Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Today's Viewing & Review: Lady In White

Lady In White

Let’s cut to the quick, this is almost certainly guaranteed a place in my top ten worst films of all-time. It’s that objectionable. Ostensibly it’s a star vehicle for ‘The Kid From Witness’. Locked overnight in school as a prank, Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) is visited by two entities; the ghost of a dead girl and her still-alive killer.

From an exposition-heavy opening, which sets up the lead character in as awkward a way as possible, it almost-immediately forgets about him and ‘fades’ back to 1962 when our narrator was but a lad. We’re plunged back into small town Americana - all cheery waitresses in Formica diners, cornfields, clean streets, chirpy paperboys and wholesome idealism. It’s also Halloween. Sigh. From there on in, the film never once settles on a tone. It hyperactively flits from genre to genre, ultimately (I presume) aiming for a nostalgic Stephen King-alike, coming-of-age ghost story.

It begins as all-out madcap with kids running around being all wacky and indulging in tomfoolery, exemplified and heightened by the synthy plink-plonk music. Elsewhere, when the supernatural elements surface, it’s straight-faced and earnest. When the mood strikes it also takes in child abuse and racial injustice, with none of the depth and gravitas you would expect.

The acting is uniformly awful, from the adults to the children. It’s the least nuanced ensemble cast I’ve ever seen. It’s as if the children are autonomously directing themselves, and the rest of the hammy cast, in a 3rd rate school play. Lukas Haas has that creepy kid quality last seen in Haley Joel Osment and his chief talent seems to be the ability to sit completely still with eyes wide-open and mouth agog. His Italian family are the kind of racial stereotypes that make the Dolmio family look like the paragon of political correctness. The entire town seems to have been cast entirely of the most excruciatingly abysmal actors reading from the clunkiest script I’ve ever seen.

Foremost, I can’t even work out if this is a kids’ film, or not. It certainly plays like (a bad) one. It’s like The Lovely Bones filmed as a particularly weak episode of Goosebumps before staggering on to shades of To Kill A Mockingbird by way of a poor facsimile of Stand By Me’s authorly narration. One minute it’s screwball hi-jinks like chasing a baby alligator round the derelict house of a woman who committed suicide after her daughter was molested and killed(!), then it’s on to a Jack Ruby style courthouse assassination. It’s borderline schizophrenic – and it doesn’t even seem to realise. The final act revelation is not only predictable but inappropriately campy and mishandled beyond belief.

The over-used special effects are dreadful although, to its credit, the appearances of the Lady in White herself are the film’s zenith. Sure, they might be entirely riffing on other, better stuff, like Salem’s Lot, but at least the film can say it got one thing right.

There really is nothing to recommend this. A borderline rant, this may be, but it’s rare that you see a film so woeful that it can’t even nail down a genre, let alone begin to master any of them.


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