Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Meg Foster, Sherri Moon Zombie, Richard Drake, Judy Geeson
Director: Rob Zombie
Nutshell: Rob Zombie’s latest descent into the world of blood splattered horror is a true nightmare in more ways than one.
Rob Zombie’s “31” had been one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year. Not because his track record is glowing with cinematic wonders, in fact far from it. His “House of a 1000” corpses had humour and more than a dash of style, especially the opening 15 minutes or so. The rest of the movie deteriorated into a mess but at least it showed some ability to tell a story. Since then his remake of Halloween was nothing short of a travesty. An ugly, dumbed down, unsubtle, stylistically bankrupt version of a masterful movie that was an insult to John Carpenters lyrical and stylish brilliance. Still there were some flashes in Zombie’s Halloween that were not awful though over all it was not even a pale imitation of the classic but more a somewhat brain dead remake that nobody asked for and nobody wanted.
The resounding memory of the Zombie Halloween was how he displayed an ability to drag his film to a trailer trash aesthetic with the subtlety of a hammer blow. It was a ghastly film and a memory one has tried hard to erase. Like eating a rotten almond and having to eat five dozen more in order to wash away the awful taste it left. Personally the film was akin to an affront and it was a loathsome, dumbed down, crass and mindless film. Still there are a few who admired it and enjoyed the grunge version of a masterpiece however rancid and wretched it was.
A year or two on Rob Zombie went on to deliver Halloween 2 which once again displayed a remarkable and notable ability to produce loud, messy, grungy, bloody and garbled sequel to his shambolic first attempt. Zombie’s die hard fans lapped it up but the rest of us were once again left floundering at the mans ability to turn everything he touches into something resembling “trailer trash”. Halloween 2 was once again, a loud, aggressive mess of a film with the aesthetic of a pile of garbage.
However, despite the lack of cinematic style of his Halloween efforts, there was a flickering hope that maybe one day he would strike the right chord and merge his world of grunge to something that would resonate visually as well. The hope was that “31” would be that realization but alas within minutes of the films running time it becomes miserably clear that rather than develop a cinematic style and an ability to engage his audience with his skill, unfortunately what is on display is like a bloated, overblown, indecipherable,self indulgent and artistically dire piece of garbage that seems to be his cinematic signature.
The story involves a bunch of degenerates (always led by the feisty Sherri Moon Zombie) who become entangled with a bunch of demented “clowns” to hideous, nightmarish effect.
There follows a cocktail of dizzying images shot with a jittery, frenetic hand held camera style that is attempting to impart some sort of urgency or reality to the film but in actuality all it does is look like a incoherent mess. None of the characters of the cast evoke the slightest sympathy and none of them are fleshed out so that the audience might give a damn about what happens to them on screen. They are each more despicable than the next and I found myself rooting for them all to be butchered as quickly as possible so that the flailing mess of a movie would come to a swift end and the torture of watching it would be over. The cast includes Malcolm McDowell and Meg Foster from the past and though normally that would be something to look forward to here they just appear as though they are there for the paycheck and little else.
The film soon develops the sensibilities of yet another torture porn style title with loud, garish performances that are completely lacking in even some rudimentary wit to make them bearable.
The film in itself is a form of torture for the audience that views it; an endurance test and the film festival audience who crammed into the theatre remained totally unmoved and uninvolved by what was unspooling on screen. If there was supposed to be humour it certainly didn’t work because nobody in a rather large audience even snickered throughout the duration of the film with one or two giggles heard while California Dreaming played in one of many absurd scenes.
Rob Zombie has done it again; taken a half decent premise and then delivered a film to appeal to an audience of restricted to his clearly rather “selective” fan base. A fan base that appears to be the mirror image of his own cannibalized version of cinematic “style”.
The best moment by far was when the end credits roll signaling release from a tortuous experience. There is simply nothing to recommend in a film as foul as this one, absolutely nothing. It’s a bankrupt film and worse is utterly humourless and just a total bombed out mess. Rob Zombie’s glib in-jokes don’t really count for humour sadly though hipsters may differ on that point.
Rob Zombie may have one or two nifty ideas but his story telling style is yet to exist or develop into a craft that involves his audience. There was no visual flair, absolutely zero tension or suspense, no build up to a climax, nothing.
This was a painful cinematic experience; Utterly tasteless, lacking in style or flair and artistry and It is hard to recall a more loathsome film in many a moon. Rob Zombie’s “31” is a memorable film but for all the wrong reasons. Simply appalling with no redeeming features whatsoever – beyond awful with a total lack of ability to engage even a receptive and excitable Horror Festival audience. Huge shame as there was an audience committed to the excitement of the promise of something great but left high and dry. Even so, some walked out of the cinema with big smiles on their faces and you heard some comments like “that was so “Banging”, and better still “that was the first Zombie movie my girlfriend has ever seen and she loved it”. A horror fan has great powers of endurance and sometimes wishful thinking can get you happily to the finish line with a smile on your face. In my book, enthusiasm to the point of self deception.
The bottom line in my book for filmmaking, or indeed any form of art is it’s ability to ENGAGE its audience. Even the worst, most ridiculous movies have the ability to engage but Rob Zombie remains clueless and the biggest fault with “31” despite its oh so cool throwaway references to superior films and its calculated one liners was its total inability to engage its audience. Every joke fell flat, every reference was a yawn and his characters monologues were calculated cool that were anything but that. However which way you want to look at it…this film is bereft of any shred of artistry.