Wilderness Survival For Girls
"Pictures Copyright 2003 Last Call Films, used with permission"
Review by Kimberley Heljenek (a.k.a. Rusalka) June 25th, 2004
Eli Despres and Kim Roberts first non-documentary film was shot on a very low budget. The set was a Colorado Rockies mountain vacation home belonging to Kim’s family, and the woods surrounding it. A cast of 4, a crew of 10, and Eli and Kim spent 18 days in the isolated area, shooting mostly at night, getting up at 6pm for breakfast, and hitting the hot tub at about 6am before heading in for some sleep. James Morrison played the part of Ed.
The plot is supposed to show the complex relationships between three girls just after high school graduation, on the cusp of their going their separate ways for college and/or employment. The girls are three disparate stereotypes: Ruthie, the socially naïve brain who is headed for Yale, Debbie, the misfit with lesbian longings who could manage to get into a decent college, and Katie, the hard edged, tramp/druggie with no college prospects whatsoever. Debbie and Ruthie’s relationship was explained as their growing up together, having the same babysitter, etc., but how did either of them hook up with a *insert nasty word of your choice here* like Katie? But, Katie was necessary to the plot as the catalyst for everything that gets them in trouble…and boy oh boy, did they get into trouble.
After a Katie instigated evening of beer and pot, and telling the story of how Ruthie and Debbie’s former babysitter was sexually assaulted and murdered in a cabin just a few miles away, the girls discover that they are not alone in the woods…they found a dead fox in the freezer (it had been shot) and a rifle in the bedroom. Ruthie’s parents, the owners of the mountain retreat, did not own any guns. Eventually a stranger shows up at the door, claiming to be looking for someone that, of course, doesn’t live there. He bullies his way inside, trying to intimidate them into allowing him to collect his things and ignore the fact that he’d ever been there. The girls freak out, they have the rifle, and they force him to sit down at gunpoint. Since they’ve already established that the cell phone doesn’t work in the area, Ruthie is dispatched to drive the sixteen miles to the police station. Unfortunately she’s so stoned she can’t get the car started and thinks the battery is dead.
They tie the squatter, who they learn is named Ed, to the chair, leaving Ruthie watching him with the rifle while Debbie and Katie head for the neighbor’s to see if they have a regular phone. Katie breaks a window to get into the place, but no such luck. They do, however, find a bottle of whiskey, which the two proceed to drink, compounding the mess they’ve made of their minds with the beer and pot. Debbie’s long repressed but painfully obvious desire for Kate rears its ugly head and a long languorous and semi-passionate kiss ensues. Debbie thinks this is great until Katie informs her that she’s "not like that". Debbie suddenly has an attack of conscience about leaving Ruthie alone with the potentially dangerous squatter and hightails it back to the cabin, Katie rushing behind, offering Debbie the opportunity to "do it" with her anyway. It’s really hard not to dislike the Katie character intensely.
Meanwhile, Ed has been busy. He realizes that Ruth is suffering from low self-esteem and is terribly naïve, and charms her into untying him. He probably would have just taken his stuff and left, but Debbie and Katie burst in through the door at the crucial moment and he takes Ruthie hostage. He collects their cash and driver’s licenses, tells them that he will leave and not hurt them, but if they report him to the police he will come after them when he gets out. He instinctively recognizes Katie as being the one who will be the most trouble, has her tie the other two up then uses the rifle to herd Katie upstairs so he can pack his stuff while keeping an eye on her. He ties her to the bed there, and begins to pack, not otherwise touching her. For someone with her psychological problems this is a slap in the face. While she is working on the ropes, and as we can see succeeding, she goads him into physically attacking her. Even now, when she’s called him all sorts of vile names, he only grabs her face and basically tells her off. She gets free of the ropes, knees him where it counts, grabs the rifle, and fires it, badly grazing his neck.
Now, we’re back to poor Ed, tied up downstairs yet again, this time bleeding copiously from a neck wound. Katie, the druggie tramp from hell, lies to the other girls, telling them that he tried to rape her without provocation. She emphasizes this to the smitten Debbie hoping to gain her support for the evil she has in mind. Katie plays on the scenario of the murder eight years ago, pointing out the similarities (the murderer made one of the girls tie up the other and then took the untied one upstairs and raped her before murdering them both), and that the killer was known to be a white male who would now be about Ed’s age and that he hadn’t been caught. She convinces the others, or at least Debbie, that Ed is the fugitive.
After taking her aside, Kate convinces Debbie that they should kill Ed because the most the police will be able to pin on him now is attempted kidnapping and trespassing and that he’ll come after them after serving his time. If they kill him, they’ll always be safe from him. Meanwhile, Ed is telling Ruth about himself, desperately, he’s got an inkling that she’s the only one with a grip on reality and is trying to humanize himself in her head so that she’ll be moved to intervene before things go too far. Kate and Debbie can hear them talking and make caustic comments. They send Ruthie to the car, supposedly to collect Katie’s cigarettes, then untie Ed and force him out the back of the house into the woods. Ruthie can’t find the pack, but tries the car again, realizes it wasn’t in park, and puts it in the right gear, so of course it starts right up. She runs back to the house and discovers the others gone, and the cigarettes under a coat on the sofa. Realizing what is going on she runs after the others.
Ed nearly escapes, twice. He knows what they’re planning and he’s desperate. For a while I thought that when Ruthie ran up to them, Debbie and Katie would accidentally shoot her thinking she was Ed, but that did not happen. However, Eli and Kim did mention in the Q&A session after the film that this was their original intent. They had certainly set the scene for it.
After catching up with them, an argument ensues and Ruth pleads with Debbie and Katie not to do this that she wouldn’t be able to live with it. Ed tries to escape again, and falls into a ravine, and ends up dead on the bottom. The girls make a pact to never reveal what has happened, remove all evidence that they ever met him or that he was ever in the cabin, and head back for civilization. After a bit of gloomy introspection, or what we certainly hope is introspection, they shove the experience aside and start talking about a party being thrown by another girl the following weekend.
During the Q&A, few good questions were actually asked. One of them was whether or not Ed was the killer. While the writer/directors stated that they did have an answer to that, they chose not to share it. Ali Humiston, who played Kate, says that her character had doubts about it after he was dead. James said that he’d decided for himself whether Ed was the fugitive or not, but didn’t share what he’d decided either. Personally, I don’t think he was. He’d have had to have been either phenomenally stupid or both brilliant and incredibly arrogant to have stuck around the area afterward, and he didn’t come across as either. Another question asked was how the actors got involved with the project. The three girls basically said they’d auditioned and got the part. Ali said that was a boring answer, but the only one she had. She showed the most personality of the three and was the least like her character (thank god for that), though we discovered in the bathroom later that the tattoo on her back was real. James decided to make a boring question more interesting. He claimed to have gone to Kim and Eli four years ago and to have asked them to write him a role where he got to work alone with three beautiful young women. That got a good laugh from everyone, and the girls actually blushed.
If you have a chance to see it, do. It’s yet another interesting side of James.
"As the lone supporting character, it can be argued that James Morrison has the film’s most pivotal role, and he adeptly shows off the conflicting sides of the potentially dangerous stranger." Warren Curry for Entertainment Insider
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