If I were a superstitious person, I could be easily convinced that it all went wrong the moment that filmmaker Justin Price chose to title his new film The 13th Friday – a moniker that for all intents and purposes is the same as the 1980 horror film classic set at Camp Crystal Lake that kicked started the slasher film renaissance – thereby angering the film gods and dooming his project to movie purgatory. Film gods or not, from scene one. this bootstrapped indie horror flick collapses under the weight of its unintelligible, inconsistent narrative (that swipes key elements from Hellraiser and The Ring), a lackluster (if attractive) cast, and a recurring technical error so distracting as to completely derail whatever may be occurring on screen.
The lid starts to come off from the get-go when an intertitle card – so often a harbinger of ill cinematic tidings – announces that “somewhere in Texas is a house said to be so haunted that a church was built on the property and the family that lived on the house was never heard from again.” In the next scene, set in some undefined time in the past, a teenage girl is trussed up to a stake at the bottom of a well by her mother. She begs for her release as mom soaks her down with gasoline. “You belong to him now,” the dead-eyed mom says enigmatically to her child while holding a very Clive Barker-ish puzzle box/globe, before lighting up her spawn to the high heavens. The origin story thus established, the film shifts to presumably the present day where a group of late teens/early twenty-somethings have gathered at said house of ill fortune.
“…repeating something about ’13’ while the charred ghost of the child…flits about the corner of the screen.”
Framed by a very large driftwood cross, one of the teens – whose name was apparently lost somewhere in the editing process – recants the house’s tale of horror. No sooner has the story left his lips when several of the Scooby gang do the obvious thing and start poking around the dwelling. (A brief aside – a Siouxsie Sioux goth chick who moments earlier was making out with a female member of the intrepid cast is inexplicably strangled by her own cell phone only moments before. There may be a deeper message herein about the dangers of narcissism in the digital age but I’d guess that the director simply thought it looked cool so he kept this scene in the final cut.) Anyway, the group enter the surprisingly immaculate house, pokes around and before too long one of the crew stumbles upon the puzzle box/globe thingy that was last seen in the hands of pyromaniac-inclined mom from the film’s outset. Sitting down on one of the well-manicured beds, the puzzle opens in the young woman’s hands and she is promptly possessed, Exorcist-style, repeating something about “13” while the charred ghost of the child from the film’s opening flits about the corner of the screen.
The film’s slowly greasy slide picks up speed as one of the scoobies inexplicably finds herself in a cave – where she is beset by a host of creatures who look like castoffs from The Descent – before being dispatched a ghoul outfitted as the grim reaper.
At this point, in classic Halloween style, a heroine emerges – foxy, red-headed Allison who begins piecing together – as far as I can tell – that by opening the evil puzzle box/globe, all the Scoobies will perish in a gory, low budget kinda way unless (a) they make 13 ritual sacrifices or (b) sacrifice themselves before 13 months pass or (c) make 13 sacrifices within 13 months (I’m not so sure).
“…collapses under the weight of its unintelligible, inconsistent narrative…”
It must be noted that at this time, the director of photography was having a devil of a time keeping the cast members in focus – so much so that the seesawing shifts in depth of field were downright stomach churning. Unfortunately, this would happen on several more occasions throughout the running time of the film.
As Allison continues her quest to undo the curse unleashed by the puzzle box, the charred ghost continues to pop up in order to exact vengeance upon unsuspecting cast members, Allison’s nosy reporter roommate and a gun-totin’ good ole boy unravel more of the lore around the mother/daughter barbeque; a creepy kid furiously draws unintelligible crayon nightmares; more ancillary characters get somehow transported to caves where they too are pursued by the monsters from The Descent as well the grim reapers. Just when it seems that this whole Saw-like storyline has reached its (il)logical end, another unsuspecting nubile young woman opens puzzle box/globe – thereby restarting all this nonsense, Groundhog Day-style.
By the film’s end, I was confused, rather a bit motion sick from the cinematography, and more than a bit annoyed by the preceding 90 odd minutes of narrative mayhem. For a film of any size/budget to be successful, it first and foremost requires a cohesive storyline that usually includes a conflict and some degree of resolution/character evolution. Without these key elements, all the special effects, inventive camera work, and even award caliber acting are not enough to save a film from itself. Though glimmers of a potential did occasionally surface – particularly in the art direction during a possession scene – The 13th Friday succeeds best in its ability to select and bastardize classic horror movie tropes/elements from its silver screen forebears.
The 13th Friday (2017) Written and directed by Justin Price. Starring Lisa May, Khu, and Melissa L. Vega.
1 out of 5 stars