Movie Review: 31 (2016)
“Death is the only escape.”
Director: Rob Zombie
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips
Synopsis: Five carnival workers find themselves reluctant participants in a deadly game.
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Any director who goes, in less than 10 years, from directing a high profile reboot of a major horror franchise to cobbling together a picture financed by a crowdfunding appeal should probably be asking himself where his career is going wrong. For Rob Zombie, a filmmaker firmly rooted in the horror genre, it shouldn’t be too difficult. 31, his latest effort, clearly illustrates just how incapable he is of attaching anything close to a meaningful plot to the arresting nightmare images he conjures up with such confidence.
31 begins strongly, with an extreme close-up of homicidal-maniac-for-hire Doom-Head (Richard Brake – The Counselor, Kingsman: The Secret Service), who appears to be delivering a monologue direct to the camera, but is actually talking to a blood-streaked and terrified preacher immediately before going to work on him with an axe. Doom-Head works for a trio of eccentric toffs who, while dressed as if in attendance at the court of Louis IV, like to observe him and his colleagues as they hunt down and viciously slaughter abducted travellers in some kind of disused industrial plant. Into their clutches stumble a quintet of middle-aged carnival workers, led, of course, by Zombie’s pretty but talentless wife, Sheri Moon Zombie. 31 allows us to spend about 20 minutes on the road with these misfits before they find themselves participating in this lunatic version of hide and seek, but we learn nothing about them worth knowing, and so never become emotionally involved in their fates.
Any scraps of plot to be found in 31 die a death at this point. Once trapped inside the grounds, the terrified victims must do what they can to stay alive for twelve hours – a near impossible task given that there are a number of violent psychopaths intent on hunting them down. The most memorable of these loons is a strange Spanish dwarf with a Hitler fetish, but sadly he’s despatched in double-quick time, and, with the exception of Doom-Head, who steals every scene he’s in, his fellow loons are nothing special. Things quickly become repetitive, and Zombie’s lack of funds becomes increasingly evident thanks to his technique of blurred, frantic shots and cut-aways deliberately designed to misdirect the audience and con us into believing we’re seeing more than we actually are. Zombie does have some talent as a director, but he really needs to find a screenwriter who can provide some shape and coherence to his storylines because he isn’t going to secure bigger budgets on the strength of rubbish like this.
(Reviewed 29th September 2016)