Directed By Eric Red
Starring Famke Janssen, Bobby Cannavale, Ed Westwick and Michael Paré
Marnie Watson (Janssen), newly released from the shower-rapey confines of prison where she was sent for killing her abusive cop husband in an act of self-defence, is committed to house arrest for a year as a condition of her parole. She’s slapped with an electronic ankle bracelet that not only clashes with her wardrobe, but restricts her movement to within 100 feet of the base unit in her house – if she wanders outside, it’s a quick stroll down the yellow brick road back to the land of shiv-stabbings and cellmates named Burly Bertha: The Destroyer of Spleens for her. Stuck in her dilapidated Brooklyn two-storey home, Marnie quickly learns that being unable to head out for Subway and shopping sprees with her girlfriends is the least of her worries, as she soon discovers that the ghost of her husband is still in the house, and nobody in the afterlife has taught him the concept of ‘personal boundaries’.
If the core concept sounds vaguely familiar, then you probably won’t be the first to spot the Disturbia similarity. However, while the immensely fun Shia LaBeouf thriller used the house arrest concept to its full potential to give us a fresh 21st century techno-centric spin on Rear Window, Eric Red merely uses the idea as a flimsy gimmick to keep Marnie stuck in the haunted house, otherwise providing a by-the-numbers haunted house film. No ghost movie cliché is left unused: Marnie’s gothic-looking house is without power for much of the movie, leaving her to live by candlelight and wander round exploring strange noises in her underwear, while we get the requisite amount of cheap and ineffective loud noise jump-scares (including the groan-inducing ‘cat jumps out of nowhere’ fake-out, which grew old after Alien in 1979), sceptical authority figures, rattling doors and windows, flying plates and candles being blown out by random gusts of wind. Red seemingly decided that ‘subtlety’ wasn’t a word in his filmmaking vocabulary, and rather than tread the more effective ‘less is more’ path of using psychological, suggestive scares, we get blurry CGI renderings of an evil Michael Paré and lots of kitchenware explosions*, along with one heavy-handed scene of gut-wrenchingly brutal violence before the big pyrotechnics-and-pixels finale.
I’m a huge fan of Eric Red’s early one-two punch of cult classic awesomeness (The Hitcher (1986) and Near Dark are both high points of the genre as a whole, let alone one writer’s career), but his decade-long absence from the industry hasn’t done wonders for his writing ability. 100 Feet, as well as being steeped in cliché, is also guilty of some wretched dialogue and narrative choices – Red tosses aside the “show, don’t tell” mantra, as every aspect of Marnie’s back-story is delivered ham-fistedly through painfully amateurish exposition.
Famke Janssen is usually a tremendously capable actress, and here she handles the emotional stuff reasonably well, though is unfortunately let down by Red’s dialogue and the feeble hold she has on her shaky and drifting “New Yawk” accent, which often sounds like a 12 year old slipping in and out of their best bad gangster movie drawl while drunk on Listerine. She’s made infinitely harder to root for when saddled with a character who makes profoundly retarded decisions; when faced with the notion that, to get rid of a spirit, you should remove all their belongings from the house, Marnie decides that throwing their diamond engagement down the garbage disposal would be a good idea. Before you can ask yourself who would consider this a wise plan, she’s shoving her hand in to fish it out again…without turning off the power to the disposal unit, and with full knowledge that her dead husband can control switches and outlets… Yes, it’s all been a poorly-planned foundation-laying for a ‘hand in the about-to-be-activated disposal’ set-piece; the film not only neglects the urge to swerve to avoid cliché, it takes logic-defying detours to meet them head-on, leaving the audience checking for drool seeping from Marnie’s mouth and wondering if they’re watching the world’s first retard vs. ghosts Down’s Syndrome empowerment film.
When forced to endure savage and escalating nightly beatings, does Marnie ask the suspicious cop ex-partner of her husband who never, ever leaves her street (For the week-long timescale of the film, he sits in a car, leaving only to yell at Marnie occasionally. He never leaves to check the house when it’s actually opportune and useful. He just sits on a week-long stake-out**, without food or relief. I dread to think how many bottles of urine had accumulated in his car by the end of the movie…) to spend the night in the house instead of his car, to witness the ghostly assaults for himself? Nope. Does she simply leave the house and risk getting taken back to jail rather than be beaten to death in her run-down home? Nope. Why? (Cliché ahoy!) She’d “rather die than go back to prison!”. She not only comes across as a colossal idiot, but a glutton for punishment, while the film becomes little more than a progressively worsening series of spook-beatings.
Gossip Girl’s inexplicably popular and perpetually creepy Ed Westwick shows up as delivery boy Joey – Marnie’s only friend and confidante after being shunned by her former friends (Shockingly, they don’t take kindly to killers in Brooklyn – I’d always assumed you had to have killed at least 3 people to be allowed to sign a lease in the borough). Despite playing a relatively nice guy, he’s only marginally less unnerving than usual (meaning he still looks like he’d have sinister intentions for your newborn baby, but you get the impression he may be more likely to restrain his urge to slap the kid on a sandwich and chomp away than usual), and manages to be unintentionally far scarier than the ghost purely by being on-screen. Perhaps tween girls and people with a high threshold for smarminess might tolerate the guy better, but personally, Ed Westwick haunts my nightmares.
Bobby Cannavale plays Shanks, the aforementioned stalker cop. He’s not bad at all as an actor, but again, he’s dragged down by a character who’s a walking stereotype: the unhelpful and badgering sceptical detective, there to hamper the protagonist’s progress and add dramatic tension. He also dresses like a cop extra from a Bogart movie, with a giant overcoat and carrying a tiny snub-nosed pistol that I’m sure hasn’t been police issue since 1935; all he’s missing is a fedora.
On the whole, it’s an entirely messy and inherently flawed film – one that follows tired genre conventions, stereotypes and hits every cliché like a game of Whack-a-Mole, not even managing to be a well-made generic retread. It’s an entirely shoddy movie which actively insults the audience’s intelligence and has exactly one scene that carries any kind of impact, which it achieves purely through mean-spirited and stomach-churning brutality.
100 Feet is slightly more favourable than prison rape. But only slightly.
*The 3rd leading cause of deaths at Ikea – right below “Death by Boredom”, and “Spontaneous explosions of frustration upon realising that vital screws and fixtures are missing from your flat-packed furniture”.
**Shanks the Stalker-Cop would make an excellent drinking game: Take a shot of your preferred drink anytime the movie cuts to him skulking in his car, staring at the house. Takes 3 shots any time he searches the house hours after he’s actually needed, and concocts wild accusatory conspiracy theories while he goes. You’ll be dead from alcohol poisoning before the credits roll.
(Review originally published at WRAWReviews.co.uk)