APRIL 27, 2011
I know I’ve said before that I’ve seen enough movies featuring a particular twist that I can detect the tell-tale signs almost instantly, but you wouldn’t even need this particularly useless (if anything, kind of annoying) superpower for Sweet Insanity, because I’m not even sure if they were TRYING to hide the fact that a certain character was a figment of our heroine’s imagination. But in a way it sort of helped, because it allowed me to focus on the movie, which was kind of fun, and also actually miss another twist. Twist misdirection!
So, yeah, the hot brunette girl played by Mackenzie Firgens isn’t really there. You don’t need overexposure to these sort of movies to realize this, as she literally disappears in the middle of a street in front of two other girls at a fairly early point in the movie, and not only converses exclusively with our heroine, but does so in an awkward fashion. At one point she “stops by” the main girl’s house during a party and still manages to avoid actually talking to or even sharing a camera shot with any of the others. It’s just too awkward, and despite the Sixth Sense name-checking on the commentary, I don’t think there’s a single moment where her non-existence was in doubt. Sense had the clever “angry” wife scene at the restaurant and Cole arriving home as (we think) Malcolm is finishing up a chat with the mother to misdirect us, but Insanity offers none of that. And that title (changed from Stranger, which was a bad call) certainly doesn’t try to hide the true nature of what’s going on.
But again, this sort of helped. Knowing what was up, I was able to ignore the half-hearted attempts to mislead us and just focus on the slasher story. And that story was largely inspired by Slumber Party Massacre (complete with creepy neighbor and prank-pulling male characters), which I found quite delightful. The need to hide the identity of the killer without getting too High Tension-y (read: cheating, though there is some anyway) means that the kill scenes aren’t too exciting, but there are a couple that are memorable, such as the drill kill (another tip of the hat to SPM), as the victim was the one girl in the movie who I thought might survive. I also liked the weed-whacker kill of the movie’s most insufferable character, both in execution and in the fact that it’s the only one with any real splatter.
And in addition to Slumber, the writer and/or director clearly knew his Halloween. There’s a scene of our two leads walking home after school (which would take about 14 hours if one of them didn’t get picked up by a friend with a car, since they are literally walking about 1 mph – guessing they didn’t have dolly track and the camera operator was too afraid to walk backwards), and even though you’re probably focused on them, if you look you’ll see “the killer” following them in the background, out of focus and unaccompanied by any sort of stings or anything like that to draw our attention to him. It’s funny, I was actually thinking a couple days ago (I forget what spurned it on) that when people rip off Halloween, it’s usually the “now you see him now you don’t” type stuff, but few ever do that creepy following thing that Michael does. There’s actually an even better example in Halloween 5, when he’s just sort of hanging out in the background while Tina and Tammy talk about sheets – I love that! Too many horror movies make sure you see each and every scare; it’s nice to have some that you might not even notice until a second viewing.
However, the real appeal for me was that it was the rare slasher film in which one of the male characters (not counting the heroine’s boyfriend) actually survived... but that’s not even half of it. His name is Brian, so of course throughout the movie whenever someone would call for him or ask him a direct question, I’d answer as if they were talking to me (my wife was sitting with me – it was to amuse her just as much as myself, thank you), only to find out in the final scene that his name was actually Brian Collins! THAT’S MY NAME! I even rewound it and put on the (Spanish) subtitles to make sure I heard it right. I was so happy – I am pretty sure it’s the first Brian Collins I’ve ever seen in a movie at all, let alone a slasher movie, LET ALONE a slasher movie where that character actually survived. Of course, the character was a fucking clueless moron and the only reason he didn’t die was because he went home after pissing his pants instead of going back to the party, but still – awesome.
There are two big blunders that kept it from being a slam dunk though. One is the ultimate conclusion, which comes a bit abruptly and isn’t entirely coherent. If I hadn’t seen the movie Identity I might not have understood it at all, and you never want to be in a situation where seeing the movie Identity is beneficial to you. I liked the idea, and again, the obvious “she’s not really there” twist kept me from noticing the other twist, but it wasn’t really executed all that well.
The other, far more problematic issue is that the bulk of the actors are way too old to be high school seniors. I actually thought they were playing college students at first, and even that they looked too old but I was willing to accept that – some folks take longer to graduate college. So when they showed up in high school classes I laughed out loud; the lead girl in particular looks at LEAST 28 years old (I couldn’t find her exact age but she played an “Office Assistant” in Runaway Bride, and that movie was 6-7 years older than this one), and the girl playing her best friend had to be 24 or 25 as well. And it wouldn’t even be a problem, but the extras playing anonymous students in the halls look around the right age, so they just stick out like sore thumbs. Worse, the lead actress is also the weakest in the bunch, and has a very awkward delivery. Considering the weight she had to pull at the end of the movie, when all the answers start coming together - they really ought to have hired a better, younger actress.
The casting decision is not explained on the commentary by first/last time director Daniel Hess, whose bio on the DVD alludes to having worked on a lot of productions but doesn’t name any of them (this film is his only credit on IMDb), nor is much of anything else in terms of the production. I may have enjoyed the movie, but the commentary is the absolute pits, as Hess just sort of narrates the movie while adding in small, worthless bits about the actors being “a lot of fun” or improvising a certain line or action. Most of the time he is speaking as the film’s writer (actually co-writer, the script is also attributed to Adam Weis, who wrote The Hamiltons, which features both of the two lead actresses), not as its director, offering next to nothing about shooting in a practical house, staging the kill scenes, etc. He also utters this howler: “We had a lot of fun with oatmeal on the set, there’s no doubt about it”, which pretty much sums up the entire track: a guy who thinks oatmeal is fun is not a guy you want to listen for 80 minutes. There are also “deleted scenes” but it’s just an outtake reel that appears at the end of the movie anyway, so not only are the extras skimpy, they’re also worthless.
As with Frayed and (to a lesser extent) Shattered Lives, I don’t expect a lot of folks to enjoy this one, and I won’t be endlessly pimping it like Cathy’s Curse* or whatever. But as a slasher fan, I found a lot to like here, and I admired their intentions. Certainly not the crappy, generic slasher movie I’ve come to expect from these sort of things, and even though I’m a bit puzzled how I never noticed it on the shelf at my Blockbuster store before (as it’s been there for years and I’ve scoured those shelves several dozen times), I’m almost sort of glad – a lot of shitty slasher movies in the past 4 years has allowed me to appreciate the ones with a little bit of creativity and respectable tributes to the old school classics without outright ripping them off.
What say you?
*As Cathy’s Curse is sometimes sold with a slutty girl on the cover that has nothing to do with the movie, I found this alternate approach to this movie, using the original title, to be deeply hilarious:
Note – there is no doll of any sort in this film, let alone a killer one who could be considered a “soul mate of Chucky”. Amazing. Flipside: I bet whoever bought the movie with this cover will never see either twist coming - they’ll be too busy looking for the killer doll the entire movie. Also worth noting, the girl on the cover of our version isn’t in the movie either. Does ANY country get a DVD cover for this movie that honestly reflects the actual film?