Three Horror Films from Maple Pictures
Jekyll + Hyde (June 17/07)
Jekyll + Hyde is yet another low-budget, straight-to-video horror flick that has little to offer even the most rabid gorehound, though there's little doubt that the movie is relatively well made and acted (it's just not even remotely interesting, however). The film places Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel into a contemporary context and stars Bryan Fisher as Jay Jekyll - a young medical student who's been toying around with a new drug that, if everything goes right, should ostensibly change one's personality for the better. Jekyll's decision to test the pill on himself proves disastrous, of course, and it's not long before he's lurching around campus as the villainous Hyde. Director Nick Stillwell's efforts at infusing Stevenson's tale with angst-ridden elements generally fall flat, as all of the film's central characters ultimately come off as unsympathetic, one-dimensional jackasses (Fisher's Jekyll is especially guilty of this). His questionable music choices notwithstanding, Stillwell does an effective job of infusing the proceedings with a subdued visual style that's a marked improvement over the jerky, overly-ambitious shenanigans of his horror brethren - yet there's simply no denying that Jekyll + Hyde is, above all else, just flat-out dull.
Anchored by a trio of thoroughly compelling performances, Joshua certainly succeeds in bringing a fair amount of depth to an admittedly familiar storyline. The film follows the Cairn family - dad Brad (Sam Rockwell), mom Abby (Vera Farmiga), and son Joshua (Jacob Kogan) - as they attempt to cope with the arrival of a newborn, with Abby undergoing some postpartum problems and Joshua clearly jealous of the attention lavished on the baby. It's interesting to note that Joshua initially possesses the feel and tone of a kitchen-sink indie drama, as director and co-writer George Ratliff emphasizes the various domestic crises encountered by the Cairns. The central performances certainly reflect this vibe, with Rockwell and Farmiga offering up expectedly solid work as Joshua's increasingly harried parents. Ratliff does a nice job of peppering the film's first half with a number of distinctly ominous elements, ensuring that - even during quiet, seemingly innocuous sequences - there's always the feeling that the whole thing is building towards something sinister. By the time Joshua morphs into a flat-out horror flick in its third act, it has essentially become impossible not to sympathize with these characters and their progressively precarious situation.
See No Evil
Though it boasts the sort of gritty visuals that tend to accompany most contemporary films of this ilk (ie the Saw series, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc), See No Evil is slightly more effective than your average not-screened-for-critics genre entry - primarily because it essentially forgoes character development and plot in favor of an almost immediate emphasis on mayhem. The paper thin storyline follows several delinquents as they arrive at an abandoned hotel for repair work and are subsequently attacked by a deranged lunatic (played by Kane) with a penchant for plucking out his victims' eyes. See No Evil delivers exactly what its promotional push has promised - ie sequence after sequence of Kane brutally murdering a series of hapless victims - and there's little doubt that viewers in the mood for this sort of thing could certainly do worse. Yet there's no overlooking the repetitive, superficial nature of Dan Madigan's screenplay, which emphasizes incredibly one-note characters and an almost laughable backstory for Kane's maniac. In the end, however, See No Evil is almost - almost - saved by its refreshingly old-school vibe, although one can't help but wish that filmmaker Gregory Dark would've eased up on the relentless use of modern cinematic tricks.