Rob Zombie is one of the most divisive genre filmmakers working today.  Often derided for his white trash characters, threadbare scripts and overabundant violence, he’s incurred the ire of many a horror fan.  On the other hand, he’s praised by his fans as a demented visionary and one of the filmmakers leading the charge in contemporary horror.  Then, lastly, some sit somewhere in the middle, believing that his ideas are much better than his execution.  Whatever your opinion of Rob Zombie is, chances are you have one, which just goes to show that he has done enough to leave an impression of some sort.  For me personally, he’s one of the best horror directors working today – but 31 isn’t his finest hour, or even a fine hour at all.

The story centres around a group five travelling carnival workers who are abducted, taken to a compound and forced to play a game of ‘31’ at the behest of sadistic rich folks who have placed wagers on their chances of survival.  So what does this game entail, you might be asking?  Well essentially it’s doing whatever it takes to survive for 12 hours against a gang of homicidal clowns.  The premise sounds like it has all the makings for a fun, over-the-top tour de force of violence, carnage and bizarreness Zombie’s films have become synonymous with throughout the years.  What should be mindless deranged fun turns out instead, to be, a mildly entertaining clusterfuck of a movie.

The biggest compliment I can give 31 is that it’s never boring.  There are hints of a good exploitation film buried in there somewhere, and it has enough downright weirdness and style to warrant a viewing.  Furthermore, it’s contains a few scenes which contain some beautifully twisted imagery.  But it’s clearly a film that’s suffered as a result of multiple cuts and some sloppy editing, which in turn has forced Zombie to compromise and not see his true vision come to life.  Parts of it feel missing, and the jarring savage violence it promises has been somewhat obscured with hyper shaky cam.  It’s quite dizzying actually.

The cast do a decent job, but they don’t have much to work with.  Once again Sheri Moon Zombie shows that while she’s not the best actress on the planet, she’s still a capable one when it comes to genre fare.  Malcom McDowell is… well… Malcolm McDowell, only with a wig and makeup.  Meg Foster is relegated to basic caricature status – like the majority of the cast for that matter – and is clearly wasted, whereas everybody else is serviceable, but ultimately forgetful.  That’s with the exception of Richard Brake as Doom-Head who, unlike the other villains, is menacing, sleazy and intimidating.  However, his counterparts don’t do much at all, and if you took them out of the film, their presence wouldn’t be missed.  Let’s bear in mind that Zombie gave us some of the most memorable villains in recent memory with the Firefly family in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, but with the exception of Doom-Head, this crop feels like a cheap imitation to recreate the characteristics that made them memorable, through gallows humour and savagery.  Only here, they’re not very funny and rather inept at being baddies and the film lacks any real tension as a result.

Overall, 31 should pass as some watchable throwaway entertainment this Halloween season, but if you’re not a fan of Zombie this won’t convert you, and if you are then it might not live up to high expectations.  It’ll be interesting to see an unrated directors cut down the line, as there is a good film in here somewhere with Zombie’s original vision begging to come out.  But as it is, 31 is a step back for a filmmaker capable of so much better, but at the same time, it’s not a film you’ll forget either.

WRITER/DIRECTOR: ROB ZOMBIE
STARS: SHERI MOON ZOMBIE, MEG FOSTER, MALCOLM MCDOWELL, RICHARD BRAKE, JEFF DANIEL PHILLIPS
RUNTIME: 130 MINS APPROXX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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