REVIEW: Hard Candy

Possible minor spoilers follow

Though it’s not the stuff of blockbusters, “Hard Candy” is cut from the same cloth as a film like “Jaws” in that both are the stuff of B-movies dressed up and strutting around with A-list direction, performance and psychological depth. There’d been dozens of “monster in the water” and “killer animal” movies before Spielberg’s, but it was his Hitchcockian flourish and natural gift for evoking small town Americana that turned his near-apocryphal premise into a resonant smash.

Likewise, right down to it’s sleaze-a-riffic title and it’s blunt, eye catching poster of a young girl in a red hoodie standing on the “bait” switch of a gigantic bear-trap, “Hard Candy” is what used to be called an “exploitation film;” i.e. a low-budget film aiming to draw attention chiefly by “exploiting” a plot-connection to a current hot-button topic and the promise that the audience will derive a certain “guilty pleasure” entertainment from the way that it’s presented: Things you’re already worried about will be made to terrify you, people and concepts that you fear or dislike will be throttled for your pleasure, etc. Make no mistake about it, for all of it’s arthouse street-cred (two-character interplay, mostly dialogue, etc.,) “Hard Candy” is precisely the film it’s title and poster imply: A revenge-fantasy in which a 30 year old photographer who picks up (and maybe worse) underaged girls on the internet (Patrick Wilson) has the tables turned on him (and then some) by his 14 year-old would-be prey (Ellen Paige.)

Predatory, internet-saavy pedophiles are THE current effigy of the moment, other than terrorists, and this is definately where the “exploitation” angle comes in. Child-predators have been around since time immemorial, but rarely have they been as “popular” as bad guys as right now. The reason is plain: The already potent parental paranoia about sexual abuse has become irrevocably affixed to the more general parental paranoia about the Internet; animals, after all, roam the streets… but monsters hide in dark caves. Thusly, pedophiles have been “upgraded” from mere scum-of-the-Earth to outright Supervillians- the walking embodiment of everything moms and dads fear their children might be snatched up by in the mysterious otherworld of MySpace and AIM.

True to form, “Hard Candy’s” first image is a closeup of a computer screen as the screen names of an older-man/younger-girl duo trade escalating flirtations, climaxing in an agreement to meet down at the local not-Starbucks. “Lensman319” and “ThongGrrrl” turn out to be smooth-talking 32 year-old Jeff Kohlver and pixie-ish, well-read 14 year-old Hayley Stark. Using a the promise of some rare bootleg MP3 (ooooh… there’s that scaaaary Internet lingo again!) as a lure, Jeff soon has Hayley throwing back screwdrivers and trading icky double-entendres about photography at his out-of-the-way pad… until he suddenly keels over unconcious and wakes up tied to a chair and facing down a decidedly un-pixiefied Hayley who’s mannerisms and poise now suggest a visualized inner-struggle between whether her favorite Sigourney Weaver role is “Aliens” or “Death & The Maiden.”

Seems that Hayley fancies herself an avenging angel of preyed-upon girls everywhere, and in particular wants to extract from Jeff information on his possible involvement in the dissapearance of a same-aged friend of hers. Her methodology for extraction, involving a napsack full of makeshift tools and an ominously-thick medical textbook would, if anything, indicate that the above-mentioned struggle is clearly on the side of “Maiden.” And so we have the bulk of the film set in motion: Hayley psychologically tortures Jeff, Jeff pleads for his life, and so on while Hayley “prepares” her victim’s ultimate fate; a punishment she decisively refers to as “preventative maintanance.”

Let’s be realistic: There’s no possible way for the film to conjure much in the way of sympathy for Jeff in this scenario; even if the ONLY thing he’s guilty of is trying to seduce this one young girl (no prizes for guessing it ain’t) that alone is more than enough reason for a majority of audiences to conclude that he’s getting more-or-less what he deserves. It may as well be Osama bin Laden tied to that chair. The film plays as fair as it can in terms of characterization, meaning that just because Hayley is fighting on the side of right doesn’t mean she can’t also be a something of a sadist/sociopath in her own right.

But in the end, this is (and can really only be when you get right down to it) a get-that-bastard revenge fantasy; the ultimate boiling-down of the “small-framed female dynamo takes down the big mean male” mythos so potently-popular in the wake of “Kill Bill” and the like. Its exploitation right down to the bones, serving up an unapologetic play on our emotional gut response to the hottest of hot-button social issues and then offering us a refreshing mug of vigilante justice to wash it all down…

…And it works, partially because the premise IS a near-perfect mix of revulsion and catharsis, partially because music video vet David Slade turns out to be a natural with pace and limited-resource visual storytelling (the early scenes contrasting tight closeups on Paige and size-increasing medium shots of Wilson are textbook examples of how to build menace without aid of music or dialogue) but primarily because of a pair of commanding performances: Wilson does a fine turn as an evil man pathetically self-deluded to believe that he is otherwise, while Paige is quite simply a star. Hayley Stark is the sort of role that exists to turn unknowns into overnight sensations, and Paige runs a 50-yard touchdown with it.

As is the case with a plurality of 2-character “actor’s films,” there are some slight stumbles as the film heads into it’s third act: Hayley begins to look just a bit too competent and master-planner-y to be true, plans and double-crosses begin to stack up just a bit too neatly, and things start heading toward a mano-a-mano (girl-o?) showdown that might just rub some as a little too action movie-esque for it’s own good. More problematically are a pair of instances where Wilson’s Jeff, in order to make sure we “get” a pair of plot points that would be near-impossible to visualize (or depict, in one case,) is forced to deliver some awkward-sounding “who is he talking to?” mini-soliloquies. None of this, I’d hasten to add, really takes away from the film’s primary functionality as a high-gloss exploitation/revenge fantasy, though it is kind of the final nail in terms of the film’s loftier arthouse pretensions.

It’s smart, slick, more than a little bit sick and heavily infused with equal parts button-pushing gumption and girl-power vigilante catharthis. Highly reccomended.


Super Mario vs. Carlos Mencia

Reader’s Digest version: Back in 05, a “Mind of Mencia” sketch about smashing outdated technology with a hammer (it’s not exactly “The Daily Show”…) featured a Nintendo 64 as one of the “victims.” Nintendo fans got ticked off on the internet, and Mencia devoted an entire sketch on a subsequent episode to bitching about it. Wonder what he’ll think about this…
Regular link:

REVIEW: X-Men: The Last Stand

MINOR spoilers herein, NO I’m not going to tell you who dies.

Early on in “X-Men: The Last Stand” (“X3” from now on) we’re treated to a large-scale action scene featuring a glimpse of a sight that X-Men (comic) fans could be forgiven for thinking they’d never actually see in live-action. Just a glimpse, mind you… and in a blurry, half-hidden-in-darkness, mostly-offscreen sort of way to boot… but, there it is. You’re seeing it, one of the most out-there concepts of the four-color-page seamlessly integrated into the “reality” of the live-action X-movie universe. There it is.

And then, in an eyeblink, there it ain’t: The whole scene vanishes in a puff of wireframe CGI, revealed as merely a hologram simulation taking place in the X-Men’s “Danger Room” training facility. A whole (expensive-looking) scene tossed in and then tossed away once it’s subject is neatly checked off the “stuff we didn’t do yet” list. Producers to fans: There. We gave it to ya. It didn’t matter, and didn’t mean a thing in the wider storyline, but THERE. Now shaddup, fanboys, we’ve got deadlines to meet and toys to sell.

And thus, the general tone for “X3” is set, right off the bat.

The film is frequently entertaining, occasionally even thrilling and competently crafted throughout. In spots, it even approaches brilliance. But that’s the problem: It’s all spots. The whole peice exists as a series of visuals, ideas and characters that have been hovering in the high numbers of “most-popular big stuff that happened in the comics” all mooshed together into an incohesive, overly-brief narrative more concerned with “getting it done” than “getting it done well.” Among it’s comic-book based brethren, it calls to mind no film as much as “Daredevil” in the way it falters trying to mix story-strands that may as well be oil and water.

First, we have our “A-Story”: Wealthy scientist/industrialist Warren Worthington announces to the world that he has discovered a serum which can permanently neutralize the special powers of Mutants (people born with super-powers, for anyone who missed movies 1 and 2.) He calls it a “cure,” which sets off a kind of ideological civil war among the “mutant community.” All of them can agree that calling this a “cure” is by default calling their differences a “disease,” yes… but not all of them disagree. Oh, and Worthington has a personal stake in all of this: His son Warren III is a mutant with big, feathery wings growing out of his back (X-Men nickname: “Angel,” what else?) Oh, AND the source of the cure is a mutant, too: Leech, (Cameron Bright in his signature role of “sullen little boy persued by grownups,) who’s aura acts as a kind of “signal scrambler” for mutation.

As is his modus-operandi when things like this go down, (like, say, in the movie right before this one, ahem!,) militant mutant rights activist Magneto (Sir Ian McKellan) whips the angriest of mutant-dom into a frenzy and renews his declaration of open war on humanity; this time with an army of disenfranchised young toughs at his disposal. The X-Men and their leader Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) assume their traditional roles as MLK to Magneto’s Malcom X; trying to keep both sides from killing eachother. Fat chance.

Enter the “B-Story”: Jean Grey, who bought it at the end of #2, comes back from the dead with scarily amped-up telekinetic powers and a malevolent alter-ego called “Pheonix.” And here, I’m still surprised to say, things fall apart. Who could’ve guessed that the attempt to port over THE high water-mark storyline of THE high water-mark X-Men comics run, Chris Claremont’s “Dark Pheonix Saga,” would be the ultimate undoing of this film? But here it is, awkwardly shoe-horned into an already overcrowded plot, and it moslty plays out as a distraction. It feels like too big an idea with too little room to move around in, guest-appearing in this film when it ought to be in it’s own.

That it’s here at all is almost-entirely owing to the odd and unfortunate way that “X3” has come about: Wrested away from it’s original writers and director, the new ones given the thankless task of finishing THIS plot thread because it was left open by their predecessors. Let’s be realistic: As beloved as it is/was by fans, the “Pheonix” story was going to be a major challenge to fit into the framework of the X-films thus far. Trying to fit it in as a subplot is just plain daffy. What it all amounts to is a pair of impressively-unexpected deaths in the main cast, the X-universe equivalent of a “exorcist”-type story and a fairly lame excuse to even CALL this “Pheonix” dashed-off as a thudding chunk of exposition by Stewart. Much like the early action scene in the Danger Room, fans are granted an ultra-loose “sort of” glimpse that is ultimately bound to dissapoint most of them and leave non-fans in the audience perplexed as to why the main plot about cures and mutant-revolts needs to keep getting interupted by Famke Janssen getting her Linda Blair on. It’s a valiant try, and a tragic miss.

There are, fortunately, more than enough bright spots in there among the mess: New director Bret Ratner’s principal skills (action scenes and xeroxing film styles) are hard at work, so that the film’s big action scenes all have pizazz and the “look” is a reasonable facsimile of the prior films. Fan worried about having another Joel Schumacher/“Batman Forever” on their hands can relax: You can ONLY make films as poor as Schumacher’s Bat-sequels through a gross misapplication of personal vision and style, two elements which Ratner has yet to prove that he posesses. The FX, while very unfinished-looking in places (a result, doubtless, of the mad rush to get the film into theatres before “Superman Returns,”) are think-big and genuinely cool for the most part, especially a flashback sequence where the now-infamous “digital airbrushing” technique uses CGI to render McKellan and Stewart realistically appear 20 years younger.

And the film DOES come alive, for awhile, once it reaches it’s action-heavy third act. The two dueling plots STILL don’t gel, but we finally get to see a giant-scale battle between the heroes and (literally) hundreds of super-powered bad guys, which is a whole lot of fun once you get past the fact that most of the enemy fodder look like the same guys in the same grungy club-kid attire in the wide shots. Oh, and you should probably just forget that the presence of Jean-as-Pheonix SHOULD render the entire shebang unecessary overall… hey, after all, the movie tends to forget all about her until it’s logged the appropriate number of fights and money-shots 🙂

There are some more sundry bright spots: We get to see Iceman use his powers to full-extent, which is fun, and McKellan is afforded both scenes of real sympathy and real oh-you-bastard-ness to chew on for our (and obviously his own) enjoyment. Kelsey Grammer is note-perfect as the blue, well-spoken, fuzzy-wuzzy “Beast.” And there are great super-power gags involving Kitty Pride (walks through walls) Colossus (metal skin) and Multiple Man (clones himself.) Fans are garaunteed a certain amount of fun with playing spot-the-mutant, as dozens upon dozens of possibly-familiar faces dash onscreen to pose for their action figure.

But there are also more problems that just keep cropping up: While the shrunken-and-rushed Pheonix-lite story is busy taking up space, the “main” plot sits around undeveloped and riddled with dangling threads. WHY does Worthington want to cure his son’s mutation? WHERE exactly did they find this power-draining kid, again? The whole main story is hurting for a substantial heavy, and it doesn’t have one. And Magneto won’t work as one, because the good guys make their case for compromise so weakly that I’m inclined to side with “The Brotherhood” just for being more proactive (you can practically FEEL the charge that outspoken gay-rights activist McKellan seems to be getting out of playing the hardline-opposition to an attempt to “cure” people of difference they were born with.)

Problematically, the film is filled with surprising character turns and bold main-cast killings… but so little screen time is given and so rushed and disjointed in the pace that many don’t have time to sink in. No sooner has one of the series’ veterans bit the dust and/or lost their powers and “poof!,” we’re on to the very next scene. Compelling drama is undermined by a drive to keep the pace jumpy enough so as to nullify the lack of overall development; it has the effect of showing prospective buyers around a house REALLY fast, hoping that they won’t notice that the work isn’t all finished yet.

And then there’s The Juggernaut. Oh, dear me… The Juggernaut. One of THE principal baddies of the X-Men comics, “Juggy” arrives onscreen in the personage of Vinnie Jones; his backstory apparently missing and his entire being altered. That much is to be expected, what could NOT have been expected is that Jones would be tasked with delivering one awful line after another, including (you’ll know it when you hear it) what is not only the worst single one-liner in the entire “X-Men” series so far but ALSO the worst single one-liner in Ratner’s entire filmography… and keep in mind that said filmography includes THREE films starring Chris Tucker!

And so here we are, “X3” has come and it’s the least of the series. Moments of greatness swimming around in a mess of a movie. It seems that Fox REALLY does intend to end it here for awhile, and unfortunately with a “finale” like this they may not find a strong number of voices clamoring to have it back. The old turn of phrase about bangs and whimpers wasn’t made for films like this, but it might as well have been.


REVIEW: The Davinci Code

By now everyone who has yet to see it (which, judging by the boxoffice numbers right now is a rapidly-shrinking group, yowza!) knows approximately two things for certain about “The DaVinci Code”: That the critics are not being kind and that their unkindness is not expected to matter in the end.

That you know the 2nd part because it tends to appear IN reviews demonstrating the 1st part is a “clue” that you won’t need a Rennaissance-era puzzle-box to decode for yourself: The mainline critics are having their fun unloading the Big Guns on a film that’s really no worse (or better) than dozens of others like it, secure in the knowledge that it’s garaunteed-hit status absolves them of any lingering caution toward even-handedness. The opportunity to swat the crap out of a Summer Blockbuster without fear of being branded a hit-killing spoilsport should it be “rediscovered” down the road only comes along once every so-often.

So let’s all of us, “DaVinci” fan, foe or newcomer alike, take a deep cleansing breath and observe that while Dan Brown’s pulp-potboiler is closer a relative to “Encyclopedia Brown” than “Encyclopedia Britannica,” it’s also far from a literary dud. In fact, overall it’s a cracking-good solve-the-mystery page-turner expertly infused with an illusion of depth and import via the grounding of it’s puzzles in a challenge to what is likely the last relic of assumed-sanctity in the post-Christian West: The divinity and chastity of Jesus Christ.

Ron Howard has faithfully ported over both the virtues and flaws of Brown’s tome, offering up one of the most studiously reverent (to the material) literary adaptations since the first “Harry Potter” installment. Everything that made the book a worldwide phenomenon is here, along with everything that keeps it from achieving greater grandeur. What Howard’s critics are damning him for, fairly or not, is nothing short of being unable (pardon the pun) to turn water into wine. The criticism isn’t wholly unfair… after all, great films like “The Godfather” have been made from pulp hits that were merely “good” before. And just as “merely” turning Coca-Cola into Pepsi would be impressive in it’s own right, surely it can’t be a criminal act to make a film that is “merely” good from a book of the same pedigree?

Tom Hanks has the lead as Brown’s franchise character, famous professor of symbology Robert Langdon. While on a book tour in Paris (forget the Jesus stuff… in WHAT universe is a symbologist an international celebrity giving enthusiastic lectures to sold-out crowds and book-signing lines to rival Stephen King?) Langdon finds himself unwittingly drawn into the mystery surrounding a colleague who was murdered in the Louvre and has left cryptic riddles for Robert and the man’s granddaughter Sophie (Audrey Tautou) to decipher. Hotly pursued by a French detective (Jean Reno,) Langdon and Sophie chase a trail of clues relating to DaVinci, paganism, early-christianity and, yes, the literal Holy Grail… amid further complication involving the actual murderer, a psychotic (and endlessly resourceful) albino monk named Silas, employed as a one-man hit squad by Opus Dei (seen here functioning as the Vatican’s answer to the Men In Black.)

A few rousing escapes and puzzle-solving scenes later, the pair seek the help of Sir Leigh Teabing, (Sir Ian McKellan, who seems to approach this material as a kind of home run derby for dry English witticisms,) who helpfully lays out What The Big Deal Is for those of you wondering what the hell is so “controversial” about this story. I won’t join the critical press in spoiling The Big Whoop-Dee-Doo, but suffice it to say it involves Jesus, DaVinci, dozens of historical heavyweights, The Crusades, witch-trials, pagan goddess-worship, secret societies, a bit of “everything you know is wrong” in regards to Christianity, and there’s a WHOPPER of a secret buried somewhere in Europe that The Church is willing to KILL to keep from being discovered.

All of this clue-to-clue dashing around is about as engaging as it was in Brown’s original book, though in translation much of the more tangential digressions of symbolism and art-history that made the peice seem so much bigger and important than it eventually is. Also, not unexpectedly, now that the audience is watching the events with their own eyes rather than through Langdons, he winds up as a kind of passive “hero” considering his billing. Given that his prime function, robbed of his inner monologue, is to be on hand for the puzzles and solve a few of them here and there, the result is a less-than-proactive hero who’s often overshadowed by Tautou’s more commanding presence as Sophie… and EVERYONE dissapears into the ether whenever McKellan takes the stage.

It’s all very intriguing and interesting, and lighter than air when you get right down to it. What a refreshing change of pace, to have a Summer Blockbuster that aims to snap us to attention with bold, even blasphemous, ideas rather than bold explosions… that can make a scene in which a British history buff narrates a flashback-y secret history of modern civilization more alive and fun than anything in “Mission: Impossible 3.”

But let’s not get carried away. For all the cultus that’s sprung up around it, seeing it acted out in three dimensions makes it more clear than ever that “DaVinci Code” is at best an extremely well-constructed distraction, a fun story well told in grand pulp-mystery tradition. That so many outraged leaders of organized religion are calling for boycotts, fasts and candlelight vigils as “resistance” to this film says nothing about it’s relevance and more than enough about the dwindling relevance of organized religion. Any institution that can be “rocked to it’s core” by a work so relatively trivial as this deserves to be rocked to it’s core… and then some.


Oh… dear… GOD!

Well, that’s that. Here it is. The single finest movie poster I have seen for ANYTHING in I don’t know how long. Y’see this, Graphic Designers? THIS is what one of these is SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE!

An Inconvenient Spoof

This is the trailer to Al Gore’s movie about global warming:
“The most TERRIFYING FILM you will ever see!” “If you love you’re planet, if you love you’re children… you MUST SEE THIS FILM!” Have you ever seen such hyperbole and self-aggrandizment? Does Gore not realize that his very presence is bound to make people take the issue less seriously?

After seeing it, I couldn’t resist doing THIS:

And here’s the link incase YouTube’s player don’t work for you:

REVIEW: Poseidon (2006)

Irwin Allen didn’t invent the disaster movie, but he DID perfect it: Trap a bunch of interesting characters (or, failing that, not-so-interesting characters played by recognizable stars) in a location and then have them react to a calamitous event that turns the world upside-down. In “The Poseidon Adventure,” the formula reached a kind of poetic zenith by taking the approach literally; in that the cast had to escape from a cruise ship that had been capsized… LITERALLY turned upside-down. Like most of Allen’s films, the focus was on the BIG: Big names, big thrills and really, REALLY big melodrama. Lots of characters with detailed, interlocking backstories worked out their issues in broad strokes amid the carnage, and the result was a blockbuster then and a fondly-remembered “camp-classic” to this day; the sort of film where the most memorable performance is given by Shelly Winters as a jolly older lady who summons the last shred of her past as a champion swimmer to make a self-sacrificing dive and save the day.

In contrast (which is innevitable, lets not pretend otherwise) Wolfgang Petersen’s new remake is a lean machine. Not only does it shorten the title to simply “Poseidon,” it disposes almost-entirely with the concept of a first (or third) act: The film has BARELY begun when a massive “rogue wave” flips the luxury liner over on New Years eve, and the rest is ALL 2nd act as a group of strangers band together in a desperate, obstacle-laden dash for the exit. The cast (smaller than last time, as well) is in no way afforded the kind of lengthy buildup they were in Allen’s ouvre: Our Heroes are sketched out as broad, simple cliche’s of the genre, and for the most part they behave accordingly.

Josh Lucas is a professional gambler who (grudgingly) opts to lead people to safety. How can he do this? Well, not to spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say the old rule of “ex-_______” guys being EVERYWHERE in action movies holds true. Taking him up on the offer is Kurt Russell, playing a retired NYC firefighter who’s (no, seriously) the retired Mayor of New York! That’s two, count `em, TWO post-9/11 references for one, folks! The Mayor is looking out for his daughter (Emmy Rossum from “Phantom of The Opera”,) who’s brought along the boyfriend whom dad is really hoping she’s not sleeping with… so, boy, won’t he be surprised to learn that they’re already married!

Richard Dreyfuss as an older gentleman feeling suicidal after being dumped by his boyfriend, Jacinda Barrett as a single mom who’s son takes instant shine to Lucas, Freddy Rodriguez as a waiter and Mia Maestro as a stowaway round out the cast. Oh, and Kevin Dillon shows up as a drunken, verbally-abusive lounge lizard. Guess which one of these people is only here to be “the funny kill.”

This is all very exciting, with good effects and a handful of genuinely kickass action setpeices, but the fact is that cutting all the “fat” from the disaster formula has rendered much of it largely unmemorable. The hammy crew from the original may have been corny, but we got to known them so well that it actually mattered when they started dropping off in the 2nd act.

“Poseidon” is in a little too big of a hurry to finish, as though everyone involved is just hoping to get the job done and move on to more important things. That probably aptly describes the additude of most of the players here, but that it’s ended up so palpable in the movie-proper is something of a dissapointment.


REVIEW: An American Haunting

WARNING: The following ultra-negative comments about this film MAY indirectly spoil one or more of it’s twists for you. If you find this is indeed the case, please take solace in the fact that watching the first five minutes of THE ACTUAL MOVIE will ALSO indirectly give away all the twists. That is all.

Good LORD.

Is it really this hard to make a decent ghost movie anymore? Really?

Here’s another PG-13 “horror” offering where a concerned family huddles in the living room night after night trying to figure out a way around the invisible “entity” that’s been nightly visiting, pummelling and (apparently) raping their teenaged daughter. Eventually, bad goes to worse, the “ghost” names a new target, etc., etc. There’s some novelty with setting all this in Puritan-era New England, a big ol’ twist as to “what’s really going on” that anyone slightly familiar with genre cliches will pick up right away, a “modern day” framing device that exists ONLY to provide a cheap-o secondary twist, ONE standout sequence involving a carriage “chase” and the whole thing flat-out SUCKS.

The “true story” this hogwash is supposedly based on is the “Bell Witch Haunting,” a series of phenomena plaguing a Tennesse family in the 1800s. The film calls it “the only case in American history where a spirit caused the death of a person,” which is dubious at best. The film here omits and fractures nearly all of the “true” story, reworking it into the format of a standard-issue haunting/posession flick: The Bells (Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek) have a sour business dealing with the local would-be “Witch,” and soon their teenaged daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood from “Peter Pan”) is getting smacked around and violated by something unseen night after night. Oh, and in the daytime she’s frequently spooked by the apparition of a little girl with a burned-looking face.

The grownup actors are mostly slumming it, while Wood gets put through the wringer making all Linda Blair-ish in her room while the FX team goes to town with the fishing line used to send papers, bedsheets and stuntpeople flying around the place. Otherwise, it’s all about long scenes of checkers and Bible-reading while we wait for stuff to happen, uninteresting business that director Courtney Solomon (late of “Dungeons & Dragons”) endeavors to make palatable by spinning the camera-dolly around and around and around. The big “carriage crash” scene from the trailers provides, just as there, the only moment of innovation or interest.

As for “what’s going on,” it’s annoyingly easy to figure out once you remember that “serious” films don’t have the word “American” in their title, much less go to the trouble of recreating Puritan decor, unless their aiming to fire a volley at The Patriarchy. The pitch-dark (and over-used by now) “twist” itself comes off as forced and icky, given the goofiness of the film otherwise, and it’s re-emergence as a last-second “booga!” is played in the worst possible taste. Nevermind the fact that HOW this reveal ties-into and “explains” all the supernatural goings-on is damn near the most moronic thing I’ve seen in a “horror” film in awhile. When we finally see “it,” what we get is the lamest “ghost” since the reamke of “The Fog.”

This is the kind of weak counter-progamming that largely exists to get clobbered by “Mission: Impossible 3” in ticket sales. This time, it deserves it.