Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Killing Jar (2010)

Bullet hole with your coffee, sir?

"The Killing Jar": the "jar" being a small town diner and the "killing" being people trapped inside with their fate up to a gunman. This begins by familiarizing the audience with these simple town folk just out for a late night bite at their favorite greasy eatery with jukebox, stifling heat and cheap prices. After hearing a radio broadcast about four murders of a husband, wife and their two children, the patrons--couple, waitress, deputy, cook, truck driver and passer through--speak their disgust but go about their business and shoot the breeze.

You get the hardened boss/cook (Danny Trejo), who's overshot vocal tone and miscued body language indicate he quickly filmed some scenes at different times than who he's interacting with. The young couple aimlessly use a video camera and talk about idle dreams. The most natural and credible performance is by the passer through (Harold Perrineau), who is a salesman that just wants to get back home but he'll need a strong cup of brew. The truck driver and deputy keep it familiar as if this is the same routine. A Rockabilly type (Michael Madsen) eventually enters. He's demanding and acts suspicious, which upsets the waitress and causes the deputy to get into a threatening confrontation, which sends Madsen's character over the edge. He can go from spaced-out, henchmen-confident to sympathetic and unsure but not always clenching the transition in between to make it all credible. The moment he storms back in with a shotgun, you lean forward in your seat for hopefully the real start of the adventure.

The rest tries to maintain an intrigue and build up to a twist ending, though apart from a few abrupt and bloody deaths it feels like one giant tedious string along without a major purpose or relatable reward, with the exception of the simple but capable waitress being offered the opportunity and courage to get out of the rut she's at in the restaurant and in her life. However, with everything padded and piled around her to equally get coverage of everybody else, she's not consistently at the focal point of attention to realize this till the latter portion. The gunman kills for no apparent reason other than being provoked. All of a sudden he gains some kind of higher righteousness and uses a skill-set from a past profession to interrogate the patrons and a revelation comes out about the news report involving the murdered family.

On paper this reads like a good idea to produce a low budget movie concentrated on story and characters than one-liners, extravagant sets and location changes. But since the film is so claustrophobic, the flow, character interaction and direction tried to continually throw off the cinemaphile who studies all the details and tries to figure out the puzzle beforehand, though it did the opposite as it didn't fluidly come together to put the audience in the direct moment or believably rationalize with their motivations enough to wholly care that this could actually happen where innocents are being killed in this far away place. It shows how much some filmmakers are willing to go to guard their secret twist, even at the expense of the rest of the picture. It also didn't help that they tried to clash quirkiness and sarcasm amongst sentimental moments, such as Jake Busey's character looking laughably tacky with a weaselly grin mixed with pseudo introspective shots that pan around the diner possibly to throw the scent off. "The Killing Jar" had the right ideas going in, just some of the wrong execution as the flow came in and out in waves.

Rating: 4/10

From Black to Red recommends instead: "Hostage" from 2005, which had an ensemble cast, gravitating performances, mysteriousness and a number of thrills.

Director: Mark Young (Tooth & Nail)
Stars: Michael Madsen, Harold Perrineau, Amber Bensen, Jake Busey
Link: IMDB

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