Directed by Brett Simmons
Distributed by The Scream Factory
With reboots and remakes and reimagining being all the rage right now, it’s slightly refreshing when a film takes a different approach to sourced material while still operating within an established universe. The Monkey’s Paw (2013) is a spiritual sequel to the W.W. Jacobs short story of the same name, which was published in 1902. Jacobs’ original tale was a cautionary effort that dealt with fate and the repercussions of attempting to alter it for one’s own benefit. The monkey paw grants the owner three wishes, but the end result always comes at the cost of something greater. Wish for money to cover the rest of your mortgage and it’ll show up in the form of an insurance payment when a loved one is suddenly killed. Nothing ever works out as the owner intends. Director Brett Simmons, working from a script by Macon Blair, posits that the events of the original short have already occurred, and the paw is now in the hands of an owner who has held onto it for many years and resisted the temptation to use it. The resulting film is less about dealing with temptation and the negative effects of playing god, coming across more like an undead slasher film when a wish goes horribly wrong.
Jake (C.J. Thomason) is a middle class blue collar worker with little ambition outside of having a few drinks with his co-worker, Tony Cobb (Stephen Lang), and wishing for a better life like everyone else in the factory where he works. When one of his co-workers is let go, he and Cobb pay the man a visit to suck down some suds and talk trash on the bosses. When they arrive, Jake notices a monkey paw sitting on the table. The man explains its powers, though little mention is made of the ramifications of wielding such force. Jake, undeterred, immediately makes a material wish and asks for a new Camaro. Lo and behold, when he and Cobb go to leave there’s a Camaro waiting up front with the keys still in the ignition. The two go for a spin, one which ends badly when Jake swerves to avoid something in the road and promptly smashes head-on into a tree. He’s fine, but Cobb – who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt – is ejected and killed. Hey, maybe this paw has the power to bring him back to life! It does, though Cobb is… changed. Sporting a nasty head wound, he’s more violent, vicious and quick-tempered than before. Life hasn’t been easy for Cobb all these years, and it’s been even more difficult being estranged from his ex-wife and their son. The second act of the film features Zombie Cobb (a term Simmons mentions he hates but, sorry, dude is a zombie) killing those who have wronged him. Cobb figures the best thing he had in life was his son, so he takes members of Jake’s family hostage and demands the paw’s final wish be used to reunite him with his child.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of The Monkey’s Paw is that our lead, Jake, is not a hero worth caring about. He’s just your typical grease monkey, working a job he hates and generally doing little in life to better his position. He isn’t exactly a sympathetic character. Jake has no grand ambition, as evidenced by his first wish which was used to acquire a Camaro, this despite the fact that, oh, you know, his mom is dying of cancer in a hospital bed! His second wish is just as impulsive, when he finds Cobb’s lifeless body near the crumpled wreck that was the aforementioned Camaro. Jake, clearly upset that he wielded such great power so poorly, throws the paw away and hopes that’ll be the end of that. It isn’t.
From there, the film turns into a routine slasher. Cobb gets even with his younger, cocky boss back at the factory. Anyone who crosses his path winds up on the slab. Lang is the film’s gravitas, and without his presence this could have easily been an unwatchable mess, rather than the watchable one it is. There’s a slight satisfaction in vicariously living through Cobb as he hole punches his dickhead boss into the next realm, but that’s about where the fun stops. Lang chews a lot of Southern scenery, though some could argue that’s kinda what he does best as an actor.
If there’s a strength to be commended, it’s the use of New Orleans as a backdrop for this haunting tale. The locations used already provide an ethereal, otherworldly quality all on their own. Bathed in hues of blue and looking ominous, the swamps and backwoods of Louisiana are the perfect setting for anything supernatural. The film’s cinematographer, Scott Winig, should be commended for injecting life into a mundane script by presenting such stunning visuals. Still, it’s hard to give the film a recommendation because it lacks any lasting impact.
The greatest aspect of the film’s 1.78:1 1080p image is Winig’s aforementioned cinematography, which is steeped in atmosphere. The swampy locales of Louisiana take on a life of their own, bathed in blue light. The best looking moments come during daylight scenes, when clarity is at its peak and detail is given sufficient room to breathe. When darkness falls – and much of the film takes place at night – the image is diluted to a muddy, unspectacular appearance. Contrast levels are mediocre, only allowing minor image detail to emerge from within the shadows, leaving the rest obscured and too dim to decipher. Overall detail is middling as well, with many shots appearing soft or out of focus. Black levels vacillate between inky & deep and flat-out hazy. There is a nice fine grain structure that was added during post to aid in giving the film a more cinematic aesthetic.
Scream Factory offers up the option of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo track. Clearly, multi-channel is the way to go here if your setup allows for it, though rears are used sparingly enough that it almost doesn’t matter either way. The sound design features some nicely placed, discreet effects, like a creek flowing through the woods or crickets chirping on a cold, swampy night; whispers in the dark pan smoothly between the left and right assembly. Composer Bobby Tahouri’s score evokes that Southern feel through the use of slide guitar and other instruments that feel right at home on the bayou. There are few bombastic, eruptive moments here, allowing for a more subtle approach to the audible experience. Subtitles are included in English.
Director Brett Simmons, cinematographer Scott Wining and actor C.J. Thomason kick things off with an audio commentary that manages to cover a lot of material thanks to a diversity of participants. Simmons offers up his thoughts on the film’s direction and what it was like working with material he hadn’t written; Wining has all the technical details on lighting such a moody picture; and Thomason regales with tales from the set. In Making The Monkey’s Paw, director Brett Simmons discusses this film’s story and how it branches off from the short story that preceded it, as well as reminding viewers that Cobb is NOT a zombie and how he didn’t want to make a zombie movie… even though he kinda did. The film’s trailer is also included.
2 1/2 out of 5
1 1/2 out of 5