The Choke (DVD)

Sorry, I had something in my throat there.

Meet the Choke, the hottest up-and-coming rock band on the scene. But all is not going well on the night of their biggest gig so far. The guitarist (Jason McKee) is missing. The bassist (Brooke Bailey) has an odd fascination with death. No one gets along with the short-tempered drummer (Tom Olson). The pretty boy singer (Sean Cook) has got so many women after him that it’s straining his relationship with his long-suffering girlfriend (Wonder Russell, The Cutter). Add to the mix a sleazy club owner (Andrew Parker) and his sex-obsessed former cheerleader lover (Bee Simonds). Capturing all this on video is a would-be documentary filmmaker (Sam Prudhomme), and lurking in the shadows is a mysterious homeless man (David Abdallah) talking to himself about his “redemption.”

When the band can’t perform and the beer runs out, the crowds disperse. This leaves the above characters alone in the club, a former meat-packing plant. Two of them discover a dead body, horribly mutilated. Then the doors are locked, trapping everyone inside. So they all brilliantly decide to split up and search the place and, yep, they all start getting killed one by one. Is the killer one of them, or is there someone else locked in with them? And will anyone survive to see the dawn?

As far as horror-slasher-whodunits go, The Choke is strictly by the numbers. Somehow, this works both for and against the film. There’s very little here horror junkies haven’t already seen. On the other hand, that familiarity is almost comforting. The creators aren’t trying to generate raw, nail-biting suspense. They’re more interested in taking the audience on a wild ride. Expect generous amounts of comedy and even a little bit of romance in between the maniacal slayings.

What The Choke gets right:
• Gallons of blood.
• The requisite (and creepy) “girl blindfolded and tied to a chair” scene.
• The Fredric Wertham–style “injury to the eye” motif.
• The “Romero,” in which the characters, after barricading themselves into a central location, feel boredom start to set in. This then leads to character development and interaction.
• The nightclub owner’s super-sexy pickup line. You’ll know it when you hear it.

When The Choke needs a choke chain:
• Characters constantly splitting up or running off to be alone. Have they never seen Scream? Or any horror movie, for that matter?
• The Choke is the hottest rock act around, and we never once hear any of their songs? I get that it’s a low-budget movie and all, but if it’s about a band, shouldn’t we hear their music?
• Is the big twist at the end a little too predictable? Telegraphed a little too far in advance perhaps?

What else? Although the cast tends to overdo it at times, the actors know their parts and play them well. Wonder Russell is, by far, the best of the lot here. She starts out as a shy, innocent girl, who then finds enough inner strength to stand up for herself. Tom Olson is also one to watch. He seems to be channeling Jason Lee at times, making the most of his sarcastic, angry character.

The filmmakers make the most of the setting, as the characters explore long, dark hallways, big rooms with rusty metal walls, and the nightclub areas with brightly spray-painted décor. The various chases, stalkings, and slaughterings all have plenty of energy in them, thanks to the cast’s enthusiasm and the creativity of director Juan A. Mas and cowriters Jessica Dolan and Susannah Lowber. So even though there’s not a lot of originality here, there are a lot of laughs and excitement, and that makes up for quite a few shortcomings.

Visual quality here is great, with a sharp, clean picture, rich colors, and deep black levels. The 5.1 audio is a cut above the 2.0 track, but neither has significant flaws. The excellent commentary track with the director, writers, and actors, reveals all the low-budget and time-saving tricks used in creating the movie. Also, they’re not above poking fun at the final product, providing plenty of additional laughs. On the downside, the “featurette” is actually the faux documentary footage from the movie edited together into an actual faux documentary. For aspiring editors, this could make for a nice little intellectual exercise, showing how a film can be completely re-interpreted. For the rest of us, though, it’s just a rehash of the entire movie. A few trailers round out the extras. (Warning: the trailer for The Choke gives away the ending, so don’t watch it first.)

Okay, so the diehard slasher movie fans will want to know if there’s any nudity. Leaving aside for the moment any discussion about whether it’s necessary to plot, I’ll reveal (heh, heh) that there’s just one skin scene. It’s quick, and you only get the slightest glimpse of the good stuff. On the other hand, someone on the commentary makes the statement that the movie is a tribute to beautiful women, so there are plenty of luscious outfits on these lovely ladies. But, again, we really should have a nice long talk about whether any of this is necessary to the plot.

Quick, someone give this movie the Heimlich! Its face is turning blue! Okay, now I’m done making “choke” jokes.

The Verdict

Not guilty, but just barely.

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