By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Two of the best films of 2007 were docs that played like far-out fiction. Indeed, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is, at this very moment, being converted into a narrative feature (so unbelievable is its subject matter that many who saw Seth Gordon's movie about two dudes vying for the title of Donkey Kong champion believed it a mockumentary). Then there was Amir Bar-Lev's My Kid Could Paint That, about a four-year-old girl hailed as the second coming of Jackson Pollock, at least until Charlie Rose came to town and began tossing around the theory that, ya know, maybe her daddy's the painter after all.
Bar-Lev's doc was perhaps the year's most essential true-life tale, not only because it's a thriller bereft of glib resolutions or because it serves as an excellent corrective for parents who think their kids are geniuses, but also because it's the sole doc of 2007 about making a documentary. Bar-Lev initially thought he was telling a feel-good story about a cute little girl and her rise to stardom; instead, he found himself on the other end of the lens, wondering whether he'd been duped and why he was even bothering in the first place. By the time the girl's mother accuses him of betrayal, you don't know what to believe—and you don't get more honest than that.
Horror films failed to scare up the big bucks in 2007
It was only a couple of years ago that the horror genre seemed newly resurgent, like an undead killer digging himself out of the grave. "Fresh faced" directors like Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Darren Lynn Bousman, and James Wan—many of them dubbed "The Splat Pack"—seemed poised to bring their new takes on terror to the masses in a big way. They succeeded, briefly. But even as some of the movies continued to innovate this year—the campy, retro double feature of Grindhouse, the smart satire of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, the oddball survival horror of The Mist—box office receipts plunged, so much that by the end of 2007 obvious horror titles were promoting themselves as something else. Rachel Belofsky, president of Screamfest L.A., tried to get P2, about a young woman stalked through a parking garage, for the festival's closing night, but the distributors "kept saying they weren't marketing it as a horror film... . They ram a guy duct-taped to a chair into a wall repeatedly. The last time I looked, that's a horror film!"
As studios scrambled to salvage their horror lineup and adjust expectations, a different sort of scary movie emerged. "The scariest stuff in terms of new films was encapsulated in Javier Bardem's performance in No Country for Old Men," says Lucky McKee, writer-director of the cult hit May and one of Showtime's Masters of Horror episodes. Indeed, you won't see the Coen brothers' movie advertised as horror, but what else should you call a film about a black-clad, borderline supernatural assassin who wanders Texas blowing holes in people's heads with a compressed air gun? The Los Angeles Film Critics Association recently bestowed their Best Picture award on There Will Be Blood, but as horror fans know, that title comes straight from the lips of Tobin Bell in Saw II.
Even Atonement, the year's big English-accented costume drama awards-bait epic from the director of Pride and Prejudice, features a scene in which an injured soldier's head is unbandaged to reveal a massive gaping wound, off of which a big chunk of broken skull promptly falls. A similar scene in Saw III had audience members fainting just last year. So if moviegoers are still hungry for gore, why haven't they been flocking to the films that traffic in it primarily?
Roth, whose Hostel Part II was, in comparison to the first Hostel, a disappointment (though it made $35 million internationally on a $10 million budget), thinks the scheduling of this year's genre titles didn't help. "My whole argument was, why are we coming out in the summer?" he says. "It was June, and people were in the mood for Oceans 13 and Pirates of the Caribbean; they were just in the mood for summer blockbusters."
Courtney Solomon, president of After Dark films, got stuck with a July release date for Captivity, which was delayed and fared dismally after the MPAA forcibly recalled its controversial billboards and posters. "The movie was originally scheduled for May 18, which would have been the first horror movie out that summer, going head to head with Shrek 3, so we'd have been counter-programming. There were a lot of screens available and it was perfect timing, [but] because it got suspended by the MPAA, it wasn't possible to go out any more on that date."
Tim Palen, co-president of theatrical marketing for Lionsgate, which released both Hostel Part II and the more successful Saw IV, thinks the wait for a Hostel sequel might have been too long for the general public. "One of the reasons the Saw movies do so well is because they come in rapid succession," he says, adding that Hostel Part II "could have been better served if it was released earlier."