Anchor Bay // 2011 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // April 28th, 2013
Evil has been unleashed.
After escaping from what must be the least restrictive high security institution for the criminally insane in the free world, oxymoronic psychopath Harmon Jaxon (Dominic Purcell, Prison Break) wanders the countryside, causing misery and misfortune to all who encounter him. The police -- all 12 of them -- are baffled.
Earlier that day, a college class had visited the institution, and despite being warned repeatedly not to make eye contact with Jaxon, pretty co-ed Abby (Christine Evangelista, The Joneses) couldn't help sneaking a peek. Bad move, Abby; this gave Jaxon the chance to see your name on that ginormous name-tag you've got on -- Why are these people, all from the same college class, wearing name tags at a mental hospital filled with sociopaths? -- and since you are apparently the only "Abby" within 100 miles (really!), it means crazy boy is going to escape and hunt you down. I mean, didn't you see that coming?
Everybody else certainly did.
Escapee takes what is arguably the lowest-hanging and most reliable trope in all slasherdom and muffs it so badly, it's mind-boggling. Seriously: Lunatic hunts girl. It's been powering the Halloween series for three lucrative decades and change. How did writer/director Campion Murphy take such a simple premise and come up with such a mess of a movie?
I wish there was a simple answer to that. I wish I could pull out one element and point to it as the deal-breaker; unfortunately, Escapee is top-to-bottom dreadful, a runaway train of terrible acting, appalling dialogue, incoherence, abysmal pacing, and a plot twist that just makes everything that much worse.
We start with a reasonable-enough serial killing, and then capture. Then, we vault ahead "five years later," to the institution. It's here we meet Abby and one of her roommates, Renee (Melissa Ordway, Privileged). We'll later meet a third roommate, Lynne (Carly Chaikin, Suburgatory). These three make up a kind of Bermuda Triangle of horrible characterization. Maybe Murphy and the actresses were trying to offer an authentic feel for how air-headed college girls talk, but frankly, every time they open their mouths, it's brutal, particularly Chaikin.
Anyway, we get the eye-contact episode, which throws Jaxon into such a froth that he actually -- after five years, apparently -- figures out that if you fake being sick and a single guard comes to your cell, you can easily overpower him, plus any other stray, unsuspecting guards and employees who just happen to get in your way.
We then meet the crack detective who will be unraveling the case, Alison Jensen, and here is where the film completely folds. Jensen is played by Faith Ford, who is best remembered from Murphy Brown. Ford is married to Campion Murphy. She's the star and producer of this film that he wrote and directed.
I can't fault Murphy for wanting to write a good role for his talented wife. That it didn't work out shouldn't be a killer card. But Det. Jensen isn't just a badly drawn character, she's a Defcon 1 badly drawn character. Maybe they were trying to imbue her with a little Marge Gunderson folksiness and a little Clarice Starling intelligence and insight, but what they get is a mawkish stew of idiocy.
On the one hand, when the "chief" (presumably of police) asks her, "Think you can get into this guy's head?" she answers, "Oh, I'm already there," suggesting she's a top officer; on the other hand, when she shows up at a crime scene where two people have been murdered and strung up in a tree, her first question is, "So these are the victims, huh?" It kind of gives you pause. It doesn't help that Murphy adds some weird tension between Jensen and the chief, who's upset that the story has been leaked to the press. You'd think that if a homicidal lunatic escaped, you'd be calling the National Guard and the FBI, and putting warnings on TV and Facebook, but "Don't notify the press" just fits in with the crazy logic that keeps this afloat. To wit:
The bodies in the asylum are discovered by a nurse "on the graveyard shift" -- only, by the film's timeline, it's around 7 p.m.
At one point, an officer is stationed outside Abby's house, where the lunatic is expected to show up. The women hear a noise, and run from the house screaming, "Help, officer, someone's trying to break into our house!" about five times. The cop gets out of the car, and with a straight face, says, "Ladies, what seems to be the problem?"
A chase through the woods gives us an athletic young woman running frantically while the killer slowly lumbers behind her. If she was a train leaving Denver at 1 p.m. heading east, and he was a train leaving Hartford at 2:30 p.m. heading west, when would they...oh, never mind; despite his snail's pace pursuit against her gazelle-like gallop, guess who ends up skewered?
And of course, our villain has some mild superpowers.
Yeah, Escapee is a pretty awful movie.
For all its awfulness -- really, because of all its awfulness -- Escapee is actually highly watchable and entertaining. There's a purity to the badness on display; it's not teeth-gnashing pretentious badness like After Fall, Winter, or aggravatingly pseudo-clever badness like The Devil's in the Details (to name just two dreadful films I've seen recently). No, Escapee is more like Ed Wood-level badness, powered by a kind of misguided sincerity that hallmarked the enjoyably bad films of the past.
So, it's an awful movie, but it's also highly recommended.
Escapee (Blu-ray) comes to us from Anchor Bay sporting a clean, 1080p transfer and a reasonably crisp DTS surround track.
For supplements, we get a trailer and a photo gallery, and a "making of" featurette called Making of; this last one is noteworthy in that it introduced me to a word I'd never heard before: "Recapiculation." Look it up. Good luck with that.
It upholds the classic standards of badness, which is good enough for me.
Review content copyright © 2013 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R