Judge Gordon Sullivan was looking forward to a movie about a killer cactus.
Ten Suspects. Six Clues. One Killer.
Revenge is a really weird concept in cinema. About half the time, we're told to sympathize with those seeking revenge because they have a righteous cause. The other half we're told to sympathize with some guy who's the object of revenge, and so revenge is bad. Needle, the generically titled Australian production, fits into the latter category. It rocks a kind of Hellraiser-meets-Ten Little Indians mood that surpasses many of its genre peers, though never quite rises above mediocrity.
Marcus (Travis Fimmel, The Beast) is a college student in Australia. Although his father died two years ago, he's just now receiving the contents of one of his storage units. Inside was Le Vaudo Mort, a mysterious machine that just happens to be delivered to Marcus as his older brother comes back into town (a brother, not coincidently, who Marcus blames for their father's death). After showing a number of his friends the box after a party, a drunken Marcus leaves the machine under his bed. The next morning it's gone. Then, Marcus' friends start dying, and it doesn't take long to figure out that the box has something to do with it.
Needle has a few things going for it. First among them is its implementation of the basic Ten Little Indians model from Agatha Christie. We're pretty sure from the beginning that the killer is somebody we're introduced to in the film's first few minutes. Is it Marcus' mysterious brother who just happened to come back into town? Is it the professor Marcus just pranked in front of the whole class with an embarrassing picture? Everybody is a suspect, but because people die at a fairly steady clip there's no chance for cheesy red herrings or shock tactics. Second among the film's strengths is the inclusion of the mysterious machine. It's kinda creepy looking, and in case it wasn't obvious Le Vaudo Mort translates to The Voodoo Death. That's how the box operates, turning a wax dummy into a voodoo doll which can then be tortured and killed along with its double. There's no serious attempt to provide a backstory to the machine (aside from a few spurious references to Grand Guignol), and in an era of over-explaining in films, the omission feels fresh. Finally, the box allows one of the film's other strengths to emerge: it's got pretty good gore. The whole voodoo doll conceit allows for some pretty horrific torture and the special effects used to achieve those moments look impressive.
However, the film is not without its drawbacks as well. The first starts with the title. Needle is so aggressively generic, so tangentially related to the film's premise, that it feels wrong on so many levels. However, it is appropriate in one way, and that is in its genericism, which the film also suffers from. Needle is a well-done movie, but it does nothing to move the formula of the murder mystery or horror film into new territory. The acting is fine but never distinguished. The final twist, when we learn who the killer is, feels a little bit arbitrary. It's not a total deus ex machine, but it does feel a little sudden. These are all fairly minor quibbles, but taken together they leave me with the feeling that Needle is a decent film, but one that could have been better.
The DVD, however, is pretty good. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is generally clean and bright, with appropriate black levels during the numerous night time sequences. Detail is pretty strong, and artifacts are not a problem. The Dolby 5.1 surround track keeps dialogue clean and clear in the center channel (despite the Aussie accents), and there's some good directionality during some of the more intense moments. Subtitles are included for those who have trouble with accents from Down Under. The main extra is a short making-of featurette, and the film's trailer is also included.
As long as you keep your expectations in check, Needle is a decent little Aussie horror/mystery flick. The voodoo angle is well-played, and the mystery kept free enough of cheesy red herrings to make the flick watchable. It's probably worth a rental for genre fans or those looking to expand their horizons with a few faces who may be recognizable.
Not guilty, though the court warns viewers to keep their expectations low to avoid disappointment.
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