Bless the Child


Bless the Child

I'd look worried too if I had the lead in this movie.

(2000) Horror (Paramount) Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Holliston Coleman, Rufus Sewell, Angela Bettis, Christina Ricci, Michael Gaston, Lumi Cavazos, Ian Holm, Eugene Lipinski, Leeza Gibbons, Dimitra Arlys, Anne Betancourt, Helen Stenborg. Directed by Chuck Russell

When you’re a Roman Catholic, you can go to an occult-oriented movie with a certain degree of smugness. After all, nobody knows the Devil like us Catholics. We’ve got the exorcisms to prove it.

Hollywood knows this. Therefore, a whole lot of their devil flicks are liberally steeped in what I call the Catholic experience. Lots of statues, paintings of Christ’s agony, aging priests (often with deformities or disabilities) and a whole lot of gobbledygook about how the world will end. I, being Catholic born and Catholic bred, love every minute of it, although I can’t possibly imagine my old high school guidance counselor Father Campanella taking on Satan mano a mano. It’s just too much of a stretch.

In this one, Maggie O’Connor (Basinger) is minding her own business one night when her junkie sister (Bettis) shows up on her doorstep, newborn baby in hand. And before you can say “Whaaaasssssuppppppp?” she’s gone, leaving Maggie with the baby. Of course, everyone who’s ever seen an occult flick before knows that this is Not An Ordinary Child.

Years later, the NAOC (Coleman) is displaying signs of autism (although for an autistic child she’s awfully expressive). But she’s also showing her NAOC-ness by causing objects to move about of their own accord, and bringing the occasional critter back to life. This brings her to the attention of Eric Stark (Sewell), a self-help guru and a rather nasty cult leader in his spare time.

Turns out that he’s been searching for a specific child who, in the future, will lead people to God. Turns out he’s been murdering innocent children in a ritualistic fashion to find the specific NAOC he is looking for. Turns out he’s married the junkie sister just to get to the NAOC. Turns out that the nasty cult leader is a bit cozier to Beelzebub than he is to the Almighty. Turns out the FBI Investigator (Smits) who was called in to investigate the child murders is in way over his head, as is O’Connor (remember her?). That’s a whole lot of coinkydinks, don’t you think?

I think. Part of what makes this movie an epic fail is that it relies too much on serendipity. There’s no organic flow to the plot; characters exist just to explain something that is going to be meaningful three scenes later, or three scenes previously. The script lacks clarity and subtlety.

You’d never guess that Basinger won an Oscar just three short years earlier. She sleepwalks her way through the part, although to be fair it ain’t much of a part. Maggie is a strong-willed, independent woman which the filmmakers took to mean “ignorant, stubborn hothead” and she often quite incomprehensibly gets herself into situations no sane person would even consider without calling in the National Guard first. Frankly, if my kid were kidnapped by a whacked-out Satanist, I’d be calling the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, cops, Guardian Angels and Johnny Cochran before I’d go into the lion’s den by myself. What would horror movies do without stupid people acting stupidly?

Of course, the ludicrous scale doesn’t really factor in to horror movies — common sense is supposed to take a back seat to a good scare. And that’s what this movie really lacks. I’ll admit, Da Queen jumped once, but I think she was more frightened by the teen-age girls sitting two rows behind us more than anything. In fact, if you REALLY want a good scare, try reading the political coverage in the local papers. Despite valiant efforts by Smits and Sewell, and a couple of good supporting role turns by Christina Ricci and Ian Holm, Bless the Child is more of a snooze than a scare.

WHY RENT THIS: There are  few decent performances here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A horror movie that isn’t particularly scary. Basinger sleepwalks through a role that is plainly beneath her. Too many coincidences.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s quite a bit of violence, some drug use and a few foul words here and there. There is also some scenes of children in jeopardy and a few disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The line “the devil’s greatest trick was convincing mankind he doesn’t exist” is a reference to a similar line penned by the French poet Charles Baudelaire “La plus belle des ruses du Diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas!”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $40M on  $65M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: Hancock 

Jennifer’s Body


Jennifer's Body

Besties belly up to the bar before the barroom gets baked.

(Rogue) Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, Kyle Gallner, Aman Johal, Lance Henriksen. Directed by Karyn Kusama

Diablo Cody, a former exotic dancer, bagged Oscar gold with her screenplay for Juno and became something of a mini-celebrity in her own right, a status rarely accorded screenwriters. The problem with being a flavor of the week, unfortunately, is that sooner or later the week comes to an end and your cooking is judged on its own merits.

Jennifer Check (Fox) is the girl next door in sleepy Devil’s Kettle (so named for a waterfall that disappears down a glacial pothole) if you happen to live next door to the head cheerleader, homecoming queen and town hottie all rolled into one. Jennifer’s best friend is “Needy” Lesnicky (one presumes her parents didn’t put that first name on the birth certificate) who wears unattractive glasses, has a perpetually concerned expression on her face and actually does well in school. Needy (Seyfried) isn’t a goody two-shoes by any stretch of the imagination but there is something in her that Jennifer bonds with.

The two head to a local roadhouse to see an indie rock band called Low Shoulder play. During the show, the roadhouse catches fire and burns to the ground. The band, Jennifer and Needy are among the survivors, but the body count is pretty severe for a small town. All Needy wants to do is go home, crawl under the covers and stay there but Jennifer inexplicably decides to hook up with Low Shoulder frontman Nikolai Wolf (Brody) much to Needy’s concern.

When she doesn’t hear from Jennifer for hours, Needy starts getting frantic, even calling her boyfriend Chip Dove (Simmons) in a tizzy. Eventually Jennifer shows up, but there’s something strange about her. She has a hunger for raw meat – and she vomits up a respectable stream of black goo.

The next day at school, Jennifer acts as if nothing has happened but soon afterwards a local jock turns up horribly murdered, eviscerated and partially eaten. Police are thinking wild animal, but Needy knows better. She confronts Jennifer who tells her the horrible truth; Low Shoulder had driven her to the Devil’s Kettle where they sacrificed her to the devil in exchange for success (and sure enough they got it with a hit record released after the fire). However, the dimwitted musicians had messed up – they were supposed to sacrifice a virgin which Jennifer was most decidedly not, so she wound up possessed by a demon. When she feeds on the blood of a living human, she becomes super powered; strong, nearly invulnerable and able to fart a long stream of flame. Okay, so I was lying about the last one, but that would have been really cool.

Needy is torn. On the one hand, her friend is murdering local boys and eating them, but she’s still her BFF so she can’t betray her. All bets are off, however, when Jennifer turns her carnivorous attentions onto Chip at the prom.

Cody has a great ear for dialogue, particularly in the high school vernacular. In other words, she speaks the language of the teenager, with all the slang, jargon and craptacular turns of phrase popular among Generation RFNGDI. Unfortunately, like most teenaged slang, you get the sense that the characters, and through them the filmmakers, are talking down to the audience. “Hey, we’re hipper than you and more in the know. If you don’t speak our language, you don’t deserve to watch our movie.” It’s an elitist conceit and unfortunately it instantly dates the movie, which will lose its relevance within four or five years simply because teenaged dialogue changes almost yearly.

So as a touchpoint for teenaged culture it is, like all such touchpoints, very temporary. Will the rest of the movie stand on its own merits? To put it frankly, probably not; it’s essentially at its heart a pretty standard horror movie with a slightly elevated ambition. Kusama directs it well enough, but playing the movie as an extended flashback takes away a lot of the suspense at the end – you know that Needy is going to survive the prom. The only question is whether Chip and/or Jennifer are.

There is some gore, some of it pretty gooey, but the gore is really played off to the side. There is also sexuality, but no nudity, so the movie in some ways doesn’t even have the courage of its convictions from that standpoint. There is a make-out scene between Needy and Jennifer that’s plenty hot, but besides that the sexuality is pretty tame. I would have liked the movie to allow itself to go to extremes in both areas; if you’re going to be an R-rated horror movie, you might as well push the envelope.

Fox is surprisingly good in her role of Jennifer, or at least better than her work in the two Transformers movies. She’s not yet at the point where I look to see her movies for her performances rather than her looks, but this is a step in the right direction. Seyfried is even better as the plucky heroine Needy; yes, the character does some incredibly stupid horror heroine cliché things during the course of the movie that no sane, rational person would EVER do but Seyfried still imbues the character with personality. Ever since breaking out in Mamma Mia she has improved each time I’ve seen her onscreen; she is certainly on the road to being an actress that I go to a movie just because she’s in it.

Cody is a clever writer, perhaps too clever for her own good. I would like to see her apply her talents to a movie that isn’t trying to be hip in a specific time and place, but one that is timeless and will stand long beyond its shelf life. I don’t know where she stands on horror movies per se, but I get the sense that she has a fondness for them – even while she pokes fun at some of the conventions as she does here. There’s nothing wrong with that – Scream and it’s successors made bank doing just that – but if you’re going to relate to a single target audience, well, be well-assured that you are subject to the whims of that target audience and when it’s as fickle as the teen audience is, you’re already treading water before the movie makes it to the video store shelves. For the record, I really wanted to like the movie much more than I ended up doing. Still, it’s not a bad movie, it just could have – and should have – been way better. That’s just freaktarded.

WHY RENT THIS: Seyfried does a pretty good job as the plucky heroine. Some pretty neat shocks and terror sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is a bit too hip for its own good; it comes off as talking down to people, which is never a good thing. Essentially this is a standard horror movie with contemporary dialogue.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of gore, although not as much as other horror movies. There is also a lot of sexuality although no nudity. There’s a crapload of foul language and a couple of scenes of drug use; in short, it’s rated “R” for a reason.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie title derives from a song by Courtney Love’s band Hole.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a series of video diaries from the various stars and filmmakers; there is also a montage of Megan Fox being, well, Megan Fox. Diablo Cody gets the spotlight on a “Life After Film School” segment from the Fox Movie Channel.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Flipped