Written and Directed by Eric Red, 2008
Having just been released from the pen for murdering her abusive husband Mike, Marnie (Famke Janssen) begins her final year of servitude by way of house arrest. Should she stray more than the titular distance from her ankle monitor’s base unit in the center of her Brooklyn brownstone, said unit will page Lou (Bobby Cannavale), the pissed off cop and former partner to Marnie’s slaughtered spouse. This is problematic for Marnie as a slightly less corporeal yet no less abusive Mike has stuck around to give his wife what for from the afterlife.
Eric Red’s directorial return is a probing tour of a beaten woman’s battered life more than it is a horror film, if only because the ghost side undercurrent is low exertion versus Famke Janssen’s perpetual emotional gauntlet. The gal gives one heck of an admirable turn, carrying the film by the scruff of its neck throughout. That is not to say that 100 FEET is lacking the meat and potatoes of a good haunt. Quite the opposite, actually. 100 FEET executes two film clinching sequences worth going down as two of the cooler, wilder poltergeist-gags found on film.
Regrettably, these two sequences are not characteristic of the film entire. When not belting it out of the park (albeit in minute spurts), Red is either reinforcing the already unsinkable Marnie as an anomalous, complicated damsel in distress through melodrama or playing standard spook setups to telegraphed conclusions. Por ejemplo, When we first see Marnie paint over her husband’s blood stain (which hadn’t been cleaned during her jail time) anyone who has ever been in the same room as a horror movie will know its reappearance is inevitable. A blood stain that doesn’t go away is not an ultimate evil. The audience is not Mr. Clean. We need a reminder there is a ghost in the house as much as a smoker needs a skull and cross bones on his favorite pack. This isn’t our first time to the rodeo. Move on.
And that is 100 FEET’s biggest problem. A hesitance to move on, to quicken the pace. It’s full of great ideas spaced far apart, as if Eric Red has tied patience to character building. They’re not the same thing. We learn nothing about Marnie at minute 45 that we didn’t know at minute 8. We’ve seen nothing new in ghost world at minute 60 that we hadn’t at 30. Either Red lacks a hat for pacing or he intentionally weighted the film at intervals, slumping the between. Whatever the case, the script is at rest more often than rise.
That’s okay, though, because the rise is worth sticking around for and then some. When visible, the ghost is a digital wax-work of the once living Mike, a simple special effect in line with the film’s minimalist production design (more on that in a sec). When in action, however, he is a brutal blur of thrust capable of convincingly remodeling a house with Famke Jannsen as the sledge hammer. Then there are the two mentioned sequences. Only a toe will be dipped in spoiler territory, but one involves a garbage disposal and ‘tother, well, that I won’t even dip a toe in. Suffice to say, I consider it one of those glorious, “Oh, shit!” moments we all recognize. A moment capable of transferring mere rectangular images a few feet away into a full body scoot, as if the brain is telling your personage to give the happenings of the screen more room to rampage. It’s not scary, it’s just fuckin’ sweet.
When allowed to, rampage this ghost does. All up and down a beautiful Brooklyn brownstone. One should just assume that nothing is filmed on location these days, but I must admit I was surprised to see the exterior and interior sets built on the DVD’s making of segment. Kudos to the production designer for maintaining the innate sense of spacial geography one gets when working within a city home. Further kudos to Eric Red for setting it as he did instead of a lame house in the suburbs or a cabin in the woods. The long corridors and deep design of that architectural style are as pleasing to the eye in the daylight as they are threatening in the dark. Then again I am of the opinion that a brownstone-only setting improves any film ten fold (here’s looking at you, PANIC ROOM).
All in all, 100 FEET is a commendable return to bat for Eric Red. The premise isn’t as original as THE HITCHER or NEAR DARK and some character inaction in the script will warrant a groan or four (somwhere a producer is shrugging his shoulders at that ending, which needed a rewrite and a reshoot), but where the aim was high, the mark was hit. I’m not one to cherish a film for its occasional brilliance, but I’m not one to condemn occasional lethargy, either. I can see stretches of 100 FEET becoming hazy down the line, but there are also sequences time will remember in stark contrast. That’s the give and take of an unaplogetic B movie.