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Our review of Shiver (2008), published October 28th, 2008, is also available.
The perfect killer has met his match.
Just before watching Shiver, I read an article that attempted to give a "state of the union" for crime fiction. One of the author's main points is that the current trend toward "realism" (especially in the wake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is misplaced—crime fiction has never been about reality, from the murderous orangutan of Poe to the flashy modern bank heist. The average criminal is just that, average, and films are usually boring when they stick to that reality. This is never more evident than in the serial killer genre. Folks like Hannibal Lecter make great characters, but their creators have to cobble together the psychological profiles of a half-dozen real-life killers, while erasing all their foibles. Shiver invites us to take that ride, providing a scary, though unbelievable killer pitted against a seemingly meek victim. The result is a serial killer film that has a lot more ideas than the average low-budget take on the genre, but one that can't quite bring them all together in the end.
The Gryphon (John Jarratt, Wolf Creek) is a serial killer who is targeting young women. One day he appears in the apartment of Wendy (Danielle Harris, The Last Boy Scout) when she's coming home from a non-date. Wendy, however, manages to outwit her attacker and escape. That earns his respect, and eventually his affection. Now the Gryphon murders for more than the sheer pleasure of it, attempting to get to Wendy and impress her with his psychopathic prowess, while she works with detective (Casper Van Dien, Starship Troopers) to track him down.
Now that Hannibal Lecter is on prime-time network television, the serial killer has arrived. Forget Se7en or The Silence of the Lambs, it appears that the serial killer has been completely mainstreamed. That means it's time to tell some new stories with them, and this film is adapted from a novel released just after all of the Silence of the Lambs furor in 1992. By pitting a serial killer against a regular woman, one who isn't a cop or a psychiatrist or otherwise involved in the legal field, the basic plot plays a different tune than the usual "cop vs. killer" storyline.
The first thing Shiver gets right is casting John Jarratt as a serial killer. He was the most memorable aspect of Wolf Creek, and his turn as the Gryphon is compelling, at least from an intimidation standpoint. Similarly, the film does viewers an excellent turn by casting Danielle Harris as his opposite. She's the one who must transform from a shy secretary to a woman capable of standing against a madman. It's a pretty impressive transformation.
To the film's credit, the idea of pairing a serial killer with "the one that got away" is an interesting one, and avoids the common "How to catch a serial killer" problems that plague a lot of low-budget thrillers. Also, making the killings more about psychological torture than pure gruesome death is a welcome change as well.
The problem with Shiver, though, is that it doesn't quite know what to do with these elements. Though it had its problems, writer/director Julian Richards' previous film The Last Horror Movie at least had its act together behind the scenes—all the various horror elements lead up to a statement on horror and movies. With Shiver, it's difficult to figure out what the ultimate aim of the film is.
Because the film seems to lack a certain intellectual ambition—which is often a prerequisite for the serial killer movie a la Se7en and Silence of the Lambs, or even Saw—it's that much harder to forgive the budget elements and lackluster script. With an idea-laden script like The Last Horror Movie, viewers are more likely to cut a bit of slack since the film is trying to accomplish so much. In contrast, Shiver is just trying to be a serial killer thriller, and since it can't quite that right the film is harder to forgive. The problems start with the script; the plot is a bit unbelievable, and more importantly gives us too much time with the Gryphon. If his dialogue had been written perfectly, it might have worked, but Jarrett increasingly has to rely on his impressive frame and wild eyes to convey a killer's intent because the wild ramblings he's given are more silly than scary. Though I appreciate seeing Van Dien and Rae Dawn Chong as cops, their presence doesn't help the film along nearly enough.
At least the DVD is decent. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is serviceable, with a decent amount of detail and fine colors. Obviously as a low-budget film, it's not a visual feast, but the dark atmosphere of the flick comes across appropriately, with solid blacks and few compression hiccups. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is similarly okay—dialogue is always clean and clear, and there is some use of the surrounds to give us atmosphere and a few jumps.
Shiver isn't a terrible film as far as low-budget horror/thrillers go, but it's definitely for those who've exhausted other options in the genre. A few decent performances are all to really recommend the film, so fans of the actors should give this DVD a rental.
Guilty of trying to do too many things at once.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: RLJ Entertainment
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