Thursday, October 15, 2015

Halloween Movie Month: The Monkey's Paw

The Monkey's Paw (2013)
not rated
Netflix instant

The Monkey's Paw is based on a short story of the same name, in which the possessor of the monkey's paw is granted three wishes, but with dark and twisted consequences.  Specifically (spoilers), when Jake's friend Cobb dies in a car wreck, Jake wishes that Cobb was still alive.  Cobb does come back to life, but it is more of just a reanimated shell of a human as Cobb returns with no soul.

The Monkey's Paw is loosely based on the original story and is even referenced in the a story that is told to explain how a character came to be in possession of the cursed totem.  In the original story, a young man dies during war and the parents wish that their son was still alive.  The son does come back to life, but it is still the same broken, mangled body that was left after the damage of war.  The grotesque figure was no longer at rest, but in constant agony.  I remember seeing a stage production of The Monkey's Paw when I was in middle school.  At the time, I remember thinking that the story was terrifying!  The main reason that I found it so terrifying and intriguing was because they never actually showed the son's reanimated body.  There were sounds and shadows to help set the scene, but my mind had to fill in the blanks.  In this movie, Cobb returns mostly intact (at least, physically).  While he still returns as a monster, the film version has the monstrosity on the inside, rather than the outside.  Sometimes, this can work very well as it drums up more fears about the monster inside.  However, I think that it fell short in this movie.  Since I remembered what my mind created when I pictured the grotesque, disfigured body in the stage production, the movie failed to live up to my early imagination.

Another reason that I think having the monster on the inside did not quite work was because the protagonist of the film is Jake, a co-worker and friend of Cobb.  While there is nothing inherently wrong about a friend/co-worker relationship being the primary relationship, Jake was not exactly the most lovable character.  In fact, he was kind of a tool.  Since he did a few things early on that made him less likable, it was hard for me to root for him as the movie went on.  Cobb, on the other hand, showed complexity early on (albeit through very stereotypical plot devices).  Most of Cobb's actions (even after returning from the dead) were driven by a desire to have a closer relationship with his son.  If the movie had focused more on that angle and had the son wishing for his father to return, I think that the story could have gone in a much better direction.  Cobb works very well as the antagonist, but the rest of the acting fell very flat.

I remembered The Monkey's Paw being much more psychological, which is part of why I enjoy it.  The Monkey's Paw disregarded much of the psychological aspects that made the original story so fascinating and, instead, focused on more of a slasher theme.  That was the biggest downfall of this movie.  Rather than going in depth with the characters and the philosophical implications of being able to receive whatever you wish for, and the inability to ever receive what you think it is you will receive, this movie included too many aspects that felt like they were just there to fill up time in the movie.  Also, the ending of the film was neither surprising, nor satisfying.

Rating and Recommendation:  2/5.  Like so many movies that I have been watching lately, I really do think that this one had potential and could have easily been much better.  But, there were just too many pieces that fell too flat for me.  The Monkey's Paw was always about psychological and existential torture/consequences.  At times, this movie approached the psychological, but the potential was never actualized.  Stephen Lang's performance as Cobb was enjoyable and was one of the only things that made this movie worth watching.  However, outside of his performance, nothing about the movie was able to live up to my early experiences with the story.  If you do not have any experiences with the short story, then The Monkey's Paw is worth checking out, just to see Lang's portrayal of what would happen to someone if they no longer had a soul.  However, if you have a fondness for the original story, this is definitely a pass as it will most likely not meet your expectations.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews in Halloween Movie Month!  In the meantime, leave comments on this (or any other) review, follow me here and on twitter (@GargyleReviews), and let me know what movies you'd like for me to review for Halloween Movie Month!

- The Gargyle

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