13th Child (2002)
“Those Who Believe Fear It. Those Who Don’t … Will.”
Director: Thomas Ashley, Steven Stockage
Cast: Cliff Robertson, Lesley-Anne Down, Christopher Atkins
Synopsis: People are being killed by someone or something using superhuman strength. A clever DA Assistant is sent to investigate. Is this just a way to commit the perfect murder or will the legend of the Jersey Devil prove to be true?
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
The crucial thing for anyone reviewing a movie is to give every movie viewed a chance; to overcome misgivings arising from the fact that the first-time director seemingly has no track record in either TV or movies; to ignore the fact that between them the co-writers had, prior to this effort, and over a period of thirty years, notched up a grand total of two previous writing credits; to overlook the fact that the leading lady happens to be the daughter of one of the co-writers — who also just happens to be one of the producers. The conscientious reviewer has to put all such qualms aside as he slips the DVD into the tray of the player and give the movie a chance…
Then, once he’s seen it through to the bitter end, he’s entitled to rip it apart. After all, every victim deserves some kind of payback…
13th Child is a low-budget horror flick that looks as if its writers — Michael Maryk and actor Cliff Robertson — have watched every episode of the X-Files three times over.
actor Cliff Robertson — have watched every episode of the X-Files three times over. And while they may have nailed the type of story that wouldn’t look out of place on that show, they have failed to capture any of the features that have made it so successful: basics like atmosphere, suspense, intelligence, chemistry, pacing.
The story, which apparently plays pretty fast and loose with the real legend of the Jersey Devil, begins confusingly, and never really recovers. It flashes backwards and forwards unnecessarily, creating ever more confusion (Robert Guillaume — TV’s Benson — seems to pop in and out of his asylum cell at will). Michelle Maryk plays FBI agent, erm, Kathryn who is assigned the task of tracking down the Jersey Devil by DA Murphy (an unrecognisable Lesley-Anne Down) whose father was amongst its victims. Teaming up on the scene with a couple of cops whose wisecracks are neither wise nor cracking nor particularly amusing — “I quite like the idea of being driven around by a white man,” says black cop, “Are those dreadlocks or cornrows?” replies white cop — Agent Kathryn quickly finds herself accepting an invitation to spend the night with a sinister old man (Robertson) with a disturbing interest in spiders and snakes. As, of course, you do.
Once the murders start in earnest the film falls apart completely. Behaving like a 1910 damsel in distress rather than a trained FBI agent, Kathryn, after witnessing the murder of one of her partners by the Jersey Devil — who gives a quaintly realistic impersonation of a man in a zip-up rubber suit — flees not to her car or into the surrounding woodland, but into a barn. And then up some steps. And then — guess what? — she’s trapped!
The movie seems to aim for post-ironic at times — the obligatory copulating teenagers escape from their encounter with the devil unscathed — while at others it pays homage (or rips-off) the classics it so manifestly imitates: “Just the music of the woods, music of the woods” says Robertson at one point, echoing Dracula’s famous ‘children of the night’ line. Either way, whatever it tries to do, it largely fails. Steven Stockage is a first-time director, and it shows — this guy is way out of his depth: some scenes are too long, others too short; and inappropriate music blares in a sequence containing possibly the worst example of cross-cutting seen in years. The only point in his favour is that he is working with an obviously limited budget, and at least manages to hide the fact up there on the screen much of the time.
As far as the acting is concerned, Cliff Robertson adds a much needed touch of class; he may look a little grizzled these days, but he still acts everyone else off the screen, and upstages Miss Maryk with the merest modulation of tone in mid-sentence. While the producer’s daughter tries hard and is far from the worst actress in the world, she is also much further from the best, and totally lacks any kind of screen presence. Watching her act, you know you’re watching somebody who is reciting lines they memorised five minutes earlier, and whose sole intention is to get to the end of those lines without tripping over any of the words.
Perhaps, though, the most disturbing and frightening thing about 13TH CHILD is the fact that it has so obviously (and, let’s hope, over-optimistically) set itself up for a sequel…