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RUNNING TIME: 98 Minutes
- Deleted Scenes
- Fear and Desire: The Making of Psych 9
- Psych 9 Trailer
- Also from Lionsgate
“Take The Silence of the Lambs, add a dash of Halloween, and leave to simmer in a pseudo-thriller wrapping. Voila: mutton dressed as lamb!”
Director: Andrew Shortell
Writer: Lawrence Robinson
Cast: Cary Elwes, Sara Foster, and Michael Biehn.
Roslyn (Foster), a moody young woman with a dark past, takes a menial job in a disused hospital. She claims to want something quiet and low key, so the idea of filing papers around alone at night doesn’t seem to bother her. But as it happens a spate of brutal murders by a killer the papers are calling “The Night Hawk” – all involving women – are causing widespread panic in the area. After a number of bumps in the dark, Roslyn begins to suspect she isn’t the only one shuffling around those long, dark halls…
Horror has seen better days. In the 21st century, the genre’s most popular offerings have arguably been hybrids like comedy-horror (Zombieland) or romantic-comedy-horror (Shaun of the Dead) rather than pure-blooded fright flicks. Maniacs are finding it increasingly tough to deliver with a straight face. The iPhone generation is the first in decades without any real horror “icons” to call its own. That Saw and its “torture porn” ilk have come closest shows just how bad it’s got for the genre. In lieu of new franchises, the last wave of big hitters have already been revisited with mostly underwhelming results. Jason drowned in a chorus of “seen it all befores” a few years ago, Rob Zombie slashed Michael Myers’ credibility to ribbons no less than twice, and the critical knives were out for Freddy’s long-awaited return last year (puns all very much intended.) Even Joe Johnston’s retro offering, The Wolfman, was hounded (one more for the road) out of sight. Apparently it doesn’t matter how Famous your monsters are; what Hollywood’s tried to pass off as horror recently just hasn’t cut it (ok, that’s enough.) Surely then it’s up to something new to dig this genre, so beloved by its loyal fanbase, out of its resting place and back into our nightmares where it belongs.
In that sense, Psych 9 is on the right track. It presents an original cast (including a few familiar genre faces) in a fresh, potentially intriguing scenario. There’s plenty of scope behind the story of a troubled woman trying desperately to make sense of her horrible past whilst unraveling bizarre and frightening occurrences at work. By focusing on the possible mental deterioration of a young bride instead of the physical destruction of a college airhead and her archetypal friends at the hands of John Doe, the film has more cerebral ambitions than many of its hack ‘n’ slash peers. For this it should be commended. In almost every other regard, Andrew Shortell’s directorial debut is simply another missed opportunity destined to be lost in the bowels of horror obscurity.
For all its ambition, Psych 9 is a fairly generic horror film with delusions of intellectual grandeur. Its flimsy, contrived plot is stretched out to 98 minutes, a running time padded with smudged horror tropes and set-pieces half-remembered from better films, with lots of “X-TREME” jump-cuts and other metal music video trappings to help wash it all down. Lawrence Robinson’s script fancies itself a taught psychological thriller dashed with swathes of claret. I fancy myself as a Dennis Bergkamp style centre forward, but that doesn’t mean I can spin a ball of stitched leather into a magic wand with the mere flick of my right foot. Shortell is so desperate for this film to be scary that he throws just about every genre cliché at the screen. There isn’t a single new question to be asked (what is real?) or means of inquiry (distorted dream sequences.) No bone is left unearthed in the pursuit of terror, even the token “child who hums in a sinister fashion whilst walking around deserted corridors” gets a run out. You know things have really taken a turn for the worst when the J-Horror bucket is being unashamedly scraped.
There’s foreshadowing and there’s completely tipping your hand. The latter occurs after just 12 minutes during a preposterously transparent conversation between Detective Marling (a honey-glazed Michael Biehn) and Roslyn. This chance meeting between our skittish leading lady and the cop with a twinkle in his eye is supposed to tease us, draw us into this world where all is not as it seems and trust is best shown sparingly. Instead it spoils the mystery intended to captivate audiences until the final pulse-pounding moment. How? By trying to show off with dialog that isn’t so much on-the-nose as nailed-right-through-the-nostril. Not only does this shatter any investment in the drama with some unintentional laughs, it also ensures every supposedly ambiguous beat that follows is a supreme test of patience.
Sara Foster is no slouch in that department herself. To be fair to the 90210 actress, she starts off at an immediate disadvantage being saddled with a character as dour and static as Roslyn. She only makes matters worse for herself though by trying to one-up Biehn in the scenery chewing stakes. As Roslyn falls deeper into a web of paranoia and darkness, Foster’s performance becomes increasingly broad… even approaching “Full Pacino” on occasion (even Al Pacino can’t successfully achieve Full Pacino all the time, often peaking at Pacino.75) It’s the cinematic equivalent of someone determined to make sure their voice is heard above all others in a bar – and every bit as irritating. Roslyn sulks her way to and from the hospital, a cigarette seemingly glued to her fingers, and infuriates her long-suffering husband, Cole (a goofy Gabriel Mann), by interrogating his every move and shouting unnecessarily. There isn’t a single facet of her sullen, confrontational angst that hasn’t been lampooned countless times before; it’s as well established in this genre as tyrannical parents or brilliant outsiders. Roslyn’s aversion to likability nullifies most any interest long before the obvious pieces of this “puzzle” decide to finally fall into place. Cary Elwes’ Doctor Clement, Roslyn’s shoulder to cry on, is notable only for his distractingly stilted English accent. An impression of Rupert Giles and a white coat doesn’t make a character, but that’s all Elwes’ performance is: an assemblage of clichés, just like his co-stars. Biehn comes off best of the three principals, although that’s scant praise considering his equally flaccid starting point, the über-archetypal detective Marling. Trenchcoat? Check. Gruff Michael Biehn voice? Check. World-weary attitude? Double check. He’s even got a predilection for cheesy one-liners at inappropriate times and a “quirky” knack for sweets a la Nic Cage’s Ghost Rider (a film which, no joke, looks like Watchmen compared to Psych 9.)
For all the film’s failings, there can’t be too many complaints about its appearance. Shortell’s got a keen eye for atmosphere and he composes some striking shots with his murky, bleached aesthetic. Lots of prohibitive lighting and bleak, rusted colours would doubtless make a very uneasy backdrop with the right material. If only the mystery surrounding our killer had been up to the film’s accomplished visual level, the end result might have been something truly unique. It was supposed to be a paranoid, claustrophobic world of dank basements, rusted pipes, and rooms that resemble abandoned torture chambers where anyone could be the killer. However, what we get plays like a Platinum Dunes version of Scooby-Doo. The script is so bogged-down with potentially menacing dialog that the film almost descends into complete farce. Every husband is a potential wife-beating monster, every parent a domestic despot, every cop a maniac in waiting. Worse yet, there’s nary a throwaway zinger (although “No Mommy, I don’t like that smell!” is pretty good) or innovative kill (clawhammer to the mind gets old after a while) to elevate it beyond the bargain bin.
It isn’t imperative that our potential victims have a water-tight reason for being where they are in these sorts of films, as long as what happens to them is entertaining. I don’t need to know why the arrogant jock’s parents aren’t at their beautiful beach house that weekend, as long as they’ve seen fit to leave a gun, and lots of ammo and/or booze behind for Junior and his friends to play with. Maybe a boat, too. But Psych 9 takes a dangerous amount of liberties with that rule in placing its heroine in what’s essentially a haunted house masquerading as a hospital, performing the most superfluous “filing” job in the history of employment. Roslyn sulks about an endless maze of urine-yellow corridors with flickering lights which more closely resembles a masked killer’s hideout than a hospital, even a disused one. She takes elevators that croak and screech like dying rollercoasters every time their doors open, and can’t get a word of the Queen’s English out of the sole security guard on duty because – wouldn’t you know – he’s a mongoloid. Sitting around a place like that “collating” (read: while eating pizza) is the most ineffectual excuse for a premise since the Waits’ swapped homes with another family for a holiday in a town named goblin backwards. What that film lacked in skill and sanity, it made up for with silly charm and unintentional humour. All Psych 9 has to its name are some sharp visuals and a gift for leaving a horrible taste in the mouth.
The documentary, “Fear and Desire: The Making of Psych: 9“, is a half hour or so delve into the Prague shoot with asides from a jubilant Shortell and Foster & possibly embarrassed Biehn. There are signs that Shortell has better work ahead of him. His debut certainly looks more expensive than it was. Nonetheless, his intentions for the film don’t translate to the screen nearly as well as his enthusiasm. The cute Rorschach test title sequence touching on the film’s themes of obsession and brutal violence is probably the best thing in the entire movie.
Over half an hour of deleted scenes are also included. Some of these reveal a slightly “artier” approach to the murder sequences that’s undeniably superior to that taken in the final cut (symbolic crows fluttering whilst operatic music plays) but still pretty corny. One of the most excruciating outtake reels you’re ever likely to see only warrants a mention because it shows a natural chemistry between Foster and Mann the film desperately could’ve used. The disc is technically well presented in a decent widescreen transfer but everything on it is such a slog you’d be hard pressed to notice. For Michael Biehn completists and gluttons for punishment only.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars