Lionsgate // 2007 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 5th, 2008
Where the dead live
Morgues are scary places, no doubt, and working in one would be a constant reminder of your impending doom. A morgue seems a perfect locale for a horror-laced exploration of mortality, and The Morgue, while certainly not perfect, does a good job for its budget and answers the question for me: would I want to work at a morgue?
Margo (Lisa Crilley) works nights cleaning a morgue six miles out in the woods. While mopping up and dancing to some music, a family comes in out of nowhere, scaring her half to death. They've run out of gas and their daughter is scared. Apparently, having a couple of jerky parents screaming at each other unsettles the girl, so Margo takes her to find some cookies. While sitting in one of the offices, two bloodied weirdoes barge through the glass door jabbering incoherently about getting help. All of a sudden, once all these people are collected together, another person comes out, seemingly from the shadows, brandishing a bad attitude and a shovel. As he chases them through this final resting place, nothing makes sense anymore and they realize that what they perceive as reality might be anything but.
If you've seen any popular horror films over the last decade, the "shocking conclusions" that they talk about in much of the promotional material will be pretty clear 10 minutes into the film. While this is true, it doesn't really matter, because The Morgue uses its scale and budget strongly to its advantage. The story works on multiple levels and the clear thought behind it sets the film above many of its low budget counterparts. Directors Halder Gomes ad Gerson Sanganitto (two directors is usually a killer for a film, but they work well together here) bring elements of psychological thriller and slasher films along gradually, adding little bits here and there so that, by the time the end comes around, there is terror and strangeness everywhere you turn.
The first half of the film is very quiet, letting us know that something is amiss, but they spend a lot of time letting us get to know the characters, obnoxious as many of them can be. Easing the plot elements in and not throwing everything at the audience at once makes the strangest things seem natural without feeling predictable. When the killer arrives about halfway through the film, it thankfully does not turn into the standard slasher fare. While we certainly have the successive stalking of victim after victim, the body count isn't high, and much of the killer's actions make him seem fairly inept, instead of the unstoppable psychotic that is the norm. Our first victim doesn't get it until almost halfway through and, while he's successful here, he doesn't seem to be very good, overall, at the stalking game. As the killer is stalking the people, things around them get subtly stranger. Paths mysteriously lead to the starting place, mundane but important items disappear into thin air, and it begins to seem that the morgue wants them to stay more than the killer wants them to die.
The twist is pretty obvious, but the way it's revealed is not too bad. They try to connect the events in the film with a corresponding event in "reality," which works out sometimes cleverly and sometimes convoluted. To connect everything, they have to stretch pretty far. The could have connected a few of the dots and left us to fill in the blanks if we can but, in trying to lay everything out in a line for us, it betrays what they developed in both the slasher and psychological thriller realms.
The Morgue does well with budget but is limited as well as a result of the same thing. The story stays in one essential location, and the gore effects are kept to a bloody, but not gory, minimum. The lighting effects and minimal but effective use of music add significantly to the overall mood. They make the most of these elements, giving the insanely isolated morgue a palpable sense of dread, even though the performances don't always match the atmosphere. The characters are written with varied personalities, but almost all of them share two traits: they're obnoxious and totally unlikable. This is a common thread in modern horror and The Morgue is no exception. Lisa Crilley as Margo is a charming lead character whose sweetness is a nice contrast to the overall jerky behavior of the rest of the cast.
Lionsgate's release of The Morgue has strong picture and sound, but little in the way of extras. The anamorphic image is mostly very dark, fitting of the mood, but the black levels are strong. The colors are a little washed out, but this seems intentional as well, though they wind up overshadowed by the black. The surround sound is nothing special, but clear and free from much background noise. The extras include a trailer and a behind the scenes featurette which stresses just how cheap the movie was to make and all the corners they had to cut.
While not a winner all around, The Morgue has an intelligent, if sometimes convoluted, story; pulls decent performances from an inexperienced cast; and features an effectively moody atmosphere. This is a quality, low-budget thriller worth checking out.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Behind the scenes featurette