A bored young woman in a sleepy community called Spearfish starts receiving photographs of brutally murdered young women. Are they real or staged? The culprit is either a serial killer or some creep with a sick sense of humour.
The Girl in the Photographs carries the rather sombre honour of being the last film Wes Craven would work on before his death. Produced by Craven, the film itself is directed by Nick Smith and co-written by Oz Perkins. Perkins is perhaps best known as the son of screen legend Anthony Perkins, as well as being the writer/director of the rather wonderful, February. With that kind of caliber on board, The Girl in the Photographs should be something rather special. It should be, but it isn’t.
Coleen (Claudia Lee) is a bored cashier, working in a boring supermarket, in the middle of a boring middle America town. Life becomes so much more interesting for her when someone starts sending her high quality, glossy photos of women in extreme distress; whether they be tied-up, bruised, bloody or all of the above. The sheriff’s department considers the whole thing a giant prank, because, well, the film never really explains. Anyway, news of this grizzly turn of events soon reaches Peter Hemmings (Kal Penn); a celebrity photographer and ex-resident of Coleen’s town. Peter is convinced that the photographs are a influenced by his own work. As such, he decides that his next project will be stylised to look like the very photos that are harassing Coleen. With a camera in one hand, and a bevy of skeletal models in the other, he hightails it over to his old stomping ground to soak up the atmosphere and, in turn, reach out to Coleen to join his ghoulish photoshoot.
Once the movie takes up residence in Peter’s palatial cabin, we are firmly on standard slasher territory. And if you enjoy the kind of horror that doesn’t tax the brain and doesn’t do anything remotely fresh, then this is the film for you. For The Girl in the Photographs is sadly devoid of anything truly original; from it’s Scream-lite script to its black hoody wearing killers. Did I say ‘killers’ as in plural? Yes, for there are indeed two killers stalking the town in masks ripped straight from The Purge, who both have an affinity for photography.
Before the peals of ‘spoilers’ rings out across the comment boards, please it be known that the film doesn’t want you to worry for too long about who the killer could be. That’s presumably why we spend a small chunk of the film in their company. One skinny and lean, the other bulbous like custard in a balloon; they keep their victims as pets in their basement. They even share tenders moments in front of their pets whilst they feed them cat food. That fetid smell you’re noticing is the corpse of a tired old cliché where serial killers must be gay. I know, you were thinking it had all been buried years ago. However, like the cadaver in The Trouble with Harry, it’s come back to haunt us all.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the film is Kal Pen as the hipster photographer, Peter. Clearly based on the controversial Terry Richardson, Pen goes full Goldbloom in every scene, going out of his way to be an annoyance to everyone he crosses paths with. His scenes become an up hill struggle as you try plug your ears with anything that will silence it all. ‘We don’t about permission,’ he boasts at one point to Coleen with regards to his friends, in a clear stab at accusations about Richardson’s supposed work ethics. It’s all so tasteless that if another character in the shape of a TV family doctor in a bad cardigan, zip zapped zooed onto the screen to offer everyone a coffee, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Flat lighting and poor editing also get thrown into this middling stew and, when you’ve managed to down it all, the only thing that’s left is the bitter aftertaste that Craven deserved much better than this. ‘For Wes’ the final credits say and all we can respond with in kind is a massive disheartened sigh.