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Needle (2010)

DVD Released: 11/29/2011

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/17/2011

Do you give much thought to movie titles? And by that, I mean the actual name of the movie? Probably not. Most movie titles are pretty straightforward, as they give you an idea of what the movie is about or what its focus will be. Some are more whimsical, but still directly reference something from the movie. However, the movie Needle is oddly mis-titled. Yes, I remember getting a vague glimpse of a needle in the movie, but this isn't what the movie is about. The movie is about a voodoo box. Seriously Lionsgate, you're released some movies in the past with ridiculous titles and you pass on "Voodoo Box"? OK, that's your business. Let's see how Needle measures up.

Ben Rutherford (Michael Dorman) is a fairly normal college student who enjoys hanging out with his friends, Mary (Tahyna Tozzi), Isoble (Trilby Glover), Kandi (Jessica Marais), Ryan (Nathaniel Buzolic), Nelson (Luke Carroll), and Jed (Khan Chittenden). A lawyer comes to visit Ben, bringing him a package which was discovered in his late father's possessions. It's a box which is labeled "La Vadou Mort". Ben takes this to Professor Banyon (Jane Badler), who explains that the device looks like one of the torture devices from The Grand Guignol. Ben isn't impressed by this and is considering selling the box when it disappears from his room. The next night, Ryan is found dead, covered in cuts. Ben's estranged brother, Marcus (Travis Fimmel), a crime scene photographer, arrives to document the crime. He and Ben have an awkward reunion, which is quickly put aside, as another of Ben's friends is found dead. Ben and Marcus begin to suspect that the box may be involved in these deaths and the investigate its origin and its link to their father.

Needle falls into a horror sub-genre I like to think of as the "supernatural slasher". As with a slasher film, a group of individuals are stalked and dispatched one-by-one by an unknown killer. However, the killer uses a supernatural power in order to perform the murders, thus moving the film away from reality. The movie reminded me of Urban Legend, with the group of college friends dying in mysterious ways, combined with something like A Nightmare on Elm Street, where characters are killed by a seemingly invisible assailant while others watch.

The issue with Needle is that it doesn't seem to have any high aspirations. I can't say that I've ever seen this exact movie, but Needle certainly contains a lot of familiar elements, beyond those listed above. The mysterious package from a deceased relative, the estranged family member, the group of college friends, the mysterious professor, etc. Having said that, the movie does try to do some unique things. For once, the characters are all likable, or at least bland enough for us to not hate them. So often, these movies go out of their way to have characters who are such jerks that we can't wait for them to die. The other interesting part of the movie is "La Vadou Mort". Not unlike "The Lament Configuration" in Hellraiser, this is an interesting prop which deserves more attention.

The movie takes these various elements and does very little with them. Needle falls into the wishy-washy category of horror movies which aren't awful, but they're not very impressive either. The movie is well-made in the sense that it has a nice look (and is never cheap looking) and the acting is above par. (However, the movie can't seem to make up its mind whether or not the characters should have Australian accents.) However, the story is never gripping, beyond the audience wanting to learn more about "La Vadou Mort". The movie's mixture of slasher movie, supernatural thriller, and detective piece never really gels. The most glaring error comes when one approaches the movie as a murder-mystery. When the killer is revealed, it wasn't a Scream 3 "Who is that?" reaction. It was more like "How could we have known it was them?" This kind of finale is always deflating and makes the ending all the more forgettable.

Needle marks the solo directorial debut for John V. Soto (who also co-wrote the movie) and he shows some promise. We've had some quality horror movies come out of Australia in the past and maybe the time is right for a resurgence from Down Under. But, maybe next time Soto should let me name the movie. Long live "Voodoo Box"!

Needle proves that you should never hide a family heirloom under your desk on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing basically no grain and no defects from the source material. For a DVD, the depth is pretty clear, as the actors are clearly separated from the backgrounds. The colors look good and the daytime shots have a good crispness to them. However, some of the nighttime scenes are too dark. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a surprisingly powerful track which displays "oomph" even at low volume. The subwoofer effects are nearly constant, punctuating musical cues and the action. These same musical moments play well through the surround channels. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and show good separation.

The Needle DVD contains only two extras. "Stitching It Together: The Making of Needle" (24 minutes) is a detailed, yet pretty straightforward featurette. We get interviews with Soto and the cast. Soto discusses the origin of the story, while each cast member talks about their character. From there, the piece examines the film's production, providing a nice amount of on-set footage. The shot finishes up with an examination of the special effects makeup. The other extra is the TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long