1 star (out of four)
As a genre, horror movies are not known for scintillating dialogue. That said, while no one expects Beckett from a popcorn thriller, most of us do cling foolishly to the hope that at some point during the flick we'll be treated to something resembling coherent conversation. Maybe before the high-octane screaming sets in, for example.
Sadly, the concept of dialogue is totally lost on the makers of "Venom," a laughably bad example of teen-scream movies. Just as in superior examples of the breed (see: "Scream" or "Final Destination"), the plot of "Venom" centers around a group of impossibly fresh-scrubbed teenagers who are struggling loudly and not particularly gracefully with their adolescent angst. Faced by a vaguely mysterious (and shockingly unfrightening) villain, they get picked off one by one, and we are hard-pressed to care. Unlike many of its predecessors, "Venom" never even pretends to have a plot, or a motive for the bad guy, or even a vaguely likable protagonist.
The movie begins with a sweeping shot of the Louisiana bayou, a scene that will strike many as particularly poignant given recent events. Hold on to that poignancy, as it's the only emotional response you'll experience for the next 90 minutes.
The camera moves in on a woman digging in a graveyard, chanting and wearing a white dress. When she comes across a suitcase buried in the mud, she seems surprised (which, given the later explanation for why the suitcase exists in the first place, makes no sense). She pulls it out, hops in her car and heads back to town.
Nearby, in Backwater, La., (yes, you read that right), a group of whiny kids gathers at a drive-in diner, grousing about a local tow-truck driver named Ray, who apparently hasn't done anything wrong beyond having a "really creepy" scar.
Later that night, Ray meets a deeply unpleasant death at the bottom of a local swamp, but not before the aforementioned mysterious suitcase expels a whole mess of venomous snakes. Later, in one of the movie's most absurd scenes, the import of the snakes is explained by invoking voodoo, a.k.a. Hollywood's latest religion-du-jour. You see, in voodoo, there's a tradition of pulling evil from nearly dead people so they can rest in peace. That evil is then shoved into some poor, unsuspecting snakes, who in time become so evil that they are capable of surviving for years in closed boxes buried six feet underground.
Stars Bijou Phillips, Method Man and Jonathan Jackson all exercise some box office draw among the young and not-particularly-discerning target audience, but any acting talent they may have is totally squandered here amid the insipid plot twists and feeble writing. (Note to screenwriters Flint Dille, John Zuur Platten and Brandon Boyce: While I applaud your creative attempt to construct an entire script out of two expletives, I challenge you to expand your palette next time. Maybe try three expletives.)
Kevin Williamson, of "Dawson's Creek" and "Scream" fame, produced this mess, which is a shame and makes the teeth-gnashingly abysmal dialogue even harder to take. The poster boy for snappy banter has led his fans to expect better than this. Jim Gillespie ("I Know What You Did Last Summer") directs and while one might naively believe that the absence of Jennifer Love Hewitt would in itself predict an advance in moviemaking, one would be sadly mistaken.
Directed by Jim Gillespie; screenplay by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten, Brandon Boyce; edited by Paul Martin Smith; production designed by Monroe Kelly; music by James L. Veneble; produced by Scott Faye, Karen Lauder and Kevin Williamson. A Dimension Films release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:27. MPAA rating: R (for strong horror violence/gore and language).
Eden - Agnes Bruckner
Eric - Jonathan Jackson
Rachel - Laura Ramsey
Sean - D.J. Cotrona
Ray - Rick Cramer
Cece - Meagan Good
Tammy - Bijou Phillips
Deputy Turner - Method ManCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun