This year’s most tonally out-of-place ending goes to Cam2Cam. A horror/thriller pitting the murderer of a young American in Bangkok against the victim’s sister for either vengeance or a smart getaway somehow finds itself culminating in a weirdly romantic vibe of lost loves sending gifts via post to remember the lovely time they had in Thailand. It’s the biggest left turn since The Truth About Charlie‘s mediocre by the numbers remake shifting to memorable WTF whimsy for its final five minutes. (Cabin Fever comes to mind too.) The weirdest part of Joel Soisson‘s finish, however, is that I kind of liked it. The strangeness of that sexual tension where hatred should be can’t help but bring a smile to your face. Sadly, while it’s the one moment of absurdity that appears intentional, it isn’t the only absurd occurrence.
Based on a short by Marie Gautier and Davy Sihali, the movie is very interested in including as many clichéd stereotypes about its locale as possible. There are the international psychopaths feeding on the innocence and naiveté of tourists, creepy locals salivating at the flowers visiting their garden, and even a transsexual for no other reason than shock value. The latter is a problem beyond condoning taboo because this is a horror film. If you have to randomly show a female character’s penis to earn a gasp you’re doing the genre wrong. But you quickly discover that even Soisson’s best intentions are ultimately hampered by half-baked execution throughout. So intent on providing red herrings, he never allows us to know anyone other than through two-dimensional labels like “soon-to-be-victim” and “potential killer”—sometimes simultaneously.
It’s too bad too because I enjoyed the opening scene despite carrying on a tad long for more-or-less being a glorified prologue. This is where we meet the beautiful Lucy (Jade Tailor) readying for a quiet night in until her friend Emilie chats her for some harmless, internet sexy fun time. Soisson executes the suspense nicely by having Lucy interact with a horny neighbor (Russell Geoffrey Banks), her friend on the computer, and the eventual homicidal maniac set to chop her head off with a hatchet. We go back and forth as our helpless stranger in a strange land attempts to figure out what’s happening, all the while animated emojis breathe fiery “LOLs” and “nudge” her screen in a violent quake. Between the mystery of the website Lucy uses and the complete lack of bearings, I was hooked.
All that momentum ceases to exist after cutting to black and being reintroduced to light. Our new point of empathy is Allie Westbrook (Tammin Sursok, bringing soap opera broadness from The Young and the Restless and Pretty Little Liars), the tough-as-nails sister to Lucy readying for a war to retrieve the deceased’s head so her family has a body to bury whole. Rather than stick to the suspense of the unknown, however, we meet everyone from the apartment complex scene of the crime. It’s like a flashback only with a different subject as the jubilant Marit (Sarah Bonrepaux) swoops down to teach Allie Bangkok’s overtly sexual ways, lustful Michael (Ben Wiggins) makes his advances with the utmost confidence, and quiet Jade (Kotchanan Grubbmo) simply looks on. We’ve entered the lion’s den and now the games begin.
If the first twenty minutes hooked me, the next twenty had me checking out. Everything slowed to a crawl as characters are introduced with very little detail so that we know their names when one disappears and someone else assumes their online identity. It’s a fully repurposed facsimile of the start except that we know what’s going on this time. Where tension once existed, only eye-rolling tedium remains. We feared for Lucy because while we assumed she’d be going out the way of Drew Barrymore in Scream, we didn’t know when or how. With Allie we know the pattern as well as the certainty she’ll survive if only because Soisson needs her to be our heroine. So instead of gripping seat arms and mimicking her anxiety, we snidely laugh at the benign tropes.
Soisson throws in a couple nice curveballs to make you wake up and get excited that there may be more than simply catching one killer, but the slog to finally start uncovering truths is too much to endure. The script forces things to move slowly so that more horror checkpoints can be crossed off the list rather than allow any semblance of natural progression. A character is going to tell Allie all the dark secrets of Lucy’ death? Well, yeah, but not until dawn the next day so we have time for a couple more murders and foot chases. We know someone is dead before the cast and it’s going to blow things wide open? Nah, we won’t even tell them for another thirty minutes, forgetting that their not knowing is hardly suspenseful when we already do.
The worst part, though, is how Cam2Cam is so smart for its own good that it needs to explain what has actually happened the second after we figure it out. And I don’t mean villain hubris telling the “down and out” heroine the sordid details before tables turn. I’m talking a disembodied flashback with no context other than the assumption we’re confused. Saw got away with this convention because its truths were purposefully deceptive, legitimate riddles. Here it’s the only logical conclusion. I may not have minded as much if the following blurring of lines between predator and prey didn’t occur, but who knows? By that time Cam2Cam had already only partially tapped the potential of its softcore porn/chat roulette conceit as well as the serial killer angle, sharing too many side dishes and not enough meat.
Cam2Cam is now available on VOD.