USA, 1999.  Rated R.  91 minutes.

Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Bob Gunton, Leon, Carlos Jacott, David McConnell, Oscar Rowland, and a large number of flying rodents
Writer: John Logan
Music: Graeme Revell
Cinematographer: George Mooradian
Producer: Bradley Jenkel & Louise Rosner
Director: Louis Morneau


Grade: A+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

Note: In the interest of accuracy and fairness, AboutFilm.Com feels obliged to report that Carlo has not actually viewed this film and has pretty much no idea what he's talking about.

David Caruso in Session 9
Dina Meyer.

They will suck you dry!

No, not the concession stand prices. The bats!

Robert Altman was originally tabbed to helm this project, but he quit eight days into shooting over creative differences with Lou Diamond Phillips (La Dolce Vita). Altman demanded that Destination Films replace Diamond Phillips, but the studio adamantly refused, reportedly because executives doubted that they could find a proven box office draw like Diamond Phillips on short notice. "We have a business to run, and Lou is money in the bank," one executive was quoted as saying. "How much money did Short Cuts make?"
David Caruso in Session 9
Dina Meyer again.

In stepped auteur Louis Morneau.  Certainly, given the staggering financial and critical success of Carnosaur 2, Morneau need never have directed again, but a true artist does not work by choice. He works because he must, and Morneau had been searching for a project that would allow him not only to explore further the limits of avant-garde neo-realist cinema, but also to answer the age-old question, "Where do you hide when the dark is alive?"
David Caruso in Session 9
Dina Meyer in Bats.

Where, indeed?  In composing this tagline, it cannot have escaped the notice of clever screenwriter John Logan that movies are themselves viewed in the dark. Sure, you can set a horror film on a spaceship, but how many audience members can truly identify with Sigourney Weaver or Tom Skerritt in Alien? The film doesn't even take place in the present day. No, Logan was looking for something more viscerally immediate. When Diamond Phillips and Dina Meyer are stumbling around in the dark with no flashlights or popcorn, audiences cannot help but project a little bit of themselves onto the screen. And even more terrifyingly, Logan has set his epic tale in October--the same month as the film's release! Coincidence? No. Genius! Logan and Morneau have deftly broken down the "fourth wall" between film and audience to achieve maximum terror.

Morneau eschews the traditional gadgets and gimmickry that plague cinema today. Sure, the CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were impressive, but the whole work was too glossy and pre-packaged. Not so with Bats. Instead, Morneau seeks a home video-like aesthetic in order to evoke the uncompromising realism usually found only in groundbreaking television shows like Cops.

David Caruso in Session 9
Dina Meyer is in

Morneau understands that an animatronic flying rodent is not nearly as terrifying as the suggestion of an animatronic flying rodent. Thus, he portrays the bats impressionistically, in the manner of a Van Gogh or a Monet. Why use inevitably fake-looking special effects when a few dribbles and splotches of ink directly onto the celluloid will do? The dark, shapeless forms are brilliant in their simplicity. (Not to mention the added horrors these do-it-yourself Rorshach tests will unleash within the viewers' psyches!)
David Caruso in Session 9
Have we mentioned Dina


As you might expect from the high-powered cast, the actors do not disappoint. Diamond Phillips delivers a riveting, adrenaline-juiced performance as the local sheriff, but he is at his best in the poignant quiet moments, particularly when he discovers the carcass of his missing pet hamster deep in the bats' lair. Dina Meyer (Starship Troopers), in an impressive display of physical sacrifice not seen since Robert De Niro put on 50 pounds during the filming of Raging Bull, has dyed her hair blond for her role. Making for a welcome break from the recent trend towards casting ridiculously young actresses as respected scientists, the mature Meyer makes a convincing and assured zoologist, lending a quiet dignity to the scene where she removes her bra and uses it fight off an enraged blood-sucking hellbeast, of the order chiropterror!

You may think you've seen plenty of monsters-run-amok horror movies, but Bats breaks the mold. The originality of the non-linear narration, the agitated cinematography, and the cutting dialogue all make Bats the best horror movie since The Exorcist. Believe me, the swarms of bats are not the least bit reminiscent of the swarms of killer bees in the far inferior Swarm. Believe me, the fact that the bats are genetically altered is not the least bit reminiscent of the genetically altered sharks in the far inferior Deep Blue Sea. And believe me, the climactic final scene in which Diamond Phillips kills all the bats by singing La Bamba at the top of his lungs is not the least bit reminiscent of the conclusion of Mars Attacks! or any of Diamond Phillips' early films. But the scene in which Meyer turns the camera on herself, illuminates her face with a flashlight, and tearfully confesses that she is the one to blame for everything is the defining moment, and makes Bats a film you will not soon forget.

Review © October 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1999 by Dimension Films. All Rights Reserved.

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