Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Amusement" not amusing but a standard horror thriller



Amusement (2009) 
85 min., rated R.
Grade: C

Though not amusing one bit, "Amusement" is an average, mostly standard horror-thriller that starts off pretty effective, until having nowhere else to go. Three young women are terrorized by an insane mental patient known, in the credits anyway, as The Laugh, who has a distinct clownish laugh and was supposedly teased by the girls when they were all kids. (That's a justifiable reason to kill them, right?) He would make twisted mousetraps for science projects, and now, he torments the girls separately. 

The first segment with Shelby (Laura Breckenridge, a dead ringer for '80s horror heroine Jill Schoelen) resembles "The Hitcher," as she gets kidnapped after driving in a convoy with her boyfriend. Tabitha's (Katheryn Winnick) section is probably the creepiest, evoking memory of "When a Stranger Calls," as while babysitting, she spends the night in a room full of clown dolls and one human-sized clown in a rocking chair. And last and least is Lisa (Jessica Lucas), who tries getting into an old bed-and-breakfast mansion where her roommate is supposedly hiding out. Not really an anthology film like it starts out, even though these three segments could have worked as stand-alone films, but the last half hour—which brings all four women together—in the nutso's funhouse of terrors is basically "Saw" with likable, attractive women. Shelby, Tabitha, and Lisa are well performed by Breckenridge, Winnick, and Lucas, but Keir O'Donnell as the loony killer is annoyingly over-the-top and not very menacing. 

Director John Simpson brings style and solid production values to the table, and Marco Beltrami's musical score helps with the tension. Jake Wade Wall's screenplay is occasionally clich├ęd and disjointed, with The Laugh sketchily developed and his motivations not clearly explained enough to be convincing, along with a weak “shrug” of an ending that's only remotely satisfying enough because the freak of nature gets what he deserves. Failing to be released to theaters, "Amusement" isn't good but it's still a slash above its direct-to-video brethren at least. 

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