Director: Albert Pyun
Writer: Cynthia Curnan
Producer: Robert Ladesich, Norbert Weisser
Stars: Morgan Weisser, Wendy Phillips, Crystal Green, Virginia Dare, Lauren Sutherland, Norbert Weisser
A struggling screenwriter moves into a Malibu boarding house and discovers that a mysterious tenant harbors a dark secret.
Charlie Baxter is a struggling Hollywood screenwriter who rents a room at a Malibu boarding house. The cast of characters residing in the home is a motley crew of misfits and strange hermits. Washed up trophy wife Mrs. Hayward runs the house with help from her “autistic hottie” daughter Estella (the movie’s term, not mine). Of the other two tenants, one is a former Disney animator with neither the technical skills to work in the digital age nor the social skills to be anything more than a recluse. Residing on the top floor is the strangest resident of all. Behind that door lives Doctor Shockner, a mysterious figure that never leaves the room and insists that the temperature remain below 55 degrees at all times.
Because if you need the temperature to be under 55 degrees Fahrenheit constantly, what better place to live than Southern California? It is not as if the summertime temperatures routinely reach triple digits or anything, right?
Given that the film begins with a background story about a doctor in possession of an ancient Egyptian relic rumored to raise the dead, and then introduces an unseen character who requires “cool air” at all times, the “mystery” at the heart of the story should be self-explanatory. The essential flaw in the horror movie’s plot is that the reveal of the doctor’s true nature is fatally obvious from the start, removing any semblance of suspense. And with that doctor having no more nefarious of a motive than cheating death, there is no room for any scene of true terror to take place either. What the movie ends up with is a PG-style affair of bloodless boredom.
“Cool Air” opens with six consecutive screens of narrative text lasting nearly two minutes. The story may be based on the literature of one of horror’s greatest authors, but the point of a movie is to tell a tale visually. Delivering exposition through that much required reading right off the bat is a poor way to start a filmed story.
That wall of text continues unabated in voiceover form via incessant narration laid over the entire movie. H.P. Lovecraft’s original story was indeed a first-person narrative, but the adaptation in “Cool Air” is an overindulgent screenplay focused on a constant barrage of neverending words. Any doubt about that statement’s veracity is permanently shattered when the film begins staging conversation montages by superimposing the script onscreen as the narrator reads the same text. “Cool Air” just cannot get enough of hearing, and literally seeing, its own words.
The bizarre word fascination reaches its zenith by providing unnecessary narrative accompaniment to directly describe the very things already depicted onscreen. Main character Charlie Baxter feels compelled to deliver an interior monologue about the pungent smell of a foul odor even as his face contorts into a scrunch and his nostrils flare. Alternatively, the narration hits its nadir by opting for a first-person description of things that should be shown, yet are not. Being a horror movie, it would be preferable to actually see the “clawlike finger” and “oozing rot” of a decaying corpse. Instead, the audience is left to imagine the image for itself as we stare at Charlie’s face while he describes the horror using these terms.
Charlie is the lucky one, as he was able to look at something more interesting than the bare white walls of the house where the entirety of the movie is confined. In an effort to add some type of visual stimulation to the drab location, many of the camera shots are perched in strangely canted angles. But pitching the camera on its side is not enough to distract from the hollow sound quality where dialogue is near imperceptible. Or from the blazing exterior whiteouts that rip through the windows in overexposed scenes. The trifecta of poor production value is complete with pixilated digital effects that jump around a character’s face while she moves through the frame, as if the animator moving the swatch could not keep up with the minor action.
The total runtime is 78 minutes and that includes a combined total of 14 minutes for the opening credits and the end credits. Do the math and that leaves just four minutes more than an hour for the film itself. For good measure, “Cool Air” closes things off with three more screens of text before launching into what is possibly the slowest end credit crawl in movie history. There must have been a legal requirement for the film to be 78 minutes, and the only way to pad that time was to put the credits through slow motion.
Devoid of a compelling mystery and lacking any visceral horror, “Cool Air” has no chance of being anything other than a dull and plodding exercise to see if an audience can sit still and remain awake for more than an hour. Alas, the film seemed determined to be as dreadfully boring as possible anyway.
Review Score: 25