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“What you want Natalie?”
“To drink and fight!”
“What you need Natalie?”
“To fuck all night!”
– The Lonely Island featuring Natalie Portman, “Natalie’s Rap”
You can’t tailor-make a cult favorite. It never works. Cult favorites are made when the unwashed masses play the most indisputable role in the intersection of art and commerce.
An artist can pour their heart and soul into a work of genius, only for it to be lost forever due to a lack of resources and promotion. A corporate entity can pour endless resources into a pedantic work meant to placate the largest audience possible, only for that work to fail – not that the corporate entity cares; they’ve already moved onto the next expensive, pedantic work.
But cult favorites are when the work is divorced from that mainstream appeal, yet resonates so strongly with a particular niche audience that it takes on a life of its own. Any audience can like or dislike a work; a cult audience redefines a work.
I can’t say for sure whether Spare Parts will become a cult favorite, but I’m sure its grindhouse excess will find an audience one way or another. What it lacks in Neil Marshall-level high-exploit (a la Doomsday) it makes up for stretching its clearly-low budget to its limits with crimson spurts and macho posturing.
None of the creators – director Andrew Thomas Hunt, co-writer David Murdoch, and producer/co-writer Svet Rouskov – are qualified to make any grand statements about feminism, so they wisely stick to making a late-night special about four chicks who kick ass. Hell, the film-makers barely seem to care about the names of their characters, let alone what they do when they’re not trying to kill one another.
I’ll say this for the movie: I was hooked from the opening. After a quick prelude in which prosthetically-legged woman collects a wheelbarrow full of severed right arms, we’re thrown into the gaping maw of one of our heroines. Our central quartet of ladies are a punk band known as Ms. 45 (I see what you did there, film-makers). In case that’s not clear, they just so happen to start the movie singing a song that has them shouting “Ms! Forty! Five!” over and over to their rowdy dive bar audience. Some horny douche jumps on stage, they kick his ass, a riot breaks out, the ladies have to hit the road.
Not a bad start.
Since the movie does a poor job of telling us who’s who, I’ll let you know that the band is led by promiscuous bad-girl vocalist Amy (Michelle Argyris), her guitarist older sister Emma (Emily Alatalo) – who dresses pretty prim for a punk band, and whose boyfriend may or may not be fucking Amy) – blonde lesbian drummer Cassy (Kiriana Stanton), and co-vocalist Jill (Chelsea Muirhead), the Asian one who’s both Cassy’s pregnant partner – the riot really kicks off when Cassy bloodies the guy who manhandles Jill – and the one least-likely to see the end credits.
They hit the road, but their van is felled by one of those barbed wire traps that are always found in flicks like The Hills Have Eyes and the Wrong Turn series. The leering sheriff and tow truck driver take them to a junkyard and ask them to wait in the office, at which point Amy asks the others, “Have you never seen a horror movie?”
Apparently, they haven’t, for they’re soon hit with carbon monoxide inside the office, that somehow doesn’t kill them, but just knocks them out (Emma was outside, so she gets the ol’ chloroform rag treatment). When they wake, they find their right arms have been surgically removed so as to be replaced with interchangeable metallic weapons when they fight in Grid Iron – the Thunderdome-esque arena in the back of the junkyard – for the entertainment of a cult and the gods said cult insists demand blood.
That old story.
I know I must have mentioned this before, but as a professional critic, one of the biggest misconceptions about our profession is that we don’t know how to have fun. Whether Brad Bird with Ratatouille or M. Night Shyamalan with Lady in the Water, it’s thought that we cling so tightly to impossibly high standards of snobbery that we outright fear the possibility that we might not enjoy something that appeals to the plebes.
Nothing could be further from the truth: we love popcorn entertainment as much as the next person. But we have to balance our diets, lest we suffer the entertainment equivalent to clogged arteries and onset diabetes. Besides, even aiming at a low target can miss the mark.
Spare Parts lives in the tradition of the original low-budget Mad Max and the aforementioned Doomsday. It obviously doesn’t have the multi-million-dollar budget of the latter, but it also lacks the ingenuity of the former. That doesn’t make it worthless, that just means that I’ve seen better.
This movie works a way to show how a cheap, Canadian-shot slasher flick can pull off an impressive series of gladiatorial matches without the budget of a Ridley Scott epic. It’s a showcase for sequences in which someone loses a fight by having their face ground off by the spinning rear wheel of a motorcycle. It’s a movie with four female leads whose lives (and bodies) are in constant danger, but in which none of them are raped. It’s a movie in which every inevitable plot point is telegraphed, yet it’s still possible to have fun watching it.
And it’s 91 minutes long, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Robert Rodriguez sold Grindhouse to the world with the image of a woman with a machine gun for a leg. The creators of Spare Parts to that image and ran with it. Where they wound up isn’t the worst place in the world. Unless, of course, you’re one of the main characters.
Spare Parts is scheduled to stream until the 21st of February as part of SF Indie Fest 2021.
The film runs 1 hour 31 minutes.
For information on how to view this and other films, please visit the festival’s official site here.
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