Rob Zombie is about as polarizing of a figure as they come in the horror genre. Some people love him. Other people loathe him. I’m someplace, somewhere between all that. I didn’t like House of 1,000 Corpses, but I did like The Devil’s Rejects. I liked his Halloween remake, but I didn’t like The Lords of Salem. In general though, I believe I like him. He isn’t likely about to usher us into a newfound horror renaissance, and he isn’t exactly the next John Carpenter or Alfred Hitchcock, but I believe he fits well amongst directors like Eli Roth and Marcus Dunstan, and is a student of the craft, often bringing us shades of Tobe Hooper.
For that reason, I was very excited to see what Rob Zombie would do with his newest film 31.
As a matter of fact, I would say 31 was one of my most anticipated horror films of the year. The concept alone simply had me enticed and the concept art that was being released made it feel like a lot of fun.
Set in 1976, the film is about five carnies who are kidnapped by a group of clowns called “The Heads”, and are then forced to participate in a contest, aptly named 31, where they find themselves trapped in a maze of rooms and are targeted.
That’s a really fun concept for a film.
There is something about horror films involving ‘survival games’ I have always found myself drawn too (and the success of series’ like Saw and The Purge show I am not alone in that). This is why I am so saddened to say how disappointed I am by the film.
As a director, Zombie has always been rough-around-the-edges and scruffy when it comes to certain things. I’ve always believed he has a knack for cinematography and ‘making a scene,’ which I believe can be seen really well with the closing moments of The Devil’s Rejects or many scenes throughout Halloween. He isn’t a simpleton trying his hand at moviemaking, there is a real, actual merit to a lot of his films and you can identify it as being heavily influenced by Hooper and Craven, amongst others.
However, I have also always believed he struggles with the basic fundaments of storytelling and it has been a criticism throughout most of his filmography. He struggles with characters, dialing them, showing discipline, and making them likable. In 31, the first half hour of the film exemplifies this. Unlikable characters are unlikable characters, reduced to snarling archetypes rather than real, distinct characters. Meanwhile, when it does finally come time for some of the more interesting aspects of the film to unfold, none of it really amounts to what’s on the tin. It isn’t the execution of the same fun concept I wanted, with the crazy, mayhem joyride feeling more like a neutered exercise in clichés and lackluster, generic antagonists.
In the end, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth by the film. I won’t call it an outright horrible film. I enjoyed some of the camerawork and the occasional spark of something interesting, but, as a whole, I would call it a mediocre affair overall.