Friday, July 29, 2011

Saw with a British Accent: Spiderhole

New York City landlords, your horror movie has arrived, imported from the UK. Four British art students are too cool to pay rent. Unfortunately, they try to squat in a creaky old house owned by Jigsaw. As a result, they have their heads handed to them (not quite literally, but nearly so) in Daniel Simpson’s Spiderhole (trailer here), which screens late nights this weekend at the IFC Center.

By the time they find a suitably abandoned casa, it is already quite late at night. Molly, the relatively smart one, has a bad feeling about it all. When they find a cupboard full of bloody clothes, she is ready to bolt, but Toby, the veteran squatter, assures her everything will look better in the morning. Of course, her milquetoast boyfriend just wants to go along to get along, whereas Toby’s girlfriend Zoe only wants to get frisky in the dark dank cellar.

Needless to say, Molly’s instincts were right. When they wake up in the morning, all the doors have been welded shut from the inside and their phones and tools have disappeared. At first, it is not clear just what they are dealing with, but it certainly isn’t screwing around. However, viewers quickly learn an evil geezer in medical smocks is behind it all. Considering the extent of the metalwork he did over the night, he must be one spry old cat.

There is something problematically passive about a horror movie serial killer whose M.O. entails patiently waiting for squatters to show up. Despite the clear debt owed to films like Saw and Hostel, Spiderhole is somewhat tame by torture horror standards. On several occasions, just as the mysterious surgical-masked man is about to get down to business, he is distracted by a noise in another room. This hardly constitutes great screenwriting, but it is a mercy for viewers nonetheless. In fact, there are numerous instances where characters could have spared themselves great pain and grief simply by reacting like normal people. Yet, for all that, Spiderhole’s English accents somehow make it more interesting, by the grisly standards of the subgenre.

Nobody really distinguishes themselves here, but Amy Noble at least shows a bit of spark as the more free-spirited Zoe. Daithi Magner’s design team also creates a rather ominous but convincingly seedy looking house of horrors. It is easy to understand why they would want to get out of there, but hard to fathom why they stayed in the first place.

At only eighty-two minutes, Simpson keeps the tension cranked up rather effectively down the stretch, only to founder on the rocks of a wholly unsatisfied conclusion. Spiderhole might fit the bill for midnight talk-back-to-the-screen shows, but as graphic horror cinema, it is just more of the same. It screens at 12:30 AM this Friday and Saturday nights (7/29 & 7/30) at the IFC Center in Manhattan’s West Village.