Thursday, July 16, 2020

victim of circumstance

Something I didn't know about Tremors was that the filmmakers made an effort to let the audience think a person was doing the killing early on. The graboid POV shots when Rhonda gets in her truck and Old Fred's death scene were added later when the studio decided to advertise the film specifically as a monster movie. In a way, if the studio hadn't jumped in, this could play like a slasher film almost. Except that most of the cast are adults, and most of them are quite capable.


I also hadn't really noticed (and learned from IMDb trivia) that aside from two interiors--Walter's store and the Gummers' basement (and inside a couple pickups)--every scene takes place outside, which fits with our leads. They sleep outside, even though they clearly have a trailer; we see them exit it after the septic tank mishap, freshly showered and heading out of town. Whether monster movie or slasher film, or whatever other subgenre of horror you want to call it, this is a not only a daylight horror--which people have gotten really excited about recently, for example, with Midsommar--but also an outdoor horror film, which is unique in there being no particularly obvious refuge.

In that way, the film is actually rather primitive in its setup. Ancient monsters awaken in this little valley in California
(later films in the franchise, not to mention the short-lived television series, suggest Perfection wasn't the first place they woke, and was certainly not the only, but this film as a standalone offers a localized event)
with 14 full-time residents
(Valentine McKee, Earl Bassett, Walter Chang, Miguel Sanchez, Edgar Deems, Nestor Cunningham, Nancy & Mindy Sterngood, Burt & Heather Gummer, Melvin Plugg & (presumably) Melvin's absentee parents
(the tiny shack Melvin climbs onto at one point doesn't even have a floor, so I assume he does not live a) there or necessarily b) alone. Except, there doesn't seem to be any house near it. For that matter, I'm not sure where Walter lives either. There are a couple trailers past the water tower that I don't think we ever see up close. And a small house behind Nancy and Mindy's house.)
and Old Fred. 
Plus visiting grad student Rhonda LeBeck (wouldn't be in the resident count) and Jim & Megan Wallace (who are still building their house so wouldn't be counted on that sign yet) and the highway workers, and they are isolated from the rest of the world in such a way that the valley might as well be the whole world. And, their limited technology (but for some guns and relatively easily disabled trucks) means they've got to rely on their wits more than anything.

In fact, other than Walter--and, of course, Val and Earl--I am not sure what any of the residents of Perfection do for a living. I mean, I guess Old Fred has his sheep. I don't think we learn that Miguel had a ranch until the third film. After the events of the first film, I believe Nancy makes graboid souvenirs, Melvin grows up to deal in local real estate, but everyone else? No idea.

And, it just occurred to me after that one graboid kills itself by smashing headfirst into the concrete trench that the townsfolk could have made a run for it by following that trench. But, that's a little like the train problem in Groundhog Day, especially among those who argue (often in the comments on the deleted scenes I put up on YouTube) about whether Phil could have gotten out of town ahead of the blizzard. Because, the thing is with both, that is not the point. Phil struggling to escape is secondary to Phil struggling to live. And, the Perfectionists having to survive, oddly enough, is secondary to having to work together, and especially for Val and Earl to step up and lead them all. This isn't a movie about these townsfolk managing to survive. It is a movie about Val and Earl specifically, with a little Rhonda thrown in. We open on them, we follow them through the early scenes, and their story ends up being like a lot of small town stories (nevermind the monster)--they think they want something bigger and better, until, you know, something happens and they learn to appreciate what they've got.
(At least in the bounds of this film on its own. The franchise would have them getting famous, Earl heading down to Mexico when graboids show up there, and Val went off to marry Rhonda and is never seen in the franchise again (except in a pilot for a second television series that never got picked up). Taken on its own...)
This film offers something generic in that small town escape plot, but its familiarity also makes it an easy fit for a movie that plays as something very different with the monsters. We have seen characters like Val and Earl many times before, stuck in the small town and needing something else. It is an easy way to introduce leads that are going to be very busy with plot soon after.

Same with Val's vocal pronouncement of what the new, female grad student will be like. He's a dreamer just as much as he's a slacker. Except, he's also not quite either. He may still have pictures of women he's been with before--like Tammy Lynn Baxter--but his relationship with Earl, and their various jobs, their usefulness all around the valley, feels like a lived in thing. He only plays a bit like a slacker because he's unhappy about his circumstance. He doesn't understand his own value.

So, in that way, I guess this movie has the same plot as Groundhog Day. Except Ned Ryerson is a giant worm with tentacles coming out of his mouth...

Which isn't that much of a stretch.

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