Directed by: Rob Zombie
Distributed by: Saban Films
Written by Jeff Sparks
Rob Zombie’s first crowd-funded film, “31,” is among my favorites by the controversial filmmaker. Despite the overwhelmingly negative reception from viewers and critics alike, I happen to think it’s one of his best. With it being unattached to any of his other films, it feels much more creative. While I appreciate the creativity in his Firefly trilogy, “31” feels much more like a focused piece. The film centers around a group of traveling carnival workers who are kidnapped and forced to play a deadly game that sees them trapped in an industrial labyrinth and hunted down by waves of sadistic killers for twelve hours. The opening credits and the subsequent few scenes are some of my favorite work done by Zombie throughout his career. While playing a couple of classic songs that match the 1970s time period, we are introduced to our main cast consisting of Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster, Richard Brake, Elizabeth Daily, and Malcolm McDowell. Like many great filmmakers, Zombie often brings back his previous actors to work with him on his new projects. The chemistry this builds shows on screen in a way that helps excuse the bits of weak dialogue that are noticeable throughout.
In the first couple of scenes, Zombie builds up his characters by showing grainy clips of the group horsing around as they travel in their tour bus. The sequence feels like a dingy version of “Almost Famous” which makes me wonder what Rob could do with a music film. Not long after the group has a run-in with Elizabeth Daily’s eccentric character they are abducted and taken to play in the deadly survival game that the game hosts call “31.” Throughout the night they make their way through a seemingly endless maze of rooms facing waves of killers. Each of the villains has their own memorable run in the film as they bring their own brand of terror. They each have their own identity and type of dialogue albeit within the framework of Rob Zombie-style dialogue, which means it’s often depraved. The two played by Elizabeth Daily and Richard Brake are the only villains shown outside of the game. Although all the killers are worthy of their own segments, those are the only two that I would say can stand on their own if given their own feauture. As for the victims of the game, Rob’s casting choices make them a pretty likable group despite the characters themselves being shallow. Led by the ultra-charismatic Sheri Moon Zombie, the trio of her, Meg Foster, and Jeff Daniel Phillips bounce off each other very well, as they always do in Zombie’s films.
One of the main things critics of Zombie always harp on him for is his use of shaky cam. I don’t mind it since it’s often part of his signature style, but here it feels like it especially fits compared to the rest of his films. The constant flailing of the viewpoint makes the fight scenes feel uncontrollably intense and hectic. I also don’t mind the disgusting lines that fill up his scripts. His films are built on being a grimy experience from his grindhouse-style cinematography down to his lewd dialogue. The man is making the experience that he wants to make without the reception in mind and that is a style of filmmaking that I appreciate. Since both his new “Munsters” film and his last two original films have been bombarded by many critics and fans, I hope Rob doesn’t have to crowdfund to get his next idea made.