Reviewed by: Zombie Boy
What's it about
An unenlightened American tattoo artist unwittingly becomes the vessel by which an angry Samoan spirit extracts revenge for the shame visited upon his family.
Is it good movie?
Jack Sawyer was the next big thing in the tattoo industry…a position he attained by leap-frogging off the backs of others. When his 15-minutes of fame passed, he found himself adrift. After traveling the world (and collecting tattoos along the way) he eventually finds himself hawking “healing” tattoos to suckers in Singapore. Until he meets Sina and her Samoan cousins, and witnesses the completion of a ritualistic pe’ka tattoo, the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. Convinced he can turn a profit by incorporating the tradition into his own work, he appropriates one of the technique’s tools, only to cut himself with it and inadvertently link himself with an angry spirit that acts out of confusion, anger, sadness, and shame. Now everyone that Sawyer tattoos dies most horribly, and he must find a way to appease the spirit before the same thing happens to Sina.
The above description sounds really good, and indeed the film has a lot of good ideas, neat themes, and excellent imagery of the Samoan tattoo culture as it exists today in New Zealand. Unfortunately, first time feature-director Peter Burger (pronounced Burr-Jure) just can’t get it together. His background is in television, and it shows here. He is earnest and shows potential, but this film can be viewed as little more than a learning exercise for him. It also doesn’t help that Roswell’s Jason Behr, the new Michael Pare, is a strict adherent to the smell-a-fart school of acting. He mainly just sort of stands around and stares at stuff while trying to make an appropriate face.
Far too much of the film centers around the underwritten character of Sawyer, a mere cipher to impel the plot points needed to be hit, and by the time some nice action happens you won’t give a shite anymore. There are some nice squishy bits (like the Thing-esque paddles through the chest scene) but it won’t really hold the attention of a seasoned gorehound. Which is really too bad, since the final “battle” scene with the spirit is both interesting and poignant. The film fully immerses itself in the Samoan tattoo culture, but it is too little, too late. If it had incorporated that aspect more along the way, instead of striving to be a run of the mill “dark blur in the corner of your eye” thriller, there might have really been something to this film.
In the end, it is worth it to see the film for the fine New Zealand actors employed, and the small scenes focusing on the collision between traditional Polynesian rituals and the modern world (shades of the far more satisfying Whale Rider). The Western tattoo culture and that of almost every other culture in the world (Samoan, Maori, Japanese, to name but a few) are almost diametrically opposed, and I would like to have seen that further explored here. I know it is a supernatural thriller and not a documentary, but the overall feeling the film left me with was wishing that I had watched one instead.
Video / Audio
Video: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. The transfer is pristine (even if the look of the film itself is rather flat). In fact, the DVD even comes complete with a digital version for download onto your computer or PSP.
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital, available in English or French dubbing, and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The sound is also excellent, which it needs to be, as the click-clack of the hammer and chisel is an important plot device through the course of the film.
Deleted Scenes: There are three deleted scenes here, neither dealing with much important. I would have preferred to see some of the extended versions of scenes spoken of in the commentary.
Featurettes: There are five featurettes on the disc, but don’t be fooled: the behind the scenes piece is slightly less than fifteen minutes long, and the other four don’t total that running time added together. Still, they’re all pretty interesting. Aside from the behind the scenes stuff, there is one on the tedious business of applying the many tattoos seen in the film, one on the director’s color-scheme for the film, a too short piece on a Samoan gentleman actually undergoing a session towards the completion of his pe’ka, and finally one on how Burger and Behr were made actual Samoan chiefs (which primarily contains footage already seen in the behind the scenes featurette).
Audio Commentary with director Burger and star Behr: The commentary is actually rather entertaining. It is obvious the two are good friends, and both are pretty candid about what they felt did and didn’t work in the film. Even if you don’t like the film, it is worth it to listen to them talk about making it.
Previews: Always intent on shoving their head up their own ass, there are several trailers here for stupid PG-13 pseudo-horror Ghosthouse productions (Boogeyman 2, I’m looking at you) and sequels that should have never even been conceived (Starship Troopers 3? Really?) But if you are OCD like me and need to watch them all, you will be surprised to see little gems like The Take, Cleaner, and The Cottage, all looking worthy of a watch.
The Tattooist can best said to be a mix between The Grudge and Whale Rider, though it leans far too heavily towards the former when it would have been better served with the latter. If you can hold your interest enough to slog through the first hour, you will be rewarded in the last 30-minutes, but it is ultimately a disappointing film. I hope to see better from Burger in the future.
And FYI: Regardless of what the DVD cover implicates, this is NOT a Ghosthouse film. They simply distributed it.