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Entries in Laid to Rest [2009] (1)

Thursday
Feb172011

Laid to Rest (2009)

Coffin Up Crap

The only positive thing I can say about Laid to Rest is that it employed several people during a down economy.  This is one of the most pointless, uninspired, poorly executed horror movies I’ve seen in quite some time—I’m talking Hatchet 2 pointless.

In an effort to fully describe what went wrong here, I’m going to spoil the plot rotten.  So if your self-esteem is low enough that you might consider watching Laid to Rest, I suggest looking away.

The movie begins with The Girl (Bobbi Sue Luther) waking up in a sealed casket; it’s supposed to be sealed, anyway—she can’t get out, yet there’s a band of orange light falling across her face from the room the casket is in.  See?  Problems at minute two.

The Girl escapes and finds herself in a funeral home being stalked by a killer dressed in a black suit with a camcorder mounted to his shoulder.  He also sports a facemask that looks like an exaggerated chrome skull (actually, it looks like someone lopped the ears off Donnie Darko’s Frank the Bunny costume and stuck it on a European drug lord’s bald henchman).  Chrome Skull (Nick Principe) hacks up the kindly old caretaker who tries to help The Girl, and pursues her to the remote home of Tucker (Kevin Gage) and Cindy (Lena Headey).

They couple realizes immediately that something is wrong with The Girl; she has no memory and speaks in jumbled, simplistic sentences (calling the casket a “dead box”, for example) and is bleeding from the back of the head.  Tucker and Cindy plan to get The Girl to the police in the morning with the help of Cindy’s brother Johnny (Johnathon Schaech)—who, unlike his sister, has a full tank of gas in his truck and a working phone.

This idea works for about ten minutes, before Chrome Skull shows up and mutilates Cindy with his giant, serrated knives.  Tucker and The Girl jump in the truck—which, remember, has very little gas—and drive off to find help.  Right after they split, Johnny and his girlfriend Jamie (Jana Kramer) show up for the sole purpose of being killed off in gruesome fashion; we’re treated to yet another “surprise” scene where someone is almost imperceptibly slashed across the belly, only to realize that their last act on earth will be trying to stuff intestines back inside their body.

The rest of the film sees Tucker and The Girl running from Chrome Skull, stopping for no reason at various remote locations so that they can be terrorized.  Along the way, they pick up Steven (Sean Whalen), a computer nerd who helps them dig up information on Chromeskull’s nationwide kidnapping/killing spree.  Their journey of terror leads back to the funeral home, a body-strewn barn a few yards away, and, finally, a gas station run by the single-dumbest clerk ever to grace the silver screen.

All of this is in service of Two Great Big Mysteries: 1. Who is Chrome Skull?  2.  What is his Big Connection to The Girl?

Via Web search, Steven learns that police believe Chrome Skull may be a demented doctor, as his eviscerations are very neat.  Via the registration in the murderer’s car, The Girl learns that his name is Jesse Cromeans.  This detail, combined with the “Chromeskull” license plate, drains every ounce of menace from his persona; conjuring thoughts not of a bad-ass serial murderer, but of a chat-room troll with an unfortunate last name that kind of has “chrome” in it.  Instead of a driven psycho surgeon, it’s entirely possible that Jesse is just a skillful, pissed-off little dweeb.

There’s certainly no mystery to him, or his relationship with The Girl.  She snags his video camera late in the film and plays footage he shot in Miami of the two of them in a hotel room.  She was a prostitute, hired to blow this weirdo in a silver mask; when she realized she was being videotaped, he busted the back of her head with an aluminum bat.  So, after ninety minutes of wondering if The Girl was Chromeskull’s daughter, girlfriend, enemy or accomplice, we find out she was nobody to him—just another configuration of boobs and hair to be collected and rearranged.

Laid to Rest’s biggest problem is that it’s clearly a skeleton on which writer/director/creature-and-gore-effects-specialist Robert Hall wants to hang his bloody body parts and over-the-top mutilations.  And, sure, the decapitations and gut-avalanches are convincing, but so what?  At a certain point, watching attractive young girls being slowly decapitated by knives that need to be worked back and forth across the throat for maximum effect ceases to be the stuff of fun horror movies and wanders into Nicholas Berg territory.  I’m always leery of the “torture porn” label when it’s applied to the Saw or Hostel franchises; those movies are cartoons in the same way Friday the 13th was a cartoon.  But Hall lingers on screaming, begging, dying women in a way that signals to his audience that it’s time to get one hand free.

Maybe if everything else in the film hadn’t been so inconceivably bad, the misogynistic gore could have been excused by a greater context; but everything falls flat.  From the story (seriously, does Laid to Rest take place in 1866?  In what part of Kentucky/Georgia/Whereverthefuck do people have the Internet in their homes, but no town to speak of for over a hundred miles?  On that note, in what universe does a modern-looking police station exist in the middle of nowhere?  Our heroes show up at the cop-shot, only to realize that Chrome Skull has murdered everyone in the building; they must then drive several miles to find help at a gas station—which is also remotely located).  Hall spends half his screenplay creating bogus hurdles and explaining why his characters don’t do what real people would do in these situations.

“Oh, um, I had the accelerator on my grandmother’s car adjusted so it only goes forty miles per hour.”

“Uh, yeah, we don’t have a traditional land-line here, per se, and I don’t own a cell phone.”

“Damn, I would use this cell phone, but it’s password-protected.”

“No, I think we should split up; I need to waste gas driving back to my house so that I can clean up my wife’s body; you two stay at the funeral home where the killer first discovered you and wait for me to get back.”

“Yeah, I know chrome is pretty durable, but I’ve never been an ‘aim-for-the-chest’ guy.”

Some people say that you have to suspend a lot of disbelief with horror movies, and I always tell them that you have to do that with bad horror movies.  Some filmmakers care about placing the audience in the protagonists’ shoes—if you can relate to any of the characters in Laid to Rest, please make sure that helmet’s secure before pouring your Cheerios.

I can’t decide which the film’s bigger laugh is: The acting or the climax.  Bobbi Sue Luther looks and performs like a porn star trying to go legit.  And Kevin Gage—previously awesome in Strangeland—is saddled with having to work through a terrible southern accent and a look that suggests the love-child of Stephen Baldwin and the wrestler Goldberg.  Not the normally solid Lena Headey gets off the hook; the British actress conjures a American drawl that sounds like a left-wing pundit making fun of Tea Partiers; In fact, the only two people in the movie with Southern accents deliver them poorly, and the rest of the cast is a bland mélange of region-less voices that could hail from Athens or Poughkeepsie for all the good they do in creating a sense of time and place.

(The most interesting part of Headey’s involvement with Laid to Rest is the fact that she stars in it with Thomas Dekker—who played her son in the short-lived TV series The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.)

And that climax!  Look, I fully expected that when Steven managed to switch bottles of the adhesive that Chrome Skull uses to keep his mask in place with some nasty acid-looking crap that it would play into the plot later on.  I didn’t expect it to be the thing that brought down the killer in the most straightforward way possible:  Killer puts on the mask; face melts; killer dies.  There’s not even a good jump-scare or back-from-the-dead stinger; Chrome Skull just melts and lays there like Jason at the end of Friday the 13th Part VIII.

Despite all this, I have to admit that Robert Hall did his job; not in terms of scaring me or providing something interesting to do for ninety minutes.  I just learned that he’s directed a sequel called ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2, and I’m dying to know how he’ll pull it off.  Slasher movies have a proud tradition of resurrecting their killers, but there’s typically a supernatural element established at the outset that lets the audience know that real-world rules don’t apply.  Laid to Rest offers no such explanation as to Chrome Skull’s ability to transcend death, so his coming back from the dead will make zero sense; which is to say it will make perfect sense in Hall’s sloppy, jacked-up universe.

Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out a perfect example of Robert Hall’s ineptitude as a filmmaker.  If the utterly generic death-metal-and-mask-making-montage of an opener didn’t clue you in, pay attention to the establishing shot of the police station.  We watch our heroes run up the steps of the building as the camera pulls back revealing the parking lot.  Instead of continuing the gradual backtracking that will eventually show blood smeared all over the front of one of the patrol cars, he stops about five seconds before he should, and whips the camera to the left to show the car.  Instead of, “Oh, God, they’re walking into a trap!” we get, “Hey, what’s that over there.  Is that blood?  Oh, I guess the killer’s inside.”