Monday, March 15, 2010

Nine Dead

People suddenly wake up in a dirty, industrial, mysterious room and find themselves chained to pipes and at the mercy of a mask-wearing, deep voiced killer. It seems like I've heard this before...

Earlier this week I noticed that Chris Shadley's contribution to the ever-growing pool of Saw-clones, "Nine Dead" (also his directorial debut), was available on Netflix Instant Play. I wasn't terribly interested in it, but Instant Play makes me do crazy things sometimes.

Now I've always liked Melissa Joan Hart for some reason, probably just residual Clarissa Explains It All nostalgia-cred... but by about the 20 minute mark, I just had to admit the truth. Watching Melissa Joan Hart trying to act in a serious role is just painful to watch. Very little about Nine Dead isn't bad, but she still manages to be one of the worst things in it.

I won't even bother with a plot synopsis with this film. If you've at least read the back of the Saw DVD, then you know the premise of Nine Dead. There are several important differences though, and those are what I'll focus on. That and why all of them are reasons that Saw was successful and this film is a failure.

The Villain:

Personally, I always found the Jigsaw mask to be not so much frightening, as just plain silly... but it is iconic in a way that a nondescript rubber mask is not. You will forget this character by the time the movie is over.

With a movie that has no real substance and only promises that nine people will die, the only way it can deliver is if the deaths are somehow interesting. Here, every 10 minutes the killer enters the room, shoots someone (off camera), and pulls them out of the room. Every death is anticlimactic and boring. In fact, the only interesting thing about it is that every ten minutes we know we have one less annoying character to deal with.

In Saw there are only the two victims, the entire movie is character development, you understand the characters, and have come to like the doctor well enough that you can actually care when he breaks down later.

In Nine Dead, you have nine victims, and they're all irritating and whiny. There are some attempts to develop a couple of the characters (all by way of the awkward "tell a story while looking off into the distance, fade to flashback" plot device), but it's just too little too late. We already hate these characters and just want them to hurry and die.

One of these flashbacks shows us that Kelley (Melissa Joan Hart) was at one point captured and tossed into a rapevan. The guy ripped into her clothing while she noticed that the floor was dirty.

When she says he ripped her clothes off, she actually means he made two ridiculous cuts with a pair of scissors... I can only hope that they fired who was in charge of costuming after this scene.

At some point she noticed a bat in the van, so she beat the guy to death with it. This is the goriest scene in the movie and the camera never leaves her face to show what she may be doing. As with every other death, the filmmakers leave us to see her hitting something off camera. I can't imagine why this movie got an R rating, it seems pretty adamant about not leaving PG-13 territory.

Oh, and about that flashback... It's completely irrelevant to the rest of the movie.

With Saw, there is a well done twist that actually does something aside from just pissing you off. The tension builds to a climax and then leaves you with a finale everyone talks about afterward.

In Nine Dead, there's a sort of twist... the killer gives up, frees everyone, and then Kelley shoots him and the two other survivors to keep a secret from her past from being revealed (the secret's not anything interesting). This was obviously the direction things were going, and unless you've been dozing off throughout the movie it comes as no surprise when it happens.

At the killer's last moment though, he alludes to the fact that everything that's been happening has been recorded/broadcast and the police now know everything that's happened. So Kelley runs out of the room to try to escape capture while a S.W.A.T. team makes their way up. Just when you think that the movie might redeem itself with Melissa Joan Hart dying in a hail of bullets, she goes around the corner in the hallway (with the S.W.A.T. team just behind her) and the movie fades to black and rolls the credits. If anyone's left talking about that ending afterward it will just be about how it badly it pissed them off.

Considering that the Saw formula isn't exactly complicated, and Nine Dead had three times the budget of Saw, what we're left with is just an inexcusable trainwreck of a film. Avoid it at all costs.

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