The Morgue (2008)

AUGUST 21, 2009


As I had to miss the Blair Witch reunion screening last night (in order to attend Halloween 2), I took my viewing of The Morgue* as a sort of consolation prize, as it top-lined Heather Donahue in its cast (and to even it out, I have Dread Central's video of the event playing in the background as I write). Other than that godawful Freddie Prinze movie that came out a year after Blair, I don't think I've ever seen her in anything else. Josh is really the only one to walk away with a decent career - he's been in a few big movies and a lot of (often well-praised) smaller ones. Mike, on the other hand, moves furniture. But that is probably preferable to appearing in The Morgue.

I'm gonna spoil the hell out of this movie, but like a lot of movies, I'm only "spoiling" it if you've never seen another movie before. Everyone else will be able to spot the twist within 10-15 minutes (and from what I understand, the DVD synopsis gives it away too - the back of my screener copy just talked up the cast and tried to make "DVD Premiere!" sound like a positive thing).

So once again, we have a movie with the "dead the whole time" twist, only nowhere near as successful as pretty much any movie you can think of in this sub-genre. Having just watched Room 6, Morgue's flaws were all the more apparent. The former might have suffered from the predictability of the twist, but at least it was still an entertaining and occasionally compelling movie in its own right. Morgue never entertains once, and the inherent inertness of this plot just makes it feel longer than it is (even sadder when you consider a promised 90 minute run time was actually only 84). And Donahue is killed off almost instantly, which doesn't help matters since she's the film's only real draw for horror fans (and who else would be interested in this nonsense?).

And I could forgive the obviousness of the twist, but not how equally lame the rest of the script was. Not only is the twist taken from Reeker, but other plot elements are as well. The big event is another car crash, and flashbacks explain how every single action in the film can be explained by something that occurred to the characters' bodies. So when the hero guy kicks a scalpel away from the "killer", it's not an actual event, but merely an "echo" of the moment in the waking "real" life of the morgue attendant, who hit his elbow on a counter and dropped said scalpel. Stupid shit like that - it was fine in Reeker, because not only was that movie's twist NOT as obvious, but there was a sense of goofiness throughout the movie that allowed this little extra bit to fly. Morgue is rather serious throughout, so to have this inane plot device tossed in at the end is rather counter-productive. Worse, literally the last 10 minutes of the movie is built around explaining these types of moments, so even though you won't care, the movie sort of holds you hostage for a while until everything is clarified.

The dialogue and character actions aren't much better. Apparently, when you're a ghost, you overreact on every single matter, nor do you ever do anything that resembles a human being's action. Two guys burst into the morgue, bloodied and quite obviously on the run from police. Does our heroine freak out or try to call the cops? Nope, she gets them a first aid kit and leaves one of them alone in a room to call for help (spoiler! He doesn't). There are also clumsy attempts at character development that never pan out - heroine and her boyfriend have broken up - why? We don't know. Donahue and her husband are also at odds, but again, there's no scene or even throwaway line to explain this (or why the guy is just a complete asshole). Bill Cobbs' character lost a child - not explained. The cops are also looking for a missing child, a red herring that is just total distraction as the film never gives us a single reason to assume it has anything to do with our story.

Not helping matters is the pointless editing. Someone will be walking down a hallway, and suddenly a shot of a statue will be faded in and out. Huh? There are also numerous "transitions" that are just back-tracked shots of the same corridors, usually with other super-imposed images that serve no function. If I had to guess, I'd say it was some attempt at visualizing the pre-death flashes we supposedly see, but they are not even remotely effective. You want a good type of such things? Watch Armageddon, when Bruce dies. He sees Liv Tyler in her wedding dress and running through a field and other nonsense - it's corny as hell, but at least it makes visual sense.

Christ, even the score doesn't work. It often sounds like "Spooky Sounds" CD music that you buy for your haunted house at Halloween-time, or romantic comedy drivel. It also stinks of being canned, as if the composer made it without actually watching the movie. And I can't say I blame him, but still - the film would have been better off without it.

And why do people in movies always turn photos over on their dresser or mantle or whatever when they are mad at the person in them? How about just putting it away or tossing it in a closet? If I went over someone's house and saw a bunch of overturned photos, I would turn them back over for them. "Hey, this fell. Oh, it's your ex. I can see why you'd want to put the least amount of effort into concealing this."

Nothing about this movie works. The only reason that I'm not dubbing it crap is because it's shot reasonably well, newcomer Lisa Crilley is an engaging presence, and the setting, while vastly under-utilized, gave me pleasant Phantasm flashbacks, so it wasn't a total waste of my time.

What say you?

*Strangely, the FBI warning at the top of the film listed it was the "Property of Artisan Entertainment". As horror fans know, Artisan was the company that distributed Blair Witch, and was later absorbed by Lions Gate. Until now, I haven't seen the Artisan name on anything in years - in fact, the Blair Witch screening was attributed to LG.

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