Review: 'Paintball'

Astute horror fans will recognize the Spanish production company Filmax as the outfit that gave us [REC], The Kovax Box, that "6 Films to Keep You Awake" series, and a handful of collaborations with American filmmaker Brian Yuzna. (That partnership yielded titles like Rottweiler, Werewolf Hunter: The Legend of Romasanta, and Beyond Re-Animator.) So obviously we're dealing with an outfit that really likes its horror flicks, and that may help to explain why I'm probably being a little kinder to their newest offering. It's a basic slasher-type horror flick called Paintball, and yes, the film is precisely what you think it is.

We open with a military man who promises the finest paintball war games under the sun. This basic set-up leads directly to the inside of a truck, in which we find all sorts of broadly colorful weekend warriors. They've all signed on for a paintball experience with true "realism," but (of course) things are about to get a whole lot rougher than anyone imagined. After a good deal of wandering around, the squad gets attacked with live ammunition by an unseen enemy, and this is where the fun begins. The survivors run off in different directions, and (logically) we're treated to a lengthy series in which one person is left alone ... only to be gorily dispatched by a ruthless killer. There are a few mild surprises related to the madman's motives, but since they come mostly in Act III (by far the flick's best section), I'll leave those for the horror fans to discover.

Unfortunately, first-timers Mario Schoendorff (writer) and Daniel Benmayor (director) often seem unsure of what sort of horror flick they're making. The camera swoops and flows through the proceedings as if we're watching a "first person" adventure in which the camera IS a character. Slowly the viewer realizes that this is not the case, which makes the camera's over-kinetic lens a distracting component at best. On the other hand, the killer does wear a nifty pair of night vision goggles, which means that most of the flick's nastier dispatches arrive in a creepy sort of "predator-vision." It's a simple trick, but I liked it. The script is just smart enough to keep track of which characters haven't been killed off yet, but it's not clever enough to make its late-arriving batch of social commentary make much sense.

Once Paintball's pacing issues are bypassed (and once a few of the more annoying characters are destroyed), the flick manages to find some energy and confidence in its final act. Whether or not the big showdown is worth the relatively dry set-up is something a viewer can decide for himself, but I'd call Paintball one-third dull, one-third amusing, and (thankfully) one-third rough and vicious. It's hardly the most electric horror import to arrive from Spain lately, but hey, you can't get a [REC] every time out.

[Paintball is currently playing on IFC On Demand. Check your local cable boxes, or just check with your DVD store in a few months.]