The Plan: Watch Lawrence of Arabia with dinner.
The Flaw: . . . wait, HOW long is it?
The Options: We could be good and continue forward with our nearly four-hour Oscar-winning epic, or we could watch that terrible looking horror movie on Netflix.
The Inevitable Conclusion?
The funny thing is that Don’t Blink turned out to be a surprisingly decent low-budget thriller. Right up until the completely lackluster ending, that is.
Ten friends travel to a mountain resort out in the middle of absolute nowhere. Spooky shit starts happening.
1. Being enthusiastic fans of And Then There Were None, Mekaela and I often find ourselves drawn to stories where a group of people (usually strangers) get trapped somewhere and begin dying one by one. Which, actually, isn’t quite what happens here — Don’t Blink isn’t really the slasher I originally took it for. It’s far more of a psychological horror film, and while psychological horror doesn’t always work for me (it being so very high-brow, like Real Literature or unprocessed cheese), I think it’s fairly effective here. With the exception of a few silly moments (like one guy taking about ten years to uncover something that, for Christ’s sake, obviously isn’t a dead body), Don’t Blink rarely relies on jump scares to try and freak you out.
Because of that, I think, little moments (like an unexpected knocking, for instance) are much creepier than they would normally be. I don’t know that I’d ever call this movie scary, exactly, but certain scenes are eerie and definitely more intriguing than I’d originally anticipated.
2. There aren’t a lot of Big Names in this movie — Mena Suvari is probably the most well-known actor of the bunch — but the whole cast does a surprisingly good job here. The three stand-outs, however, are undoubtedly Brian Austin Green, Joanne Kelly, and Zack Ward.
Jack (Green) is our leading man and generally the cooler head/voice of reason in the group when everything starts going to shit. There’s no one specific thing about Jack that’s particularly interesting, his abhorrent fondness for “Rocky Mountain High” aside, but Green infuses him with a lot more personality than I’ve come to expect from this kind of nice guy character. It always surprises me, how decent of an actor Brian Austin Green actually is. It’s easy (and fun) to mock 90210, but did you see this guy in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles? Dude was awesome.
The only thing I’ve ever seen Joanne Kelly in is Warehouse 13, and I liked her (post pilot), but Myka was never my favorite character, and I’ve never had a really great grasp of her range as an actress. In a way, Claire is a bit similar to Myka — she’s the nerdy, bookish one in the group — but she has a few scenes here where she really gets to showcase that range, and she’s pretty fantastic. One scene she shares with Brian Austin Green is particularly strong.
Zack Ward is this actor I enjoy who just pops up in the most random shit — he’s one of the bullies in A Christmas Story; he’s the adorable Russian dude in the otherwise terrible Resident Evil: Apocalypse — and he’s fun here as one of the significantly less cooler heads in the group. His character is essentially having a nervous breakdown for half the movie, and he does a solid job with that.
3. Don’t Blink is surprisingly quotable with a lot of laugh-out-loud lines that I wasn’t expecting. It’s not a comedy by any means, but there’s a good deal of intentional humor written into the script, instead of the more typical, unintentional humor I’m generally watching these things for. This is apparent even in the first ten minutes of the film, as we’re quickly introduced to characters who each appear to have an actual semblance of a personality.
Needles to say, Mekaela and I were quite shocked.
4. Unfortunately, it all falls apart with that completely worthless ending.
Don’t Blink isn’t a perfect film — there’s one other scene I’ll detail later where certain characters who’ve made pretty reasonable decisions thus far suddenly become utter morons for no fucking reason — but overall, it’s pretty solid, all up until that ending, anyway, which just. Just. Fails.
I am well-aware that my tastes generally do not lean towards open-ended stories, but there are exceptions to that rule, and even open-ended conclusions that I don’t care for still generally conclude in some manner. But this . . . it’s like the writer couldn’t figure out a way to solve a problem he’d written himself into, so he just said, “Fuck it, I’ll just do this instead.” It’s infuriating because I was genuinely into this movie when I didn’t expect to be, and I so wanted to write a review saying, “Don’t listen to those assholes who only gave it 3 out of 10 stars. This movie is actually pretty cool.” But I can’t now, not with a clear conscience, anyway, because as much as I enjoyed watching it — you get to the end, and you’re like, “Why did I even bother?”
At some point, I’ll have to make a list of all the movies that are completely ruined by their shitty conclusions. Offhand, all I have is this and High Tension, but I’m sure there are others.
5. Finally, before Spoilers, I figured I’d highlight a clear nominee for Worst Hair in the 2015 Movie Superlatives.
Dude, no. Just no. You are clearly not meant to be blond, and that’s not even a great haircut for the 20-year-old surfer it’s meant for. Why would you do this to yourself?
A more detailed plot summary goes like this: Ten friends travel to a mountain resort out in the middle of absolute nowhere, only to find it completely abandoned, as if everyone (including all the animals) just vanished where they stood. Then, one by one, our heroes begin to disappear themselves.
Tracy (Mena Suvari) is Jack’s secretly pregnant girlfriend and has Survivor Girl written all over her, which is why I was delighted when she turned out to be the first person to vanish, only thirty minutes into the movie.
It seems that people only disappear when no one’s looking at them, even if they’re mere inches away from everyone else. (One guy disappears when he kneels behind a bar, while another girl vanishes when she’s blocked from view by an open refrigerator door.) There are some inconsistencies to that — one woman, in particular, should probably disappear well before she actually does — but it’s pretty effectively creepy at times and easy to do on what I’m assuming is a pretty low budget.
Mek and I both assumed that this was going to end up being a whole time travel deal, where characters somehow popped in and out at different points along the time continuum. There are various items leftover from the last guests at the lodge — lunch plates, a full bath, a noose — and we wondered if at some point our heroes were responsible for leaving those things. I felt particularly sure when Tracy found a baby bottle. And I don’t mind being wrong, exactly, but I do mind when no alternative explanation is offered.
But let’s go back. While trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for the abandoned lodge, our heroes split up and search for clues. The total lack of animal and insect life coupled with the impossible weather shifts (an iced-over lake, for instance) freaks everyone out, particularly Alex (Ward), who wants nothing to do with this Twilight Zone shit and demands that they get the fuck out of dodge. It’s a perfectly understandable reaction and shows the kind of pop culture savvy that horror movie characters often fail to express, as if they’ve never watched a scary movie before in their lives.
Unfortunately, there’s a problem with that plan, as Jack points out: it’s hundreds of miles to the next town, and no one has enough gas to drive there, not even when they siphon all of it into one car. And if whatever’s happening at the house is also happening out on the road, which seems likely, Jack figures they’re safer inside where there’s food and shelter. A vote is taken, and Jack wins — but Sam of the Bad Hair cares not about anyone’s opinion, and eventually freaks out. He steals a gun from his BFF Alex, actually shoots Alex in the shoulder, and tries to escape with his GF, Charlotte. He only makes it about ten feet, though, before he disappears, presumably because they were both looking at the road.
Of course, Alex is going to put Sam to shame when it comes to going crazy. Even grabbing the gun in the first place is one of the many signs that he’s cracking up, since I don’t think even Alex knows who he’s planning to shoot with it. Ominous wind, maybe? Generally, though, I like Alex’s descent into Total Crazypants Town. In fact, I like how the unbelievable stress of the situation starts breaking everyone down. One girl’s turn to ‘God’s Punishing Us’ does happen a bit too quickly for my liking, but I do like that it’s not who you’d expect it to be, not to mention Alex’s outraged reaction.
We might as well talk about the Utterly Stupid Scene of Stupid now.
At this point, there are only five people left: Leader Jack, Ex-Girlfriend Ella, Catatonic Charlotte, Scientist Claire, and Crazypants-But-Currently-Unconscious-and-Bleeding Alex. Ella patches up Alex — handily, she’s training to be a nurse, which is also why she just Knows that Tracy is pregnant, cause, like, Magic Nurse Knowledge?! Anyway, she’s apparently ready for a nap, so Jack — who’s been a completely reasonable person so far — tells the others that he’ll take her upstairs where she can rest.
What the actual fuck.
Jack’s decision should really just end the movie right then and there. By going off with his ex, Jack is leaving Claire alone with someone who’s asleep and someone who’s catatonic. I suppose Charlotte’s eyes are open, but I don’t know how much she’s actually seeing, and if Claire moves even a little out of her line-of-sight, couldn’t all three of them instantly go poof. Meanwhile, once Ella’s asleep, who’s looking at Jack to keep him from going poof?
Of course, the actual reason this scene happens is to get Ella in her underwear, which — while tame for a horror movie — feels so utterly out of place and nonsensical that I’m thoroughly annoyed by the gratuitous sexing. (The wannabe Out of Sight editing doesn’t help much.) Not to mention, while I understand that different women prefer different sleepwear, who the hell takes off what appears to be a cozy shirt only to sleep in her restrictive bra? A man wrote this scene, I swear to God.
Naturally, the stress of the situation + all those old feelings = Jack cheating on his missing, pregnant girlfriend he’s planning to propose to.
It’s a dumb plot development because it adds absolutely nothing to the story. This all only happens so that Ella can flash her tits before predictably disappearing. Jack, you’re an idiot.
And things only get worse for the group when there’s a sudden knock at the door.
It turns out to be Noah, Ella’s weird boyfriend that no one really knows. Noah was the second person to vanish, but claims to have no knowledge about anything that’s happened: according to him, he fell into a ditch, hit his head, and woke up hours later.
From the beginning, Noah is clearly being set up as a red herring, but Crazypants Alex has ascended into Whoa Nelly! levels of nuts now, and he’s pretty much okay taking the bait. He tortures Noah for information and eventually drags him out to the porch, slamming the door shut and telling the mysterious forces to go ahead and take him back. Which they appear to do, mid-sentence.
Both Claire and Jack are horrified, but Alex explains that nothing they do matters, that he could commit any atrocious act he wanted and there’d be no evidence to prove it ever happened. But since he wants someone to know that he was there, he shoots himself in the head. Unfortunately, everyone knows that irony’s a bitch, and Alex’s body disappears anyway, just like all of his and Noah’s blood.
Claire eventually gets ahold of 911, but no one will be able to come for three hours. So Claire’s like, “We just have to stare at each other,” — which is, naturally, when the lights go out. This, like the earlier knock on the door, is just a really well-executed “oh shit” moment, so small but incredibly effective. The two manage to find some candles and settle on the floor, staring at one another. (Charlotte, meanwhile, is left to her own catatonic devices on the far sidelines — I think they’ve mostly given up on Charlotte, at this point, or at least the story has.)
This is actually a pretty fantastic scene. Jack explains that he’s been waiting for Tracy to tell him that she’s pregnant; also, he’s ready to just get it over with and disappear too. In return, Claire tells him that she focused so hard on getting her doctorate that she barely got the chance to live her life and isn’t ready to give up on it now. There is a surprising amount of pathos in this scene that you just don’t normally get in these kind of movies, and I’d love to see it in more horror films, psychological or otherwise.
However, because your biological functions don’t stop, even for pathos, Claire realizes she has to go to the bathroom. The scene — all audio — where Jack watches Claire pee while he simultaneously holds Catatonic Charlotte in his arms is hysterical.
Unfortunately, Charlotte blinks out of existence immediately after that, leaving our two heroes standing in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at their reflections. They’re both starting to fall asleep on their feet at this point, and after a moment, Jack tips backwards and disappears. It’s the only disappearance we actually see on camera and makes Claire our Final Girl, which is actually pretty awesome. I never expected it to be her in a million years — if it wasn’t Pregnant GF Tracy, you’d normally assume it’d be Less Pregnant, Ex-GF Ella. But the actual final girl is the bookish one who’s not romantically linked to the hero in any way. It’s a genuine surprise, and there are so few of those in the genre, particularly when it comes to survivors and last men (or women) standing.
So, anyway, Claire realizes that she still exists and runs outside, where a bazillion paramedics, cops, and federals are milling around, including this guy:
Your film can do worse than to have a Robert Picardo cameo.
Traumatized Claire tells Agent Robert Picardo, “Don’t blink.” Which is a nice thought, but seriously — unless you’re using tape a la A Clockwork Orange, you’re totally going to blink. Don’t even pretend you haven’t blinked this entire time, Claire. But Agent Robert Picardo only responds, “Never do,” cracking me up, and goes to investigate. Claire’s hands shake, and she dips her head into her lap, taking a long, calming breath — and when she looks up again, everyone is gone, everyone.
At this point, Claire hears Alex’s voice in her head, asking her doesn’t she get it? They’re all going to disappear and nothing they do matters. (Paraphrased but pretty close, and it’s what he said earlier in the movie, shortly before he shot himself.) And then she looks at her reflection in the rearview mirror and deliberately blinks and that’s it. That’s the end.
Look, the ending itself — where the last salvation blinks out of existence and our survivor girl surrenders to the futility of what’s happening and gives up? That’s fine. But we set up so many mysteries in this story, and the movie doesn’t bother to solve any of them. Forget, for a moment, where the humans and animals are going — what the fuck is happening with the weather? Why is it unseasonably hot in one scene and snowing the next? How did the lake freeze over all at once at the wrong time of year? Not to mention, how long has this been happening? Why is it happening? Who even set up the internet site for this place, anyway?
I’ve been trying to analyze the shit out of this ending, and I’m wondering if writer/director Travis Oates wanted this to all be some big think piece about how people handle the inevitability of death. Which, I’ve got to tell you, is a bit heavier than I was originally looking for when I rented this — but I’m thinking about two scenes here: Alex’s nihilistic monologue and Claire and Jack arguing whether it’s worth it to try and stick around when they all know what’s coming.
And that works, to an extent — but only to an extent. Even if I am right about Oates’s ultimate goals here, you have to seed that level of subtext pretty early into your story, and not just early but throughout. If this is a manifesto on the futility of fighting death, you can’t just bring that shit in during the last fifteen minutes. That’s bullshit structure.
But also, and possibly more important, stories aren’t essays, nor are they rambling thoughts on your (social media of choice) page. You wanna write a story to talk about Something Real, Something Important? Sure. People do it all the time — most stories have some kind of subtext. But what you don’t get to do is set up a giant mystery and then pretend like that mystery was never significant. You don’t get to write a plot-driven story and then not resolve the plot. Big Ideas are great, but if you’re going to use a narrative to frame them, then you have to treat that narrative with respect; what Don’t Blink seems to do, instead, is say, “I don’t have to resolve anything I’ve set up because the story was just a convenience. The message is really all that matters.” And as a writer and a fan, I take serious issue with that.
Of course, that’s all assuming I’m even right about the Big Picture shit, because maybe Travis Oates just didn’t know how to end the story and figured, “Hey, this seems creepy. Let’s go with this.” Honestly, that’s how the ending comes across when you watch it. That whole rant above is actually me just giving the guy the benefit of the fucking doubt.
(after Tracy turns off John Denver)
Lucas: “God, thank you.”
Tracy: “I think . . . it’s appropriate for the environment . . . I think it’s the best music to ever grace God’s green earth.”
Jack: “Thank you. Did that hurt? Was that hard?”
Alex: “The needle’s been on empty for the last ten miles.”
Sam: “Okay, there’s usually gas in the tank when the needle’s on empty.”
Alex: “Yeah, I’m well aware of the relationship between gas tank and the needle. I’ve actually driven a car before? Uh, however, eventually when the needle’s on empty long enough, it really means it.”
(Sam turns the key, but the car won’t start. He turns to find Noah suddenly leaning in the car, unexpectedly close.)
Jake: “That’s weird.”
Sam: “Yeah, that kind of seems to be the catchword of the day.”
Jake: “Anyone have cell service?”
Tracy: “I don’t.”
Ella: “I left mine at home.”
Noah: “I don’t even own a phone.”
Jake: “That’s normal.”
Alex: “It looks like it, but I can’t see if there’s anyone — you have binoculars?”
Jake: “Where are you going to go?
Alex: “Um, anywhere but here?”
Jake: “You have no gas. Your car’s on fumes.”
Alex: “Well, now I’m going to fucking find out how far fumes will get me, cause I’m not spending any more time in this bad fucking Twilight Zone camp-like death trap of a weekend getaway. Now fuck off.”
Lucas: “So, I guess that’s how far fumes will take you.”
Jack: “What if there were doors or — or — panels where somebody could literally suck you into the walls?”
Sam: “You know, I’m really glad that you said that because that sounds fucking crazy.”
Jack: “It is fucking crazy.”
Sam: “It still doesn’t explain the missing animals.”
Jack: “Yeah, well, that’s where my serial killer theory pretty much breaks down.”
Amelia: “This is retribution.”
Alex: “Ah, here we go.”
Jack: “Jesus. Where did she get the Bible?”
Claire: “Um, the bookshelf.”
Amelia: “This is God punishing us for our sins.”
Alex: “You know, I figured this was going to happen, man. Gotta be honest, I thought it would be Charlotte, so.”
(Charlotte flips him off)
Amelia: “God is striking down all who have fallen off the path of righteousness.”
Alex: “Okay! But Tracy? Tracy was studying to be a kindergarten teacher. Tracy was a devout Catholic. So you tell me, why did Tracy get swallowed up by the Holy Fucking Spirit?”
Claire: “Lets, uh. Let’s pray over here, shall we?”
Alex: “I could kill him, and he’d be like a . . . a zombie? Or something? Would that explain any of this shit?”
Jack: “Not really, no.”
Alex: “You know what’s weird? Everyone who disappeared, they didn’t leave a trace, not even a spot of blood. That makes me sad. I want them to know that I was here.”
Jack: “They have a motorcycle phone.”
Jack: “No, we’re no longer taking reservations, sorry.”
Claire: “Can we fix it?”
Jack: “We can try. We could find a fusebox. I don’t know where the hell it is. It’s probably outside.”
Claire: “I’m not going outside.”
Jack: “I just want it to be over. If I’m going to disappear, I just want it to happen already.”
Claire: “You know, all I ever really wanted to be was a biologist. I worked my ass of in college. I was always driven and focused and I never really lived outside of that, you know? I was never popular. I’ve been to six movies since I started up my thesis, and every single one I went to alone, so I don’t want to die. I don’t want to disappear because I really haven’t had that much time just being here to begin with.”
Jack: “Okay. Okay, I won’t give up hope, okay?”
Claire: “Okay . . . I need to tell you something, but you have to promise not to laugh.”
Claire: “I have to go to the bathroom.”
Jack: “That’s fantastic. Sorry.”
Jack: “This is really awkward.”
Claire: “Yeah, you don’t have to tell me that.”
Jack: ” . . . can I put Charlotte down now?”
This actually has a lot of things going for it. Script, acting, tension. It even subverts some standard horror movie tropes, but that end, man. That end has serious problems.
Don’t blink isn’t a particularly useful suggestion, so how about ‘don’t separate from the group for nap/sexy times when people are vanishing from thin air.’