From the Movie Morgue

Here’s an alleged thriller that Miramax and Dimension Films previously announced for release last winter. They also announced it last fall, summer and spring. Most often, when a studio feels it has a sure-fire hit, they try to get it a solid holiday release date and warn every other movie to stay out of the way and watch the stampede. This one they’ve been terribly shy about, so I went in recognizing a red flag over it.

Ewan McGregor plays a law student who takes a job as night watchman in a morgue while a serial killer is on the loose. The setup is cool – Ewan gets shown around the morgue by the old watchman with the full Crypt Keeper treatment, warning him not to look in certain rooms and spinning tales of previous watchmen’s mishaps. The morgue sure is creepy, but suspiciously┬ádeserted for a big city, and the effect of these scenes isn’t helped by the fact that every detail is broadcast as a future plot point. Compounding the blatancy of the plot is the way every innocent character is set up as a phony suspect.

Most of the plot is either predictable or unfocused. When clues start to appear that implicate McGregor in the serial killings, it looks as though the real killer is cleverly setting up a scapegoat, but his scheme wouldn’t come close to working if it wasn’t for a series of coincidences. Fright scenes are played so straight as to almost be nostalgic. I love a good scare film, but this isn’t it – and since Scream, anything less than grade-A horror is considered trash by modern audiences unless it’s given a clever twist. A serial killer stalking prostitutes is about as far from a clever twist as you can get.

This is writer/director Ole Bornedal’s American version of his Danish original Nattevagten, which I haven’t seen – but most U.S. versions of foreign films suffer in the translation. Bornedal’s European origins may excuse him from blame in at least one area: McGregor’s inadequate attempts to hide his Scots accent and sound like a regular American guy. Somebody should’ve said something. Josh Brolin’s scenery chewing as McGregor’s “bad boy” friend also might have escaped his notice (although it’s a sad day when any cast lets Nick Nolte’s role appear underplayed). The female parts are woefully underwritten, and fine performers like Patricia Arquette are wasted.

Horror films by European directors are tough to come by these days, but this one sags in the middle and gets lost before the end.

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