THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS Review
I don’t like speaking ill of the dead, especially icons who’ve defined an entire genre, but name-dropping is a marketing tactic best left for the living. Director Nick Simon’s newest feature film is titled THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS and I honestly believe I see Wes Craven’s name pop up in connection with this film more than Simon’s. Naturally, with Craven having passed in August of 2015, he’s likely to have had little [if anything] to do with the marketing of this movie, but it would certainly seem like he’s calling the shots from the gave.
Sadly, THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS is not the shining example of groundbreaking genre filmmaking for which the legendary master posthumously deserves credit. For a man so synonymous with influencing the slasher horror genre, the executive producer credit should have been given more of a backseat while the “For Wes” title card before the film’s opening was a much more appropriate touch. Regardless, the film does not do much to maintain the flame of the torch Wes Craven once helped to first set ablaze for moviegoers.
The story revolves around a young woman named Colleen (played by Claudia Lee) working as a grocery store clerk when she starts finding photographs of recently murdered women placed around her workplace. The images themselves are gory, but sloppy and nothing you would come to expect from more seriously devoted killers as we’ve become accustomed to in serial killer films. There is a level of ambiguity toward the pictures at first, as even the police are not certain if they’re genuine or elaborate fakes. Nonetheless, they begin to make the clerk nervous and she doesn’t seem to be getting any support of law enforcement. Convenient.
As the photographs begin to add up, one has to wonder where the film intends to go with the awkwardly devised setup. Does the killer have a special place in his or her cold heart for this young woman, or is she the key audience for which this twisted maestro creates such gruesome artwork? Coincidentally, neither seems to be the case as we’re introduced to Peter Hemmings, a cocky photographer, and his posse of models who show up as a result of the killers’ growing notoriety.
Kal Penn plays Hemmings with great effect. It’s just too bad it’s the wrong effect needed for the film. Penn as Hemmings is like a more arrogant, slightly nerdy Ryan Reynolds. Hemmings is sarcastic to a fault, self-involved and just plain disrespectful, He shows up claiming to be influenced by the killers’ work, hoping to find art of his own amidst the bloody chaos, and perhaps he does, depending on how loosely that success is defined.
Ultimately, Penn’s testosterone-fueled performance is over-the-top and unnecessary, taking away even more hope from THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS actually amounting to anything substantially rewarding. I found myself actually getting annoyed by Penn’s blunt abrasiveness and utter disregard for the film as a whole, instead perhaps mistaking this for yet another installment in the HAROLD & KUMAR franchise. Penn, more than any other element, drew me out of the story and disrupted the cinematic experience. This sort of faux pax is devastating to the horror genre as it feeds so much off an effectively engaged emotional feedback from it’s audience, one which is severely lacking in this example.
Stylistically speaking, THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS fails to take itself seriously enough to become a truly frightening film. The movie suffers from being a half-cocked idea driven by a potpourri of influences from other films and no real, clearly defined voice of it’s own. The one positive element, albeit not a strong enough perk to save the film, is how the killers are portrayed as sociopaths resembling a twisted, modern version of George and Lennie from John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice & Men. This relationship is unnerving and creepy, but not quite menacing enough to measure up to other more diabolical recent films that nail the approach and stick the landing.
Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS opens in theaters & VOD April 1, 2016.