It’s rare these days to find a horror film that strays even a little bit outside of genre conventions; it’s even worse with the teen slasher subgenre. Dark corridors, scared teens, thunder and lightning, and a knife wielding slasher all figure prominently into the story. Unfortunately, the subgenre hasn’t been fresh since it was started back in the late ’70s and early ’80s by “Halloween” and “A Nightmare On Elm Street, followed by a litany of third rate sequels and bastardized offspring. Films like “Scream” and “Jeepers Creepers” are examples of recent attempts to revive the genre by taking the tried-and-true formula and infusing it with slick production values and a self-referential script. Alas, the inevitable litany of substandard sequels followed, and we’re back to square one.
“Nine Lives” is a recent mid-budget genre entry set in the frozen moors of Scotland, where nine wealthy teens arrive at an opulent country manor for a sort of last high school reunion before heading off to college. They spend the night eating, drinking and reminiscing about their high school exploits at the usual Euro yuppie getaways (Paris, New York, Monte Carlo, etc.). But the discovery of a strange book releases an evil force thirsting for centuries overdue revenge, and what starts out as a joyful meeting of good friends turns into a harrowing night of murder and mayhem as the sordid history of the manor is revealed.
It’s a promising concept, but one that has been seen before in “The Evil Dead” and “Ghosts of Mars.” Oh, and did I say Paris? That’s right, Paris Hilton is one of the stars of “Nine Lives”. In fact, Hilton’s presence in the cast is the film’s main marketing point, which is plainly obvious by the fact that she’s front and center on the box art and is the only recognizable name in the cast. Hilton plays — what else? — a spoiled American socialite who shops on three continents in one day. The script is even clever enough to take a few jabs at Hilton’s real-life social standing, even mentioning that she’s been on the cover of a few sleaze rags in her day. That would be pretty funny if it weren’t so prophetic. Remember that “Nine Lives” was released in 2002, a full two years before the infamous nightvision videos and hacked Sidekick. On the bright side, Hilton does show some skin, but it’s painfully obvious she wasn’t hired for her thespian skills. Reprieve comes for the viewer quickly though, as Paris’ screentime is abruptly cut short.
The rest of the cast is made up of largely unknown British teens. Only the pretty and spunky Vivienne Harvey makes any sort of impression as the amazingly perceptive Lucy. And herein lies “Nine Lives'” biggest flaw. Since we don’t get to know any of the characters, it’s tough to care when they get bumped off. The exposition scenes involve the kids sitting at the dinner table talking about who went skiing where and who bought whom what bling. Hardly informative, not to mention doing little by way of character development beyond confirming that these kids are spoiled brats.
The script is serviceable, but naturally doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The dialogue is pedestrian, but that is in keeping with genre conventions and isn’t much of a surprise. Fortunately there aren’t any groan inducing lines (until the end, at least) and the characters don’t all run off down dark corridors by themselves at the first opportunity. To its credit, “Nine Lives” doesn’t resort to the tired ‘sex = death’ clich’ either. In fact, the only titillation on hand is the brief peek-a-boo of a barely clothed Hilton, but if all you wanted to see was Hilton in her nude glory, there are other videos out there for such a purpose.
In “Nine Lives”, the filmmakers have decided to go with the ‘death to all involved’ approach. Not the cleverest route, but it does keep things simple. There are also a few sly jabs at Scottish thriftiness thrown in for good measure, but I suspect that only Brits and Scots will catch these. The film’s major misstep is a tacked on and overly sentimental voiceover at the end that attempts to explain the evil entity’s motivation. It’s pointless, since there wasn’t much of a goal defined for the entity to achieve and what was given was executed inconsistently. If anything, it seemed as if the filmmakers were just trying to pad the film’s running time.
“Nine Lives” isn’t the worst horror film you can see. The setting is suitably creepy, the cast is easy on the eyes, and the film does manage to pull off something that is very rare for the genre — the characters are drawn and performed in such a way that they doesn’t engender hatred in the viewer. That alone makes “Nine Lives” a tolerable viewing experience.
Andrew Green (director) / Andrew Green, Tom MacRae (screenplay)
CAST: Rosie Fellner …. Emma
Vivienne Harvey …. Lucy
Paris Hilton …. Jo
Patrick Kennedy …. Tim
David Leitch …. Paul
David Nicolle …. Pete