For a DVD reviewer with a passion for peppering his self-indulgent rants with bits of weak attempts at obvious humor, Nine Lives is a shrinkwrapped gift from the heavens above. For people who actually spend money on DVDs...not so much. Nine Lives stars...wait for it...Paris Hilton, who has one of the smallest roles in the flick, yet is first billed, gobbles up the most prominent slot on the cover art, and takes up most of the flipside as well. Anyway, this British slasher is about nine wealthy college-age friends who haven't seen each other in years. reuniting at a remote palatial estate for a birthday party and talking. And talk and talk and talk. Eventually one of them finds a dusty old tome hidden behind a bookcase, which makes him lose track of time in the bathroom and turns his eyes black. Naturally, he starts killing people. So, some of the survivors barricade themselves in a chamber with a noticeably large window because even though they saw who the murderer was, they won't let anyone else in because of the dice under the cup. Nevermind. The philosophy major picks up the book and, making several impressive logical leaps, determines that their pal was possessed by a Scottish ghost ominously named Murray. Even more horrifying and inexplicable given the dearth of evidence, she states that anyone who kills someone with the taint of Murray will become possessed himself. As their numbers dwindle, the remaining survivors have to figure out whose body Murray has seized now and how to stop his spirit from taking over anyone else.
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It's stated repeatedly in the interviews on this DVD that the terror in Nine Lives is meant to be more psychological, not a grue-dripping, visceral slasher flick. I call bullshit.
It always grates on my nerves whenever a filmmaker distances his horror flick from the genre, but I'll usually let the psychological angle slide if the movie actually works. Nine Lives, on the other hand, is a failure in every conceivable respect. First of all, let me 'fess up to having a deep, abiding adoration of formulaic slashers. If it was shot in the early '80s, was set in a camp or on some remotely popular holiday, and had a stack of nubile, mutilated teenagers, I own it, I've seen it, or I at least have the t-shirt. What do I look for in a slasher? For starters, atmosphere. Put the characters in a situation where, if I were in their place, I'd be creeped out even if I didn't know a murderer were on the prowl. Nine Lives takes place in a rather handsome, well-decorated home. It's not the eerie, decrepit mansion that convention would dictate. There's nothing scary or unnerving about it. Second, you need good kills. That's not to say that every murder has to be overly elaborate and gory, though that certainly helps. Think of the how inventive the kills were in even the most stale Friday the 13th installments. Nine Lives just has a series of stabbings. Yawn. Most of the nastiness is handled offscreen or in some way obscured, and the viscera is almost entirely limited to a red circle on a victim's shirt. Even then, a standard issue stabbing can still be effective if the build-up is handled properly. You can probably tell where I'm going with this, and no, it's not. Nine Lives is wholly unable to generate tension thanks to uninteresting characters, an uninteresting score, and a plodding pace. This is a movie that tries to eke tension out of a chase for a ringing cellphone under a bed. No kidding. I can guarantee you that you will never find anyone more susceptible to jump scares than me. At one point in I Know What You Did Last Summer, as awful and obvious as everything about that movie is, I leapt out of my seat at the theater and shrieked like an eight-year-old girl. Whenever I watch a horror flick with a friend, I always -- always -- get at least one laugh because I dramatically flinch at a jump scare. Again, you see where this is leading... The only twitching I did in Nine Lives was shifting in my seat out of boredom. Most of the jump scares are painfully telegraphed -- you see the characters moving in a certain position, you hear the score rise to a crescendo -- when the impending arrival of a scare is all but formally announced, it kind of deflates its entire purpose for being. The ones that aren't so obvious are just lame, like a character suddenly bumping into others in a hallway. A movie this dumb can't possibly have a word like "psychological" ascribed to it.
|At least there's one thing in Nine Lives that's really pleasant to look at.|
Also noticeably absent from the exploitation checklist is nudity. I don't want to come across as some sort of lonely horndog, even though I kind of am, but a slasher flick without nudity is like a day without Doris. The closest Nine Lives comes to Mo Fuzz-style production values is Paris Hilton's plunging necklines and a quick shot of her panty-clad butt. Hilton's molded, artificial facial features aside, the female cast members are at least pleasant to look at. Amelia Warner in particular is a complete knockout. The movie itself also looks good, thanks to its gorgeous setting (the same home in which Robert Altman shot Gosford Park) and cinematography from seasoned genre vet Robin Vidgeon. The acting's mostly competent, although no one of any talent could make dialogue this trite and hackneyed sound believable. The most glaring exception is, predictably, Paris Hilton. I think Nine Lives was lensed before she became infamous for her widely-distributed sexual escapades, which leaves me wondering why anyone would bother to put her in a movie at all since she's entirely devoid of any skill as an actress. How can she be this unconvincing, considering that her character is a wealthy, vapid, materialistic debutante? If that's what director Andrew Green wanted to capture, he should've just avoided forking a script over to Paris, merely pushed her onto the set, and let the cameras roll.
Most slashers open with a prolonged introduction to our cast of characters, giving the audience a little bit of familiarity so we know who to root for when they're in peril and who could use a good stabbin'. Nine Lives takes it to the extreme, devoting nearly every moment of its first twenty minutes to inane chatter between its characters. I've pored through Roget's Thesaurus, and I'm still unable to find words to describe how mind-numbingly, indescribably, making-me-want-to-repeatedly-stab-myself-in-the-leg-with-a-melon-baller boring that introductory sequence is. I didn't leave that interminable scene with a sense of who the characters were or even what all of their names were. There are so many things I want to complain about -- a fuse that knocks out all of the overhead lights in the entire house yet leaves a couple of lamps burning brightly, for instance -- but I've wasted too much time, effort, and thought on a movie completely undeserving of any of it. I'm a masochistic horror fan. I've continually subjected myself to mediocrity most minds can't fully comprehend, and I've come out with a smile on my face. Maybe some of you are reading this review in the hopes that I'll say Nine Lives is one of those movies that's awful but still kinda fun to watch. It's not. You don't want to watch Nine Lives. Even if you think you do want to, you're wrong. Stay far, far away.
|No wait, make that two.|
Video: The movie may be horrendous, but at least it looks good on DVD, certainly better than the night vision cam quality people usually associate with a Paris Hilton project. Nine Lives is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image is crisp and well-defined throughout, though presumably its low budget precluded elaborate lighting setups, leaving shadow detail with a tendency to get murky in some of the darker shots. Even in those scenes before the magic fuse is cut and the overhead lights remain on, colors frequently do appear rather dark, though this is presumably an intentional visual choice. Nine Lives appears to have been shot on 35mm film, although none of the flaws typically associated with shooting on celluloid are apparent. That, or it was shot on digital video and convincingly processed in post to resemble film. The image is entirely free of flecks, nicks, or anything approximating wear. There is a bit of noise lurking in the background, particularly noticeable in one room with solid red walls, but nothing really of note.
Audio: Nine Lives sports Dolby Digital stereo surround audio encoded at a bitrate of 192Kbps. There are no subtitles or alternate soundtracks, though closed captions have been provided. The track's pretty straightforward -- Nine Lives is drenched in dialogue, which comes through cleanly and as clearly as possible considering the varying weight of the cast's accents. There's some light activity in the matrixed surrounds as the slasher fodder stumbles around dimly-lit rooms, but the rears by and large rarely draw attention to themselves. Pretty standard stuff.
Supplements: The only real extra is a collection of interviews. Participating are writer/director/producer Andrew Green, producers Nikolas Korda and Giles Hattersley, and cast members Amelia Warner, Patrick Kennedy, James Schlesinger, Vivienne Harvey, Rosie Feller, David Nicolle, Paris Hilton, Ben Payton, and Lex Shrapnel (who, based on his name alone, should consider supervillainy or professional wrestling). Despite nearly everyone of prominence chiming in, they're individually only given a few sentences a piece, not enough time to say anything particularly substantial. Selecting the Lion's Gate logo on the main menu reveals three trailers for some of the company's other releases, but a Nine Lives clip isn't among them. The DVD includes a set of animated 16x9 menus, and the movie's twelve chapters are listed on the flipside of the keepcase.
Conclusion: Clumsily crafted and relentlessly, soul-crushingly dull, Nine Lives isn't worth a rental or even bothering to stay up till 3:45 AM to watch on Showtime. Skip It.