Saturday, October 30, 2010
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
If absolutely nothing else, this movie gets started quickly. The back story is presented with a series of newspaper headlines and voice-overs. Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), whose father owns Hanniger Mines, where he works, forgot to "bleed the line" before leaving work one Valentine's Day. What does that mean? Well, I'll tell you because the movie chooses not to bother; it basically means that he failed to vent the natural gas out of the mine, which means that a dangerous amount of gas built up. The thing about natural gas is that it likes to go boom. Boom it went, the mine had a cave-in, and six miners were trapped for days. Only one man, Harry Warden, was rescued; the rest were found with pickaxe wounds in their heads. Harry, who was discovered comatose, was sent to a hospital to recover (or not) and stand trial (or not). I mean, maybe the axe wounds were self-inflicted, like with Elliott Smith. Anyway, Tom was responsible for a cave-in, but also got the blame from locals for the work of Harry because the locals were irrational.
Fast forward one year, and it's Valentine's Day once again. After being comatose for a year, Harry Warden awakes, feeling refreshed and apparently not suffering at all from muscle atrophy. He proceeds to kill everyone he encounters in the hospital, cutting some in half and removing the heart from one victim. Because he's a sweetheart, he places the heart in a heart-shaped box of chocolates and draws hearts on the hospital walls in blood. Aww! Meanwhile, Tom and his girlfriend, Sarah (Jaime King), decide to attend a kegger at the mine shaft where the cave-in occurred. It's not like the mine is abandoned or anything; it's just closed for the night. So, I guess kids are stupid. Tom is understandably uncomfortable and makes an excuse to take an extra couple of minutes before entering; Sarah enters with Axel (Kerr Smith) and Irene (Betsy Rue). In the mine shaft, the newcomers find a bunch of dead bodies and Harry Warden, dressed in full-on mining gear and carrying a bloody pickaxe. These three manage to escape, but Harry chases them; Tom happens to be entering the mine as his three friends are skedaddling, so he was unprepared for Harry to show up and attack him. Tom survives, but his friends drive away to safety and he is forced to run deeper into the mine to avoid Harry. Just when it looks like Harry will kill Tom, though, Sheriff Burke (Tom Atkins) arrives to shoot Harry and save Tom. Harry didn't die, but he scampered into the mine and was presumably trapped in another cave-in.
Not a bad movie, right? Well, that's just the first fifteen minutes. That's how the entire movie goes, though; it feels very compressed, like they're trying to fit fifteen gallons of plot into a five gallon movie. Well, fast forward (again) and it's Valentine's Day (again) ten years later. Remarkably, the characters haven't aged much; Axel grew a beard, Tom stopped wearing a baseball hat, and Sarah took her hair out of a ponytail. Basically, Tom's dad has died recently and Tom returns to Harmony to sign some paperwork that will finalize his sale of the mine. That's right, this is a horror movie that takes place in Harmony. I don't have a problem with optimistically titled horror movie towns (after all, who would want to live in Depression Village or Darkness Falls?), but it is a pretty tired convention. Anyway, Tom's going to sell the mine (because he hates it, with good reason), and that upsets the townsfolk because the mine is the town's chief employer. Tom's been out of town ever since the last Valentine's Day "incident," so he is mildly surprised to find that Sarah and Axel are now Mr. and Mrs. Axel, and that Axel is now the sheriff. Axel's not a particularly good guy, though. Aside from making some completely arbitrary decisions about who should leave town (a la Brian Dennehy in First Blood), he has been cheating on his wife with a younger woman (Megan Boone) and --- oopsie! --- just found out that he got his mistress pregnant. I'm sure you will be shocked to learn that, after a ten year gap, Harry Warden returns and picks up where he left off --- killing people with a pickaxe, dressed in full mining gear. But...didn't Harry die ten years ago? And...what has Tom been doing all this time? And...isn't Axel acting awfully suspicious? Repeat those questions in turn every few minutes for another hour and half, and you've got a pretty good picture of how this movie works.
Let's start with some positive comments. Many people died in this movie, which is usually a good thing for a slasher film. I counted a total of twenty-seven kills in the extended prologue, but only three of those were on-camera. However, one of those was my favorite kill in the movie --- I have to give props to the awesome shovel-to-the-face death. It made me giggle. The rest of the movie has nine more kills, which is still a respectable number. The best of those involved a little person getting a pickaxe uppercut and ending up hanging from the ceiling. The gore is pretty solid, too. This movie also has a lot (a lot) of nudity, but it's not what you think. Instead of being three or four random naughty teens, it is one extended sequence with one actress. Poor Betsy Rue spent ten minutes completely nude and completely visible as her character had sex, got in a fight, ran for her life, hid under a bed, got murdered, played a naked corpse, and then had the sex replayed from a video camera by the police. Normally, horror movie nudity makes me offer up double high fives, but this was just so very, very much. And yes, she's kind of funny looking. Still, in terms of sex and violence, this movie definitely delivered.
But then there's everything else. The plot doesn't really work. They figure out that Harry Warden has been dead for ten years, so the new killer is just a copycat. The only two characters that would make any sense as the killer both have several scenes that make them illogical suspects, but logic doesn't get in the way of one of them turning out to be the killer anyway. SPOILER ALERT: Okay, so Tom ends up being the killer, unbeknownst to him. He has mental problems that give him a split personality (or something) that assumes the identity of Harry Warden. Or maybe he's possessed by Harry Warden. Whatever. But he has drugs for his mental problems, and he can be seen taking the drugs, oftentimes just before a murder occurs. So...his anti-psychotic pills help him murder people? Maybe he needs to get his prescription adjusted. And, with Tom as the villain, that means that Axel is the hero. So we're supposed to root for the adulterous jerk cop that is jealous and overprotective of the wife he doesn't touch? I think I'll pass. And you know how the killer reveals himself? By being sloppy. You know the old how-did-you-know-such-and-such, you-told-me-blah-blah, no-I-didn't exchange that has been done to death in horror and suspense movies? Yeah, it's done worse here.
The acting is not particularly good, but it's not terrible. Jensen Ackles has some pretty good moments when he's trying to be charming, but he falls short in the key dramatic scenes. Kerr Smith needs to stop acting. Seriously. His presence makes any film automatically a B-movie. Jamie King is okay, I guess, as the heroine, but I got tired of her scared voice after only a few minutes; she sounded legitimately frightened, which is good, but it's the sort of frightened where you wish someone would give her the 1950s snap-out-of-it slap to the face. Edi Gathegi was decent in his small role. Betsy Rue was, um, very naked and apparently comfortable with her body image, so good for her. I liked seeing some veteran actors in supporting roles, including Kevin Tighe (owner of the Double Deuce!), who spent his last scene using a voice that was supposed to indicate drunkenness, but instead just sounded like Ronald Reagan. Director Patrick Lussier did a good job filming the violence and gore in this movie and I can tell, even from my standard-definition viewing of the film, that he threw in a lot of special effects for the 3-D version (this movie is also referred to as My Bloody Valentine 3-D). I particularly liked a scene with the final confrontation with the killer, where he had the killer (whose identity was now known) replaced for a few frames with an image of Harry Warden. It's too bad that Lussier does such a poor job with his actors.
I wanted to like this movie, but the plot was just way too convoluted. It's supposed to have a twist, or at least a mystery, but there is no suspense. So you know that the mystery is going to be revealed, and you're waiting for it, and then it turns out to be even more ridiculous that the rest of the film. You know what would have been a better movie? If they had stretched out the first fifteen minutes into the entire film. There's no mystery, sure, so it's just a standard slasher pic, but this movie is not art, so who cares? And then we would have gotten to actually see Harry Warden at work, which would have been pretty sweet because I still can't figure out how he cut people in the hospital, after he awoke from his coma. That, I would have enjoyed. This? Not so much.