actually turns up, the killings are extremely diluted and moderate. Most of them are screened by quick cuts that are begging for some gore. Then to make matters worse, the maniac commits the worst slasher crime of all and uses a shotgun for the third victim – no fair! Guns in a slasher? Go figure. We also step in to the unappealing ‘psycho family’ Texas Chainsaw Massacre-alike story branch, which I for one do not enjoy as much as a lone maniac. The majority of the players are pretty much dealt with by the fifty minute mark and then the feature heads off in to a more supernatural direction with a very ambitious revelation
Skip this paragraph if you want to miss a potential spoiler –
I have to offer all due respect for the twist, which meant something to me, because I came across a similar phenomenon when I lived in Kent for a year back in the late nineties. I really don’t want to give away too much, but if you have time and ONLY do it after watching the movie (why ruin a good twist) check out: Here Now I remember this quite vividly. It’s not as if I ever experienced it, but it was my first taste of an urban legend, because everyone knew someone whose cousin’s brother’s best friend had seen it. (If you get what I mean) It was an awesome idea to include it in the story, even if it perhaps wasn’t handled the best way. By this, I mean that when they were writing the screenplay, it must have sounded like a brilliant way to set-up the conclusion and you can understand the obvious excitement behind the shoot. Unfortunately, there’s a loss of pace in the twenty minutes or so prior to the pay off, and it doesn’t quite have the impact that it should have.
What I also thought was strange was that there were a few things that weren’t made the most of. The aforementioned burial ground talk didn’t really result in anything (I was hoping for a maniacal Native American like Scalps etc) and the constant shots of crows squawking, almost as if they were predicting the danger, were not really explained or developed. I also felt that the villain, when revealed, was nowhere near as intimidating as he could have been.
I really don’t want to be too Harsh on The Cycle and I have to give 10/10 for effort. It’s a decent enough picture, but should have been a better one. It just needed a little something that unfortunately, was missing. It’s credibly shot, sharply edited, well scripted with a good use of sound and it hides its budgetary limitations very well. I was just disappointed, because it could have been so much more
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√√