Monday, July 24, 2017

Cover Girl

Quick Plot: A cameo'ing Katharine Isabelle heads home after seeing a horror movie, only to be promptly murdered by a pair of masked men with a camera. 

Soon after, we settle in on Claudia, a supermarket cashier toiling away in a small South Dakota town. The only thing interesting in her life is also rather horrifying: every few weeks, someone leaves a grisly photograph of a slain young woman on the community board in her store, where she's always the first to see it during opening hours. The local cops (including Mitch Pileggi) make Last House On the Left's officers look like Stabler and Benson, leaving the young woman frustrated and incredibly at risk.

Enter the world's douchiest fashion photographer--

No, seriously. I know heterosexual male fashion photographers are universally agreed upon to be the first group of human beings we sacrifice to our Martian overlords when the time comes, but my GOSH

This one is the worst, and I mean that in the best possible way.

For better or (usually) worse, horror films are often filled with unlikable characters. Perhaps we need to hate some of these men and women in order to make their painful deaths entertaining, but there's an art to creating these villainous victims, both on the acting and directing side. So many films misunderstand this, throwing obnoxious frat boys or cruel mean girls at their audiences in order to elicit a cheer when said coeds take an axe to the face. Speaking for myself, I don't enjoy watching an awful character die because I don't enjoy watching an awful character AT ALL. 

The Girl In the Photographs has some problems (I'll get to those) but its biggest strength is in how it understands that an unlikable character should still be fun to watch. Think of Michael Gambon in The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover: he's one of the most disgusting human beings you have ever watched onscreen, but you can't help but be entertained by just how awful he really is. It's the wrestling heel you love to hate, but most importantly, love to watch. Bless Kal Penn for taking Peter Hemmings (aforementioned douchey fashion photographer) to such extremely unpleasant, amazingly amusing levels of hipster terrible.

Peter grew up in Claudia's sleepy town, and after learning about the photographs via a Reddit-like forum (because again: inept police department) he assembles his team of airhead models and nice assistant to return home for a murder-inspired perfume shoot. Claudia is recruited as the local it girl, while unbeknownst to her, her best friend and ex-boyfriend are abducted by the camera-happy killers.

Directed by Nick Simon, The Girl In the Photographs is a wildly inconsistent, but somewhat consistently entertaining little genre film. The acting (BLESS YOU KAL PENN) is a head above most of this kind of movie's ilk, and the violence is handled with a chilling hand that offers some surprises and important gravity.

So what's the problem? Well, maybe those aspects are a little TOO good, making the fairly basic story with its familiar beats feel like such a letdown. There's no real mystery to our killers, and no interesting complexity to their motives. While Claudia is plucky enough to root for, the film doesn't really give her much to hold onto.

By most straight-to-Instant-Watch standards, The Girl In the Photographs is certainly better than average. The disappointment comes from the simple fact that it seems to have the potential to be something special, rather than just decent.

High Points
Seriously, give Kal Penn some White Castle and a gold-plated toilet (because you know, White Castle) as a reward for just how glorious his jerk of a character is

Low Points
I've said this several times in a post-2016 world, but damnit, life is hard enough right now without seeing a likable protagonist receive a sad fate

Lessons Learned
Serial killers use PCs (and the really twisted ones, Dells)

The only thing worse than phone service in South Dakota is the quality of its police force

Models don't eat...ever

The Girl In the Photographs is far from a great horror film, but it's funny and involving, and has a strong sense of sympathy for its characters. For a Netflix streamer, it's better than most, though perhaps its potential may leave you a little frustrated. You could do a whole lot worse. I just wish the film aimed to do better. 

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