Home Video Hovel- 11-11-11, by Kyle Anderson
It will come as a surprise to few of you to know that I have a weird fondness for bad movies. I feel that there are things to learn from most films, even the ones that fail spectacularly. This is not to say I enjoy bad movies, but often you have to sift through the sulfur to find the sugar. That being said, I had heard nothing but awful things about Darren Lynn Bousman’s 11-11-11, not to be confused with 11/11/11, the direct-to-DVD film released around the same time that by all accounts is worse. I remember the trailer for Bousman’s film and it seeming, if not compelling, at least interesting, but very soon the reviews started appearing online and saying it was terrible. When it came time to review the DVD release of the film, which is out this week, I hunkered down to watch what I expected to be utter garbage. Even the critical blurbs on the package didn’t leave me with a lot of hope. “Has the power to unnerve you” said someone named Ramius Scythe from a publication known as Horror Chronicles and the backhanded compliment of Fangoria.com’s Samuel Zimmerman who called it “The type of flawed gem horror fans are meant to cherish.” “Oh man,” thought I, “these were the best things they could say about it? This is going to be unbearable. At least it’s only 82 minutes.”
The film follows popular author Joseph Crone (Timothy Gibbs), who has recently lost his wife and son in a horrible house fire, as he struggles to look for meaning in his own life, despite being a staunch atheist. He gets word from his estranged brother Samuel (Michael Landes) that their father is on his death bed and would like to see Joseph before the end. Samuel and his father live in Barcelona and are the proprietors of a very small but loyal congregation in a quickly dilapidating church. Samuel is the preacher at this church and has a very specific, and liberal, interpretation of the bible. While there, Joseph begins seeing specific things in his life being tied to the number 11-11. His family died at 11:11pm, his mother died on November 11th in 1970, his recent car crash occurred at 11:11am, etc. The numbers keep appearing in his life. Making things eerier, the security camera footage from outside their house/church shows strange, ghostly presences at 11:11pm every night, for exactly one minute. Also, there’s a former parishioner who keeps trying to kill Samuel. Joseph becomes more and more convinced that the numbers are related to his father dying and his brother’s attacks and that the closer they get to 11:11pm on November 11, 2011, he will finally understand his purpose.
Now, before I go any further, it must be said that this movie is not any good at all. At 82 minutes, there’s hardly any time to get to know any of the characters and each scene seems to bleed into the next as if we’re seeing “previously on” footage before an episode of something. “Last time on 11-11-11.” Nothing is explained to any sort of satisfaction. There are demons or some sort of evil entity throughout the movie, but there are very few “scare” moments and the conspiracy that seems to be going on is so under the surface that when the big twist ending is revealed, and the obligatory series of flashbacks appear to show us what we should have known, it’s both obvious and uninteresting, mostly because it seems to come out of nowhere. The last 11 minutes (yes, it’s that specific) is when all the big stuff happens and it is pretty much the best stuff in the movie, from an emotional level, none of it really has an impact because we haven’t had time enough to care about the characters. While I’m not a fan of these movies, Darren Lynn Bousman did direct Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV, which, if nothing else, had pacing and moments of terror, albeit based on disgusting physical harm. This had none of that. It’s rated PG-13 for Pete’s sake. Not because things were watered down, but because nothing happened. Ultimately, I was bored. Bored and not scared, and that’s pretty much the kiss of death for a horror movie.
And so there I was, all ready to rip this movie a new one here in this review. But, because it’s a DVD review, I knew I couldn’t, in good conscience, start writing until I’d seen the special features. The box lists a Making-of featurette and deleted scenes. Easy. Turns out there was also a director and producer commentary, which I immediately dreaded because I knew I was going to have to watch the movie again. The deleted scenes are nothing really of interest and total about three minutes. I had expected more, considering all the websites listed the film’s running time at 90 minutes and not 82. I next watched the making-of which proved much more interesting than I had expected. Not necessarily for the filmmaking itself, but because it appears the big Spanish house in which most of the filming was done had a legend behind it, wherein a little girl was murdered and Eyes Wide Shut-style sex parties were frequent. Bousman tells stories of crewmembers becoming violently ill upon entering it and several people getting injured in strange ways. There were also hidden rooms they found while scouting that had occult markings on them, and they even found an altar in the deepest recesses of the house. There’s even footage of what appears to be a small girl looking out of one of the top floor windows while they were filming, which is pretty unnerving. Bousman also talked about how the 11:11 conspiracies depicted in the movie are real things, based on real urban legends and superstitions.
So that was fairly interesting, but then I listened to the commentary. I’m telling you guys, if you want to hear a commentary that accurately describes low-budget filmmaking and the pressures that come before and after, this is a must listen. Writer-director Bousman sits with his wife, producer Laura Bousman, and the two talk candidly about how difficult the film was to make for the miniscule budget they had, how nothing that was planned seemed to be doable due in part to the Spanish film industry’s 10 hour day, with a 20 minute sandwich time and a 90 minute lunch. He details how the contortionist demons he’d wanted ended up being mostly overweight extras in rubber masks. He talks about the critical hatred of the film and how most of that was from supposedly “professional” reviewers for reputable sites downloading an unfinished version of the film, without any special effects, ADR, or color-correcting. He also takes a lot of blame on himself for not writing a better script, for being too subtle when he should have been more explicit, and for saying “we’ll fix it in post” too many times. Bousman’s story, though rapid-fire thanks to his downing a Rock Star prior to recording, is deeply fascinating and is a cautionary tale for anyone attempting to make uber-low budget films.
So, I never thought I’d be saying this, but go rent the 11-11-11 DVD. Yes, the movie’s horrible, but if you’re interested in filmmaking you’ll probably find Darren Lynn Bousman’s commentary and making-of quite enlightening. It was a movie that by all accounts should have been a lot better than it was, but was just one of those Hollywood failures that. It turns out the movie made a huge amount of money overseas, where religious iconography holds much more clout, despite its bombing here in the US. While I haven’t really liked any of the Bousman movies I’ve seen, this has made me have huge amounts of respect for him.