The Unleashed (2011) dir. Manuel H. Da Silva
Starring: Trisha Echeverria, Jessica Salgueiro, Caroline Williams, Malcolm McDowell
By Greg Klymkiw
God knows, and those who know me as intimately as Our Lord, are well aware of the fact that I worship the horror genre with a fervour not unlike that of a fundamentalist Bible Thumper and/or dyed-in-the-wool Satanists. I especially enjoy tales of the paranormal and have been waiting patiently for a good movie that uses a Ouija board as more than a simple prop in a scene or two, but in fact, uses the board front and centre.
The Unleashed partially answered my prayers - the movie has mega-Ouija Board action. Alas, the picture is barely watchable. It's too bad. Buried deep within the endless 108-minute running time is the framework for a decent genre effort within the script itself. Unfortunately, someone needed to take an axe to much of the screenplay before the film was shot and most importantly, a decent script editor, or even someone with something resembling taste, might have been able to excise a lot of the dumb dialogue and the endless yapping that doesn't really serve the plot and feels like filler. Even if the script had been shot as written, a good producer and editor might have been able to rescue this plodding would-be thriller in post-production.
The movie begins in a so-far-so-good manner. With a tone of creepy portent over the opening titles, we hear the familiar voice of Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, O Lucky Man, Time After Time) as he narrates the following:
Along with the modern spiritual movement, there came a widespread interest in communications with the dead. The talking board is yet another tool to inspire hope that a world beyond our own can be reached. The question is this: Are the dead taunting the living or is the living taunting the dead?
Well, Malcolm, I've gotta say (after seeing the whole movie), the REAL question is this: Given that the above is the sum total of your involvement in this picture, were you paid by the hour, the day or the word? There are 52 words. If I had been your agent, I'd have negotiated the rate based on that, but I'm not, so it's a moot point.
In fairness to the producers of the film, McDowell's name does not appear on the film's poster, but much of the hype surrounding the premiere of The Unleashed at the Canadian Film Fest in Toronto was the appearance of everyone's favourite Droog at the red carpet screening.
Given that I personally try to know as little about a movie as possible before I see it, I was super-pumped. All I knew was that I'd be seeing a new low budget Canuck horror feature with a great poster AND the participation of Malcolm McDowell. What kept drifting through my mind as I watched the movie was this? When's Malcolm McDowell showing up? He doesn't. Now you know, so if you see the movie when it opens theatrically, don't bother giving his involvement a moment's thought - just let the picture work its magic.
That said, the movie has virtually no magic - certainly none of the cinematic kind. After Malcolm's narration, we get a decent seance scene set in the late 1800s involving an old crone using a Ouija Board. Decent carnage occurs and we flash forward to the present. We're clumsily introduced to the lead characters - a babe-o-licious woman who's been away from home for eight years and has returned after her Mother dies to deal with the estate, her babe-o-licious best friend from days gone by and a babe-o-licious professor of paranormal studies who is holding a series of lectures at the local secondary school. (Gee, I sure wish I had gone to a secondary school like that!)
So far, so good.
When the returning daughter's friend offers to stay with her in the family house (which, by the way, is haunted), I'm at this point thinking - "Good deal!" I did some quick math: Ouija Boards, carnage, ghosts, haunted house, babes and Sappho-action. Yee-haa! The latter, alas, does not occur (though there is one scene with the two babes in bed, but they're fully clothed and clearly have not been indulging in any forbidden nectar.)
Even worse is the fact that it took the picture 35 or so minutes to give me a tiny shiver of fright. As the film proceeds there were three or four minor jolts, many half-hearted (though nobly-intended) attempts at atmospheric horror, a few decent special effects, unexciting but certainly competent cinematography and a handful of good performances - all of which were elicited by the female actors. (The male actors in the movie are either dull and competent or just plain godawful.)
The movie throws out a couple of plot twists and surprises, but they're the sort that had me thinking early in the movie: "Oh God, I hope they're not going to , , ," And Yup, they do. I saw the ending coming far too early in the proceedings. (Even my 11-year-old daughter, who, by the way, really loved the movie, was bummed out by the ending.) Knowing where a picture will end up doesn't have to ruin it if the ride is worthwhile, but The Unleashed is not The Zipper, but rather, a merry-go-round that keeps stopping and starting.
"The Unleashed" is the Friday night red-carpet gala at this year's Canadian Film Fest running March 28-31 at the Royal Theatre in Toronto. For more information, visit the festival's website HERE.
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