The Monkey's Paw Blu-ray Review
Directed by Brett Simmons
Written by Macon Blair
2013, Region A, 89 minutes, Not rated
Blu-ray released on June 17th, 2014
C.J. Thomason as Jake Tilton
Stephen Lang as Tony Cobb
Michelle Pierce as Olivia
Corbin Bleu as Catfish
Charles S. Dutton as Det. Margolis
Daniel Hugh Kelley as Gillespie
Tauvia Dawn as Abby
Jessica Garvey as Jill
Andy Favreau as Kevin
Jake is not a bad guy, he just fucks up a lot. When he botches an order at the factory, his mistake gets his co-worker Gillespie (who promoted him) fired. Jake's problems don't end there, as his ex-girlfriend Olivia is now married to his jerky boss, Kevin, and he still has feelings for her. After work, he joins his friends Cobb and Catfish for a drink, where they find Gillespie drinking away his sorrows. Jake tries to make amends, but instead is offered a mummified monkey's paw with the power to grant wishes. Gillespie confesses that the results are never good and appears to have second thoughts about the gift, but Jake decides to try it out all the same. When he wishes for a flashy automobile, he soon finds himself staggering away from a car wreck that may have killed his passenger.
If he thought his life was bad before, now someone is targeting Jake's friends and family, leaving a trail of bodies at both work and at home. The police are investigating and suspect our hero of committing the crimes, but cannot yet prove anything. Jake is all too aware of who is responsible for the murders, as the killer contacts him and demands a wish of his own be granted if he wants to avoid more bloodshed. Jake struggles to protect those he loves, but is running out of time before his world totally falls apart. Armed with additional information regarding the monkey's paw he agrees to meet the killer and try and put a stop to things before it is too late.
The Monkey's Paw (1902) is a short story written by W.W. Jacobs that has inspired several adaptations ranging from Stephen King (Pet Sematary) to The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror II), and was most faithfully included as part of the anthology film Tales From the Crypt (1972). In a nutshell, the tale cautions readers to be careful what they wish for, since it is never a good idea to tempt fate. Wishes are usually granted with a diabolical twist that ruins things for everyone involved. This latest version, written by Macon Blair, serves as an extension to the original tale and sets things in contemporary New Orleans.
Director Brett Simmons (Husk) keeps things moving at a brisk pace and manages to avoid many of the trappings of low-budget horror films. The picture looks more expensive than it was and makes great use of the New Orleans locations. Cinematographer Scott Winig (Laid to Rest) deserves special mention as a real star of this production, as his lighting elevates the material to something beyond the grasp of most contemporary indie filmmakers. Simmons wisely works closely with Winig and the results are frequently gorgeous.
C.J. Thomason (The Brotherhood 2: Young Warlocks) does a fine job as the reluctant Jake. His performance brings an innocence to the role that allows for a willingness by viewers to suspend disbelief, and his actions are mostly believable for someone unaware of the gravity of his situation. Unfortunately for Thomason, the majority of his screen time is shared with Stephen Lang (Public Enemies) who runs circles around this guy as Cobb, a more interesting character that is both antagonist and protagonist given his current situation. Lang may chew scenery as Cobb spins further out of control, but his strength as an actor allows him to do so gracefully, as he is clearly having fun with the role.
Charles S. Dutton (Mimic) shows up long enough to pay his rent as Det. Margolis, the man on hand to prevent audiences from asking “Why don't they just go to the police?” The always-welcome Dutton does a fine job with what he is given, but the role is pretty thankless and in lesser hands could be omitted. Corbin Bleu (Nurse 3D) brings some humanity to the film as Catfish, the neutral co-worker who will help a friend in need, but is happiest staying out of trouble. Michelle Pierce (Sharkskin 6) and Daniel Hugh Kelley (Cujo) are both pretty solid as Olivia and Gillespie respectively, the two people responsible for setting Jake on his path of destruction.
The script updates and expands the mythology of the classic tale with initial promise, but frequently pulls back before following an idea all the way through. One example is the lack of interest in learning anything more about the supernatural talisman, even when in the presence of a psychic. Another fault of the script is that the protagonist is not as interesting as his antagonist and many scenes are content with letting Jake “sit this one out” while audiences follow what Cobb is up to. Sidelining your hero is not a smart move, especially once casting is complete and your strongest actor is not the hero. Despite the missed opportunities, there are several nice touches in this latest incarnation, including a subtle echo of activity bookending the film involving children witnessing the horrors of the granted wishes that works really well.
The Monkey's Paw is a well-made film that is both entertaining and frustrating in that for all that it gets right, the script is filled with bone-headed mistakes. Another surprising omission is the lack of adult content given that the title will inevitably be released on home video. Not every film needs mature language, graphic violence and nudity, but more often than not it doesn't hurt either. Of the three I'm mostly surprised by the lack of additional bloodshed. The film is serviceable as presented and Simmons and Winig prove themselves more than capable of delivering a great picture, so my first two wishes on that shriveled paw are that their next project will come with a larger budget and a stronger script.
Video and Audio:
Presented here in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the picture is sharp with strong colors and deep black levels. Some of the darker sequences are a bit soft, but the brighter scenes look pretty impressive. Flesh tones appear natural throughout and there is a decent amount of small object detail.
The default DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is a bit front-heavy, but the rear channels get some occasional love during the finale. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and English subtitles are offered for anyone in need.
Starting things off is a nicely paced and pleasantly informative commentary track featuring Director Simmons, Cinematographer Winig and actor Thomason. The guys like the film and are proud of the work they put into it, as they should be. Tales from the production are entertaining and make this a welcome addition to the disc.
Next up is a brief behind-the-scenes featurette simply titled Making the Monkey's Paw that runs just under five minutes. Talking head interviews with various members of the cast and crew provide the usual promotional fluff.
Rounding things out is the original trailer for the film.