Wes Craven mentored slasher satire is tired affair.

We caught the premiere of director Nick Simon’s THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS at TIFF 2015 and there was a definite shadow cast over the screening. The film came presented and executive produced by the late Wes Craven, who had passed away only a few weeks prior and Simon was still obviously in mourning.

That bit of melancholy aside, one wonders if THE GIRL was programmed at the festival simply because of Craven’s name, perhaps in the hopes that Wes himself would show up to the event and add star power to the Midnight Madness launch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, but certainly, outside of the gravitas of Craven’s handle, there is almost nothing of note in THE GIRL that we haven’t seen done dozens of times before, sometimes better, sometimes worse. It’s a movie that is obviously aspiring for SCREAM-era Craven, mixing shrill comedy, satire and brutal violence in one big contemporary stew, but the end product is a cinematic shrug…and an obnoxious one at that.

The film sees the small town of Spearfish suffering from the sting of spate of brutal murders. We are treated to the process of these crimes early on, with a pair of masked Leopold and Loeb-esque killers who tilt their head in amusement whenever their female victim begs for mercy. You know what I mean. That device employed by every slasher since The Shape. It was chilling in 1978, adding a kind of curious, perverted humanity to what is aesthetically an automaton killing machine, but here it’s a tired visual, especially when meshed with the “funny games” these dandy and wholly unbelievable killers practice.

And yes they do take photographs of their handiwork. And yes, there’s a girl in them.

Orbiting this faux-gruesome action that has the non-too-swift authorities baffled, is Colleen (Claudia Lee) an angsty check-out girl who keeps finding those grim pics planted in places just for her to see and Peter (comedian Kal Penn), a glib, fast-talking and opportunistic photographer who descends on Spearfish with his sycophantic horde so he can get in on the action and recapture his former glory.

Everyone ends up in a house. Some people have sex. Lots of people get murdered. Far too many folks crack wise.

Now, personal bias aside (I generally hate these kind of post-SCREAM smarty pants slasher movies), THE GIRL doesn’t work primarily because there is no momentum, no mystery and no reason to care about any living soul in the film. Knuckle wrapping here must go to Simon and co-writer Oz Perkins (son of Anthony), whose screenplay tries so hard to be clever, it forgets just how familiar it is.

The cast is also middling. Lee is okay, but she can’t do much to flesh out Colleen and make us root for her. But she’s Meryl Streep compared to Penn, who delivers what might be the most screeching and off-putting performance in any horror film of the past decade. Again, his character on paper is a cypher, one dimensional and there for yucks and forced “satire”, but Penn seemingly doesn’t know what to do with the part; every time he’s on screen – which is lots – the film erases any atmosphere, tone or mood. It stops being a horror movie and just becomes a slab of tired sketch-com slop.

As you can tell, I did not care for THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS. And don’t get me started on the non-ending. But on the plus side, Simon has a nice eye for lush visuals. When the insipid characters in the picture aren’t vomiting out hip exposition, you get a sense of Simon’s grasp of fluid style, lighting and texture (though credit must go to the great DP Dean Cundey for some of that). I have little doubt that his next film will be far more successful. Because THE GIRL doesn’t feel like his film. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s film. It feels like a product, shaped to the point of anonymity in a bid to bear the Craven name and be commercial.

Better luck next time, lads!

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Weekend: Jul. 25, 2019, Jul. 28, 2019

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