Thursday, December 6, 2012

THE LIFE ZONE (Review)

THE LIFE ZONE (2011)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Rod Weber
Written by Ken Del Vecchio

Starring Robert Loggia, Lindsey Haun, Angela Little, Blanche Baker, Nina Transfeld
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Abortion is one of the most divisive debates in North American culture. 

It's a complex and sensitive topic that brings into conflict some of the most important issues of the day: science, religion, gender, and reproductive freedoms. In the right hands, these cultural tensions could be the perfect ground for a truly shocking and socially gut-wrenching horror film. Along comes The Life Zone, a highly controversial film about three kidnapped women forced to give birth against their will. Despite marketing itself as a horror movie (think Saw or Human Centipede with a religious bent), The Life Zone's marketing material hides its true face: a poorly written, pro-life Christian polemic with one of the most bizarre and offensive twist-endings I've ever seen.  

Nina Transfeld discovers she needs a higher thread count

As the film opens, three female strangers wake up together in a large room with no escape. The women (played respectively by Lindsey Huan, Nina Transfeld, and former Playboy model Angela Little), we learn, are pregnant. The last thing they remember is going into clinics to receive abortions. Now, they are the captives of a mysterious man on a TV (Robert Loggia) and a pro-life OB/GYN (Dr. Wise played by Blanche Baker). For the next nine months, they will be forced to bring their babies to term. Locked in a room and unable to determine their location, the women have also been implanted with electronic devices that will incapacitate them if they attempt to escape. Regardless of their choices or beliefs, they will be forced to give birth.

The Life Zone is not a good movie. Please do not be mislead by the marketing or by the faint praise I'm about to give it. This movie is an insult to both the debate over abortion and to the technical craft of storytelling and character development, but I have to admit that the premise is a fascinating twist on a modern horror formula. Instead of kidnapping victims and making them commit heinous acts upon themselves or others in order to survive, these women have been kidnapped so they can be kept in good health and do what most of us would agree is something that comes naturally -- giving birth. For some reason, that subversion of their free will to reproductive biology is theoretically more terrifying than any torturous puzzle Jigsaw could come up with. It's at this point, however, that The Life Zone ceases to have anything worthwhile to offer.

"I'm not Charlie, and you sure as hell ain't my angels."
Like the Left Behind films, The Life Zone is not really a movie. It's a political argument pretending to be a story. The three women are incredibly weak characters who are reduced to talking heads for a sexist representation of women and pro-choice talking points. If we can parse some kind of message about women from these characters, it's that women are either sinful yet repentant children led astray, duplicitous and mercenary beauties, or bitter and careless girls who reject the maternal and feminine. Sure, horror movies are known for their stereotypes, but the only thing horrific about The Life Zone is its evocation of so many right-wing depictions and straw-women arguments used to prop up anti-abortion arguments.

Even worse, there's absolutely nothing interesting or scary or entertaining about this movie. I can't think of anyone who would call 80 minutes of characters discussing abortion in overwrought, unnaturally phrased dialogue a good time. Most of the time, the women sit around eating while watching one-sided movies and tinpot documentaries about abortion that take on increasingly pro-life conclusions. Yes, you too get to experience the mind-numbing boredom of enduring right-wing, Christian propaganda alongside the characters. Even when The Life Zone attempts to be scary in nightmare dream sequences that the women share, these sequences are tainted with a vague racism and xenophobia. These abortion-seeking women dream of swarming insects, Nazi imagery, and violent animals that is inter-spliced with footage of African tribes people and a Chinese dragon celebration. Uh...ok. Later, the women share a dream about men telling them to abort while women scream at them to abort in foreign languages. Yeah.

The joys of forced child birth
The real kicker comes at the end when director Weber and writer Del Vecchio lob a real stinker of a twist that even career suicide specialist M. Night Shyamalan wouldn't touch with a ten-foot-pole. The twist is neither coherent nor marked by any signposts outside of a pre-existing Christian context, and it only serves to drive home the movie's insultingly reductive pro-life ideology

HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILERS

After all three women go into simultaneous labour, Staci (Huan) -- the one woman who has fought most consistently against the pro-life ideology of her captors -- refuses to accept her babies while the other mothers give in to their maternal inclinations. The other mothers literally disappear from the movie in maternal bliss leaving our poor pro-choice heroine to discover that she's somehow become pregnant again. Turns out, as Robert Loggia explains in a ham-fisted exposition dump, Staci and Dr. Wise have been in hell all along. Wait for it: Robert Loggia is the devil! In hell, Staci and the OB/GYN will be forced to live out an eternity of constant birth and delivery because Staci had an abortion. Dr. Wise, on the other hand, is damned for committing suicide after her marriage fell apart because she was infertile. So what's the message here? The only good way to live is to have babies. If you avoid motherhood or make the choice to have an abortion, you're damned to hell. If you can't have a child, your life is pretty much over as no one will love you and your husband and parents will consider your life a failure. But if motherhood is supposed to be such a divine thing, why is it used as a punishment in hell? The thrust of the film is as muddled and clunky as its script, but one thing is clear: The Life Zone considers women and women's issues about as important and complex as what comes out of their vaginas.

No matter what side of the abortion debate you find yourself, you'll be hardup to find anything entertaining, scary, or edifying from this movie's clattering script of mind-numbing propaganda and fear-mongering twists.

The Life Zone is now available on VOD and will hit DVD shelves December 11th.

2 comments:

  1. I saw this on netflix and tried to watch it i got to the part when the ob/gyn was telling the women why they were there and the women are telling each other what they remember last and i had to turn it off the acting was pretty bad and the women were annoying reading this made me even less interested

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  2. all in all this movie wasnt horrible...the plot of it is kind of smart. but they acting is very bad..maybe should have gone with a different cast. the ending is very hard to catch onto. when the man on the tv screen tells Dr. Wish accompanied by one of the kinapped women that she is pregnant again. which is when she notices that they both failed to realize that they were already dead. Dr, Wish from commiting suicide & one of the women (Stacey) died from the birth, and at the end referces to it as "life in hell" when stacey shortly finds out that she is once again pregnant.

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