Sunday, November 03, 2013

Going Through the Motions

Danielle Harris and John Jarratt in Shiver

It's been a while since I've seen a movie as bad as Shiver (2012, directed by Julian Richards). I almost hate writing about it, to tell you the truth. I know that some film writers love tearing into the defenselessly dreadful, but I'm not one of them. This was somebody's baby even if it's incompetent at every turn, and pointing to its awfulness seems like piling on to me. Ignoring it would be just as damning. Movies from this sector thrive on word of mouth, after all, and even bad publicity is publicity. Be that as it may, this isn't like a small indie that the director financed on credit cards. This is a film that has the resources of professional actors and a camera, so the fact that nothing comes of this largesse is an affront. As it is, it squanders what it has on trite genre tropes and unimaginative formal compositions. It's a terrible film.

The story here follows the intersecting paths of a serial killer named "The Gryphon" and his next victim, Wendy Allen, a communications professional caught in a dead end job. The Gryphon's modus operandi is to decapitate his victims with a garrotte, molest their dead bodies, and leave a small statue of a gryphon as a calling card. He's sexually frustrated, having lived a life of constant rejection from women--though in truth, he's so creepy that it hardly seems surprising. Wendy, for her part is being hassled by her mother to take her career in her hands and to get up the courage to ask for a raise at her dead end job. She's resourceful when The Gryphon attacks her, having palmed a paring knife when she suspects someone is in her apartment. She stabs him in the thigh and manages to escape. This only makes The Gryphon more obsessed with her. Meanwhile, the cops on the case try to protect her even as it becomes apparent that The Gryphon isn't going to stop. Eventually, it comes down to Wendy on her own, as The Gryphon manages to abduct her in order to set up house with her...

I sometimes think I've been watching horror movies for too long, because it's current crop of boogeymen--zombies, vampires, serial killers--tend to make me roll my eyes anymore. I mean, it's totally possible to employ these archetypes with imagination; it's possible to say something new with and about them. But that's not this movie. Unfortunately, this tends to remind the viewer of better films. As "cops on the trail of a serial killer" films go, there is a wide gulf between this film and, say, The Silence of the Lambs. As a "woman in danger" film, this makes the likes of Sleeping With The Enemy or Kiss the Girls seem like high art in comparison. Mainly, its not surprising. Its plot rolls along in well trodden wheel ruts left by other films before arriving at a place the audience knows is coming. It's big shocking reveal--that The Gryphon keeps women's heads in jars as trophies--is completely telegraphed by its earlier crime scene aftermath set pieces, to say nothing of the DVD menu itself, such that it induces a yawn rather than horror.

Casper Van Dien and Rae Dawn Chong in Shiver

As I say, this is stocked with professional actors. Danielle Harris is one of those horror celebrities whose career has dwelt in the twilight zone of direct to video horror ever since an early role in Halloween 5, so it's a surprise that she's done so much other work. As I was watching Casper Van Dein as the lead cop on the case, all I could hear in my head was an imagined conversation between the actor and his agent, lamenting that his career started out working for Paul Verhoeven and Tim Burton and NOW look where he is. Rae Dawn Chong is clearly cashing a paycheck. All of them might as well be blocks of wood for all the emotional heft there is to their performances. John Jarratt as The Gryphon is a different matter. He's invested in his character to the point of overacting. He's capable of serious menace--take a look at his work in Wolf Creek for an example--but here, he tends to the pathetic, as if he wants to be seen by the audience with the same affection occasionally afforded Norman Bates. As an aside, Jarratt's performance is eerily similar to the real-life persona of a friend of mine, mannerisms, voice, and all, so there's something to be said for his ability to create a character. In any case, I am fully aware of the fact that actors often have little control over their performances once they're in the hands of the editing process, so who knows how invested any of these people were in this project. What the filmmakers have done with these performances is purely perfunctory. The characters in this film only serve as markers for the plot.


Structurally, this is a film that might have been better served if it had remained a short film. The opening scene, set twelve years prior to the main story, is the best part of the film, in which The Gryphon commits his (presumably) first murder. Because this doesn't follow the MO of the remaining film, and because it's set in California rather than the gloomy Pacific Northwest, this section of the film seems like it's completely apart from everything that follows. After this, the film settles into a comfortable, flat narrative, mostly without mood. The act of watching this go through the motions is a lot like chewing bubblegum after all the flavor has been sucked out of it. It's a lot of work for almost no flavor.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 27

First Time Viewings: 22

Things are winding down around the web:

Anna at Bemused and Nonplussed checks in with a late look at Romero's Day of the Dead.

No comments: