Somewhere around the time Paramount started cranking out a new Friday the 13th installment each year it became obvious that originality was not high on the average horror fans list of requirements. Choose a location. Add youthful types. Insert anti-social individual intent on thinning their numbers. The formula worked, and has been used continually since. Sometimes to great effect. Sometimes… actually, more often than not… to not so great effect. Hailing from the UK, 2010's Spiderhole can be added to the list of movies that uses the "Location + Youths + Killer" formula, but apart from having its characters speak in a British accent, can it offer anything that we haven't already seen from the endless string of American "stalk and slash" movies of the past forty years?
|Director: Daniel Simpson
Starring: Amy Noble, Emma Griffiths Malin, George Maguire, Reuben-Henry Biggs, John E. Regan
Screenplay: Daniel Simpson
The youthful types in this tale - a gender balanced quartet of recently homeless art students - break into a decrepit and presumably abandoned inner-city house in the hopes of squatting there, rent free, for an extended period. Soon enough they're christening the place with drinking and fornication, but it isn't long before they begin to notice signs that there's something not quite right about their new abode, such as odd noises from within the walls and a cupboard filled with bloodstained clothes. Yes, the hints of impending danger are not subtle, yet they choose to stay the night, hoping everything will be OK in the warm light of day the next morning.
At this point you could probably close out the synopsis yourself, but for the sake of completeness I'll finish the job by saying that everything is not OK in the morning. In fact, when they wake to find all doors and windows sealed shut and their phones stolen, their situation has become considerably worse. Cut off from the outside world and with no means of escape, it's only a matter of time before we realise they aren't alone in the house...
As one of those fans that happily lapped-up their annual Friday the 13th serving each year (and pretty much anything vaguely slasher related since) I'm not that hard to please, and I'm certainly not deterred by a conventional setup that I've seen so many times before. In fact, there's something comforting about the prospect of settling in to watch a movie with a familiar premise that won't tax the brain matter. You don't have to wow me with the story. Just entertain me with its execution.
Spiderhole does not entertain, and it never appeared to be making much of an effort to do so.
Somewhat frustratingly, initial signs were promising. The movie has a well polished aesthetic, with professional photography and lighting helping it look like something that could actually play on a cinema screen rather than the SOV cheapie I was half expecting, and when house is first revealed it's a suitably decrepit sight. Resembling the grotty hell hole from Saw 2, the setting is dank and dusty, its once white walls coated with layers of black grime. As a horror movie location the house works well, and as far as opening act set-ups go Spiderhole's certaily does enough to whet our appetites for the horrific spectacle that should rightfully follow.
The film comes to a screeching halt however once the requisite partying and sex are out of the way and the horror is supposed to kick-in. There's no escalating sense of dread or desperation as our characters realise they're trapped in a life threatening situation, and the story merely goes through the motions as the confident setup gives way to a predictable itinerary that sees characters removed from the pack one by one, while those still waiting for their number to come up scramble about the house searching for a way to escape and generally conduct themselves in a frenzied and undignified manner.
These passages might not have been so frustrating had the characters not been a bunch of annoying, overly entitled twats. They're annoying when they're just hanging out in the opening scenes, prattling on about "squatters rights" and acting like it's their God given right to mooch off of others in order to make their own artsy fartsy dreams a reality, and after realising their rent free shelter is in fact the lair of a psycho killer they become infinitely more annoying, their interactions devolving into a mess of finger pointing, screeching and whining as they collectively fall to pieces in a heartbeat. Performances by the inexperienced cast are adequate, though none of the actors are remarkable enough to rise above the lukewarm material they're working with.
Viewers who choose to stick around in the hopes of seeing these insufferable characters suffer a grisly demise will be let down, as we are denied even that simple pleasure. When it comes to delivering the gore Spiderhole fails to make an effort, relying on a couple of briefly glimpsed (and cheap looking) effects while placing most of the nastier moments off-camera. With only four potential victims on the menu this was never going to be about quantity, but the quality is sadly lacking. Despite its slasher premise the movie wants to be more of a torture porn flick, and while the Saw and Hostel films are an obvious source of inspiration for both Spiderhole's aesthetic and its structure, it neglects to include the one element that made those franchises so popular. It could be argued that the Director was shooting for Texas Chainsaw Massacre style ambiance over splatter, but Spiderhole never comes close to creating the unsettling atmosphere that made Hooper's debut such a classic.
The third act reveal of the killer is also underwhelming. Clad in an unflattering hospital issue disposable coveralls and face mask, there's nothing innovative about his appearance, and his vague backstory and apparent motivation - revealed in the most ham-fisted manner imaginable when a character stumbles into a room with old newspaper articles conveniently pinned to a wall - brings no last minute twist of originality.
Spiderhole makes no attempt to give us anything unique, and that's hardly a hanging offence, but while the movie is delivered in the most formulaic manner possible it also fails to incorporate most of the key ingredients that a run-on-the-mill body-count movie requires. On a technical level it's at least competent enough to endure, even during the slowest moments. Immersive production design and slick photography betray its low budget origins, and at a modest 78 minutes it does at least have the decency to shuffle off before boring us to death, but it's so content to wallow in its own mundanity that it never feels for one moment like we might see something that we haven't already seen a thousand times before.
Think Hostel, minus the humour, smut, colourful outdoor locations, and over-the-top gore effects, and you'll have some idea of what to expect from Spiderhole.