When discussing controversial filmmakers in the horror genre, Rob Zombie certainly ranks near the top of that list. While he has a dedicated cult following, his features offer a quick love-it or hate-it reaction from even the most dedicated fans of the genre. House of 1000 Corpses is a guilty pleasure and The Devil's Rejects is a highly engaging horror venture, although Zombie has failed to generate the same level of inspiration ever since. However, Zombie kept details on his clown slasher kept fairly quiet, with only a clown face and the title 31 being displayed on the teaser poster. Does the final product live up to the hype it originally created?
While on the road in their van, five carnival workers are kidnapped while in transit on Halloween. They find themselves held hostage in a terrifying compound, forced to play a sadistic game of "31." The goal is to survive twelve hours against a gang of killer clowns, as a few viewers bet on the odds of each individual's chance of survival.
We've always known that Zombie has been interested in killer clowns, but the teaser poster generated quite a bit of intrigue. However, the simple plot is underwhelming, as this must have been the fastest screenplay that he has ever written. Given the straight-forward story, one would imagine that the film would throw us right into the action. Unfortunately, viewers are subjected to one of the most dull introductions of the year. The lead characters speak trashy nonsense until they're kidnapped. There's no attempt at infusing any level of tension or terror into the plot. Regardless of one's opinion of the filmmaker, his work surely feels more professional than most of the bargain bin horror titles. While 31 certainly looks better, the substance is nearly identical.
Once the characters are finally placed in the maze of death, they start being hunted by the first clown. It becomes apparent that there isn't anything beyond the killers taunting the victims before the occasional death. However, nearly all of the kills are incredibly tame and disappointing, especially for Rob Zombie. Some of them are off-screen and none of them have the morbid creativity that we saw in his previous works. He has taken the textbook slasher scenes and watered many of them down, which may be the fault of the MPAA's original NC-17 rating. However, one would imagine that with Zombie's admiration for clowns, these characters would have intriguing quirks to them. Unfortunately, they each only have a minuscule amount of screen time and are no different from the protagonists in variety. They all have unimaginative names (such as "Sex-Head," "Dead-Head," "Doom-Head," etc.) that make them extremely forgettable. Don't expect to be afraid of any of these clowns.
From the above, you may imagine that I simply hate slasher flicks. However, that certainly isn't true. I have a problem with the ones that offer unsatisfactory kills, no memorable villain, and no real direction. After helming the Halloween remake and a sequel, he isn't trying to invent the next Michael Myers. 31 doesn't offer anything outside of scumbag dialogue and violence that fails to land an impact. This was Rob Zombie's chance to make a truly terrifying and depraved clown film that would continue to justify society's fear of them. However, we have ultimately ended up with a slasher flick that doesn't have anything to say, or much to actually show.
Rob Zombie has been offering the horror crowd an interesting visual design for years. He has some worthwhile uses of set design, especially as he explores a few different settings in this maze of death. The gore prosthetics are decent, as well. However, his camera work and scene transitions returns to the horror bargain bin mentioned previously. The picture is moving so often, that it becomes nauseating; think the Bourne franchise. When we're introduced to a scene with intense strobe lights, you just might feel the need to close your eyes to avoid getting a migraine.
31 only tells me that Rob Zombie would be great at making Halloween mazes. This is a repetitive and dull 102 minutes that doesn't manage to disgust, scare, or thrill. Since the leads and the antagonists are so plain, it's incredibly difficult to care about anything that's going on. The dialogue is what we have come to expect from the filmmaker, but he doesn't bring the style that he has provided in previous original features. 31 is Rob Zombie's laziest feature to date without enough terror or gore to suffice. Skip it.