“HATCHET III” (Movie Review)
BJ McDonnell never had a chance. From the beginning, HATCHET III is a film at odds with itself. Opening in the closing moments of the painful HATCHET II, Marybeth (Danielle Harris) finds herself in the throes of bloodthirsty frenzy. With Victor Crowley’s scalp in hand, she begins a long walk through the swamp. Seemingly shot on location, it’s here that camera operator-turned-director McDonnell attempts to add to the saga of Victor Crowley, namely by employing actual visual atmosphere. Marybeth wanders, traumatized, through the picturesque region. On mute, you might think these films were progressing.
But as the rest of HATCHET III makes abundantly clear, each attempt at a visually engaging story is offset by sonic nightmare, and almost immediately does the film roll over and give way to exactly what you’d expect. Marybeth’s long walk comes accompanied by a gratingly goofy Gwar song. It’s in spirit with the preceding films, but not what’s right in front of you. As the opening titles wrap up, they naturally finish with the director credit over black. Literally the first person we see after however is writer, producer and series creator Adam Green. It’s hard to ignore as a throwaway joke, considering what follows is almost numbingly more of the same.
Marybeth has trekked all the way to a local police station, apparently just to declare her victory over the repeating swamp ghost in public. The announcements of “I killed him,” and “they’re all dead,” land her in a cell though, and through such we’re introduced to this film’s slaughter. Led by GREMLINS’ Zach Galligan as local sheriff Fowler, the cast includes Derek Mears as the commander of local SWAT, Sean Whalen and Parry Shen as part of a cleanup team to attend to the previous films’ massacre, Caroline Williams as “journalist who facilitates exposition” and Robert Diago DoQui as the only African-American character Green cares to write.
The latter two are significant. Much of HATCHET III follows the same formula of splatter-heavy kills followed by ten minutes of walking and talking; rinse, repeat. As usual, much of the dialogue in between the bursts of silly hyper-violence (even when larger action beats are attempted, they devolve into Crowley ripping someone’s head open again) alternate between Victor Crowley back-story, character back-story and attempted, but unfunny banter. It would all be standard issue, and mostly just inane, if it weren’t for the journey of Williams, DoQui and Danielle Harris. Here’s where the film becomes outright problematic.
Firstly, Caroline Williams’ Amanda is a journalist and believer in Crowley. Mostly thought of as an embarrassment, Amanda is out for vindication. What ensues is a long stretch of Amanda and Marybeth conversing in lockup, then in a car. Green, who clearly knows the makeup of the slasher – both classical and modern – attempts two brief meta jokes throughout. At one point, a character refers to the conceit of all three films as contrived, cut to: the drunk extra that Green plays, making a face. That’s minor, if eye-rolling. Throughout the rest of the film however, more than one character utters some semblance of “you know the story” when referring to the overalls-wearing killer. And while the first step to recovery is admitting the problem, HATCHET III has no interest in following through on the other eleven. An overabundance of over-explanation absolutely plagues the film, bogging down the already unaffecting hack-and-slash scenes.
Secondly, this parallel story — which, despite earlier self-critique, is made up by a new bit of expository subplot — brings Marybeth, Amanda and DoQui’s Deputy Winslow away from the action. In fact, in a film whose major offenses include the worst kind of pandering fan service, heroine Marybeth really doesn’t get much to do at all. In both of these sections of the film (the road trip and more slaughter in the woods), the screenplay ends up utilizing the series’ penchant for tired racial humor. One then culminates in a cameo-gone-wrong scenario that is massively tone deaf, cringe-worthy and downright ugly in its racial unawareness.
That failed racial humor, the self aware digs and even just the “third verse same as the first” nature could amount to a terrible film, but the most sour taste comes from its air of arrogance. The HATCHET films paint themselves as a no-bullshit experience, with even that self-mythologizing “Old School American Horror” tagline of the original boasting that Crowley & Co. will know what horror fans want and/or need. Instead, HATCHET, HATCHET II and now especially HATCHET III are patronizing and banal. They do not push, shock or even entertain. Taking their cues from the worst of a subgenre’s golden age, these films rarely understand what makes FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, or even the supernatural and self aware JASON LIVES the best films of that series. This is everything awful about horror pretending to know what’s best.