(On Cable TV, February 2019) In theory, I find it fascinating that the internet is creating a new mythology for our ages, with creepy copy-and-paste material defining new monsters. But my respect stops somewhere along the line in which they’re co-opted in unimaginative Hollywood horror movies. There’s quite a lot of potential in the “Slender Man” creepypasta (even leaving aside that the film is at least ten years past the curve in tackling the now-hackneyed idea of a memetic virus), but very little of it survives the transition process that leads to a dull teen horror film, one so pedestrian that it sucks all life out of the idea. Slender Man is a corporate product in more ways than one: not only does this Sony film feature characters with Sony phones, it also goes straight to the least common denominator in execution. In an effort to try as much weird stuff as he can, some of what director Sylvain White (who did so well with The Losers) attempts just look silly and laughable. The indifferent execution cares so little about whatever it’s doing that it’s careless at all levels: Slender Man is badly lit to the point of being difficult to understand, which is not helped by editing that makes characters disappear from the film without explanation with viewers uninterested in being incensed about it. (Scenes were reportedly removed from the final film, although the kindest cut would be to skip the film entirely.) When all the scary stuff ends up being hallucinations or dream sequences, it’s hard to get worked up over yet another meaningless scene. The ending, as obvious and unsatisfying as it can be, merely makes viewers hate the film even more. What’s perhaps worse is that you can still see a glimpse of what a much more unnerving movie would have been. I liked the emphasis based on the female protagonists—for a time, we’re taken in their world and it’s different from the usual horror material. The lead actresses are likable (although the most intriguing one disappears first, and then the second-most interesting one disappears second and so on until the survival of the dullest) but they’re not quite good enough to save the film. There are glimpses at something better, but the execution never capitalizes on it, and ends up repurposing the Slender Man mythos to a generic horror product with an arbitrary mythology. I’m not sure I’d characterize Slender Man as a letdown because, frankly, who actually expected this to be good? But it’s still a failure.
(In theatres, April 2010) Ensemble action movies are making a minor comeback in 2010, but sneaking in before The A-Team and The Expendables is this cheap, fast and grandly entertaining comic book adaptation. The Losers isn’t that good a movie: The limited budget sometimes shows (especially for those who remember the source material’s hyperactive globe-trotting), coincidences abound and the action set pieces seldom make sense. But those flaws are arguably what enables this film to be a fun throwback to the unapologetic Bruckheimeresque action movies of the late nineties. The set-pieces make up in eye-popping originality what they lack in coherence, while the quips fly fast and sarcastic. Thankfully for an ensemble picture, it’s the characters that bring The Losers above its B-grade material: Each one has a few things to do, and while Chris Evans and Zoe Saldana generally steal the focus away from Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s role as the leader of the bunch, Jason Patric has a surprisingly odd turn as the overwritten villain of the picture. Sylvain White’s direction is hit-and-miss, but there are a few new tricks here and while the picture moves quickly, it doesn’t lose viewers in a flurry of incoherent cuts –which is another thing that The Losers does better than the rest of its recent action movie brethren. Fans of the original comic book series will be disappointed to see that Andy Diggle’s geopolitical set-pieces have been toned down, pleased to note that the evil plot is completely different and generally amused to see dialogue bits, action moments and characterization details moved around: Most of what’s in this film follows the first two of the series’ five volumes, while the ending sets up at least another film in the series. Box-office results may not guarantee that (it’s the kind of picture that generally appeals to a very specific audience), but I would certainly welcome a bit more time with the characters and their globe-trotting vengeance.