Venom (2005) / Horror
MPAA Rated: R for violence, gore, and language
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Agnes Bruckner, Jonathan Jackson, Rick Cramer, Meagan Good, D.J. Cotrona, Laura Ramsey, Bijou Phillips, Method Man
Director: Jim Gillespie
Screenplay: Flint Dille, John Zuur Platten, Brandon Boyce
Jim Gillespie, director of the fast-food slasher flick, I Know What You Did Last Summer, returns to try to shock us all again with Venom. Essentially, it's the same formula all over again, except the killer in this film carries around a crowbar instead of a hook. For what it is, it's not the worst example of the genre by a long shot, and Gillespie does gather together a better group of actors than are usually cast in a movie of this ilk. The trouble is that it is so routine, you can virtually guess how the rest of the movie is going to progress from the moment you're introduced to the cast of characters. What's left is just to watch the plot go through its predictable motions until the ending that offers no surprises for anyone but the uninitiated. Schlock, despite being well-made, is still schlock, and not even Agnes Bruckner's (Rick, Blue Car) acting or Rick Cramer's (Pros & Cons, Counter Measures) impressive menace can make something more out of a story that regurgitates more than it stimulates.
The film starts out with a Creole woman unearthing a suitcase full of mystical serpents that end up biting and merging with Ray, the imposing gas station owner in the backwoods town in Louisiana. It seems these serpents are infused with the demons that were "milked" from exorcisms performed by the Creole woman, and now the serpents and their souls are carried within Ray, who systematically begins to butcher the local populace in grisly and sadistic ways.
The only thing that sets Venom apart from the other slasher movie franchises (and this one is so very clearly trying to be a franchise of its own) is the Louisiana backdrop and voodoo underpinnings. However, even in 2005, there have been two other horror movies that have already mined this territory, with Skeleton Key covering the voodoo angle in a much more clever way, while the god-awful Man-Thing had a creature in a backwoods town near a swamp. Without even that claim to originality, Gillespie's film feels all too familiar. It's too predictable to scare or surprise us; it's too redundant to engage us intellectually or emotionally.
Perhaps the best thing I can say about Venom is that it isn't bad for its genre. Bruckner is a smart and resourceful heroine to root for, Cramer towers powerfully with physical presence, and Gillespie's direction is more subtle in approach, never subjecting us to excessive gore unless it is necessary for the scene to work. That's not to say it skimps in this respect; it is a very bloody movie.
Despite some competent elements, I can only recommend Venom for genre fanatics, especially ones that absolutely have to see every splatter film that comes out. For all other viewers, this film is like the character of Ray himself -- a simple-minded monstrosity joined together from bad elements that have been "milked" from other sources.
©2005 Vince Leo