MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
Directed by Christopher Ray
The horror calendar is full up of decent days, with Halloween, Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday To Me, Graduation Day, Black Christmas and even April Fool’s Day. But for my money, there’s yet to be a good one that takes place on New Year. This is a shame, given the potential a time of year about being together offers. So far, the closest we’ve got are the slow Terror Train (best known for featuring David Copperfield) and the even slower New Year’s Evil. Christopher Ray’s latest, Minutes to Midnight, is sadly in the same vein, with it ironically failing to live up to it’s promises. As per its subject matter, it winds up being forgettable the morning after, and may lead to a sore head.
A goofy opener, with an unintentionally funny script, sees a young man decide to propose to his girlfriend in The Murder Woods – a decision he soon regrets. Obviously he’s not a guy that’s seen a lot of horrors, which the creative team also seem to assume of their audience. Minutes to Midnight has all the genre tropes you’ve come to expect: young, good-looking people going to an isolated location for a night of booze, boobs and boning. Normally I’d take time to go through who all of them are, but it’s the same obnoxious stereotypes you’ve come across before: jocky, nerdy, horny etc. The location’s a creepy old lodge that we, frustratingly, spend fairly little time in. Despite marketing itself as a home invasion, this movie is far more a slasher – with masked killers in the woods hunting them down to use their body parts for dodgy art and crafts. Throw in another young, good-looking man, avenging his brother (his loyalty for whom is his only character trait) and you can fill in most of including the twist that isn’t really a twist. It then cuts-off mid scene, with little resolution and little point to it. Still, there’s at least some fun to be had on the way… Sort of.
Like my colleagues here at Horror Cult Films, I’m a fan of slashers – they were a major part of my horror education, and make up a lot of my DVD collection. Yet more than any other sub-genre, they’re ubiquitous with a specific era of cinema: the early 70’s to mid-80’s. In a post-Scream world, it’s difficult to go back to this form of film-making without doing something at least slightly subversive or fresh. As per forgotten backwoods slashers, such as Timber Falls and Storm Warning, Minutes to Midnight is a no thrills thriller that seems to confuse conforming to a template with celebrating cinematic heritage. Sure, it’s nice to see gory practical effects, and the masks are kind of cool (even if the baddies are ones you’ve seen before, even if you’re not well versed). There’s also some nifty looking weapons made of remains. But for the most part it feels old fashioned in a bad way, with a talented cast (including William Baldwin and Bill Moseley) being wasted on hacky material.
I admit, there’s maybe a double standard in how fans and critics alike excuse trappings such as exposition-heavy dialogue and one note characters if they’re in the likes of The Burning or Prom Night. Yet with their emphasis on the fun and shlock, that are both absent in this overly po-faced cut, the classics get away with it easier. You’d also like to think a modern movie would avoid pitfalls from four decades ago nowadays. It also doesn’t get the sense of location right, which many golden oldies relied on – be it the beauty of Crystal Lake or the suburban paranoia of Halloween. There’s just little sense of geography or much character to it. Moreover, the storm never feels very heavy – detracting from the atmosphere – and the sets are deathly dull. Worse yet, while there’s some neat kills, the few suspense scenes are undermined by director Ray’s odd decision to fill them with slow motion moves – with mysterious backpacker Travis in particular doing fly kicks, and gunning like a regular action hero. The jarring tone is at odds with the mood created elsewhere, leading to a bloated finale that awkwardly combines too many characters and styles. As it ended, abruptly, I realised I barely knew any one’s name or much about them. And I didn’t really want to either. Not a truly terrible film as much as an unremarkable one, that will frustrate slasher fans and won’t win many converts. Watchable, but needless to say, it won’t make my end of year list.