OCTOBER 1, 2008
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (TEST SCREENING)
I don’t want to say the name of today’s movie on the main page, because I can’t talk about the film without spoiling some of it. And even if I DIDN’T spoil anything, just me saying “I don’t want to spoil it” would in fact, spoil it, because it’s a pretty thin premise and can only have one of two revelations. So if you absolutely hate having anything spoiled for a movie, do NOT read the rest of the review, even the next paragraph. Apart from the film’s title (which is a generic phrase), I will also avoid using any full names, so that Google Alerts and the like won’t inadvertently spoil anything.
You’ve been warned!!!
Today I saw a test screening of Middle Of Nowhere, the new film from the director of Below, which is a great fucking movie that no one’s ever seen. I didn’t know much about the film, only that it was about a pair of newlyweds being stalked by a pair of killers. I didn’t know who played who, but as the film unfolded, I realized that was the point.
See, you get Fuller and Alice (not the actual character names, but hints to their actor identity - they are names of other horror characters they have played) on their honeymoon in Hawaii. Early on, they encounter a pair of hitchhikers who seem a bit “off”, and then later they hear about some murders that took place nearby. But by this point they have met Mickey and his girlfriend Lily, so the “smart” audience will say “ah, they want us to think it’s the hitchhikers, but the killers are really these two!”. BUT, and here’s the kicker, nope. In actuality, the killers are... the newlyweds! After the reveal, a lengthy flashback explains most of the potential story holes; showing how the information we heard was actually vague, and the audience misinterpreted this information as we are supposed to assume that the killers were Mickey and Lily.
However, this is what causes a bit of a problem. In order for this twist to work, you have to spend a lot of time identifying with and rooting for Fuller and Alice. At the same time, Mickey and Lily (and for that matter, the hitchhikers) can’t do anything bad or evil, because, well, they’re not. So you have an hour or so of just... well, not much. Lot of talk, lot of beautiful Hawaii scenery, etc. It’s a great twist, and it’s pulled off well (though there is one potential hole that is skipped over in the flashback – I’ll have to watch the movie again I guess), but in the end, the movie is serving a twist, not the other way around. I mean, yeah, Sixth Sense has a great twist, but the movie itself is compelling even without it. The “Bruce is dead” stuff can almost be considered an epilogue. But that’s not the case here, and I am curious as to how the film will be marketed when it’s impossible to show a lot of the “action” without spoiling who’s who.
Another issue is that audiences may be hip to the fact that the director is hiding things. The opening credits play over a wedding video in which we never see the couple’s faces. A surveillance photo of the murderers is shown in a way that you can’t tell what you’re looking at. Again, the audience is supposed to be mentally filling in these blanks, but it’s still pretty distracting. I found myself thinking “this guy makes a shitty wedding video, you’d think he would film the actual couple every now and then.” And thus, I spent a good chunk of the film suspecting that Fuller and Alice were the killers after all.
Once the twist is revealed and the movie gets going though, it’s pretty goddamn great. The suspense is nerve-wracking, the cinematography is top notch, and our four leads pull off their sort of role reversals without any trouble. Particularly great is Mickey, an actor who I’ve enjoyed since I first saw him in Scream 2 (where he WAS the killer). In addition to a hilarious Nic Cage impression, he is damn near flawless as the guy you’re supposed to think is good, then bad, then good again, something he pulls off brilliantly (and more importantly, without any real logic betrayal). There’s a shot of him going to fight Fuller that I can almost guarantee will be in the trailer (Fuller’s not in the shot, so you can look at the shot either way), and if you’re a fan of the guy, you will definitely cheer this moment.
Apart from waiting around for the twist, the only real drawback to the film is that it’s not really horror. They said it was, but it’s really just a thriller. The murders aren’t a focal point of the film, the violence is confined to the final 5 minutes, and the suspense is no different than that of a movie like The Fugitive (same writer, incidentally) or whatever. There ARE some pretty nasty gore gags, however (a knife through a leg, for example), so there’s something. It’s kind of odd that in a time when R rated horror (I think this will be R anyway, if mainly for language) is doing so poorly at the box office that a studio would try to sell a genuine thriller as a horror movie, but what do I know?
But again, it’s a test screening, so maybe some of this will change by the time it comes out. As it stands, it’s a good movie, but a frustrating one. I wish there was a way for the twist to work without keeping the film in neutral for so long, but at least the visuals (two hot women, Hawaii locales, Mickey’s always entertaining performance) is enough to keep it afloat.
What say you?