New Shudder original, The Marshes, has the ingredients for a decent horror film but it burns the recipe.
The Marshes, written and directed by Roger Scott, is a mess of a film. The most recent release on Shudder, three young biologists travel to a remote marshland to collect aquatic samples only to encounter a malevolent presence. It’s one part Blair Witch, one part Wolf Creek.
Promising plot. Poor execution
Now, before I start nitpicking the film, I want to give it some praise because I know it tried its best. You could see it trying, which is something you don’t always notice in a horror film; how hard it’s trying to scare you. The two best things about The Marshes are its lovely cinematography and it’s ending.
The film was shot by someone who loved sunsets. The way the sun hung in the sky before dusk, turning the landscape into a black silhouette, made for a marvelous setting. The shots of scenery were presented by an artistic eye, and this made the film very beautiful to look at.
However, I’m sorry to say that its scenery is the only marvelous thing about it. Even the best part of the story, the ending, was poorly executed. The film had a hard time setting itself up. This was clear by the awkward character interactions used to quickly transport them to the marshlands. It wants you to accept what’s being presented without question.
The actors in the film are green. Inexperienced and new to the camera, and while this isn’t a bad thing, it’s hard to ignore when the entire film is character-driven. Without special effects and a scarcely seen villain, we spend the entire 85 minutes with Pira (Dafna Kronental), Will (Sam Delich), and Ben (Mathew Cooper).
We never spend enough time with any of them to see past their one-dimensional character traits or to even care about their safety. Their unlikeable, arrogant and incredibly dumb. These people are practically begging to die. They do everything you’re not supposed to do in a horror movie.
Our leading lady is, unfortunately, the least likable of them all. This unlikeability comes from the film’s preference to tell over show. It prefers to recite facts and plot details, with blunt dialogue and misplaced revelations, rather than show us. We’re told Pira is smart and academically driven but we never see it.
If stripped of the opening scene where we’re told about Pria’s possible promotion and that she gave up a simple life in favor of being a scientist, we’d easily believe she’s just a woman who wandered into the marshlands by accident. Unprepared for the unforgiving terrain.
Lack of a plot
The Marshes starts off slow. Then, after about 40 minutes, logic flies out the window as the monster living in the marsh suddenly develops a taste for blood. It never says how long the three are there and if it did, I didn’t notice. However, they’re there for at least a few days. During that time together, a couple of shocking things happen but all are severely misplaced in the setting that they’re framed in.
Events such as love triangles and ghost stories occur at random intervals just for the sake of moving the film from point A to point Z. I feel that when they were crafting the storyboard, they didn’t know what to do. They wanted to explain the spirit haunting the marshlands and settled on a simple campfire legend that’s presented almost robotically.
There are moments where I thought I missed something. The characters speak to each other as if referencing past events that never occurred. I think Ben is meant to have romantic feelings for Pria but I honestly can’t tell. Ben and Pria are also meant to have known each other a while, but you can’t tell from their dynamic. The three interact like strangers at a potluck.
For a movie monster, the Swagman (Eddie Baroo) is about as one-dimensional as anyone can get. The story of the Swagman is that long ago (how long is never specified) he raped the wife of a Squatter. In retaliation, the Squatter followed the rapist into the marshland and drowned him. That’s as much backstory as we get, and apparently, it’s supposed to be enough, even though the spirit of the Swagman appears to be a cannibal.
Why is he a cannibal? Who knows. It’s not important. He appears and disappears throughout the beginning, haunting Pria’s dreams. There’s a moment where she runs from him (in her underwear) in slow motion and I couldn’t do anything but laugh. All attempts at suspense feel lazy, at least until the second half of the film where they go from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye.
For the most part, nothing happens, until the characters are put into the marsh. Then things start happening rapidly fast, but I had a very hard time believing the suspense or feeling it. As they run from the Swagman, I didn’t feel their fear. I was just waiting for it to be over.
Save yourself time. Don’t watch this. If you do and like it, then good for you, but it wasn’t for me.
Also, I have to bring up the editing and how God awful it is. Someone cut the scenes of this film as if they were Victor Frankenstein. Slicing and dicing every action sequence and then sewing them back together with only one hand.(2 / 5)
All photos courtesy of Shudder and 28 Productions