By BRYAN YENTZ
Starring Bill Sage, Sabine Gadecki, Rory Culkin and (not really) Dolph Lundgren
Written by Tim Ryan
Directed by Trevor Ryan
Raving rednecks, douche bags with a death sentence, alien shenanigans and a stoner named “Possum” (who prefers dropping the silent “o”). You’d think such a disparate concoction would deliver an outlandishly entertaining creature feature, or at the very least, that of a bloody amusing slasher. You’d think. Instead, WELCOME TO WILLITS is a low-budget misfire that wastes its potentially promising premise on terribly obnoxious characters, awful pacing and some of the worst practical/special effects that’s ever been produced under the IFC line.
In the only two roles worth mentioning beyond a single-word description, Bill Sage and Sabine Gadecki (who definitely give their all) play Brock and Peggy, a couple of meth-heads that run a small drug racket in (you guessed it) Willits. If their druggie lives weren’t bad and pockmarked enough, Brock also suffers from PTSD, the result of a possible alien abduction and subsequent torture. Back on Earth, Brock continues to create and peddle his own brand of methamphetamine that may or may not bridge our world to that of the extraterrestrials. Paranoid that the “greys” will return, Brock and Peggy continue to use his own special stash to the point that they begin confusing humans with that of the otherworldly kind.
On the converging side of the spectrum: a bunch of asshole college kids. While gathering some goods at the local gas station, they not only run into Brock’s niece (who spends most of the movie locked in a closet), but the aforementioned stoner played by Rory Culkin. The punchable cast of hip-kids do what all idiots in a backwoods slasher do and drive to the spot in the woods that literally says (on a fallen sign) that trespassers will be killed. Seeing the warning (but not heeding it, of course), the yolo generation of hipsters make camp. And subsequently, begin to die for it.
Some time back, Welcome to Willits was featured in a RUE MORGUE magazine article about short films given the feature-length treatment after gaining notoriety on the festival circuit. The strange thing being that the short (whose additional title is “AFTER SUNDOWN”) is infinitely better than this 1.5 hour mishmash of incomplete ideas. The short had a grimy seriousness, excellent practical effects and an X-FILES-esque alien design (not to mention the always fantastic Mark Webber). I’m not sure what happened in the translation from short to feature, but somewhere down the line, the cinematic adaptation lost all of the creativity and character that its progenitor contained. Truly unfortunate considering what the miniature film accomplished in less than 15 minutes, that this big brother couldn’t do in 90.
What’s worse, where the director (Trevor Ryan) understood the narrative they were trying push across in the short, this film is scatterbrained. For one, it’s actually boring. Very boring. The alien component of the story is totally lost as there are only a few vague (and repetitive) flashbacks that depict Brock being tortured (but not to the grisly extent the short committed) amidst some ooze, blobs and eye-straining effects. That, and when the intergalactic beings do rear their head within the woodland, they don’t do anything and always—ALWAYS—look terrible. In an immense visual downgrade from the short, the “monstrous” suits look to have been purchased at a bargain bin and then injected with Botox—as they can only move their lips a little (while the teeth constantly remain clenched). Throw in some spectacularly bad blur effects (especially during a fully-clothed sex scene) that seem to have been done by someone just learning After Effects and you have one of the worst sci-fi films of the last year.
And I use that term “sci-fi” loosely as the majority of this movie is spent not knowing what it even wants to be. For a healthy portion of the flick, the viewer is stuck with whiny kids and their pretentious babble as, one after the other, they meander off to God knows where so that they can be easily picked off. When that’s not putting you to sleep, there’s also a faux buddy-cop show with Dolph Lundgren that keeps playing. For some reason. And when that’s not tracking across a television screen, our hillbilly lovers Brock and Peggy are either rambling in sometimes improvised moments of attempted comedy, or killing the campers (believing them to be evil alien overlords). Hell, even Rory Culkin’s Possum, who’s established as a surprisingly humorous character with questionable motives and a knowledge of the Willits’ UFOs, is quickly dispatched early on—which begs the question, why even have the character in the movie if nothing worthwhile is going to be done with his set up?
As Welcome to Willits chugs along at a broken pace, the plot holes widen, character choices make even less sense and worst of all, the lynchpin of conflict (is Brock crazy or are the aliens real?) is totally forgone by the climax/epilogue—as if the filmmakers legitimately forgot they once had a movie that was supposed to be about aliens (before it devolved into a sub-standard hillbilly slasher). Then again, it might have accomplished one thing no other film of this kind has done (not that they would have wanted to): mercy-kill someone you love via curb stomping. . . Well, porch stomping, but you catch my drift. It’s as stupidly unnecessary as it sounds. . . Especially when the ‘stompee’ is the one that wants it to happen. . . ? . . . Wasn’t this supposed to be about aliens?
I took a trip, was welcomed to Willits and all I got was this negative review. Bill Sage and Sabine Gadecki definitely deserve props for their committed performances herein, but everything else about this flop should be learned from. It’s great that filmmakers can not only gain infamy for their smaller efforts, but potentially craft a feature that’s larger in scope, ambition and ingenuity. However, if it loses its soul along the way; all of that money, marketing and popularity is for naught. Bigger doesn’t always mean better and WELCOME TO WILLITS is case in point.