REVIEW: With Some Bloody High Spots, MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT Misses The Mark
“Counting Down the ‘Minutes to Midnight’
by Amanda Rebholz
Sometimes a horror movie comes along that seems like it should have all the elements of a fun flick, or at least a schlocky good time that you can give the MST3K treatment with your friends. A cast of once-famous B-movie actors and unknown young talent, a killer trying entirely too hard to look iconic, some creative kill scenes with buckets of gore and slop, and enough clichés to fill up a horror movie BINGO card. The new slasher Minutes to Midnight, directed by Christopher Ray, has all of those things and yet somehow still manages to fall flat; it’s a gumbo that crosses every item off the scary movie bucket list but in the end, you’re just left with the flat feeling of someone who had their heart set on a steak dinner and was forced instead to settle for cheap drive-thru (again).
The first thing one notices when the film begins Is the inconsistent camera work; the film would have benefited greatly from a steady cam, especially during the opening sequence when it is overlit in the bright daylight shots and the camera jerkily follows a young couple hiking in the woods. The dialogue is painfully trite, right down to the “Someone was killed in these woods” and “Aw, honey, that’s just a story” exposition, and then the couple finds themselves in a rather messy situation with a mysterious psychopath. Cut to the opening credits, which are beautifully shot and particularly nasty with great practical gore being shown. I’m not sure if this was a different camera person or if their wheelhouse just isn’t ‘daylight’, because this sequence is beautiful and hints at what the film could’ve been cinematography-wise.
It’s now time to meet our cast of kids, and honestly it’s just like most horror films with an ensemble cast where you find yourself asking ‘In what universe would these people be friends?’ In this film they aren’t our usual hapless teenagers; they are easily all in their thirties, and they seem to work together for Mr. Walters (played by William Baldwin) doing some kind of office job. There’s Final Girl Sophia (Sara Fletcher) and goody-two-shoes Heather, token minorities Kyle and Vanessa (and Kyle has a very irrational anger problem), super-annoying jokester Richie and uber-promiscuous Tiffani. This group of friends does one thing---drink. Literally every scene you see them in they are carrying around enough liquor for an entire frat party and saying lines like “You know what you need? Another cocktail” nonstop. They spend almost all of their screen time pouring shots for each other or chugging various alcohol bottles. They have the bright idea to head up to an abandoned old ski lodge in the woods to kick off the New Years Eve celebration.
On the way, we meet a handsome, mysterious backpacker named Travis (John Hennigan) whose sole purpose for the first half of the film is to walk around thrusting his cell phone into various characters’ faces asking if they’ve seen his brother (one half of the couple who were murdered in the prologue). He’s met with outright hostility from one of the only two cops in town, while the other, Sheriff Wyatt (a weirdly miscast Richard Grieco) offers him a little more empathy but no help (or much interest) in finding his missing sibling. The group of friends are kicking back at the ski lodge when Michael (Bryce Draper) shows up; he’s Sophia’s ex who recently moved to Hollywood and never called or texted, leaving her depressed and self-destructive, but all is forgiven a few moments after his arrival and the two are snuggling up in no time.
Somewhere in this boring cliché we meet our three bad guys, as it were; one of them is a huge hulking juggernaut with a mask made of bullet casings and weapons made of human remains, one of them looks like a cybergoth chick mixed with a femme fighter from the old Mortal Kombat video games, and one is…Bill Moseley. Moseley is essentially a mix of Chop Top and Otis Driftwood here, right down to the wife beater, long blonde wig (although in this film it’s a scalp, Maniac style) and finger painting with the blood of his victims while going on paranoid rants. Therefore, he gives a great performance because he’s just doing what he does best; chewing the scenery and revisiting very familiar territory. The three are mutilating and killing the people in the woods, though we don’t know their connections or motivations yet, and they seem to be able to come in and out of the Lodge without anyone noticing or minding until it’s too late.
The movie is certainly flawed, with its script and directorial choices being the biggest sins. The dialogue is impossibly clunky and hokey, and it hits every cliché on the way down to the point where you can finish a character’s sentence even if it’s your first time viewing. The characters are two-dimensional and their actions make very little sense, even on small scales; for example, Kyle stops mid-coitus with his girlfriend because he sees Travis outside and wants to go beat him up for ‘ruining the mood on New Years Eve’. The acting is heavy-handed from every angle, and the director made questionable choices like constantly having a heavy fog machine running every time a killer appears (I don’t know a lot of slashers who travel with their own Adrienne Barbeau-worthy blanket of fog cover even inside a house) or making the fight scenes go into slow-motion. Just odd choices that really don’t hit home.
But the practical effects shine, with plenty of gore and guts for anyone who can stomach such things, and the prop masters and FX team did a nice job of building weapons out of human remains and creating a cool look (I guess? It’s at least unique) for two of the three killers. There are a lot of boobs and some full-frontal nudity for those who like that kind of thing, although it’s humorous to me that during a ‘hot and heavy’ sex scene we get full nudity from one of the actresses but the actor she’s having sex with still has his pants on. We also get a very drawn-out, pointless shower scene that leads absolutely nowhere, it’s just two minutes of a woman soaping up. We get ham-and-cheesy acting from Grieco and Baldwin, who are both veterans of this kind of over-the-top muck so they just dive in and set about chewing the scenery with jaws gnashing, and it could’ve been enjoyable if they’d had more to work with from the other members of the cast.
Unfortunately, I can’t call the movie a success. While it had some high points, primarily the death scenes and a few performances, there’s no new territory explored here. We’ve seen this movie at least two dozen times before. I do feel like there was some promise shown, especially for the FX team; it isn’t awful enough to drag, it simply exists, and by the time the final twist is revealed and the credits rolled, I found myself wishing there were just a few less ‘minutes’ until we got to ‘midnight’.