Besides being an object lesson in what not to name one's film, "The Ugly" also serves to make one appreciate the subtle relationship between--and value of--understated camera work and true film horror. Lacking either, "The Ugly" really makes you miss them.
New Zealander Scott Reynolds' debut feature is also so full of false alarms--killings that take place, ex post facto, only in a character's mind, for instance--and so much machine-gun cutting and disco strobe-light accessorizing that you're never quite sure where you are or why.
Reynolds even has the nerve, after showing us institutionalized serial killer Simon Cartwright (Paolo Rotondo) cutting the throat of psycho-specialist Dr. Karen Schumaker (Rebecca Hobbs), to do the whole counterfeit killing over again immediately. After a while, this kind of bait and switch gets tiresome.
Even more tiresome than the uninspired script and hysterical acting of Rotondo and Hobbs, who for most of the movie face off in an interrogation room and let Simon's reign of terror play out in flashback. Dr. Schumaker, who has been called in to assess Simon's treatment--by a hospital staff that consists entirely of two Neanderthal attendants and the Grand Guignol-esque Dr. Marlowe (Roy Ward)--simply can't fathom Simon's urge to eviscerate, which comes from the voices he hears and the grotesque, shrouded, bleeding figures he sees. He's not the only one.
Simon's childhood was very painful. He was dyslexic, kids picked on him, his mother was a cross between Mrs. Danvers and Nurse Ratched--but to use any of these things as an alibi, or even a reason, for Simon's brand of wholesale slaughter is kind of easy as well as offensive. It probably wouldn't seem so if the film was at all scary or intelligent, but given there's so little else to recommend "The Ugly," righteous indignation will have to do.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: Extreme violence and brutality, fleeting nudity.
Paolo Rotondo: Simon Cartwright
Rebecca Hobbs: Dr. Karen Schumaker
Jennifer Ward-Leala: Simon's Mother
Roy Ward: Dr. Marlowe
Trimark Pictures presents an Essential Films/New Zealand Film Commission release. Directed by Scott Reynolds. Written by Scott Reynolds. Producer Jonathan Dowling. Cinematography Simon Raby. Production design Grant Major. Original music Victoria Kelly. Editor Wayne Cook. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (213) 848-3500.