The films of Rob Zombie are generally divisive. People either love them or hate them and no matter which side of the fence you stand on, the person on the other side will tell you you’re wrong. There tends to be no grey area. Zombie’s newest film, 31, will likely be no exception.
The story centers on a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped and taken to an abandoned factory on the eve of Halloween in 1976. There they are forced to play a game called 31, by three British people dressed in 17th century aristocratic garb. The rules of the game are simple. They have 12 hours to defend themselves against a group of psychotic clowns. They are given odds, which change throughout the game, and a weapon. The Aristocrats place bets on who will last the longest.
By Zombie’s own admission, the concept for this film came while on a phone call where he basically stated he could come up with the dumbest idea for a movie, get it made with no contention and it would make money. To add insult to injury, he fully expects his fans to come out in full force to see it. Is he insinuating his fans are stupid? Let’s hope not.
Shot in 20 days, the film is riddled with odd camera angles, still shots, and extreme close-ups. The action sequences are shot so close, with erratic camera movements, it’s difficult to tell what you’re actually watching. Found footage films use less shaky cam. While most directors have a particular style, Rob Zombie’s style seems to be no style at all. One could argue he’s still finding his way, but after seven feature films, is that even a valid argument?
The script is basically a string of obscenities and repeated lines, but no real dialogue. Zombie said in his Q&A, following the film, he prefers working with actors who can adlib. It would not be surprising if the majority of the film’s lines were improvised.
The usual suspects from are present, with a few new additions. Notably absent are Bill Mosley, Sid Haig, and Danny Trejo. That’s actually a shame because they are, arguably, the strongest talent in Zombie’s stable. No real character development is established so when the hunted start getting picked off, there is no reason to care. In fact, it’s safe to say, you’ll wish they would start dying faster.
Naturally, Zombie’s wife, Sheri, is the heroine, Charly, and her performance is on par with what we’ve come to expect from her, which isn’t much. Poor Malcolm McDowell. What won’t he do for a paycheck these days? He heads up the aristocrats as Father Murder and milks every scene he’s in.
Let’s talk about the “selling point” of the film. Killer clowns. Clowns are scary, right? Well, the reason people find clowns scary has more to do with the perception they are creepers underneath smiling, painted faces. The clowns in 31 lose the scare appeal because they’re in your face with knives and chainsaws, and are made up like psychopaths. You know what you’re going to get. There is no mystique. They also have really clever names like, Schizo-Head and Death-Head. Seriously? The first killer we encounter is a foul-mouthed, Spanish speaking, Nazi dwarf, named Sick-Head (Pancho Moler). It’s amusing for about two minutes. Lew Temple, who is a wonderful character actor, is completely wasted in the role of Psycho-Head. The only clown that had any real potential is Doom-Head (Richard Brake). Brake has an intimidating presence about him. He’s lanky, pale and kind of scary-sexy when in clown mode. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given much to work with in the lines department and he just spewed spit and bad catch phrases such as, “In Hell, everyone loves popcorn.” What does that even mean?
31 is nothing more than 102 minute music video. It’s a wisp of an idea with amateur execution. Speaking of music, it’s the one area where this film excels. Say what you will about Rob Zombie’s filmmaking skills (and I’ve said plenty), the man can put together a soundtrack. Maybe he should just stick to making music. Some people aren’t meant to be good at multiple mediums.
31 is available on demand on September 16th and in limited theaters October 21st.