Thursday, October 17, 2013

Barrio Tales (2012): SNICK for adults

Barrio Tales (2012)
dir: Jarret Tarnol

For a certain subsection of my age group, especially those immediately younger than I am, there was a very defining and important Saturday night television block called SNICK.  While the line up changed, its influence stuck around. The first block was anchored with the continuation of Clarissa Explains it All and The Ren & Stimpy Show, both of which skewed slightly older than Nick, but younger than MTV.  In between was Roundhouse and the seeming inspiration for this movie, Are You Afraid of the Dark?  Snick was a ritual when you were 11 or under.  Even if you were having a party, you still watched it with friends because you shouldn't be out at night in the cold snow.

3 of the 4 SNICK shows had commitment to a certain tonality.  It was campy, winking, somewhat post-modern, and always light.  Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a kiddie version of Tales from the Crypt, as it was an anthology horror story series told by teenagers around a campfire.  It didn't feature themes of hardcore sex, drug use, or out and outright violence, but it did have campy creepy horror stories that were easy to laugh off the boogie monster.  Are You Afraid of the Dark? maintained the tonality of television that felt like it was made by kids for kids.  It wasn't a cheap look or feel, but always had that sort of ultra fake-y sense.

It seems fitting that it would inspire Barrio Tales, especially when you realize that one of the writers and producers of Barrio Tales, Brent Tarnol, had appeared as a guest on All That, a later SNICK show that ran concurrently with Are You Afraid of the Dark? And, if SNICK's tonality didn't inspire Barrio Tales, then Barrio Tales certain stole enough from the shows.

Barrio Tales plays like a racially motivated, and rather adult, version of Are You Afraid of the Dark?.  The framing device is 2 white kids from the suburbs are looking for drugs, and cross the Mexican border to score something.  They're looking for Pedro, but meet this Mexican dude who has them sit around a campfire to wait for Pedro, and tells them horror stories about racial inequalities.

The first story concerns a maid named Maria who was recently hired by a rich family to take care of the house, do the laundry, make sandwiches, whatever.  The son of the family comes home early to find his parents have gone to Turks & Caicos for vacation, so he invites three of his druggy friends over.  Three of the four characters are rich bitch caricatures and are assholes to the Maria, to the point of sexual harassment, while the fourth is nice and sympathetic.  As this is a horror movie, the play gets a little rough and there is much revenge to be had.

The second story concerns a taco truck where there is a secret ingredient that makes the tacos tastes so good.  I'm not giving you the spoiler alert because that's how the whole story is introduced before the title even gets put on screen.  The first thing that happens is that the kids wandering around the neighborhood realize there are a bunch of kidnappings and disappearances around the neighborhood. If this were a better movie, we would be fixated on the taco truck and how it's doing what it's doing.  But, instead, we're laden with the mystery crime solvers and their usual camp value.

The third is the most racially motivated of the three.  It concerns a group of rednecks who kidnap a bunch of migrant workers and torture, rape, and kill them. Until one guy escapes and then exacts bloody revenge on the rednecks.  It's totally steeped in stereotypes, as a SNICK venture would be, but it is also mildly gruesome, and has a lot of sex in it.

The main problem with the movie is that it is a SNICK movie for the people who outgrew SNICK.  It's campy, jovial, obvious, and silly.  But, on the other hand, there are drugs galore, brutal murders, rape, and excessively foul language that seem to belie its kiddie television nature.  I'd almost say that was a commentary on the state of the kids today.  Kids in the inner city are subjected to drugs and murder every day.  Just listen to the This American Life segment on a high school in inner city Chicago.  It's far more soul searing than watching a bunch of idiots go killing each other.

In light of that, Barrio Tales is a relatively light-hearted half-horror movie that is alternately gruesome and slightly brutal.  Barrio Tales is an after-school horror movie where the message is "treat other races well."  It has a very VERY select audience given its mixed tonality.  I didn't connect with it, but I can imagine that there might be some who would.  A very few some, but some nonetheless.:

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