Magnolia Pictures // 2011 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 30th, 2012
Sex, drugs, and an ancient ritual. Anthropology 101 is a killer.
A dark horror comedy that sniffs around being something semi-interesting, before succumbing to its own mediocrity.
At the University of California Santa Barbara, the students are renowned for partying hard with little or no thought of consequence and communicable disease. The faculty get in on the action too, especially the roguish Professor Nash (Stephen Dorff, Brake), anthropology guru and general hornball. His professional curiosities are piqued when one of his students proposes a re-creation of a Native American ritual.
A weekend that is sure to include fornication and substance abuse is curtailed when the student's whack-job older brother Ben (Wes Bentley, The Hunger Games) starts tripping out on a Chumash tribal drug and turns into a homicidal maniac. Adding to the mayhem is Ben's pal and drug dealer, Delgado (Christian Slater, Broken Arrow), a psycho who visualizes a talking monkey clinging to his shotgun.
I tend to piss and moan a lot about crappy horror movies that stay away from risks and innovation, opting instead for rehashing the same old tropes and conventions. So it's with a smidgen of sheepishness I throw darts at Rites of Passage, which actually tries a bunch of different things, from structure to execution. It's obvious the filmmakers are trying to separate their work from the ho-hum inadequacy that crowds their genre. Yet in their eagerness to craft something different, they forgot to make their movie fun.
I'm not saying this needs to be breezy or light-hearted. There are macabre elements at work, but Rites of Passage still has to unload some thrills right? Right?
Ah...no. Typical to a film that tries to be many things to many tastes, Rites of Passage falls short in all regards. As a comedy, the gags are limited to the surreal monkey hallucination sequences featuring Christian Slater. I'll admit I found them oddly compelling the first go-round, but these scenes just don't jibe with the rest of the film's considerably darker tone. It becomes bizarre more than anything.
For the horror stuff, I fear you'll also be left wanting. There is very little bloodshed, so gorehounds won't walk away satiated. And the suspense revolves around Wes Bentley's character's unpredictable behavior, which is unpredictable because he's hopped up on some bad juju. While under the influence, he'll kidnap co-eds and dress them up in Native American garb, so there's some limited women-in-peril thrills, but that's about the extent of the terror. The mayhem culminates when everyone gets going in a drug-fueled haze, leading to their sporadic demise and an extended face-off with the big bad, all of which ends in dull, forgettable fashion.
The Blu-ray is technically solid. Out front, the 1.85:1/1080p transfer is a winner. Clear and detailed throughout, the visuals pump out some bodacious California imagery. Sound flows cleanly from a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. One extra: a making-of featurette.
Despite the star power -- the best acting, unsurprisingly, belonging to the recognizable faces -- the willingness to mix tones and the slick look, Rites of Passage falters.
Guilty. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R