The Virgin Murders

Dir: Tina Randolph McCulloch
Star: Elias Castillo, Shane Dean, Aneliese Roettger, David C. Hayes

I respect anyone who goes out and makes a feature-film on limited or no means, and we also firmly believe in supporting local art. I thus feel it is my duty to say something positive about all such efforts, so here goes. The film was in focus and the dialogue was, for the most part, audible. My job here is done.

Much as I'm tempted to stop there, I must say the main impact of this is to make us appreciate things like Great American Snuff Film all the more. While not the worst low-budget horror movie to come out of Phoenix - not in a universe where Scarlet Fry's Junkfood Horrorfest exists - it's certainly in the bottom tier. Even allowing for the limited resources [$5,000, partly raised through a night where the lead actresses mud-wrestled], the script, acting and direction would be unacceptable for a Youtube video, and any larger scale of screening only magnifies the flaws accordingly. Victor Marquez (Castillo) is a writer and full-time drunk, on his last chance, when he is thrown a life-life by his friend, Detective Brooks (Dean): a snuff movie, depicting the rape and murder of Madison Miller (Roettger). Haunted by what he sees, and Miller, can Marquez find out what happened? And what will the cost be to his own happiness, sanity and life?

While watching this, I was distracted by the number of alternative ways this could have gone. I particularly liked the idea of a the tape being a Wicker Man-style lure for Marquez, for example - that's just one story that would be far more interesting than the one told here. Instead, the answer is, d) None of the above, and the plot lumbers towards a 'revelation' Chris nailed an hour before, which makes Marquez being given the tape an act of absolutely no sense. There are a pair of ridiculous, almost irrelevant, red herring plots that go basically nowhere and are so badly shoehorned in, it's as if they came from an entirely different movie. And don't even get me started on the ending. Moving on from the script, we have performances that [with the exception of Hayes' taxi driver, who shows what experience can do] are largely unconvincing. You just don't believe Castillo is a writer, or Dean a detective, though in mitigation, it's hard to be authentic when the "FBI interrogation room" is obviously someone's house.

You want more? The soundtrack appears to have been constructed with 15 minutes of surfing around MySpace. The telephone conversations contained in the film are so badly put together, as to achieve almost a surreal beauty in their ill-fitting pauses. The continuity is...non-existent, right from the opening scene where a victim coughs up blood on a window, gore which is immediately missing in the next shot. It's pretty obvious that this is McCulloch's first film, as her lack of experience shows up in almost every scene. Yet, I say all this, not to deter her from trying again: that's the only way she'll get better, and there are occasional moments that did ring true, such as the snuff video, where the low-budget works for the film, not against it. What she should do is look at the film objectively, understand its flaws, and strive to correct them next time. If she does that, I will happily go down to Chandler Cinemas again, plop down my five bucks and watch it, for there's nothing I like better than seeing movie-makers improve. However, commercially, she might be better off just taping ninety minutes of her actresses mud-wrestling: I sense the market for that would probably be larger.

[November 2008]

Virgin on the ridiculous

This mud's for you
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