Like author Philip Roth, sometimes I love the crapola. Most times however, I’m not a big fan. “Lights, Camera… Kill!” is one of these times. The latest from those fine folks at Prescribed Films (“If you’re sick, we’ve got your flick!”), “Lights” is a would-be thriller from the mischievous-teens-get-comeuppance-from-deranged-sicko school of screenwriting. It’s one of the sturdiest of modern horror plots, for better (“Joyride”) or worse (“I Know What You” blah blah blah), and your fondness for it will go a long way toward your liking this film. Though it’s probably been done to death at this point (hey, what hasn’t?), I’ve still always had a soft spot for it, going back, I think, to my love for vintage Hitchcock, where we’re all guilty of something. Even if we didn’t do “it”, we surely did something equally repugnant that deserves retribution by… someone at least. That pesky past always catches up with us, doesn’t it? “Lights” is not a particularly engaging example of this, but it does have its moments, not to mention a pleasingly cheeky (as in nonexistent) attitude toward such heady existential musings.
Purportedly based on a true story(!), “Lights” tells the sordid tale of two teens, pliable Hawk (Steven Tracy) and bad-influence Kyle (Jacob Pollman), who learn the hard way that stealing is, in fact, wrong. After some twenty odd car break-ins, the two hit the jackpot, or so they think, when they make off with an expensive-looking video camera. But the booty comes at a price, namely in the form of the psycho killer who wants his camera and the video that was in it back. And what was on the video, you ask? Well, you can safely assume it was not some kid’s ballet recital. It was, of course, a snuff film of a missing blond co-ed getting stripped and filleted by a masked evil-doer. Hawk and Kyle are duly freaked out and naturally do what anyone would do in their situation: they hide the camera and bicker like little school-girls! The masked evil-doer, staying true to form in movies like this, improbably knows and sees all. Before long he is stalking the teens and picking off their friends and family, one by one. (You start to wonder: Is this cat just really pissed off at the two troublemakers or are they merely the latest subjects in his gruesome filmography?) Meanwhile, a drug-addicted cop (Chris Simmons) is hell-bent on avenging his dead partner who was run down while pursuing the boys on foot that fateful night. No matter who reaches them first, one thing is certain: these boys are in for some nasty business.
To his credit, writer/director Insane Mike Saunders is a faithful adaptor of the look and feel of the countless horror films clearly influencing “Lights, Camera… Kill!” For that, there’s surely no small amount of skill involved. Things Saunders gets right include the appropriately revolting snuff footage, the delightfully cheap scary-movie score (courtesy of Jason Bollinger), and an occasionally effective aura of dread and menace. As a director, Saunders definitely shows promise, or at least the impression that he knows what he’s doing. As a screenwriter however, he desperately needs some work, especially when it comes to dialogue, which is so bad here as to be gut-busting. If only it were meant to be! In fact, the only thing worse than the film’s dialogue is its acting, which almost gives credibility to the brilliant thespians of “Team America”, or Mr. Affleck for that matter. Now, a film like this doesn’t exactly need Oscar worthy performances, but when it’s this incompetent, it becomes a distraction or, perhaps worse, a source of unintended humor. Maybe I’m just taking it all a bit too seriously or missing the joke, it’s happened before (a very long time ago, of course, and I was drunk). If that’s the case, then “Lights” is an entertaining trip down a well-worn path. If not, then it’s a ho-hum horror knock-off that’s much funnier than it is scary.