Tuesday, September 17, 2013

REVIEW: Horsemen (2009)

Genre defining movies are tough. Sometimes when you watch a detective mystery film, you get something really cool and interesting like Se7en. Then it catches on and everyone tries to rip it off. Sometimes that produces cool movies like Antibodies. Other times, you get crap like Horsemen.

Director: Jonas Akerlund
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ziyi Zhang

This is basically Se7en made by idiots. That’s about the best way to sum Horsemen up, and I basically don’t have to write anything else – that’s the entire review. But because I love torturing myself and have nothing better to do than watch 4th rate rip-offs of one of the best movies of all time, I might as well sift through this and see if any jokes can come out of it. That way at least some good can come of this whole mess.

We start off with the best actor in the world, Dennis Quaid, playing a father who is so cool that he routinely abandons his sons to go and do police work. Is this a cliché that is literally so old that it’s practically becoming revolutionary? Well, no. It’s still lame. Quaid’s character is basically that he just shouts a lot. But when he sees that he’s been called out to look at a miniature silver platter full of bloody human teeth, well, it’s safe to say he has no words at all.

Pfft, that's not a kill scene; that's Hannibal Lecter's equivalent of spitting out the seeds when eating a watermelon.

Apparently they called him for this because he has the oddly specific and not AT ALL contrived position of being an expert on teeth. Does this ever come up again? No. Is it completely useless to the movie and just put in to give him an excuse to be called out to look at teeth? Yes.

Back at the office everyone is just SO BAFFLED by these teeth, but then they get an even bigger call to go to a murder scene straight out of the first SAW movie.

...along with colors that make I Know Who Killed Me look subtle.

Apparently someone snuck in and did this in these peoples’ home. They question the kids downstairs but learn absolutely nothing, and so they just go and re-enact a scene from Se7en entirely. Yeah, they go to see a guy who invents crazy sex contraptions like the machine the woman was found dead in. The guy bitches about it a little, Quaid and his porno-stache partner threaten to arrest him for drugs, and he gives in. Totally pointless scene. The one from Se7en establishes some tension and heightens the drama going on. The one in this movie just takes up running time. Like any good scene in a good movie, you know.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the stupid “catch phrase” the kill scenes have written on the wall. Apparently the killer writes “Come and see” on the wall every time they string up someone in that weird torture contraption thing:

Because every movie like this has to have a stupid catch phrase for the killer. Otherwise it wouldn’t be allowed into the secret club of serial killer detective movies. It’s an exclusive group. It doesn’t even matter that the catch phrase makes no sense with the method of killing. Why bother having any logic to it? It’s not like having a more nuanced and well-thought-out connection between the two would make the movie meaningful or thought-provoking, right? Oh wait yes it would you hacks.

Through some rather dull scenes, Quaid discovers that the “come and see” thing is from the Bible, and is part of the myth of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. While this isn’t the most original set up for a movie – hell, Dexter Season 6 would do it way better a few years later – it does have potential. Unfortunately the potential is not that well realized here. He goes in and tells everyone at the station about his discovery, and they all rightfully call him crazy for a few seconds before believing him – another scene that will be indicted into the all-time greatest moments in cinema history, for sure.

Oh please, he can't actually read. Otherwise he wouldn't have signed on for this script.

We get some boring detective scenes with too-dark lighting that really don’t have much to do with anything. They find another victim strapped up to a harness, get a suspect – her ex boyfriend or something – and then that guy turns up dead, too. Very snore-inducing. We also get scenes with Quaid’s emo son back at home. Apparently Quaid’s wife died of cancer a few years ago and his son blames him for it, because he’s a hormonal teenager, and why not alienate what little family you have left?

There’s one scene where the son bakes a cake for his dead mother’s birthday like, apparently, they do every year. This prompts a big argument when it appears Quaid has forgotten about it. Quaid shouts a lot and the son says that Quaid wasn’t there “when it really mattered” – we get some dialogue a little bit later that alleges to the fact that the son was apparently the only one there when his mother actually died, with Quaid off working a case or something. And thus we have the reason why this family is falling apart: the father feels guilty and detached, and the kids are left alone to become more distant because of it.

Oh, and he doesn’t take them to basketball games because of his job; can’t forget that:

Can you smell the stench of disappointment coming off of these two?

But really, how well done is this whole segment? I really don’t think it’s handled all that well. Honestly, there isn’t anything in this plot that hasn’t been done before. Which isn’t a death sentence automatically, but come on. This whole “distant father, dead wife, neglected kids” thing NEEDS some more substance to it! Just having Quaid and the son shout at one another and then Quaid telling them that he’s “not going to be detached anymore” five billion times during the film doesn’t cut it! The characters aren’t interesting and there’s nothing particularly stirring about the drama going on. If all you’re going to do is pick a hackneyed scenario that everyone has seen done better a billion times before and try to pass it off as meaningful drama, what’s the point?

Sigh. But hey, at least we get some more riveting detective scenes. Like how Quaid is such a good detective that he can’t solve anything; the murderer, who is a small Asian girl, just walks up to him and confesses. They talk a bit, she hugs him, and then she says she “didn’t know her mother had this inside her,” while pulling out a dead bloody fetus in a plastic bag.

Well I for one think it's perfectly normal to carry around aborted fetuses in bags in your pocket...

Okay, okay…a few things.

First off, so what, Quaid is such a shitty detective that even though he’s been looking into this for days now, very intensely, he has to have the killer just WALK UP and talk to him to find her? At least Se7en had a psychotic Kevin Spacey as the discovered killer. This movie just has a tiny Asian girl. That a trained adult male detective couldn’t catch without her revealing her role herself. Don’t put that one on your resume, Quaid; I’m not sure it’s something you should necessarily be proud of.

Second, yeah, so she just carries around that fetus in a bag days after the murder. Right. Not like that would start to smell or anything, right? And you know, carrying fetuses around in plastic bags in your coat pocket is totally awesome and not going to draw attention in any other way, either. Plus it’s gross. And you’re gross. And you need help.

I guess that was this chick’s “evil switch,” because after that she gets arrested and pretty much becomes the movie’s Hannibal Lecter, constantly cajoling and taunting from behind bars. I don’t quite understand why she had to do this, except for the fact that otherwise, they would never be able to catch any of the killers. She has nothing to gain from being arrested, but I guess anything goes when you’re too stupid to think of real ways to move your plot along.

Insert Dark Knight joke here...or don't, either way it's still cliche and boring.

So yeah, her whole role in the movie from this point on is to look evil and vomit out plot exposition like a robot with a conveyor belt attached to its mouth. Without her in the movie we would never learn anything about who the killers ended up being. Basically, according to Psycho Asian Aborted Fetus Bitch here, the Four Horsemen are actually just a bunch of whiny kids who had fucked up childhoods, and so now they take out their rage by torturing their parents for hours and cutting them up like Swiss cheese. Real good motive there, movie…we then see exactly what she’s talking about!

Yup. The next scene is some gay kid and his douchebag brother who can’t accept the fact that the kid is gay. At first I thought the brother was being so rude and indignant because he found out the kid was part of the Four Horsemen torture-fuck club, but nope, it’s just because he’s gay. “Hey, bro, it’s totally cool that you’re a member of a group of freaks that tortures their parents for no reason."

"What? You’re gay? I WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.”

I guess maybe his brother doesn’t know about the torture thing yet. Possibly.

But it’s okay, because the kid then shows him!

More nightmare fuel for you...

And herein lies one of my other problems with the movie: this scene. It’s the only real “torture” scene we get, and despite the brother’s face with all those wires holding it up looking like a bad Adult Swim animation, it’s pretty indefensible. The kid shouts at his brother a lot about not accepting him, yadda yadda, and while it maybe could’ve been done well, with a radically different script…it’s just not working here. Okay, so yeah, this kid has been mistreated by his brother. That’s fine, and his brother is definitely portrayed as a real jackass and a thoroughly unlikable person. But when your solution is to tie people up and torture them in horrible ways, it doesn’t matter what the fuck your reasoning is – you are always wrong, and it is impossible to feel sympathy for you anymore.

Which is fine, as not every movie that has such themes is asking us to feel sorry for these characters. Sometimes it’s more complex than that, as in a movie like Chronicle. But with Horsemen, they don’t really try to do anything with this concept. As the concept of mistreated kids lashing out with repressed rage is quite delicate and weighty, it really needs a professional to handle it in fiction. With Horsemen, you don’t get that – instead you get the same old generic “shock and awe” reaction to these kids’ crimes. You are supposed to be shocked that this is happening, but the movie fails to engage you on any other level besides shock value. It takes the careful subject of a child’s failed upbringing and turns it into a circus act.

Again, look at Chronicle – a movie that takes a story about just one kid who has a shit home life and goes bad, and does a very good job at telling a story about it. The film portrays him as a human being, not just as some cardboard cutout intended to evoke some plastic, half-assed sense of carnival sideshow shock. In other words, it’s not Horsemen. Because Horsemen is lowest common denominator crap.

Well, luckily for me, the kid doesn’t actually torture his brother at all. Instead he kills himself.

You’re doing it wrong! I think you have this whole torture thing a little backwards actually…either way it’s a stupid scene, and while it coulda been done better maybe if the brother wasn’t harnessed up in that stupid contraption and just like, tied up, I’m not going to dignify this with trying to level with its story.

So basically, they come and take away the kid’s body later and the brother is still on the ground – his response to the whole thing is calling his dead brother a faggot again. Yeah, well I guess people really don’t change, do they? Once a bigoted douchebag, always a bigoted douchebag.

After that, after talking to Psycho Bitch some more, Quaid sends his porno-stache partner over to his house to make sure his family isn’t being targeted, because doing it himself would violate Quaid’s code of being a shitty parent. What was he saying earlier about wanting to be part of their lives more often again? I guess that was just bullshit. The partner guy gets knocked out, and Quaid thinks NOW it’s a good time to go home and check! So he goes home and finds…

Oh please, that doesn't mean anything - the editors just forgot to dump an overload of one particular color on this scene.

Yup, and apparently the fact that his son’s room is painted white means that he’s the leader of these four horsemen types. Why didn’t Master Detective Quaid notice this before? Well, apparently he hasn’t been inside his son’s room for three years. I know this because the movie says so just a few minutes later when they meet up. Now, pardon me if I’m not exactly up to speed on the conventions of modern parenting, BUT WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?! He hasn’t been in his son’s room for THREE YEARS?!? Are you shitting me?

I mean honestly, that has to take the cake for worst hackneyed way to explain a plot device I’ve ever seen. For a movie that isn’t a joke, and seems to be very serious in its execution, I really am just baffled at how this made it past anyone who wasn’t lobotomized! Movie, I’ll ignore the obvious social and parenting-related repercussions of such an implication – nobody cares. But I will talk about the plot of this film: you’re basically admitting here that Quaid is so unobservant and so bad at his job, that he didn’t notice HIS OWN SON was a part of a serial killing, torturing group of maniacs? And not only that, but also could have found out easily by just GOING INTO HIS SON’S ROOM? That is astronomically bad. I mean wow.

Ugh…so I guess Quaid goes and finds his son hooked up like a marionette at some kind of auditorium place. His son tells him that there are actually thousands of horsemen, all just waiting to unleash their hormonal rage upon the world. But for some reason only if the son dies…I think. Quaid shoots the ropes holding him up and he falls. The son dies and we fade out.

Quaid goes home and kisses his other son goodnight, the thousands of horsemen all around the world begin a mass murder and torture spree, and the movie ends on a happy note.

No, really, it ends on a happy note – I guess the fact that there’s a whole bunch more of these “horsemen” kids in the world doesn’t matter, since they never bring it up. Go figure. This movie is crap. While I guess I’ve seen worse movies, it doesn’t excuse the awful writing in this movie. And even if the writing were better, Dennis Quaid hams it up while simultaneously not giving a shit, and the kids in the movie are pretty much just High School Musical versions of famous thriller movie villains. It’s just an empty film without much to recommend about it.

But on the bright side…it isn’t World War Z.

Yeah, that’s the next review. God help us all!

Images copyright of their original owners, I own none of them.