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Dustin Putman

2016 Sundance Film Festival
31  (2016)
2 Stars
Directed by Rob Zombie.
Cast: Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson, Jane Carr, Richard Brake, Pancho Moler, E.G. Daily, Lew Temple, Kevin Jackson, Tracey Walter, Torsten Voges, David Ury, Daniel Roebuck, Ginger Lynn, Devin Sidell, Jermain Hollman, Esperanza America, Andrea Dora.
2016 – 102 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong bloody horror violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use).
Reviewed at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival by Dustin Putman for, January 24, 2016.
It's Halloween 1976, and a gang of fun-loving, free-wheeling gypsies passing through a desolate desert town are abducted into an underground lair where a host of murderous psychopaths plan to dice the lot of them up by dawn. With a few minor tweaks, this could be an accurate synopsis of writer-director Rob Zombie's phantasmagorically thrilling 2003 debut feature, "House of 1000 Corpses." Instead, it's the derivative, threateningly slapdash "31," a film with plenty of conceptual promise but jarringly amateurish execution. When Zombie allows cinematographer David Daniel the chance to drink in his moody, golden-gritted images, one can catch cursory glimpses of the strong, commanding picture it could have been, a cross between his notably more inspired "House of 1000 Corpses" and its excellent, character-driven sequel, 2005's "The Devil's Rejects." Regrettably, "31" destroys all momentum with every incoherently shot action scene and murder set-piece. The camera shakes so vigorously and Glenn Garland's editing during these showdowns is so choppy it continuously pulls the viewer out of its grimy, wicked spell.

Sheri Moon Zombie (2013's "The Lords of Salem")—an engaging actress who tends to get a lot of undue flack, probably because she is married to her director—misses the mark this time as the feisty but not always convincingly emotive lead heroine Charly, a feisty act in the "Venus Lux Happy Time Fun Show" traveling roadshow. She and her friends (played by Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Kevin Jackson, and a kick-ass Meg Foster) are put through the wringer as they are thrust into a grisly annual game called "31," given twelve hours to survive Halloween night trapped in an industrial labyrinth with a group of raving, clown-faced, swastika-sporting lunatics. Lording over the deadly competition are Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell), Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson) and Sister Serpent (Jane Carr), the trio dressed in their best aristocratic costumes and powdered wigs.

"31" is crazy and all over the place, but its ideas are never explored enough to grow beyond merely clever notions. The protagonists are earthworm fodder given not enough attention up front to get to know or become invested in whether they live or die, while the villains (with names like Doom-Head, Sex-Head, Death-Head and Psycho-Head) are uninteresting, poorly imagined variations on the Firefly clan from "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects." Rob Zombie's prowess for selecting just the right retro soundtracks is never in doubt—he makes memorable use here of Joe Walsh and the James Gang's "Walk Away," The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'," and Steven Tyler's "Dream On"—while his embrace of carnivalesque atmosphere (including the use of a foreboding marionette stage in two key scenes) is always a welcome textural addition to his horror films. Alas, the paper-thin characters, the busy, monotone dialogue and especially the monotonous camerawork spell a less-than-enthusiastic fate for "31."
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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