JANUARY 13, 2011
Someone asked what I thought of “Hoodie Horror” recently, and named some examples (Ils, F, Eden Lake). Until then I didn’t realize it was a sub-genre, and I still think it’s just a cheap way to work around the stressful process of designing a mask that will be cool, but either way, you can add The Maze to that group, as our killer is hidden by his red hoodie for the bulk of the film, and that’s about the only distinguishable characteristic he has until the final reel.
It’s also not until that final reel that the film becomes less than just another generic slasher movie, which is a shame since most folks will have checked out by then, and the reveal isn’t QUITE good enough to make up for the movie’s shortcomings. Had the characters been a bit more interesting, or if the scares/suspense weren’t so pedestrian, the reveal could be icing on the cake. Instead it’s like finding a really zesty Dorito in an otherwise stale bag; a nice surprise but not enough to validate the whole experience.
Part of the problem is the location – the titular maze. A corn maze can be scary, but it’s also as visually uninteresting a locale as you can possibly imagine, and the very nature of the thing (a MAZE) keeps you from ever understanding the geography, which is a problem in slashers. You need to know how far/close the characters are from each other, from safety, etc. When Laurie Strode backs into the closet and Michael enters the room, we understand how close she is to him and what his options are (the closet or out the window), which is what creates the tension. There’s no tension here, because I could never figure out any sense of the layout. It’s just corn. I spent half of the movie wondering why the characters weren’t constantly running into each other – it seemed like they were in the same rows, going by the visuals.
Plus they get there way too soon; by the 12 minute mark our characters have entered the maze AND split up (and that includes an opening flash-forward to the morgue attendant sifting through the remains of our eventual victims). It’s your titular locale – you need to build up to it a bit, and also develop the characters while you’re at it. The obvious Final Girl has some sort of tension with one of the other guys, but that’s about it for back-story or even distinguishing characteristics. It’s so dark in the maze, it was a bit hard to tell who was getting killed at times, because they hadn’t really given the characters any distinction even when it was light out.
The kills are pretty decent, thankfully. There’s a nice beheading, and the cute girl died way quicker than I expected, so that was a decent jolt (the scene leading to her death, with the killer taunting her with her glasses, was also pretty good). I could have done without the random phone call scene in the middle of the maze carnage though – it was jarring and it felt like padding. The maze owner also felt a bit like padding; I get that it was a bit realistic that he’d be nearby and come look around, but since he hadn’t been introduced prior, it just seemed shoehorned in rather than a natural part of the story.
But you’ll realize something is amiss when the Final Girl “kills” the killer and escapes the maze around the 55 minute mark. Either this movie has the longest end credit sequence in history, or there’s more to it than this. However, it’s a bit awkward – the movie is called The Maze and they leave the maze with over a half hour to go, and it feels like you’re watching the sequel to The Maze all of a sudden: “Picking up where the original left off, our survivor is taken to the police station to give a statement. Meanwhile, our not-dead killer is still on her trail...” Hell, we even stay with him for a while as he wanders around a bit, sort of stalks a girl at a convenience store, bums a ride off some annoying dude (Adam Johnson from Frozen), and finally gets around to revealing his true identity.
Now, this was a pretty inventive and unique twist, and I tip my cap to the screenwriters – I did not see it coming and it’s pretty cool to boot. BUT, the awkward transition from traditional slasher to cat and mouse thriller required a lot of adjusting; it would be like if you were watching a Hot Shots style parody for an hour and then it suddenly became a Neil Simon farce. It would probably work better on a second viewing, but it’s the surprise that makes it interesting, so I guess it would just cancel itself out. The final “gotcha” moment for the killer is pretty top notch though; again I laud the writers for doing something I haven’t seen before (the best use of a tape recorder since Saw!).
Oh, and I almost wish the end credits WERE the longest ever – the sequence is pretty great; an animation of bloody photos and random objects from the movie with the camera sweeping around. Good stuff.
It’s a bummer, because like I said, this could have been a really great slasher (technical aspects are all professional - more than I can say for the last corn maze movie I watched) with just a few key changes. Here’s what I’d do. When we first meet our characters, they are telling ghost stories, and had the opening flash-forward simply had a different climax, we could be tricked into thinking it was just their story and not a glimpse of the future – makes for a cool “ohhhh” moment once you figure that out. And they could be telling us these stories from a diner or something, instead of being on the side of the road for some reason, giving the film some much needed scenic variety (they’re on a typical Utah road – i.e. nothing around), and maybe having the opportunity to give the kids a little more personality. Then they go to the maze while it’s still open (in the daylight), allowing us to familiarize ourselves with the layout (or at least how far it was from civilization – there’s no establishing shot at all). They stay inside by choice or human error, and then the suspense/killings start up. And the twist could even play out the same way, but on location – the cops could come to the farm or whatever that the maze was part of, and then the killer could “come back” and do his thing there, instead of the awkward 10-15 minutes of him traveling to the police station. Add in some good better suspense/chase scenes and viola! A perfectly good modern slasher, instead of just a “kind of OK” one. What’s the statute of limitations on remaking indie movies?
What say you?