It’s as if Malcolm MacDowell has never been in a good film.
Imagine, if you will, that Alex the Droog from A Clockwork Orange grew up and moved to Alaska, where he became a barber and continued his spree of murder and violence in a remote town that is engulfed in darkness for weeks at a time. It is a community that suffers quite noticeably with seasonal affective disorder (that’s just saaaaaaaad – get it?), and one in which any hint of criminal activity is instantly met with exaggerated despair and anger. Even the FBI agent that pops into town to take over the investigation finds himself suffering from its effects. It’s not a happy place.
It’s to the film’s benefit that MacDowell gets a first person narration. It fits in nicely with the slightly whimsical tone and plays to his strengths – namely, that he has a great, recognisable voice and that without this we would have a far less entertaining film. Matters are not helped because the narration segments reduce significantly in number as we draw closer to the finale, with greater focus is placed on the town sheriff and the FBI agent sent to investigate the girl’s murder. It’s telling that as MacDowell’s voiceovers diminish, the quality of the film takes an apparently related dip.
It’s best ignored that MacDowell has no idea how a real barber acts – which I consider ironic for an actor. His hands move around a lot and he holds all of the right equipment (pair of scissors, a comb, etc. You know the drill), yet oddly no hair is ever cut and there’s never any blood despite the fact he frequently “accidentally” clips his customer’s ears. Maybe holding the scissors somewhere close to the customer’s head might have helped suspend my disbelief.
It’s also best ignored that the corpse of the girl they find at the beginning has difficulty in stopping her eyelids from moving. She’s not so much a corpse as somebody pretending – badly – to be dead. In the right light these issues could prove entertaining, and it’s this angle I decided to take on the film overall. To do otherwise and watch the film with a straight face would be a massive waste of your time. Embrace the silliness or just walk away.
Yet another part to ignore is the awkward flirting scenes between MacDowell and much younger waitress Sally (Brenda James). They’re cringeworthy to say the least, but for what become obvious reasons this isn’t a concern for very long.
The biggest complaint for me is that, having watched the DVD special features (yes, I went there), it seems that some lines and scenes were cut that would have made MacDowell’s character much more sinister from the off, and would have reduced the need for a voiceover. This is a sorry loss as it would have helped the film immensely, and made for a far darker – and far better – story. As it is, there’s a whimsical tone that sits uncomfortably with the story director Michael Bafaro and co-screenwriter Warren Low are trying to tell.
You might notice from this review that I have barely made mention of the rest of the cast. This is because they are, sadly, mostly forgettable. Tune in for MacDowell on his “in it for the money” autopilot and his droll voiceover, or don’t bother at all.