Written and Directed by: Jay Woelful
Starring: Aimee Brooks, Damian Maffei, and Joe Unger
Reviewed by: Brett G.
Welcome to the carnival of fear...
There really should be more horror films centered around people getting stuck in amusement parks; somehow, places like camps and college campuses became breeding grounds for murder and mutilation multiple times over, but funhouses and whatnot are few and far between. Off the top of my head I can only think of (obviously) The Funhouse (which isn’t very good), Dark Ride (which I kind of liked), and Ghoulies II (which I had to be reminded of on Twitter). There's also stuff like Freaks, Carnival of Souls, Nightmare City, and Zombieland that have featured such settings. At any rate, these places offer such a multitude of possibilities in terms of creative set-pieces, so I’m not sure why they’ve never been explored more. The latest film to give it a shot is Closed for the Season, which is unfortunately one of the few good things I can say about it.
From what I can gather (and easily summarize), it’s about a guy (Damien Maffei) and a girl (Aimee Brooks) who get trapped in this old, abandoned amusement park they once frequented as kids. She once left a toy bear there, and he actually lived on the grounds as the son of the park’s caretakers. Well, until their house burned down and they died, thanks to some hare-brained scheme dreamed up from his wheelchair-bound friend, who got paralyzed when a carny tossed him off of the roller coaster (!) and impaled him on a spike down below. Anyway, they’re stuck there, and weird shit starts happening--that same, mysterious carny keeps popping up, and all of the bizarre, lurid legends surrounding the park come to life to torment them.
I’m pretty sure I know what kind of movie Jay Woelful was shooting for here--some kind of dream-like tale of nostalgia and delirium set against a ghost story, with some sort of propulsion of mystery. The signs are all there, but the final product plays like someone playing their cards close to their chest. Actually, it’d be more accurate to say Woelful has buried his cards into his pockets and seemingly lost them himself because Closed for the Season basically amounts to nearly 2 hours worth of aimless wandering, tedious events, and repetitive fake-outs. It took nearly half an hour before I could really make heads or tails of what was going on (and even then, I probably only figured out one side of the coin because the film is that oblique). Random events occur--a guy is run over by machinery, then another guy is impaled on a tree, then suddenly a crocodile pops up and starts tearing off limbs. In retrospect, this sounds like pretty awesome stuff, and it would be if the flick didn’t manage to be so uninteresting and without purpose.
Closed for the Season reveals itself as a one-trick pony early and often as it assaults you with lame characters who are too oblivious to pick up on the obvious. Nearly the entire flick goes by before they realize they might be caught up in something vaguely supernatural. Never mind the fact that the park is practically the second coming of Gozer in the sense that everything they dream up suddenly springs to life and tries to kill them--only it doesn’t because every time something seemingly horrific happens, the film takes it back, smiles wryly, and says “gotcha.” After two or three times, you want to do what you’d naturally do to an asshole who cries wolf: punch him square in the face. Lest I continue to pummel you with terrible clichés and analogies, let me say that the film (very) occasionally features some nice photography and atmosphere. The introductory sequences particularly ground you in this spooky ghost town of an amusement park that recalls something out of a Silent Hill video game.
But the film betrays this pretty often with some low-rent filter effects that render scenes ugly, and this is not to mention the really poor CGI during a few sequences. One of these features an unfortunate combination of computer renderings and green screen work featuring a roller coaster; speaking of video games, the roller coaster here appeared to be constructed out of classier version of those PC games where you construct your own coasters. Oddly enough, the cheapness of it all somehow contributed to the nightmarish quality of the scene; if that was intentional, then kudos, because it was legitimately bizarre. Another thing to note is Joe Unger as the carny, a sadistic but hilariously lewd individual who seems to embrace the silliness of the movie; you’ll actually recognize him as one of those guys you’ve seen in a bunch of movies in bit roles (Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 being noteworthy).
Meanwhile, our protagonists sleepwalk through the proceedings, probably because they don’t really have much to do but exchange tiresome dialogue that constantly has them exchanging childhood memories of the park. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Aimee Brooks also looked vaguely familiar the whole time; it turns out she’s the little girl from Critters 3, and she’s all grown up (something the carny loves to point out). Occasionally, time is taken out for the characters to engage in gobs of exposition wherein the script hints that some sort of intelligence is guiding this film. If anything, it feels like it wants to lead somewhere, but it never does; instead, the film further deteriorates into a series of lame twists and even lamer platitudes. Apparently, it wants to say something about stories and storytelling, but I’m not quite sure what it’s trying to articulate. And since it wasted nearly 2 hours of my life awkwardly stammering, I find it hard to meet it halfway. Ultimately, I just couldn’t find a point in most of the events. You can give it a shot yourself when MTI releases it on DVD later this month, which will feature a commentary, 2 documentary tours of the theme park, webisodes, deleted scenes, and trailers. This is one dull park that needs to stay boarded up and condemned, though; its funhouse of weird stuff just isn’t compelling without a real narrative to connect it all. Trash it!
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