AUGUST 4, 2010
Yet another goddamn horror movie about all the bad stuff that happens to the crew of a goddamn horror movie. In a bit of slight meta-irony, Don’t Look Up (you can’t, if you’re a dog) is actually a remake of an Asian film (Joyû-rei), and the film that the characters are making is sort of a remake itself (the plot concerns a crew attempting to finally make a film that was started 80 years ago and abandoned after the death of its director). But cleverness does not equal “good” – and this movie is a prime example.
Eli Roth (as the 1920's director - complete with awesome mustache) actually displays the most sense out of anybody in this mess, exiting the film after less than 90 seconds of screen time. His death sets the stage quite aptly for the rest of the movie: the CGI work is horrendous, it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, and every now and then it presents an interesting element or character, but then dismisses it before it has a chance to shine. But it’s hilarious to think that they would actually try to sell the movie on his name when his role is brief (even by DTV “name on the box” standards) – in any other situation he probably wouldn’t even have been given billing at all.
The other two ‘names’ in the film are Henry Thomas and Kevin Corrigan, both of whom elevate the material and are, like Roth, underused (though at least prominent throughout the film). Thomas plays the film’s worrisome producer, and Corrigan is a key grip or something of that nature. Both seem to be having fun, and Thomas manages to go through most of the film without ever dealing with the supernatural nonsense, allowing him to be the film’s de facto voice of sanity. Corrigan, on the other hand, eventually goes crazy, and gets killed when a big light falls off the ceiling and clocks him on the head. But he plays the same sort of everyman angry loser he’s played several times in the past, and it’s great to see such a prominent role in one of these movie-movies given to a 2nd string crew member (instead of say the DP or the writer).
The rest of the actors/film is just a forgettable mess, however. Even by Asian horror standards, the story is way too incoherent – the basic jist of it makes (horror movie) sense, but the meat on those bones is just a total “huh?” fest. Why does half the crew go crazy at the end, while the other half just runs around trying to get away? Why the thing on the Devil’s shoulder? Why all the people made out of flies, when it makes no sense AND it looks like crap due to the budget level CGI effects team doing the most half assed job I’ve seen this side of Escape From LA? Those are the ones I can remember – there are probably more but the movie is already fading out of my memory.
And the end also has a twist in which we discover that our hero’s wife died months before they began production, even though we saw him talk to her at the beginning of the movie. As it turns out, he was just imagining all that stuff (so we get flashbacks of him “talking” to nothing), and the end leaves it unclear if ANY of the film’s he witnessed actually happened (i.e. seeing people made out of bugs), or if it was only the wife stuff that was imaginary/hallucinatory. Luckily, since the movie was dull and the polar opposite of scary or suspenseful, I didn’t care much – I was just happy it was over.
Adding to my disappointment was the fact that this was the American debut of Fruit Chan, who made the not-perfect but at least interesting Dumplings, and I was looking forward to seeing what else he had up his sleeve. Going the remake route (of a film by Ringu director Hideo Nakata – and it shows at times) isn’t the wisest decision, in my opinion, but he could have at least made it with some sort of personality. Apart from a color scheme that seems more inspired by Argento than Shimizu, the film is bizarrely lifeless. Even when crazy shit is happening (such as a woman giving birth while standing up, with the baby not quite making it all the way out), the camerawork is pretty bland. This sort of stuff should have a Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi-style frenetic look, but instead it’s all matter of fact.
I also never bought into the reality of them supposedly making a movie. They talk the talk well enough (again, Thomas is one of the few bright spots – loved how he had to sigh and ask a PA to drop off an injured man at the hospital before stopping at the film lab), but the movie they’re making doesn’t seem to have any sort of weight to it. I swear we only see them film like two shots in the entire movie. And does the whole thing take place in this one tiny set? It’s weird – the film (Don’t Look Up) has multiple locations and thus some sort of scope*, yet when the characters in it go to make THEIR film, it looks like they’re using the tiny soundstage from last season’s Scream Queens’ “director challenges”.
And I know that’s not true, because this thing has been on the shelf for almost two years. I don’t know if it was ever intended to be released theatrically, but given its decent cast and a director that has a following, you’d think it wouldn’t have been collecting dust for so long if it was actually any good. Surprisingly, it does have some decent bonus features, which is unusual for a long delayed film. There’s a half hour making of that covers most of the usual areas of production, and it’s funny to see Eli talking for about 5 minutes’ worth of the piece, regarding his barely over a minute’s worth of screen time. Then there’s another 20 minutes of behind the scenes footage, which is just that – no narration or interviews, just a bunch of random, context-less footage, mostly involving the gore scenes. The film’s overlong and far too spoiler-y trailer is also included, and one could consider just watching it instead of the 85 minute movie, since it shows you just about all of the deaths and makes about as much sense.
I really don’t get why this movie exists. Even in 2008, the J-horror remake craze had died down, so it couldn’t piggyback on anything, and the fact that it’s being released without fanfare is pretty peculiar, given the pedigree. Hell, no one even bothered to re-release the original on DVD, which is a standard action to take when the remake comes along. I hope that changes soon (it’s not available via Blockbuster or Netflix), because I’d like to see it. The story is pretty blah, but I assume the original is still much better, given that Nakata knows how to create tension (Dumplings was good, but not suspenseful or scary in any way – maybe Chan just isn’t interested in that sort of thing), and being from 1996, probably didn’t have much in the way of terrible CGI (or at least, if it did it would be forgivable). I’ll miss Corrigan though – that dude’s awesome.
What say you?
*Oddest thing about the movie - it takes place in Romania, which is where like 95% of all crappy DTV movies are filmed, but they actually shot it in Los Angeles. Eli's death, for example, occurs at the site of the "flood" part of the Universal tram ride.