Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Justin Long, Gina Philips, Jonathan Breck, Eileen Brennan, Patricia Belcher|
|Producer:||Tom Luse, Barry Opper|
I made a last-minute decision to see this film, with no prior knowledge of the content except that it was some kind of supernatural thriller. don’t let my mistake be yours.
The film opens on a brother and sister, Darry and Trish (Justin Long, Gina Philips), driving home from college in a nicely-restored 1960 Chevy Impala. While they’re in the middle of a good-natured sibling rivalry argument, a beat-up old van-truck with a cryptic license plate attacks them from behind. The truck driver can’t be seen. This sequence reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s maiden feature, “Duel.”
After shaking off the truck, the pair later see that same truck parked behind a boarded-up church and the driver (face still not clearly visible) dumping a bundle that may be a human body down a large pipe that leads to the basement. The truck attacks again; after shaking it off a second time, Darry decides that they need to go back to the church and investigate. Trish objects, something to the effect that this is the turning point in bad movies and they’re making the wrong choice. But they go back anyhow. The imagery of a church with a broken cross and overrun by blackbirds is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” or something from Edgar Allen Poe. But it’s nothing compared to what Darry discovers in the basement.
There are several additional tributes to other films and some silly self-parody and other attempts at humor; but primarily this is a very negative creeper/slasher film in the “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th” category. And thanks to its opening-weekend box-office, it may become a new series. For the sake of those who want to see this film and be surprised, I won’t give anything else away except to warn you that the feeling of hopelessness that runs throughout is fully justified by the ending.
There’s extreme profanity, several murders, cannibalism, and a large helping of special-effects blood, gore and dismembered body parts. By identifying with the brother-and-sister central characters, we’re all made to share their despair.
Based on normal screenwriting rules, everything about this film is wrong. The bad guy is supposed to get all the breaks including unexpected help, supernatural or otherwise; that’s one way of raising the stakes so that when the good guys finally win, they’re perceived as greater heroes. Here, the good guys get the extra help; a psychic (Patricia Belcher) warns them what’s coming. But it’s all for naught. they’re up against a demonic being that can’t be killed or defeated; nothing they do will make any difference. They first get in harm’s way by trying, unsuccessfully, to help someone else; they persist; they manifest self-sacrifice; and their final reward is defeat. Lovely theme. The only way to make sense of how the story is written is to look at it with a twisted mind whereby the bad guy is really the good guy and vice versa; then, everything else falls into place.
Speaking of twisted minds, it’s sometimes said that only those with the most noble intentions have a right to speak to people for two hours in the dark (i.e., to be screenwriters or directors). In the real world, that saying is pure window dressing. Without presuming to judge another person’s heart, I should mention that the writer/director of this film served time for sexually molesting a 12-year-old actor in one of his previous horror films and videotaping the abuse. After being paroled, he went back to his chosen profession. On the set of his next horror film (produced by a Disney subsidiary), he was watched closely to make sure he didn’t harm anyone in the cast or crew. Am I the only one who thinks that there’s another issue here? Paroled felons are normally barred for life from owning a gun, regardless of whether their crimes were nonviolent (even former Vice President Agnew, still facing threats of assassination after his release, had to get special permission to own and carry a gun). Jimmy Hoffa, as a special condition of parole, had to forsake union organizing activity for the rest of his life. If supernatural slasher films with fatalist, bad-guy-wins themes are going to be made, wouldn’t it at least be sensible to bar certain people from making them? Just a thought.