Riding in on the four ponies currently plaguing the Hollywood horror-thriller — overstylized torture, whiplash editing, compulsive script reversals and crude neon lighting — “Horsemen” brings its herd home to pasture in strictly predictable fashion. Not nearly as gripping as “Seven” nor as gore-crazy as the “Saw” or “Hostel” series, musicvid vet Jonas Akerlund’s sophomore effort will be remembered neither as a highlight of the waning genre, nor for Dennis Quaid’s most memorable screen performance. Lionsgate quarantined the pic’s U.S. release to just 75 theaters in early March, hoping, perhaps, that the apocalypse will come in ancillary.
A fairly harmless shock sequence, whereby a woodsman stumbles on a silver platter displaying a pile of torn-out teeth, sets the tone for the film’s other “revelations.” By the time forensic dentistry expert Aidan Breslin (Quaid) concludes that a series of corpses mutilated by artsy trapeze devices may have something to do with the famous Bible passage about the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” the audience is already several steps ahead of him.
Much of the initial action, as it shifts from blood-splattered crime scene to detailed autopsy and back, plays out in territory well trod by the latest and not-too-latest works of the torture-porn/Splat Pack school. A scene in which Breslin investigates a tattoo/S&M parlor connected to the murders typifies the approach of screenwriter David Callaham (“Doom”), as the script tries to immerse us in a faux-seedy world torn from a dozen other movies.
Thankfully, Breslin’s shattered home life, where he remains estranged from his two young sons (Lou Taylor Pucci, Liam James) following the death of his wife from cancer, adds something vaguely human and original to the story. Quaid is best in these domestic sequences, in which he makes the tiresome pull between work and family seem believable — much moreso than when he’s on the beat and merely going through the motions.
When the adopted daughter (Ziyi Zhang, physically fierce yet unconvincing) of an early victim turns out to be linked to the killers, the diabolical prophecy heads so quickly for home that viewers may be shocked most by the film’s slapdash ending.
Despite the abundance of red-green-white gels used for the biblical motifs, Akerlund’s direction remains fairly restrained, and he actually seems to want to tell the father-son story in a straightforward way. Too bad about all those fish hooks suspending people in the air as they choke on their own blood.
Like the plot, the score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek’s (“The Visitor”) leads us in mostly foreseeable directions.