After carving out a name for himself as the director of some pretty gruesome and in-your-face flicks (Saw II - IV, Mother's Day ), Darren Lynn Bousman (also credited with the screenplay) takes a completely different approach with his psychological thriller 11-11-11. With its blend of numerology and religious paranoia, the film desperately wants to be categorized as 'slow burn'. Unfortunately the lackluster pacing, clunky dialogue and dearth of scares make it more of a 'no burn'.
Bestselling author Joseph Crone (Timothy Gibbs) is on the verge of a mental break. He has a legion of loyal fans but they can't heal the damage done by the recent death of his wife and child. Even as he struggles to cope with his grief, there is the niggling fear that he is being followed...by numbers. He can't seem to escape 11-11. It was the official time of his son's death. It was the date of his mother's passing. He even got into a potentially fatal car accident at, you guessed it, 11:11.
Just when it seems like a positive force is entering his life in the form of pretty and considerate Sadie (Wendy Glenn), normalcy is yanked away from Joseph yet again. He has to travel to Barcelona in order to see his dying father (Denis Rafter) and estranged brother, Samuel (Michael Landes). As soon as he arrives, things get uncomfortable. Joseph's father and brother are men of the cloth, with Samuel even running a small home-based church. Meanwhile, fed up with perceived inequities of a higher being, Joseph has become an atheist. While Joseph and Samuel argue about matters of faith, they can't ignore the strange events that have been happening in and around the house at 11:11 every night. It looks like a supernatural force is stalking Samuel with something horrific planned for 11-11-11. Only Joseph can save him.
This film must seem promising for anyone who finds the ideas behind numerology even slightly interesting. The premise that something as rigid and unchanging as a series of numbers could shape a person's life is intriguing to say the least. Bousman's film is built around a rock solid core but the execution is so weak that the entire project ends up feeling amateurish. To be fair, it is immediately apparent that Bousman is working with a shoestring budget here which leads to lots of cut corners and a compromised film. Scenes end abruptly before any tension can be built, perhaps due to lack of coverage. Scares are set up only to have the payoff filmed with a series of baffling edits. Factors like this explain why even at a runtime of 82 minutes, the film feels woefully unfinished.
The only positive to emerge from the budget limitations is the decision to set the film in Barcelona (for tax benefits). The city has an old world aura that lends many of the film's exterior scenes an eerie presence. Of course, that eeriness is all for naught when scene after scene is saddled with exposition or repetitive dialogue. By about the fifth time Joseph explained his lack of faith in God, I started to wonder if he wouldn't have an easier time with a T-shirt that just said Atheist. Also, why the hell does the movie set up a roll of film as such a major plot point with a climactic race against time to retrieve it, only to shield its contents from the audience? Before anyone claims that it is a clever artistic choice, I would point them to the labored and obvious twist that is used to cap off the film (complete with a show-us-the-breadcrumbs montage). Clever's got nothing to do with it.
I've been pretty doom and gloom so far so allow me to find some balance by pointing out the positives (of which there are a few). Bousman has a keen eye when it comes to seeking out building blocks for the foundation of his film. I've already complimented the locales selected for filming and similar praise extends to the cast of the film. All the performers do their best despite being handed underwritten characters. Timothy Gibbs has a weathered look that fits the pained past of Joseph Crone. He also plays off Michael Landes with admirable intensity. Landes, for his part, manages to be sympathetic and oblique in equal measure. Wendy Glenn adds a bit of warmth to the film whenever she appears.
Even though 11-11-11 is not as compelling as it should have been, I admire Bousman's commitment to a more restrained approach. He opts for subtlety over garish (and gory) excess throughout the film and the difference is refreshing. Even though blood and guts tend to butter his bread, I would be curious to see what Bousman could accomplish by taking a similar cerebral approach on a project with a much healthier budget and a more polished script.
The film was presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The image was clean and free of obvious defects other than occasional shimmer and a few instances of moiré. Shadow detail and contrast were quite good in darker scenes and color reproduction held up nicely as steely grays, blues and bleached whites dominated the visual palette.
The audio was presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix with optional Spanish subtitles.
This was a dialogue-centric film so it was nice to see that the center channel wasn't drowned out by being mixed too low. The occasional jump scare was also given added heft through dynamic shifts in the typically understated soundtrack. I did notice that the rear surrounds seemed to be a bit less involved but that probably goes back to the chatty nature of the onscreen events.
Flawed films often have interesting stories about how they came to be. This is definitely true of 11-11-11 as all the dirt gets dished in the Director and Producer Commentary track featuring Darren Lynn Bousman and Laura Bousman. After making a quick joke about working with his sister (they're actually married), Darren launches into one of the most brutally honest commentary tracks I've encountered. Nothing seems to be off limits and even though he doesn't always discuss what is happening on screen, all the anecdotes and discussion are very relevant to the film. He openly talks about the severe budgetary constraints he was operating under while just stopping short of quoting hard numbers. Let's just say that the climax was supposed to feature our leads being attacked by 1,111 scary demons. What we have instead are 5 dudes in not-very-scary-at-all rubber masks.
A significant portion of the commentary track is dedicated to describing the weird events that took place at the house where much of the film is based. Bousman seems convinced that the house was haunted and based on everything he reveals here, I'm not I'd want to spend a weekend there myself. I would however love to watch a film about the making of this film. Another topic covered in some detail is the difficulty of working in another country with a brand new crew that doesn't speak the same language. Bousman jokes about it but his frustration is palpable. This frustration turns to full-blown anger when he attacks the subject of critics reviewing the film based on an illegally downloaded rough cut that was never meant to see the light of day.
Although it may sound like the commentary track is an unrelenting tirade, the truth is that it is really quite entertaining. Bousman is an incredibly engaging speaker with a healthy (and dark) sense of humor. Whether it be suggesting a Timothy Gibbs drinking game (I see a little Mandy Patinkin there) or assessing the state of his career ("falling off a cliff"), he is never less than funny and self-deprecating. His honesty regarding what is destined to be one of the least successful entries of his filmography, makes this compulsory listening for anyone remotely interested in the business of making movies.
We also have a Making Of featurette (25:02) that goes into the numerological underpinnings of the title and give us a behind the scenes look at how a car accident was faked. In many ways, this feels like a sanitized version of what is covered in the commentary track. We close things out with a set of Deleted Scenes that don't really add much to the proceedings.
11-11-11 represents a departure for Darren Lynn Bousman. It doesn't quite work and the reasons for that are numerous, including an inadequate budget and a rough script. With that said, the restraint on display is admirable given that Bousman could have easily thrown gallons of blood at the screen (Saw style) in an attempt to fix it. If you do choose to watch the film, be sure to check out the commentary track for an honest and engaging look at how things went south. Rent It.