OCTOBER 29, 2015
Well, it's finally here. Nearly three years after Kristy was shot, and after several release dates that came and went (plus a couple of other titles, including Random and Satanic), the film was finally released as a Lifetime Original Movie, which is like the saddest fate one could imagine for a would-be theatrical release (doesn't even get the dignity of going DTV!) Given that the movie was already too late to the party, cashing in on The Strangers nearly five years after that film became a big hit, I had long since given up hope that I'd be able to watch the movie in a movie theater, but I still thought it would at least get something more respectable than this. However, going in I wasn't too sad about its fate - after all, a good home invasion type movie would probably play just as well (maybe even a bit better) at home, right?
Unfortunately, that ties into the main problem with the film - our heroine Justine (Haley Bennett) isn't confined anywhere for more than a few minutes. When I heard the basic plot (a girl staying at her college alone on Thanksgiving gets tormented by hooded killers) I assumed it was a tiny school and/or she'd be stuck in her dorm building for the bulk of the film - which would be a fine setting for some taut suspense. But the script always has her on the run, using the entire (and quite large) campus for its unmemorable setpieces, making the entire film feel like the climactic chase scene from a slasher like Friday the 13th than a "home invasion" type. Not only does this get us thinking about the logic more than we should (a campus that obviously has a large student body and she's the ONLY ONE staying behind for Thanksgiving? It was pretty common at my school and we were like 1/4th its size), but it gets mighty repetitive. We know she won't die anytime soon since there's no one else in the movie of note (more on that soon), unlike The Strangers where they COULD kill Liv Tyler or Scott Speedman at some point because there would still be the other one to carry us to the end of the movie, so watching her outrun and occasionally off one of her tormentors loses its novelty value before the halfway point.
The script also beats us over the head with an early chunk of the film that runs through every single thing about Justine that we will need to know about later. She can swim! She knows how to make an explosive! She can use a bat! Etc. And she even has a foreshadow-y English class for good measure, because screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski apparently cannot let one horror movie cliche go unchecked. He also hates the idea of confining his heroine in what's supposed to be a confined thriller, so she leaves the campus entirely to buy some basic snacks, instead of just having there be a school store for her to use (again, my school had this, and we didn't have in-dorm security guards, a big gate with another guard, etc). H20 came to mind more than once, and even that campus felt more inescapable than this one and being stuck in H20 wasn't even a plot point. Later on her boyfriend, who had left to be with his family, just drives back on campus, and again I had to wonder why no one else was doing this on the regular. Maybe they thought a big campus would be more cinematic, but all it did was seemingly betray the point of this brand of horror and help make it a bad movie.
As for the killers themselves, they're fine. They're part of a thinly developed group of Satan worshipers who murder girls they dub "Kristy" (some sort of Christ connection - why not guys named Chris?) and post videos of said murders to a website. Whatever. They're led by Ashley Greene, who is unrecognizable (boo) and the only one who gets any sort of identity, but their final showdown lacks any real interaction - it's rushed and anticlimactic, to say the least. Their first encounter, at the gas station where Justine is buying her ice cream and Mountain Dew (yep, a college campus that doesn't have a vending machine with cold soda, I guess), has way more oomph to it, and I have to assume that they originally had something bigger planned and just didn't do it (or cut it). In fact most of the film's best scenes occur early on, with the best one oddly being the most extraneous, when she runs to the groundskeeper's shack and gets him killed.
I know that sounds spoiler-y, but that's how the movie plays out - she runs around, finds someone, they are killed, and she runs again. You could cut any such sequence out and it wouldn't affect the plot at all, but this one sticks out in particular because the groundskeeper (James Ransone) had only been introduced in a quick, otherwise pointless shot early on when we're learning all about her awesome swimming and science skills. Why the groundskeeper knows her name is beyond me, but I suspect the whole sequence was a late addition to pad the runtime a bit. Also, there's so much fog in the scene it almost feels like she ran into another dimension, but whatever - it's a fun little sequence that has the killers working together for a change (a lot of the stalking scenes are solo - you almost never see two of them at once after their initial attack). The pool scene was OK too, with Bennett using her breath-holding skills, but again - she's the only person in the movie that's alive/not a killer, and the runtime isn't at feature length yet, so there's not a lot of suspense regarding what will happen next.
Going back to what I said about the movie feeling like a feature length slasher showdown - the key to those scenes isn't the part where the killer's chasing Laurie Strode, Alice, etc - it's when she starts fighting back and using her head. The fact that we know that she'll succeed doesn't matter - she and the movie itself have earned this scenario. This movie doesn't have any of that other stuff - it's just that chase, never ending and without a single fresh idea. I guess I can give it a few points for being completely dialogue free for long stretches, but that's hardly enough to make up for its abrasive genericness. Perhaps director Olly Blackburn didn't want to be confined again (his previous film was Donkey Punch, set almost entirely on a party boat); if that was the case maybe they should have hired someone else to direct. On a conceptual level, this movie COULD work, but it doesn't.
What say you?