JANUARY 8, 2010
If the 1st HMAD movie concerned “BC” going off to a house in the woods to write a book about all of the movies about writers going off into a house in the woods to write their own book, then the sequel would have to be about BC being trapped by a guy who talked to him over a PA system and forcing him to work out a series of traps involving the Saw and Cube movies, plus their indie cousins like 99 Pieces, which is a unique take on the setup (the guy is trapped in his own house, for starters) but ultimately too convoluted for its own good.
Warning, there are spoilers ahead for both this film and the film Usual Suspects, so if you haven’t seen them yet, you really should go watch Usual Suspects.
Suspects has a pretty convoluted plot, and all of the connections and such probably aren’t crystal clear after a single viewing (I’m STILL picking up on minute things). But on the plus side, you get a bunch of great actors being badass, some well-shot action sequences, Oscar-winning dialogue (“We can put you in Queens!” “Really. I LIVE in Queens!”)... the whole nine yards. If you were starting to get overwhelmed with exposition and revelations, you could at least still enjoy the scenery, in other words. But 99 Pieces, which eventually gets even MORE convoluted, in my opinion, doesn’t have that going for it. The actors are all amateur and hardly award-worthy, and the entire thing takes place in a dark house (shot with digital video that doesn’t allow for things like a good enough contrast ratio for you to be able to separate one dark object from another). So even though the ending reveals that the story is more or less not supposed to make any sense (again, like Suspects), getting there takes far more patience than should be necessary. I started getting really frustrated when flashbacks revealed, for one example, that two characters - neither of whom are the ones trapped in the house - had a gay affair. Who the fuck cares? It’d be like blaming William H. Macy for all of the shit that happened to everyone else in Magnolia. And that just brings me back to the same point - it’s not that the twist ending is bad, but the movie didn’t give us enough reason to be patient enough to get there.
I also didn’t buy how quickly Josh accepted his situation. He doesn’t really panic, or try to get out of it, or get help. The killer guy has him do all of these ridiculous things (throw away all of the perishable food, shut off the water to the house, remove all of the light bulbs in the house, etc) and he does them seemingly without question. If someone kidnapped my wife and told me that I needed to get rid of all my forks, I’d ask the guy what the fuck for. And when he said “JUST DO IT OR I’LL KILL HER!” I’d be like “You’d kill someone because her husband liked his silverware? You’re a goon.” And then he’d be like “AAAARRRGGHH!!!” and probably run out to smack me. And then I’d stab him with a fork.
Plus the killer offers a point system, and Josh can use his points to get food or water or whatever for the day, 1 point for him, 1 for his wife (Josh actually writes “My wife” instead of “Rebecca”, for some reason), etc. But one of the things is electricity, which doesn’t make sense as he has taken away all of their lights anyway, and I doubt the dude would want to watch a DVD with other matters at hand (though maybe he would - he owns a copy of Starsky and Hutch and has a Pooh’s Heffalump Movie poster in his living room - guy’s obviously a movie fiend). Hilariously, the killer says early on that this is his first time, so some of his rules and stuff might not work or make sense. Nice way to cover your plot holes, sir. And the water thing, again, only makes sense once you get to the end and realize what the point was, so I wish they had come up with SOME reasonable (fake) explanation so I wasn’t spending the entire movie going “Why did he make them shut the water off?” Unlike some other puzzle based movies, I knew there was no way I could figure it out myself due to the setup (it starts pretty much on their first day of imprisonment, before we meet any of the “puzzle pieces”, i.e. other characters), so my mind was focused on things like this.
I was also continually annoyed by the on-screen text captions. Reminding us what day it is was reasonable, but the particular puzzle piece number and whatever clue it contained was a bit much. Sure, it’s unique - I guarantee this is the only feature film to have the words “Body Wash” appear not once but twice over a shot of a bruised and malnourished man laying on the floor - but annoying all the same.
Also I liked the soundtrack a lot, but it didn’t quite fit the movie at times. Sometimes it had the effect of putting the Garden State soundtrack over The Machinist. I’d buy it in a heartbeat on CD though.
It’s an ambitious effort to be sure - Anthony Falcon was the (take a breath) writer, director, editor, composer, title creator, location supervisor, prop master, make up artist, executive producer, casting director, producer, AND star of the film. But ambition doesn’t have a direct correlation to merit, and while I liked the final twist and was intrigued for a while, the movie ultimately tried my patience far too often to really enjoy it. And the final twist renders all of the puzzle-solving scenes meaningless, so it’s the rare twist film that doesn’t inspire a 2nd viewing either. Good effort and all, but it just missed the mark for me.
Oh and there's only 45 pieces. Not sure what that's about.
What say you?