Now available on DVD
Directed by Luis CÃ¡mara
If you judge Steel Trap by its DVD cover, prepare to be disappointed. It features a young woman crawling through what looks like a narrow vent lined with spikes and rotating saws. Based on this, you would expect a claustrophobic thriller with terrifying death traps. Maybe something in the vein of 1997’s Cube. Unfortunately, it is just another mundane slasher film with obnoxious characters, terrible writing, and a lame villain. The cover scene never appears in the actual film. Even the title is misleading â an empty 50-story office building hardly qualifies as a “steel trap.” The marketing team behind this movie obviously had little faith in it.
At a New Years party in an abandoned high-rise building, five strangers receive a mysterious text-message inviting them to a VIP party on the 27th floor. Among the invitees are a celebrity chef, a rock star, an advice columnist, and a brown-nosing TV producer. Without hesitation, they each head to the private party. Upon arriving, they find what looks like a child’s birthday celebration â complete with balloons, cupcakes, and five place cards, each of which gives them a nasty nickname like “pig” or “two-faced.” The five invitees, along with two party crashers, then uncover a riddle telling them where to go next. Hoping for a prize, they comply.
Not bothered by the fact that this mysterious host knows their names, cell phone numbers, and clearly doesn’t think highly of them, they happily partake in his scavenger hunt. Only after the first bloody corpse shows up do these people realize they are involved in a deadly game. One by one, a masked psychopath hunts them down and intends to kill them in some ironic way related to their place card monikers. Plus, he has rigged the building with video cameras and the occasional booby trap. Without cell phone reception or a way out, the remaining guests are forced to follow the killer’s clues if they hope to escape.
The first thing you notice about Steel Trap is how annoying and loathsome all the characters are. This is partly intentional and partly not. Some of them are meant to be narcissistic jerks, but there is no excuse for the ludicrous things they say and do in this film. They behave in completely unnatural ways and say the most awkward, nonsensical lines. Granted, the writers are largely to blame for that. The dialogue in this movie makes George Lucas look like Shakespeare by comparison. Furthermore, most of the actors are British newcomers who barely pull off their American accents. It is virtually impossible to like or sympathize with anyone in this.
The killer is equally dull. His plastic mask makes him look like a Blue Man Group reject and his method of killing becomes pretty predictable based on each victim’s pet name. Is it any wonder how somebody nicknamed “heartless” is going to meet their fate? The killer’s penchant for playing games and punishing flawed character types draws obvious comparisons to Jigsaw from the Saw series. Plus, the twist ending is a lot like one of those films. Funny enough, the Japanese title for this movie is actually Jigsaw: Tower of Death, which is much better than Steel Trap because at least it is honest and accurate to the plot.
For gore hounds, the film has little to offer. Much of the carnage occurs off-screen or without much ado. For a Saw-esque slasher film, that is just not acceptable. On a positive note, Luis CÃ¡mara shows potential as a horror director. His creative camerawork provides the film with a production value that belies its small budget. With a better script and better actors, his next film could be worthwhile. The filmmakers must have lucked out on getting such a good shooting location, as the building makes for a creepy atmosphere. It is a shame the script failed to take full advantage of this.
Ultimately, the film wraps up with a not-so-shocking “twist” ending that seems like it was tacked on at the last minute. The very end â after the lame twist is revealed – does have a refreshing sense of black humor, but alas, it only kicks in during the film’s final moments. If the rest of the film were as interesting as the last minute or two, the filmmakers might have been on to something. Maybe then, the movie wouldn’t have needed to hide behind dishonest marketing.