I’ve been seeing advertisements for “Adam Green’s Hatchet 2″ plastered all over the internet, and it really makes me wonder; When did they start name dropping directors that no one cares about? Going in the wayback machine to the turn of the millenium, I seem to remember being surprised by a Fellowship Of The Rings commercial that said “From Director Peter Jackson”. While I was familiar with his work, I’m betting that the average American citizen doesn’t know their Feebles from their Deedles, and when someone says “I love Peter Jackson!”, 95% of the time they’re really just saying “I love Lord Of The Rings!”. The fact that his name was being bandied about before the release of his blockbuster trilogy seemed a bit strange to me. Then there was the ad for The Sum Of All Fears that ended with “From Director Phil Alden Robinson”. Raise your hand (Film nerds can play along, too), if you can name a single other film that Phil Alden Robinson has directed. Odds are good that you have seen one, but I bet that most of you had to google that shit.
So maybe it isn’t really about familiarity; Maybe it’s just about turning your name into a brand. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t you do something worthwhile first? Peter Jackson gets a pass, because he was amazing and iconic from day one, with the awesome Bad Taste, not to mention Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners. I see the ads for The Last Exorcism proclaiming “From Producer Eli Roth”, but what has Eli Roth really done to deserve his notoriety? He made one awesome fake trailer, one pretty good first film, one ok follow-up film, and one redundant sequel. Not a terrible resume, to be sure, but is this really someone that the average (i.e. non-nerd) filmgoer should be paying attention to? Maybe once Eli makes his Rosemary’s Baby, his The Shining, his Dawn Of The Dead. . . Y’know, something classic. All we’ve got so far is, “Pretty good”. Pretty good, dude. Keep it up.
Which brings us back to Adam Green. I can’t judge Spiral since I haven’t seen it, but I can judge Hatchet. It’s a nice, well intentioned, mildly amusing pile of mediocre. It’s completely derivative of the “classic” 80’s slasher films like Friday the 13th, and really adds nothing to the genre. It’s not good, it’s not bad. . . it just “is”.
Wisely deciding to avoid the trap of being pigeonholed, Mr. Green makes another horror film, but this time of a completely different type from his 80’s slasher homage. Frozen (You were wondering when I was getting to this, weren’t you?) is the story of three people who end up accidentally stranded on a ski lift, with no immediate hope of rescue. It’s of a particular brand of suspense horror, with a small cast, over a short period of time, and mostly all in one location (Open Water and the recently released Buried are other examples of this type). The script to Frozen is fairly solid, with a good mixture of clever banter, tense moments, and Bergman-esqe existential ramblings (But, y’know, for the kids), It was shot on location, so you really do get some nice shots of them being suspended high in the air. It was made on the cheap, against great adversity, and actually got a small theatrical release.
Despite all of this, the movie isn’t very good.
Of the two (Out of three) films of his that I’ve seen, I’d say that Green’s greatest strength as a director is his ability to not fuck around. Horribly brutal and nasty things happen to characters in both Hatchet and Frozen; Characters that he’s gone out of his way to make sure that you like. His weakness is his inability to direct actors, and his inability to create an genuine tension. This didn’t present too much of a problem in Hatchet, since that film pretty much just relies on gory kills, and doesn’t require you to actually feel fear or relate to anyone (Although, lacking those elements is what lands it firmly in the mediocre pile). But with Frozen, relating and feeling tension seem to be the most important things. There is some gory shock value to the deaths, to be sure, but I’m guessing that I’m not supposed to be laughing during the death scenes.
I’m not sure when it was that we collectively decided that it’s ok for horror movies to have bad acting and direction, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and declare bullshit on that. Sure, I understand that the film was made on the cheap. So was Pi. So was Shadows. So was Seconds. Just because your movie is cheap, doesn’t mean that it has to suck ass. If this is your audition for the big leagues, and you want to be the next Michael Bay, more power to you, dude. Just stay away from any project that involves any degree of subtlety and nuance.