Saturday, January 31, 2009

KILLER MOVIE (2008) d. Jeff Fisher

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Mocking pop culture and lampooning modern society is both easy to do and a very treacherous choice if you are doing so in your feature film. So much of our daily existence is so repugnant and moronic, providing exceedingly fertile ground and an abundant cinematic harvest when it comes to parody. The problem is that tackling any recent topic will badly date your film and in succeeding years, viewers may find your narrative tedious at best and at worst it will be absolutely irrelevant. However, turning down the chance to satirize something as inane and intellectually noxious as “Reality TV” is absolutely impossible to refuse and deserves all of our considerable support, for few blights on civilization have arisen in recent years that are more deadly to the mind than the reality television series, with the possible exception of a prefrontal lobotomy. When you ridicule something as idiotic as that and do so in the guise of a horror film, it is going to be a delicate balancing act as to whether your film will be campy, cruddy, childish or simply churlish. KILLER MOVIE somehow navigates some very choppy and challenging waters and ends up being a mildly entertaining film that will likely appeal to a surprisingly wide audience and for an even broader range of reasons.

KILLER MOVIE is the story of a young, down-on-his-luck director named Jake Tanner, who has been hired to film a reality series set far off in the wilds of White Plains, North Dakota. He must somehow find a way to work with a shrewish female producer and her sycophantic assistant, an exceedingly spoiled and loathsome diva of a celebrity/actress, a crew that is comprised of quirky goofballs, neophytes and self-absorbed technophiles, and somehow get the hayseed locals to accept this intrusion into their “small town lives”. It isn’t long before crew members start disappearing, putting a crimp in production, yet stocking the larder of a sadistic killer. Somehow, Jake and his cohorts have got to find a way to dodge the sharp implements of this maniac and salvage their troubled show all in the same fell swoop.

KILLER MOVIE started off showing very little promise. The mix of “Real Life” style video journal segments with a chronological plot narrative didn’t seem to mesh very well, producing a grating end product that felt like it was never going to be cohesive. Add to that a very sizable cast of characters that was being juggled somewhat haphazardly, and I had my doubts whether I would be able to finish this film without breaking a tooth or two during fits of anger. Before the one-third mark of the movie though, the plot settled down and some of the more interesting story and character components become to assert themselves, primarily those of a spoof. The satire of KILLER MOVIE is mostly a subtle mockery of the tenets of reality TV, television production in general and the foolishness of most celebrities. At times, more ham-handed derision is added into the mix to liven up the pace of the film, which after its uncertain start begins to build momentum and then move along steadily towards its crescendo. At the start of the flick, the horror elements seemed to be the most obnoxiously silly parts of the plot, but ever so slightly that began to change. As each dead body was added to the pile of kills, each murder became a little more stylish and gruesome, but all the while iconic methods of dispatching the victims were employed by a masked perpetrator who was clearly garbed in such a way so that no viewer could ever take these scenes totally seriously. The resulting blend of TV parody with a gently reverential nod to classic slasher films came off as astoundingly sophisticated for a mainstream send-up. What made this film work in the end is that it never took itself totally seriously as a horror flick but still tried to develop a small degree of suspense and drama, had nothing but contempt for pop culture in general and Reality TV specifically and it kept moving at a brisk but steady pace. Had there been a few less characters to manage and the story could have focused on developing some of the more compelling personalities, the humor could have been a little more intense. While I was impressed by the dry nature of the “comedy”, I smirked 98% of the time and never really laughed out loud. That is far and away a better result than most comedies where I downright scowl through their puerile attempts to be funny, but I would have liked this film to be somewhat more humorous.

From a visual standpoint, there are a lot of unexpected strengths to KILER MOVIE as well. It was competently shot and lit so that every scene was easy to see and comprehend. There were many well-scouted and then attractively photographed exterior scenes that successfully developed the rural feel of the setting. The interior sets were classic “school slasher” imagery akin and reminiscent of films like HORROR HIGH and MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH. When set outdoors, there were often bright sunshiny scenes and vibrant colors which contrasted well with the more somber and moodier interior segments. While never an atmospheric film, KILLER MOVIE looks good, I could figure out what was happening without having to rewind segments as is too often the case and I could appreciate some of the other visual benefits of this film. While many modern motion pictures suffer from the casting of loads of impossibly beautiful people who make the story seem totally implausible and render the characters equally unlikable (the APRIL FOOL’S DAY remake is a good example), the satirical nature of KILLER MOVIE lends itself to creating a predominantly “hot” cast and as a result, the eye candy in this film is rather impressive. Between the many pretty faces, long lustrous locks and trim, sexy figures, there is a lot to gaze at and wish they had been asked to disrobe repeatedly, that lack of nudity being the greatest weakness of this movie. Led by Kaley Cuoco who plays “Blanca Champion”, the list of babes continues through Leighton Meester, Gloria Votsis, Torrey DeVitto, Cyia Batten, Jennifer Murpshy, Maitland McConnell and my favorite Adriana Demeo. While none of these lovelies are household names yet, many should be because their decorative splendor in KILLER MOVIE helped to distract me from the occasionally inane dialogue, simplistic plot devices, obvious caricatures and archetypical character composites, none of which would derail a film, but they are caused to be less irksome by the “trim”. On the plus side, many of these young beauties and some of the young men in this film can actually act and the performances, while not inspiring on the whole, were competent or serviceable. Paul Wesley (Jake Tanner) does get the part of the artistically ethical and good natured director right and plays his role well. Kaley Cuoco is entirely convincing in her role as the insufferable and ultimately somewhat lovable Blanca. It would/will be interesting to see some of these cast members in some other, potentially more challenging roles, especially the lovely Miss Demeo (huge hint for producers and casting directors).

KILLER MOVIE has a small but pleasantly engaging extras menu. There is the theatrical trailer and a sizable photo gallery that is engineered in a “flash” style progression of images that actually works fairly well. The photos are a mix of promos, “behind the scenes” shots and screen caps. There is a 13 minute “Behind the Scenes of Killer Movie” which is a blend of cast and crew interviews shot on set, as well as production scenes and film clips. The film clips are a little too numerous but the sizable number of cast members interviewed for this featurette and their genuinely interesting anecdotes and comments are a benefit to the disc. True to its form, the interviewees do not always take themselves seriously and there is some charming tom-foolery that takes place to brighten this segment. In addition, we get to see Adriana Demeo in her shortest skirt yet, showing a fabulous pair of legs to the camera for those who wanted to see more of her during the feature. Lastly, there is a “digital copy” of this film for those who wish to watch it outside the confines of their home theater environment. This is probably the wave of the future and while it is nothing too exciting to an old codger like me, it may be a real draw to the younger, technologically savvy viewers out there.

KILLER MOVIE is likely to appeal to more movie-goers than one would expect. Those who like and revere the crassness of modern culture will probably not get the subtle digs and will revel in the cattiness and garrulous nature of some of the characters. Others like myself, will enjoy the delicate savaging that is administered to Reality TV and the even gentler nods to 80s slasher movies that are woven into the narrative and the aura of KILLER MOVIE. While most men would prefer to see the beauties of this film even more scantily clad, or unclad as it were, there is enough hotness to attract a wide range of ages from the male half of the demographic chart. In the end, I was surprised by how this film slowly and irrepressibly drew me into its silly folds. I wanted to dislike and then dismember this motion picture in a literary fashion, but by the conclusion, I was not able to do so. KILLER MOVIE is not high-brow, neither is it intricately crafted cinema, nor is it award-winning film making, but somehow it became entertaining after I gave it a chance to get rolling and those kind of revelations tend to make me smile more than I usually do nowadays.

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