Written by: Sam Hamm (teleplay), James Tiptree, Jr. (original short story)
Directed by: Joe Dante
Starring: Jason Priestley, Kerry Norton and Linda Darlow
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
The producers of Masters of Horror didnít mess with a good thing when it came to Joe Dante. Not only did they tap him for another episode after delivering the first seasonís best episode, but they re-paired him screenwriter Sam Hamm for another socially conscious film. Like Homecoming, The Screwfly Solution presents another endtimes scenario by way of socio-political commentary that doesnít end up being nearly as pointed as Danteís previous effort, but itís one of the better episodes of the second season all the same.
Instead of featuring the dead returning from their graves, The Screwfly Solution features your garden variety apocalyptic virus that compels violence in its victims. However, in this case, the apparent airborne virus only targets men, as a rash of brutal, misogynist femicide breaks out all over the world. A duo of scientists (Jason Priestley and Elliot Gould) are pressed into service by the government because theyíve developed ďthe screwfly solution,Ē a genetic enzyme that curbs the insect population. The two postulate that someone (or something) has managed to do the same thing to the human race, as the virus has been released as a means of extermination.
Screwfly is more vaguely political than Homecoming; the misogyny ends up being guided by a religious zealotry, so of course the screenplay canít help but make the token references to Islamic culture. Initially, it seems like the film might be set to draw some sort of parallel between American evangelism and fundamentalist Muslim culture, but any commentary is soft-pedaled when itís all just made a symptom of a virus. As such, Screwfly becomes a pretty standard apocalyptic thriller, albeit one thatís pretty sharp when itís making some admittedly on-the-nose points about how shitty men can be towards women. In this case, it leads to deranged and haunting violence, as men are casually compelled to kill the female population, who are discarded like so much trash, essentially.
It results in a rather eerie conception of the apocalypse, too. Screwfly Solution ends up being one of those slice-of-life deals where the fallout is funneled through a small set of characters. At first, it looks to be Priestly and Gould tag-teaming against the end of the world as they attempt to drum up solutions to stave off the end. The search is short-lived, though, as the two come to a rather sobering conclusion: thereís little hope, and, unless they can find a way to chemically castrate men at an alarming rate, mankind is going to wipe itself out in a hurry. As the virus creeps northward and this inevitability sets in, the scene shifts to focus on Priestleyís wife (Kerry Norton) and daughter (Brenna OíBrien), both of whom end up on the run when the epidemic lands in their hometown. This leads to the filmís most intense, harrowing sequence, as Priestley rushes home to rescue them, and the ambiguity surrounding his own possible infection is a captivating angle.
But then the film shifts yet again and takes an even weirder turn. Most of these Masters of Horror episodes have been about right in terms of length, but this is the rare one that could probably benefit from being extended to a full-blown feature. The characters it introduces are solid and affable, particularly Priestley and his family, and Gould of course provides a sturdy, good-hearted presence. I just wish weíd been able to spend a little bit more time with them and allow the film to breathe a little bit more; when a film shifts gears as much as The Screwfly Solution does, it comes off as a bit herky-jerky with such a short run-time. What we have, though, is a well-done and surprisingly straight-laced effort from Dante, whose wry humor is mostly muted (save for one kind of cheeky moment of reflexivity when a bunch of the fanatics are reveling in violent programming).
Instead, this is one of Danteís most grim and savage films that paints a bleak, desolate portrait of a species that needs to be eradicated. While it isnít nearly as smart or perceptive as Homecoming, itís good evidence that Joe Dante was one of the masters that still had plenty of gas left in the tank during this series. The atmosphere is dreary, the pulses of violence stark and sobering, and the weirdness well-spun into a cool little yarn that might renege a bit on its socio-political aspirations but relays an ominous warning all the same. As always, Anchor Bay delivered a nice DVD for The Screwfly Solution; Dante actually shot this film digitally, which usually sets off a lot of warning bells, but itís a nice looking film thatís done justice on the disc. The usual set of extras accompany the film: a behind-the-scenes look, a feature dedicated to the special effects, and an audio commentary with Dante and Hamm. Just as Danteís first season episode could comfortably rest alongside the rest of his canon on your shelf, so too can The Screwfly Solution. Buy it!
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