Five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned, Hell-like compound where they are forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns.
Well, it’s finally here: Rob Zombie’s new horror movie, a crowd-funded “Hunger Games with clowns and gore” picture called 31. Now, Rob Zombie is not my favourite filmmaker, at all. I’ve enjoyed his movies before, but the more work that I see from him, the less I like them. Most disappointing was absolutely Lords of Salem, which was just awful. It’s worth saying, however, that all of his films have a certain style to them, and many are even disturbingly beautiful to look at. Lord of Salem in particular had a lot of interesting images, but lacked a story or much else to hold them all together.
31 seems to go the other direction, swapping interesting visuals for a more standard and cohesive story, but the swap doesn’t do the movie any favours. The set up is simple enough, and reminiscent of his earliest film, House of the Devil, pitting the main characters against deranged lunatics bent on killing them. The twist, however, is that this is all being orchestrated by three extremely wealthy people in powdered wigs who want to see murder, and place bets on it. A sort of blending of The Purge and Hunger Games, with Zombie’s patented style of “gritty” realism, and lots of threats of sexual violence.
As a bit of an aside, can we please develop villains who have more to make them frightening than threatening to rape the female characters? This is a cheap and lazy way to make your audience uncomfortable, and create a short hand for “This is the villain”. This trope seems especially common in horror, and in this movie it’s no exception. We already understand that the clowns are murderous psychopaths, so having them threaten the female characters with rape doesn’t add anything to these characters.
Moving on, there are a some familiar faces in the movie for those who watch Zombie’s movies, in particular you have the return of Malcolm McDowell, who seems set on ruining the good will set up by A Clock Work Orange, as Father Murder, one of the three in powdered wigs who orchestrates the “game” of 31. Alongside him are Jane Carr (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) and Judy Geeson (Lords of Salem) as sisters Serpent and Dragon respectively.
You also, of course, have the mainstay of the Zombie-verse, Sheri Moon Zombie, proving again and again that she really isn’t a particularly good actor. Other stand out performances come from Jeff Daniel Philips (Lords of Salem) and Richard Brake (Halloween II) who turns in a really engaging performance as Doom Head, the clown.
Stupid naming conventions, and a really mixed bag of performances all around aside, 31 just offers nothing that feels terribly interesting. The main characters do battle against different rounds of clowns, while McDowell and his fellows in being obscenely rich look on and place bets. It’s a very simplistic story, that seems to only be saying “Hey, look, sex and violence and sex. Do you like that?”, offering up very little else.
If you’re a fan of Zombie’s movies then the odds are in your favour that you’re going to like this one too. To me, it just felt a lot like more of the same. With less interesting visuals than Lords of Salem. The ending is also dissatisfying, but of course we don’t do spoilers here because god forbid someone ruin the murder-clown movie.
Definitely not for me, but if you’re a fan of Rob Zombie and his filmmaking, you’re going to see it if you haven’t already. For the rest of you, give it a pass.
MY RATING: **