Monday, March 28, 2011

Scenes from Horror Hound, Day 1: Enthusiasm Does Not Equal Aptitude

I apologize for the helter skelter nature of these posts, but the weekend was kind of a jumble for me. This will, unfortunately, be the pattern of my reporting.

The first day of the show, I sat in on a screening of a microbudget indie called Lethal Obsession (2010, directed by Jason Hignite and Chris Jay), a slasher film in which the victims are all women who work as cam girls. The murders all happen on-camera. The killer is a masked figure of indeterminate gender. The prime suspects are the customers who are logged on to the feed during the murders and the woman who owns the site. The structure of the film gives the filmmakers an excuse, a la old school exploiters like Stripped to Kill, to give the audience a peepshow experience, but rather than climaxing with, well, a climax, we get a murder scene. This prompted me to turn to one of my friends during the movie and say, "This is like porn without the money shot." Indeed, that's exactly what it feels like. The level of performance is like a porn movie, the structure of scenes is like a porn movie, and the production values are like a porn movie. It doesn't get off to a good start, either, because it suffers almost immediately from that bane of all microbudget movies: bad sound. The sound quality tends to obscure whatever virtues the film might have.

But then again, maybe not.

This has a depressingly linear construction. It's all plot. All of the characters have a plot function. Indeed, they're defined by their plot functions. This has no real connective tissue between scenes, no revealing observation of its characters, no quirks that make them real. Eventually, the conservation of suspects kicks in and it becomes painfully obvious who the killer is, because there aren't any other options. Further, the movie unloads a ton of backstory in the last few minutes, mostly information that isn't even hinted at in the body of the movie. Methinks the filmmakers have seen a few too many slasher movies, because this grabs onto the classic mistake of the slasher movie like it's a life raft. It explains too damned much.

Compounding all of this are two other plot complications. First: the movie is contingent on the idea that after the first two murders (or even the first one), the girls on this particular webcam site would continue to appear. The notion of shutting down the site during the investigation never crosses the minds of either the cops or the site's owner (more on that in a second) or the girls who work there. Obviously, they are all idiots; the inference behind the idiot plot is that the audience is composed of idiots, too. This is a miscalculation. Second: the plot is contingent on the notion that the owner of the site (played by Kitsie Duncan, one of the film's producers) would continue to keep the site running when she sees her traffic spike because of the murders. There's a dim view of human nature there, a sneering misanthropy if you will, layered on top of a virulent misogyny. I don't really know what to say about a movie that kills a woman with a rasp shoved up her vagina. I think there's something ignoble about the tendency in horror movies to perpetrate ever more creative mayhem against female genitals. The slut-shaming nature of the crimes here kind of puts me off, too. There's also a certain level of homoerotic subtext that the filmmakers either don't realize is there, or don't care to explore, but maybe that's for the best.

I think the filmmakers aspire to make a better film. There are two visually interesting scenes. In one, the camera is trained on the crime scene as the cops clean it up. It moves abruptly between tasks with a series of jump cuts, without moving the camera. The other is a jump scare that's executed pretty well. It's only undone by its context. It happens once the audience has been cued into the fact that a cam show equals a murder at the end. Otherwise, there's no art to the way this is assembled. It's purely functional, providing the audience with boobs and blood in equal measure. It has no grasp of film as an abstraction or as an art. I don't want to slag on this film too hard, really, because it's certainly enthusiastic and kudos to the folks who actually made it for managing to make it at all. Making a feature at all is difficult enough. Enthusiasm can be infectious. But enthusiasm does not equal aptitude.

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