Clint checks out the M.I.A Cusack thriller The Factory

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Like a toothless hooker on a stormy night, horror can be done pretty cheap.
The icky genre is one that usually sells, attracts a cast fairly easy (more so if the concept is unique, as was the case with “Saw”) and, if a photo album of torn ticket stubs are anything to go by, puts bums on seats.
That’s what a producer or anyone in the know would have told a budding tyro filmmaker six months ago, anyway.

Today, it’s a different story.

Sure, genre efforts like “Paranormal Activity” are still raking in the big business – one might even argue that that’s not essentially a member of the horror movie club but of the trendy found-footage genre – but thanks to the advice of these in-the-know big brass, combined with an abundance of genre filmmaker’s entering the market, there’s just too many horror films out there now. FLOOD! Get High!

The genre is the horse in “The Never Ending Story” and the cinema-going community is the quick sand. Having had our dose of the Indy, and Studio horror film over the past few years seems we’re quite happy to just avoid them for a while. As such, the genre seems to be quickly plummeting – resulting in an unpredicted laxity towards otherwise promising genre efforts (studio efforts like “House at the end of the street”, “The Apparition” and “The Possession” all flopping in the few territories they were theatrically released).

Which brings us to Aussie director Morgan O’Neill’s sophomore effort, and flashy studio horror pic, “The Factory”.

O’Neill’s flick – it’s his second after the action film “Solo”, the result of the Aussie version of Project Greenlight – has been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years now. But if my intro suggests anything, it’s status as resident dust-gatherer on the WB lot (it was produced by then WB staple Joel Silver via his Dark Castle label) has little to do with the quality of the product and more to do with the powerlessness to somehow make this one stand out among a similar-looking crowd. It can’t. It doesn’t. It won’t.

Too bad, it ain’t a bad movie.

“The Factory” is getting a direct to DVD release in most territories. Unfortunate for the talented O’Neill, a stingray to the gonads for big-time headline act John Cusack (in fact, he’s been robbed of a theatrical release for a couple of films in recent years – “Shanghai” anyone?), and further confirmation why Silver’s Dark Castle label has become the prolific producer’s lowest priority.

“The Factory” is “Silence of the Lambs” with a Cusack, as opposed to a Cannibal. It’s, in other words, not exactly meaty, but there’s enough marrow to keep genre aficionados interested.

A drenched, dark and ominous serial killer thriller – set in a harsh Yankee winter – it’s the tale of a New York detective (Cusack) who, with partner (“Dexter” scene-stealer Jennifer Carpenter; typecast much?) usually in tow, are on the hunt for a scumbag (Dallas Roberts, “The Grey”) who is leaving the city’s hookers… stiff. Things get personal when the cop’s daughter (Mae Whitman of “Parenthood”) is mistaken for a hooker (she just happened to be standing on the side of the road, dolled up, puffing on a cigarette) and snatched by the killer. The cop will slam any party into a hard wall on his quest to recover his offspring.

Look, the rather lengthy thriller, based on a script by O’Neill and Paul Leyden, is not without its problems – after being cut open and electrocuted one can still be readily breathing? what!? Cusack, though good, seems a little sleepish, as if unconvinced of his own ability to pass off as an unstoppable cop; and that plot? it’s all very convenient. It also doesn’t so much all come together in the end as it is forced together, resulting in much eye rolling. But you know what? flaws aside, the unlikely-to-be-widely-seen “The Factory” isn’t a bad effort; it features one of the more intriguing horror villains of the past year, has Jennifer Carpenter’s classy and convincing contributions, a terrific score, and some top-notch production values. It’s a pity the marketplace has become so flooded with so many scary flicks – all bearing dark, floating heads on a one-sheet – that there’s no room for admirably made “Se7en” homage’s anymore.

“The Factory” is released downunder in January; other territories to follow.