Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
A bunch of old school friends are brought together by the death of one of their old college pals, and that person’s passing gives them an opportunity to head out to a cabin in the woods.
Yeah, it’s the premise of The Big Chill, which was one of the 1980s’ box-office touchstones and did good business with its soundtrack as well. Grown-ups back then latched onto that one big time, since it had a ton of nostalgia built in and the whole “lost youth/what have we done with our lives” theme going on. It gave em the feels.
From a drive-in standpoint, probably zero stars. The epitome of indoor bullstuff, as the boss would say.
Contrast that with the flick I recently watched and that I’m reviewing this week — 30 Miles From Nowhere from 2018.
In that one, a group of pals who went to college together, after hearing that a friend from their past had passed away, reunite for his memorial service and have a chance to bunk in a guest house in a secluded area where there’s well water contaminated with blood shooting out of the shower head, guts flying up out of the clogged garbage disposal and some psycho dogs running around.
See the difference?
A couple of the characters in 30 Miles From Nowhere even comment to the effect of:
“This is very Big Chill”
“Please, those people were like 100. “
“We’re like 100.”
These “friends,” as it turns out, former dorm mates of research psychologist Max, aren’t too thrilled about the reunion, get on each other’s nerves and didn’t seem to like the guy’s whose funeral they were attending THAT MUCH.
This “Kale Hall crew,” dubbed as such because that was the dorm they lived in when they all went to college together in Wisconsin, consists of Larry, Elaine, klutz-o Paul, Cassie and late-comers Jack and his girlfriend Amber.
There’s so much kvetching and complaining and banter among them that at various points you want them all to get mauled by the psycho dogs, thrown in a wood chipper, attacked by spiders, speared like a rotisserie chicken or made to listen to the current top Billboard hit as interpreted by a cadre of screeching weasels trapped in a rotating flange chamber. So in its own way, much like The Big Chill, the whining, pining characters in 30 Miles From Nowhere give the audience the feels as well.
The summoner of this group of potential middle-aged massacre meat is Max’s wife, Sylvia, played by Carrie Preston (“True Blood” and “The Good Wife”). She’s a quirky former documentary filmmaker with a hint of the Frances McDormand Fargo accent who discovered his body and now serves as the caregiver for Max’s demented mom as in, she has dementia. Sylvia apparently wasn’t left quite right after Max’s death and has some stuff going on as well, with a penchant for gathering up dead animals, putting them in a furry pile and then chopping them up with an axe out in the middle of the forest in the middle of the night.
The first night is debauchery and a touch of unease for the group as they simultaneously party, drink too much, renew old grievances and get creeped out by their rural Wisconsin surroundings. Then, Sylvia warns em that a storm’s going to roll in and they’re going to have to hunker down and maybe have to stay a mite longer.
Best Way to Get Rid of a Psycho Dog: For the first time in film history, a car panic alarm functions as intended, allowing Sylvia to drive away a psycho dog from her vehicle in the opening scene.
Best Indicator That You Shouldn’t Visit Your Old College Watering Hole: When Larry and Elaine ask for the varieties of tequila and cabernet the bar has, the bartender responds “The one with the worm in it,” and “The red one.”
Best Entrance: When late arrival Jack (Postell Pringle) finally shows up, he declares “Once you go Jack, you never go back,” and has brought wine, spray cheese, beef jerky and glow-in-the-dark condoms.
Best Example of a Creepy Host: Sylvia sets her guests up for unease right from the get-go: “Amazing what strain does to the brain.” And “God forbid we have a real emergency. We’d be decomposing by the time the cops get here.” And “The only killing we do here is the mercy kind.”
Best Way to Say “Peace Out”: Amber falls into Max’s grave at the funeral that was being held in a torrential storm and is sufficiently spooked that she wants to leave: “This is not rustic, Jack. This is survival.”
The encounters with fear in this one reminded me a lot of the original Vincent Price House on Haunted Hill in that there’s some mild ick, but not a lot of gore — blood fountains, scuttling bugs, bumps in the night, rumors of a disturbed patient of Max’s roaming around and a shadowy creep but a very meager body count when it’s all said and done.
Two and a half stars.
30 Miles From Nowhere is streaming on TubiTV, Peacock, Vudu and elsewhere or you can get the physical media.
Check it out!