Monday, October 20, 2014

#1,526. Amusement (2008)

Directed By: John Simpson

Starring: Katheryn Winnick, Laura Breckenridge, Jessica Lucas

Tag line: "Your fear. His amusement"

Trivia: This was was the last film to be distributed by Picturehouse Entertainment before their closure in 2008 and relaunch in 2013

After being teased as a child by three girls in his class, a mentally disturbed man (Kier O’Donnell) who spent many years locked away in a psychiatric ward comes looking for revenge. To this end, he stalks the three friends individually (none of the young ladies have seen each other in years) and abducts them, dragging the trio off to an abandoned underground facility where he sets up elaborate pranks designed to frighten and confuse them. Can these former childhood friends band together to escape their psychotic kidnapper, or will he finish what he started?

Amusement, a 2009 direct-to-video movie, kicks off strong, giving us three segments, each named after one of the girls, which reveal how the lunatic (the credits refer to him as “The Laugh") managed to kidnap them. The first segment, “Shelby” (a character played by Laura Breckenridge) is set on the open road, with Shelby and her boyfriend Rob (Tad Hilgenbrink) heading down the highway late at night. The trouble begins when Rob joins a small convoy, leading to a series of events that result in a tense chase and a plot twist I didn’t see coming. Next up is “Tabitha” (Katheryn Winnick), who’s just arrived at the home of her aunt and uncle (who are out of town), finding her young cousins all alone (the babysitter apparently left early). This segment, a home invasion-style tale, is easily the movie’s best, and is sure to frighten anyone with an aversion to clowns. Finally, there’s “Lisa” (Jessica Lucas), who, with the help of boyfriend Dan (Reid Scott) tries to determine the whereabouts of her roommate Cat (Fernanda Dorogi), who failed to come home the night before. Their search leads them to a dilapidated hotel, where the kidnapper lies in wait.

Each of the above segments is presented with their own look and feel, making the first half of the movie a sort of “mini-anthology”, an approach that works to the film’s advantage. Performance-wise, Kier O’Donnell shines as the deranged kidnapper, whose distinctive laugh will send a shiver up your spine, and Katheryn Winnick (whose Tabitha seems to be the focal point of it all) is also quite good, playing a basically strong character who, on occasion, is scared out of her wits. The final segment, where “The Laugh” has assembled his victims together, has its moments as well (the best of which sees two of the girls tied up, one on each side of the room, as the third looks on in horror at what’s been done to them).

Amusement does have several plot holes that never get filled in (the most blatant of which occurs in the “Shelby” segment, and involves a truck driver and his female companion), and the final abduction (aka the “Lisa” segment) feels rushed, and isn’t nearly as good as the first two. And for those of you expecting a creepy clown movie (which is what the poster art and trailer seem to be promising), you’ll be sorely disappointed (the clown only figures into a small portion of the overall film). Perhaps most frustrating of all is the fact the filmmakers don’t show us the supposed teasing and ridicule “The Laugh” suffered at the hands of the 3 girls, making his motives seem entirely random, and ensuring our sympathies are with the victims at all times (whether they deserve to be or not).

Even with the above problems, Amusement offers enough thrills and chills (as well as a few surprises) to make it worth your time. It’s not a perfect horror flick, but it’s definitely a good one, and has a moment or two where you get the feeling it could have been great.

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