Sometimes you have a need, a gnawing need at the pit of your soul that can only be satisfied by one thing: a bad movie. Not just bad, really bad. Derivative with a second-rate cast doing a third-rate job. The kind for which you have to make popcorn before watching so you’ll have something harmless to throw at the screen (hold the butter).
There are some directors revered for how awful they could make a film and there are some, like Chris Shadley, who may never attain that lofty position but will remain in our affections as a guy that gave it a shot and turned out something we love to hate.
Chris Shadley is the director of 2009’s Nine Dead. The plot is good, but it’s been done before (often), and the writing isn’t bad. Nine people are grabbed off the street and taken to a dungeon-like room where each is handcuffed to his or her own vertical pipe. Once assembled, their masked kidnapper tells them that they have to figure out why they are all there and he’s going to kill one of them every ten minutes until they figure it out.
Nine people, locked in a room, have to figure out what terrible things they did that unite them. There’s a Catholic priest, a man who seems to be gay, a young hood, an assistant district attorney, an insurance worker, a gangster, a mysterious black man, an Asian woman—perhaps Vietnamese, and a cop. Except for one or two, the deed done was part of their every day lives; the puzzle is “What could each one of these people have done that would connect them to the results of the actions of the other eight?” This is especially mystifying since the Asian woman can speak only two words of English.
Since no one except the gangster wants to disclose the skeletons in their closets, the abductees start dropping like clockwork (get it?). Unfortunately, the two most interesting characters—the black man and the maybe-gay guy—are early victims. My theory that they were being held by a deranged census taker is as valid as some of the abductees’ first guesses. As far as deranged, non-census-taking, kidnapping, killing maniacs go, the guy in charge here is pretty cool—something about the mask. Right before he kills someone, he asks “Why are you here?” to the group. They don’t know. Bang. Remember that when you have uninvited guests.
Were the dialogue crisp and original (and it doesn’t seem to be), it wouldn’t have remained so when delivered by this cast, headed up by Melissa Joan Hart (looking as if she could play Amy Adams mother—just an aside). Others in the cast are John Terry, Chip Bent, Lawrence Turner, Edrick Browne, Marc Macaulay, Lucille Soong, James C. Victor, and William Lee Scott. Daniel Baldwin is in Nine Dead, for about nine seconds (and he might have about nine words of dialogue, too); there’s absolutely no reason he would have accepted this role unless he owed someone a favor or didn’t have change for the parking meter. This isn't even a cameo or walk-on, he's an extra with a line.
It’s not that the cast is entirely bad; the actors' performances just are inconsistent, sometimes delivering lines with conviction and other times just not nailing them or coming across as false. While we all know that there is no “type” of person who could be a killer, there are certain conventions we expect to be followed in such a conventional film. One of those is that a hard-ass female assistant district attorney should look like a stereotypical hard-ass female assistant district attorney, not Melissa Joan Hart (Anyone seen Sharon Stone on Law & Order SVU?).
When Melissa Joan Hart gets all kick-ass and f***-you it’s about as convincing as Sister Bertrille (remember her?) turning tricks for Carlos Ramirez. She’s just too soft and sweet looking, even if she does get that gleam in her eye.
The interactions between characters are what make this movie watchable, even enjoyable, but by the time we find out what connects them (and 66.66% of them are dead) we don’t really care. That’s when viewer’s remorse kicks in. We start asking questions about things the kidnapper/killer could not have known, and reminiscing about Saw.
The ending has that old oops-we-ran-out-of-film feel, and the general consensus from many who have seen Nine Dead is that it is unsatisfying. Those not unsatisfied were dissatisfied. Except for me. I found the ending dumb, but not so dumb that it betrayed the rest of the film
One of the things that bothers me about audiences is how an ambivalent ending is acceptable in a “good” film but not in a “bad” one. Way back when, I learned that when the credits roll, the story’s over—you’re not supposed to wonder what happens to the characters next, because there is no next (unless there’s a sequel).
Nine Dead is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in baloney, but it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen, and I’d recommend it for an evening of pizza and beer. Lots of beer.