Swamp Thing 3.4: Love and Death

So the first thing that Swamp Thing wants you to know about swamps is that swamps are terrible.

Coptering into the movie on a super shitty afternoon, which communicates to me that they could only afford to rent the helicopter for one day and couldn’t wait for the rain to stop, here comes Ms. Adrienne Barbeau, all dressed up in a suit and a disdainful expression.

She’s flying in from Washington as part of a government operation that’s so secret, they won’t even tell the audience which branch they work for. There’s a scientist around here somewhere, under all the cloud cover, who insists on doing top-secret voodoo science in a rusty old whack shack out on the far edge of the forbidden zone, surrounded by two feet of water as far as the eye can see, and a lot of drippy, decaying junk that apparently we’re supposed to think of as “the environment” these days.

As far as I can tell, the scientist is supposed to stay locked up in the house all the time and recombine DNA or whatever; the one time we see him go outside for a minute, he gets screamed at for breaking protocol. So why does he need to have his lab in the middle of the least convenient location in the continental US? People say that remote work is the new normal but look what happens.

As usual with movie onboarding, people have not given Alice Cable any advance information on her assignment, including where it is, what they’re doing, what her role is supposed to be, who to report to, or whether the Dr. Holland that she’s working with is male, female or, in this case, one of each.

She’s not dressed for the swamps — I’m not sure what the correct dress code is for people in the swamp science industry, but a skirt and heels is not it — and she doesn’t appear to have any luggage, which is fine, because there’s no hotel room to unpack it in.

She’ll be wearing different clothes a few scenes from now, but I have no idea how she manages it; the operation appears to be based out of an abandoned swampside summer camp that’s been steadily succumbing to the elements for decades. This place was born haunted. As far as I can tell, there’s no structure in the entire crumbling complex that even has glass in the windows.

“Holland insisted on building it all out here,” Cable is told upon landing. “He said this is where the life is.” That’s why you don’t allow mad scientists to plan clandestine summer resorts.

Then Charlie tells her, “One of those ‘life forms’ nailed the guy you’re replacing.” This feels like stop-press intel that I would have wanted to know before I got on the helicopter. Cable clearly didn’t get a lot of information during the informational interview.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the ooze, there’s a group of paramilitary day players skulking in the undergrowth. This is the advance guard for a tribe of barbarous hostiles, intent on overthrowing Dr. Holland’s regime and stealing his treasure.

The leader gestures to his men, and what happens next is an adorable close-order display of unnecessary camouflage, as each member of the group individually pops out of the bushes or from underneath a pile of wet leaves, as the camera tracks across the scene. There’s no particular reason why they need to blend in so badly; nobody’s around to see them. It just makes them feel better, that’s all.

Also meanwhile, on a much sunnier day, a lone agent sloshes around in the swamp somewhere, and if you can’t guess what’s going to happen to him, then I’ll just point out that he’s wearing a red shirt.

He comes across the Others, who are all breaking protocol and hanging around in clumps as a subset of them do something villainous. You don’t really notice what they’re doing if you’re new to the movie, but if you’ve watched the movie fifteen times and you’re taking screenshots of it for your stupid blog, then you may notice that a few of them are fucking with the Sector 3 sensor array that the good guys have erected on a skinny pole with a metal ball at the top of it.

This is exactly the kind of thing that the agent is watching out for, but it doesn’t seem to make him any happier.

Because then a couple of bad guys splosh in from the sidelines with an even bigger gun, taking him by surprise. I’m not sure how it’s possible to sneak up silently on somebody when you’re all walking around in knee-high water, but maybe this is some kind of swamp ninja mercenary tactic that I’m not aware of.

So the real heartbreak of the scene is that these government people think that they have a security system, with redshirt patrols and sensor arrays and laser-induced subsonic field generators, and it never occurred to them that the enemy could overwhelm their defenses by tiptoeing and having more dudes.

And then there’s one of those great moments in motion picture history that you hear about: the bad guys’ leader reaches into his pocket and takes out a poisonous snake, and the snake bites the agent, and the agent dies.

I have a lot of questions about this snake, the primary one being: How do you keep a loose snake in your pocket?

I have other questions, like why do these people carry around so many guns and then kill people with snake bites, but I think the first question is the most pressing.

This appears to be one of those movies where the bad guys are magical serial killers, who are always in exactly the right place at the right time. They get all the breaks. They’ve thought everything out a dozen steps ahead, and the good guys always fall into their traps, no matter how scatterbrained they might be. These guys probably had “Step 4: Kill Guy with Pocket Snake” written down in a notebook.

So the weird thing is that the movie is expecting us to fall in love with the swamp. That’s Cable’s whole character arc: she arrives muttering about not having any good restaurants in the area, and by the end of the film, she’s been awakened to the beauty of this hazardous habitat, where if you don’t get attacked by a wild animal on your own, someone else will go and find one, and shove it at your face.

The swamp is clearly trying to kill these people, one way or another, and it is outrageously successful. Every single character in the movie dies at least once, and none of this would happen if they’d set up their secret lab in a nondescript suburban office park like normal people. This may be the only horror movie ever made where you’re expected to fall in love with the haunted house.

Tomorrow:
3.5: Premium Cable


Footnotes:

If you want a fun spatial orientation game, watch the sequence where the agent sees the bad guys, and try to figure out how many bad guys there are, and where they’re standing. Everywhere that the guy tries to run, more people keep popping out from behind trees. This operation must be incredibly well funded.

Tomorrow:
3.5: Premium Cable

Chapters

— Danny Horn

21 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.4: Love and Death

  1. Does this scene give us our first look at Dick Durock in this movie? That looks like Dick riding in the front of the rowboat and climbing into the helicopter.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. When the armed dudes initially pop out of hiding, it’s like a cartoon. I swear one of the guys came out from behind a tree that was far thinner than he was.

    I’m upset that the film violated one of the basic tenets of drama–Chekhov’s Quicksand. The threat of quicksand introduced in act 1 must swallow someone by act 3. They warn Alice of the dangers of quicksand while escorting her to the shack, so for the entire film I was expecting at some point someone would get sucked in. With all the chase and fight scenes, it seemed inevitable. But no one ever did. Surely one of the goons could have gone out that way. Or doing the climactic battle, Swamp Thing could have used his oneness with the swamp to lead Arcane Pig-Weasel to his doom that way. Such a missed opportunity.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Oooh, good point. Damn you, Bond Overlords! Have you no respect for the rules of drama? *shakes fist at the sky in impotent rage*

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The movie I most want to see right now is a documentary on who the hell built an entire summer camp here on the edge of Swamp Grossness, No, Seriously, This Place Is Disgusting; Oh My God, What The Hell Was That?? It SLITHERED.

    Also, what the hell is that last screenshot?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that last shot is from an OK-GO music video, but I forget which song. Their videos are always amazing in terms of vision and perspective. As I recall, the background characters pop up after being hidden, much like Arcane’s goons in the swamp.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The band are dressed in ghillie suits; depending on the environment in which one wishes to be concealed, the suits are available in several camouflages. ($69.99 on Amazon…)

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Three moments in this sequence took me out of the movie.

    1. The text narration on the screen at the beginning is rambling and vague, very poorly written.
    2. Cable asks where the nearest good restaurant is, and even though the audience is likely to assume they’re within a couple of hundred miles of Antoine’s in New Orleans the guy says “Back in Washington!”
    3. They land, she looks at the swamp she’s supposed to walk into, and we get a crystal clear look at the fancy heels she’s wearing.

    None of those is a very serious problem. If you’re part of the original audience, you know going in that it’s a movie called “Swamp Thing,” that it’s playing in a theater that’s doing well if it gets to book a Chuck Norris movie, and that the leads are Adrienne Barbeau and Louis Jourdan, fine actors but nobody’s first choice for an action picture. So you know it’s going to be a bit of a bumpy road. Still, having three of those in the first fiver minutes is an ill omen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Her heels took me out of it as well. But it does show how unprepared she is for the swamp even though she’s a smart, successful government agent(?) scientist(?)–I’ve already forgotten if we found exactly what her job is and why she’s there.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I think we’re supposed to think Cable is altogether unaware of what she’s getting into. Several times in the movie she has to discard everything she thinks she knows and start from zero. That’s her signature thing. So it would make sense that they show her doing that right at the beginning.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. It could work if her character was pulled in at the last minute and sent off without a proper briefing or “by the way, wear boots.” Or she’s a number cruncher who’s not down with field work.

        But it sounds like they just went “Government drone, here’s a suit and women wear heels so put these on” and that was it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. “Cable asks where the nearest good restaurant is, and even though the audience is likely to assume they’re within a couple of hundred miles of Antoine’s in New Orleans the guy says ‘Back in Washington!’”

      Yes, even if this was filmed before Cajun food went mainstream, New Orleans always had famous restaurants. The guy’s a Philistine. It’s also another hint that nobody set foot in Louisiana.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Did they ever specify the swamp is in Louisiana? The comic books do, but doesn’t the opening text just indicate it’s an unmapped swamp? The movie was filmed in South Carolina, so maybe DC really is the closest good restaurant!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You have a point! I’m not sure if they say specifically that we’re in Louisiana or not.
        Virginia and the Carolinas have good restaurants that have been around for a long time, though. I just think he’s a fan of his government agency’s commissary and wouldn’t know a good alligator sauce piquante if it, well, bit him.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “Every single character in the movie dies at least once…”
    Arcane’s assistants Mimi and Karen get through unscathed I think. They’re not main characters but they do have speaking parts. Mimi’s character is developed enough that we know she’s a sociopath who idolizes her boss and is probably in love with him, which is more than we know about most of the characters.

    In defense of the swamp, many places on earth try to kill you–deserts, polar regions, Australia.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I can buy the idea of killing the agent with a snakebite if they’d put in a line about wanting the death to look natural for some reason.

    But the visual of the cheap-Rambo-cosplay guy pulling his snake out of his pants is… disturbing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Q. Is that a snake in your pocket?
    A. Yes, I’m unhappy to see you.

    “which branch they work for”
    Important Affairs Division, no doubt.

    The name’s Bond. Completion Bond.

    Liked by 3 people

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