The Monkey’s Paw (dir. Brett Simmons)
Perhaps my expectations were incredibly low, but THE MONKEY’S PAW seems to be a competent and entertaining little film. Based on the 1902 short story by W.W. Jacobs, and penned by BLUE RUIN’s breakout star Macon Blair, THE MONKEY’S PAW is a cautionary tale: Be careful what you wish for. The basic plot- which was also featured in The Simpson’s second Treehouse of Terror Halloween episode, among other adaptations- is that a taxidermy monkey’s paw will grant the owner three wishes. The major twist here is that the wishes are fulfilled in devious ways. The story itself conjures up the inherent evils of playing God, toying with fate, and not accepting reality. Instead of taking on these weighty issues THE MONKEY’S PAW creates a moody film which derives its actions from a wildcard character and largely ignores the source material.
After an unfortunate car crash Jake (C.J. Thomason) uses one of his magical monkey wishes to bring Tony (Stephen Lang) back to life. Most of the running time of the film shows Tony playing a cat and mouse game with Jake, because Tony really wants to get that paw for himself. Tony wants to get his son back from his recently estranged ex-wife, and thinks that the same paw that brought him back from the dead can pull off that feat. Jake still has one wish left, and after the debacle of Tony’s revival knows that he must use his last wish wisely.
Tony’s character is a total wildcard here. Jake wonders if his resurrection somehow stripped him of his soul because Tony returns to life with crazy eyes and erratic behavior. It is really fun to watch Tony chew up the scenery and become the main point of interest in the film. He could be capable of anything, and manages to surprise both the audience and Jake on multiple occasions.
Though the plot does feature an actual monkey paw, and it does show the negative consequences of several wishes, these are not the main force behind the story. The film could have easily featured a freak accident, or some sort of mystical intervention to bring Tony back to the living, as the paw itself almost feels like an after thought. I found myself losing track of what Tony wanted from Jake, and what the big fuss was over, all while wanting to watch Tony rampage a little longer.
The film itself is quite pretty, though the composition of it is really dark. Not thematically dark, visually dark. Each frame, save the few scenes shot in open daylight, show slivers of light or very low moonlight. I honestly did have a little trouble seeing some of the action that happens in a dark warehouse or in a darkened kitchen. Making a film difficult to see is not a substitution for creating a heavy atmosphere, unfortunately. But fortunately the truly excellent performances and the decently appropriate soundtrack keep you interested through most of the running time.
Jake’s love life, his family history, and his lack of a reliable car are all featured as a way to build up his character, but when it comes down to it Stephen Lang’s performance is the reason to watch THE MONKEY’S PAW.