Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Give Us Some Horse Head: S.S.D. (2008)

S.S.D. (Russia, 2008) ("С.С.Д.")
Rating: **
Starring: Anfisa Chekhova, Dmitriy Kubasov, Evgenia Brik

Try imagining Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None done in a way that channels a backwoods slasher and the first episode of a reality TV game show as a backdrop. Now try imagining that as a slightly jumbled mess that can't figure how to balance it all out...

S.S.D. (which stands for Samyi Strashnyi Den (The Scariest Day), Strashilki Sovetskogo Detstva (Horrors of Soviet Childhood) or Smert’ Sovetskim Detia (Death to Soviet Children)) opens in 1984, at the Soviet pioneer camp Lesnaia Poliana where a camp leader tells a creepy story to a cabin full of tykes about a bus littered with decapitated victims,  driven around by a figure with a horse's head. This somewhat coincides with another camp leader canoodling with her boyfriend deep in the woods the very same night, where they are both attacked and murdered by sickle-wielding figure in a horse mask. One boy sees it all and apparently survives the encounter with the masked killer, thus thickening the plot as we skip ahead to the present.

We then follow a set of ten teenagers participating in a reality TV show called Pionerlager, set in the now abandoned camp Lesnaia Poliana where every week, someone would be eliminated from the show until one remains to win the one million rubles prize. It was all going according to how the kids and their host expect the game would be like until one of them, about to leave off from the show, gets shot through the head with an arrow in front of the group. The gang soon learns that vicious guard dogs were set loose outside the camp, trapping them inside with a maniac who now took over the camp's PA system and wants to play the game with a different stake: their lives.

It isn't long before they start to drop like flies, each death seemingly based on Russian folk tales and lore in a flair to channel Agatha Christie's style to sinister childhood rhymes. And in a way, S.S.D. does this methodical whodunit style quite fairly at first with decent build-ups to these (often offscreen) deaths, most victims snuffed off in a seemingly random fashion and the story jumps back and forth between the massacre and its aftermath some time later as cops investigate the now abandoned camp. Sadly, this only lasted for five to six murders before the film made a quick reveal that to the identity of the killers, dragging the story to an uninteresting note.

The problem was that not only were the next set of murders quickly dropped the folklore theme for a more lamely standardized revenge shtick (and then some but we'll get to that later), but the murderers committing them were just as boring. One culprit turns out to be a fan of the host, obsessing over her to the point that they're willing to assist the main villain for that one chance of getting revenge after she failed to like him back. It's weakly cliched and borderline pathetic, more reason for me to hope that the other maniac has a better motive, only for me to be gravely disappointed. To make things simple, the main madman believes something supernatural is in play. Something he simply refers to as "He" or "Him" that, as the movie puts it, inspires those who can see "Him" into becoming bloody murderers.

This supposed supernatural force could have been a cool twist if the execution didn't involve too much yakking and suggesting, shoving the information down our gullets from one exposition to another in hopes of either we buy it or it'll make the finale mysterious. Frankly? "Childhood trauma" would have made a more accepting explanation to the madness as we do find out the killer is the same boy who saw the horse head figure at the beginning of the film but, no, it has to be spoopy ghostly forces that inspires murder because...well, evil.

The final fight is pretty good but it was ruined by an impossible survival and a gory revenge for a yet another shlocky twist reveal involving "Him". Its open ended-ness indicates mystery, but all I find is an underwhelming teen slasher that tries to be smart, sleek and macabre. Maybe with more onscreen gore and a focused style and theme, S.S.D. could have been all that and more but, seeing the misfire that is the film's second half, it's definitely a letdown.

1 male stabbed on the head with a sickle
1 female hacked with a sickle
1 male shot on the head with an arrow
1 male head seen
1 female found impaled to butcher hooks
1 female poisoned
1 female ravaged by dogs
1 male found decapitated
1 male shot
1 female decapitated with a shovel
1 female murdered offcamera
1 male male hacked to death with a lead pipe
1 male throat sliced with a sickle (flashback)
1 male had his throat cut with a sickle
Total: 14

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