Then a laughably abrupt ending stunned me - in the worst way possible - and all good will flew out the window.
Before said ending, NINE DEAD introduces us to a well-worn scenario: A group of strangers wake up in a room together, unsure of why they've been captured (by a masked, baritone-voiced assailant, natch), or how they relate to each other. Our hostage-taker eventually announces that their task is to figure out what it is that they've done to end up there. Every ten minutes, he'll stalk into the room and execute one of them, leading our helpless victims in a frenzied quest to solve the mystery while the clock ticks.
Not a terrible premise, and as I stated earlier, NINE DEAD navigates it well enough. Using a "real time" gimmick (although I'm sure it wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny), the film moves along like a stage play, as we watch our characters (who all turn out to have shady pasts) simply stand there and struggle with remembering their worst offenses, and even more difficult, take time out from arguing with each other to work together and connect the dots.
The acting is, to be generous, average in most cases; pretty sub-par in others (Melissa Joan Hart, who is ostensibly the "star" of the flick, is decent as a career-obsessed lawyer). In a curious move, the most engaging character is killed off rather early on, leaving us with a batch of shrug-worthy stiffs. You get a stressed-out cop, a crass night club owner, a buttoned-down claims adjuster, a gangsta, etc. Don't hope for much more than a vague curiosity as to who will bite the dust next, since none of these people are worth a damn. (Their deaths are also rather timid, since the killer only ever uses a gun.)
Ultimately however, the absolutely awful ending is all I really walk away remembering. It's so rushed and absurd that I had to rewind it just to make sure there wasn't some hidden moment that I had missed the first time. None. It frankly feels as if there's an epilogue that was left on the cutting room floor. Pity, as I would have given NINE DEAD brownie points for maintaining my interest throughout - now I just look at it as a tremendous waste of time.
VIDEO: 2:35:1 Widescreen
AUDIO: Sounded okay for a low-budget horror flick; nothing to write home about.