Hilary Swank is an overworked ER doctor looking for a new apartment after a bad breakup with boyfriend Lee Pace. The affable Jeffrey Dean Morgan offers her one at a rather cheap price and a nice view. In fact, it seems almost too good to be true. They become fast friends, and almost something more, before Swank realises it’s too soon after her break-up. Unfortunately, she soon learns that Morgan is more than a little obsessed with her (Not really a spoiler, it’s the basic premise of the film), and to say he has a dark side would be the understatement of the century. Cat chases mouse, mouse fights back, I fall into a self-induced coma. Christopher Lee plays Morgan’s frail grandfather, who recognises Morgan’s true nature but is too elderly and weak to be much use.
**** SPOILER WARNING **** My main criticism with this film involves a major plot point, so spoilers are unavoidable. In backing up my arguments, I’ll also be spoiling significant details of “Planet of the Apes” (1968), but hopefully there’s no one alive who hasn’t heard the twist to that film at this point. So you’ve been warned, at any rate.
This 2011 psycho-thriller from co-writer/director Antti J. Jokinen (making his feature film debut after directing music videos for Kelly Clarkson and Celine Dion, and directing the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest!) claims to be from Hammer Studios, but don’t be fooled by the appearance of Christopher Lee in the cast. This may have the Hammer name, and slight similarity in plot to the psycho-thrillers the company made in their dying days, but this is not a ‘real’ Hammer film. No one associated with the real Hammer or even anyone related to them is behind this new incarnation of the studio. In fact, it’s just a name acquired by a Dutch producer (and original brains behind the “Big Brother” TV franchise) to use for whatever the hell he wants. Hammer or not, it doesn’t matter, what matters is that this is one of the worst botch-jobs I’ve come across since the celebrity surgical enhancement nightmare of your choice (Let’s go with whatever the fuck actress Sela Ward has done with her face in the last few years. Seriously, watch the remake of “The Stepfather”. Or better, don’t).
The film starts off deceptively well. There’s a cool animated title design, a strong, Herrmann-esque music score by John Ottman (“The Usual Suspects”, “Valkyrie”), and good, sometimes shadowy cinematography by Guillermo Navarro (“Cronos”, “Desperado”, “From Dusk Til Dawn”, “Jackie Brown”) too. I especially thought the roving camerawork to be most effective. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who has always seemed like more of a TV actor to me, is actually good and quite charming when required. He’s completely believable as the affable, Brad Garrett-lookalike landlord, and perfectly fine with the later shift in his character, at least early on.
It does take a good while for this to actually go anywhere, however. What really kills this film is that around the 20-30 minute mark, it does finally go somewhere and it goes somewhere very, very bad indeed. The ¼ mark twist is one of the most suicidal things I’ve ever seen in a film, and it transforms an average film into something dreadful and cataclysmically transparent. Why would Jokinen and co-writer Robert Orr reveal the entire plot to the audience with more than half the film still left to go? It’s a terrible structural/POV error that the film never has any hopes of recovering from. Think of it this way. Imagine “Psycho” if Hitchcock had revealed the true nature of ‘Mother’ in the shower scene in full view of the audience. Or imagine the final reveal of “The Usual Suspects” came in after 20-30 minutes. Or Charlton Heston crash-landing on the “Planet of the Apes”, walking out of his ship and seeing the Statue of Liberty right there in front of him. This decision not only takes the air out of the film, not only makes the entire film pointless to the audience, but it also does Morgan no favours, either. He’s still fine with what he’s been given, but the screenplay really fucks him over. If told linearly, Morgan’s transition from affable to super-creepy would’ve been extremely effective, even if the film itself were still clichéd. Instead, it leaves him and the film with nowhere to go and too long before the end credits role. Thus the role becomes one-note, despite Morgan’s fine effort.
Hilary Swank is OK but not terribly interesting in the lead. I like horror films as much as the average person (maybe even more), but a two-time Oscar winner ought to be making better choices than this. Also, ome have claimed she used a nude body double here, but the way her big scene plays out, it looks like it had to be her. And yet, the way she is filmed at other times, it suggests it probably wasn’t. Very confusing, but credit where it’s due, it’s a really pervy film. What, that’s a bad thing? Not in my book, folks. Christopher Lee, looking haggard (he’s in his late 80s, cut him some slack!), isn’t given much to do, but is committed as always (Michael Badalucco is looking old these days too, in an uncredited cameo as a removalist). I’m not sure if he’s very good at American accents, though. He’s usually tops with accents and languages, but American has always seemed to be a challenge for him for some reason.
Good camerawork and music score, but did no one here read the script before signing on? It’s appalling. I mean, either they didn’t read the script or no one involved has any idea of the basics of thriller storytelling. i.e. Where are the thrills if you spoil all the important plot points before the halfway point? The story behind the making of this film must be truly something. The film itself is shithouse, though. I mean, at least Eurovision is a guaranteed compelling piece of schlock (and equally compelling, if dodgy, politicking in the voting).