Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Review: THE CHOSEN (2015) [Paul's Take]

The opening of The Chosen is like meeting the extended family of a total stranger.  There’s a lot of faces and names and relations, but not much reason to care.  You don’t want to be a complete dick, so you nod and smile and shake hands, but meanwhile the overworked custodian of your mind is happily ushering all this new incoming information directly into a tidy hole marked: “for immediate incineration.”  But a little way through The Chosen you realize there is a reason to care.  Is the reason love, honor, or respect?  Nope, the reason is ritual sacrifice marked with blood. 

See, the evil demon Lilith has chosen a young girl to abduct into hell at the end of six days unless her teenage uncle can sacrifice six of her blood relatives within that time.  So, of course the film has to dump in a mess of random family members in order for this deal to even be viable. 

But who will be sacrificed?  Let’s look at the contenders and the percent likelihood of their being sacrificed:

1.  Great-grandma in a turban (100%, Obamacare death panel)

2.  Great-granddad in a catatonic stupor (100%, look at that expression, he wants to die)
3.  Grandma, played by Catherine Keener’s younger sister.  No really. (40%, she's related to a really great actress)

4.  Grand-uncle (or whatever you call grandma’s brother) who passes out drunk in his Cheetos. (5000%, d-bag odds)

5.  Grand-aunt (or whatever you call grandma’s sister), the stuck-up suburban hypochondriac with surgically swollen lips. (100%, purple jacket and scarf tied in a bow)

6.  Grand-aunt’s son the douchey sweater guy. (100%, douches just can't get a break)

7.  Uncle Cameron, our main character who doesn’t want to go to college. (10%, because dimples)

8.  Mom, a recovering addict. (70% when high, 20% when sober) 

Got it?  That's the family.  You could print this whole thing out, cut it up, and use it for flashcards, I won't even charge you!  Or, you could just go with this half-ass guide to the family the film gives you:
Missing: great-grandma, great-granddad, uncle Joey, purple jacket Aunt, sweater cousin.  Included: dead baby brother Jaime who died in infancy but here appears to be alive, jazzed along with the rest to become carrion for vultures.  The artist really captures Cameron's hair though.
Arithmetic tells me Cameron has to kill almost every single person on this list (he gets to spare two!) in order to save his niece.  While it is satisfying to know that basically all of the characters you were introduced to will be sacrificed at some point, this sort of sucks the tension out of the ethical decision-making.  What’s the point of wringing your hands over whether to kill grandma or granddad when you’ve got to kill both of them anyway?   

What this insane four-generation (!) family tree means is that the first half of the film is filled with clunky dialogue trying to teach us who is related to whom.  Every character is constantly reminding one another of their genetic relation to one another with lines like “Hey, aren’t I your favorite uncle?” “Mom, I don’t like your sister, Aunt Jean, who is mean to me and my niece, Angie,” and the classic “it’s hard to have sex with you with your mom and Angie watching” [said while turning convenient photo downward on nightstand].  Even with the obtrusive hand-holding dialogue, it took me a full half-hour to learn who everyone was and how they were related.

But when I got to the “you’ve got to kill your family challenge” part of it, I felt palpable relief.  All these annoying people that I was annoyed for having to memorize (honestly, flashcards would have been helpful) were all going to die so I didn’t have to care anymore!  There was something burn-your-homework satisfying about it.  Aunt Jean?  Who is she again?  Aww, fuck it.  Throw her under the bed too.

Oh, I forgot to mention.  To sacrifice your loved ones to Lilith, you make some weird mark on their forehead in blood.  And then they get sucked under Angie’s bed. Easy peasy.
The Chosen has some genuine comic moments.  Like when Cameron and his sister are all like “who are we going to kill?” and the drunk uncle comes in and flips them off and they just turn to each other and silently nod.  It’s too bad the film doesn’t just fully leap into the comedic vein, because there’s ample material here, including a foul-mouthed nun who is totes into sacrifices.  But instead the film stubbornly persists in being a mostly awful horror film with only fleeting glints of comedy. 

Why is the horror side of things so awful?  The CGI effects are crazy bad, and they're mostly smoke.  The sacrifices are mainly just crunching sounds.  And I didn’t really care about Angie at all.  I mean, she’s a one or two sacrifice child at the most.  But six?  gtfo.  Even before she gets possessed she has the personality of an ironing board.  One time she hides in a box and her uncle finds her!  This is the extent of her doing anything remotely humanizing, and it’s something my cat does all the time.  Oh wait. . . she also draws some disturbing pictures of herself and her dead twin brother that have a creepy slenderman vibe to them.  Not exactly endearing.

The biggest problem with the scares, though, is that they all seem so derivative. Which one of these images isn't from The Chosen?

Who wore it better?

If the film went fully goofy, maybe it wouldn’t have to retread these tired tropes.  At its core, The Chosen wants to be a horror-comedy, but it just can’t commit.  Every time it predictably veered back to being pathetically dramatic and broody, I wanted to yell along with its schoolyard-bully of a nun:  “There’s no going back.  So snap out of it, grow some balls, and do what you have to do!”  

Questions for Joe:
PH:  Why didn’t Cameron want to go to college?  And why was this even a point?
JD:   I assume the devil told him he should go to Junior College and find himself first.

PH:  If there were only five sacrifices necessary, who would you choose to save from among the sacrificed?
JD:  All of them! Of course. I’d get the niece a really nice going away present that she’d really like, really spend some money on it then return that shit seven days later. Or if it was just like a five-day return policy, I’d give it to her on day three.

PH:  Who wore that hairstyle better?  Cameron or Street Fighter IV’s Guile?
JD:  That’s a really tough question, Paul. For guidance, I’ve gone to Kian Lawley’s IMDB profile; he’s the actor who played Cameron. Apparently, his personal quote is “It’s OK to be a glow stick; sometimes we need to break before we shine.” So I know who has the teenage girl vote. And you know what, girls? He’d kill everyone just for you.

PH: Who won at the end?  Lilith or Cameron?  It was sort of unclear to me.
JD:  Normally, demonic possession schemes seem trifling to me. Do all-powerful demons really have nothing better to do than mess with little girls? But in this case Lilith possesses one and gets fed six souls in exchange, so that’s a pretty good deal. Even if eating the sixth means she has to go back to hell for a while, at least she’s going on a full stomach.   

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