An apocalypse grows in Detroit: “The Horsemen”

May 17, 2009

the_horsemen_posterI haven’t seen the movie The Horsemen reviewed by any reputable critics. Not my usual haunts: The New York Times, Slate, Salon, or even The Onion AV Club whose slackers get paid to watch crap. So, it’s with some sense of obligation that I watched this movie—after all, I watch terrible movies so you don’t have to. I undertook this task with the same sense of altruism as that guy in the World War Two movie who leaps on the grenade to save the rest of his platoon. And by about the 40-minute mark, I was pretty much wishing I’d done just that. It would have been quicker and less painful. Because The Horsemen is a grim, ugly, nasty movie that can’t even justify its griminess or ugliness, and completely cops out. And it’s also deeply, deeply stupid. And mean. If we were to anthropomorphize this movie, it would be the person you cross the street to avoid. It would live in the house you don’t allow your kids to trick-or-treat at. And what the fuck is going on with Dennis Quaid?

Denny plays Aiden Breslin, a Detroit detective who specializes in dental evidence. He’s called in on a case in which a sterling silver serving tray has been found in the middle of a frozen lake covered with human teeth. Faster than you can say “Aiden Breslin: Tooth Detective!” he’s molar-deep in a series of serial killings in which the victims are killed in custom-made rigs in which they are suspended by hooks run through their flesh.

The first of such victims is a mother of three. Her oldest daughter is played by Ziyi Zhang, and her husband is played by Peter Stormare. Okay, wait a minute…your husband is Peter Stormare? And you’re surprised that you end up trussed up and murdered with your unborn child cut out of you? Peter Stormare is the leading freak-show in the movies and TV. Personally, I’d be surprised if you didn’t end up horribly murdered. And WTF is up with Ziyi? Turns out she’s their adopted daughter (no? Really?) whom they picked up in China when she was eight years old. Now she’s eighteen (in the movie) and in ten years she’s only marginally learned to speak English.

Breslin charges through the wintry streets of Detroit, while routinely disappointing his two sons—one a teenager and one a pre-teen—who are still reeling from the cancer-related death of their mother. He also wears a leather overcoat and an occasional leather blazer. Breslin, apparently, thinks it’s still 1974. Assisting him is his partner Stingray (no, really) played by Clifton Collins Jr. whose jet-black hair is slicked back and sports a thin, John Waters mustache. Stingray obviously thinks it’s 1958 and that he’s a pornographer.

Along the way they figure out the murders have to do with the four horsemen of the apocalypse (where would serial killers be without the Old Testament?). This is confirmed when Ziyi visits Breslin, plays the vulnerable little girl, then whips out a baggie containing a fetus (big sucker, too). She’s promptly tossed in an interrogation room that looks straight from Abu Ghraib and she spends the rest of the movie playing the “playful-killer-taunting-the-cops” role, while wiggling seductively—or at least as seductively as you can be in an orange jumpsuit.

So Breslin run around doing some crap and occasionally engaging in some lame verbal sparring with Ziyi while they run across a few more victims. And then Patrick Fugit shows up in a scene that goes off the rails as he makes his homophobic brother witness his suicide via hooks-and-harness. This also leads them to a website dedicated to The Nothing. What is The Nothing? Damned if I know, and the movie really doesn’t go into it very deeply, but I think it’s supposed to be a cult. Because there were four horsemen, Breslin concludes there must be four killers. Pestilence,  War, Death, and…uh…I think Doc. When Breslin asks Ziyi  how the four of them met, she answers “We are all The Nothing. How could we not meet?” Okay, see what I mean about wishing for the hand grenade?

Anyway, some more crap happens and Breslin suddenly figures out that his son is the fourth horseman! He figures this out by, amongst other things, discovering that his son has painted his room and all its contents white (“on a pale horse he rode”…blah, blah, blah). Breslin rushes to the playhouse where…er…okay, I dunno what the deal with the playhouse is, but its important somehow. There he finds his kid strung up, committing suicide. But first the kid berates dad for never being there for him, and how The Nothing has millions of members who want to punish their parents for being neglectful and not understanding them. Of course, if it had been me up there, my dad would have simply told me to stop screwing around and clean the garage and get a haircut, but Breslin weeps and apologizes and promises to make it better. And the movie ends with him vowing to be a better father. Fin.

So that’s it. What a crappy doomsday cult. A bunch of whiny (and, it should be noted, probably psychopathic) teens who seem more intent in offing themselves than really sowing chaos. Granted, it’s all very grisly, but it’s also all very stupid. I’m sorry, but the scariest person in the movie (not including Stormare) is Ziyi—anybody who walks around with a fetus in a bag just isn’t right—and she gets arrested early in the movie. The rest is mostly dread and anticipation of some mad, homicidal genius who turns out to be a crabby teenager.

Director Joss Ackerlund tries to tart up the movie with creepy music and weird slo-mo shots and the occasional extreme close-up of a cigarette being lit (see? It’s hell! or something.) He films January Detroit as a frozen wasteland, which actually isn’t too far from the truth. He has no idea what to do with his actors, so we get Stingray looking like he should be trawling the bus stations for nubile ingénues for his stag films, Ziyi doing I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck, and Quaid whipsawing between 1) tough guy cop; 2) flustered father, and 3) gibbering truth-teller no one believes so fast between scenes I think I once heard a sonic boom.

And speaking of Denny, what the hell happened to him? I was never his biggest fan, but when exactly did he become Albert Finney? In this movie he’s heavyset and grungy—his hair looks unwashed even after he steps out of the shower—and his nose has blossomed into a shapeless bulb. Every so often he breaks into his trademark “ain’t-I-a-stinker?” grin which is just fucking horrifying because then he looks like Albert Finney auditioning for The Joker.

How bad is this movie? If the above doesn’t convince you, consider this: when I got home from the theater I took a shower and still felt grimy. I hope this movie dies of kidney failure.

One comment

  1. Innerspace is on HBO right now and I am mourning the Dennis Quaid of 20 years ago. Tuck Pendleton, we hardly knew ye.

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