Deadline (2009)


Maybe she should have taken a shower.

Maybe she should have taken a shower.

(2009) Psychological Thriller (First Look) Brittany Murphy, Thora Birch, Tammy Blanchard, Marc Blucas, Claudia Troll, Michael Piscitelli (voice). Directed by Sean McConville

Writers block is a bitch. When in the throes of it, you can’t think and you certainly can’t write. Everything feels wrong, like things are out of place and you can’t think where they are supposed to be. It’s frustrating and there is no sure way to break it.

Alice (Murphy) is a screenwriter with a deadline coming up. She is fast in the grip of Le Block but has good reason to be – her boyfriend tried to drown her in their bathtub, causing her to lose the baby she was pregnant with at the time. Her boyfriend was sure that she was sleeping around and the baby wasn’t his.

A producer friend with more money than sense offers up a decrepit Louisiana plantation he has access to for Alice and tells her that if she locks herself alone in there with a week’s worth of food and drink with nothing else to connect her to the outside world the words will start flowing like the Mississippi. Alice, despite the fact that her homicidal boyfriend is being released from jail, agrees to it despite the misgivings of her friend Rebecca (Blanchard).

So to distract herself from the blank pages Alice explores the crumbling mansion and in the attic discovers a box of videos taken by the house’s former owners and a camcorder. She begins to watch them and discovers they are of David (Blucas) and Lucy (Birch), a couple who simply left the mansion one night and never returned. Nobody knows where they are.

Alice discovers some eerie similarities to her own situation. Lucy, for one thing, was pregnant. And David was growing paranoid, thinking that the baby wasn’t his. And Alice is becoming more and more certain that Lucy haunts the old plantation. And that her boyfriend (Piscitelli) is stalking her and knows right where she is. Is all this really happening or is it a product of Alice’s paranoid imagination?

This was the last picture to be released during the late Murphy’s lifetime (another one, in the can, still awaits release later this year although she passed away four years ago) and it isn’t a bad one from her perspective. She nails the role nicely, giving Alice a kind of emotionally fragile veneer but with a personality that’s endearing enough to make you identify with her character. Even those who aren’t fans of her work as I am will find this performance worth checking out.

It’s a shame that she wasn’t given a lot more to work with. The script is fairly routine, with the usual jumps and twists that you expect to find in a psychological thriller/is the house haunted or is she crazy kind of movie. There are also some real head-scratchers here; why would anyone agree to go somewhere remote all by themselves when there was prospectively someone who wanted to do them harm running around on the loose? And if the couple disappeared, what were their videos doing in the attic, particularly if there was damming evidence on the tapes (i.e. Lucy’s murder)?

One gets the sense that the script was written in a hurry by someone with writer’s block just borrowing whole cloth bits and pieces from other movies. The concept is nice (although it could have gotten there with a little more logic) and there is some genuine creepiness to be found. Those and Murphy’s performance are pretty much the film’s saving graces but I wouldn’t look too hard for this one.

WHY RENT THIS: Decent performance by Murphy. Some chilling moments. Nice concept.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Basically kinda been there, done that. No real surprises and a whole lot of stuff that must be taken on faith.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some nudity, some disturbing images, a bit of violence and a fair amount of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The DVD was pulled from Redbox shelves after star Brittany Murphy passed away 19 days after the video release.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: What Lies Beneath

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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Amusement


Amusement

Jessica Lucas hear's her master's voice.

(Picturehouse) Keir O’Donnell, Katheryn Winnick, Laura Breckinridge, Jessica Lucas, Tad Hilgenbrinck, Reid Scott, Rena Owen, Kevin Gage. Directed by John Simpson

When a movie, which has been marketed for a theatrical release complete with release date and trailer, goes direct to video, there’s usually a reason. Sometimes it’s because the distributor goes belly-up, but mostly it’s because the movie is really bad. This is particularly true in the horror genre.

Shelby (Breckinridge) is returning home to Cincinnati with her boyfriend Rob (Hilgenbrinck) who has an inexplicable love of driving in convoys. After she bitches to him about driving too fast, they wind up filling up at a gas station with a guy who has been convoy-ing with them for several miles (O’Donnell) and a friendly trucker. The trucker tells them he heard on his CB that the Interstate was a parking lot and that the smokies were out in force laying bear traps, ten-four.

So of course they wind up driving down this deserted road in the middle of nowhere because those kinds of roads are always the alternative to Interstates and Shelby is nervous because she’s sure she saw a terrified woman in the cab of the truck. Rob is skeptical right up to the point where the terrified woman becomes a projectile that goes straight into his windshield. The other convoy guy and Rob try to find out what’s up with the trucker except of course the trucker kidnaps both the girls and Rob and the convoy guy have to rescue them…except we find out that the convoy guy is the real maniac. Jokes on you, Rob.

Tabitha (Winnick) is babysitting the unholy terrors that are her cousins at the spiffy new digs of her aunt. Everything is mostly okay except that her aunt has a thing for clowns and there are dozens of clown dolls everywhere, including a life-sized creepy clown that sits in a rocking chair and stares at Tabitha, particularly when she gets naked (why is it that none of my babysitters ever got naked?) or takes a nap. When her aunt calls to check up on the kids, it turns out that Auntie Clownlover has no life-sized clowns in the house. It turns out that Soylent Green….is peeeeeeeeeopullllllll or at least life-sized clown dolls are people. Either way you slice it, it’s bad for Tabitha, particularly since the guy in the clown suit is the same guy who went all convoy on Shelby and Rob.

Finally, there’s Lisa (Lucas) whose roommate has disappeared with a guy who apparently is staying in a hotel on the edge of town. Worrywart Lisa sends her boyfriend Dan (Scott) in to investigate and he winds up having a close encounter with a Victorola that has a very nasty speaker system. In the meantime, Lisa waits two hours and rather than call the police, decides to go into the spooky hotel where nobody has emerged from since she started watching it and find out for herself what’s going on. It’s brain-dead thinking like that which keeps the horror film industry alive.

Of course, by now you know that the guy in the hotel is the same guy who kidnapped Shelby and Tabitha…that’s right, kidnapped not murdered…and now they are trapped in his insane revenge game that goes back to some terrible event that happened in the fourth grade, which should teach you kids to be nice to everyone because you never know if they’ll grow up to be a homicidal maniac.

The problem here is that the script is just plain awful. Each of the three stories in this kinda sorta anthology has the exact same twist and by the third time around you’re finding much more interesting things by staring into the pattern on your Pepperoni Pizza than you are onscreen, which is quite a shame. Director Simpson actually has crafted a very good-looking movie with a competent cast that had they been given a better story to work with might have actually come up with a pretty darn good little horror movie. Unfortunately, there wasn’t, they didn’t and you shouldn’t.

WHY RENT THIS: Very nice production values and the three leads are nice to look at.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is a mess; the three stories all have the same twist and quite frankly by the third time around there’s not a lot to hold our interest.

FAMILY VALUES: Not a lot of gore per se, but there is a good deal of violence and bad language. Like most horror movies, mature teens and older only.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was initially slated for wide release but when New Line shut down their Picturehouse division, it was left on the shelf for almost two years before being released on video.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Sugar