Written by Old Bluffer 2nd Jun 2009
(Spoiler Alert, this is a new film, and this review will spoil the ending for you - although to be fair unless you have the attention span of a teenage goldfish then you will easily work out the exact ending mid-way through the film anyway)
This is a Sam Raime, film and does nothing new in the genre, so I'll assume you are familiar with his earlier work.
All you really need to know is that it features a fearsome old gypsy woman called Mrs Ganush as its main Scare Vehicle. She is as unsubtle as you would expect, with a vaguely East European accent, head scarf, one dead eye, hideous false teeth and long gnarled nails.
We first see this old crone at the bank where our heroine works. Mrs Ganush is there to get an extension on the bank foreclosing on her house (showing that even selling pegs and performing services with crystal balls isn't a safe trade in the credit crunch era).
The advisor she gets to see is Christine, who is basically a pleasant farm girl, angling for a promotion. She's already been told she needs to be more of a hard nosed leech (i.e. a banker) to do well with the company, but still manages to feel sorry for the wizened harpy [incidentally, this film makes it clear that all romany people are thieves - so just to belabour the point we see the gypsy woman stealing boiled sweets from the desk as soon as Christine's back is turned]
Anyway, despite her best intentions, Christine refuses the extension, and Mrs Ganush suddenly turns into a typical Freddie Krueger / Chucky type puppet and well, seems pretty annoyed with the young girl.
[I should point out here that the above transformation is accompanied by an insanely over the top screeching sound effect, which continues throughout the film as a very cheap way of trying to make the audience jump]
Cut to Christine in the indoor company car park, which would seem to be a perfect location for muggers, with its scarily dim lighting and complete lack of any other people about. Cue Mouseburger hissing into my ear that Mrs Ganush is going to appear in her back seat - which was about as redundant a prediction as telling me that a girl is about to scream during a Dakota Fanning movie.
The gypsy does of course appear and a reasonably entertaining Sam Raime fight sequence takes place, the best part of which is when Mrs Ganush's teeth fall out so when she tries to bite Christine all she can manage is to give her a sloppy "chin job".
After some exaggerated comic violence, the old crone has Christine at her mercy, but instead of doing anything overtly threatening, she plucks a button from her coat and goes into some crazed spiel about cursing her.
"Soon it will be you begging to me!" she cackles, alluding to earlier in the office when she made crocodile tears at Christine in the hope of blagging a month's free rent off the bank.
From this point on all that really happens is that Christine gets scare after scare, each one accompanied by nails on blackboard / tortured metal fatigue screeching / the sound of five thousand out of tune violins etc etc. To try and understand (i.e. explain to the audience) the curse, she employs the services of some Indian psychic bloke, who tells her that a goat demon, called a Lamia, will consign her to hell in three days. He also makes the rather critical point that the demon homes in on the owner of the button, as that is the object the curse was created on. So, it is blindingly obvious to everybody but this stupid girl that all she has to do is give the button to someone.
We're still early on in the movie though, so he charges her $60 and tells her that maybe the goat demon will be satisfied if she sacrifices a small animal to it. This is actually one of the potentially interesting bits of the film, because when she becomes outraged and says she loves animals, he declaims prophetically: "You will be surprised at what you are willing to do when the Lamia calls upon you."
Sure enough, after more Lamia visitations (including maggots being vomited into her mouth and other such gross out moments) Christine takes a kitchen knife and slaughters her cute pet kitten [and loses any sympathy we may have had for her at the same time - contrary to what you might think, we like cute little kittens here at the MDDB].
Now obviously a little bundle of Disney-esque fur is not going to appease the Lamia, so off she pops to the Explainer (Indian psychic) again, and this time he stings her for $10,000 to solicit the help of a more powerful gypsy psychic woman. Now this woman has already had dealings with the lamia, and insists she has waited her whole life to get revenge on it, but still charges $10K to do the job!
The greedy Gypsy Psychic vs Lamia scene is notable only for a stellar performance by a live goat, which we liked very much, especially when it started speaking in a funny voice, but suffice to say, the $10,000 ritual was of no practical benefit at all.
Finally, the Indian psychic tells her that she can just give the damn button away, which as I say, was patently obvious anyway. At this point she could have just stuck it on eBay, with a listing reading something like "One cursed gypsy button, please note buyer will be responsible for collection and will be dragged kicking and screaming to hell as soon as they take ownership." You just know that such an auction would get loads of bidders, and she would have made a handsome profit on the whole affair.
But no, instead she agonises for ages about who to give it to.
Also, she puts the button inside a plain white envelope, and earlier in the film she gave her sappy boyfriend a rare coin which for no good reason he placed in an identical plain white envelope.
Hmmm... so is the twist at the end of this movie really going to be something so obviously telegraphed?
We are almost at the end of the film by now, and after consulting a legal expert on pacts with demons (yes, it was the Indian psychic again) she has found what would seem to be a massive loophole in the whole Curse Giving malarkey. By this point Mrs Ganush has died, and it turns out all she has to do is dig up her corpse and place the button in her hand and that is good enough to return the curse from whence it came. Pretty rubbish curse if you ask me...
So, she visits the graveyard, and stuffs the button in the corpse's mouth, while it is still in the envelope. (sigh)
Cut to the final scene at a train station, where the dweeb boyfriend is shown to have a wedding ring ready to propose. He waits until a fast train is approaching and Christine is at the edge of the platform to reveal that the envelope with his coin in actually contains a button - (oh no, somehow the envelopes got mixed up!)
She gives a scream (as well she might, the stupid ninny) and tumbles onto the track, into the path of the train, where the lamia drags her down to hell.
Old Bluffer's Thoughts
This was always going to be a silly film, and it does provide a few chuckles. From reading the above review you'll have gathered that I didn't really rate it much though. There are a few reasons for this:
- the loud-screeching-sound-effect-to-make-me-jump got old sometime during the 1980s. It really is overused in this film, even in an ironic self-parody sense. Apart from anything, you can tell when each one is coming, so short of Sam Raime actually wiring my chair to the mains there was no way I was going to bat an eyelid for each "shock" moment. Bear in mind I *like* films that make me jump, so trust me when I say the devices this film uses are not entertaining, they are just cheap.
- the characters are in the main forgettable. A shame, as there was plenty of scope for some quirky roles.
- It was very much a one trick pony when it came to the schlock horror. Granny's teeth and bodily fluids being forced into Christine's mouth were OK the first time, but the effects definitely peak too early.
- the predictable "twist" at the end was, frankly, rubbish. I like teasing hints as to what is going to happen provided it is for a minor plot point. After all, it's quite good fun to predict things. When it's clear that the sole twist of the film is being telegraphed from early on though, then all fun value is lost. The whole Envelope Mixup was contrived and unsatisfying. However, I'm prepared to admit I'm in the minority here, as looking on Imdb I'm yet again amazed by how many people are praising the "clever ending". Quite how people with such severe ADHD manage to even coordinate a trip to the cinema is beyond me...
So, how could the ending have been improved?
Glad you asked! I reckon it would have been a rather clever little initial twist for Mrs Ganush, the Indian psychic and the other paranormal gypsy entourage to seem to be in league, making the whole film a sophisticated scam. Nothing that happens to Christine is completely beyond the ability of fraudsters familiar with a few parlour magic tricks. It would have tied in well with the escalating fees being charged too ($60 followed by $10,000 had all the signs of a great scam!). The way this could have been "discovered" would have been by the sceptical boyfriend, who already distrusts the psychic. Christine would of course have been overhwelmingly relieved, and accept his marriage proposal...
...of course, that wouldn't be the true ending, as this is a horror film, so for the final twist at the train station, her boyfriend would surprise her by offering the button back, which she thought was safely given away. There would be a flicker of genuine pain when she saw the fateful button, followed by a resigned but cruel smile: "That's ok sweetie, you keep it", she'd say, and then watch with mixed emotions as he is the one run over by the train.
This would tie in perfectly with the psychic's prediction about what she would be willing to do rather than risk being taken by the lamia, and in my opinion would have made for a far better ending.