Monday, March 28, 2016

The Girl in the Photographs: The Killing Eye

Some traditional cultures believe photography steals the soul. “O” in Beckett’s Film feared the camera’s eye precisely because it objectified him. Colleen is not too thrilled to have her picture taken either. That is because every photographer she knows is either a hipster jerkheel or a masked serial killer. The camera becomes an instrument of terror in Nick Simon’s The Girl in the Photographs (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Spearfish, South Dakota is a small, sleepy little town with an extraordinarily lazy sheriff’s department. For weeks, some perv has been leaving photos of what look like brutally murder women (which indeed they are) for Colleen to find. Since Sheriff Porter cannot verify they are indeed homicide victims, he treats it like an elaborate prank. Dude, seriously show a little initiative here.

Ultra-trendy fashion photographer Peter Hemmings (spelled just like David Hemmings, star of Antonioni’s Blowup) happens to be from Spearfish—far from it. However, he keeps up with the town news to make himself feel smugly superior. When he reads about the nasty photos, he believes a “fan” has been appropriating his lifeless looking aesthetic. Rather precipitously, he resolves to return to Spearfish to appropriate it right back with an uber-meta shoot, perhaps even featuring some locals. Colleen will be the obvious choice.

When Hemmings blows into town, thanks to the scrambling logistics of his long suffering assistant Chris, much hedonism ensues. Hemmings quickly develops an exploitative obsession with Colleen, while Chris’s romantic interest is much healthier. Frankly, she might as well leave with them for Los Angeles, since she just dumped her white trash boyfriend and her BFF has been violently murdered by her stalkers. Of course, you know those things that are guaranteed to get you killed in a horror movie? Hemmings and his models do a whole heck of a lot of them.

Photographs is billed as the final screen credit of the late, great Wes Craven, who served as co-executive producer. There are obvious echoes of the Scream franchise, obviously starting with the creepy masks donned by the two psycho-stalkers. However, the film drips with a caustically sarcastic attitude that really make the first two acts quite distinctive. Unfortunately, the balance of the film is pretty standard stalk-and-kill stuff, but that is often the case, even with the most ambitious genre outings.

Kal Penn is an acerbic stitch as the debauched prima donna Hemmings. Listening to his natural conviction riffing on drugs and exotic sex acts also probably gives us some insight into the Obama Administration. The world is much better off having him in films like Photographs. The way he masticates the scenery is a pleasure to behold. Unfortunately, only Miranda Raye Mayo really hangs with Penn as Hemmings’ contemptuous yet also jealous model-lover, Rose. She can deliver an acid-laced line with the best of them.

Still, there is something rather appealing about the chemistry Claudia Lee and Kenny Wormald develop as Colleen and Chris, even though we know from the start it will end in bloody tears. Even more frustratingly, Mitch Pileggi is almost totally wasted as Sheriff Porter, except to provide an apostolic link to Craven’s Shocker.

Dean Cudney, cinematographer on John Carpenter’s original Halloween, gives the film the right look and Simon wisely lets Penn and Mayo set their own pace. When they are sparking on screen together, it could be the slasher film Howard Hawks never made, but when the focus shifts to Colleen, the vibe becomes almost dreary. On balance though, there is plenty here for horror fans to work with. Recommended for the snarky parts, The Girl in the Photographs opens this Friday (4/1) in New York, at the Cinema Village.