31 follows a group of carnival workers who find themselves kidnapped and forced to play the game 31; the aim of which is to survive 12 hours in an underground hell with a gang of clowns.
As a huge fan of House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, I was excited to see Rob Zombie, hopefully, return to doing what he does best. However, 31 is not on par with the aforementioned films and does not even feel as though it has come from the same director. Rather than being an exploitative, violent and visually impressive treat for those after 90 minutes of entertaining slaughter, 31 is a criminally dull and unforgettable mess that is devoid of visual or thematic creativity.
31 feels like a poor imitation of a Rob Zombie movie that has a base idea that the director would be proud of, but that’s about it. The storyline offers a perfect opportunity for the film-maker to go completely crazy; to craft terrifying killer clowns in a nightmarish underground hell where the victims can find no escape. Nonetheless, what Zombie delivers is painfully and unforgivably boring. The characters are as dull as dishwater; poor stereotypes that are without any ounce of personality or likeability, thus making it impossible to care even a little when they are tortured and eventually killed by their clown tormentors. Sheri Moon Zombie is predictably what you’d expect and struts around the film in a crop top with her hands in her pockets, grinding on the gas station attendant. She’s hot, we get it. Sure, she proves herself to be quite handy with a baseball bat, but there’s very little below her – or any of the characters, for that matter– lifeless exteriors and this is just one of 31’s many problems.
If we’re not going to be given a bunch of interesting characters, we’ll be treated to some creative kills, right? Wrong. Every on-screen death or fight is executed with a whimper. There is no life behind or in front of the camera as our characters battle for their lives. It legitimately looks as though no one could care any less. As the clown killers, Richard Brake, Pancho Moler, David Ury and Lew Temple are entertaining enough; but if you’re expecting to feel utter terror when watching 31, these variously named Heads will do nothing to enforce this. Every aspect of 31 needs a kick up the behind, a shift into a higher gear or a good shake, because this is one flat, lifeless feature and that is what is truly insane.
The camera is horrendously shaky and ferociously jarring editing makes it impossible to decipher what’s even going on. When your eyes settle on the events and you’re not left with a headache, the following scene’s strobe lighting will be sure to leave you feeling dizzy. There is a clear intention for 31 to throw back to exploitation films of the ’70s and ’80s with its sliding transitions between scenes and abrupt pausing that seeks to highlight the film’s more important moments. Sadly for 31, these blunt editing choices further the film’s desperation and, to be blunt myself, arrogance. There is an air of confidence hovering over 31 that bursts with self-importance. The whole film feels like a pompous piece of film-making that doesn’t care what its audience thinks and not in a good way. It is one thing to be confident and certain of your film, but it’s another when you’re parading it around the screen like it has something important to say. Which 31 certainly does not. The entire film seeps with a desperate attempt to disguise its lacklustre story line with superficiality in the hope that audiences won’t peel away the film’s skin and expose its hollow core. Sadly for 31, there’s no dressing up this abysmal attempt as anything more than a forced, feeble attempt at a boundary-pushing slasher.
31 is another disappointing feature from Rob Zombie that suggests the once creative and unique film-maker has run out of ideas. I’d advise you to watch Tobe Hooper’s flawed, but superior film Funhouse, rather than this dreary mess.