Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) feels like an earnest effort by screenwriters Dan Harry and Michael Dougherty (X2, Superman Returns, Trick 'R Treat) to take the standard Urban Legends [UL] premise of another school traumatized by killer whose style is remotely tied to popular urban legends, and reconfigure the film formula into a mystery scenario, with nods to other sequels derivative of their originals, as well as evoke the tone of eighties slasher films.
One is initially led to believe the reason the spirit of a murdered high school girl (Mary Banner) comes to town decades after her death in 1969 and starts killing a peer pressure clique is due to her name being uttered three times by Samantha Owens (Kate Mara) during a sleepover, but even her friends mock the Bloody Mary legend by comparing it to the plot of Candyman (1992), a film where a grim reaper appears and kills with his hooked arm.
The initial explanation as to why Mary’s restless spirit comes to town stems from her alleged sympathy for Samantha, because like Mary, Samantha and her friends were drugged and taken to a remote location as a prank by football jocks – the only difference is that Mary’s friends were raped, and Mary herself was knocked out and locked in a trunk to die.
One would have to presume Mary kills pranksters and potential rapists each year at Salt Lake City high schools, but her sudden appearance is actually tied to exacting revenge on the children of her tormentors from 1969. The deaths include roasting in a tanning bed (done better in Final Destination 3) as well as a pustule on a cheek bursting with myriad lethal spiders (a grotesquerie borrowed from The Believers), and the mystery element is somewhat related to UL2: an adult among the faculty in 2005 may be Mary’s killer, and only the lone survivor of that night from ’69 can identify him.
Is it the coach (played by former Michael Myers actor Don Shanks)? Is it Samantha’s stepdad (Ed Marinaro) whom neither she nor twin brother David (Robert Vito) like? And doesn’t the whole plot sound like a grafting from the far more enjoyable Canadian slasher Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)?
To keep some semblance of continuity within the UL franchise, UL2 is overtly referenced is in a throwaway library scene where Samantha discovers newspaper reports of a film school teacher who went mad – and that’s it. The UL franchise isn’t particularly good, but what distinguished prior efforts was a sense of fun, and an urgency that stems from a simpler and linear threat, whereas UL3 is just a clumsy jumble.
UL3 may have had a chance at being marginally watchable, but the film’s chief flaw is director Mary Lambert, who directs each scene with extraordinary dullness. With the exception of a few tracking shots, most of the visuals are static, and any shocks come from tiresome flash edits goosed with sound effects and score stabs. The shock ‘flashbacks’ are scattered throughout the film with little purpose, and merely confuse the narrative by inferring Samantha has some psychic link to Mary, and how Samantha sees increasingly detailed visions of how Mary was killed. Moreover, unlike an audience, Samantha never really grasps the meaning of her visions, and the whole portents of future deaths is expanded to include the lone survivor from ’69 who’s been painting imminent deaths with striking accuracy (an idea better handled in the TV series Heroes).
Lambert directs the film like a recent film school grad whose first gig is a banal TV movie. There’s no sense of location, no use of the mountains for atmosphere, no care into crafting kinetic kill scenes, and whole sequences are often connected with one or two quick cutaways to a moving car (since the heroine spends a lot of time driving back and forth between the film’s main locations).
The score by Jeff Rona and Scooter Pitsch is moody but generic, and Ian Fox’ cinematography feels hindered by a director with no visual sense – pretty surprising, given Lambert’s career began with iconic music videos for Madonna, and includes the cult films Siesta (1989) and Pet Sematary (1989).
Even for UL fans, Bloody Mary is a complete waste of time.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan