Apple and I recently took a break from our usual Asian-flavored horror movies to watch a handful of thrillers of decidedly more Western origin: The Number 23, Transsiberian and A Haunting in Connecticut (2009 remake edition). Since I was not enamored with any of them enough to post a detailed, screencap-infused writeup like this, I decided to combine three capsule-style reviews into the first Oddball Review Triple Feature. Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the gun. (Whatever; I get random sometimes. Just keep reading.)
The Number 23
Jim Carrey stars in this decidedly overhyped thriller which you’d think would be about numerology, but in the end, actually has nothing at all to do with it. In fact, the entire premise was one big red herring designed to distract us from the central issue, which is that (spoiler alert!) Jim Carrey’s character was once a raging psychopath. The reason he’s not anymore is because he hit his head and forgot who he was, then spent the next 15 years of his life as a meek dogcatcher with no friends. The ending almost, almost had me so incredulous with disbelief that I would have ejected the DVD, thrown it into the Netflix sleeve and hurled it into the mailbox, but somewhat redeemed itself at the last minute. The story felt like it had gone ’round the block a few times and wasn’t exactly a fresh idea. Could have been worse, but overall didn’t cover any new territory.
From a technical standpoint, the film was rife with what I felt were bizarre stylistic choices. There were numerous flashback scenes done in a noir style that I first thought were taking place in the sixties, right down to the vintage police car, but which also included more modern vehicles and items which couldn’t possibly exist then. At one point the 9/11 catastrophe and the Oklahoma City Bombing are mentioned when those events had not yet occurred in the timeline! Just a mess.
Then there was that distracting little problem of Jim Carrey being typecast, to the point where in all of his scenes I expected him to spontaneously break out into some goofy face and make strange noises.
Oddball Verdict: Don’t bother with this one.
From director Brad Anderson, who brought us Session 9 (one of my all-time favorite thrillers ever, if only because it was shot on location at the former Danvers State Hospital), comes this suspense drama about an American couple taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Moscow. The couple meets up with an outgoing Spaniard and his quiet American girlfriend who start acting a little on the suspicious side, and pretty soon things really start going to hell in a handbasket, complete with brutality from the scaaaaary Russian police.
Delivered on Blu-Ray Disc by Netflix, the picture quality was stunning, and the movie was loaded with amazing imagery that really made you feel like you were there. In fact, the feeling of culture shock was conveyed pretty well through the film. The story, however, was very slow to get started, to the point where it seemed nearly half of the movie was behind us before the tension really started to build.
The whole second half is a real edge-of-your-seat affair, its tension stemming from the age-old mechanism of watching the protagonists running with agonizing slowness from a lethal pursuer. It did resolve a bit more neatly than I expected it to, leaving us with a decent sense of closure. Overall it was a pretty good film, but unlike Session 9, it’s not one I’d be compelled to watch again.
Oddball Verdict: Mildly recommended.
A Haunting in Connecticut (2009 remake)
We put this on our Netflix queue while we were still in Thailand. The film had just come out then, and it looked interesting enough to merit a rental. Apple and I both like ghost stories, which this seemed to be at its core — plus I had heard of the original source material, which was a made-for-TV movie if I recall correctly.
This is definitely a modern remake, filled with the kind of jump-scares, bloody imagery and disturbing viscera that American horror is known for. Given the cliche nature of its story and presentation, I personally felt that the acting was unusually good for a film like this. There were no annoying cannon-fodder characters who exist only to be murdered by a malevolent entity halfway through the movie, although the central protagonist Matt (Kyle Gallner) spends nearly the entire picture being tormented in some form or another. Most of the imagery itself was too over-the-top, yet pointless, for Apple to enjoy and she promptly went to bed with a huge headache. I found myself digging it a bit more.
I was fairly annoyed with the character of Matt’s father (Martin Donovan), who seemed to serve no purpose at all except to behave in a predictably “rotten husband” fashion, then go on a drunken rampage meant only to scare the audience and about which nothing was ever mentioned again. Later, there was a somewhat cloying scene where he and Matt’s mother reconciled upon learning that Matt was close to death, but it felt forced and insincere. Overall, I think this character’s presence in the film was entirely unnecessary.
Along the lines of my particular obsessions, I’d like to make a special mention of the time period in which the film’s story took place (1987) and the automobiles chosen to appear. The creators seemingly did their best to find period-accurate cars for the film, but their efforts were stymied in some places. Matt’s mother is seen driving a Pontiac 6000 wagon, but the car appears to be a circa-1991 model and not a pre-’87. At one point, Matt’s father sells his vintage Ford pickup and replaces it with a clapped-out Buick Regal, but the Regal shown couldn’t have been more than a couple years old in 1987 and the level of deterioration it exhibited was borderline unrealistic. Most egregious was the mid-’90s Ford E-series ambulance shown outside a hospital — way too new!
Freaky tie-in trivia: Virginia Madsen, who played Matt’s mom, also starred as the wife of Jim Carrey’s character in The Number 23. OoooOOOOoooOOOOoooo.
Oddball Verdict: If you’re bored, walk, don’t run, to the video store for a rental.
Join us here at Oddball Update in the near future for a review of 2005 Thai horror film Ghost of Mae Nak, based on a popular Thai legend.