Film

'The Monkey's Paw' Is Not a Bad Little Film

This low-budget thriller manages a few creepy moments.


The Monkey's Paw

Director: Brett Simmons
Cast: CJ Thomasan, Stephen Lang, Michelle Pierce, Daniel High Kelly, Tauvia Dawn
Distributor: Shout Factory
Release date: 2014-06-17

The Monkey’s Paw is the kind of frustrating horror movie that manages a few moments of genuine unease and atmosphere, mixed in with copious amounts of predictability and by-the-numbers shocks. It’s not a bad little film, but it’s not outstanding either, and it will be of interest to hardcore thrill-seekers only.

CJ Thomason stars as Jake Tilton, a blue-collar New Orleans warehouse worker who comes into possession of the titular monkey’s paw when a co-worker is unjustly fired. This particular totem, so the legend goes, will grant its owner three wishes. Needless to say, Jake makes the first couple of those wishes in short order, with unintentionally dire results. Much of the rest of the movie involves trying—and failing—to set those wrongs right again.

Along the way, the movie slips into some overly familiar tropes, with Jake’s co-worker Cobb taking on the role of murderous psychopath, à la Jason from the Friday the 13th movies (or any number of soulless, murderous ghouls). Cobb has an estranged lover and a son that he is court ordered to avoid, and his single-minded determination to reconnect with his offspring is what motors much of the film’s narrative. If that doesn’t sound like the most compelling bit of drama in the world... well, it’s not.

Fortunately, Stephen Lang turns in a solid performance as Cobb, who swings from populist wiseass to half-drunk lout to steely-eyed stalker in equal measure, all with a fairly creepy degree of conviction. He tends to steal any scene he’s in, partly because his co-stars are largely a drab and colorless bunch, including ostensible leading man Thomason, who plays Jake as a sort of second-rate Nathan Fillion. Thomason’s performance isn’t awful—very little about this movie is awful, just as very little is outstanding—but his is such a vanilla performance that it fails to make much of an impression.

Apart from the three-wishes element, there's little here to set this movie apart from any generic loony-with-a-knife slashfest. That’s too bad, because there's the potential here to ramp up the supernatural in an attempt to make the plot beats less predictable. As it is, there are numerous murders, which grow increasingly savage as the movie progresses, but these do little in actually racking up suspense. Even the cops following the trail of dead bodies figure things out pretty fast.

One mildly unusual component in the story is the degree to which the writers and director set up the characters before the paw hits the fan. It’s not War and Peace, but there is some effort to sketch out the warehouse workers as a bit more than simply slasher-film fodder.

Soon enough the mayhem kicks in, and, unsurprisingly, the bulk of this mayhem takes place at night, in scenes that are dimly lit by streetlights and moonlight, because—well, hell, because that’s the way everybody else shoots their horror movies, isn’t it? (Plus, the less one can see, the less likely it is that something will look fake.) The cinematography is competent and the action is clear and easy to follow, with a few moments of over-the-top violence that will likely be the only bits that linger on in the viewer’s memory.

Author W.W. Jacobs wrote the short story “The Monkey’s Paw” in 1902, which ostensibly gave the movie its source material. All literary origins aside, it's safe to say, however, that there are few similarities between story and film, other than the basic premise of a wish-fulfilling totem that doesn’t work as expected.

Bonus features include a trailer and the requisite making-of featurette, with plenty of earnest interviews from director Brett Simmons and various cast members trying to make it seem as if a movie about a monkey paw that turns somebody into a crazed soulless killer is actually about something deeper. They come up with reasons including the dangers of intervening with fate or the need to seek contentment with one’s lot in life, amongst others. There’s plenty of filler, too, with the actors summarizing the characters they play in the movie that the viewer has, presumably, just watched.

So, then: not a great film by any stretch, but not a complete disaster, either. Genre fans might get a kick out of it, and there are one or two above-average performances. It’s tough to get too excited about this, though. It’s competent, and hits the expected beats, and little more.

5
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Film

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less
9

South Pole Station is an unflinching yet loving look at family in all its forms.

The typical approach of the modern debut novel is to grab its audience's attention, to make a splash of the sort that gets its author noticed. This is how you get a book deal, this is how you quickly draw an audience -- books like Fight Club, The Kite Runner, even Harry Potter each went out of their way to draw in an audience, either through a defined sense of language, a heightened sense of realism, or an instant wash of wonder. South Pole Station is Ashley Shelby's debut, and its biggest success is its ability to take the opposite approach: rather than claw and scream for its reader's attention, it's content to seep into its reader's consciousness, slowly drawing that reader into a world that's simultaneously unfamiliar and totally believable.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image