Movie Review: “Tow”

      Every now and again, as a (mostly) horror reviewer, I feel the need to dip my toes in the unknown. It is an exercise I do often on and, if you have read any of the reviews that have come from it, you understand why I always have to pat myself on the back every time that I do it. 

   I love horror and I hope you love horror as well! However, I feel admit that I end up with more mixed-to-negative reviews than I do glowing reviews when I take a stab in the dark. When I reviewed Shiver, I knew I wasn’t likely to end up with a new card in the Nightmare Deck, but I wanted to see more from actress Danielle Harris.

   I know Danielle Harris from the later Halloween movies and Hatchet II and III, but it occurred to me that that was all I knew her from. If I were to be asked who my childhood hero was, chances are, I would say Robert Englund, pointblank. I cherished the man’s performance as Freddy Krueger, but, other than that, what have I seen him in? His role in The Rise of Leslie VernonStranger Things? I always see new films released with him in roles, but I never actually watch them. Same with Tobin Bell! I have never seen Jigsaw not playing a game.

   Likewise, too, I like being able to make a point of reference when I write about a film that is released. When the new Five Nights at Freddy’s movie came out, I already was familiar with the director from her efforts in The Wind. That film also starred Caitlin Gerard, an actress who I am charmed by and have seen popping around every now and again in our little neck of the woods (other than The Wind, she was also in Insidious: The Last Key). I know her mostly from the short-lived comedy series Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous, delivering a natural girl next door performance, but maybe her real calling is as a final girl? She certainly has the talent.

   Today’s film Tow was directed by Vanessa Alexander in her directorial debut, and the film also stars horror legend Kane Hodder (Victor Crowley and one of the most revered actors to don the hockey mask in the Friday the 13th series).

   The film has received a lukewarm response from everyone I have seen. I wouldn’t say it has been universally panned by any stretch. Rather, it simply hasn’t been universally anything. This is what makes delving into the unknown truly unknown – it has a negative overall score on IMDb, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, per se. This is the type of film that not a lot of movie outlets cover, the type of film that doesn’t have a Rotten Tomatoes percentage or a whole lot of feedback.

   This is where I come in!

   The film is a Tubi Original, which, despite having a very solid selection of horror movies on its free platform, has not had much luck on the original movie front (I watched their remake of Terror Train and wasn’t very impressed). Still, I am entering this film with an open-mind. Fingers crossed.

   In Tow, twin sisters must come face to face with their past when their attempted killer re-enters their lives.

   Considering that Caitlin Gerard doesn’t have a twin, this means she will be pulling double-duty, acting out the role of Abbie and Maddy, respectively. After escaping a near-death situation as children, Abbey and Maddy are both adults now and their attempted killer is on death row. But, of course, as this is a horror film, there is more than meets the eye.

   The killer, played by Kane Hodder, is called the Mechanic, and is fairly generic. Throughout the film, you see bits and pieces of him being weird, holding up masks made of human skin, very Leatherface. Oh, and he carries a wrench, because … he’s the Mechanic. Unlike Leatherface, the Mechanic is vaguely involved in a cult, and can be seen drawing out symbols in blood.

   The film is a little bit contrived, and, to be brutally honest, I lost the plot more times than I should have with this type of film. I believe there are some things about Tow that do work. Caitlin Gerard is a capable actress and she is an asset to film. As a matter of fact, in terms of character work, she outright carries the film.

   I have never thought of Kane Hodder as much of a traditional actor, if only because I have never seen him traditionally act (except for, maybe, in like, Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield), and I associate him more with physical acting. He is a presence, so to speak. And, from all I have seen, he has always played a variation of the same character – the brute slasher villain. This is for good reason, he looks the part and he is an imposing man.

   As a character though, and as an antagonist, it’s a shallow well. Horror fans will always line up to see a hulking man rip someone apart, but you need another wrinkle beyond that. Tow tries to do that by adding witchcraft and more supernatural elements to the age old cliched slasher villain. That is an interesting idea, and I think that it worked on some level.

   The film tries to make Abbey and Maddie feel more fleshed out than the average slasher villain characters, or, at least, offer a little more insight and depth to them. They are traumatized by the events of their childhood, and it tries to instill a sense of insight in spite not actually having any beyond a surface level. 

   If I look at the movie Tow as a large puzzle, I can imagine arranging the pieces in such a way that it makes a better picture than the film that we actually received. In fact, I think a better picture could have been made if we decided to leave out some of the puzzle pieces. The film tries to incorporates elements of flashbacks, cults, a sort-of, unrealized nightmare realm deal, and, of course, elements of a slasher film.

   As a result, the film feels like a simple concept made complicated. It tries to wear many hats, but isn’t able to master any of them – it’s confusing at best and a total mess at worst. If boiled down to the bare essentials of what it is – a generic slasher film with a talented Caitlin Gerard, it works alright. The film was, in part, written by Gerard, and I feel like you can tell. It comes off like a screenwriter trying to bend and twist the genre, but not necessarily knowing how to do it seamlessly. What she does know how to do is good acting and character work, and so, it makes sense you would have this tonal dissonance where the acting (for her) works, but the writing feels messy or indulgent, in spite not being able to make sense of its own ambition.

   The other characters are no more than pigs to the slaughter, making dumb decisions that unsurprisingly result in their demises, their rather uninspired, paint-by-the-numbers demises.

   The simpler moments, the ones you would likely expect, of the basic slasher 101 stuff, of Maddie running around, evading the Mechanic, of her hiding from him in a junkyard, propped up by decent sound-work and alright cinematography and decent production, that is the main takeaway for this film. Although it isn’t as ambitious, I believe this is what the film, in its current state, was better off being. If it had been a more linear, conventional slasher film, with tighter suspense and more focus on what did work and less focus on its genre mishmashing, I believe this could have been a genuinely solid slasher film. Instead, it’s a messy, contrived, and overcomplicated misfire.

   I don’t recommend it. At the same time, I do hope those involved take it in stride and tries again, because I did see promise there. 

Rating: – 2.0 out of 5.0