Cookers screens at Screamfest LA on October 16th, 2005.
The winner of four awards at the Milan International Film Festival – Best Film, Best Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Music, “Cookers” has to be one of the more original horror movies I’ve seen in quite a while. An exploration of the horror of methamphetamine addiction or crystal meth and the even more horrific effects it can have on those who use it. With a cast of only three, Hector (Brad Hunt), his girlfriend, Dorena (Cyia Batten) and Hector’s old friend, Merle (Patrick McGaw), the story is simple enough. After stealing an alarming amount of the main ingredients to make crystal meth from their former employer, Hector and Dorena head for an abandoned and very isolated farmhouse near the area where Hector and Merle grew up. While Dorena cooks up the drugs as fast as she can – she is the “cooker” – Hector fortifies the old house as though it were Fort Knox, blacking out the windows, padlocking the front door and Merle runs errands to town for food and supplies. But as Hector plans to never let his guard down and therefore snorts and injects the meth almost constantly to stay “alert”, the paranoia sets in and the film becomes an examination of what is real and what is not. They have no diversions other than their own drugged-fueled imaginations and that definitely makes things even dicier.
Merle tells Hector and Dorena a creepy story about a little girl and her father, who lived in a “nearby county”, but one wonders if he’s talking about the actual house they are in, and soon after, Hector and Dorena start seeing things. Figures half-viewed in doorways, an old woman in the woods, an upstairs window which won’t stay closed, a ghostly white little girl – and Hector begins to really freak out. He blames Merle for somehow letting people know where the group is hiding and when he actually sees someone out in the woods, he and Merle go “hunting” and things really get bad.
This movie plays out like cinema verite, like a documentary. The cinematography is all sickly yellow inside the house and autumnal outside. And the various, and I DO mean various, camera angles and tricks make the film almost as disorienting as if one were on meth themselves. Also, if I hadn’t known the movie was shot around Oxnard, California, I would have sworn it was shot in Tennessee or some other Southern state – the actors have the “look” and the accents down but not overdone and the location is perfect. The house is almost a fourth character as the three people hiding out in it allow its history, its atmosphere to bring them to their breaking points. And it IS a creepy house.
Writer Jeff Ritchie, who used to work as a narcotics cop in his home state of Kansas, where he says, “that’s where a lot of “Cookers” story came from. Kansas used to be the number-two or -three state for methamphetamine production, though it’s gone down since then”, has delivered a story that really plays with the viewer’s mind. Are these real ghosts the three are seeing or simply side effects of their drugged-cooked brains? It is a frightening film for just that reason – what IS real versus what your mind makes you THINK is real. But if you go into “Cookers” expecting gore or guts or nudity, forget it. This is a film about the effects of drug addiction, pure and simple. It just so happens to be set in a possibly haunted house.
And if you want to know what meth can do to you, THIS is the film to keep THAT monkey forever off of your back. Just the physical toll the drug takes on these three people is scary enough without the possibility of ghosts added into the mixture. Definitely different and highly recommended.