I wanted to like this one. I really did.
When I heard that Tony Burgess, writer of Pontypool (as well as the novel on which the film was based, Pontypool Changes Everything) was back with a new independent Canadian horror effort called Ejecta (released theatrically in its country of origin last year but just making its way onto “home viewing platforms” here in the US within the last few months), and that it was going to star one of my all-time favorite Great White North actors, Julian Richings, I was stoked. And when I heard it was going to be about one man’s “possession” (for lack of a better term) by an unseen alien intelligence, I was even more stoked. After all, Burgess had pulled off the “off-camera monsters” bit so well with the just-mentioned earlier flick that I figured, hey, this must be a new sub-genre of his own creation that he is setting out to be the absolute lord and master of. Seriously — what could possibly go wrong?
Sadly, it turns out that the answer to that question is “a lot.”
Let’s start at the top, shall we, since it seems that’s where most of the problems with this one emanate (and, consequently, trickle down) from. Pontypool had the distinct advantage of being directed by Bruce McDonald, one of the most criminally-underappreciated cinematic auteurs of our time. Ejecta, on the other hand, was lensed by the tandem of Chad Archibald and Matt Wiele, and in between the constant back-and-forth shuffling from “found footage” horror to more conventional “omniscient camera” film-making, the two seem to lose any probably-flimsy-to-begin-with grasp they may have had on their material somewhere along the way. It’s probably not so much for a lack of trying as it an inherent lack of understanding as to how to pull it off, but having your heart in the right place just isn’t enough to salvage a movie most of the time.
Not that the material itself is all that strong, mind you. The story focuses on recluse-by-choice William Cassidy (Richings), who is losing his already-tenuous grasp on sanity as a result of constant “close encounters” of the most intimate kind — namely, the alien invader (or invaders) he’s being plagued by come right on into his body and mind and take over. Of course, people are skeptical of his claims, and that’s where documentary filmmaker Joe Sullivan (Adam Seybold) comes in. He’s on hand to catch one of these “visitations” with his handy HD videocam, but unfortunately he’s not the only person who thinks Cassidy is probably telling the truth — a mysterious quasi-governmental paramilitary force is also on hand to do what those sorts of outfits do, namely snatch the beleaguered “vessel” for this supposed extra-terrestrial “contact,” put him in front of their boss, Dr. Tobin (Lisa Houle, another Pontypool holdover), and extract the facts out of him by any means necessary.
Cue some torture and all that shit.
I dunno. Maybe in the hands of Bruce McDonald all this could have worked marginally better, but even then I think Ejecta would come up short in terms of delivering the scares. The “auditory evil” conceit worked much better the first time out, and rather than building upon his own foundation, Burgess’ script for this one feels like a textbook example of diminishing returns in action. The performers (including Burgess himself in a supporting role) don’t seem to buy into it much, either, with the exception of Richings, who’s the only member of the cast with the chops to transcend the inherent weakness of the material. I don’t want to accuse the rest of simplygoing through the motions, but — it feels like they’re simply going through the motions (particularly Houle, whose character should flat-out drip with menacing ill-intent, rather than come off as somebody who just read their lines off a cue card before sitting down).
To Archibald and Wiele’s credit, a number of their visual effects do work, particularly those that are heavily reliant upon “trippy” lighting, but all told the subtle nature of the terror at the heart of Ejecta (which is now streaming on Netflix as well as being available on Blu-ray and DVD from Shout! Factory) probably requires the deft touch a genre veteran to make it come anywhere close to working, and our (I’m assuming) youthful duo just aren’t up to the task at this stage in their careers.. I’m a huge supporter of the sort of “intelligent psychological horror” that Burgess seems to want to make his stock in trade, and of Canadian independent cinema in general, but at the end of the day this is a movie that I honesty can’t recommend to anyone.