Monday, September 27, 2010

Netflix Roulette: Blackout

This was originally published on the Wildclaw Blood Radio Blog.

Shortly before his death, an interviewer asked William Faulkner what he was reading. Faulkner replied: "Charles Dickens and the Bible. At my age, I don't have time for anything but the good stuff."

I used to have a lot more patience for the crap that forms the largest part of the horror genre. In my youth, I could watch any given zero-budget slasher film or ridiculous creature feature and still have a good ol' time. Over the years, though, I kind of got burned out on it. In part, this was because I was watching a lot of amazing stuff outside the genre, which was giving me an appetite for "the good stuff." In part, it was because I had been over-fishing the waters for years. And, in part, it was because the market for low budget and direct to video horror had contracted to the point where I wasn't able to find the diamonds in the rough I was able to find in past years. It wasn't giving me return on investment. So I gave up, and the sub-strata of the horror genre plugged along without me. It's been over a decade since I regularly trolled this area of film. This is where Netflix comes in. A lot of the stuff that used to stock the horror aisle at chain video stores is beginning to find a home on Netflix's instant streaming service (I presume that the same thing is happening over at Blockbuster, but I won't do business with them). Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that I might play roulette with the movies on Netflix Instant as a way of putting me back in touch with my roots. Who knows, maybe there's a diamond in the rough waiting to be unearthed.

In any event, here are the rules: Netflix currently has 18 pages of Instant Watch horror movies, and each page has 24 movies on it, so I needed to come up with two random numbers: one between 1 and 18 and one between 1 and 24. I set up a function in an Excel spreadsheet to generate these and I was set. The first numbers that came up were 3 and 1, which corresponds to Blackout, a 2007 thriller starring Amber Tamblyn and directed by Rigoberto Castañeda. The premise of this movie, in which three people are trapped on an elevator and one of them is a serial killer, sounds more than a bit like Shyamalan's upcoming Devil, though on a much smaller scale.

The movie starts with a dead woman in a bathtub, then moves to a scene of her husband grieving for her in a cemetery with his young daughter. This the first of our trio of characters: Carl, a doctor, played with amiable sadness by Aiden Gillen. Then we meet Claudia (Tamblyn), an asthmatic who may or may not have been responsible for her grandmother's death. The final character is Tommy, played by Armie Hammer, a tough kid about to go on the lam with his girlfriend. The backstories of each of these characters is filled in at excruciating length in flashbacks cut into the scenes in the elevator. Frankly, they mostly feel like padding to avoid the point or, at the very least, bring the movie to feature length. That being the case, the last twenty minutes or so, once the masks have fallen from our trio of characters and the flashbacks have been abandoned and everyone knows exactly who everyone is, are actually pretty damned good. The movie sets up its suspense set-pieces with a Hitchcockian attention to significant objects (a lighter, an asthma inhaler) and pays off with a delightfully nasty denouement. In truth, I was kind of surprised that I liked this as much as I did, given how lackadaisical the first half of the movie seemed. Once it starts paying attention to its own little microcosm, it turns the screws tight. It does, however, point out the main flaw in the Netflix Instant service: it doesn't have a fast forward button.


DeAnna said...

We used the free movies on cable the year I tried to keep up with the October Horror Challenge. I'm still trying to decide if I want to commit to 31 horror movies again this year, but if I do, I may also employ your roulette system and use instant streaming.

But then you just had to mention Devil, didn't you? I love the premise and thus I keep using my scary voice to ask 'what would YOU do if you were stuck in an elevator with THE DEVIL?!?!?!' I think it's hilarious! I even kinda want to see it although I doubt it will live up to expectations and I should just stick with tormenting nate with my scary voice questioning.

But did you happen to read this interview with an elevator expert?

Vulnavia Morbius said...

That interview with the elevator guy is hilarious. I wonder if Mythbusters has ever done an episode on elevator stories. If they haven't, they should.