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The Girl in the Photographs (TIFF Review 2015)

The Girl in the Photographs (TIFF Review 2015)
09.16.2015by: Chris Bumbray
3 10

PLOT: A celebrity photographer (Kal Penn) and his vacuous posse descend on a small town when the amateur photographic work of a vicious serial killer attracts his attention.

REVIEW: Being that THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS bears the name of the late Wes Craven as an executive producer, I wish I could tell you that the last film to have the maestro's seal of approval was something that would please his legions of fans.  Despite having been chosen to play the Toronto International Film Festival's prestigious Midnight Madness genre selection, THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS is a mean-spirited, vacuous genre effort that's little more than an extended exercise in style with barely a thimble of content to sustain it.

 

If it was only that THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS was familiar, it could have still made for passable genre entertainment. Despite Penn's presence, the real focus here is on Claudia Lee's twenty-something heroine, with her sleepy small-town existence being rocked by a killer targeting all of her friends and leaving her brutal, pseudo-artistic photos of the crimes (with AMERICAN MARY's Katherine Isabelle being the first victim in a cameo reminiscent of Drew Barrymore in Craven's SCREAM). The problem is that even for a horror film, the people act so stupidly throughout that you wonder what co-writers Robert Morast and Osgood Perkins were thinking, with Lee's character seeming so unmoved by the deaths of her friends that she starts to feel like an automaton. The local sheriff, played by SHOCKER's Mitch Pileggi is depicted as such a clown it felt almost like satire, were it not for the fact that the movie is so disturbingly brutal that after watching teenage girls being graphically sawed into pieces and staged in mock-artistic photos you can't help but be taken aback at the ill-advised attempt at humor.

Certainly director Nick Simon has made a good-looking film (with lensing by none-other than Dean Cundey) but the substance is just atrocious. Long parts of the film focus on Penn's douchebaggy L.A photographer, who walks around with his sexy model girlfriend and tries to spin the murders to his artistic advantage (with Lee's heroine being a willing participant). By naming him John Hemmings, Simon seems to be tipping his hat to David Hemmings in BLOW UP (with other nods to THE EYES OF LAURA MARS) but by constantly calling back to these far better films he's inviting comparisons he can't possibly live up to. Kenny Wormald (the FOOTLOOSE remake) doesn't fare much better as Penn's assistant – with him suddenly turning into the de-facto romantic lead in last act. If you don't care about the characters you won't care about their gruesome fates, and that's a huge problem here.

As such, THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS really is a horrible mess of a film and a rare Midnight Madness misfire. The efforts to titillate with frequent lapses into torture porn and mixing extended sex scenes with violence gives the film a seedy vibe that would be tough to overcome for any film, much less something with such little substance. In that respect the movie is very much like the characters on screen –  pretty but hollow. This is really only worth seeing for die-hard genre fans just looking for some empty carnage.

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