Friday, October 26, 2007

Horrorfest 2007 Report #7: Serial Killing 101

Most slasher flicks are more focused on the slashing, the blood, and the guts of the whole process of serial killing than they are on the foundations, motivation and planning. In fact, your typical dead teenager horror movie villain has no motivation or planning behind their practices and somehow continues to get away with their grizzly deeds. Perhaps the best slasher villains don’t have reason behind their actions, but just exist as a personification of evil, as I suggested in my analysis of the “Halloween” franchise earlier this year. But sometimes it is good to see something that suggests it all has some sort of point.

Of course, one reason for slicing someone up could be for monetary gain. That is the case with the potential torture porn flick “Turistas” (2006). I say “potential” torture porn because the scares never quite materialize and the torture only appears for a brief but functional scene. This film, which was once titled “Turistas Go Home”, would not fall under the horror genre title if it weren’t for a gruesome surgery scene around which the entire plot of the film is based. It involves a group of young beautiful tourists who decide against their better judgment that it would be fun to take a bus into the mountain area surrounding Rio de Janeiro. After a bus crash that made me wish I was watching “Romancing the Stone”, because then my laughter would have been appropriate, the beautiful people discover that it is common practice in these Brazilian jungles for European accented doctors to cut up stupid Americans and sell their organs on the black market.

For all its efforts to disturb and disgust, “Turistas” is really a simple thriller. It doesn’t really have much wrong with it other than characters that make senseless choices. It’s hard to care for people like that.

There is a much better film out there about selling organs on the black market from a few years back called “Dirty Pretty Things” (2002). Directed by the great Stephen Frears (“The Queen”, "High Fidelity”), it stars Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a gripping thriller about the organ trade and how something so terrible can exist. That one is worth a look, even though it lacks the serial killer.

Now, Kevin Costner’s “Mr. Brooks” falls back on a simpler motivation for its titular serial killer. He just likes killing people. But it takes a very unique look at that killer and his meticulous techniques in another slasher story trapped in a thriller format.

This movie has such joy in what it is doing. The most delightful element is William Hurt appearing as Costner’s “conscience.” He’s more like an anti-conscience as he urges Costner’s Brooks into killing again after two years of abstinence. The fact that a personification of Brooks’ conscience is never explained is wise, and Hurt is such a pleasure to watch the question of his presence never arises until the film is done and over.

As for the rest of the film, it is ambitious in the way it throws so many elements into Brooks’ life; a daughter that has dropped out of college for mysterious reasons, a witness who blackmails Brooks into taking him along on a killing, and a detective going through a nasty divorce. Writer-director Bruce A. Evans juggles all of these elements very well, adding layer upon layer to each character’s presence and purpose, all the while exploring a lifelong killer’s meticulous process. The film only falters in its final moments, an example of a film that should have rolled its credits one minute before it does.

Just as a killer needs to remain true to his nature, “Mr. Brooks” struggles between its unique nature and its more typical template. Had it remained steadfast in its final moments it would have glowed as an unusual Hollywood treatment, exuberant in its own glorification, and true to the beast within.

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