APRIL 24, 2009
A glance at the cover art, back of the box synopsis, or even trailer for While She Was Out would probably have you believe that it was a modern spin on I Spit On Your Grave or whatever. You assume Kim Basinger’s mousy character is brutally attacked and/or raped, and then she finds her inner strength and gets revenge on her attackers. In theory, hardly a bad idea for a film, and it’s not like we often get an Oscar winner in this sort of thing. The problem is, they forgot the “attacked and/or raped” part.
Now, before I begin my rant, I want to make it clear that the idea of a strong woman in a thriller or horror movie is actually appealing to me. Look at The Descent for a great example - the main character not only stands up for herself against the monsters, but also the bitch who was sleeping with her husband. I cheered her on just as I would Bruce Willis or someone I could more readily identify with. And my favorite genre is the slasher film, 99% of which (and all of the best ones) leave it up to a lone female to take down the killer (often a male). But the difference between those movies and THIS movie is, the actions those women take are completely justified.
Here, however, the “bad guys” in the movie don’t actually DO anything to Basinger. After SHE instigates them by writing a nasty note about their parking habits, they pull up behind her and merely harass her a bit (even when she smacks one and shoves another, they never lay a hand on her in return). Then a security guard shows up and the leader of the gang (Lukas Haas) shoots him, practically on accident. So she drives away, and they chase her to a construction site, where they proceed to... yell at her some more. At this point, she turns a table that has not yet been introduced, and begins killing them all.
And she REALLY FUCKING KILLS them too. It’s not like she smacks them with a 2x4 and they fall down and hit their head or whatever. No, she stabs the shit out of one of them, partially immolates one with a road flare before shooting him point blank, and even drives a goddamn tire iron through one of their heads. All in retaliation for... calling her a bitch? And then it gets worse: she goes home, and as her children sleep peacefully waiting for Santa to come (it’s Christmas Eve), she presumably shoots her jerk husband in the face.
No, I’m sorry. I can’t condone her behavior in the movie (hence the Hero Killer tag - it’s a film where we’re supposed to root for the villain). The punks are just that, punks. Hell, even if the guy they killed (again, seemingly accidentally, but hell for the sake of argument lets say they did it on purpose) was a friend of hers I could see her actions being somewhat justified, but it’s just some mall rent-a-cop, one she was a complete bitch to in their one interaction. And the husband (Craig Sheffer!): OK, he was an asshole, but since the movie doesn’t have the balls to actually have him be physically abusive to her, it’s - again - hard to really cheer her actions on. And hell, he yells at her for leaving the house a mess... but she’s a housewife! That’s pretty much all she has to do! Is shooting him in the face on Christmas really the best way to get back at him for expecting to be able to walk around his home without tripping on like 17 toys? Have fun explaining to your children why their father is lying in a pool of blood next to their presents.
Also, the movie goes overboard with trying to paint Basinger as a loser. I already mentioned the messy house (and it’s REALLY messy, like borderline hazardous), but she also has a canceled credit card for some reason, and the girl at the coffee shop doesn’t spell her name right, and her only friends are the people in her various classes (yoga, mechanics, Spanish, I dunno, they rattle off like a dozen in a single conversation). So I guess it’s supposed to make us feel good when she stands up for herself? But no, it doesn’t - because a. it’s not justified, and b. she’s SUCH a loser that the movie practically has no choice but to give her a moment to shine. Wouldn’t it be a lot more interesting if she was a strong, independent woman who was REDUCED to her basic animal instinct to survive? At least then the movie might appeal to both genders; instead of (I presume) divorced secretaries with three cats and a mail order subscription to Ben & Jerry’s, and no one else.
Moral issues aside, there’s a lot of problems with the script in general. The gang of punks is hilariously generic: there’s one white, one black, one Asian, and one Latino, complete with references to one another’s race (the white guy is admonished for using the N word by the black guy - “You can’t call me that, you ain’t earned it yet!”). In fact, pretty much all the dialogue is terrible, with everyone speaking in broad generalities rather than sound like a human being (when Basinger runs into an old college friend, she says “I haven’t seen you since college! You ran off and got married to that dreamboat husband!”). And where the hell are they? They seem to live in a very populated area, yet as soon as something bad happens, everyone else in the world seems to disappear.
And it’s a shame, because everything that’s wrong with the movie is script-based. Otherwise, there’s actually a lot of promise here. Basinger is in fine form (and has lost almost none of her attractiveness - hard to believe Batman was 20 years ago), as is Haas as the “villainous” Chucky. Susan Montford (forever in my good graces for producing Shoot Em Up) is also an impressive first time director; even with the banal generic-ness of the script (which she also wrote), she manages to wring some suspense out of the proceedings, and keeps the pacing up despite the film taking place more or less in real time. I also dug the eerie opening credit sequence, which features some crude children’s drawings over a simple but effective main theme. And the gory deaths are a nice surprise, though again this is mainly a result of the fact that they are not justified. Had there been an actual attack on her person (Christ, even a punch in the face), I’d feel more comfortable rooting her on and cheering when she delivered a killing blow. Hell, this movie makes me afraid to give a woman the finger when she cuts me off in traffic; if she has seen this movie she might think it’s OK to turn around and chop my goddamn head off.
The DVD comes with some standard extras, including a making of in which everyone fawns over how great everyone else is, with the exception of Basinger, who comes across as completely batshit insane as she says things like “There’s one scene that I found quite ‘Wow!’ as it went along because it took its own form and made up its own self...”. Montford and producer Don Murphy also provide a commentary, in which neither of them seems to notice that their rape-revenge film is missing a key ingredient. Murphy at least mocks a few of the more ridiculous moments, and also echoes my sentiments about the film’s inordinate number of executive producers (“I’ve never even heard of these two”), one of whom is Guillermo Del Toro, for some reason. The disc also opens with a trailer for something called Lower Learning, which isn’t horror but promises Eva Longoria knocking back vodka and Monica Potter telling a little kid to go fuck himself, so I’m already declaring it a great film.
What say you?