What makes a bad movie good?
Sometimes the answer is clear and obvious. There may be blatant ineptitude at work, or hopelessly unprofessional standards of filmmaking skill: a ridiculous monster suit, costumes and “sets” that cost no money, memorably bad or eccentric acting performances, dialogue that’s so far from lifelike that it turns mind-bendingly surreal, or plotting suited to the imagination of a nine year old boy. Other times, it’s less apparent. A film that does not in any obvious way fail to live up to basic Hollywood standards can still somehow have that special delicious reek about it, that fine bouquet of badness that makes it worth seeking out for fans of crap film.
I Know Who Killed Me is not, on the surface, a hopelessly inept film. Everything about it is carried out with workmanlike routine competence. The rhythms of dialogue sound normal enough, the acting is serviceable if undistinguished... each individual component of the film is merely mediochre, not appalling. As such, it should achieve nothing but boredom and forgettability. But somehow, the sum total of those components produces a cinematic experience that is so bad, that for a fan of crap like me... it genuinely feels life affirming. Watching this brightens my whole day — I smile whenever I remember it.
How did they do it? What makes it bad in such a wonderful way?
Well, one factor is the delightful visual design. There’s all kinds of fancy artsy imagery in here, with surreal hallucinatory passages (or are they?), and it’s loaded with layers of meaning and nuance. Especially in the use of color.
Remember how effectively The Sixth Sense made use of the color red, to highlight all the little things that were wrong and bad in the protagonist’s environment? This film does the same thing, with blue instead of red... except that they wisely realized that if a little is good, then a lot is better. They elevate the depth of symbolic meaning attached to the color blue by escalating the quantity and frequency of its use. Not only is the bad guy blue... so are the cops, the doctors, the protagonist’s high school friends, the wallpaper in her house, the light through most any window... EVERY DAMN THING IN THE WHOLE MOVIE IS BLUE. Colors like yellow and red exist solely to contrast strikingly with blue. And in the case of red, that’s really saying something, given the amount of gore this movie has in it.
Sometimes, when the set dressing wasn’t blue enough, and they don’t want to be blatant by using blue light, they subtly add some digital bluing to the grays and pastels in the scene, like churchgoing old ladies would do with their hair a generation ago. You can tell when this is happening, because the characters’ teeth turn blue, though their skin looks normal.
There are times when even the blood looks blue.
Yeah, blood. Because, you see, this is not a drama film, this is a horror thriller. And it involves murder and torture and mutilation. But it’s not a cheap B slasher, oh no!, no matter how much a few particular scenes might remind you of Rob Zombie... it’s much more cerebral and interesting and clever than that. Or thinks it is. In other words, it’s solidly middlebrow. It follows the long tradition of mainstream psychological thrillers, aside from being much more graphic than is usual in that subgenre.
Until the shocking twist, that is. At which point, everything you thought you understood is turned on its head. If you don’t know what it is, well, I ain’t telling. It’s just too good to spoil.
And it’s now we come to the chief source of this movie’s marvelous awfulness: the direction the plot turns after departing from the expected course. It is so outlandish, so preposterous, that if you gathered a whole roomful of woolly headed neopagans, flat earthers, UFO buffs, teabaggers, and devotees of “The Secret”, you probably wouldn’t find one person credulous enough to believe it. It would be another matter if the movie positioned itself explicitly as a fantasy or a ghost story or the like, but that it certainly does not do.
This movie actually expects you to take Art Bell seriously as a source of expositional expertise.
The last element that needs discussion is the lead actress, Lindsay Lohan. It has to be said that, despite what a notorious trainwreck she is in real life, there’s nothing actually wrong with her performance. It’s not great, it’s not inspiring, but it’s definitely adequate. She covers a reasonable range of emotions, she inhabits her character’s circumstances in a natural looking way, and she does a reasonable job of differentiating two distinct personalities. And yet... you never for one instant start thinking of her as the character instead of as Lindsay Lohan.
It doesn’t help that her hair is dyed black, but her skin is covered with redhead freckles instead of a tan, so the dye job never stops looking fake and temporary. The odd texture of her voice, and the weird shape of her body (which manages to be thick and bony at the same time), also keep reminding you of Lindsay Lohan the paparazzi magnet rather than the fictional character she’s portraying, thereby taking you out of the movie. The fact that it’s a Dual Role, that old ham-actor’s favorite gimmick for showing off their chops to easily impressed audiences, can’t help but remind you that this film was part of an attempted acting comeback at a time when her career seemed to be rapidly expiring. It also doesn’t help that all the other actors with significant parts are, well, drab. No one else has any charisma to speak of.
Finally, something has to be said about the occasions when the movie veers toward sex, and the absurd lengths it goes to to keep Ms. Lohan’s clothes on. Hollywood people sure are great at trying to have cake and eat it too — to do stuff without actually doing it. The practice of talking oneself into thinking that something will work and seem real even though you’re not doing it is not just habitual, it’s institutional. These people need to listen to Master Yoda. “Do, or do not!” If you’re going to do something, then do it, and if you’re not going to do something, then don’t do it. Just please stop trying to tell us you are doing it, when you’re not! For example, if you have cast an actress who is not willing to strip, then don’t have her perform in a strip club. It’s not difficult, just have the story take place somewhere else.
Casting an actress whose vajayjay has been seen by countless millions as a stripper who won’t strip... that, dear readers, is the finishing touch — the final grace note that makes this dreadful movie into a quintessentially harmonious symphony of failure.
If you are a bad movie fan, this film is a must-see. I just hope as many of you as possible can enjoy the experience as much as I did.
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