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Eli Roth needs to man up and take responsibility. He can bare his burly - and frighteningly hairy - chest and aim his animal magnetism at whoever will respond. But such heroic cinematic defiance cannot change the fact that his stellar masterpiece of a scary splatter social commentary Hostel has fueled an entire sub-genre of horror films. Some have labeled it violence porn, even adding Leigh Whannell and James Wan of Saw fame to the list of likely suspects. In the case of Gag, it's better to call the emerging trend what it really is - a steaming pile of horse apples. Or better yet, let's just look at this gangrenous gorno rip-off and describe it proper as the dullest, most derivative example of motion-picture plagiarism committed to celluloid since the Band family stopped making '80s monster movies. The final product is so bereft of intelligence and fear factors that it should contain Paris Hilton, several members of the Wayans clan, and a cameo appearance (and signature song) from Hulk Hogan's talent-free daughter, Brooke.
Hoping to score some major moolah, Tony and his accomplice Detroit (what were their parents, the Bowery Boys?) break into a remote mansion. Actually, after casing the estate, they end up heading over to the world's largest guest house. There they discover a bunch of vandalism, a plethora of women's panties, and a bound and gagged man. He seems desperate to be freed, and just as they are about to do so, someone quite sinister hobbles through the door. He proceeds to restrain the intruders, heat pennies on a hotplate, and then drops them on the tied-up guy's torso. Pain ensues (D'uh!). Within moments, our well meaning scum springs into action. Little do they know that all is not what it seems. Turns out they've been tricked. A serial killer has set the scene up to trap them, and once he has them subdued, he intends to play some rather sickening games with them. Still struggling to grab the cash, Tony will do anything to escape, even if it means sacrificing other potential victims scattered inside the house. Wearing a menacing Gag, he's looking to score - and settle this psycho's homicidal hash once and for all.
Sigh. This is what it's come to. This is what dedicated fright fans, supporters of the genre critics love to hate and mainstream audiences love to marginalize, have to put up with. Who cares if this is a bunch of first time filmmakers with an inadvertent connection to indie icon Troma? What difference does it make if director Scott W. McKinlay wants to be more suspense than splatter oriented? Does it really matter if screenwriter Kirk Sever is aiming to deconstruct the basics of eerie extremism and turn it into a character study with serial killer/slasher overtones? The answer, naturally, is HELL FRIGGIN' NO! Gag is an appropriate title for this offensive little load. The entendre applies to a number of B&D ball stoppers used, the nauseating nature of our murderer's methods, and our intestinal fortitude once this 78 minute stool sample has finally passed. In a world where some manner of god would step in and stop such unimaginative copycatting, this Sawstel slop wouldn't exist. But THINKFilm obviously feels that macabre mavens can't get enough of maniacs minus an internal monologue talking their victims to death. Gag is more than happy to deliver scene after scene of such mediocre mind games.
The initial fault lies with the script. At the beginning, we learn that Tony is desperate for money and his moody bro Detroit is willing to help him steal to get it. Why? Don't know, and aren't told. Then we get the first of several supposed twists. A character who we think is evil is clearly not, and one who pretends to be a victim screams his red herring qualities from the panty strewn ceilings. Next up are the nods to every other Roth inspired effort from the last two years (Turistas, Captivity, Live Feed, etc.), our bad guy utilizing tried and true (and derivative) torture methods to make us viewers feel the brutality burn. Then there's some talking. And more mindless conversation. Our killer blabbers on like a tween queen with a new cellphone, expelling pre-school unsane idiocy that sounds more retarded than repellant. Toss in a couple of those formulaic almost-escapes, a completely gratuitous sequence of incest, and more motor mouthing, and you've got death as My Dinner with Nutzoid Andre. It would be nice to report that Gag overcomes its awfulness by supplying us with gore the likes of which we've only seen in Lucio Fulci's wettest dreams. Unfortunately, blood is in short supply throughout much of this meandering movie.
Don't give McKinlay a free pass, however. Clearly inspired by the camcorder school of 'achieve odd angle - point, and shoot', there's no rhyme or reason to this novice's stogy mise-en-senselessness. He sets up one frame so that a semi-profile is in the foreground, a groggy victim in the middle, and his five o'clock shadowed associate occupying the space in the back. You can just tell that this filmmaker thinks he's reinventing the cinematic wheel. Mashed up montages, sped up footage, confusing edits, and an overall lack of concern for the language of film (there is no pacing, tone, or atmosphere established) are some of his clearer crimes. Even worse, McKinlay forgets to establish his characters in a way that gains our sympathy and/or understanding. To call them cardboard cutouts or unexceptional archetypes would be too kind. They're nothing more than personal pawns in a game of calculated cat and mouse that never gives us a reason to care. Granted, we want this frat boy Jigsaw to come to a miserable, gruesome end, but Gag thinks it's smarter than that. Indeed, you can feel everyone involved winking to each other during the last act bit of O Henry. It's so smug it should come with a free Starbucks coffee. In fact, Gag should really warrant itself against audience disappointment by offering some manner of reverse money back guarantee. If you actually liked the film, they'll pay you handsomely. Everyone else just gets to feel ripped off.
Presented in a semi-decent but completely non-anamorphic 1.78:1 letterboxed transfer, Gag fluctuates wildly between halfway decent digital imagery and obvious handheld horrors. Some of the footage looks fine. Other moments resemble a Public Access program gone gonzo. The overridingly dark lighting and lack of color can be chalked up to evident editorial choices. But this is a no-budget cheapy, and when given a chance, the image will illustrate this over and over again.
In a word - unexceptional. The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 is thin and tinny, the dialogue easily discernible but the overall mix providing little of sonic substance. The musical score by composer Dennis Dreith (don't be fooled by the Punisher credit - it's referencing the 1989 Dolph Lundgren version) is satisfactory, but nothing to write home about. Like most novice filmmakers, McKinlay forgets that the aural is as important as the atrocities to a fright flick. Gag is clearly missing a piece of the scary movie puzzle.
Here's the wealth of added content THINKFilm thought feasible enough to flesh out this turgid title: an audio commentary by McKinlay and producer Vince Marinelli (self serving and shallow), deleted scenes (sequences used to create the meaningless montages), an alternate ending (nothing new or particularly special), a behind the scenes featurette (mildly informative), a music video (huh?), a gallery (snore) and some trailers (oh joy). Certainly if you were one of the filmmakers' family members, or someone short of taste who actually enjoyed this crude creepshow, you'd think this DVD was overflowing with admirable bonus features. But in a clear case of extras actually complementing the film they focus on, a dull, unexceptional effort leads to a less than impressive set of supplements.
Let's just cut to the chase, shall we. Skip It. No reason to visit it. A rental will only piss you off. If you loved Hostel and everything it stands for, you'll hate this hackneyed retread. If you think the sickening subgenre is the end of Western civilization as we know it, you're probably not even considering this staid little stinker anyway. So no harm, no foul. Unless you're a glutton for poorly executed punishment, simply stay away. The cover art is merely a come-on that ends up being a cop out, and everything about the narrative screams 'stolen from something better'. Gag will indeed make you do something similar. Here's hoping the creators choked on it as well.
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