Monday, March 20, 2023

9 Soon to Be Dead


We've talked about this before: I have a soft spot for early 2000s Saw-ish low budget thrillers about strangers being locked in a space until one emerges the survivor. I am, at heart, a very simple person.

So here's a new one.

Quick Plot: A foggy credits montage sees 9 unrelated adults chloroformed and abducted, later awakening in a sterile mansion where all of the windows and doors have been bricked shut. A voice from hidden speakers announces the plan: they are strangers, not connected in any way, and only one can walk out the door $5 million richer. That's all he's saying, so have at it.

Surprisingly, a few of the characters have clearly seen a Nine Dead or two and immediately start looking for traps or timers. But nope, our announcer wasn't lying. There are no tricks. Bland food will be dispensed every few hours. The water is running. There are enough sharp objects hanging around to make murder possible. It's all up to them.

"Them" is your fairly typical batch of low budget horror fodder: a sympathetic chorus girl dancer, shamed tennis pro turned party girl, bickering married couple, bitter parolee, aspiring rapper, uppity fashion designer, police officer complete with a loaded gun, and an Irish priest played by Dennis Hopper.

No, seriously.

Seeing Hopper slumming it in a movie I never knew existed is a surprise, but for the most part, that's where the shocks end. Philippe Vidal's script lets the story darken at just the right point, though the immediate mayhem that comes after feels somehow rushed.

Directed by the I Spit On Your Grave remake's Steven Monroe, House of 9 is, to put it plainly (and rhymingly), fine. The better-than-average cast is peppered with European actors that you since recognize as having gone on to have legitimate careers, and it lets them eke out more interesting characters than the fairly flat screenplay lays out. I've seen so many of these kinds of films that I was genuinely pleased to realize the watcher's introduction wasn't a lie. This is a situation organized entirely to see what nine strangers will do to survive (and win a lot of money).

On one hand, House of 9 is far less wackily interesting than a lot of the other random titles that came out around the same time. No aliens, no six degrees of separation connections, no mazes. It still packs the same nihilistic attitude widespread in the genre (and I mean the particular subgenre of the early aughts) but with a slightly (and I mean slightly) higher quality than most of its competition. 

High Points
Sometimes it's hard to clearly identify how a cast elevates a mediocre setup, but let me give you a key example: Peter Capaldi's line reading of "my coat is in there" after the gang has decided to lock the possibly manslaughtering rapper in their bedroom is so perfectly played that it gave me a genuine laugh.

Low Points
All that's to say that there still isn't very much here that you haven't seen before, and most of it is stuff few actually LIKE seeing

Lessons Learned
Artists don't make money (but they do sleep with their glasses on)

When assigning roommates in a volatile situation, maybe read the room a little closer and rather than trust pure chance, don't pair people who have already expressed extreme rage at each other together

Nothing helps to meet that runtime more effectively than a montage taken seriously

If you're part of that fairly quiet horror contingent that actually enjoys exploring the myriad of low budget "strangers trapped in a room until most of them die at the hands of a well-spoken but invisible monster" subgenre, then House of 9 is certainly worth your time. No, it's not "good," but it's far higher quality than a whole else that came out in those early post-Saw years. To my knowledge, it's also the only one that stars Dennis Hopper as a kind priest so if that's your thing, have at it!

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