I Was Not Amused By This Attempt At a Movie

Main Cast: Katheryn Winnick and Keir O’Donnell

Director: John Simpson

So Jake Wade Wall wrote the screenplays for the remakes of When a Stranger Calls (2006) and The Hitcher (2007), neither of which anyone saw. Okay, I’m sure SOMEONE saw them, but you know what I mean. So he sounds like the perfect candidate to write yet another horror movie, since people are obviously swarming to see his films. And then there’s director John Simpson whose only other credits include Silicone Valerie (1997) and Freeze Frame (2004), both of which he wrote as well as directed. Everyone remembers those gems, right? No? Oh, my mistake. In that case, it’s a no-brainer. Let him direct Amusement as he’s apparently in demand.

I hate to say it, but this movie is a mess from start to finish. And I wanted so badly to like it. It’s got Keir O’Donnell (Wedding Crashers) who is always a joy to watch perform, plus Katheryn Winnick who kicks a ton of ass every week in “Vikings”. Those two alone should be able to outperform the material. And yet…

Amusement is the story of three stories, really, each one focusing on a different character in the overall plot. First there’s Shelby (Laura Breckenridge, “Related”) and her boyfriend who fall into a convoy on the highway only to discover the trucker leading the way has a reluctant passenger in the back of his truck. When the woman jumps to freedom, the boyfriend takes off to get the trucker’s license plate number for the cops while Shelby stays behind with the injured woman and another motorist who stopped to help. When the boyfriend gets back, Shelby and the other girl are both gone and the good Samaritan is out cold on the side of the road. However, as they track the trucker to a dilapidated cabin in the middle of the nowhere, the boyfriend realizes not everything is as it seems.

Then there’s Tabitha (Winnick) who is watching her nephews overnight. All is well, the boys are in bed, and Tabitha is trying to sleep as well. But that damned creepy life-sized clown doll at the foot of the bed… And then it stands up. And starts chasing her.

Finally we’ve got Lisa (Jessica Lucas, Cloverfield, Evil Dead). Lisa and her roommate are out for drinks when the roommate decides to let a cute guy drive her home. Lisa’s boyfriend takes her home and wants to spend the night, but it’s “roommate night” and apparently that’s not allowed on roommate night. But then Lisa goes inside and finds her roommate not there. So she calls the boyfriend and tells him to turn around and come back. The next morning the roommate still isn’t home. Later that afternoon, she STILL isn’t home. So Lisa and the boyfriend go down to the hostel where the guy who gave the roommate “a ride home” is staying. The boyfriend, a health inspector, uses his badge to get inside and see if he can find the roommate. Hours later, after the sun has gone down, he still hasn’t come back out, so Lisa decides to sneak in and see what’s what. Bad move. When last we see Lisa, she’s being sewn into a mattress.

Cut to the present and Tabitha is in what looks like an interrogation room. Seems she was found alive and disoriented in a cell somewhere in the building, along with Shelby and Lisa, whom Tabitha knows because, in elementary school the three were inseparable.

Is that the place near that other place, a social worker type woman asks. Yeah, how’d you know that, Tabitha asks.

I used to have a patient from there, the woman says. He had the most distinctive laugh.

And then it all comes full circle and we finally understand just what’s going on.

The problem? What’s going on is really pretty stupid and is TERRIBLE motivation for a slasher flick. When it comes to movies like Amusement it’s ALL about the killer’s motivation. In Prom Night, the guy was avenging the death of his sister. In the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Kruger initially wants revenge on the people who burned him alive. It’s all about WHY the killer is killing. Or you can go the complete opposite route and leave it ambiguous. The Halloween and Friday the 13th movies did this with great success. But to give your killer a weak or, as in this case, a just plain dumb motivation makes everything else around it crumble.

And let’s not forget the contrivances. Holy God, there are so many of them in Amusement. So many implausible things had to happen just right for this story to play out like it did. From the killer just HAPPENS to fall in line with a convoy led by a trucker who is transporting someone to rehab, someone who doesn’t want to go to rehab and who leaps from the moving truck, leading conveniently to the killer being alone with his target on a deserted stretch of road, which also just happens to be not far from his out of the way cabin in the woods, which the trucker then just happens to find and stop at, go inside and use the phone, even though no one is home but, since there’s power and a phone, someone obviously lives there, to Tabitha not realizing the ruse behind the disemboweled Shelby and Lisa in the glass cages, and finally to Tabitha just HAPPENS to seek shelter in the room the killer needed her to enter in order for his final play to unfold. You move any one of those pieces out of the correct alignment and you have a very different story.

O’Donnel and Winnick are decent enough, considering how bad the script is. O’Donnel’s definitely trying to make the role work, anyway, overlooking some obvious flaws in the construction of the thing. Winnick puts on the survivor girl shirt and gives an earnest performance herself, but, again, she’s hobbled by how outlandish the story is.

Simpson has a good eye for detail and makes Amusement LOOK good. I’ll give him points for atmosphere and really committing to setting a proper scene. But there were too many things left unanswered, and not just little things but really huge friggin’ plot holes that NEEDED to be addressed in order for this thing to work.

Amusement probably came from the spark of a really decent idea, but whatever that idea was, it became something much bigger and more complicated than either the writer or director were prepared to untangle, resulting in a movie that, while entertaining to look at, is a struggle to try and comprehend in any logical sense.

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