The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) Writer/director John Sayles brings us this gentle tall tale, steeped in Irish folklore (based on the children’s book, Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, by Rosalie K. Fry). After losing her mother, Fiona (Jeni Courtney), is sent to live with her grandparents in a quiet fishing village. She soon hears stories from the villagers about the selkie (a creature half seal and half human), and grows determined to find out why they abandoned the nearby isle of Roan Inish. A little boy on the beach may provide the answer she seeks. Sayles’ film takes its time letting the story unfold, depicting a different time and place, not too long ago, where the mythical and concrete worlds meet. Haskell Wexler’s lush cinematography provides scope and immediacy, treating the spectacular scenery and family drama with equal weight.
Rating: ****. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime
Frog Dreaming (aka: The Quest) (1986) Henry Thomas stars as Cody, a headstrong, adventurous 14-year-old. Following the untimely death of his parents, he’s under the care of Gaza (Tony Barry) a family friend in Australia. Cody discovers a lake that’s not listed on the map, in a region known for “frog dreaming,” a sacred place for Aboriginal people. Captivated by rumors about a creature known as a Bunyip that lives in its depths, he devises a plan to learn the secret. Brian Trenchard-Smith’s family adventure film is a hit and miss affair, featuring some nice action sequences and art direction (by Paddy Reardon), but the it’s not hard to see the big twist coming a mile away. Also, it’s difficult to sympathize with Gaza’s laissez-faire foster parenting (bordering on gross negligence), in light of Cody’s daredevil antics. On the other hand, it works fairly well as a family adventure flick, reminding us that things aren’t always what they seem.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD
The Secret of the Loch
(1934) This slight comedy/adventure
finds Jimmy (Frederick Peisley), a spunky reporter from London, determined to
get a scoop about the fabled creature that allegedly lives in Loch Ness. He travels
to Scotland, where he hounds the gruff Professor Heggie (Seymour Hicks), who’s busy
mounting his own expedition. If that wasn’t enough reason to fall on Heggie’s
bad side he’s smitten by his granddaughter Angela (Nancy O'Neil), who’s
indifferent at best to his advances. There are some amusing little moments throughout,
but even for a 78-minute movie, the material seems to be stretched fairly thin.
(Mild Spoiler Alert) To its credit, you do catch a glimpse of the monster, but
you’ll wish you didn’t (I’ll just say that it doesn’t resemble the creature we’ve
come to expect). The Secret of the
Loch deserves some kudos, however,
for likely being the first movie devoted to the aquatic cryptid, and for
featuring a young David Lean as editor.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD
Aswang (1994) The title of this independent feature, filmed in Wisconsin by Wrye Martin and Barry Poltermann, refers to a creature from Filipino folklore that feeds on the blood of unborn fetuses. After an unexpected pregnancy, 19-year-old Katrina (Tina Ona Paukstelis) signs her baby over to a wealthy couple, Peter and Claire Null (Norman Moses and Jamie Jacobs Anderson). Things get weird in a hurry, when Peter asks Katrina to pose as his wife in order to earn his inheritance. When family secrets are gradually revealed, she finds herself in a fight for her life. Despite Moses’ cartoonishly over-the-top performance, Aswang boasts some creepy scenes, enhanced by surprisingly good makeup effects. If nothing else, it’s far from the same old thing.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD (Out of Print)
The Mothman Prophecies (2002) After the death of his wife, John Klein (Richard Gere), a Washington, D.C. reporter, travels to the small town of Point Pleasant in West Virginia, the epicenter for strange occurrences. What ensues is a quest for meaning, as Klein interviews several residents about their encounters with a strange being, and befriends the local sheriff (Laura Linney). Whether the Mothman (shown briefly in muddy, indistinct CGI) is real or a figment of the townspeople’s imaginations is never resolved. Most of the movie is terribly dull, with poor chemistry between the leads, and a story that refuses to commit one way or the other about the myth. Instead of delving into the folklore aspects, the filmmakers unwisely decided to subject the audience to a tepid story and tedious drama.
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
The Barrens (2012) Richard Vineyard (Stephen Moyer of True Blood fame), a mentally unstable man, takes his reluctant family on a camping vacation to a national park in New Jersey. As they venture deep into the forest, he grapples with his inner demons while contending with the possibility that he’s being stalked by the Jersey Devil. Writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman’s film, filled with plot holes aplenty, borrows from better sources (including The Shining and Mosquito Coast) to depict one man’s eroding cognitive/emotional state. As he becomes increasingly delusional, it seems less believable that the rest of Richard’s family would follow him down his self-destructive path. In the end, The Barrens fails to deliver as a psychological thriller or a compelling exploration of the Jersey Devil myth.
Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD