Monday, December 17, 2007

Somebody Help Me (2007)

Somebody Help Me…to survive this movie!

Somebody Help Me manages to bundle all of horror’s annoying clichés to create a trite, unoriginal and bland film. Despite the fact that this “urban thriller” stays away from stereotypical characters, that alone cannot save the convoluted script that tries to pack too many horror subgenres into one film. Any “scares” the film tried to achieve fail, because we’ve seen them all before in better horror movies! The entire movie feels familiar, because each scene has already been played out in other horror movies.

Let me know if this starts to sound familiar: two couples head up to a secluded cabin to party. It’s sickeningly sweet Serena’s (Brooklyn Sudano) 21st birthday party and her boyfriend Brendan (Marques Houston) wants to celebrate in style. His buddy Darryl (Omarion) has offered his uncle’s secluded cabin in Lake Arrowhead as their weekend getaway. Their only neighbors are a creepy older gentleman (John Wiltshire) who keeps spying on them and a little blond-haired girl (Brittany Oaks) who likes to creepily sing “Ring Around the Rosie” (and resembles the sing-song-y blond child from Nightmare on Elm Street so closely I’m surprised they didn’t get sued!). Soon, three other couples (all bland and uninteresting) show up for Serena’s birthday party and they get down…to slow dancing? I don’t know about you, but my 21st birthday party did not look like a junior high dance! The next morning, two of the five couples are missing. After lounging around in PJ’s, the remaining kids head out to search the surrounding woods…and search all day but find no trace of their friends. While in the woods, MORE of them disappear until Brendan and Darryl are the last men standing.

In the meantime, we see that a deranged plastic surgeon (Sonny King) is behind the disappearances. He has kidnapped each of the kids and stuck them in doggie cages in his cabin. One by one, he takes them out and “operates,” taking an ear, an eyeball, a scalp and plenty of blood. With the help of the ghost-like blond girl, can the guys save their girlfriends and friends from the hands of the psycho killer?

Somebody Help Me is an urban horror flick, with the lead characters being all black. Unlike the recent Hood of Horrors, I appreciated that the film stayed away from stereotypes and portrayed everyone as equals. There were no “ghetto-fied” black characters or any WASP-ish white people. I also liked how the film turned the horror stereotype of “the black guy always dies first” on its head. In Somebody Help Me, it’s the white folks that get nabbed by the killer first. Its fair treatment of both races is about the only thing I can recommend about Somebody Help Me, though.

The rest of the film is a recycled mish-mash of bad horror clichés and subgenres. On the one hand, the film starts as an old fashioned slasher, but then jumps to a ghost story and yet again switches gears to exploitative torture flick! These multiple shifts in storyline can work amazingly well in some films, but the transitions in this one are just too jarring and do not flow well at all. Also, none of the plot lines were developed to their full potential so we are left scratching our heads and asking who is the little girl? What is the plastic surgeon’s full story? What the hell is up with the creepy neighbor? It feels like these subplots were all stuffed into the film to throw as many horror clichés at the audience as possible. The result is a confused and unstable plot that brings nothing new to the table and one that you’ll quickly lose interest in.

The dialogue is equally horrible, with lines that sound like they were pulled directly from bad horror films. It got so bad that I begun to suspect this was done on purpose as a little wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the audience, but ultimately I think it was just poor writing. Poor writing also results in bland characters you care nothing about. None of the characters had any real personality or spark, so I didn’t connect with any of them. As a result, I didn’t care what happened to them. The torture scenes were plenty gruesome, but without that emotional attachment they weren’t that effective.

The acting itself wasn’t so bad, with R&B stars Houston and Omarion putting on good performances. Their girlfriends, played by Sudano and Alexis Fields, weren’t up to par, but were passable performances. The other couples were all pretty much indistinguishable and about as interesting as a piece of cardboard, but the actors did the best they could with the material they were given. I wished we had seen more of Sonny King, who played the killer, as he had immense presence.

Also, the film looks like it had fairly high production values. Even in the darker scenes (which there are a lot of…don’t any of the characters realize they can turn on a light?), the movie looks great. The direction (by Chris Stokes, who also directed You Got Served and House Party 4, as the back of the DVD proudly proclaims) isn’t flashy, but shows us what we need to see. The audio is crisp, and I didn’t need to crank the volume up super-loud to hear dialogue and crank it back down once the hip-hop/rap soundtrack came on. The high production values looked like theatrical-release quality, which gave me one more thing to enjoy about this movie.

Still, these few positive factors couldn’t save this movie. Somebody Help Me is a horror film that will feel mighty familiar to you if you’ve had any experience at all with the horror genre. We’ve got the secluded cabin, the creepy neighbor, the uncaring cops, the stupid mistake of splitting up in the woods, the masked killer, the dream sequence, the ghostly little girl singing a creepy nursery rhyme, torture in the Hostel vein and a conclusion that leaves it wide open for a sequel. There is nothing new and nothing interesting in this by-the-numbers movie, except for the fact that the leads happen to be black. While I’ll applaud the filmmakers from staying away from stereotypical race caricatures, that’s about the only positive thing I can recommend in this uninspired retread.

Available from Amazon!

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