There are certain elements expected with the announcement of a new Rob Zombie movie – a visual aesthetic reminiscent of a 70’s grindhouse splatterpiece mixed with a heavy metal music video, some faces familiar, and blood….lots of blood.
I tend to be a big fan of Zombie’s work, specifically The Devils Rejects, which I often include among my favorite horror films of the 2000’s. The film expanded the universe established in House of 1000 Corpses, which was fun but inconsistent, and turned the previously stereotype-riddled Firefly family into instant iconic status. It also brought Zombie to the forefront of the horror scene.
After a divisive double dose of Halloween films, Zombie then took on a far more personal film in the arthouse horror Lords of Salem. His career felt like it was on a track of natural progression and, frankly, it was nice to have mainstream name that was associated with the genre. When 31 was announced as his next film, the premise seemed like it would be as close to a guarantee as possible. Clowns chasing friends through a factory called Murderworld for 12 hours seemed almost too easy and I expected an instant gruesome classic. Unfortunately I had just set myself up for disappointment.
Instead of a brutal, relentless, in-your-face horror movie, 31 is choppy, inconsistent, and at times downright boring. The film smartly begins with it’s most interesting character, a grease paint-covered psychopath that goes by the name Doom-Head, delivering a lengthy monologue. It’s effective in both establishing tone and making the audience uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, the next half hour is spent trying to develop the vastly underwhelming lead characters. The notion of presenting three dimensional characters in horror films is often overlooked, leaving us with one-note stereotypes that we can’t wait to watch bad things happen to. 31 devotes quite a lot of time introducing us to the future victims, but by the time the clowns finally arrive to abduct them, I’m fully on the side of whomever is running this Murderworld place.
After a lackluster opening, I was still hopeful as the group of would-be victims are introduced to Murderworld by, what appears to be, Malcolm McDowell under a pound of white makeup and a wig. Finally, the game is about to begin and we’re introduced to the first clown. It’s at this point that I began to realize that reality was not going to come close to expectation.
Moving forward, the action finally starts to dictate the pacing and the movie benefits from it. Once we get back to Doom-Head, the film makes a turn towards being interesting. Richard Brake turns in an awesome performance and, had he been featured throughout 31, it might have had a shot at being far more impactful.
It’s hard to win back a deflated audience and, unfortunately for 31, a decent third can’t save the uninspired effort proceeding it. Even the violent content seems turned down here, settling for shaky cam and off-screen kills instead of some good old fashioned brutality. The acting doesn’t help matters as Sherri Moon Zombie is wooden and hammy throughout.
Rob Zombie has an undeniable love for the horror genre, and that shows through even in a lesser effort like 31. Let’s just hope his next venture takes a few more risks, or at least ups the brutality.