All the other judges laughed when Judge Kerry Birmingham got this teen revenge flick on his docket. But now they'll pay. Oh, how they'll pay. MWA-HA-HA!
Revenge has a killer body.
There's a lot to admire about the horror genre and its fans. Like all nerd subcultures, horror elicits a fierce devotion from its fans, but it also attracts a greater proportion of them who are…not quite right in the head. Which I mean as praise. Horror fans, when making their own movies, know what they want to see, and they know it's what other horror fans want to see, too. When you get people who are…off…to do creative things, they do it wholly and with an often astounding dedication. Energy that could possibly be better spent, say, drafting a proposal for universal health care, is instead channeled into making movies that are as gory, as vile, as generally depraved as they can possibly be. Tamara, while maybe not all it could have possibly been, is clearly a labor of love on the filmmakers' part, and a meager budget and obvious studio limitations didn't stop them doing a movie starring a girl in tight red dress who returns from the dead to kill people.
God bless horror movie fans. God bless them all.
Facts of the Case
Tamara (Jenna Dewan, Take the Lead) is a homely, introverted high school student mocked and scorned by her peers. When a prank pulled by a group of her peers goes wrong, resulting in Tamara's death, the kids bury the body and cover up her death. Tamara, however, had a thing for witchcraft, and she returns to school the following day as if nothing had happened, acting like the vixen she always wanted to be and looking for revenge on the teens who killed her.
First off, it's obvious that Tamara's creators had both Carrie and I Know What You Did Last Summer in mind in making this movie. The plot can be aptly described as the last twenty minutes of Carrie stretched to feature length, or I Know What You Did Last Summer if they had accidentally killed Jennifer Love Hewitt's character instead of an unreasonable fisherman. More than that, however, Tamara owes its greatest debt to the teen slashers of the '80s, those relentlessly, joyously dumb movies that still enthrall those of us who swear they otherwise watch Woody Allen movies. Tamara wears its influences on its sleeve (or form-fitting mini-skirt, as the case may be). It even has a bit of schlock pedigree of its own: it's written by one of the writers behind Final Destination (I prefer the second movie, myself). There's a lot of horror history at play here, and Tamara revels in it in all of its derivative splendor.
Let all this adulation of the horror genre and its practitioners not mask a basic point: this is not a good movie. "Good" in the sense of commenting on or raising the human experience; "good" in a way that will make audiences cheer and weep joyfully for the medium of film. No: this is a bad movie. In a lot of ways, it doesn't even qualify as a good horror movie. Purists will balk at the general absence of gore, at the lack of real nudity (a few bra shots, if you must know), at the villain whose main form of assault is to…gently touch people's faces. The high school kids are all clearly well into their twenties (sort of a convention, I suppose), the production values are bland in that low-budget-filmed-in-Vancouver sort of way, and the solution to the final encounter between Tamara and her surviving prey becomes obvious the second the set piece is revealed. It's sometimes awkwardly staged and has pacing issues that really shouldn't exist in a 98 minute feature film.
Now that it's clear that this is by no means a good movie, let me qualify all of that: I liked it anyway. I liked that what gore there was well handled. An on-camera mutilation, the first inkling of Tamara's revenge, is immensely disturbing, all with only some Karo syrup blood and a few prosthetic blobs to pull it off (Tamara's incestuous creep of a father meets a similarly queasy fate). Dewan, as Tamara, pulls off the switch from put-upon bookworm to super-vixen surprisingly well; there's a definite gawkiness to her that vanishes, post-mortem, with the addition of a little make-up and some heels.
Tamara also reveals herself to be a somewhat atypical villain. Floating on the periphery of her tormentors' social group, Tamara is a constant reminder of the evil that they've done, while the rest of the school is oblivious. It would be like if Freddy Krueger, post-burning, had just kept mopping the floors at the school while the students took their ACTs. Also novel is Tamara's method of revenge: fueled by, um, ambiguous witch power, Tamara can read a victim's deepest fears just by touch and control their actions thereafter, resulting in a few inventive moments of exploitive fear and the always-welcome Ironic Death® (the filmmakers lose points for not committing to a bit in which two homophobe jocks are made very, very uncomfortable).
Speaking of "ambiguous witch power," any easily offended Wiccans in the viewing audience may want to steer clear, as it's not a particularly flattering portrayal of witchcraft (or, presumably, accurate; the filmmakers' claim that they consulted a witch for those scenes seems highly suspect).
Performances are largely unexceptional, but work fine for the movie. Katie Stuart (Wild Things 2) looks and acts like a poor man's Katie Holmes, which works for her character, Chloe, one of the few of teens who thinks that, hey, maybe they were remiss in accidentally murdering that girl and burying her body in the woods. The men, square-jawed lunkheads with a geek thrown in for good measure (cheat note: he's the one with glasses), exude enough smarm and hormonal entitlement that they'd be at home in the '80s movies that Tamara so blithely rips off.
That unabashed thievery, that gushing adherence to a seriously inept form of film storytelling, is Tamara's greatest strength. From the introductory essays provided by the writer and director in the DVD booklet to the film itself, the entire enterprise smacks of fanboys having a good time making the kind of movie they want to make. It's a smart angle to play: don't try to pass yourself off as Hollywood trash, just your own sort of trash, dammit! You have to respect that kind of enthusiasm for such a willfully sub-par product.
The only extra, aside from a bevy of the usual trailers, is a commentary from writer Jeffrey Reddick and director Jeremy Haft. The tone is playful, and it's obvious that the two are friends, or at least get along well. Those with an interest in low-budget filmmaking may find something of value in the details of the horror show of…making a horror show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It should be clear from the above that, like in Tamara herself, this movie inspires a split personality in me. There's few redeeming qualities to be found in Tamara, but there's enough clever turns to carry the movie through its uneven script and more trite horror moments. Enter with low expectations (yes, you, fans of blood and boobs) and you might just enjoy the throwback charms of Tamara.
It's lousy. You'll like it.
Guilty, but I'm worried Tamara will touch me and then know my deep, dark, not-very-judicial secret. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Writer Jeffrey Reddick and Director Jeremy Haft
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