Cinematic Releases: 31 (2016) - Reviewed

rob zombie
Rob Zombie has always been a divisive director who marches to the beat of his own drum (or guitar riff, if you will). He seems to be an acquired taste with horror fans, but those that do enjoy his certain brand of schlocky faux-exploitation eat all his offerings up.

 In Zombie's newest film, 31, it seems like we have seen much of this before and it feels like an amalgamation of tropes and cliches from all of his previous films. There are evil clowns, '70s homage, blood and guts, and his normal brand of trailer trash humor (complete with dead baby jokes). The story follows a traveling band of carnival workers who get kidnapped by rich people dressed as British aristocrats. They are forced to play a game known as "31" where they have to survive the night in a warehouse with crazy homicidal maniacs. The set-up is light on exposition but really, in a film like this,how much explanation do you really need? It plays out like a combo of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Running Man, which is an odd combo to be sure.

I will never say that Zombie isn't a creative guy and this film is full of crazy and bizarre characters and situations. My issue with his filmography as a whole, is that he doesn't do as well with combining all the different elements into a single cohesive film. They play out more like extended music videos than true horror films. In 31, this is very apparent because the first half of the film feels like a '70s period piece which stumbles into a more modern slasher aesthetic in the latter half. The pieces just don't mesh together well and it's hard to follow what is going on in the narrative. There are some really cool set-pieces and camera shots but they just stick out like a sore thumb. For whatever reason, Zombie decided to shoot all the action scenes with extreme shaky cam as well and it's impossible to see what's going on when things get hot and heavy.

rob zombie
Dang. This is really scary. I was referring to Mrs. Moon's acting. Awful. Just horrendous. 

The acting by everyone is mediocre and I don't know why Sheri Moon Zombie keeps getting cast as a main character--she's an awful actress. I know that she is Zombie's muse, but she is so cringy in every scene that she is in. One character that does stand out is Richard Brake as Doom-Head, a philosophical psycho clown that is far and away the best thing about this movie. He's just so over-the-top and insane that it compels the audience to pay attention to him. I loved his costume design as well--I wish he was in a better movie because he was intense and actually scary.

I found the soundtrack and score to be a mixed bag. The film supposedly takes place in the late-seventies but the actual score sounds modern and synth-heavy. Every once in awhile they will thrown in a classic '70s rock song but it's not enough to really cement the atmosphere of the era. The score isn't bad, it just doesn't fit the film.

rob zombie
Brush your teeth, little boy. 

Fans of Zombie's work might find some things to love about 31, but it feels like he was kinda phoning it on on this one. It is a bit better than Lords of Salem but it's still too uneven for me to recommend as a must-see for horror fans.

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-Michelle Kisner