Home Video Hovel: The Mask, by Tyler Smith
Julian Roffman’s The Mask is the kind of simple concept that I enjoy in a horror movie. An archeologist unearths an ancient cursed mask that drives anybody that wears it insane. The simplicity of the story allows the director tremendous freedom to ramp up the style and atmosphere. And Roffman does do this, but forgets that a story being simple doesn’t give the filmmaker permission to neglect it completely.
The acting is fine, as we are treated to one character after another faced with the standard Jeckyll-and-Hyde dilemma; once they put on the mask, they experience strange and horrifying nightmares. When they wake up, they find that a terrible murder has been committed and they might be the culprit. The histrionics that the actors engage in is appropriate for a film like this, which will often try to make up for its lack of budget with unbridled enthusiasm.
The nightmare sequences are easily the best thing in the film. The worlds created – while obviously sound stages – are just surreal enough to feel like an actual nightmare. Nothing makes sense when the characters are in the throes of these horrible dreams; a forest can become a cave, which will then morph into a sacrificial ceremony. And each setting and its inhabitants are outsized and grotesque. While the gold standard for recreating the non-reality of a nightmare is still Mulholland Drive, Julian Roffman’s efforts are impressive and appreciated.
It is in these dream sequences that we are instructed to put on our 3-D glasses, which only serve to enhance the intangible quality of what we are seeing. While there are moments when things jump off the screen, the 3-D is used primarily to create a sense of depth; to give us the feeling that we could step into this strange world if we wanted to. The 3-D effects are fairly rudimentary, but they do what they are supposed to do, which is further increase our wariness during these odd sequences.
The problem with The Mask is that the nightmare sequences are so fully realized that the rest of the film begins to pale in comparison. While the actors try their best to keep us invested, it begins to feel as though the director himself isn’t really that interested in the real world anymore; only the nightmares. Perhaps this is by design, as the characters themselves begin to obsess over the dreamworld and ignore reality. If this is what Roffman is trying to accomplish, I applaud him. But it is a bit of a tightrope to express that mentality while nonetheless keeping all aspects of the film interesting; and I’m sorry to say that the balance is never struck and the director too often makes it clear what he finds most intriguing about the film he’s making.
In the end, though, The Mask still contains some fascinating imagery. And it has just enough B-level horror elements to intrigue hardcore horror fans. And while significant portions of the film drag, the moments that grab us are so effective that it’s worth putting in the effort the rest of the time. If you do so, you will be rewarded with an imperfect film that has been largely forgotten, but deserves to be rediscovered by fans of the genre.