You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ’31’

An RV-full of carnys are forced into a deadly Halloween 'game' in Rob Zombie's latest horror pastiche.

Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Richard Brake, Jane Carr, Daniel Roebuck, Pancho Moler, Lew Temple, Lew Temple, David Ury, Torsten Voges, Judy Geeson, Malcolm McDowell, Tracey Walker, Elizabeth Daily, Esperanza America, Michael Alcott, Andrea Dora. (English, Spanish dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3835080/

Rob Zombie truly loves horror movies. But he still hasn’t made a good one, and “31” is a perfect encapsulation of the reasons why: It’s a fanboy’s highlight reel of homages, without any of the credibility or context that made most of the films he’s inspired by so fine. Those who liked his first narrative features, “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” will probably enjoy his latest, which feels like a mash-up of the two (as well as numerous older films). But for others, this energetic exercise in forced badassery will be too silly and self-conscious to feel genuinely edgy, despite all the blood spilt and familiar taboos violated. (You know something’s wrong when your reaction to one character’s entrance is “Oh. A Nazi killer dwarf. That figures.”) As with Zombie’s prior efforts outside the “Halloween” reboots, this looks destined for a quick theatrical career (planned for summer by Alchemy), followed by wider access to genre buffs via home formats.

The protagonists here are an RV-full of potty-mouthed, grab-handy carnys driving to their next gig on Halloween in 1976. After a stop at a creepy gas station, they’re halted by a line of scarecrows blocking a dusty rural road. Soon several of the travelers are dead, and the others hauled forcibly to some sort of abandoned industrial compound where three aristos in Louis XIV powder and wigs (Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson and Jane Carr) inform them they are now playing the “game” of 31. Which is basically “The Most Dangerous Game” meets “Saw,” plus elements of Oliver Stone’s “Seizure,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and so on.

That leaves girly-show dancer Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie), the much older Venus (Meg Foster), Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), Levon (Kevin Jackson) and Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips) in a trap-laden maze where they are serially laid siege to by the aforementioned evil little person (Pancho Moler), three chainsaw-wielding clowns, and a couple of full-sized Aryan “master race” caricatures (Elizabeth Daily, Torsten Voges).

They have 12 hours to survive the onslaught, at which time they’ll be freed — though their bet-placing captors place very long odds on that happening. When it looks like it actually might (not for all, of course), the baddies’ secret weapon is summoned in the form of another cackling meanie in scary clown makeup: this one called Doom-Head (Richard Brake), whom we’ve already met in a prologue.

Rob Zombie is so likably intelligent in interviews, and such a good-humored showman in his musical career, that the crass, overripe yet undercooked nature of his screenplays comes as a continual disappointment. The ’70s movies he loves (the original “Chainsaw,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “The Last House on the Left,” etc.) worked largely because they established a “normal” world before letting malevolent crazies violate it, greatly heightening the eventual shock and terror. But Zombie’s films lunge so eagerly from zero to 11 that they skip everything in between. The “dark” characters and situations are so cartoonish from the get-go that there’s little chance of any suspense or atmosphere building; even the ample mayhem is too chaotically staged to have much visceral impact.

Likewise, the dialogue is so rotely expletive-riddled that tough words lose all impact, especially when we’re meant to take seriously lines as lame as “S–t’s goin’ DOWN!” or “Murder School is now in session!” (Lamer still, one suspects two characters briefly speak Spanish only so viewers can slap themselves on the back for knowing what “maricon” and “puta” mean.)

It’s a pity, because in other ways Zombie has the knack; his attention to pacing (if a tad too hectic), gothic lighting effects, impressive production design aspects on slim means, etc., should be the envy of many a less stylish recent horror aficionado/director. There’s also pleasure in his Tarantino-like casting of semi-forgotten old favorites, though only sinewy near-septuagenarian Foster manages to create a semblance of an actual person here. (Even Mrs. Zombie, quite fine in her husband’s otherwise weak “Halloween” and frustrating near-miss “Lords of Salem,” can’t do much with the material she’s given this time.)

Purportedly shot in 20 days, “31” looks and sounds good, with a soundtrack that expectedly mixes up yesteryear’s redneck favorites from Ernest Tubb to the James Gang and Aerosmith. Packaging is resourceful, though one could do without some of the repetitious, mannered uses of freeze-frames and slo-mo.

Sundance Film Review: '31'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Midnight), Jan. 24, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: An Alchemy (in U.S.) release of an Alchemy presentation in association with Spookhouse International of a Bow and Arrow Entertainment and Spectacle Entertainment production. (International sales: Protagonist Pictures, London.) Produced by Andy Gould, Rob Zombie, Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman, Mike Elliott, Eddie Vaisman.

Crew: Directed, written by Rob Zombie. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), David Daniel; editor, Glenn Garland; music, John 5, Zombie; production designer, Rodrigo Cabral; costume designer, Carrie Grace; set decorator, Siobhan O'Brien; set designer, Kevin Houlihan; sound, Steve Morrow, John Bauman; supervising sound editor, Steven Iba; re-recording mixer, Chris David;  special makeup effects, Wayne Toth; stunt coordinator, Stephen Dunlevy; assistant director, Gabriel Williams; casting, Nicole Arbusto.

With: Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Richard Brake, Jane Carr, Daniel Roebuck, Pancho Moler, Lew Temple, Lew Temple, David Ury, Torsten Voges, Judy Geeson, Malcolm McDowell, Tracey Walker, Elizabeth Daily, Esperanza America, Michael Alcott, Andrea Dora. (English, Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Ventana Sur: 10 or So Takes

    Ventana Sur: Drilling Down on This Year’s Edition

    BUENOS AIRES —  11 takes on the biggest Ventana Sur yet, in initiatives and initial business announcements: 1.CANNES’ MOST DARING MOVE? More Reviews Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle' Film Review: Hailee Steinfeld in 'Bumblebee' Over the last decade, film festivals two biggest growth roadmaps have run through strengthening their industry heft, aiding an ever more [...]

  • Ian Schrager Ian Schrager, New York,

    Studio 54 Co-Creator Ian Schrager Wants to 'Set the Record Straight'

    In the 1970s, Studio 54 was the epicenter of New York nightlife. With wildly theatrical sets, a guest list of celebs, and jet-setters that included everyone from Andy Warhol to Grace Jones, and a pulsating disco beat, the nightclub helped define the Me Decade. But its reign was short lived. In 1980, founders Steve Rubell [...]

  • 'The Favourite,' 'Black Panther' Lead Critics'

    'The Favourite,' 'Black Panther,' 'First Man' Lead Critics' Choice Movie Nominations

    Fox Searchlight’s “The Favourite,” directed by rising art-house star Yorgos Lanthimos, led the field of film nominees for the 24th annual Critics’ Choice Awards, the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. announced Monday. The period comedy, a biting send-up of the court of Queen Anne, received 14 nominations including best picture, director, actress (Olivia Colman), supporting actress [...]

  • Blood Window, BIFFF Partner On TV

    Blood Window, Brussels International Fantastic Film Fest Partner on TV Initiative

    Argentina’s Ventana Sur, certainly one of Latin America’s most important meet-marts, announced today that its Blood Window sidebar will collaborate with INCAA – the country’s national film-TV body, which co-runs Ventana Sur with Cannes – and the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF) on the B2 Genre TV project, the first such program aimed at [...]

  • Film Factory Boards Andrés Wood’s Fox-Distributed

    Film Factory Boards Andres Wood’s Fox-Distributed ‘Arana’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Vicente Canales’ Film Factory Entertainment has boarded “Araña,” directed by one of Chile’s foremost filmmakers, Andrés Wood, and distributed in North and Latin America by 20th Century Fox. Produced by Alejandra García at Santiago de Chile’s Wood Producciones, “Araña” is co-produced by Brazil’s BossaNovaFilms and Argentina’s Magma Cine, two of Southern America’s [...]

  • Tim Roth, Thierry Fremaux and Gaspar

    Tim Roth, Gaspar Noe Join Thierry Fremaux at Cannes Festival Cinema Week

    BUENOS AIRES — Kicking off with the Cannes Festival’s Palme d’Or winner, Hirokazu Kor-eda’s “Shoplifters,” and framing  multiple Cannes winners, the 10th Cannes Festival Cinema Week will feature a masterclass by Tim Roth, before a projection of “Reservoir Dogs,” and a presentation by Gaspar Noé of his Directors’ Fortnight hit “Climax.” Curated and M.C-ed by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content