Shredder (2003)

You, the readers of Eo2L, have cast your votes and it looks like the snowboarding film Shredder has won by a slim margin. Corey and I had originally planned to decide who would review the film with an arm wrestling tournament, but we settled it like gentlemen instead. He agreed to let me review this one, partly because other than playing SSX 3 on his XBox, he’s never been on a ski slope in his entire life. My overall take on Shredder is that it’s not a great film per se, but if you stick with it and give it a chance, it’s actually quite a bit of fun and definitely worth seeing if you’re a snowboard fan or simply in the mood for an old-fashioned 80s style slasher.

I’ll admit that my first response after seeing Shredder was to simply use it as part of my ongoing haiku reviews, so I wrote the following:

Icy dead people
are fun, but frisky skiers
belong at the lake.

But even though haiku is a precise and demanding art form, I felt that Eo2L voters deserved more than seventeen syllables. Plus, the more I thought about the film, the more I realized that I really did like it. It’s pretty decent mashup of exploitation and slasher films, as evident in the 70s-style title screen, which is actually really terrific on a number of levels.

Still, the film does have its share of problems, especially given the current state of the horror genre. For instance, I love the fact that contemporary horror films such as Wolf Creek and the Hostel and Saw franchises seem to understand horror fans want to sit in the dark and see something that is scary as hell, but also sometimes want visual spectacle; something so unreal and grotesque and over the top that it approaches the realm of fantasy. Or, if you want to get artsy-fartsy intellectual about it, we don’t always demand realism; sometimes we want allegories for modern life and the human condition. For all their violence and special effects, even recent zombie flicks such as 28 Weeks Later are really exaggerated allegories for modern alienation resulting from the industrial military complex and an overly aggressive and paternal American foreign policy. I think now is an especially good time to be a fan of horror films.

Where does that leave a film such as Shredder? It’s a film that’s unfortunately too easy to ignore or dismiss. Directed by Greg Huson and starring Scott Weinger, Lindsy McKeon, Juleah Weikel, and Billy O, Shredder is about a group of snowboarders who head out to an abandoned ski resort for a weekend of typical teen fun and debauchery. It turns out that this particular ski resort was the site of a tragic, murderous confrontation between an innocent young skier and a gang of wild snowboarders. Now a masked skier patrols the area, seeking revenge on all snowboarders who cross his path, especially those who break the “rules of the slope,” a copy of which he carries with him at all times. He kills this new arrival of teens, one by one, until the inevitable showdown with the few pluckier survivors. In this regard, Shredder builds on the epic antagonisms between old-fashioned, rule-abiding skiers and young, rebel snowboarders.

The plot of Shredder isn’t exactly Hamlet (or even Green Eggs & Hamlet), but somehow it still works. In fact, I think a ski slope is actually a perfect location for a slasher. It’s remote and isolated, it inspires appropriately punishable behavior, and skiing is something that most of us can relate to, but it’s still a little bit exotic. Actually, it reminds me why Jason’s hockey mask was so incredibly effective. At the time of its debut, hockey was popular enough to make the mask a recognizable icon, but still exotic enough to make it a little bit strange and uncanny. A catcher’s mask simply wouldn’t have worked.

A serious problem with the film is that none of the characters are really all that likeable. For instance, Kimbely Van Arx is a spoiled brat. She’s the sort of snob that becomes the villain in any given teen flick. Then there’s “Skyler,” an audio-visual nerd who can’t ever seem to shut up or put down his camera. Adding some international flavor is “Christophe,” the self-styled Cassanova poser of the group who claims he’s “from Europe.” He’s supposed to be sexy and suave, but he reminds me of Andy Kaufman’s “foreign guy”character , Latka, who appeared in Taxi and came from Caspiar, an island in the Caspian Sea that tragically sank.

Another problem is the really, really bad editing. I like fast-cut, jerky, collision-style MTV editing as much as the next guy, but… wait, no I don’t. I like the other kind of editing — thoughtful and well-paced. The editing in Shredder is intended to mimic the energy and intensity of thrashing it out on some totally gnarly powder, but in reality the film looks as if it were edited by those obnoxious ‘tards who “do the Dew” in Mountain Dew soda commercials. Actually, I’ve just unfairly insulted Mountain Dew commercials, which do have a sense of style and consistent tone. Shredder consists of too many cuts within the exact same shot, all of which creates a black-light staccato effect that’s simply annoying and conveys nothing.

This isn’t to say that Shredder is a stupid film. It has quite a few moments of clever meta-cinema along the lines of The Blair Witch Project and Scream. For instance, tough girl Pike chastises Kimberly for forgetting to “never go down in the basement.” Likewise, Skyler informs the killer that “you can’t kill me because I’m a virgin” just before he’s impaled with a ski pole right through his own camera. This may be statement about voyeurism borrowed from Michael Powell’s brilliant 1960 film Peeping Tom, but it also seems appropriate for our YouTube obsessed digital age. Most of the death scenes are also entertaining nods to classic slashers, especially in the way the killer dispatches his victims in increasingly outrageous fashion. One victim is left dangling from the ski lift as it carries her up and down the slope for what seems like the duration of the entire film. Another victim is hidden inside a snowman. There’s also some interesting experimentation with the traditional concept of the final girl. Shredder’s final girl, the aptly named Pike, wisecracks and fistfights her way through the film and then saves the final dude at the finale before making it clear that she’s her own woman.

Unfortunately, other than this little bit of commentary about traditional gender roles, Shredder has no allegorical content whatsoever. In fact, there’s no moral, theme, or point to be found in Shredder. None. Nada. Zilch. This is not typical of recent horror films. The zombies in Romero’s new Diary of the Dead are more aware and have much more to say than the kids in Shredder. In fact, I’d wager that Romero’s zombies would beat those kids in any sort of socio-political debate, or even a test of basic problem-solving skills, as evident in the fact that Cole has trouble figuring out how to get past the ski slope’s high tech security system (a padlocked chain).

Shredder has flaws from its very first frame, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it, as the film is a worthwhile respite from the current trends in horror. It’s refreshing that Shredder demands nothing from you. It’s a respectable combination of mindless sex, sports, and death, and I think we need films like this. Amid so much bad news about our failing economy, our disastrous foreign policy, and our obsessive interests in Britney’s latest act of depravity, this film is like watching the Super Bowl. Some horror films give you a good emotional or intellectual workout, putting you through your paces and letting you sort out all those dark and nastier aspects of our human psyche and American culture. Shredder is more like the mental equivalent of eating a big plate of nachos and then washing it all down with a cold can of Bud. It’s not good for you, but sometimes you just really need to indulge yourself.

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