Reviews

The 'Needle' Gives Us Sew-Sew Horror

Needle must rely on increasingly gruesome deaths to cloak its essential, mechanistic repetitiveness.


Needle

Director: John V. Soto
Cast: Michael Dorman, Travis Fimmel, Trilby Glover, John Jarratt, Jessica Marais, Tahyna Tozzi
Distributor: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Year: 2010
Release date: 2011-11-29

“Stitching It Together”, the name of the making-of featurette included on the DVD release of horror–murder mystery Needle, reveals the film’s major flaw. The threads of its plot show at every formulaic twist and turn.

University student Ben Rutherford (Michael Dorman) receives an antique apparatus as part of the settlement of the estate of his father, who died in a car accident two years before. The machine is stolen from him, and members of Ben’s circle of friends start dying in spectacularly gory ways. The body count mounts as Ben learns the deadly nature of the device, connects it to the murders, and tries to discover the identity of the person using it to kill. All the while, Ben clashes with his brother Marcus, whom he blames for their father’s death.

Through glimpses of the apparatus in action, intercut with the demises of Ben’s chums, the function of the killing machine becomes clear. The operator pours a small amount of human blood (his or her own, evidently—we see blood being drawn from a vein with a syringe in one scene) into a decorative grate in the cabinet, followed by a small beaker’s worth of melted wax.

Next the killer places a photographic portrait in a retractable tray. After inserting the tray into the machine, the user turns a crank, and out of the cabinet emerges a wax figure, imbued with the essence of the person in the photograph. Finally, in typical voodoo fashion, the killer abuses the wax figure in ways that manifest in the victim’s own body.

Even though “Le Vaudou Mort” is helpfully lettered on the apparatus, characters in Needle have as much difficulty divining how the machine works as they do pronouncing its name. (This seems like an unfortunate deficit for a group of anthropology students.) It’s voodoo with a twist: the likeness of the victim is enough; the machine requires nothing that has come into contact with, or that has once been part of, the person’s person—the lock of hair, fingernail parings, or article of clothing usually needed to personalize a voodoo doll. And the device has conveniently anticipated today’s concern with bodily fluids, bypassing the need for blood from victims, or from sacrificial animals.

There’s something sadly impersonal about the proceedings, a fastidiousness toward physical contact that becomes a theme throughout Needle. Poor Mary (Tahyna Tozzi), besotted with Ben, does everything short of ravishing the clueless boy after he passes out from too much drink one evening. Yet the two never hook up. The only contact between consenting adults takes place off-screen between Isabel (Trilby Glover) and Kandi (Jessica Marais), whose public lipstick-swapping sessions are designed to titillate their male friends (and, one assumes, the film’s audience).

For all the killing box’s hand-made charm, the deaths it enacts have the similarity of assembly line products. In an effect that presumably indicates the binding of victim and wax figure, those about to die hear the whir, clank, and grind of Le Vaudou Mort’s works shortly before the slicing and dicing begins. This is the kind of element that gives deconstruction a bad name, by making it too easy to carry out. Needle unwittingly calls attention to its weakness: a plot that must rely on increasingly gruesome deaths to cloak its essential, mechanistic repetitiveness.

Needle only gets interesting when Ben’s archaeology professor, whom Ben has consulted about the machine, arranges a meeting with an antiquarian. After providing some explication regarding Le Vaudou Mort as “a tool for revenge”, the dealer gets down to business: “If it can be properly authenticated, my contact is willing to pay five hundred thousand dollars, no questions asked.” Here the requisite research stage of the traditional horror plot resonates with the current glut of reality television programming concerned with recovering, valuing, and selling antique artifacts. Now this is a story line I could get behind: Paranormal Pickers.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.