Wes Craven deserved better. The master of horror whose legacy goes far beyond establishing the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream series passed last fall. The Girl in the Photographs, where Craven served as an executive producer, serves as his last credited production.
The plot focuses on two characters whose lives become entangled with one another. First there up is Colleen (Claudia Lee). The young woman wants to start anew and leave behind her humdrum small town, her dead end grocery clerk job and Ben, her abusive, stalker ex-boyfriend that will not leave her alone. Rounding out Colleen’s problems is an unknown psycho who leaves grisly photos of dead girls for her to find.
The other principle is fashion provocateur Peter Hemmings, played by Harold & Kumar’s Kal Penn. Hemmings finds the photographs when they go viral, and he instantly recognizes the poses of the dead girls as mimicking his own work. Further intrigued that the pictures originate from his hometown, he feels the imitator is somehow mocking him. Hemmings gathers up his modeling posse and heads back home for an impromptu shoot.
Where to begin?
Director Nick Simon falls into the same trap too many modern slashers fall into by being so enamored with his killers, he spends no time fleshing out the rest of the cast. It’s not that Lee is bad as Colleen, it’s that she’s given no discernible characteristics. It’s hard to imagine how she even stumbled upon the photographs given that she spends so much of her onscreen time rolling her eyes at everyone. There’s a ton a small details on how undercooked she is as a character that annoy. For example, her best friend falls victim to the killers, but aside from a few texts, you never see the two girls interact, giving you no reason to care whatsoever. Technically Colleen is the final girl as she’s the last person standing, but that’s more due to the killers not going after her directly than anything swift she does in her own. Colleen could be the most inert main character in any slasher movie in a long time.
On the other side you have Penn deliver a nails on the chalkboard level annoying performance. Penn delivers every line with the inflected monotone of Ben Stein. I’m not sure whose choice it was to have him sound like such a fucking wanker, but it was a poor one. Penn plays the role like he’s pissed of for even being cast in something so beneath him. His character has the disassociated personality of someone who believes he’s the smartest man in every room he walks into and who no one ever has the stones to say no to. By the time Penn gets around to uttering banalities like “No one makes me feel like a Dell computer” you’re rooting for him to get his head severed from his body.
On the plus side, Simon knows how to shoot a good looking slasher. It’s a bit slow in the early going, but by the last act things do ratchet up. There’s a few notable sequences that include a neck snapping via a bath towel and one. Also, the use of a camera flash to light up the darkened house only to reveal one of the killers skulking in the background is an inspired choice.
It’s not enough. There’s no reason to care about any of the victims, which has been a longstanding problem with slasher films. When you reflect on the golden age of the sub genre, you can recall characters that reflected the audience. While they might not have been the deepest characters, they all had at least some trait that allowed the audience to identify with them, and to hope that at least a few of them might make it to the end. Photograph falls into the trap that many have before it.
Photograph isn’t the worst film in the world, and it has moments that entertain. It’s just too bland to give a storing recommendation to. If it didn’t bear Craven’s name on it, then it would probably be a title that slipped under the radar.