OCTOBER 31, 2009
I kind of like the irony that the three horror films I grabbed for my Halloween trip home were largely un-horror-y. Really, of all the days of the year, how did I manage to pick Elsewhere, which barely qualifies as a thriller, let alone a horror film? Apart from one (kind of tense) scene where our cute heroine (Twilight’s Anna Kendrick) is menaced in her own home by the guy who has seemingly kidnapped her friend, there is nothing scary/suspenseful about the film, seemingly by design.
It’s not enough that anyone with half a brain will identify the villain from the second he is introduced, but so much of the film is devoted to Kendrick looking at online profiles (she believes her friend was the victim of a cyber-stalker), or talking to the weird girl she works with, or palling around with the dorky computer tech guy that helps her access the Myspace-esque site in question at the school library (why not just have him uninstall the “Big Brother” program her mother has put on their home computer which is the reason for using the library one in the first place?), that the movie seemingly forgets to have anything exciting happen. It picks up a bit in the final 10 minutes, obviously (it’s the first of these three movies to have a genuine climax, I’ll give it that), but again, since the killer’s identity was so obvious, it doesn’t pack the punch that writer/director Nathan Hope probably intended.
Oddly it works better simply as a sad drama about how people deal with loss. The central focus is the disappearance of Kendrick’s best friend (played by Lost’s Tania Raymonde, a bit out of her range as the town bad girl), but there have been other disappearances as well, and the film’s best scenes involve the shattered mother of one of the other girls, who still posts missing fliers around town and listens to her daughter’s voice on her voicemail, five years after she went missing. And Raymonde’s mother is a complete monster who doesn’t even seem to care that she’s gone, but ultimately breaks down and cries as she enters her daughter’s empty room (she heard a noise - Kendrick snooping - and assumed (hoped?) Raymonde had returned).
But the other problem is that it doesn’t spend enough time developing Raymonde’s character. She’s gone at the end of the first act, and the film never offers old videos or flashbacks or things like that to help make us feel her loss. In her few scenes, she’s sort of an annoying bitch - and I failed to see why Kendrick’s character even hung out with her, let alone would go through all of this to find out what happened to her. There is some minor plot details concerning Kendrick’s own mother issues (“I have to wash my makeup off before I go home”), but again, the mother disappears from the movie after a while anyway, so this subplot is largely pointless in the long run. If anything, the film might have worked better if Kendrick was kidnapped and Raymonde was forced to act responsible for once in order to try to help her friend, because she was all that she had or whatever.
Hope and one of his producers offer a commentary, but the producer has absolutely nothing to say (he merely chuckles when appropriate and agrees with whatever Hope says), and Hope himself goes quiet more than once or twice. When he DOES talk it’s the same sort of stuff you’d expect (shooting delays, multiple actors filling in for hooded figure roles, etc), other than the maddening frequency in which he discusses deleted plot material. It’s maddening because the six deleted scenes are just scene extensions (some of which I couldn’t even spot the difference), with only one legit excised scene (of little importance) and none of the character stuff he mentioned in the commentary. There’s also a brief making of (where Hope says it's not a horror film, though one of the actors says it IS) and a photo gallery, plus the trailer that oversells its limited thriller aspects.
Maybe if I went in for a drama I would have liked it more. Kendrick is an engaging lead, the teens largely act like teens, and the (again, ultimately fruitless) cyber stuff is largely accurate - I believed they were indeed on a Myspace ripoff, and not some completely made up thing bearing no resemblance to a legit site (likewise, text messages look like text messages, not the full-screen graphics we usually see), which helped ground the film in reality. But as a kidnap thriller (and certainly as a horror film) it’s not up to par. Hell, even FOX’s Vanishing remake had a few good chills going for it.
What say you?