10 September 2009

Schlock! Horror!

District 9 shall have to wait a week for a review, because I saw it when I was rather ill and rather tired. I feel I need to watch it again to do a full review, but I'm sure you don't need my verdict to go and see it in the meantime. So please do go, because what I did take in properly through streaming eyes and runny nose was very very good indeed. In the meantime, I can loosely group two horrors that aren't really horrors today in the form of Dorian Gray and Sorority Row. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the course of discussion but not so far as to ruin major plot developments.

Exhibit A then- Dorian Gray is a new film adaptation of the novel by Oscar Wilde, starring Ben Barnes as the naive young Dorian Gray, bound for great renown as a high-class socialite in London until he meets Colin Firth's Lord Henry Wotton, who introduces him to a life of hedonism and temptation. This is much abetted by the fact that a painter friend has just inadvertently captured Gray's soul in a painting, leaving his looks frozen in reality while his image degrades in the attic each time he succumbs to temptation. The novel is appraised as one of the last great Gothic Horror novels, but in the translation to film, it's lost most of its scare value. This is largely down to the fact that they've made the film for the audience of Twilight, which should inherently suggest that something is wrong.

Chief amongst the mistakes that this focus would entail is the casting of Ben Barnes. I previously found him to be the worst part of the second Narnia film, Prince Caspian, which isn't good considering he was in the title role. There's an identical problem here, as it seems he's been cast purely for his looks once again, because the only time he really convinces as Gray is in the early scenes, where he's wide-eyed and naive about the position in the world he's inherited. Once he begins having wild orgies, taking up substance abuse and murdering people, he slips into that same acting trend as Robert Pattinson does as Edward Cullen. He purveys age beyond his appearance simply by speaking slower and occasionally using his big boy voice to admonish people. It's also fairly reminiscent of Hayden Christensen in... well, anything Hayden Christensen has done. Far from being convinced of Gray's weariness and hidden malice, I half expected him to shout that from his point of view, the Jedi were evil.

Where Dorian Gray fell down for me was in the fact that everything hinges on a strong central lead. Barnes is certainly not that, and so it's easy to forget that the rest of the production is fairly competent. It remains largely faithful to Wilde's novel, and looking at St Trinian's director Oliver Parker's CV, this is certainly the most interesting film he's done to date. The visuals are slightly reminiscent of Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, but Parker doesn't allow the film to look hackneyed or unoriginal. Especially deserving of praise is Colin Firth, who does his utmost to steal the show as the cynical Lord Harry, dispensing wit and one-liners aplenty. Unfortunately, it's misjudged as a vehicle for Barnes. Not to mention the fact that it skews towards a young teenage target audience, meaning that Gray's violent and lewd misdemeanours cannot be entirely represented on screen. At the same time, a fair portion of that target audience won't be able to see the film in cinemas on account of its 15 certificate- so it's stuck somewhere in the middle of two audiences. It's not a bad film by any means, but it's forgettable and in many ways that's worse.

I have far less tolerance for Exhibit B, the remake of The House on Sorority Row, which has been economically been re-titled as Sorority Row and is, in short, rubbish. A group of sorority sisters engage in the most misjudged prank since God said to Abraham, "you must kill your son, Isaac." Even as an atheist I feel uncomfortable comparing this film to scripture- at least the Bible inspires happiness and faith. Getting back to the point, the end result of the prank is the death of one of the sorority sisters, and the rest agree to cover up their involvement by dumping her corpse down a conveniently placed abandoned mineshaft. And wouldn't you know it? Eight months later, they all receive texts and threatening calls from the girl's phone, and eventually- and that word has huge importance in why this film fails- start getting picked off by a hooded figure. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

To elaborate upon the point I made earlier, that this isn't a horror film, I'd argue instead that this was part of a sub-genre that's becoming more and more hackneyed all the time- the "slasher" genre. As discussed in my review of The Final Destination, the function of slasher films is to provide audiences with the chance to laugh at idiots being killed off in satisfyingly gruesome accidents, stabbings or head-splosions. That Sorority Row fails to kill anyone except Megan, the film's unfortunate victim-cum-possibly-resurrected-killer, until around 40 minutes in demonstrates a failure to realise what most people want from such films. That's why "eventually" was the key word of the last paragraph. Before that stage, we just get a lot of sorority girls dancing around at foam parties. What's that? No, I didn't like that. No, I'm not gay. I just think I've demonstrated myself immune to the Booby Distraction, whereby mild titillation will distract everyone from how bad the film is, through viewings of Transformers 2 and the like, so maybe it's just me who was bored shitless until people started dying. And even once people started dying, the film was hardly worth watching. This is a big statement considering I only went to see it to kill an afternoon I might otherwise have spent at home doing approximately bugger all.

The most interesting death (the one with the bottle) has been shown extensively in the trailers, and that comes fairly early on. The rest is just by-the-numbers rubbish- big titted idiots running away, big titted idiots being stabbed with a tyre iron, and then not one, but two, lame and nonsensical twists presumably designed to persuade anyone without boobies on the mind that they'd actually seen a cleverly structured and plotted slasher flick rather than... well, Sorority Row. Should I be worried that while watching nubile young women were running about in their pants, I felt little more than mild concern at the fact Carrie Fisher needed money badly enough to be in the film? Nah, because I like to think I'm a little ahead of the curve. Eventually people will lose interest in rubbish slasher flicks and their remakes, and we might get some actual horror on the big-screen. For now though, Sorority Row will go down just fine for girls who identify with Paris Hilton and Katie Price as role models, and for guys who read Nuts and Zoo. For everyone else, don't be fooled by the fact I found enough to talk about in it for a whole three paragraphs. Vacuous, boring and one of the worst films of the year.


See Dorian Gray if you like the original novel and Colin Firth, avoid Sorority Row like a panty-clad plague, but in general, I think you'll be much better served by going to see District 9, even without first reading my babbling about why it's so good.

Some negativity every once in a while seems to keep me sane in this film-reviewing lark, but trust me, I'm much happier seeing good films. And as evidence of that fact, the next post will cover two films I didn't get to cover when they hit cinemas, but two films that I'd heartily recommend that you all go and watch now that they're out on DVD- Good and Is Anybody There? Oh and I'll be seeing District 9 again, so can promise a review of that
on Wednesday.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, make sure you don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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