Released by Lionsgate
Release Date: September 16th, 2016
Starring: Sherri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster, and Malcolm McDowell
Written by Rob Zombie
Directed by Rob Zombie
Rated R (strong bloody horror violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use)
31 is not a good film, nor is it a bad film. It is a frustrating one. Watching the film, I knew what Zombie was going for and yet he fails at it some of the time.
The story for 31 is about a group of friends who are kidnapped and forced to play a game of, you guessed it, 31. The group has twelve hours to survive an ever growing number of executioners, each with their own gimmick. The first one is a little person who has swastika drawn (or tattooed) on his chest and speaks a mixture of Spanish and English. Each member of the group is given a melee weapon and expected to die because of it. Some of the executioners die, some of the group does.
Knowing that this is a Rob Zombie film, I bet that you can guess who makes it.
As I was watching the film I was reminded of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man. In the film, Schwarzenegger has to make it through a series of rooms that have their own end boss. This is a game show and so everyone is rooting for the bad guys because Schwarzenegger’s character is made out to be a bad guy. The film is filled with action scenes that get bigger and bigger as the film goes on.
That film was fun and exciting. 31 is not. That is not a slight against Rob Zombie. His film is filled with horror set pieces that are action packed. Early in the film, the group goes up against two clowns wielding chainsaws. The scene is exciting and we are rooting for the group to get out alive. This scene ends like most of the executioner scenes: soaked with blood and gore.
While Zombie is a master at given us beauty and ugliness in one shot or scene, he can write relatable characters to save his life. The introduction to the group is done in such a style that we don’t know whether we like these characters or not. While they stoop low in their vulgarities, we are still expected to like these characters and hope that they make it through the film. Out of all the characters, the Meg Foster character was the only one that had any development and that is saying a lot because she really didn’t have much. It is a true testament to Foster that she could bring something to the table and make it stand out amongst all the carnage happening around her.
I hate to bring up acting, but Zombie has always been able to bring a cavalcade of well-known character actors to his films. 31 is no exception. We get the aforementioned Meg Foster, but we also have Judy Geeson, Tracey Walter, Lew Temple, and Malcolm McDowell. Elizabeth Daley, or E.G. Daley has a role as one of the executioners and I couldn’t help by hear Tommy Pickles from the cartoon series The Rugrats in her voice as she was trying to be creepy and terrifying.
I will say that Zombie gets some of the best people to work on his films, in terms of production design and the like. The film looks gorgeous, in a dirty disgusting way. David Daniel is the DP this time around and I think he did a wonderful job at finding beauty in the ugliness. The only other film that I have seen that Daniel has done was Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood. That happened to be the best looking Leprechaun film so Zombie did good here. The art direction, set design and the effects are all top notch.
Earlier in the year, there was some controversy over the rating that film got. In it’s original form, 31 received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Zombie was forced to recut the film twice before receiving an R-rating. This film is plenty gory and I wondered as the film went on what was cut. I can see the film being more violent and gory, but nothing that would warrant an NC-17. I have seen films way more violent and gory and not having to cut down the violence to appease the censors.
Did I like 31? I did, but to a point. I didn’t like any of the characters outside of Meg Foster because none of the characters are relatable. If I ever found myself around any of these people I would run away and fast. That being said, the film is well made, well directed, well executed, and is never boring. This isn’t Zombie’s best film, but it is his best film in a while. After trying ideas out in Halloween II (2009) and Lords of Salem, I think Zombie just wanted to make a fucked up horror film. To that end, he did. It is a good film, but I won’t recommend this film to everyone. I will say that if the characters would more likeable than the film would have played better. Maybe next time Zombie can get a dialogue coach. It would help his films out immensely.