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Uncaged

My friends, we have not only come to the conclusion of my exploration of the films of Dick Maas, but the culmination. His first film THE LIFT showed me that the Dutch writer/director has a strong shooting style, a taste for deadpan absurdity, and a knack for quirky character detail. AMSTERDAMNED applies that to a more ambitious I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this story (action-packed scuba slasher), and even his 2001 American THE LIFT remake DOWN is trashy, audacious fun. (I also checked out his Halloween episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which you can read about on Patreon if you’re interested.) Some joy was dampened by the amount of screen time spent on dull procedural business in the ’80s ones, but I liked them all. I’m a fan now.

Let me bring up a completely unrelated director for a second. When I reviewed EXTREME JUSTICE recently I wrote about how Mark L. Lester doesn’t get enough credit for having directed CLASS OF 1984, FIRESTARTER, COMMANDO and SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO. And yet I (rightly or not) have little faith that Lester’s 21st century movies like PTERODACTYL, POSEIDON REX or DRAGONS OF CAMELOT would be worth watching, because I assume they’re not coming from the same place. I had similar feelings when I heard that Maas made a killer lion movie in 2016.

But – holy shit! Maas’ most recent movie – which I found as UNCAGED on Shudder, but it has apparently also been released as PREY – is a new instant favorite. It has most of what I loved about his other films, but way more of it. It’s loaded with quirky characters (both the leads and incidentals) who say and do funny things within the context of a story that is knowingly ridiculous but unashamed to take itself seriously. And unlike those other ones it never slows down for long because it has a high, unforgiving body count and provocatively over-the-top gore to attend to. UNCAGED is a total blast.

(Thank you Martijn for trying to tell me in the comments for THE LIFT. You were right!)

The movie has hints of JAWS, serial killer thrillers and more straightforward monster movies about huge creatures biting people’s heads off. It’s based on the absurd premise that a lion – one that looks about as big as a horse – is sneaking around Amsterdam eating people.

After a spectacular opening where a whole family gets eaten we meet our hero, zoo veterinarian Lizzy Storm (Sophie van Winden, BROTHERS), and I was instantly won over by her attitude and dry humor. Her doofus TV news cameraman currently-off-again boyfriend Dave (Julian Looman) barges in while she has her arm inside an alligator’s mouth, and when he asks about what she’s up to she casually pulls out a handful of human fingers. She tells her assistant, “It’s like my purse. Can never find anything.”

Lizzy’s expertise is called upon by Inspector Olaf Brinkers (Rienus Krul) because they worked together that one time when they found “those red pandas in the water.” She spent some time in Africa and, as he feared, feels very confident that the mauled remains he shows her are from a lion and not, like, wild dogs or violent gangs.

There’s a bit of teasing but they quickly start showing the lion, which usually appears to be a digital creation. I’ve found reviews complaining about the FX, which are certainly not photorealistic, but much more appealing than the SyFy sort of thing I expected. Maybe its the animatronic shots, but sometimes he has kind of a herky jerky stop motion vibe. I was never embarrassed for him. The attack scenes are well staged, playful and even mischievous. He invades everywhere from people’s homes to city tunnels to a light rail car. He does not discriminate between assholes that are fun to watch get mauled (the businessmen on the golf course – shout out to NINJA III: THE DOMINATION), characters we like (the delivery driver we meet in a cute little lamb curry vignette) and complete innocents (more than one small child is devoured!).

There are many long, thick trails of blood and strewn body parts. And there’s laugh out loud black humor like a scene where a whole squad of police and vigilantes manage to massacre themselves with their own traps, or when the sanitation worker tries to warn the streetsweeper about the severed head in the gutter ahead.

There’s also some humor in the authorities’ attempts to keep the lion a secret, and then in their overconfidence about their ability to handle it. The police chief hires his arrogant big game hunter cousin (Victor Löw) to lead the hunt, and after he gets eaten concedes that “in hindsight” maybe it was a bad idea. Then they agree to fly in Lizzy’s recommendation, her alcoholic ex-boyfriend Jack (Mark Frost, FAUST, MAYHEM), not knowing he had one leg eaten by a lion in Africa so he drives around in an awesome wheelchair with Wall-E style tank treads that can go up stairs.

It’s kind of a cliche that Jack is some kind of eccentric genius who smells the poop for clues and stuff, but it’s really funny to see him roll into where the cousin got eaten and immediately nitpick the height and placement of the bait. Dave fears him getting in the way of his relationship with Lizzy, and instead is instantly charmed by him even though he gets drunk and fires a gun in a crowded restaurant while telling a story.

To show I have some type of standards I will mention a few minor complaints about the movie. One, there are maybe three little parts where the (modern, not retro) electronic score (by Maas, as usual) sounds a little on the cheesy Full Moon side. But most of it works.

Two, there’s a joke early on where Dave is confronted by a woman and her boyfriend because, during the two weeks he was broken up with Lizzy, he apparently scammed this woman into doing a porn casting video. If I understand correctly, he pretended to be a porn producer so he could videotape her naked, and it’s supposed to show what a rascal he is – Lizzy is mad, but gets over it, more like it’s an embarrassing indiscretion than a criminal act of sexual coercion. Since this reminds me of a notorious serial rapist in Seattle a few years ago who got women to have sex with him as an “audition” for non-existent porn, I did not find this to be a cute character detail.

So I’ll pretend that scene never happened. A more standard story weakness is that Lizzy’s animal expertise sort of gets abandoned and she just becomes the one who’s helping Jack try to kill it. But at least she doesn’t get sidelined – she repeatedly chooses to place herself in danger to help, going John McClane on the motherfucker. And it’s sweet that the three points of the love triangle all work together to save the day.

There’s something that really appeals to me about this basic story format of inserting an outlandish element of chaos into a heightened depiction of society and letting it savagely fuck shit up. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly satire, but it feels kind of cathartic. It’s a much more straight-faced movie than MARS ATTACKS!, but I think there’s a bit of a kinship there. We meet all these different people in various walks of life, all stuck on their own particular bullshit, and get to laugh or wince (with a smile) as it’s interrupted (and torn to pieces) by the extreme what-the-fuckness of a god damn giant lion.

Maas has a beautiful premise and, contrary to the laziness we associate with the modern genre of the CG monster attack movie, he loads it with more humorous situations, characters and bodily desecrations than any of his other movies I’ve seen. I liked THE LIFT, AMSTERDAMNED and DOWN, but UNCAGED is now my favorite Dick Maas movie. I ain’t lion, it’s a roaring good time, king of the streaming horror jungle, well worth the scratch, Dick Maas can hold his head up with pride, etc.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 8th, 2020 at 11:40 am and is filed under Horror, Monster, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Uncaged”

  1. Good to hear that it’s better than its reputation. Despite not being a full blown Maas fan and being lukewarm on SINT, I was worried that this would’ve been the work of a talented director losing his touch with age, since this one seemed to be mostly hated.

    So will we get a review of the FLODDER trilogy? (Just kidding. That shit is really unwatchable, although I have a soft spot for the finale of part 3.)

  2. Dammit, I knew I should have watched this last night. Fuck whatever I was about to do, I’m firing this one up right now.

  3. Thanks Vern, I’ve rented it yesterday after reading your enthusiastic review and had a great evening. It’s great to watch something in this genre that’s not cynical or absolutely predictable – a movie with a limited budget but so much creativity and love for genre-filmmaking.

  4. This was just what I needed. It was the rare horror movie that approached the two-hour mark and didn’t lag and still felt lean and mean. Having lovable, interesting characters who cared about each other definitely helped, but it was also well paced, funny, and kept murdering small children, which I am always a fan of. It reminded me a lot of ALLIGATOR with its semi-satirical focus on a large predator single-handedly bringing a major city to its knees, and that’s a compliment because I love ALLIGATOR. I want to say this is Dick Maas’ best but I’d need to see AMSTERDAMNED again to be sure.

    Vern, I hope you review SAINT come Christmas time, because it has a lot of the same energy as UNCAGED. My man Dick is in his sixties and still bringing it. You love to see it.

  5. This is PREY on Prime in the UK, although what reason they had for switching out one generic title for another is unclear. Similarly, while the English dubbing gave me a happy glow, I didn’t see the necessity to dub Mark Frost, other than to add to the Euro-vibe.

    Mr. M was bound to like it, as Frost’s great hunter in the all-terrain wheelchair, has the kind of name last seen attached to a riverboat gambler on the Mississippi. And in truth, I would’ve been happier if he’d shown up 15 minutes earlier. But that’s a minor quibble, and I guess it would’ve undermined some other fun moments. This one has respect for the form and delivers all the right beats at the right moments.

    SPOILER ALERT!
    I particularly liked the way this set up the well sign-posted “surprise” ending by traveling from the morgue to the ambulance to the crash, an elegant reversal of the usual path.

  6. Well, the original title is PROOI, which is dutch for PREY, but I think there are already 72 other horror movies with that title, so I guess that’s why they went with UNCAGED in some territories.

  7. Thanks, CJ. That’s clear, but there’s hardly a shortage of movies called UNCAGED either.

  8. True, but it’s more an action movie title, so it has this going for it. At least they didn’t put a REDEMPTION or something like that in it.

  9. My favourite pointlessly changed title remains the German title for DEAD AGAIN (which I still haven’t seen): SCHATTEN DER VERGANGENHEIT. What?

  10. Don’t get me started on German titles. We have a bunch of seriously great ones, but oh brother, can German distributors come up with crap titles!

    Never saw DEAD AGAIN, in fact, I think this might be the first time I ever heard of it for some reason, but the German SHADOWS OF THE PAST doesn’t sound too bad, judging by the synopsis. Although it is pretty generic.

  11. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 9th, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    Let me just say that if a review of SINT is being planned, it should be done on 5 December, not Christmas time. It’s Sinterklaas, not Santa Claus! They’re both based on the same historical figure but you know… if you want to be accurate.

    As for UNCAGED, I’ve never seen it. The quality of your average Dutch film is pretty pathetic and so I dismissed this when it came out for looking cheap and silly, but I should have given Dick Maas some credit. DE LIFT and AMSTERDAMNED are classics – based on those two films alone I should have given this a fair chance. This review has shown me the error of my ways. I will go, and I will watch this.

  12. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 9th, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    Also, CJ – don’t talk shit about FLODDER! Well, the first one anyway. I have no idea if it holds up today or if it would hold interest for a foreign audience, but I saw it as a kid and it made a huge impression on me. For being funny, yes, but mostly because of the sexy stuff. It was a big cultural thing too – the line “Buurman, wat doet u nu?” still comes up every now and then even today in national pop culture stuff and Tatjana was simply an icon. Our own Dutch Pamela Anderson.

    I will say Part 2 was not nearly as much fun and Part 3 (where they recast Huub Stapel’s part) I never even gave a shot. Still directed by Maas though, so maybe I should see that as well.

  13. Nah, I don’t know. Not judging others for they stuff they laugh about, but even more edgy teenage me thought that the Flodders were too shitty people to laugh at or with them. But as I said above, the finale of part 3 is fun.

  14. Gene Shalit would be so proud of those lion puns, as are we all.

  15. So you’re saying he would be full of pride?

  16. Dida – No, but I’d like to. Have you seen it? Is it good?

  17. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 22nd, 2020 at 12:47 am

    So far I have not gotten hold of PROOI yet, but I did find a cheap bluray of QUIZ, which I also hadn’t seen before. Saw it the other night and I can confirm it’s a super enjoyable little high concept thriller (game show host is forced to participate in a maniac’s quiz in order to save the lives of his wife and daughter). It mostly takes place in once location but it’s a tight 85 minutes long, the exact right length for something like this. There’s plenty of Maas’ trademark humor and a few bits of violence, nothing too graphic or crazy, but it does the job. I had a blast with it anyways, and I should not have dismissed it so easily when it came out. The quality of Dutch films in general is (sadly) nothing to be proud of, but Dick Maas is one of the good ones for sure.

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