Film Review: The Monkey's Paw

Copyright: Chiller films
When I heard about this film I remember something about a monkey's paw from a Simpsons Halloween special, where the paw has the ability to grant wishes. Turns out that The Monkey's Paw follows this exact story, and it’s worth watching mainly because of one man: Stephen Lang.

Lang plays Cobb, a machine operator in a New Orleans workshop. His younger friend and coworker Jake one day, after an unpleasant situation in their workplace, get an unusual gift. As soon as they see the paw and hear about its supposed power, Jake and Cobb decide to test it.

Lang (who is still best known for his amazing performance in Avatar) does the majority of the heavy lifting in this horror story.  Director Brett Simmons intended to give the film a strong southern feel, and there are Louisiana style cemeteries, alligators and misty docks in many scenes. Jake even takes the New Orleans streetcar on several occasions. But, in spite of that, Lang is the one who delivers the film from a very forgettable place.
C.J. Thomason who plays Jake and Michelle Pierce, who plays his former romantic interest, are the ones who decreased its value. Both are bland and unenergetic compared to Lang, and seem wooden in every situation, even when they depict things like sheer panic or rage. Simultaneously, other people in the cast go overboard with character traits, like in the case of Corbin Bleu. Bleu plays Catfish, a gun loving worker from the shop, and his impersonation of a southern accent is so forced that it looks like he is imitation KFC's Colonel Sanders or possibly general Robert E. Lee. All the time, it’s like he wants somebody to tell him: OK man, we get it, you’re from the Deep South, now stop it.

I don’t know if they didn’t get enough direction or something else is to blame, but the complete supporting cast, and even the main character probably won’t be proud about their performance in a few year’s time. If I compare them to Lang, I think about something like Kevin Spacey dropping in to do a part in a teenage community theater group production (I don’t count Charles S. Dutton in here, but his role is minor with a capital M).

In the last third of the film, their collective motivation drops even lower, while they all have to battle against the evil that has risen from the paw. Simmons did a great favor to the film by making the finale local and personal, and not broadening the plot to something like “if we don’t succeed the gate of hell will open and Armageddon will commence”. It begins and ends with family, and there is nothing more to it.

Simmons made a watchable small horror film with one great actor. The story he worked with was interesting and fresh, but the rest of his actors were anything but.

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