Movie Review: Sorrow

Sorrow DVD cover

David Paul Hellings reviews Sorrow…

There’s an old and true saying: “The audience doesn’t care what went on behind the scenes, they judge you by what’s on the screen”. Another good one is: “When a film works, the director gets all the credit. When it doesn’t, the director takes all the blame”. Nowhere is either saying truer than in Sorrow.
The director’s credit appears twice in the opening titles, plus the ‘a film by’ credit, which is absurd to the point of egotism when the director lists themself three times. Stanislavski famously said: “love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art”. I get it that directors think a low budget feature is a calling card to bigger things, but the calling card doesn’t need to be repeated again and again before the film truly begins. It’s not all about you and if you think it is, that’s a problem, but not the last in this low budget attempt at mixing serial killer horror with a female centric drama.
The acting is poor, at times laughably so. Sure, for a dime you won’t get an Oscar winner, but you can get professional performances, unless they weren’t being directed? Famous-in-France pop singer Melissa Mars completely fails to convince as the cop (who gets introduced and then promptly disappears for the next hour of the film, which might actually be a blessing in disguise considering how miscast she is – at least try and look like you know how to hold a gun); whilst Vanessa Vasquez is slightly more credible as the kidnap victim of the serial killers, but only just, with everybody struggling with generic dialogue that is forced and even the best actors would have fought to make it sound decent or interesting. Jodie Foster set the bar high for playing these kind of characters and few have even come close since. Nobody is in the same city, let alone ball park, in Sorrow.
Then we enter The Texas Chain Saw Massacre riff, even down to the victim being in the fridge, although she seems pretty much completely unharmed considering having being hit by a baseball bat at full pelt in the back of the head: even some blood after the event from the wound would have shown some effort (“Torch Song Trilogy” had a scene in which Matthew Broderick gets the same, but understandably is killed outright, thus proving that reality in film is a necessity at times like that, something Sorrow doesn’t even bother with, much its detriment).
Plot logic goes out of the window as the victim’s mother tracks her down supposedly after she’s been missing for 24 hours. In a desert? So easily? Good luck with that. The Hills Have Eyes kind of put that theory to bed. This script is why buying a screenwriting book (a criticism I seem to be making increasingly towards first time feature directors, especially the wannabe multi-hyphenates) is the best investment they’ll ever make. How many ‘girl escapes from house and then gets caught and taken back inside’ do we really need to see?
Sorrow image

Antagonists are only interesting if they’re original and something we haven’t seen before. Hannibal Lecter spawned a whole host of copy cats, as did every other decent serial killer film (rewatch Silence of the Lambs or early Argento and see how good they still are. The killer has a reason, however twisted their logic). Here they’re just acting ‘crazy’ or ‘nasty’ or whatever, whereas crazy people try to act sane. It’s lazy, generic ‘writing’ of the worst kind. In Sorrow these aren’t characters, they’re cardboard cut-outs. Women are picked up and killed with abandon, poorly developed characters we’re supposed to care for simply because they’re women? I don’t think so. Check out Monster and see a character that we actually have some kind of sympathy with, even if we don’t agree with her actions, because she’s developed and we understand her backstory and motivation.

When Vasquez and Mars finally meet, we get the reveal that Vasquez is “specialised in forensic psychology” and licensed with handguns. This we get with twenty minutes to go? Come on! Where was the set up to this? Suddenly she’s an expert in determining the mindset of serial killers and has compiled a report on her findings? Not that it was used in the previous hour of the film. Welcome to the world of the absurd. It’s a make-it-up-as-we-go-along method of storytelling and shows again that too many directors think they can write, a world where police characters talk about ‘standard procedure’ then take the victim to some kind of warehouse that’s supposed to be an interrogation room, but is clearly just an available location (think about how clinical the bright, white, prison cell is in “Manhunter” and how it creates a sterilised locale in which the character exists, focusing us on the performance, rather than using some cliche dark place). Low budget is no excuse for low effort. Act III is supposed to be the final lengths of the race, hurtling towards the finishing line, but we get more talk, talk, as though we’re back in a TV drama. Expositional dialogue is used to explain the victim’s backstory, then the old cliche of the Police Chief being the bad guy with his cap gun (Audio FX, people, they’re free and add to atmosphere) and the victim has really been investigating it all along. It’s all so dull beyond belief. The Chief reveals his entire history as an old fashioned James Bond villain reveals his master plan. ‘Show don’t tell’ is the way it should always be, but that would be too smart, I guess? It all gets wrapped up with a happy ending, but by this point, does anybody actually still care?

When TV shows such as Hannibal and The Following have high gore content for serial killer subject matter, it’s pretty much inexcusable for a horror film to have very little. “Sorrow” seems to aim for a PG-13 and succeeds. If you’re making a horror film, spend money on FX as the lack of blood is frustrating, cutting to black before every hit says no budget and robs the audience of crucial visuals (or is it being ‘left to our imagination’, that classic cop out). The film is too much talk, trying at times to be some post-feminist drama about relationships and offering platitudes that wouldn’t sound out of place in a fortune cookie. I expected the old chestnut “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” line to arrive on cue, as though this all elevates the horror genre to some new, deeper level. It doesn’t. It’s ponderous and boring to watch.
There are many talented women directors out there, coming up with interesting and fresh ideas. This isn’t one of those cases. The only sorrow I felt was having to watch such generic, badly written, cheaply made nonsense. A genuine waste of time.

On DVD on the 21st April

David Paul Hellings

Images provided by Brinkvision

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