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Rob Zombie's 31 (Movie Review)

Rob Zombie's 31 (Movie Review)
09.04.2016by: Eric Walkuski
2 10

PLOT: On Halloween night in 1976, five traveling carnies are abducted by a trio of rich sadists who force them to play a game called 31, in which they must survive 12 hours of being hunted by crazed psychopaths dressed as clowns.

REVIEW: Anyone who had hoped that, at this point, Zombie might've figured out how to actually make a movie that doesn't resemble a combination of backwoods carnival and gaudy music video will be quite disappointed by 31, an inept, amateurish, completely disposable piece of work that feels like it was made by someone making a parody of Rob Zombie movies. After six films it can now be firmly established Rob Zombie doesn't really know what makes an impactful horror movie tick. He knows how to splash blood and filth across the screen, sure, but the nuances and artfulness necessary to a truly effective thriller escape him almost completely. With the exception of THE LORDS OF SALEM, which somewhat reined back Zombie's worst impulses, he has constructed the same movie a handful of times now. Horror is just a blurry, trashy maelstrom in Rob Zombie's world; all subtlety and creativity need not apply.

Quick aside: During a featurette screened after the film (a special presentation by Fathom Events), Zombie admitted that the idea for 31 came to him quite randomly while he was on the phone with a colleague. Impulsively challenging himself to come up with a movie that he could get financed, 31 is literally the work of someone who thought, "Here's something I can get made, let's do it." Now, I'm sure there have been other movies made on a similar whim, but it speaks to what I think is Zombie's lack of insight into the genre. Stabbing and shrieking and obnoxious perversion are his most trusty ingredients. Must everything be so grimly chintzy? Is there only one approach to scenes of violence and death? Look, it's Zombie's right to do what he wants, I'm not going to demand he change his style or inclinations. But it's simply not working for me at all. (And I actually somewhat defended LORDS OF SALEM when it first came out, because it least it looked like Zombie was on board with trying something a little different. It wasn't exactly a good movie, but it wasn't the same old thing. But here he is, back to his old tricks.)

The conceit in 31 is that some rich weirdos who dress like they're French aristocrats kidnap people once a year and torture them for their pleasure. (The movie is set on Halloween but it actually has nothing to do with the holiday.) Their marks this time are a band of traveling carnies (or whoever they are), made up of Charley (Sheri Moon Zombie), Venus (Meg Foster), Roscoe (Jeff Daniel Phillips), Levon (Kevin Jackson) and Panda (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs). Who are these people? What are they actually doing? Where are they going? Zombie barely even touches upon these questions; they're just a band of dolts who we as an audience identify as protagonists so we know who to "root" for when the shit hits the fan. It's always been clear the Zombie has little or no sympathy for the victims of his horror shows; he's the kind of dude who relates to the bad guy (which is why we got the utterly ridiculous Michael Myers backstory in his horrible HALLOWEEN remake or the f*ck-off ending of THE DEVIL'S REJECTS), but his total refusal to make this group personable in any way proves that Zombie has zero interest in giving us flesh and blood characters. He can't wait to get to his bevy of sideshow freaks; and once our group is abducted on a stretch of isolated road (in a sequence that is so frantic I legitimately couldn't tell what was going on) they're abruptly thrust into a nightmarish game in which the three rich pricks (led by Malcolm McDowell) force them to wander about an abandoned warehouse while a series of murderous clowns hunt them with chainsaws and other sharp instruments of death. It's THE RUNNING MAN set in a gas station bathroom.

Simple premise, fine. DON'T BREATHE, to use a very recent example, proves you don't need a complicated plot to make a solid horror movie. In fact, some of most effective horror movies use their simple premises as springboards to showcase bravura filmmaking. But Zombie has no neat ideas up his sleeve, no surprises in store, no creative flourishes to enhance the threadbare story. 31 plays out even less imaginatively than its bare-bones plot would suggest. One sequence after another involves our dumb heroes hiding in a room for a minute and then being set upon by crass, shouting maniacs. Shoddily choreographed fights ensue, someone dies, repeat. (Sometimes Zombie will use a freeze-frame to close out a scene, with middling results.) It would be one thing if the villains were interesting, but they all talk and act pretty much alike (the main exception is a Spanish dwarf dressed like a Nazi - wow, pretty crazy, huh?) and they all expire in uninteresting ways. The good guys never earn our sympathy because they don't have personalities of their own, so we genuinely don't give a shit what happens to them.

All of Zombie's easily identifiable flaws as a filmmaker are on display, early and often. Unappealing, foul-mouthed characters who generally sound like they never made it past the 5th grade? Check. Frenzied action sequences that mistake maniacal camera movement for excitement? Check. A complete lack of suspense or scares but an overwhelming amount of squishy stabbings, drool and spittle? Check. Zombie has no handle on how to mount tension in a sequence; he bludgeons you with noise and nastiness and the effect is nothing short of boring. I can't even describe how poorly executed the fight scenes in this movie are. All close-ups and nausea-inducing shaky cam and "what the f*ck is happening right now"? You want to scream, "Zoom out, for the love of God!" at least a dozen times during this movie.

The main villain, Doom-Head (Richard Brake), is the best example of how far Zombie still has to go when it comes to crafting a character. When we meet him, in the movie's first and most interesting scene, he greets us (and his victim) with an oddly alluring dramatic flair, which is in direct opposition to his grotesque clown-from-hell visage. He has a long, passionate monologue for a frightened preacher, a nasty prologue before axing him down. It's a good performance, and we wonder, who is this twisted, disturbing creep? And even when the movie has gone well out of hand and entered eye-rolling territory, the specter of this character looms large, because we know we'll see him again. And, of course, we do. And how does the director reward us for our patience? He strips away every bit of intrigue and makes Doom-Head a predictable Rob Zombie character. Turns out Doom-Head is yet another filthy pervert who says "f*ck" a lot and bangs hookers. Why in the hell does Zombie repeatedly insist on making every one of his characters sound like an angry redneck? Does he think this is the "real" America? Or is he so completely one-note that he doesn't know how to write people any other way? Whatever the reason, it's depressing that the majority of Zombie's characters - heroes and villains alike - are moronic cartoons without a shred of wit or wisdom. (Even more baffling still: Zombie himself doesn't talk like this, he's actually quite an intelligent guy. What's with consistently making everyone so ignorant and unappealing?)

All of that said, if you've been a fervent fan of Zombie's movies up until this point, there's no reason 31 shouldn't appeal to you. (Especially if you helped with the crowd-funding.) For me, it was an endlessly frustrating, disheartening experience. Perhaps Zombie's got another LORDS OF SALEM in him, but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't.

Oh yeah, the soundtrack is pretty good. That's one thing Zombie always gets right.

Extra Tidbit: 31 hits select theaters on October 21st.

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11:45AM on 09/17/2016

It was ok

I have no clue what to make of this movie. I really enjoyed Meg Foster's character as she seemed to be pretty well developed for a Zombie movie. However, the sloppy editing left me confused. What happened to some of the other carnies? Trixie being one. I also loved seeing EG Daily and thought Sex Head needed more screen time. The only true tension I felt during the whole movie was the ending. The way it was shot left me wanting to see more, especially with how anti-climatic the movie initially
I have no clue what to make of this movie. I really enjoyed Meg Foster's character as she seemed to be pretty well developed for a Zombie movie. However, the sloppy editing left me confused. What happened to some of the other carnies? Trixie being one. I also loved seeing EG Daily and thought Sex Head needed more screen time. The only true tension I felt during the whole movie was the ending. The way it was shot left me wanting to see more, especially with how anti-climatic the movie initially ended. I would be down for a 31 sequal so long as it picks up where it left off. And I know Zombie likes to showcase foul mouthed individuals in his scripts, but for some reason it ACTUALLY works in this scenario with these characters. Personally, I found these to be the best of his attempts at crafting protagonists and kudos to him for having a diverse cast of non-20 year olds.
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4:15PM on 09/04/2016

Very Entertaining!

I completely disagree with this review, sorry. If you are a fan of Rob's films then you will absolutely enjoy this. He keeps his same style, increases the gore, more deaths, and more white trash! If you don't like it... why bother watching and why bother reviewing or commenting...right? I was at a sold out theater and the entire crowd seemed to love it and be thoroughly entertained throughout the entire film - which is what a movie is suppose to do. This was not meant to be some elaborate plot
I completely disagree with this review, sorry. If you are a fan of Rob's films then you will absolutely enjoy this. He keeps his same style, increases the gore, more deaths, and more white trash! If you don't like it... why bother watching and why bother reviewing or commenting...right? I was at a sold out theater and the entire crowd seemed to love it and be thoroughly entertained throughout the entire film - which is what a movie is suppose to do. This was not meant to be some elaborate plot and perfectly spelled out dialogue as this review is saying it should be - it is a stylish film about psychos brutally killing innocent people - the end! If that doesn't interest you - then skip it.
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1:50PM on 09/04/2016

Spot on

Erik, well written review, excellent. I agree with you on all points and frustrations with Zombie's filmmaking and writing. I do have to say that when looking at his filmography, even though this drivel is the same as the rest, I probably liked 31 more than the others. There's a certain sleeze charm about this one and there are many questions to answer, Who? Why? Where? How? Can be asked for everything in this film and I respect that it wasn't all answered up front (I wish they never gave
Erik, well written review, excellent. I agree with you on all points and frustrations with Zombie's filmmaking and writing. I do have to say that when looking at his filmography, even though this drivel is the same as the rest, I probably liked 31 more than the others. There's a certain sleeze charm about this one and there are many questions to answer, Who? Why? Where? How? Can be asked for everything in this film and I respect that it wasn't all answered up front (I wish they never gave up anything at all for Doom Head) and it makes the film the smallest bit of intriguing over his others.
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10:35AM on 09/04/2016

Do something else, Zombie.

Thanks for the review Erik.
Rob Zombie is not fit to call himself a Director.
I haven't enjoyed any of his films, he lacks intelligence, skill and as you say has no idea how to construct an impactful horror film. That explains why his films are padded out with relentless violence and gore.
I will avoid 31 like the plague and Rob Zombie should think about doing something else.
Thanks for the review Erik.
Rob Zombie is not fit to call himself a Director.
I haven't enjoyed any of his films, he lacks intelligence, skill and as you say has no idea how to construct an impactful horror film. That explains why his films are padded out with relentless violence and gore.
I will avoid 31 like the plague and Rob Zombie should think about doing something else.
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4:33PM on 09/02/2016

It was okay.

Definitely has the best cinematic Joker to date.

That opening scene was great. I wish the rest of the movie could have been that good.
Definitely has the best cinematic Joker to date.

That opening scene was great. I wish the rest of the movie could have been that good.
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2:18PM on 09/02/2016

WTF!?!

I saw '31' last night as well, and while it was probably the most mainstream for a Zombie flick, I thought it was frickin' awesome. It's Saw meets Running Man meets 70's grindhouse. Sure there is very little character development, and yes, it is a simple premise, but I haven't had that much fun at the movies in a long time. As slow and weird as Lords of Salem was, this movie is the exact opposite in every way. JUST GO SEE IT!!!
I saw '31' last night as well, and while it was probably the most mainstream for a Zombie flick, I thought it was frickin' awesome. It's Saw meets Running Man meets 70's grindhouse. Sure there is very little character development, and yes, it is a simple premise, but I haven't had that much fun at the movies in a long time. As slow and weird as Lords of Salem was, this movie is the exact opposite in every way. JUST GO SEE IT!!!
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10:12PM on 09/02/2016
Awesome??? Man I'm sorry but you have some really poor taste in horror. I saw this a while back and this review is pretty spot on. Typical Zombie characters, underdeveloped good guys and bad guys. Boring kills and a really lame ending.
Awesome??? Man I'm sorry but you have some really poor taste in horror. I saw this a while back and this review is pretty spot on. Typical Zombie characters, underdeveloped good guys and bad guys. Boring kills and a really lame ending.
4:28PM on 09/04/2016
Agree! Completely entertaining from beginning to end. If you want to see a film with an hour of dialogue to get to know the characters and a huge laid out plot then re-watch The Notebook. You OBVIOUSLY do not BUY a ticket to a Rob Zombie film expecting those things unless - you just had the intention from the beginning, before you even watched it, that you were going to hate it and tear every word and character apart.
Agree! Completely entertaining from beginning to end. If you want to see a film with an hour of dialogue to get to know the characters and a huge laid out plot then re-watch The Notebook. You OBVIOUSLY do not BUY a ticket to a Rob Zombie film expecting those things unless - you just had the intention from the beginning, before you even watched it, that you were going to hate it and tear every word and character apart.
9:15AM on 09/07/2016
To Fox Mulder:
I actually don't have a poor taste in horror. In an age where we are plagued with PG-13 horror, and endless VOD releases (only about 2% of them any good), it was nice to see a mindless entertaining piece of camp like 31. My wife is a huge fan of Rob Zombie (music and film), and while we both agreed this was by far his most mainstream film (being it had the least substance), we thought it was one of the most fun of his films. I think the opening monologue alone won me over.
To Fox Mulder:
I actually don't have a poor taste in horror. In an age where we are plagued with PG-13 horror, and endless VOD releases (only about 2% of them any good), it was nice to see a mindless entertaining piece of camp like 31. My wife is a huge fan of Rob Zombie (music and film), and while we both agreed this was by far his most mainstream film (being it had the least substance), we thought it was one of the most fun of his films. I think the opening monologue alone won me over. Having seen a million of these 'people captured and left in a room or fighting for their lives', this one had me in stitches. Not every movie is a character piece/study, some just get right to the good stuff and going in that's exactly what I wanted/expected. It was awesome!
2:12PM on 09/02/2016

thats a lot of words for a 2/10

im a huge rob zombie music fan...have been since "Thunderkiss '65" made its Headbanger's Ball debut. based on his music, i was very interested in seeing "the Crow 2025"....maybe now im glad i didnt get to see it. Corpses and Rejects were both ''fun''.........but, after that, it was all downhill for me. Though i still say a Zombie helmed Rocky Horror intrigues the shit out of me. Sorry Big Taco Shits..........cant watch your movies any more...but, im always there first day for your music.
im a huge rob zombie music fan...have been since "Thunderkiss '65" made its Headbanger's Ball debut. based on his music, i was very interested in seeing "the Crow 2025"....maybe now im glad i didnt get to see it. Corpses and Rejects were both ''fun''.........but, after that, it was all downhill for me. Though i still say a Zombie helmed Rocky Horror intrigues the shit out of me. Sorry Big Taco Shits..........cant watch your movies any more...but, im always there first day for your music.
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