Continuing to catch up on my straight-to-vid slasher
I don't know if this is the worst one yet, but it has to be a serious
contender. It has a pretty good ending, but that's nothing unexpected or
original, so the film's only real strength consists of exactly one good idea:
the murderer does not actually kill many of his victims. They are mental
patients who have been institutionalized for phobias, and the murderer uses
their own fears to create situations which trick the victims into killing
Against that one strength, let us review the
evidence of the film's many weaknesses:
(1) It starts with the dreaded "ten years earlier" prologue. Any horror film
writer who uses this gimmick now, after God knows how many previous uses have
exhausted it, should have his status as a writer permanently revoked in a
ceremony like the opening of "Branded," where the screenwriter stands in front
of his peers while his pencil is broken over the knee of the senior writer in
(2) It's bad enough that the prologue cliché exists at all but, as it always
does, it reveals the identity of the insane murderer before the damned story
even begins, even though that identity is the central mystery of the present-day
story. Well, let's see ... a young brother and sister watch their parents
slaughtered in the prologue. Obviously, they are both traumatized, and one of
them must be the insane boogeyman/murderer when the story jumps forward to the
present. If this were not true, the incident would have no bearing on the modern
story. We can see that the sister is not the murderer. Meanwhile the brother
mysteriously disappears to San Francisco, claiming to have a job interview one
day after he is released from the booby hatch. Gee ... I wonder who the killer
could be ...
(3) After showing us immediately who the killer must be, the script then
offers a series of lame red herrings in which various false suspects act as
creepy and demented as possible. (Until they are killed of course.)
(4) Here's my favorite plot element. After the murder ten years ago, the
brother was institutionalized, while the sister continued to live in the outside
world. On the first night that the brother is back, the sister has a really bad
dream, and she decides that she needs to receive the same treatment in the same
institution - for that matter in the same room - that did such a great job of
curing her brother.
- Ten years on her own, surviving quite nicely.
- Plus one bad dream when the appearance of her brother causes her to
re-experience her childhood trauma.
- Equals institutionalization in a maximum security mental facility.
When she gets to said institution, she is escorted to her brother's old room,
where the painting on the wall shows the two of them, as children, being scared
out of their wits. It looks like it was painted by someone who had just read an
H.P. Lovecraft story on acid. She finds nothing unusual about it. "Leave it up,"
she tells the compassionate shrink who thoughtfully left a grotesque, diabolical
painting of a childhood trauma on the wall for a person being treated for the
psychological repercussions of the very incident portrayed in the painting.
(5) The prime directive of grade-B horror movie characters is always in
force. B Horror Prime states that if there is something that represents a danger
to individuals and would be better faced by a group working together, the group
must split up and each of them must walk down a separate spooky, unlit corridor.
It's the law.
As the thrill-a-minute, pot-smokin' generation of today might say if they
were characters in a bad 90s comedy, "Dude, this movie is bogus."
The IMDb score is bogus as well. It has been artificially inflated by
ballot-stuffing. If you take out the 26 10s, the average score is 4.5, which is
exactly what I would have guessed, and the most common score is "1."
Chrissy Griffith has two topless scenes, shown in
these film clips. Neither
really offers a look at her face and her breasts together (could be a double I
guess, but who cares?), and neither is pleasant to watch.
- In the first she looks at herself in the mirror, disgusted by her flab,
then throws up. (She's thin as a rail. She's a mental patient,
institutionalized for her fear of gaining weight.)
- In the second, she has sex with another patient. This might be pleasant
to watch if it were not intercut with a nasty murder in the next room.
Michael Graziadei (his last name means "thank God") shows his butt in the
second scene. Here are the film clips.
Gone Baby Gone
There is no nudity in this film, but I want to devote a bit of time to it
because it is very much worth watching, and I don't get to recommend that many
films with enthusiasm.
Gone Baby Gone, representing Ben Affleck's debut as a
writer/director, is a complex and morally ambiguous police procedural adapted
from Affleck's favorite book and located in the city where he grew up. He made
a good choice to deal with material he reveres and to write about an
environment he understands thoroughly, namely working class Boston.
Affleck's brother Casey and Michelle Monaghan play private detectives named
Patrick and Angie, people who can sometimes accomplish what the police cannot
because they only take work in the neighborhood where they grew up, and they
stay out of the way of high-profile investigations. They have some connection
to just about everyone in their bailiwick, and many people will tell them
things that they will not tell the police.
Despite their lightweight experience, Patrick and Angie they are enlisted to
supplement the police investigation of a missing three-year-old. They don't even
want the case, but they manage to surprise the experienced police detectives by
providing some valuable assistance almost immediately, and they are reeled in.
The film has an unusual and intricate structure. After about an hour, the
case ends ... unhappily ... and the detective makes the usual voice-over
summation of how the girl was just another forgotten person in a forgotten world
and so forth. It seems to be the end of story, it feels like the end of the
movie, and if you are not watching the time you will be edging toward the
But the film refuses to end. Patrick gets involved in another
case peripheral to the first one. Another child is missing, and one of
Patrick's informants leads him to a place where he sees some of the suspects
from the investigation of the missing girl. Patrick dutifully informs the
police officers he worked with on the little girl's case, and between them
they bring down the baddies, not without considerable cost. One of the cops is
killed, and Patrick shoots an unarmed defenseless child molester in the back
of the head, something he regrets, but is widely praised for.
"Why is this
film still running," you may think?
A very good reason.
As Patrick and the surviving cop get drunk and discuss what transpired when
they took down the baddies, the cop lets something slip in his drunken
meanderings. It's not something earth-shattering, but it convinces Patrick to
re-open his closed investigation of the little girl's case because it bothers
him that the apparently upright and compassionate cop had told him a significant
lie about something in the case. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent
that the detectives did not succeed quite as well as they thought, and it dawns
on them that they may have been pushed into the case in part because they were
lightweights, not in spite of it. As Patrick digs deeper and deeper, he finds
more and more lies, and discovers that he was really nowhere near as smart as he
thought he was. Patrick and Michelle finally solve the case for real and the
film ends again at the 90 minute mark.
And then, just as you expect the credits to start rolling, it starts again.
What the hell?
There is one more big surprise. Very, very big.
That intriguing plot structure alone is enough to make Gone Baby Gone an
absorbing movie, but it's not what elevates it to the level of art. That comes
at the end when the two detectives argue over what to do about everything they
have found. They are both good people. It is clearly established that they are
the sympathetic characters and in love with one another. Yet they are
diametrically opposed about how to deal with the evidence they have uncovered.
Each believes that his/her position is morally correct, and there is no room for
compromise. In the end Patrick makes the decision his way. Not only does it come
at great personal cost, but he will go to his grave uncertain whether it was
And there the movie finally ends. All the veils are finally removed,
but having all the information does not mean we are automatically able to
distinguish right from wrong, because our world is a complicated place.
is the kind of thoughtful movie that was popular three decades ago, the kind
which intends to drive the audience from from the theater to a coffee shop
where they argue passionately about whether the "hero" did the right things at
various times, especially at the end.
The writing is outstanding in many ways, but it has one glaring weakness.
There is really no point to the character of Angie. She is supposed to be
Patrick's coworker and girlfriend, but the script really strips away the former
and portrays her as a tag-along girlfriend who is omitted from many key scenes
and spends others hiding behind Patrick while he points a gun at someone. She
could easily be written out of the script completely, or could be turned into a
girlfriend with a completely different job, and nobody would notice her absence.
If, like me, you watch the film without having read the books about these
characters, you'll be wondering why she's in the film in the first place. I
guess the reason must be "because she was in the book," but that's not
a sufficient reason. If the character in the book is a real asset to the story, that value was not
captured in the movie.
There's good news and bad news about the character's
insignificance. The bad news is that the character and the actress are not used
as well as they could be. The good news is that the flaw is unimportant to the
film's merit for the same reason it is a flaw: simply because she is
insignificant. If she were miswritten into a major character, it might affect
the film, but she's not even necessary and therefore not able to detract from
the film in any major way. So I'm willing to set that aside as a matter of
significant interest only to those who have read the book(s). Apart from the
mystifyingly unnecessary character, the film is outstanding.
What makes it so effective is that the plot structure is interesting enough to involve
viewers who would normally avoid this kind of serious hand-wringing drama that
is downbeat from stem to stern; while the characterization, atmosphere, and
moral ambivalence are intriguing enough to involve viewers who would normally
avoid standard detective thrillers and police procedurals. It held me glued to
my chair, intensely involved for the entire two hours, and not without a moist
eye here and there.
It's good enough to be considered for major awards
although the only recognition awarded so far is the widespread acclamation of
Amy Ryan as Best Supporting Actress for her role as the mother of the missing
girl. If there were an award for "best new director," Affleck would just about
have a lock on it.