Laid to Rest. 2009. Directed & Written by Robert Hall.
Starring Bobbi Sue Luther, Kevin Gage, Lena Headey, Sean Whalen, Richard Lynch, Johnathon Schaech, Thomas Dekker, & Nick Principe. Dry County Films.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
A slasher horror doesn’t always have to bring innovation to the table in order to make a film exciting. Sometimes it’s okay to just let go, have a bit of fun. I’m a fan of slashers from the classic stuff like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, to the post-modernity of Scream, and even 1980s gems such as The Burning and Terror Train. There’s all types of ways to make one of these movies. Lots of interesting angles.
Laid to Rest doesn’t necessarily try to give a unique take on the slasher sub-genre. However, it does try to up the nastiness and go for the jugular, both figuratively in how it attempts terrifying the viewer, as well as literally in the sense many of the movie’s kills are brutish. If you can turn your brain off and ignore certain huge missteps then there’s hope. If not, you’ll probably hate this movie. I don’t think Laid to Rest is amazing, though I own it and once every so often I decide to throw it on. There are excellent slasher movie moments that work, time and time again. If anything, you’ll get a good dose of blood and gore to sooth that dirty little soul of yours. Don’t expect any of the characters to exactly suck you in. My hat goes off to director-writer Robert Hall for using a female protagonist. Unfortunately she isn’t the best, either in terms of the character’s writing nor in the quality of acting. The movie has a twisted atmosphere that’s constant from the first frame until the last. Problem is that bloody deaths, a creepy antagonist, they’re not enough to keep the whole thing above water. Despite how fun those things may be for horror fanatics.
What I love most about the writing is that we’re given a fun slasher, Chrome Skull, whose history isn’t clear. Certainly, this went on to spawn and sequel, that one gives us more evidence as to where this guy came from, what he’s about, why he kills, and so forth. In this first film he’s only defined by brutality. There’s no attempt at showing us his origins, and that’s okay. Why do we need to be explained his backstory? There isn’t a pressing need. Because like the original Halloween‘s depiction of Michael Myers, this is a villain we need not necessarily discover all about right away. The unknown is more frightening. Skull is a vicious character. The more we discover in the sequel, the less he’s this foreboding killer and becomes less exciting because of it. Relentlessly, Skull kills his victims without hesitation, without ever saying a word, and so there’s a terror inherent in him that only gets more unsettling as the time goes by.
Whereas some sequences feel quite low budget, much of the action involving the kills, the chase moments feel stylised. A perfect example being when the group wanders into the police station finding things already in shambles, then Chrome Skull comes out of nowhere. This sequence is well executed with a very ’80s feel, and much of the film has that type of atmosphere.
There’s some great sound design which goes along with the effects. First time I noticed it is when we initially see Chrome Skull from behind, sitting with his camera and briefcase full of trinkets, and he dabs away at his face – we don’t know at this point what his face looks like, nor have we seen his mask full on yet. But there’s this nasty, squishy sound accompanying his cotton ball dabbing that’s utterly disgusting. Dig it. This is simply the first of many gross moments – some are from the sound design, others from the practical effects.
Parts of the cinematography make this come off very low budget, in a bad way. Other scenes feel excellently shot. I do enjoy the camera footage from Chrome Skull, as it’s not too shaky and unwatchable, as well as the fact it’s intensely odd to watch him play the video back, sort of getting off on his own work. Also, you begin wondering immediately: is he recording for his own sick benefit, or does he do it for another reason, for somebody else maybe? We don’t come to find out, in this first film anyway. A few scenes have a stylish feel juxtaposed with the more simplistic type camera work that does its best to cultivate a foreboding tone. Apart from the more low budget moments, which aren’t overkill, most of the film’s look as a whole is spot on for its sort of ’80s throwback DNA.
Overall, the acting isn’t so bad for a low budget horror-thriller. In several scenes, I definitely think there’s a lack of good acting. Mostly the main actors hold their own and manage to carry the story. There’s certainly a nice degree of fear they’re able to get across, which is ultimately all a film like this needs from its actors. Still, I can’t help imagine what this might have been if there were more competent acting, perhaps better writing to boot. The actors aren’t totally to blame, as the writing makes the characters do a few incredibly idiotic things throughout the plot. I’m not one to bash on a horror for characters doing strange things; we can never fully gauge exactly what a person in real life might do during times of major stress like when a serial killing slasher is messing about killing people.
Laid to Rest does what it can with all it has to make Chrome Skull a memorable slasher killer. Now, he isn’t about to go down in the history of horror cinema alongside guys like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, not even the Leprechaun or all the little creeps from Children of the Corn. All the same, he is damn sure remarkable. Even if I don’t feel the sequel fleshes out his character properly, instead opting for the trope of a big organisation lurking behind it all, there’s lots to enjoy about the character. He is an unstoppable force, he feels not supernatural but plain and simple evil incarnate. The kills he heaps upon the audience are gruesome, they are gag-worthy at times. Best of all, this first movie doesn’t harp on trying to explain everything, so that a certain amount of mystery remains hovering over the entire film. Add to that Chrome Skull’s eerie look, his speechless murder rampage, and the movie is a little better than you’d expect. It could all be better. Yet it could also be worse. In an era where so many slashers are beyond predictable or relegated to the realm of found footage, Laid to Rest is slightly refreshing despite so many bad choices. If you want a fun little flick to throw in with your friends, this is one worth seeing amongst a crowd.