Director – Scott Reynolds
Cast – Paolo Rotondo, Rebecca Hobbs, Paul Glover, Christopher Graham, Roy Ward, Cath McWhirter, Caelem Pope, Sam Wallace
Release Year – 1997
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I knew little about this film going into it other than it involved a serial killer, is a New Zealand film, and delved into psychological horror. Serial killer films have always interested me, so I really expected to enjoy this one despite its low appreciation in the genre despite some positive ratings from other big horror sites, and after viewing this low-budget effort I must concur that this film is truly deserving of more exposure. Thanks much to a great, well-crafted story and superb direction, The Ugly is possibly the best non-Peter Jackson(Dead Alive, Bad Taste) New Zealand horror film, and one of the best overall horror flicks of the 1990s.
Simon Cartwright is a former serial killer who has spent the last six years of his life in a mental facility after confessing to his numerous crimes. Dr. Karen Schumaker, a popular psychologist known for her dealings with serial killers has acquired permission to take Simon under her wing towards rehabilitation. She gets Simon to slowly divulge details regarding the source of his love to kill, as well as the passion behind his killings, but the closer she comes to finding the truth behind this madman, the closer she comes to becoming his next victim.
From the get-go the film’s very low budget was made obvious to me, and I was unsure how this would turn out when that became apparent to me. Thankfully, writer/director Scott Reynolds proves his supreme worth as a filmmaker by doing much with what little he had to work with, and this being his first full-length film only proves that even more.
His screenplay is what really sold me, expertly bringing his awesome storyline to life with clever elements and much character development that had me consistently engaged throughout its 93 minute runtime. The idea of a psychologist/psychiatrist/social-whatever trying to gain information and learn from a seasoned serial killer is not a new idea, but great writing execution and unique ideas lead to an engaging storyline based off of an old idea. The first act is short, developing the atmosphere Simon is forced to live in as he must deal with the facility’s shady lead-psychologist and his two moronic orderlies who are not only extremely childish but appear to have not bathed in weeks. The second half is where things get going, as Dr. Schumaker looks to extend her popularity and once again further her career with the aid of another serial killer while apparently trying to “help” Simon as well. As the engagement between the two gets going we are bombarded with constant flashbacks regarding the reasoning behind Simon’s crimes as well as the finer details, providing awesome character development that continues to grow when we are taken back to present day, then back to a flashback, and so forth for the remainder of the second act. Reynolds’ ideas regarding Simon’s past are incredible, and while somewhat simple in nature he sells each of the age-related developments with great writing and makes Simon one of the better and most enjoyable serial killers I have ever seen. Watching him snap was tremendous, and while he was not a cannibal or anything “cool” like that he an outright psycho who developed an urge to kill at a young age, and became very darn good at it. Of course, tensions between Simon and Dr. Schumaker eventually arise, with each party believing that they are playing the other, making for an awesome somewhat cat-and-mouse game going on, that really is not “going on”, per say. While I loved the second act and felt that it alone sells the film, I did find some concern regarding it. This is not necessarily a fault, but what stuck out to me was that the second act ran nearly an hour long, which is surprising given the film’s 93 minute runtime. The first act was short, which I found OK, however the third act was very short as well, consisting of only the final 15 minutes or so of the film. Some may find this a bit anti-climactic, and I cannot argue with that. However, the third act consisted of nothing but brilliant material that ultimately resulted in a very satisfying climax, so I must applaud Reynolds for giving us an unconventional writing method that worked in his favor.
Reynolds’ direction equally sold the film as much as his writing did, and he expertly executed every possible element to near perfection. The atmosphere yet provides everything needed to sell the film’s dark and gloomy tone, and the sets used, albeit simple, did more than enough to give us the visuals required to “feel” the story. His execution of the horror is fantastic, and his usage of Simon, awesomely portrayed by an inexperienced Paolo Rotondo, was superb on every level. His acting during the calm scenes with Dr. Schumaker sold him as a killer holding much back, and the scenes involving the horror he faced and eventually delivered himself were incredible and left em wondering why he has not given us another horror effort in over a decade. The rest of the performances were mostly positive, however the execution of the two orderlies left me confused due to how unorthodox they were. We do get a fair amount of gore in this watch, however be prepared for loads of blood in a color that is not red, and while this itself was also unorthodox I found it tasteful and in fact it was reminiscent of the world that Simon lives in, and was therefore appropriate.
Overall, The Ugly is a great horror film that gives us a fantastic experience despite low-budget woes thanks to a superb screenplay and equally awesome direction from writer/director Scott Reynolds. Fans of psychological horror and serial killers should definitely give this one a watch and be amazed how talent outweighs a low-budget every time. Highly recommended.