Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Film Review - 'Slaughter Night'

In 1857, a serial killer with a rather unpleasant habit of kidnapping, and decapitating, children is finally caught - just in time to save the last of his prospective victims. The killer, Andries Martiens, is severely beaten and, presumably, taken away to be executed.

Cut to the modern day, and we are introduced to Kristel Lodema, a young woman whose father is killed in a sudden car accident while the two are arguing. Feeling guilty for the role she believes she played in her father's death, Kristel offers to make the journey to an abandoned mine, where her father had spent time conducting research for a book he was writing before his death, in order to pick up his research - making the journey in the company of a group of her friends. The subject of her father's book just so happens to be the serial killer, Andries Martiens - and, in order to learn more about her father's work, Kristel agrees to go along on a tour of the mine.

Here, we learn that the brutal murders committed by Martiens' were, apparently, part of a bizarre, and bloody, ritual which would have allowed him to enter Hell and speak to the souls of his dead parents. The ritual was interrupted when Martiens was captured, though, and Martiens was offered to chance to act as a 'fire-man' (someone whose job was to enter methane filled tunnels, dressed in wet rags and armed with a lit torch, in order to ignite the gas so that mining could continue) in place of a traditional execution. So, the dark and gloomy tunnels where Kristel and her friends find themselves also happens to be the same tunnels where Martiens finally died. But, now, Martiens spirit is active once more - possessing the bodies of Kristel's friends as he tries to, finally, complete the ritual that was interrupted so long ago.

At heart, Slaughter Night (a horror film from the Netherlands, originally released as SL8N8) is basically a fairly generic slasher film. To its credit, though, it doesn't seem to be trying to be anything more than that. Its cast range from so uncompromisingly unlikable that they had to be deliberately written that way, to largely forgettable. On one side, we have a woman who is so painfully shallow that she complains about ruining her shoes while she's supposed to be helping her, severely injured, friend walk - and, a young man so pointlessly aggressive that his first reaction to just about any situation is to either mock someone, or pick a fight with someone. On the other side, we have characters who receive so little focus that I still can't recall if their names were ever actually mentioned in the film. At one point, with all of their running around in the dark, I even managed to get two of them confused with each other - thinking that Paul (Jop Joris), the aggressive jerk, had just been murdered, when it turned out to be one of the bland characters whose name I can't recall. Of the film's cast, it's really only Kristel (Victoria Koblenko) who receives enough attention to actually connect with the audience in any meaningful way. It's fitting, to a certain extent - she is clearly the film's central protagonist, after all. But, the fact that I simply didn't care about any character other than her meant that there was never any real sense of tension. And, because of this, their various gore-filled death scenes weren't particularly effective.

The film is also much too reliant on cheap jump-scares, and the classic scare chord, to try to force some sense of tension into the film - and, it never really works. It doesn't matter whether its the sudden appearance of a friend or family member, an animal popping up out of nowhere, or even a severed head on a stick, it's really never more than a cheap, and largely ineffectual, gimmick. Then, there's the shaky camera-work, meant to inject a sense of urgency into the film's action scenes - another film-making gimmick which can be effective in small doses but which, again, seems to be over-used here (fortunately, I've never been the sort of viewer who is left feeling nauseous by overuse of 'shaky-cam' - but, that isn't the case for everyone).

On the other hand, the dark and dank tunnels of an abandoned mine will always make for a suitably atmospheric setting for a horror film - and, there are moments where the setting is put to good use. The film's cast are also clearly trying to make the most of the material that they're given - even if it doesn't amount to much. The film was even able to surprised me, at one point with Paul eventually being given some opportunity to show that, while he might still be a jerk, he isn't a coward, at least. And, the make-up effects applied to those possessed by the ghostly murderer are also suitably creepy.

In the end, though, while Slaughter Night might provide some entertainment, it simply seems to get more wrong than it does right. As a horror film, it commits the unforgivable sin of just being a bit dull - which is a shame, really, since all the pieces were there for a perfectly entertaining slasher film.

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