Mini Reviews (February 2015)
The Town That Dreaded Sundown, A Merry Friggin' Christmas
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (February 12/15)
The Town That Dreaded Sundown, inspired by the 1976 movie of the same name, follows the survivor (Addison Timlin's Jami) of a brutal attack as she launches an investigation into a decades-old murder mystery, with the movie detailing the subsequent murders that ensue and Jami's continuing efforts to stop the tenacious killer. There's little doubt that The Town That Dreaded Sundown opens with a tremendous amount of promise, as filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon offers up a pre-credits sequence that unfolds primarily in a single long take - with the director's penchant for gleefully brutal kill sequences certainly heightening the movie's decidedly encouraging feel. It's rather disappointing to note, then, that the film quickly settles into its deliberately-paced and surprisingly tedious midsection, with scripter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's ongoing emphasis on Jami's pursuit of the murderer resulting in a palpably (and aggressively) familiar sort of vibe (ie the plucky-heroine-searching-for-the-truth horror-movie trope is beyond played out at this point). The less-than-engrossing atmosphere is compounded by Timlin's competent yet decidedly uncharismatic turn as the central character, with the viewer's inability to form any kind of rooting interest in Jami's success paving the way for a second half almost entirely devoid of compelling elements. The inclusion of several over-the-top instances of gore notwithstanding, The Town That Dreaded Sundown ultimately comes off as a misguided endeavor that's often far too self-referential for its own good - with the seriously anti-climactic Scream-like finale confirming the movie's distinctive failure.
A Merry Friggin' Christmas (February 14/15)
Inconsequential and forgettable, A Merry Friggin' Christmas follows uptight family man Boyd Mitchler (Joel McHale) as he reluctantly agrees to spend Christmas with his estranged family - with complications ensuing as Boyd is forced to embark on a road trip alongside his less-than-paternal father (Robin Williams' Virgil). It's clear right from the get-go that A Merry Friggin' Christmas boasts few elements designed to consistently hold the viewer's interest, with the oddly lifeless vibe reflected in everything from the rote performances to the less-than-vibrant cinematography to the time-wasting bent of Michael Brown's screenplay. In terms of the latter, Brown peppers the padded-out narrative with a whole host of hopelessly irrelevant subplots, including a small child's reaction after eating several decades-old pickles and Boyd's brother's ongoing efforts at dealing with "PTSD" (even though he never actually went abroad). Filmmaker Tristram Shapeero's continuing attempts at infusing A Merry Friggin' Christmas with a fast-paced, frenetic vibe fall completely flat, of course, and it goes without saying, too, that the movie is unable to elicit the third-act emotional punch that Shapeero is clearly aiming for. The end result is a truly misbegotten effort that wastes a surprisingly talented cast, and it's impossible not to wonder just what drew folks like McHale and Williams to this pointless project.