Monday, February 10, 2020

Drug-Laced Alien Massacre: Welcome to Willits (2016)

Welcome to Willits (2016)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Bill Sage, Chris Zylka, Anastasia Baranova

Alien invasion? Drug use? Backwoods bodycounting? Yep, we're definitely gonna need some buttered popcorn for this one, boys and girls.

Down in the woods of Willits, California, local pot farmer Ash Williams (Not to be confused with Ashley J. He Who Hath Fallen From The Sky To Deliver Us From The Terrors of The Deadites Williams) is convinced that monstrous space men once infiltrated his brain after he cooked up some really good shit in his drug lab some time ago. With this nightmarish memory haunting him since, the farmer had grown paranoid that the aliens will soon come back to finish him for good and, with visions of horrifying intergalactic menaces getting more and more frequent, he thinks said return is happening this one night when he spots a snarling alien prowling in the woods.
Not wanting to go down without a fight, Ash tags along his fellow chemical-head wife Peggy to kill off the nasty invaders with nothing but their determination to commit alien genocide and shells full of buckshots, coincidentally lowering down the number of teenagers from a nearby camping group of six much to the horror of Ash's visiting niece. I wonder why..,?

With the twist coming in pretty darn early and will become the butt of the dark joke this movie revels in and, truth be told, the film could have gotten the standardized "another backwoods slasher" treatment real quick and easy without it as the "scifright" element is that entertaining for its worth. The slasher elements, in turn, still follows a decent killer-in-the-woods-type horror tropes of stereotyped characters and plotting pitfalls of finding reasons to split-up or the classic sex-means-death allusion, but handled with the kind of wry direction, dry comic performance and somewhat twisted cynical sense of humor that works well on a thin-storied B-grade slasher.
Much of the narrative's groundwork focuses on our William character's slow descent to homicidal madness as he continues to believe that aliens are starting to surround his home and his urge to fight back increases the longer he dwells on this delusion. It is a fascinating watch thanks to actor Bill Sage's nutty performance as our main pothead, managing to straddle between the line of being funny and horrifying impressively. For one end, you'll be laughing at his obscure and out-of-this-world ramblings (pun intended) for how silly and over-the-top it is, but the moment he's starting to turn on against his own family, he and the film's direction is quick to grab the severity of the situation and push the flow to a more genuine yet familiar horror-fueled run.

Gore effects used here are pretty diverse considering the kind of plot Willits is running, which meant we do get to see both human and alien dismemberment done in that sweet, gooey, latex and corn syrup work. Some of the kills do lean forward to a more "off-camera" approach which may disappoint gorehounds, but the resulting corpse effects do make up for it, may it be a rotting monster carcass or stoners with their heads cut or blown off. The movie's lighting also helps in a way that it varies to suit and enhance a scene's creepy-yet-absurd feel, ranging from psychedelic vomit of colors to wallow us in a character's drug-induced hallucination, to shadowy backdrops to hide away creepy alien creatures standing cautiously behind the woods.
If there will be any real drawbacks, I would say that some scenes do show the budgetary constrains Willits suffers from time to time, and the flow can get pretty janky with its tendencies to jump back and forth from weed-induced fantasy to weed-embraced reality, particularly around scenes that involves an in-universe cop show called Fists of Justice that just doesn't work out for me. (I mean, there's cheesy. And then there's "cheesy". Fists lands face first on the latter...) Still, the positives are funny and gory enough for me to overlook these little shortcomings, so it's barely a flaw that ruins the film. (Plus, there's an adorable possum in a vest. You can't go wrong with that!)

At the end of it, Welcome to Willits (2016)'s mix of stoner comedy, scifi monster horror and backwoods slasher is best enjoyed for its oddly delightful writing, eccentric acting and a fitting self-aware meth-based humor. If you're looking for a uniquely simplistic horror comedy that packs some spacey laughs, this is a likely candidate for your movie night!

1 male shot on the head with a shotgun
1 male hacked on the head with a hatchet, decapitated
1 female shot on the back with a shotgun
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 female shot on the head
1 female had her head stomped
1 male decapitated with a tree splitter
Total: 7

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