John Simpson's surreal quasi-slasher, Amusement, is a highly polished, atmospheric, and beautifully shot film, which is all the more frustrating as it's not very good. There are lots of spoilers ahead, but, sadly, they can't be avoided. Then again, by the end of this review, you'll probably want to skip the movie anyway.
Told in a series of vignettes that mirror the anthology films and series that were all the rage in the eighties (Creepshow, Tales from the Darkside, et. al.), Amusement opens with the old standby "road killer" short, in which a young couple and a bumbling traveler run in a convoy with a trucker. When a haggard woman jumps from the trucker's vehicle and smashes against the young couple's windshield, the boyfriend chases off after the trucker while his gal, Shelby (Laura Breckenridge), stays behind with the goony traveler. A twist ending reveals that not is all as it seems, and Shelby is summarily adbucted.
We are next introduced to Tabitha (Kathryn Winnick), who is babysitting at her aunt's new home. After she puts the kids to bed, Tabitha gets comfy in the guest room, which is adorned with hundreds of stuffed clown dolls, including a hideous man-sized version that's slumped over in the rocking chair at the end of her bed. It's terribly obvious what happens next, but, just as we think it's lights out for Tabitha, we see her in an interrogation room, being questioned by an F.B.I. agent about the whereabouts of her childhood friend, Shelby (see where this is going?). The agent goes on to mention someone named Lisa, which gets Tabitha's attention. We are then introduced to Lisa, in a short involving some sort of old hotel/hostel/mental hospital, where she also goes missing while searching for yet another friend. This causes Tabitha to reflect on an event from her childhood, where she, Shelby, and Lisa ratted out a disturbed boy for bringing in a class project involving a tortured rat. As a result, the young boy was institutionalized and...well...
Anyway, the girls have been abducted by the crazy kid (now all grown up and played by Aussie actor, Keir O'Donnell), in hopes of re-enacting his class project with them, and are all held prisoner in the kind of elaborate underground lair that can only exist in the movies. There are 20 foot high sheets of glass dividing rooms, intricate traps and mechanized walls and doors, and a seemingly endless labyrinth of tunnels and hidey holes expertly lit and faux-finished by the art department who made R.E.M.'s "Losing my Religion" video. The crazy kid (credited as "The Laugh") must have hit the Lotto before hatching this plan, as, even if this is meant to be some sort of abandoned bomb shelter or inherited chunk of land, the gizmos and gadgets he installed would cost a fortune in materials alone
Speaking of plans, I'm not quite sure what The Laugh had in mind when he set out to abduct these girls, as his individual schemes only work due to outside intervention upon which he couldn't have possibly counted on. How could he have known Shelby's boyfriend would have such a hard-on for convoys? How could he have known that the trucker/red herring would have been carrying a passenger that Shelby would assume was his prisoner (and, for that matter, how did he know the trucker would take a shortcut down the desolate dirt road where The Laugh ambushes them all rather than just drive on straight through to Cleveland or wherever it was they were heading)? How did he know Lisa would go to such lengths to track down a missing friend? How did he lure a psychologist to interview Tabitha as part of his fake interrogation when it turns out that his interrogation room is buried in a field in the middle of nowhere?? Certainly the psychologist must have wondered why she had to climb down into a bomb shelter or whatever it was to visit a traumatized witness? At the very least, didn't she wonder why The Laugh was the only "cop" in the entire place?
These lapses in logic are made all the more frustrating by the fact that Amusement is a very nice looking film, and features production values well beyond the usual DTV stuff. If only a fraction of the effort put into the look of the film was put towards the lazy and mind-numbingly inane screenplay this could have been a solid entry into the genre. Instead, it's just another forgettable DTV offering that's prettier than it has any right to be.
Warner offers Amusement on Blu-ray with a solid transfer that features rich and vibrant colors, and exceptional detail. Blacks are, for the most part, consistent, but I did notice a few scenes in which they looked somewhat gray or washed out. The transfer is crisp and clean, as should be expected with a new film, and compression artifacts and grain are virtually nonexistent.
The TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is very well implemented, with crystal clear dialogue that sounds full and organic, as well as a nicely enveloping surround sound mix that makes full use of the rears and satellites, filling the room with an impressive array of creepy sound effects. The bass response is quite powerful, and lends the film added punch.
Overall, this is a very nice presentation. It's a shame that the movie doesn't live up to it. It's also a shame that extras amount to nil, save for a digital copy disc. Move along. There's nothing to see here.
With a little more care and attention to the screenplay, Amusement could have been, at the very least, a more than passable entry into the well-trodden genre of revenge horror. As it is, though, the film is a muddled, confusing, and completely illogical mess that's only worth watching for its enticing visuals and the pretty faces of its cast. The Blu-ray presentation is solid, but the absolute lack of any extras makes this hard to recommend even as a value-priced purchase.