Scary Teen Movies

on May 1, 2008

Yesterday was Brennan #2’s 12th birthday. Like I do for the older kids, I took her from school at lunch time for three hours of alone time–lunch and a movie. She wanted to see PROM NIGHT. (Warning: SPOILERS Ahead.)

Based on the synopsis, I wanted to see this movie as well. My older daughter saw it with her friends, so it was just #2 and me. Literally. One thing about going to a movie that’s been out awhile, in the middle of a school day, is that NO ONE ELSE was in the theater. Which can be fun.

The movie started promising. Three years ago, Donna, a high school freshman, was the target of an obsessed stalker. The backstory itself–which was handled very well in the movie–is the most interesting part of the show, and unfortunately only took the first 10 minutes or so of the film. Donna’s stalker was one of her high school teachers. He became obsessed with her, followed her, wasn’t very subtle about it, and was removed by the school board. He then continued to stalk and harass her. They got a restraining order against him. He then killed her family trying to find her–she was under the bed watching while he strangled her mother, who lied to protect her daughter.

The murders were told in a dream/flashback that seemed real and appropriate to the story to convey a lot of information in a scary and powerful way. The history of the stalker was told by the detective who had worked the case to a new detective who hadn’t been around three years ago. Okay, a little cheesier, but it worked. (The detective was played by a guy I’d never heard of, Idris Elba, who I thought was pretty good. It wasn’t his fault that some of the writing was way off.)

Actually, the acting wasn’t bad. It made the show tolerable, and even a bit enjoyable in parts if wholly predictable. Okay, there were a few parts where I was a bit surprised, but for the most part I predicted everyone who would die (except one girl) and they built the suspense up pretty well–at least for young teens who haven’t seen as many “scary” movies as I have.

But there were two things that really, really, really bugged me. (There were other things that bugged me, but two big ones.) First, when the aunt and uncle who raised Donna after her family was killed learned that the killer had escaped from the mental institution, the uncle didn’t want to ruin her prom night. Yeah, they played lip service to a “good” reason–i.e., they had no proof he was in town, he was supposed to be 2000 miles away, and they didn’t want Donna to have a relapse because she’d spent so many years in therapy with nightmares, etc., etc. Okay. But the cop should have said, “Look, I understand, but other lives are at stake here, and the only way I can protect her and make sure that no one dies is to bring her home and surround the house. Until we find him, she’s here under lock and key.” So the whole premise of the prom night didn’t work because it was stupid that the cops let her stay there up until the point they found a dead body and realized he’d car jacked someone and taken his identity.

Two other procedural things really bugged me. First, after the bodies were found they cleared the hotel (good) but they didn’t check the faces of everyone who left. Come on, this guy killed a bunch of people, escaped from a mental institution, and is wholly obsessed with this girl and will do anything to be near her, and they didn’t check the faces and ID of everyone who left the hotel? I don’t buy it. And then, at Donna’s house, there were only TWO COPS watching the OUTSIDE of the house–both of them alone? Right. Don’t buy that, either. Sitting ducks (and the both ended up dead, surprise.) I’d think once they confirmed that this guy was loose, he’d already attacked Donna, he’d killed a bunch of people, that they’d have people INSIDE and OUTSIDE of the house, KNOWING the guy is going to go after her.

Okay, one more technical detail. The jury said he was insane. This wasn’t California so I don’t know all the rules, but I was under the impression that insane means that you’re not competent to stand trial, so it never goes to trial–that when and if you are “cured” then you will go to trial and would need to prove that you did not know what you were doing was wrong. Very hard to prove. And even if the guy did go on trial and pled insanity, he would still have to prove that he did not know what he was doing was wrong–he literally did not have the cognitive reasoning to know that murder was not okay. But I digress.

Okay, the second BIG thing that bugged me. Blood. There was very little. Not that I wanted a gory movie, I much prefer suspense than gore which isn’t in and of itself scary, I still had a huge problem with this. I know, I know–they didn’t have a lot of blood because they needed a PG-13 rating. This would never have passed muster with the hardcover Rated R scary movie crowd. But come on! The killer uses a knife. He stabs his victims multiple times, either in the chest/abdomen or slits their neck. The only marginally realistic scene was when he killed the best friend. We didn’t actually see it, but he slit her throat and an arc of blood hit a plastic tarp, and that’s what we saw (and yeah, that’s good scary rather than seeing the actual murder.)

But the first girl he kills by stabbing her repeatedly in the abdomen. There are only little red lines on her torso when her body is found. And no blood in the carpet? He kills her boyfriend same method on the tile of the entry of the hotel suite–and no blood? Yeah, he could have cleaned it up–but I’d have liked to have SEEN him at least clean up one of his kills so I could at least suspend disbelief enough that he did it with everyone. All we saw was him washing the bloody knife (and where were the bloody towels? Smears? Arcs of blood on the walls or ceiling?) BUT the big thing was, this guy only has one outfit. He doesn’t change until near the end when he kills a hotel worker and takes his uniform. He stabs to death four or five people and has NO BLOOD on his clothes and is able to walk around the hotel without being noticed? Stabbing people is messy, especially the way he did it. There is blood. The guy didn’t change. That bugged me big time. That interfered with the plausibility of the entire story. I could almost buy that they didn’t show a bloody corpse because they wanted the PG-13 rating, but when that interfers with the actual STORY, it doesn’t work.

There was one other big important plot point that was completely ruined because there was no blood. BIG SPOILER (not that I think any of you are going to see this movie.) … . . . . .. . . .

Near the end, Donna’s boyfriend is staying with her in her room and she gets up to use the bathroom. Comes back and lies down and says she’s happy he stayed with her. He doesn’t respond. She turns his head. He has a gash in his neck (not very bloody, but red.) He’s dead. Duh.

Sorry, that plot point didn’t work AT ALL. If he had his throat slit so deep to kill him that he wouldn’t have had time to move or try to defend himself, there would have been blood on her nice white comforter and pillows. The blood would have seeped into the bed. She wouldn’t have been able to NOT see it when she came out of the bathroom. It wouldn’t have ruined the scene to have her walk out, see the blood, and try to scream, only to be grabbed by the killer. But this was such a dumb set-up.

My girls hate going to movies with me or their dad because we predict everything that will happen (especially with the teen movies.) I remember seeing DISTURBIA with the girls and Dan and I predicted pretty much everything. The movie wasn’t as graphic or violent, but it was definitely more suspenseful and I’d recommend it. Suspenseful like THE HITCHER (the original) where there is a lot of build-up (though there isn’t much overt violence until the very end.)

Like PROM NIGHT, the set-up for DISTURBIA was very good. In DISTURBIA, the teen hero’s dad died and the teen becomes withdrawn and acts out. He hits a teacher and is put on house arrest for three months. The actor, Shia LaBeouf, is very good in the movie, an the writing was good. DISTURBIA is essentially a teen version of REAR WINDOW where LaBeouf’s character believes his next door neighbor is a serial killer, but he can’t leave his house or he’ll be put in jail. There’s other good backstory set ups about why the cop doesn’t like him, etc., so this becomes believable. Like most teen movies, there are some problems with plausibility, but unlike PROM NIGHT, they didn’t ruin the movie for me. My big complaint about DISTURBIA is that the climax was too fast. A lot of great build-up, then the ending came too fast.

I love movies, and I’ll see the good and the bad. After all, that’s how we learn, by seeing what works and what doesn’t work.

Right now, I’m looking forward to the INDIANA JONES (who isn’t?) I love the first three movies, and THE HOLY GRAIL (III) was outstanding, one of the few franchise movies where the third movie was the best. So I have high hopes for THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

What movies are you looking forward to this summer?