Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Lock In

Director: Mark J Howard
Writer: Mark J Howard
Producers: Mark J Howard, Stephen Greenhalgh
Cast: Jessica Cunningham, Roy Basnett, Stephen Greenhalgh
Country: UK
Year: 2014
Reviewed from: online screener
Website: www.lockinthemovie.co.uk

The publicity for Lock In calls it a ‘psychological thriller’ which is about as far from accurate as it’s possible to get without calling it a musical. It’s a slasher, pure and simple. Not a great one, not a truly terrible one either. But a slasher nonetheless. It’s about a maniac in a clown outfit who stalks through an almost empty office building one night, offing late-staying staff and security guards in a variety of brutal and potentially amusing ways. So yes, it is about a psycho. But you could never accuse it of being a logical thriller.

Jessica Cunningham (model and proprietor of the Famous Frocks website) stars as Jenny, an account executive in an advertising agency run by unsympathetic, take-no-shit owner John (radio presenter Roy Basnett, match day host of Widnes Vikings RFC). There are about half a dozen other staff, some of whom have characters, some of whom are background. The company (the name of which is never mentioned so far as I can tell) is based in a building on some anonymous business estate. Presumably other companies share the same large building.

Six months earlier, as seen in a splash panel prologue, Jenny was raped in a pub toilet by a guy in fancy dress while attending what seems to have been a ‘zombies and clowns’ night. As the story proper starts, she is late into work after her neighbour vandalised her car (something which is mentioned briefly then forgotten about). She is also fending off the unwanted attentions of creepy cleaner Jenkinson (producer Stephen Greenhalgh, who was a stuntman in Zombie Diaries 2) whose acid-scarred face and one eye have earned him the nickname Cyclops. She’s also getting bawled out by John although not without some justification. Having turned up late, the first thing she does is go back outside for a fag break...

Jenny has to work late, getting a publicity pack ready for a press conference the next day relaunching a circus. Also staying after hours is the unnamed Building Supervisor (Simon Entwhistle), in an office presumably some distance from the ad agency office, who can’t leave until a replacement cleaner turns up after he fires Jenkinson. Two less-than-fit security guards, Colin (James Thompson) and George (Tim Paley: Tash Force) make a good double act and compensate for the generally unlikeable characters populating most of the rest of the cast.

Lock In’s most obvious problem is that it takes forever to get going. We are fully 35 minutes into the 80-minute picture before we actually get the first sight of the clown or indeed any other indication that there is something amiss. And while one gets the impression that we are supposed to think this is Jenkinson – whom we now know to be a violent ex-con – back for revenge, a swift count of the clown’s eyes easily eliminates him from the short list of suspects.

In fact it’s an incredibly short list, so short that the clown - assuming it is one of the other characters under that make-up - could only possibly be one person, making this the least mysterious mystery since we all had to guess who was the monster in Hammer’s The Gorgon.

Three other characters arrive at the building during the clown’s killing spree, increasing the number of potential victims, and I certainly won’t spoil the film by saying who lives or dies. The individual deaths are generally pretty good and will please the gore-hounds among you. Bizarrely, one scene takes place in a room where we see the various victims propped up, but this does not include all the victims so far and does include at least one person whom we never saw murdered and wasn’t even staying late (although, thinking about it, there is an earlier line of dialogue that ties in there, so I’ll give them that).

While the clown’s identity is obvious, his motivations are far from clear, even after the film wraps up. The basic premise is fine – clown-costumed psycho stalks late-night offices – and the individual bits are fine, if spaced somewhat too far apart. But the actual plot makes not a shred of sense and frankly doesn’t look like it’s even trying. A clich├ęd twist right at the end provides a get-out clause but creates its own problems – when you’ve seen it and thought about it, you’ll understand what I mean.

Low-budget slashers are not a genre renowned for good stories, rounded characters or coherent plots so for its target audience none of this should be a problem – although that target audience are apt to not even watch the film if it’s marketed as a psychological thriller! It’s no Halloween, that’s for sure, but this week I’ve also sat through Head Cheerleader Dead Cheerleader, a salient reminder of just how barrel-scraping these things can be and an experience which has helped me appreciate Lock In for its strengths, such as they are.

Those strengths are mostly technical – generally good photography, editing and sound, and good make-up effects too. The acting is decidedly variable but works best when the dialogue leans towards humorous, and let’s leave it at that. What’s most egregiously missing is any real sense of tension. The pre-clown scene-setting/character-building goes on far too long and even once the clown starts prowling the corridors, the pace never really shifts past ‘sedate’. The whole movie could stand to lose about ten minutes, not from any particular scene but lots of little shavings here and there to get to the meat quicker and then pick up the pace once the violence begins.

Also worth noting is that at no point is anyone ever ‘locked in’. And in fact one character gets access to the building, appearing out of nowhere without explanation, who definitely should not have a swipe card for the front door.

Jeff Downs turns in a good performance as the daytime security guard while Rachel Dargie (The 9th) and Holly Chadwick are Jenny’s principal co-workers. Craig Read, Jen Walker and David Mohammadi of Funstorm Industries supplied the make-up effects for the clown, Cyclops and the various victims. Manchester band Dead Kestrels provide some songs on the soundtrack.

Lock In is a valiant attempt at a first feature by Mark J Howard whose eclectic previous career has included a stint at Cosgrove Hall animation, freelance rock photographer and managing Peter Kay’s official website. It doesn’t quite succeed but it passes a reasonable 80 minutes (and would pass an even more reasonable 70). Its root problems, as so often with micro-budget first features, lie with the script which simply wasn’t ready to be filmed. Nevertheless, British slasher fans will want to seek this out. From my point of view, on the other hand, this is most interesting as another title in the burgeoning subgenre of British corporate horror alongside the likes of Stalled, Severance and Fired.

Premiering at Horror-on-Sea in January 2014, Lock In was made available on VOD two months later through VHX – see the website at www.lockinthemovie.co.uk for details.

MJS rating: B-

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