Bats (1999)

Where can you hide?

Writer: John Logan
Director: Louis Morneau

The pitch for Bats could have been: “Plucky female scientist and local sheriff fight to save a small town from killer mutant bats created by evil government scientists”. It sounds like something to have playing in the background of a ’70s bad taste party – yet amazingly Bats was made fairly recently in 1999. Even more amazingly, it’s just about watchable.

As fits such a traditional story the film opens in traditional style: a young couple in a car at night. They hear strange noises and pretty soon begin the first phase of becoming bat guanao. Although the scene as written on the page must have looked pretty desperate, Louis Morneau actually makes it genuinely creepy by his direction.

That’s what saves Bats from becoming an instant frisbee, the direction. Instead of a full on gore-fest we get rapid cuts, confused scenes and brief glimpses of the carnage taking place. It works to create a surprising degree of tension. Morneau clearly knows the genre (the movie theatre in town is showing Nosferatu!) and seems to have carefully avoided the 1970s-slasher style of direction. The result is, at least at first, an entertaining film.

Some decent acting also helps, especially Lou Diamond Phillips who wonderfully underplays the laconic, slow speaking yet intelligent sheriff. Dina Meyer gives a serviceable performance as the heroine. Less impressive are Bob Gunton who is understandably puzzled what to do with his stereotypical amoral scientist and Leon (Jimmy Sands) whose character is only there to deliver funny lines (“I don’t like anything moving higher up the food chain than me”).

Effects? Well, when we do see the bats clearly, the CGI/model work is gorgeous. But then I like bats.

So for a while I really thought Bats might turn into an unexpected gem. Unfortunately there’s only so much you can do with such a hackneyed old premise. The script (by John Logan, who wrote the awful ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’) fails to deliver any new twists and instead follows the predictable genre route. There are a few nice set piece scenes, but by the time of the final confrontation the gloss of Morneau’s direction had long worn off.

Even the best direction is unlikely to rescue a poor script. Morneau has done his best and – against the odds – turned a dreadful script into a watchable film.