MARCH 9, 2013
I have a pretty good memory of sitting at the Highball in Austin during last year's Fantastic Fest, turning a press release for Hold Your Breath into a quickie edition of my weekly Collins Crypt article for BadassDigest. As it was The Asylum's first ever theatrical release, they were doing a Twitter contest to drum up some interest (I think you could win a role in one of their productions), and since I am a (mostly ironic) fan of their studio, I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone: throw them a bone and provide an article for the site since I was being lazy with my reviews.
Sadly, I never got a chance to see the film until now. It was only a theatrical release in the most technical sense of the term - the theaters it was put in were hardly the best, nor were there many of them, and if memory serves it didn't even show all day long. Plus it was gone after a week (a real release has a guarantee of two weeks), so I never found the time to see it as it came out around the same time as Screamfest which monopolized my time. Nor can I see if the experiment paid off - the grosses aren't reported on BoxOfficeMojo or IMDb, though I assume they would be pretty paltry. Hell, I'd even go so far as to guess no one in the country actually went to see it - there isn't a single IMDb message board post from an audience member, either (though there is a "user review" that seems very plant-y). Come on, if there's one person in the world who would have seen this for sure, it's me - the guy who saw all 5 Wrong Turns theatrically and drove an hour to see Haunting in Connecticut 2. So if even I missed it, all bets are off.
Anyway, the movie is fine for an Asylum flick. I don't know why they opted to go with this as a theatrical release; it's just as cheap-looking as their other movies, and some of them even boast bigger stars than Katrina Bowden, the one real name here (Randy Wayne shares above the title billing with her, but I've never heard of him; Wiki tells me he is best known for starring in the direct to video Dukes of Hazzard prequel). I would have gone with Zombie Apocalypse, personally - it's still their best movie and delivers for its intended audience. Hold Your Breath, on the other hand, tells an RL Stine level story (deceased murderer's soul jumps around between a group of partying teens) but with hard R flair - lots of nudity, a pretty gruesome dismemberment inspired by The Hitcher, etc. So it jumps between a movie you'd let your 13 year old daughter rent for a sleepover and one that you can almost imagine the MPAA enforcing cuts to keep it from being NC-17, making it a tough sell for any target audience.
But it's enjoyable enough, and keeps moving - I don't know if they couldn't secure any one location for long or if the screenwriter had ADD, but after a prologue and some intro stuff in LA, the group pokes around a prison for a while, then they go off to the lake where it seems they will stay and let the movie be the Friday the 13th/Shocker hybrid it wants to be, only to leave yet again and spend a lot of the 3rd act in a local's house and the woods surrounding it. There's no real main character; Bowden may have top billing but she's no "Final Girl" in any sense (a lengthy bit has her offering to blow one of the male characters if he sits in an electric chair, reminding him that she's great at it), and disappears for a good chunk to boot. Once he's introduced the local old guy becomes the lead (since he knows what's going on and has a history with the murderer), and I couldn't help but wish he was played by Bill Moseley or some other genre icon that would instantly tell us that he was someone to pay attention to. So the movie kind of lacks a focus or anyone to really identify with - however it DOES make it difficult to guess who will live or die, since the teens are equally anonymous. They pretty much all get a chance to play killer, too - the soul jumps whenever someone is hit hard enough to get winded, so while there's almost never any mystery as to who is currently possessed (we usually see the "soul" transferring), at least they keep mixing it up. Plus it creates drama; someone might be possessed but never get a chance to kill, only be a massive dick, so when they're not possessed anymore the others are still kind of pissed at them. Might even be funny to see a completely non-violent version of this story, where the soul isn't that of a killer but just some asshole who decides to use his powers to turn a bunch of friends on each other and ruin their weekend.
But alas, as mentioned, it's got some nasty kills, which don't really fit the PG-13 ghost story but were at least not overly digitized - the bisection was but even that had some real fake blood on hand, and the various eye gougings seem to be the work of prosthetics, not pixels. The ghosts also look pretty good; since this was most certainly not a big budget production they would have been forgiven for a pair of actors in front of a greenscreen so they could turn them slightly opaque and let them be the "ghosts", but instead we get two swirling, full blown CGI creations (I'm OK with CGI for ghosts, I should mention - it's mainly kills and humanoid creatures like werewolves and zombies where CGI drives me up a wall) battling it out in the woods, giving the climax a bit of unexpected flair (I figured it would come down to two people under suspicion of being possessed with a third party having to make the right choice with his one bullet). The biggest problem with a lot of Asylum movies is that they have these giant "end of the world" type ideas and not a tenth of the resources or money to pull it off properly, so it's nice to see them go smaller with the plot and work within their means while still delivering their unique brand of "let's get drunk and have fun watching this" entertainment.
Oddly, the film's theatrical nature isn't advertised anywhere on the DVD case or on the making of (and despite having a few legitimate quotes for a change, they still offer a fake one that touts its similarity to Urban Legend and Final Destination); you'd think they'd be proud of it to some degree. Nope, the making of is their standard five minute blend of the trailer and random behind the scenes clips, with a few interview snippets with the principal cast and the director. Oddly, Bowden is nowhere to be seen even in the BTS footage, and she's also absent from the 2 minute gag reel, which contains not one laugh. I can only assume that her agent demanded compensation for her likeness in these pieces and thus they just edited around her (except in the trailer clips) rather than pay up - it's a common issue that can lead to some creative editing. I remember when The Fifth Element PS1 game came out, it had film clips from the movie in between levels, but none of them featured Bruce Willis, even when presenting scenes that he was in! It's a bummer, but kudos to any editor that can pull it off and not let it be noticed by anyone but other editors.
You can also see the film's original title in these scenes: You Didn't Hold Your Breath. When it played theatrically, it went by #HoldYourBreath, which will hopefully end any attempt to tie Twitter into a film's actual name. Now it's just Hold Your Breath (or HoldYourBreath, no spaces but sans the hashtag, on the back of the DVD case), and that's probably what will stick as the film lives on in our hearts and minds (being facetious there; I've already forgotten most of it).
What say you?