Sunday, April 12, 2009

LAID TO REST (2009) d. Robert Hall

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

One winter, an unusually mild spell of weather warmed the ground and softened the earth causing our tulips to sprout early. I remember well the strange mix of elation and dread that I felt when I saw the tiny green shoots struggle skyward only to know that the suggestion of an early Spring was illusory and that not only were these tulips destined to meet an unfortunate demise but that their frosty death was not likely to be of benefit when they tried to grow in earnest during the real months of seasonal rebirth. My fears were well founded for when the shoots tried to come up again in April, they had been burned by the intense cold they had endured. Sometimes when something starts promisingly it doesn’t mean that it will end that way. LAID TO REST is just such an example. It comes out of the gate like a Brahma Bull and shows an equal amount of thunderous menace, but it does not maintain that kind of energy, much to my disappointment.

LAID TO REST is the story of a nameless girl, suffering from memory loss and frightening flashbacks, who escapes from a brutal serial killer intent upon documenting the ignominious deaths of his victims. With his trusty video camera, complex cell phone, impressive set of wheels and gleaming serrated knife, Chrome Skull stalks our heroine and slashes or chops through nearly every person who tries to get in his way and bring a halt to his swath of destruction. Despite the noble attempts of Tucker and Steven, Chrome Skull time and again catches up with “the girl” in an attempt to trap her in a coffin and complete his nefarious plans. Only “the girl” is able to stand up to Chrome Skull and to piece together the shards of her shattered personality in an attempt to get her life back.

LAID TO REST begins with a great deal of potential. The first one-third of the film is very briskly paced, somewhat atmospheric and certainly a gore and theatrical killing lover’s dream. The violence is intense, the death scenes are bloody and also somewhat inventive without being “over the top” in a humorous fashion. Not that humorous is a bad thing, for those who saw FINAL DESTINATION II and III will know what I am talking about, but in LAID TO REST that kind of “Rube Goldberg” complexity wouldn’t have fit. The visual effects in the murder scenes and the macabre moments are quite good so that the death sequences are both riveting and disturbing. There are even some very enjoyable bloody coffin scenes dappling some ghoulish imagery over this motion picture. One of the reasons for the pleasantly growing sense of doom in this early segment of the film was that we don’t see the villain clearly and the only moments where he is in shot are glancing blows, reflections in glass or shadowy images so that when combined with the opening blood bath sequences, there is a wonderful sense of peril and sinister moodiness that leaves the viewer hoping for more. In this initial stretch, the story is quite thin and the characters are rather one-dimensional, but it doesn’t matter. This is a blood-soaked thrill ride that combines some of the grisly characteristics of movies like HOUSE OF A THOUSAND CORPSES with classic slasher fare like FRIDAY THE 13th. Sadly, this avalanche of mutilated corpses and tsunami of blood does not continue.

Where LAID TO REST begins to fail is when the pace slackens after the introductory phase, during an effort to establish suspense and mystery in the plot. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with such an effort for a more intricate narrative rife with convolutions and intellect are always welcome additions, but there are reasons why this attempt falls flat. First, there are plot twists and story elements that are dependent on the technology of the video camera and the cell phone, which turn out to be irritating rather than novel. Watching people gazing at video playback is not inherently interesting nor is the sight of them interfacing with a cell phone menu screen. While the premise of a killer manipulating technology in an attempt to further his gruesome designs sounds original, it really isn’t that compelling. Another problem is that there aren’t really any profound and forceful stories involving the characters. One would think that a girl with a lost memory and shattered recollection of her past would be a slam dunk, but her tale is spun exceedingly thin and when we finally do find out more about “the girl”, the information isn’t that gripping. In addition, the characters of Tucker and Steven don’t develop much chemistry with each other, they aren’t terribly deep and we don’t really care about them. Tucker’s effort to protect “the girl” or Princess as he calls her are honorable and we should feel more attached to his travails, but for some inexplicable reason, audience compassion for his character is in short supply. One of the biggest failings of LAID TO REST is that the lead actress Bobbi Sue Luther, who gives a fairly sincere performance and works hard to sell her character’s fear and vulnerability, this lovely young lady doesn’t spend as much time out of her clothes as one would wish to see. There is a very short scene near the beginning when she is nude on the bathroom floor but it is shot to preserve Miss Luther’s modesty and it is a shame. In addition to having a pretty face and a mane of luxuriant hair, Miss Luther has a stunningly curvaceous figure that had it been liberally exposed would have propelled this film to much higher levels of exciting gratuitousness. Since LAID TO REST wasn’t trying to be “patrician” horror, it should have gone the route of all fine exploitation cinema and mined a more plebeian vein. The final weakness evident in LAID TO REST is its lack of adherence to the principles of physics. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object in motion will continue moving in a straight line and at a constant speed until an outside force acts on it. The outside force is the writer’s decision to slow the story down and end the head of steam that had been created. When momentum is achieved, the best thing to do is keep it rolling. By starting fast and then putting on the brakes, instead of doing the opposite, the audience’s adrenaline is allowed to dissipate and once the juice is gone it’s tough to get back. In the end it is a real crying shame for this film had me at the beginning and I can’t help but cheer for a flick that has the intestinal fortitude to shear through a character’s face and kill another character with a full impalement through the temple with a sizable knife. That kind of “take no prisoners” gore and violence, done stylishly and with excellent visual effects isn’t too common. Sadly, LAID TO REST had the right idea but it just didn’t have the right kind of screenplay it needed to deliver the goods.

LAID TO REST does have a surprisingly hefty and rewarding Bonus Features section. In addition to a fairly interesting audio commentary with director/writer Robert Hall and actress/producer Bobbi Sue Luther, there is a very comprehensive mini-doc called “Postmortem: Making of Laid to Rest”. Over its 31 minutes, there is a very enjoyable blend of “behind the scenes” with cast/crew anecdotes and interview clips. A shorter but more focused featurette follows called “Torture Porn: The SFX of Laid to Rest” which is an 8 minute look at the visual effects created primarily by Erik Porn. Fear not, LAID TO REST is not a “torture porn” flick. The supplement is evidently humorously named. There is a 4 ½ minute “Deleted Scenes” segment and a 7 minute “Bloopers” reel which are worth a quick look. Finally, there is the film trailer. While not the Kashmir of Extras, this set did leave me with a slightly improved feeling towards LAID TO REST, as I was able to look into the minds of the creators and get a sense of what they were trying to achieve with their project. Once again, it is always a good idea to have some supplements on a disc, and these were worth digging through.

During one of the supplements, director Robert Hall is heard to say that “he loves the general idea of a killer in a mask chasing a girl around”. I couldn’t agree more that having such a concept for a scene or two, maybe three, is a good idea for a slasher film, but to base an entire movie on such a premise is possibly the reason why LAID TO REST disappoints. There needed to be a lot more depth and a great deal more meat to LAID TO REST. Without that kind of screenplay complexity, compelling motivations of the characters and even more fascinating underlying issues of the killer, LAID TO REST turns out to be too much like the frosting on a dry cake. The frosting looks great and tastes even better at the start, but if what is underneath the frosting isn’t that appetizing then the end result is a bite of confection that just doesn’t leave you satisfied.

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