“HOLLA II” (Movie Review)
“Killing is addictive,” reads the poster for HOLLA II, but the movie (opening today in limited theatrical release) is enough to make slasher fans want to kick the habit.
That tagline isn’t indicative of a drug-oriented subplot or subtext in HOLLA II, but a bit of dialogue tied to a final-act revelation that anyone even remotely familiar with this kind of film will see coming very early on. The movie, set largely at the fictitious Douglas Plantation House in Florida, does seem to be planting the seeds of some deeper meaning via early references to the place being “cursed by the blood of 13 slaves” who were buried alive there, but all that does is freight the movie with socioracial baggage it can’t possibly shoulder.
Mostly, this is a frivolous stalk-and-kill flick billed as “the first black horror film to hit theaters in 13 years”—ignoring, among others, the 2006-released initial HOLLA—and set six years after the original, in which heroine Monica escaped the murderous rampage of her twin sister Veronica (both played by Shelli Boone). Monica has been cared for ever since by Marion (Vanessa Bell Calloway), mother of her murdered fiancé Dwayne, who has paid for plastic surgery allowing Monica to now be played by Kiely Williams and call herself Monique. She’s found love again with Robbie (Trae Ireland), and prior to their wedding, the couple and their friends set off to the Douglas House for a combined bachelor/bachelorette party. This group is the usual bunch of good-looking party-heartiers and wisecrackers, given just the slightest tinges of personality and history. (One guy’s girlfriend is described as a stripper, to which he retorts, “Ex-stripper; she’s acting now,” before a cut to a girl who comes off rather like an ex-stripper who’s acting now.)
Following a setpiece revealing that Veronica (Boone) is still out and murderously about, Monica/Monique, Robbie, Marion and co. arrive at the mansion, and they and the storyline fall right into formula; there’s something almost quaint about the way the movie guilelessly trots out all the clichés of this genre. Cell phones don’t work, the weirdo caretaker peeps at the girls through a hole in the wall (and watches NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on TV, an unwise reminder of a much better horror film with an African-American protagonist), a strange old guy outside a nearby store tells them they’re all doomed and, of course, sex = death—though just as naturally, a homosexual liaison is violently interrupted before it gets started.
Every so often, one of the likable if unchallenged cast lands a laugh line, and writer/director H.M. Coakley tweaks the conventions of the form and has a bit of cheeky fun. Echoing his previous HOLLA, the white couple gets it first for a change, and his camera focuses on the girl’s jiggling boobs as she’s bludgeoned. But there are far from enough honest twists or clever touches to distract from the fact that anyone familiar enough with slasher cinema to want to catch HOLLA II will have seen all this stuff dozens of times before. There still might have been some satisfaction if the buildups and payoffs to the slayings had been done with any verve, panache or imagination, but the suspense techniques are pedantic and the violence awkwardly shot and edited.
This is particularly problematic during the finale, in which the explanation for the rampage involves an endless, overwrought, flashback-punctuated monologue that almost, but not quite, tips the movie over into camp. Instead, HOLLA II plays as if Coakley and co. thought that simply putting an almost all-African-American cast through the all-too-familiar paces would be enough to distinguish the film from the past three decades’ countless HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH imitators. But it comes so late to the game and offers so little that it could well have been retitled SUNDAY THE 29TH.