Studio: Chiller Films
Director: Brett Simmons
Writer: Macon Blair, W.W. Jacobs
Producer: Ross Otterman
Stars: C.J. Thomason, Michelle Pierce, Corbin Bleu, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Charles S. Dutton, Tauvia Dawn, Stephen Lang
A magical talisman grants its owner three wishes, but not without unleashing dark consequences for meddling with fate.
“Classic” is a word sometimes misused in confusion as a synonym for “old” without necessarily referring to quality. W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw” is one short story that does qualify as a legitimately venerable classic. Not because grade schoolers still find it in their English textbooks more than 100 years after it was first published, but because its theme about the danger of tampering with fate is as meaningful in the 21st century as it was in 1902.
Chiller Films’ “The Monkey’s Paw” from director Brett Simmons and screenwriter Macon Blair is the right kind of adaptation because it does more than transpose plot beats to be a straight film version of the familiar narrative. Their movie taps directly into the inner spirit of what makes the paw’s story a timeless tale by adapting the message, not simply the text.
“The Monkey’s Paw” can even be treated as a follow-up since the entire Jacobs version is recapped as part of the backstory for how the talisman fell into its current owner’s hands. The movie’s creators are not out to reinvent anything with this take. Theirs is a tight tale aiming for horror entertainment with a visually cinematic feel, yet without the generic genetics of made-for-cable thriller fare.
The setting could have been wherever was cheapest to film and left as incidental to the onscreen action. Spicing up the scenery is a Creole flavor genuinely making the most of its Louisiana location. A pivotal road obstacle is a slow-moving gator instead of the usual oncoming truck. A bar illuminates with the neon glow of an Abita beer sign. And what visit to the bayou would be complete without a cemetery rendezvous surrounded by the region’s signature aboveground vaults? Corbin Bleu even does his best impression of Fenster from “The Usual Suspects” by mumbling in a Cajun accent so thick he practically spits gumbo.
One more atypical detail in the film’s favor is a terrific relationship between the two primary players and how it is established. In a tiny character naming hat tip to the original story’s author, C.J. Thomason plays a man named Jake and Stephen Lang is Cobb.
They aren’t similarly aged drinking buddies with a standard history of being longtime best buds. Cobb is clearly a “work friend,” someone with whom a friendship is based mostly on a circumstance of being in the same room with the guy for 40 hours a week. A simultaneous camaraderie and distance exists between the older Cobb and the younger Jake. They can share a couple of beers after work, but Cobb is unlikely to be the best man at Jake’s wedding. This finely blended push-pull to Cobb’s personality makes him sympathetic for his troubles, yet despicable for his actions.
Stephen Lang’s performance is exceptional. Playing an everyman forklift operator, his is a role affording him the opportunity to show how much personality he can create for a character that could have been an empty vessel for delivering slasher mayhem.
“The Monkey’s Paw” packs a dense amount of exposition into its opening scenes with natural personal interactions and a brief subplot that quickly introduces everyone’s history and how they relate to one another. Even with a fully loaded 88 minutes, the dialogue and structure still gives everyone a chance to bring “The Monkey’s Paw” to life without characters and scenes colliding over a fight for screen time. There is a lot of story here, possibly too much as evidenced by a police investigation B plot that adds little aside from the welcome presence of Charles S. Dutton in a small part.
Indeed, the tone hiccups at times. A scene involving Cobb’s confrontation with a drunk street reveler is funny, but the played for laughs moment has a hard time fitting in with the serious stakes permeating everything else. The film also comes close to throwing Lang’s performance away when his character devolves too much into a barking zombie by story’s end.
Rock steady acting from the entire cast keeps the plates spinning constantly though, and the characters usually find a way to pull the movie back from a cliffside chasm of complete mediocrity. “The Monkey’s Paw” ticks every box on its To Do list of offering simple chills and suitable charms with a well-produced interpretation of a classic story fitting finely into a Friday night of horror entertainment.
Review Score: 75