Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Netflix Roulette: Blackout


Shortly before his death, an interviewer asked William Faulkner what he was reading. Faulkner replied: "Charles Dickens and the Bible. At my age, I don't have time for anything but the good stuff."

I used to have a lot more patience for the crap that forms the largest part of the horror genre. In my youth, I could watch any given zero-budget slasher film or ridiculous creature feature and still have a good ol' time. Over the years, though, I kind of got burned out on it. In part, this was because I was watching a lot of amazing stuff outside the genre, which was giving me an appetite for "the good stuff." In part, it was because I had been over-fishing the waters for years. And, in part, it was because the market for low budget and direct to video horror had contracted to the point where I wasn't able to find the diamonds in the rough I was able to find in past years. It wasn't giving me return on investment. So I gave up, and the sub-strata of the horror genre plugged along without me. It's been over a decade since I regularly trolled this area of film. This is where Netflix comes in. A lot of the stuff that used to stock the horror aisle at chain video stores is beginning to find a home on Netflix's instant streaming service (I presume that the same thing is happening over at Blockbuster, but I won't do business with them). Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that I might play roulette with the movies on Netflix Instant as a way of putting me back in touch with my roots. Who knows, maybe there's a diamond in the rough waiting to be unearthed.

In any event, here are the rules: Netflix currently has 18 pages of Instant Watch horror movies, and each page has 24 movies on it, so I needed to come up with two random numbers: one between 1 and 18 and one between 1 and 24. I set up a function in an Excel spreadsheet to generate these and I was set. The first numbers that came up were 3 and 1, which corresponds to Blackout, a 2007 thriller starring Amber Tamblyn and directed by Rigoberto CastaƱeda. The premise of this movie, in which three people are trapped on an elevator and one of them is a serial killer, sounds more than a bit like Shyamalan's upcoming Devil, though on a much smaller scale.

The movie starts with a dead woman in a bathtub, then moves to a scene of her husband grieving for her in a cemetery with his young daughter. This the first of our trio of characters: Carl, a doctor, played with amiable sadness by Aiden Gillen. Then we meet Claudia (Tamblyn), an asthmatic who may or may not have been responsible for her grandmother's death. The final character is Tommy, played by Armie Hammer, a tough kid about to go on the lam with his girlfriend. The backstories of each of these characters is filled in at excruciating length in flashbacks cut into the scenes in the elevator. Frankly, they mostly feel like padding to avoid the point or, at the very least, bring the movie to feature length. That being the case, the last twenty minutes or so, once the masks have fallen from our trio of characters and the flashbacks have been abandoned and everyone knows exactly who everyone is, are actually pretty damned good. The movie sets up its suspense set-pieces with a Hitchcockian attention to significant objects (a lighter, an asthma inhaler) and pays off with a delightfully nasty denouement. In truth, I was kind of surprised that I liked this as much as I did, given how lackadaisical the first half of the movie seemed. Once it starts paying attention to its own little microcosm, it turns the screws tight. It does, however, point out the main flaw in the Netflix Instant service: it doesn't have a fast forward button.

4 comments:

wallofcheese said...

You can fast forward by dragging the slider that shows how far into the movie you are. It'll show individual frames rather that sped up action, but it still works. Might need to run some browser updates first to enable this function, but I use it all the time.

Dr. AC, Fool for Blood said...

I love this idea! While the list of Netflix's streaming horror is no match for the pile of DVDs sitting on my "to watch" shelf, I'm sure this is a great means of discovering random flicks that one might not have chosen by ordinary means. And the October Challenge is just around the corner...

dr.morbius said...

The slider is no substitute for a fast forward, I've found. Yeah, you can skip things, but you can't scan them, unfortunately.

krisenthia said...

I watched this the other day by happenstance. It was somewhat engaging and held my interest, though you could see through the plot 30 minutes into it. Still, I liked the idea of it. With a juvenile plot like that, you can only do so much with it, and I think the director/actors did well.