Saturday, October 25, 2014

Won or Worse: Pilot Season, Episode 1: "Stephen King's Riding the Bullet"

The dead travel fast!

      That's right. It's time. Time for Won or Worse! ...Which I now acknowledge you know nothing about. Okay, so here the deal. You might have heard of one Leonard Maltin. He's a pretty famous film critic and each year, he publishes Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide. The book lists thousands of films, each given a score out of four stars (How less than 6...). And that's the game of this show. We're going to look at films that received 1 and a half stars or the worst, the BOMB rating and decide if the Guide got it right or if the film deserved better. And to kick of this 5-episode pilot season, I figured we celebrate the scariest time of the year, Halloween! And what's scarier than a movie based on a Stephen King ebook? This is Riding the Bullet!

They are the worst at taking photos.
      Riding the Bullet is a 2004 film that received only a limited release in theaters. It was directed and written by Mick Garris (Hocus Pocus... Which we'll be looking at next year). In the Movie Guide, Maltin gives the film one and a half stars calling the film a "gory, cliche-ridden snoozefest" that "plays like a parody of his (King's) work". Well, that's sounds like a perfect Stephen King movie, so I'm not entirely sure how that's a problem, but whatever.
      Oh, wait, kidding aside, I do know what the problem is. The film is a cliche-ridden snoozefest than often plays like a parody of King's work. I mean seriously, I just picked this one at random and the Maltin hits it dead on. Riding the Bullet is an absolute joke of a horror film. A lot of that I feel has to be blamed of director Garris. As we'll see, Riding the Bullet has three main problems. One, Garris gives the film absolutely no subtlety whatsoever. Two, Garris also is pretentious as all hell. And three, the film story is laughable padded with filler.
     Here's the main story of the film. Alan (Jonathan Jackson) finds out that his mother (Barbara Hershey) is in the hospital, so he hitchhikers to get her, eventually meeting George Staub (David Arquette), who turns out to be the grim reaper. George then tells Alan that he, for some unexplained reason, must decide if him or his mother is going to die. Okay, not the worst idea for a horror movie. But as we'll learn, that's not really what Riding the Bullet is about.
      See, when Alan and George meet, it's not until about 50 minutes. And the film itself is only a little bit over an hour and a half. The film is literally filled wall to wall with filler. And that's not entirely a bad thing. The problem is here, the filler isn't just pointless, it's also boring. Essentially, after our introduction to when Alan and George meet, the story consists of Alan meeting a draft dodger, Alan meeting a old guy with a dead wife and Alan being chased by rednecks. None of these events really do anything or add to the story. They mostly just happen. Alan, even after being almost killed twice, never seems that bothered by much.
      That mostly comes from the fact that Alan is mostly a complete mystery to the audience. See, we know Alan is bothered by something... but we just aren't sure what. He's obsessed with death, hallucinates and is a complete emotional shut-in (Despite having friends and a girlfriend). But we never do learn why. The film has got so little story that we get plenty of flashback to Alan as a kid. We learn his father died young... but teenage Alan seems fine, without problems. His mother's a bit depressed and drinks. But their relationship seems good. Hell, the moment the film thinks is affecting him poorly is when his mother hits him. However, Alan clearly hallucinates right before then, therefore that can't be it!
      Journey movies, films where a characters must get from point A to point B while meeting other characters in between. There tends to be two types: fun journey meant to be entertaining and funny, or metaphorical journeys where every person met represents a personal challenge of the character. Now seeing as how Riding the Bullet's characters are all boring and uninteresting, it's clearly not option one. However, if we are supposed to believe that each of the characters represents something wrong with Alan, then we have to know what's wrong with him. And since the film doesn't know, it makes his journey seem completely pointless. If the characters don't help Alan grow, then what's the point.
      The film isn't even sure what "Riding the Bullet" means. Literally, it means ride an amusement park ride Alan was afraid of as a kid. But what that ACTUALLY means is inconsistent. Sometimes it's a metaphor for suicide, sometimes for facing your fears and even just fear of roller coasters. Ultimately, I think it's meant to be about facing death and living life to the fullest. However, in the epilogue, Alan lives alone and paints, which he says makes him no money. So if Alan learn nothing, other than be happy. In fact, seeing as how Alan is obsessed with death after his father's death and we see that it has no huge effect on him in the flashback, and yet Alan was way closer to his mother and blames himself for her death, the fact that he's happy afterward kinda makes no sense whatsoever.
      It goes back to what I said earlier. It's mostly the director's fault. The film is a major case of style of substance. Garris uses some many editing tricks and fakeouts that the actual story suffers. The film is constantly using cut-aways to pointless stories, like the retelling of an urban legend that's only connection to the story is a smell. Or the most obnoxious one of all, when recounting George's death is introduced by the camera flying through a movie theater. But worst of all is the fakeouts. Scenes that we a lead to believe are real but really are in the character's mind. One or two is okay. Three of these in a film is a bit much. There are, I kid you not, TWELVE goddamn fakeouts in this movie, a few even happening back to back.
      The film feels more like Garris showing off than anything else. And he does a real shit job of it too. He clearly feels as if the film is creepy and strange. And yet, it's most just not subtle. Characters will flat out tell us what's going on. They pull the stupid, hears animal in bushes trick THREE times in a row. There's a scene where a crow eating roadkill swears at Alan. The film, set on Halloween night in, of course, Maine, really does feel more like a bad joke than anything,

The Verdict

      As I said earlier, Maltin nailed it. Riding the Bullet is a film so concerned about being stylish and spooky that it's story is left to die. The main character's backstory is so poorly explored that it's hard to know what's wrong with him. And therefore the film struggles to find a point, wandering aimlessly before finally ending. And even then, when the film seems to decide what it wants to be about, it message is inconsistent enough that the viewer is left feeling like there was no point to anything that happened. Combine that with the fact the film is often boring and cliched and you get one roller coaster ride that'll just leave you disappointed.
      So, until next time, this has been Won or Worse. The episodes will be published every other Saturday, so look for our next episode on November 8th!

1 comment:

  1. I love Riding the Bullet, I truly do. I first saw the film when I was 10 years old when I used to stay at a family member's place on weekends and I woke up in the middle of the night to this film on I believe FearNet and it creeped the hell out of me then but it also captivated me immensely. I've seen the film multiple times now and I relate to the film as well, I am very close with my mother and the film brings me tears when it ends. I know a lot of people don't like this film but to be honest, I never considered it a horror film, more of a psychological drama/thriller. I disagree with most of your points, I thought the main character's backstory was very well constructed especially considering the short running time of the film. The film was always creepy to me. I certainly didn't think the film was clichéd and boring either but to each their own.