Sunday 29 June 2014

The Addicted

Director: Sean J Vincent
Writer: Sean J Vincent
Producers: Sean J Vincent
Cast: Sean J Vincent, Jenny Gayner, Tim Parker
Year of release: 2014
Country: UK
Reviewed from: online screener

I had fairly high hopes for The Addicted. It had a neat trailer and a cool poster. I happily accepted a screener. And then I watched it.

The Addicted is awful. A bigger heap of clichéed nonsense I haven’t seen for ages. It starts off bad and then goes downhill.

I rarely make notes when watching a film for review, but it rapidly became apparent that The Addicted was so irretrievably bad in so many respects that I was going to have to keep score. And some time after that, round about 30 minutes into this 90-minute movie, I realised that if I kept note-taking at the rate I was going, this would end up as a 10,000-word epic, which I really haven’t got time for, even if you have. So I’ll give you a flavour of the first third of the film and you can take it as read that the remaining 67% is more of the same.

Rest assured that I did sit through the whole thing. It was hard work but I was determined to give the picture a fair crack of the whip, as I always do. When it comes to movies I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy and I’ve seen more than one bad film rescued from total awfulness by one stand-out scene or a late-introduced character. However, in this case let me reassure you that nothing like that will happen here. If anything, the last 60 minutes is even worse than the first 30.

After an unnecessarily d-r-a-w-n-n-n-n o-u-t-t-t-t title sequence where each actor we’ve never heard of is listed individually – which must have been great for their mums at the cast and crew screening – we’re treated to a prologue during which four teenagers break into an abandoned building in order to play with a Ouija board. Already my heart was sinking, as no doubt is yours, and it sank a little more when one of the gang found a generator with the key in the lock, one click of which caused the whole place to light up. Barely have these stupid kids uttered a few lines of inane dialogue than they are dragged away one by one to be brutally slaughtered while light-bulbs pop around them. And that’s the last we’ll see of them. The whole thing is pure splash-panel.

Here’s what director-writer-producer-actor-editor-DP-ADRguy Sean J Vincent evidently doesn’t understand about splash-panel prologues. They’re meant to be exciting, to grab our attention. The prologue is there to dupe us into thinking that the whole movie is going to be great like that, or at least will get that good at a later point, thereby encouraging us to sit through the dull-but-narratively-important talkie plot scenes at the start of the actual story. What’s the point in having a prologue so awful, so hackneyed and boring that it’s likely to make any casual viewer switch off? Teenagers? Empty building? Fucking Ouija board for Christ’s sake…

Now we meet Nicole (Jenny Gayner, who played the title role in Gillian Taylforth: The Trial!), a vacuous blonde who is mid-job interview. Her prospective employer has been watching something on a screen and tells her it’s just not good enough, sorry. I held out momentary hope that Nicole was an aspiring horror film-maker and that the prologue was some test footage she was showing a producer, thereby justifying why it was so crap. Glass half full. But no, it seems she actually wants to be a TV news reporter, which means the prologue actually happened and, in cinematic terms, actually was just crap.

Nicole sets off home and we are introduced to a third set of characters before the 15-minute mark is upon us. A bloke is starting work as a security guard on an old building, presumably the same one from the prologue. His new employer tells him that these rumours of people disappearing are just gossip, that the builders will be around during the day, and that all the security guard (Simon Naylor, who was a bouncer in Corrie and another security guard in Primeval) has to do is wander around all night. Which he does, before being attacked by some unseen assailant while once again light-bulbs pop. We won’t see him again either.

No, it’s Nicole who is our central character. She is at home working on her laptop when her boyfriend Adam (Sean J Vincent, who should stick to directing other actors rather than trying to be one himself) comes in and shows her a website by plonking his laptop on top of hers. Hang on – did he log onto his wi-fi while outside, find that website, close the laptop and put it in his bag, then take it inside, take it out of the bag and stick it in his girlfriend’s face? Don’t try to get your head round it; far more nonsensical stuff is still to come.

Adam has found a news website with the headline ‘Security guard goes missing’. Well, I’m sure there will be a huge police investigation. All these people continually disappearing in the same place. Or…  maybe there won’t be. Adam’s bright idea is that Nicole should get some footage from this old building (rather than something which might impress a prospective employer, like an investigative report into whatever dodgy company owns the place). We should spend the night there, he tells Nicole. It will be fun, he tells her. We could take Mike and Liz.

We’re then treated to a couple of minutes of a completely inappropriate pop song over a terrible montage of Adam, Nicole and their two friends (Dan Peters, and Thea Knight: Jack Said) knocking back copious quantities of vodka shots. Because nothing impresses prospective employers more than work you did when you were drunk. (Not that it matters because in no subsequent scene does anyone act drunk, despite the four of them having demolished an entire bottle of vodka.)

What’s the point of this montage? Is this supposed to make us like these four morons? Are we supposed to be impressed? Supposed to empathise? Fuck them. They’re idiots. They’re going to break into a potentially dangerous old building (just from the age and condition, never mind any supernatural shenanigans) in the dead of night, on a whim, while under the influence of alcohol and without any suitable equipment or clothes. I repeat: fuck them.

So: what Mr Vincent has given us, after a prologue about four stupid, unlikeable teens breaking into an old building, is a film about four stupid, unlikeable adults breaking into the same building. Oh, and inbetween we’re treated to an aside about a security guard. So does this place have security patrols or not? Did the owners try that whole ‘security’ schtick once but the guy was ripped to pieces by a vengeful dead spirit on his first night so they’re not going to bother again? The stupid – it burns…

The background to all this is that the building, despite very obviously being a large Victorian factory/warehouse, used to be a ‘drug rehab clinic’ in the late 1980s. In scattered flashback scenes we learn that Nicole’s dad (Tim Parker, who was Henry VIII in Bloody Tales of the Tower) was the Clinical Director there who not only began an affair with the wife of one of the patients, but also provided that patient (Paul Cooper) with plenty of heroin so that he would sink deeper into addiction and eventually kill himself (shown in a brief scene so ineptly directed that it looks like he runs up the ladder and throws himself into the noose). “This place was closed down after a patient hung himself,” Nicole tells her friends, thereby demonstrating the one essential trait which all TV news reporters need: ignorance of the English language. It’s ‘hanged’, you dozy bint. Curtains are hung, criminals and suicides are hanged. Jesus, what do kids learn in schools these days? And anyway, isn’t it more likely that the place was closed down because the patients were allowed to sit around in comfy chairs shooting up?

So the wife divorced the junkie, married the Director and they had a daughter (or he already had a daughter) who grew up to be Nicole, but the wife and junkie already had a son, seen very briefly in one flashback. I wonder if that will become important?

In the grotty old factory, which has been lit up using that same easy-to-locate generator with the same key in the same lock, Nicole sets up her equipment: a video camera on a tripod and a couple of DSLRs gaffer-taped to stuff. They are all set running, pointing at nothing. Occasionally the film cuts to a shot through one or other of these cameras, sometimes of ghostly activity which cannot be seen by the human eye. Presumably these cameras are the same low-grade make as those used in Dark Vision and Hungerford because they do exactly the same thing with the shaking image and the BZZZT! noise. Come on, low-budget film-makers! You use cameras like this all day long! Have you not noticed that they don’t do this? Ever.

Also, anyone who has been on a low-budget location shoot knows that the biggest problem is batteries running out, but Nicole apparently has magic camera batteries that will last the whole night through.

Since no-one is watching the view-finder, no-one sees the ghost of the junkie, but they hear a voice say, “No-one leaves” and then another one of those damn light-bulbs goes pop (must have been a defective batch). Understandably unnerved, they decide to go to a different part of the building. Then they come back again. There is a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing around the building in this film but most of it is for no purpose and to no effect.

It transpires that all the exterior doors are locked, somehow, so Adam proposes going up to the top floor where there’s a fire escape. “I’ll go on my own – it will be quicker,” he says. Well, no it won’t because if the fire escape does present an opportunity of egress, you’ll have to come all the way downstairs again to get the others, then all go back up again. After Adam leaves, Mike – who has already been dragged off across the floor by supernatural forces once but seems none the worse for it – follows him because he wants to bum a cigarette off his mate. That’s the level of motivation which these one-dimensional non-characters exhibit.

Of course, the real reason why Mike goes looking for Adam is so that the film can get him on his own and have something hideous happen to him. Long story short, there are two threats in the building tonight. There’s the psychotic ghost of the noose-jumping junkie who was cuckolded by Nicole’s dad, and there is the psychotic son of the junkie whose hobby is dressing up in an orange boiler suit and a grinning mask then attacking people with a nail-gun and/or hypodermic needles full of smack. I can’t imagine who this masked killer could be. I mean, there’s only two male characters and he’s torturing Mike so… you know… it’s a Gorgon-level mystery, really.

I suppose he could, theoretically be the briefly-seen TV news boss (Rich Keeble: scAIRcrows, Eva’s Diamond, Survivors) or the guy who sent the security guard off to his nocturnal doom (John Cusworth). The irony is that both of those gents, despite neither having more than a minute or two of screen time, demonstrated more actual characterisation than any of our main quartet.

And so it goes on. Quite late in the film, we’re told that no-one’s mobile is working, for no apparent reason. Then near the end we find that the old sofa they’ve been sitting on is right next to a wall-mounted telephone which nobody even bothered trying. It is also, apparently, right next to a pile of builders’ tools which includes a hammer and a hand-held circular saw. A freaking heavy-duty electric saw, running off the mains power supplied by that oh-so-handy generator. Our lone survivor finds this literally right where she has spent the whole film, uses it to try and cut through a bolt on a door, then gives up and we’ll say no more about it.

Eventually [spoiler protection on] a mobile phone starts working again, for no reason, as Nicole receives a call from her dad. She explains that she’s in the old rehab clinic, that Mike and Liz are dead and that Adam is trying to kill her. So does her dad (who now has a beard but otherwise looks no older than he did in the ’25 years earlier’ flashbacks) call the cops and turn up with heavily armed peelers? No, the only person he brings with him is Nicole’s previously unmentioned younger sister (Charlie Cameron, who has done voices for Angelina Ballerina). Because when a psycho with a nail gun and a heroin fixation is on the loose, the person you really need with you is a worried teenage girl.

The whole thing seems to have been some sort of revenge plan designed to bring Nicole’s dad to the former clinic. But it makes not a lick of sense. If Nicole’s dad is the target, why did Adam savagely murder Mike and Liz (and if his plan was to murder Mike, why do it so theatrically when the only witness wouldn’t be able to tell anyone?). And if Adam’s dad’s ghost is seeking revenge on the man who stole his wife and drove him to suicide, why has he been killing security guards and Ouija board-toting teenagers? Furthermore, what’s the relationship between Nicole and Adam? If his mum divorced his dad (or was widowed when he jumped into the noose) and subsequently married Nicole’s dad, then the two are step-siblings. Dude, you’re dating your stepsister – WTF? But since we’re not told the characters’ ages, if Nicole is meant to be less than 25 then they’re actually half-siblings – dude, that’s even worse! Either way, it’s inconceivable that they haven’t known each other most of their lives, yet we’re expected to believe that Nicole doesn’t know her boyfriend’s background. A long, boring epilogue ends (eventually) in a ‘shock’ [spoiler protection off] that is, if anything, even more predictable than the preceding 90 minutes.

Sometimes when people watch a crappy film they ask: “How did this get made?” But with The Addicted, the question is surely: why did this get made? Did Sean J Vincent look at the current range of DTV horror titles on Netflix or Lovefilm and think: What the world really needs is a low-budget film about random spooky and violent things happening to a group of unlikeable, undefined morons who go somewhere they shouldn’t be for no really good reason without any planning or forethought. Yes, that’s what horror fans will want to watch. Because nobody has made a film like that since, well, let’s see, what time is it now?

There really is nothing commendable about The Addicted, which was shot in September 2011 and first screened at a cinema in Letchworth in November 2012 (hence the 2012 copyright date). Fair play to Vincent, he got himself a distribution deal: Revolver put the film out in the States in June 2014 with a UK disc from Safecracker two months later, which was briefly retitled Rehab before hitting shelves as The Clinic, with a sleeve design that ditched the killer's mask for an image unrelated to anything in the actual movie. (Ironic, isn’t it? The film has had three titles and none of them shows the slightest spark of originality or wit, thereby perfectly summing up this waste of an hour and a half.) So Revolver and Safecracker both believe there are enough undiscriminating horror fans that they can turn a profit on this. Maybe there are. They’re not the people who read this blog.

For everyone else, this is just risibly bad. Some bad films are boring but at numerous points throughout this film I was genuinely crying with laughter as my naïve belief that it couldn’t get any more clichéed or nonsensical was repeatedly shattered. I could forgive the bad acting (no-one here is likely to win any awards); I could forgive the cheap visual effects; I could forgive the hamfisted direction, lousy music, half-hearted production design. Heck, I could even forgive Vincent’s cinematography which is hopelessly misguided, everything being lit for atmosphere and effect, not credibility (let’s have some back-lit smoke machine spooky mist here because – why not?). What I can’t forgive is the towering stack of horror-by-the-numbers clichés; the unsympathetic, characterless ‘characters’; the who-cares-if-it-makes-sense ‘plot’; the bland, stale dialogue; or, most egregiously, the fact that in the middle of a new golden age of low-budget British horror, when film-makers with similar micro-budgets are producing so many great horror movies - interesting and/or entertaining and/or powerful, thought-provoking horror movies – The Addicted is an off-the-shelf, limp throwback to the sort of formulaic crap the British Horror Revival is reacting against.

The last time I saw anything this uninspired and flaccid was when I forced myself to sit through dross like Spirit Trap and Credo in order to write them up for my book. Except those at least had some token pop star name value. I really can’t see the point of The Addicted. Who could possibly enjoy this? Is the target audience people who have never, ever seen a low-budget horror film before? And yes, a lot of hard work went into the movie but people aren’t paying to watch hard work, are they? Heck, think of the amount of hard work that goes into making the Transformers films, and that doesn’t stop them all from being huge cinematic turds.

This is actually Sean J Vincent’s second feature following a non-horror movie called Shoot the DJ. (His day-job is in the music industry as a sound engineer – and now I come to think about it, the sound mix on The Addicted is pretty good, probably the best thing here. But like the saying goes, you don’t walk out of the theatre whistling the sound mix. Well, I suppose in a way you do…) He has followed this up with a second horror movie, Seven Cases, starring Page 3 stunna turned lezza pop-warbler Samantha Fox and former Republica vocalist Saffron. Two pop stars? Maybe he has indeed been taking inspiration from Spirit Trap and Credo. Also in the cast is Stephen Berkoff, previously seen in Strippers vs Werewolves, Dead Cert and Just for the Record. My God, considering he’s one of Britain’s finest stage actors, he hasn’t half been in some shit films!

Perhaps Sean J Vincent will get past this stage of his career and go on to better things. It has happened before. Adam Mason’s first two features were utter cack (just ask Adam!) but he then made the sublime Devil’s Chair and the slick-but-nasty Broken; now he’s in Hollywood. Or look at Johannes Roberts: from daft rubbish like Sanitarium and Hellbreeder to the powerful drama of F and slickly commercial, star-driven theatrical releases like Storage 24. It can happen. Stick at it, Mr V. Well, don’t stick at this. Stick at making real films, films that have something to say (even if it’s just wooo, ghosts are scary). Make films that matter, that matter to you, not this tedious paint-by-numbers crap. Films with characters, films with plots, films with dialogue, films that repay your audience and leave them happy, or relieved, or spooked out, but never, ever bored.

A quick round-up of other credits now. The three producers are Vincent, Gayner (who was also casting director) and composer/sound designer Jon Atkinson (who allegedly provided some of the music for the 2005 remake of Roobarb and Custard!). Someone called Lawrence TW Alderman stumped up the budget and got exec prod credit (plus a cameo as a rehab centre worker), and has done likewise on Seven Cases. Special FX are credited to Ian Holmes (also listed as ‘gaffa’), a lighting designer by trade who has worked with the likes of Steve Hackett, Kim Wilde and Kajagoogoo, and who presumably knows Sean Vincent through his music industry connections. Natalie Cherrett (Ill Manors, Never Mind the Buzzcocks) handled the hair and make-up.

The four twentysomething ‘teens’ in the prologue are Samantha Spurgin (who was in a stage production of The Dunwich Horror), Brooke Burfitt (also in Martin Gooch’s Death and Stuart Brennan’s Plan Z), Jos Slovick (the big budget Les Mis film and Tales of the City on Radio 4) and busy stage actor Paul Giles. And then there’s Taryn Kay, who plays the junkie’s unfaithful wife in a couple of flashbacks. The best actor on screen here by a country mile, her credits include Michael Winner’s notorious all-star comedy Parting Shots, a spell as a professional cheerleader, music videos for Beardyman, Will Young and Jedward (as the twins’ mum!) and well, quite a lot of ‘mum’ characters. She is credited here as ‘Adam’s Mum’ (is that a spoiler, ah fuck it). But her most impressive credit is that she was the lift girl in several episodes of Are You Being Served? All together now: “Ground floor: perfumery, stationary and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery, kitchenware and food. Going up…” Taryn Kay, we salute you! What are you doing in cobblers like this?

So is there anything good to say about this movie? Any hope? Yes, just a faint glimmer. There is one possible escape plan for The Addicted. One genuine reason why some-one might watch it. One definable audience who will take something positive away from this film. And that is aspiring low-budget horror film-makers. Because this really is a master-class in what not to do.

Fucking Ouija board, man. Honestly…

MJS rating: D

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