Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Amusement (2009)

Sometimes you go into a movie expecting the worst, but find that the film actually has some redeeming qualities. Most of the time, though, your suspicions are confirmed and you end up feeling like you wasted a couple of hours of your life. In the case of Amusement, the oft-delayed movie that has now gone straight to DVD, I approached it with caution. Delays usually (but not always) mean the movie is trouble, but I decided to chance it. Were my fears of sitting through another bad horror movie unfounded? Or did Amusement stink worse than week-old roadkill?

Amusement is told anthology-style in three vignettes. Three girls, who used to be best friends in elementary school, each go through terrifying ordeals at the hands of a maniacal ex-classmate (Keir O’Donnell). In the first segment, Shelby (Laura Breckenridge) and her boyfriend are involved in a very Joy Ride-esque car caper that has them on the run from a trucker. Next up is Tabitha’s (Katheryn Winnick) tale, where she is babysitting her nephews in a humungous house. Her guest room is decorated with creepy clown dolls, and a certain life-sized one has Tabitha on edge…The last segment introduces Lisa (Jessica Lucas) who is looking for her missing friend at an old, creepy mansion that doubles as a hotel. All three of the girls eventually get kidnapped by their crazed, cackling ex-classmate, who wants to make them pay for not appreciating his art project so many years ago (“It’s funny, right?”). Can they escape his underground dungeon or will he amuse them…to death?

Amusement is a big, sloppy mess of a movie that has so many plot holes, inconsistencies and just plain stupid moments that it is a wonder it EVER got released. Of course, it is from the same writer that gave us the atrocious remakes of The Hitcher and When a Stranger Calls, so that should speak volumes. Like those two idiotic movies, Amusement has its characters doing the most boneheaded things. For example, Lisa waits around for hours after her boyfriend enters the mansion to poke around for her friend. When she can’t reach him on his cell and thinks the worst does she call the cops? No, she decides to barge in after him. All of the characters make horrible decisions like this, which makes it really hard to care about anyone. The coup de grace was when the trio was caught up in the (unbelievably) large underground lair of their school buddy and just decided to run willy-nilly even though they could easily get trapped in one of the many rooms/dungeons down there. Yup, it’s pretty funny…too bad it feels like the joke is on the viewer.

Also, the editing felt like it was all over the place. The wrap-around story of the girls’ childhood was awkwardly placed in the middle when Tabitha is being questioned by a psychiatrist (the part we all saw in the trailer). This not only slowed the pacing but made the beginning a bit confusing as it just jumps into Shelby’s story without any clear background information. The unbelievable part with the psychiatrist should have been left on the cutting room floor as it made no sense and felt placed there for convenience’s sake. The editing of the film felt haphazard, like someone put the pieces of a puzzle together wrong.

With that being said, there is no reason or logic to the film. The killer’s motivation for revenge is weak and his backstory needs some serious beefing up. Also, how was he in so many places at once? He nabbed each of the girls at around the same time, but each lived in a separate city or state. And there are so many scenes where he pops up in a doorway/window/etc. when there is no way he could have made it there that fast. Not to mention his expansive industrial/warehouse-looking underground dungeon that sits under a teeny-tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere. Completely ridiculous and unbelievable, just like the rest of the script! There are so many plot holes, inconsistencies, and just plain unbelievable scenarios in this film that you and I would both go crazy talking about them.

On the plus side, the direction by John Simpson is wonderful and the production design is downright amazing. The sets range from the woods to a big suburban house to a crumbling mansion to the dark, dank underground lair of the killer. Simpson knows how to utilize each set to its full potential and squeeze as much tension out of each scene as possible (even with such a limiting script). My favorite sets were the creepy clown-filled guest room in Tabitha’s story and the decrepit old mansion Lisa investigates. Simpson makes every dark corner feel threatening and the production design by Craig Stearns gives the sets the appropriate ominous feeling. It’s too bad that the writing and editing couldn’t do the same.

Another (positive) surprise is the acting. Though their characters make annoyingly dumb decisions the entire running time I found the performances by Laura Breckenridge, Katheryn Winnick and Jessica Lucas very well done. Even Keir O’Donnell, who plays the killer, manages to pull off quite the creepy performance.
Still, the negatives in the film far out-weigh the positives. The story just feels as if it’s recycled from previous, better horror flicks and the gaping plot holes and inconsistencies can’t be ignored. Perhaps with better writing this film could have worked, but as it is it failed to amuse me. I should have gone with my gut instinct and known this movie was gonna suck. Instead of Amusement this movie should be called Tedium.

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