Sunday, December 30, 2012

Just Another 3-Letter Torture Film About Unhappy People

As Halloween bred its share of Intruders and Prowlers and Bloody Valentines, thus has Saw seen its children reproduce their own Hostels into Nine Deads into Hunger and so on. The rule is simple: assemble a group of strangers who are either miserable human beings, miserable in their current life choices, or a glorious combination of both. Have a somewhat less miserable morally compromised (though not in his own eyes) ringmaster assemble them into a dank and abandoned location in the name of teaching a lesson. Brainstorm a few cool ways to kill someone. Keep a cute final girl around until or after the final reel. Apply generic title (bonus points for it having multiple meanings) and BAM.

You will most likely end up on Instant Watch.

I have an odd affinity for these kinds of second generation wannabe Saws. There's something amusing about how obvious the ploy is, yet young filmmakers continue to get plenty of exposure by following these new rules of straight-to-DVD horror. It's the possession movie of the '70s, the slasher of the '80s, and talky serial killer stalking WB stars of the '90s. In twenty years, we may even find it cute.

Until then, we'll take whatever joy we can get. In this case, it's the fact that Casey Jones looks really tired.

Quick Plot: A sextet of unhappy, formerly or currently suicidal strangers awaken in empty cells under the watch of an angry man with bad hair and a gun. A few non-linear segments introduce us to our victims: a grieving mother, gambling addict, disgruntled cop, disturbed billionaire, guilty doctor, and heroin addled prostitute. Our Jigsaw stand-in's plan is simple: one player rolls a die while another is tied down to something ominous with the number rolled determining how extreme their physical test will be. Example: Russian roulette with the number of bullets based on the roll, or a man submerged in water for a matter of die-rolled-determined minutes. 

Sadly none are treated to a complimentary buffet trip or showgirls performance.

Die is not a special movie, although that doesn't make it incompetent. Director Dominic James achieves a very specific (albeit incredibly ugly) color palette and visual style for his film, from the dingy sweatsuits worn by most of the cast to the brown overcast that seems to emit from every light source. Likewise, the performances are all completely believable. While the characters themselves are fairly one-note, the actors are strong enough to leave convincing impressions that all have more layers underneath.

But you know, I--and I'm sure most of you--have also seen this film before. Maybe even seven times before, and one might have even been in 3D. Our creative killer's mission statement is all about rebirth through trial, but what's new about that? Didn't Shawnee Smith do it with a reverse bear trap to spare?

Die has no reverse bear trap, although it does prove that Elias Koteas is growing more and more into the world wearier form of Chris Meloni.

Now I'm sad that Koteas never guest starred on Law & Order: SVU. 

Such a tragedy has already made me forget what Saw ripoff I was talking about here.

I need to drink less. Or learn how to videoshop Elias Koteas into a scene with Chris Meloni.

Look! Something shiny.

High Notes
Die doesn't do enough with it, but I always have to give my respects to a film (particularly a standard genre one) that is smart enough to diversify its cast with a full range of ages

Low Notes
I challenge myself to remember a single detail about this film in 6 months

Lessons Learned
Heroin addiction will in no way deter your ability to learn a second language with impressive speed

Elias Koteas is not Chris Meloni. Or so they say

Sometimes we are more connected to perfect strangers than we think

(or so a gal can dream)

Die is streaming on Netflix Instant which is where it belongs. Like Hunger, this is one of the upper tier Saw descendents, but it's still a mediocre horror film with little specialness about it. Queue it up if you're in the kind of mood for competent, unexceptional horror. If you're like me, that feeling strikes you more often than it probably should. 

The best way to treat such a symptom, by the way, is by watching Law & Order: SVU.


  1. When can we finally move on from torture movies! Personally I can't wait for something new to become in vogue, as seriously how many times can we just rehash the same story?

    Still I guess while there is still a dollar to be made in an idea they will still keep flogging the dead horse and suppose it only makes it all the more special when you get a movie like "Inbred" to shake things up.

    Great review as always :)

  2. Something new is in vogue: it's called found footage!

    I think torture porn is on the outs. Die is kind of strange in general, since it's made with some pedigree but just seemed to laze out on the concept.

  3. Three cheers for the shameless Law & Order: SVU plug!

    I'm not finding any of these movies particularly "good" and sometimes, I plain fall asleep on them.

    For months I've been thinking about the term "torture porn". Now, I have it in mind that "porn" has a specific purpose as a sexual stimulant. I think folks are getting hung up on the 'torture' part. It's as if we're led to believe that a legion of horror audiences are accumulating sexual gratification from seeing Shawnee Smith almost meet her end with a bear trap locked on her face.

    Not to say that very well be the case for a very marginal minority.

    Is porn just some sensative word used to spark interest and controversy?

    What's wrong with good 'ol fashioned exploitation?

    Sorry for the rant. It's been awhile.


  4. I've never really liked the term 'torture porn,' probably for the reasons you explained but I'm not smart enough to think it through like that. If anything, the torture in these kinds of movies is almost always asexual. It's as if these filmmakers--in particular, when the movies are more mainstream and theatrically released--know that would be fully crossing a line. There was no sex and virtually no nudity in the Saw series. Hostel has plenty of both, but it's always completely separated from the torture. I feel like there's a great essay to be written about the complete lack of sex in relation TO the violence in this type of cinema!

    HI ASHLEE! BTW, what happened to your site? :(

  5. You're right. I'm going to assume 'torture porn' in addition is still another lazy way to continue to link horror with pornography. That's a really antiquated and tired judgment but yep, that's for an essay.

    6 months ago, I bought a domain:

  6. You bought a domain, posted about Child's Play, and never told me? I've been BURNED!