DECEMBER 28, 2008
Last week someone asked why I always watch the extras for the movies I review, even the movies I dislike. I chalked it up to an equal mix of being obsessive compulsive and, in the case of those underwhelming films, an opportunity for the filmmakers to sort of state their case and maybe leave me a little less cold on their film. So it’s a shame I didn’t have The Devil’s Chair to bring up as an example, because I had passed on it several times in the store due to its extensive extras (commentary and a hour long making of), and had I not, I could have made a good point about the importance of extras, as the making-of gave me a whole new way of looking at the film. See, the movie ain’t all that good, but it shows promise from time to time, and ultimately, its biggest problem is a editing/screenwriting decision that seemed shoehorned into the final film, rather than an organic idea.
Throughout the film, our protagonist “freezes” the movie and narrates something. Sometimes it’s for a few seconds, other times it’s merely a few frames. Either way it’s annoying as hell, to the point where I kept yelling SHUT UP! at the narrator, who presumably couldn’t hear me. And worse, the haphazard frequency that it occurs means you can never quite get used to it. At times, it would become so frequent during a sequence that it made me feel like I was watching a DVD of one of those children’s storybooks for popular movies (where you get a tape, or, I guess CD now, of the movie being narrated as you look at select still shots). So like I said, it felt like something that got added in for whatever reason, because I couldn’t imagine someone sitting there and writing in a 3-4 word line to play over a shot that froze for a half a second.
And the extras confirmed as much. The movie was more or less an attempt by filmmakers Adam Mason and Simon Boyes to make a more commercial film (they were hired to make a “shit haunted house” movie under certain circumstances) that would help fund projects they truly cared about, but they didn’t want to make any old piece of shit either. However, as they were editing, they realized that they had indeed made a rather lousy film, so someone had the genius decision to write/record narration to play over any scene, moment, or even shot of the film that they felt was sub-par. A pretty terrible idea, if you ask me (apparently, they never heard of Blade Runner), and I am pretty certain that it didn’t help. I would love to see the non-narrated original cut of the film and see how differently it plays when I don’t have an annoying Brit yammering in my ear every twenty seconds.
But it’s not so much the concept of the narration that annoyed me, it’s the execution. The freeze frame stuff is only half as annoying as what he is actually saying, which is a lot of meta “look at this crappy horror movie!” type alleged humor. I’m sorry, but when the filmmakers are essentially making fun of me for wanting to watch a monster/splatter movie, they instantly lose a lot of my goodwill. It’s good that they indeed recognize their film’s faults, but calling attention to them in the most annoying way possible seems counterproductive. Hilariously, they point out how once they are finished with a film they never want to watch it again, yet all of these last-minute changes were designed to make a film that they were happier with. So the people who WILL watch it in the years to come won’t enjoy it as much because of the changes made by folks who have no desire in watching it?
Strangely enough, the making of is edited just like the film, albeit within the confines of a documentary. So instead of jarring freeze-frames, there are jarring quick cuts to the film itself, and instead of calling attention to the fact that it’s a movie by having the narrator say so, the editor simply zooms in and removes the color during a lot of the talking head shots, giving it a Natural Born Killers style feel. Again, it’s pretty goddamn annoying; I would suggest just listening to the making of’s audio track and looking at, I dunno, a piece of ham or something.
The most surprising thing about the making of, however, is when Mason began talking about his previous film, which was.... Broken! AKA the worst movie of 2007. I hadn’t remembered his name, and the box art for Devil’s Chair wisely doesn’t mention it. I’m glad I didn’t know before I watched the film, as I would have gone with a chip on my shoulder (something I don’t usually do, but man, Broken was REALLY fucking terrible). He mentions the film quite often, and seems pretty proud of it, to the point of sounding arrogant, but I didn’t really mind much. I’d rather a filmmaker (or anyone involved with a film) stuck to his guns about his past work rather than talk about how great it is when its time to promote it, only to slam it while he’s out for the next one (sadly, my hero, one Mr. Walter Bruce Willis, is one of the worst offenders of such behavior). I did get a bit annoyed when he claimed that Broken “isn’t torture porn, because it’s about Stockholm Syndrome”, which is like claiming that Con Air isn’t a high octane action movie because there’s that one part where Nic Cage dances with his wife. It’s torture porn pal, and one of the worst examples of it.
They also speak pretty openly about the baffling Hollywood tradition of filming without a completed script, replacing actors, etc. I mean really, outside of something like Project Greenlight, you probably won’t find a DVD with as much candid and fascinating information about how a film evolves, why parts of it don’t work, why story ideas get dropped, etc. Say what you will about the film (which, I realize, I haven’t done yet), but if you’re a film geek that loves this kind of stuff, I highly recommend watching the extras for this one; it’s the most informative/no bullshit collection of features I’ve seen on a disc in ages, and, if you haven’t guessed yet, far more interesting than the finished product.
As for the movie, well, it’s kind of hard to enjoy when every crowd pleasing moment (such as when the monster – which is a fucking great monster by the way – chases a girl in her bra) is mocked by the film’s narrator. It all feels like when someone you look up to says “Hey do you like (whatever movie)?” and you say “Yeah, it’s great!” and they go “I think it’s terrible”, and then you feel stupid for liking it. Well forgive me for renting a movie about a killer chair and expecting to have some fun. The final twist, while not entirely surprising, is still effectively implemented (and pays off at least the IDEA of having the narration, if nothing else), and kind of ballsy to boot. And the look of the film is quite nice, a welcome change from the ugly DV nonsense in their previous film. Again, I can’t help but wonder how much more enjoyable the film would be without the narration/freeze-framing. It would certainly be shorter, which can only help (it takes FOREVER to get going, though once it does even the narration can’t totally kill the momentum).
I will say this: it’s definitely not one of those generic psychological/supernatural type thrillers that I will completely forget about in a few weeks (it’s actually the 2nd killer chair movie I’ve watched this year, but I already forget the other one’s name). For all its faults, there’s enough promise here to make me interested in their next film (Blood River) – I just hope that it’s a film they are proud of as is, rather than one they feel they have to “fix” and in turn make (presumably) worse.
What say you?