Thursday, 3 January 2008

Worst Movies of 2007 Face/Off! (I Know Who Killed Me)

I'll go out on a limb; like all film-goers, as much as we want to see classics, masterpieces, and works of genius as often as possible, they mean nothing without something to compare them to: the cinematic effluent of recent times. Our movie collection may be made up of a lot of awesome stuff, but it also contains The Punisher, The Wicker Man (Labute's version, of course), Friedkin's vile but hilarious Rules of Engagement, and Lawrence Kasdan's defecation-epic Dreamcatcher. Sometimes I wonder if we're actually more fond of a piece of crap like Glitter than we are of the good stuff. If The Godfather comes on Sky Movies we might not bother to rewatch it. If Honey turns up, it stays on. What's that about?

We actively seek out the truly abysmal, but this year we seemed to miss out on the real dreck. Georgia Rule didn't get a release over here, Bratz: The Movie has yet to appear on Sky Movies on endless repeat, and nothing is going to make me watch Daddy Day Camp. We did see Ghost Rider (a favourite of Canyon's; she loves that movie), Next (more boring than actually entertainingly bad), and The Reaping (much the same), but it wasn't until the end of the year that we saw our actual contenders for worst movie of the year: Chris Sivertson's I Know Who Killed Me, and, sadly for us as big dragon fans, Hyung-Rae Shim's D-War. Both movies are senses-picklingly dreadful, but which one will win Best Worst Movie of the Year, and which will be deemed Actual Worst Movie of the Year?

Lindsay Lohan's attempt at earning some serious critical reappraisal, I Know Who Killed Me, was released to almost total popular apathy but significant critical drubbings. I remember Ashton Kutcher getting similarly bad notices for The Butterfly Effect, and though the performances (by him and Amy Smart) were memorably bad, and the direction went too far over the top at times, I still have some residual fondness for it. The ending might be very similar to the outcome of Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko, but I've sat through Butterfly twice, and cannot rewatch Darko as it annoys me too much. So kudos to Butterfly Effect for that.

Lohan's effort, on the other hand, is an unmitigated disaster. Directed by jack-of-all-trades Chris Sivertson (a one-time collaborator with horror director Lucky McKee), and written by first-timer Jeff Hammond, the movie is sleazy, pretentious, voyeuristic, grisly, dumb, and yet features a genuinely unusual twist; it reminded me of Saw in that respect. Lohan ineptly plays a precocious student, Aubrey Fleming, whose hobbies include writing bad fiction, giving up piano lessons (something that never gets mentioned again. Could it be significant somehow????), and generally being a goodie-two-shoes. She also appears to be suffering from a high-functioning version of narcolepsy. She walks and talks, but seems curiously apart from everything around her. For the first 20 minutes or so I thought it was a plot point, before realising she was just not bothering to emote like a normal actor. My memory of her performance in Mean Girls is murky, but I know she was a lot more engaging than this. Romero zombies are more lively.

So anyway, she's a good girl with a happy home life, loving parents (played by Julia Ormond and Neal McDonough, seen above in a later scene), not to mention an inexplicable fixation with the colour blue. So why do we keep seeing footage of Lohan pole-dancing in a red-lit stripper bar? If your answer is, "Because punters want to see Lohan in her smalls rolling around in a sleazy fugue state", the dreadful box office will prove you wrong. Are we seeing her as a character in one of GoodLohan's stories? I certainly thought so.

I also thought, "Please stop." She's the least committed and most indifferent stripper in movie history, her routine basically comprising some bending over backwards and lots of slow walking around the pole. At one point she crouches as if having a poo. I bet that's erotic to a minority of people; perhaps they were the ones who saw this at the cinema. Bear in mind, this was the unique selling point of the film: Lohan grinding on a pole with all the enthusiasm of a semi-conscious call-centre operative. If I'd paid to see this for that reason, I would have felt cheated.

So far so dreary, but then GoodLohan gets abducted and subjected to lots of really nasty dismemberment (losing a finger, then a hand, and then a leg). It's graphic, it's leering, it's deeply unpleasant. When I was a kid I hated hearing oldsters bitch and moan about horror movies and how they pervert the minds of the kids. I watched Carrie and The Thing and the Elm Street series with no ill effects, so it was obviously horseshit. Now, though, I'm compelled to join in the chorus of angst about the horror sub-genre of torture porn. I've heard some critics (that I respect) say that Eli Roth's Hostel films have some metaphorical depth, but I've not seen them and of his work have only enjoyed seeing him get shot mid-crap in Southland Tales. I also liked the first two Saw movies, but only as joke-fodder, as they are hysterically awful. Other than that, I've not felt the urge to watch any, other than Wolf Creek, which was nasty and sickening enough to make me hate humanity. Imagine my unhappiness as I realised this movie was heading down that route. So now Sivertson and Hammond are using a non-sexy stripping Lohan and torture porn! I was astonished at how opportunistic it had become, and this was about 25 minutes in.

Imagine my relief when, through an obscurely edited series of events, Lohan is found, bleeding and dismembered, at the side of a road. Yay no more onscreen torture! She's taken to a very blue hospital and is fixed up, but upon waking up, she maintains she is actually Dakota Moss, the stripper from GoodLohan's stories! This comes as a shock to everyone, as does NaughtyLohan's laboured profanity and suddenly rampant libido. The police (represented by a sheriff whose eye-rolling performance is one of the worst of the year) and the FBI (a trio of serious-looking individuals who are only in the film because otherwise the viewer would be thinking, why aren't the FBI involved?) attempt to get to the bottom of things, but they just appear at random intervals to deliver exposition and interrogate NaughtyLohan, who treats them like imbeciles. It's like watching a slightly grown-up Curly Sue say "Fuckbums!" at an assortment of Keystone Kops.

Now, I think I'm pretty good at spotting twists, so I was obnoxiously cocky at this point. As far as I could tell, NaughtyLohan was obviously meant to be GoodLohan after suffering immense trauma, and the twist would be that throughout the movie GoodLohan is still getting tortured, and imagining her new life as NaughtyLohan in an attempt to distance herself from the horror being perpetrated by the killer who couldn't possibly be a piano teacher. It seemed pretty obvious that that was the direction it was going in, with the garishly hyper-coloured style that made it all seem like a dream sequence instead of reality. NaughtyLohan dresses in red and everything around her in GoodLohan's world is vibrantly blue, and that's before we get to the sex scene between NaughtyLohan and GoodLohan's boyfriend, someone she sort of wanted to get with earlier in the film but wouldn't due to her goodie-two-shoeiness, seen here giving GoodLohan (in blue clothes, you'll notice) a blue flower. It made perfect sense.

Which is why the rest of the movie baffled me so much. Though I thought her dismemberment would mean no more stripping moments, Sivertson gets around that by having several flashbacks that show NaughtyLohan's inept stripper past, and the bizarre falling apart of her body. Mid-slow-affectless-pole-twirl, her hand begins to bleed, and when back in her dressing room (suddenly emptied of all of the garish, fish-eye-lensed freaks who have populated it to this point), her finger falls off.

So, GoodLohan is re-remembering her past to account for her dismemberment? But surely she should be thinking happy thoughts instead of, "Gee, I was having so much fun listlessly rotating around a pole in the reddest and sleaziest strip joint in America, and now bits of me are falling off!" Even worse, she then tries to sew it back on. All it takes is a bit of sewing and lip-biting, and then putting on a glove, after which she seems to be doing much better. Screw you, Rambo! Cauterising a wound with gunpowder is so over. Now we re-attach limbs with thread. It's the future, granddad.

By this point I had less of a clue about what was going on than the police, but that's because I was holding onto my erroneous belief that it was all a fever dream punctuated by useless flashbacks showing NaughtyLohan getting stalked (which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie). If only I'd dropped that earlier I would naturally have realised that not only was GoodLohan indeed still in the clutches of the evil dismembering serial killer who couldn't possibly be a psychotic piano teacher with abandonment issues, but also NaughtyLohan was in fact a real person who just happened to be GoodLohan's identical twin! Neal McDonough, who had seemingly been avoiding NaughtyLohan for most of the movie, shows up to reveal that through some contrivance, both Lohans were separated at birth, and they, the good family living on the blue side of town, were lucky enough to adopt GoodLohan, while NaughtyLohan ended up on the red side of town. The side with the stripclubs and whatnot.

Even more insane, NaughtyLohan's wounds are caused by twin stigmata. As GoodLohan is cut apart, NaughtyLohan suffers the same wounds, which is why she spends the last thirty minutes of the movie with a cyborg hand covered in a baggy rubber glove (thus saving on CGI) and walking around on a robotic leg which, for some inexplicable reason, becomes dead weight when the batteries run out. Hold on, it attaches below the knee, which means the joint isn't powering down, so what's the point of powering it up in the first place? What is the motorised part of it? The ankle? So the foot's dead-weight? Does it become weightless when the power is on? Does it have gyroscopes or something in it? Or is it perhaps a contrived way to create some artificial suspence at the end when she tried to elude her possibly-piano-playing nemesis with a powered-down leg? I'll leave that open for now. Here is a close-up of the extra-thick flesh covered Marigold washing-up glove she sports for the finale. Note that NaughtyLohan is wearing red. Not blue, but red.

In the final few minutes of the film, GoodLohan is buried alive which means NaughtyLohan starts to suffocate, just as she figures out where who her killer is (and yes, she does indeed declare, "I know who killed me!" like someone from a William Castle movie). Ormond stays out of this part, and it's up to heroic Neal McDonough to save the day. NaughtyLohan and McDonough drive to the evil piano teacher's house (whoops, spoiler!), and in a feeble cat and mouse scene in a badly-lit room that has lots of prosthetic limbs hanging from the ceiling like so many Christmas ornaments, McDonough gets iced. Bummer. NaughtyLohan gets into various dead ends, though by now she's breathing a lot better for some reason (I reckon that reason is that old favourite, contrivance), before killing her "killer" with one of his deadly instruments, all of which are made from blue glass. Blue, you'll note, not red. I really hope you're following this colour coding system. It's rather sophisticated.

After that she hunts down her twin, unburies her, and they live happily ever after. Until GoodLohan finds out NaughtyLohan shtupped her boyfriend, I guess. I will say this, I really didn't see that twin thing coming at all. As wretched as the movie is (and believe me, it truly is wretched), it caught me out, big-time. Okay, so it had to be bat-shit insane to do it, but still, thumbs up for that. However, there is nothing else going for the movie. If there is any merit in the honestly surprising twist or the half-hearted nature/nurture theme, they're swamped by the lurid, exploitative stripper/torture scenes earlier on. Though the violence is thankfully short-lived, the stripping scenes honestly seemed to go on forever. At one point I turned to Canyon to make some witty remark about Neal McDonough's mutant Bob Hope face, and she was fast asleep. By the time Lohan is fighting off the pianist with her rubber-glove-encased robot hand, I was splashing cold water on my face. It's momentum free, repetitive, and transparently desperate to be considered more than just an exploitation vehicle about getting Lohan semi-naked.

Jeff Hammond's screenplay is memorably poor, filled with first-draft dialogue and shoddily plugged narrative gaps, made worse by what seem to be bits of the film removed at random (the trailer features some shots that didn't make it into the film, including the arrest of a character who appears in the finished movie several times at the start and then inexplicably disappears). However, it's Sivertson's disastrously inept and pretentious direction that really strangles the film. The gap between its ambitions and its effect is gargantuan. A vaguely interesting, if unoriginal idea (separated twins growing up to be vastly different just because of the circumstances of their upbringing) is merely touched on by Hammond and ignored completely by Sivertson, who is more interested in visually signifying the difference between the Lohan twins using a clever colour coding system, where GoodLohan wears a lot of blue, and...

Okay, if you're getting sick of me making jokes about the colour scheme, watch the movie. I've not even begun to approximate how much the colour scheme figures in it. It's in almost every. goddamn. scene. Some kind soul has listed most of the instances of the symbolism overwhelming the film here, but trust me, it doesn't take a genius to spot any of it. It makes everything seem like a fantasy, when in actuality it's all meant to be real, leading to much viewer confusion. It's just the stupidest, most half-baked directorial decision possible. I used to love the colour blue but this film ruined it for me. My new favourite colour is hot magenta (because I like my magenta like I like my coffee). Thanks a lot for wrecking my brain, I Know Who Killed Me.

The cast is uniformly awful, even Ormond, who gave an award-worthy performance as Smilla in Bille August's otherwise disappointing Smilla's Feeling For Snow. I kept wondering if she was trying desperately to forget when she starred alongside Sean Connery and Harrison Ford; another distracting and depressing aspect of the movie. McDonough is an actor we're very fond of, and was great in Band of Brothers (as well as being the best thing about the dire Boomtown), but here he pitches his line deliveries at the same hysterical level as Ormond. The rest of the cast barely registers amid the garish colours and ugly compositions, trotting out exposition while waiting for the catering table to open.

Lohan is utterly out of her depth, seemingly semi-conscious for a lot of it, unconvincing as a trash-talking vamp, a good girl, a victim and a hero. Even worse, as much as it's fun to laugh at a terrible performance, her casting seems to have been motivated by playing off her public persona as the Disney girl gone horribly horribly wrong, which might have seemed clever at the time, but now seems utterly cynical and exploitative. Seeing her in "sexxy"-mode, resembling nothing more than a glassy-eyed, oblivious teenager with low self-esteem, was a dispiriting experience, making it hard to think of the movie as dumb fun.

Word is she's finally trying to give rehab a chance, and that's great news, but not soon enough for her to realise that she was getting involved with a really silly, nasty bunch of characters out to make a quick buck off her notoriety. I really hope she can recover, and at least approximate the likeable Lohan from Mean Girls, but right now she seems to be sleepwalking around a pole and into disaster, with the sleazoids of the world ready and waiting with $10 bills, hoping to film the final sordid moments.

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