Two films -- one a big budget Hollywood production with a massive marketing campaign, one an indie making its way around smaller theaters. One movie stars some of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood, one features that guy who might have been in one of those Hugh Grant movies set in London. Both are designed to scare and thrill, yet both take divergent paths to their gory and nail-biting ends. Well, maybe not biting -- just a little nibbling.
Say, weren't you in 'Dance with Wolves?' Hurt and Costner
In the well-publicized thriller Mr. Brooks (), Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is the perfect man -- so perfect he's actually the ''Man of the Year.'' No way to miss that he's designed to be a ''good guy.'' But the voice in his head, Marshall (William Hurt), just won't shut up. So Mr. Brooks appeases him by killing meticulously stalked victims. After this easy set-up, the movie quickly enters a predictable pattern that moves at a glacial pace: Brooks tries to resist his urge to kill. Marshall convinces him otherwise. Someone dies.
Brooks is surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women, including his wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger), his daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker), and persistent police detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore). As a torrent of subplots featuring Jane and Atwood start to overwhelm the film, Helgenberger is all but relegated to a caricature of the quiet wife who disappears into the background. Fortunately, Moore kicks enough ass for the rest of the cast. Even though her subplots are mostly extraneous, they provide some adrenalin-producing action in the otherwise psychological thriller.
Costner actually does a fair job at making Brooks a relatable serial killer. However, while the tender family scenes humanize him, the interactions with his dark side, coolly portrayed by Hurt, are the movie's downfall. Costner and Hurt's conversations, unheard by any one else, are plagued by synchronized movements and laughter designed to remind us that they are really one person. Enough already -- we get it.
Inevitably, Brooks gets sloppy and starts to lose control over his own life. Likewise, burdened with too many storylines, the film itself loses control over its direction. Ultimately, the multitude of plot threads are tied up neatly with a bow, but a clever twist does no good if the audience is asleep.
In the final moments, the movie dares to defy convention and has the potential to make the audience leave the theater saying, ''Wow.'' Sadly, the cheap exit is taken, which tees up the sequel should Mr. Brooks prove to be a success.
In contrast to how seriously Mr. Brooks takes itself, the less publicized Severance () is about as irreverent as a slasher flick could possibly be. After all, you have to give props to a movie that names its characters ''Flamethrower Killer,'' ''Head-squish Killer,'' and ''Headbutt Killer.''
Take the cast of The Office -- the British version -- and imagine them on a corporate retreat in Hungary with a psycho killer on the loose. The actual characters are less important than their stereotypes -- the jerk, the hottie, the nerd, the slacker, the kiss-ass, the boss. Brilliantly, each dies as foreshadowed by their most notable trait. For example, the jerk insists during an argument that a decapitated head can live long enough to look back and see the body. Let's just say that he's proven right.
Every stereotype of a horror film is here, but not as you would imagine them. Just when you tense up thinking you think you know what's about to happen, the opposite occurs. Warning: Don't relax.
Severance is one of those ridiculously plotted movies designed to both amuse and sicken. It succeeds. Because it doesn't take itself seriously, from the self-aware stereotypes to the soundtrack, it repeatedly encourages us to laugh. But laugh while you can, because you're going to be cringing in a minute. These days, it takes a lot to shock movie audiences who have seen just about every way possible to kill, dismember or maim. Severance finds a couple new ways to push that envelope.
Mr. Brooks and Severance are both thrillers that -- at times -- thrill. Mr. Brooks might take the more intellectual approach to serial killings, but sometimes all we really need is a good mindless release from a day at the office.