Some filmmakers prefer to work with the large budgets that come along with motion pictures from Hollywood. However, they don't get the same creative freedom as those outside of the major studios. The big tradeoff is that the budget is considerably lower, which can make it difficult for a director to entirely execute their vision. Writer/director Rob Zombie is known for splitting audiences, which has ultimately led him to obtain a cult following. He creates the movies he wants to make, which I truly respect. His early pictures gained the attention of horror fans around the world with pictures, such as House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. The Halloween remakes are the closest he has come to mainstream cinema. He has returned to creating his own stories with his newest feature, which is called The Lords of Salem. However, this might be the most divisive film he has released thus far. Some will love it, while others will hate it. While I found Zombie's past pictures to be entertaining, this left me feeling undeniably disappointed.
Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) lives in Salem, Massachusetts as a radio DJ. A wooden box was sent directly to her at work, which contains a record from "the Lords." After listening to the eerie music, Heidi begins to have disturbing visions of the town's violent past, which only increase in intensity. Her life starts to unravel, as she has issues separating her dreams from reality. This leads Heidi to question her sanity, as she continues to hear the haunting tune from the record multiple times. The radio station discovers that the record from "the Lords" isn't the rock spectacle they're expecting. The original Lords of Salem are returning, and they're hungry for revenge.
The Lords of Salem opens with an extremely strange flashback, which features the witches during a ritual. It's a throwback that will instantly divide viewers. Once the film proceeds to the present, you'll notice that the horror elements in this picture don't truly kick into high gear for quite some time. Zombie doesn't skip a beat when it comes to developing Heidi. This character isn't explored for very long, but we learn enough to care about her destiny. The audience witnesses a few of her relationships with her friends in the radio station, but the majority of them are quite brief. Unfortunately, these developments are ultimately a complete waste of time. Despite Heidi's quick development, the film stops paying attention to this character from the second act until the credits are rolling. The narrative never feels grounded, since there isn't any clear focus on a main role. Heidi is the most interesting character in this entire picture, which isn't saying very much. The remainder of them are shaped by cookie-cutter stencils.
The second and third acts come with clear footnotes indicating influences from directors, such as Roman Polanski and David Lynch. There are a couple eerie moments, which truly work in this film's favor. Unfortunately, these sequences are in the drastic minority of the running time. These scenes are quickly destroyed by the screenplay, as it absolutely derails the entire picture. There are some substantial pacing issues, which only seem to increase in size throughout the running time. This story could have taken us upon a creepy journey, but Zombie suddenly decides to incorporate themes one would expect from a poor arthouse flick. Perhaps he has a deeper meaning with a lot of these elements, but they don't work in this horror flick. Instead of being genuinely disturbing or eerie, it's trying too hard to be something it isn't. This feels more like a long rock music video, rather than a movie.
Zombie has always had issues with his writing, but this is surely his biggest flop. He doesn't have enough faith in his characters to allow them to command the screen for very long. Heidi is one of his more interesting female roles, but he doesn't take advantage of her strengths. Zombie's dialogue is rather awkward, since the majority of it doesn't sound genuine. Multiple lines are filled with unintentional humor, which ultimately harms the desired tone. It feels as if this writer/director didn't follow a clear screenplay. The Lords of Salem suffers from its poor dialogue, but its ending will surely bother numerous audience members. It finishes on an unsatisfying note, which will leave a lot of viewers angry as the credits begin to roll. There's some interesting buildup, but it doesn't lead anywhere particularly interesting.
This writer/director is known for casting his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, in every movie he makes. The Lords of Salem is no exception, as she stars as Heidi Hawthorne. This is her most serious role by far, but she still lacks a certain charm on screen. She looks the part, but she doesn't have the emotional depth to accurately portray this character. The supporting cast didn't seem to take this project seriously, since Sheri Moon Zombie appears to be the only cast member who put forth any effort. However, there aren't very many opportunities for these actors to shine. There are some recognizable faces, but the material hinders them from being very interesting. I don't expect great acting from a Rob Zombie flick, but some of the delivery is absolutely horrible.
Despite the small budget, a lot more attention has been directed towards the visuals. The Lords of Salem is grainy, dark, and atmospheric. Rob Zombie utilizes the gloomy colors to his advantage, especially through the dream sequences. He twists dreams with reality quite well. He's a better director than he is a writer. However, the final act pushes the envelope by becoming a full-fledged rock music video. This technique of filming becomes distracting and bothersome. You'll find yourself wishing that Zombie didn't stray from the style he conveyed through the remainder of the feature. He has an eye for disturbing visuals, but this feels like an experimental piece of cinema. It will be interesting to see how his directing style develops over time.
This horror flick lacks thrills and chills; it chooses style over substance. Surprisingly, The Lords of Salem will even divide Rob Zombie fans. Even though it has an intriguing premise, the screenplay is an absolute mess. Heidi receives some character development, but Zombie doesn't hold any faith in her ability to carry the feature. The narrative becomes increasingly confusing, especially with the flawed pacing. There is a lot of buildup, but the ending doesn't seem to be worth the climb. The Lords of Salem simply isn't able to deliver what it promises. Skip it.