T-SHIRTS OF DEATH

As a kid I hated sudden bangs—hated them. No amount of explanation that everyone else was equally as startled would stop me losing my mind on fireworks night or any balloon-riddled birthday celebration. One of my earliest memories is ruining some kind of swimming gala by having a Damien-level tantrum because a starting pistol had the audacity to go off while I was in the building. My mother says it was instigated by me sitting on a balloon—which promptly went bang—as a tiny idiot. If you’ve got a fear, everyone knows you’ve got to overcompensate. And overcompensate I did via a lifelong preoccupation with cinematic carnage.

But Russian roulette scenes still make me sweat. It’s the guaranteed mark of a crazy film character—there’s some staggeringly obvious examples out there, but Geoffrey Lewis’s character in the underrated ‘Way of the Gun’ gets an effective debut playing the game. It gets under my skin. As a six-year old I recall hearing about Jon-Erik Hexum dying after playing around with a gun loaded with blanks and I became grimly fascinated. The recent bizarre footage of a guest being brain-damaged at a Russian wedding during an impromptu game that utlilised rubber bullets had me ruminating on the topic too. It beats Chris de Burgh and rope lights, but it was still an unfortunate move.

When my friend and trusted source of cinematic recommendations, Calum, put me onto a French film called ’13’ (which is more commonly known as ’13 Tzameti’) a few years back that contained something so grim that reviewers merely alluded to an unfortunate situation, I took the tip seriously. He was pretty wild-eyed about the movie and rightly so. Using a microbudget, local actors, family members and making good use of gloomy black and white plus some hugely imaginative touches, Géla Babluani made a classic bad-choice thriller that’s one of the most intense films ever, laden with hairpin trigger tension. And everyone knows that a good foreign language film means a minority view that’s ripe for a US remake. Sad but true.

But wait! The American ’13’ has Géla behind the camera too! How can it go wrong? Never forget that George Sluizer was responsible for the awful 1993 revisitation of his masterpiece, ‘The Vanishing.’ Then the concern begins. ’13’ isn’t a terrible movie by any means, but it makes a point of justifying the existence of a slew of familiar faces with back stories that split the narrative from the original’s cold jumpiness. Another wasted Mickey Rourke convict role feels like ‘Iron Man II’ overspill, 50 Cent is predictably bad and Jason Statham is no fun when he’s not walloping bad guys—instead he’s scowling, growling and wearing a pork pie hat here…because he’s British and that’s expected of him. Michael Shannon is an annoying ringleader who contorts his body and face, shrieking his way through the murderous proceedings. Even Sam Riley’s innocent who made a dodgy decision becomes less sympathetic too early on.

Inevitably, Ben Gazzara is excellent and Ray Winstone’s angry turn works in the high tension surroundings. Chuck Zito is a welcome face, just because he seems like the sort of man who would attend a real-world clubhouse in the vein of ’13’, but when you know the faces in the room, a fair proportion of the fear is distilled. The film switches between quiet contemplation, bickering and the main event; headshot by headshot, and it’s a bore. The final act is stretched out to tearing point too. If you’ve never watched the original, you might enjoy the remake, but the inconsistent pacing gives you too much time to trip in the plotholes where its predecessor never let you exhale enough to stumble.

At least the redux makes good use of that chilling circle of lost souls stood gazing at a lightbulb (now with added spider logo). It’s an arresting visual, but it’s the custom t-shirts for each unfortunate participant (presumably debtors, addicts and suicidal types) that make the most impact. The jagged duct-taped numbers on t-shirts are retained. Of course, if some won’t survive the first round, and if brain matter is flying through the air, there’s no point getting a shirt custom-printed, though the tapers kindly put a smaller chest number on too. It’s a striking image that captures the anonymity and disposability of these human lives, but it looks very, very cool indeed. In the new film it’s grey on a black shirt. In 2005 it was black tape on a grey marl shirt. The original wins again. But as Miss Claw Money agrees, someone needs to remake the tees in an official capacity with optional bloodstains…the nihilistic aesthetic is amazing.

The first stylist to arm thirteen models and kit them out in thirteen hastily numbered styles of grey tee or sweatshirt, gets my full, undying respect. Live ammo is optional…but preferable.

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