Director: Adam Green
Everyone has their favorite type of horror movie. Some people are into classic monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein. Others like zombies, or the "demon spawn" movies such as Rosemary's Baby and The Omen. Personally, I've always had a soft spot for slasher movies. I grew up loving the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, but unfortunately, they don't make 'em like they used to. Pure, original slasher movies are few and far between nowadays, which is probably why every overeager movie website too full of their own hype goes crazy every time a new one comes out. A huge example of this can be seen in the movie Hatchet. Written and directed by independent filmmaker Adam Green as a so-called throwback to the slasher flicks of the '80s, Hatchet caused the online horror community to absolutely lose their minds. After nearly two years of touring the film festival circuit while various online pundits fell over themselves to proclaim it as R-rated horror's almighty savior in a time of PG-13 remakes, Hatchet finally hit theaters. Seventy-three theaters, to be exact, in only twenty-seven cities across America. And to tell you the truth, after seeing it, I'm surprised it got a theatrical release at all. Hatchet is a case of hype far outweighing substance, and I'll gladly tell you why.
Having just come off a bad breakup, Ben (Joel David Moore) is dragged down to New Orleans by his best friend Marcus (Deon Richmond) so they can have a little fun at Mardi Gras. All that debauchery isn't exactly Ben's thing, so he talks Marcus into joining him and a group of tourists on a haunted boat ride through the Louisiana bayou. But when the incompetent tour guide (Parry Shen) accidentally crashes the boat, the group is forced to hike their way back to civilization. Unfortunately, that hike isn't going to be a happy one. It turns out they've become stranded in the domain of Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), a deformed brute who calls the swamp his home. Stuck with no safe way out, the tourists are picked off one by one as they try to survive the wrath of a psychopathic killer.
Hatchet is a movie with some potential, but the problem is that with all the potential in the world doesn't guarantee that your movie will be any good. See, I really don't understand all the love that Hatchet has gotten online. The truth of the matter is that this movie is, at its core, a generic direct-to-video movie that got lucky. This is supposed to be the saving grace of R-rated horror? Yeah, right. While I will admit that the movie does show a certain affection for the genre, it does nothing to advance it. It's practically a compilation of every slasher cliché imaginable, with some bad jokes and moderately acceptable special effects thrown in for flavor. Hatchet brings nothing new to the realm of slasher movies, which is a wee bit ironic when you consider that the Marilyn Manson song "This Is The New Shit" plays over the opening and closing credits.
For the most part, this is the fault of Adam Green's screenplay. Seriously, what is this crap? It's like Green was so focused on creating the next great horror icon that he actually forgot to write a good movie. Sure, he might have thought up some imaginative kills, but Green hasn't come up with anything else that's any good. Most of the dialogue is lame, and the jokes are hit-or-miss (mostly miss). It almost makes you feel sorry for the cast, since they're the ones that have to deliver these embarrassing lines. And it doesn't help that the characters are the same lame stereotypes you've seen so many times before. There's the nerdy guy, the token black guy, the nosy older couple, the girl who knows exactly what's going on, the sleazy pervert, the two slutty bimbos, the guy who does something incredibly stupid and gets everyone else in trouble, and the monstrous serial killer whose origin story has become a local campfire legend. I know this is supposed to be a love letter to the cheesy slasher flicks of the '80s, but is it too much to ask for characters that rise above the usual tired clichés?
But since slasher movies are more about visual flair than their scripts, you might easily assume that Green's direction would make up for his lackluster writing. But you'd be assuming incorrectly, because the direction is spotty at best. There are some extremely brief flashes of brilliance, but the majority of the time, Green makes it look like anybody with a month or two of film school training could have put this movie together. Like with the jokes, the majority of the scares don't really work. There are a few that are good, but most of them are predictable or just plain lame. There also isn't very much tension or suspense (if there's any at all), and it eventually becomes obvious that we're just being strung along from one kill to the next. And since the killing doesn't start until over halfway through the movie (not counting the opening scene, that is), we're stuck biding our time until something remotely interesting happens.
It doesn't help that Will Barratt's cinematography is so murky, that it's a struggle to see what's going on for most of the movie. In a movie where the cast is getting hacked to pieces, wouldn't you want the audience to see that? But judging by how dark everything is, my guess is that either Barratt has no clue what a cinematographer is supposed to do, or Hatchet's budget was so low that they couldn't afford to buy any lights. Maybe it's for the best, because the special effects designed by genre veteran John Carl Buechler are merely adequate, and the poor lighting could cover up any flaws. The effects aren't too bad, I guess, but it's a little off-putting to see blood squirting like someone was shooting it from a spritz bottle. The music composed by Andy Garfield left a lot to be desired as well. It's just way too generic for its own good, and that's when you can hear it. You can't even tell there's music playing most of the time, though I guess it's better than having it turned up to eleven and making the audience go deaf.
Last up is the cast, and the good performances amongst them are rare. I should say, though, that I did like Joel David Moore and Parry Shen. I enjoyed both of them, and if somebody could work them into a Hatchet sequel, that's be great. Unfortunately, I can't really pay the same compliments to the rest of the cast. Deon Richmond might not have been too bad if he hadn't been overacting too badly, while Tamara Feldman, who plays the movie's Final Girl, is just plain awful. Feldman delivers her lines like she has no idea what she's doing, though it doesn't help that most of her dialogue is awful (e.g. announcing "Victor Crowley is real!" as fast as she can in order to win a random argument). The rest of the cast is simply there, with Richard Riehle and Patrika Darbo standing out as the two characters I wanted to see die the most.
I guess I should also point out that Green apparently decided that casting notable names from the horror genre would score him points with the audience. Robert Englund, Tony Todd, the aforementioned John Carl Buechler, and Joshua Leonard from The Blair Witch Project all have brief cameos, while Kane Hodder plays the killer and Mercedes McNab from Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays one of the two perpetually topless airheads along for the tour through the swamp. Casting them may have been a ploy to get attention from the genre faithful, but it works, because I can't say that any of them are actually bad. Englund, Todd, Buechler, and Leonard are funny in their quick cameos, while McNab alternates between annoying and mildly entertaining. And then there's Kane Hodder, who you may know from his appearances as Jason in the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth Friday the 13th movies. Playing a character like this is nothing new to Hodder, but since Victor Crowley is a much weaker villain than Jason, it makes it feel like he's just playing the role on auto-pilot. It's a shame, really.
In spite of all the claims about Hatchet's originality, it's really nothing you haven't seen done better in a million other horror movies. This is basically Adam Green's lazy attempt at making a clone of any random Friday the 13th movie. All we're missing here is a summer camp. And pointing out Hatchet's laziness is probably the worst thing I can say about it. It seems like Green spent so much time patting himself on the back, saying what an awesome movie Hatchet was and how Victor Crowley is going to be a new horror icon on par with Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, that he just ended up churning out some overrated excuse for a horror movie. And what's really bad is that somewhere along the line, Hatchet starts to lose its own identity. It's like the movie doesn't know whether it's a straight horror movie, or a spoof of them. As a parody, it's not all that great, but it's somewhat acceptable, I guess. In that aspect, it's at least a tiny bit better than the crap we've been getting from the Scary Movie franchise and all those other parodies. If it's a straight horror movie, then it's a pitiful excuse for one, thanks to the bad acting, the atrocious script, the cheap production values, and the disappointing lack of effective scares. And if it's an attempt to create another slasher renaissance, it's an astoundingly miserable failure. If I want to watch a slasher movie that both lampoons and reveres the genre, I'll go dust off my DVD of Scream. Because the final truth is that I'd rather watch a good movie, instead of... this.
Final Rating: **