Dir. Michael A. Nickles
Five years after being convicted for the abuse of a minor, Leonard Karlsson (Jeremy Fitzgerald) is released from prison bearing a hideously disfigured face; the result of sadistic beatings administered by fellow prisoners. Hell-bent on extracting brutal vengeance on the twelve jury members responsible for his incarceration, he returns to the remote Arizona desert town in which his trial was held. One by one, he abducts and sadistically slaughters the jurors…
Opening with a rapidly edited montage under the credits detailing Karlsson’s alleged crimes, subsequent imprisonment and torture at the hands of his fellow prisoners, XII begins proper with a shockingly brutal murder that seems to come out of nowhere, involving a newly wed couple, a shotgun and a lone desert highway. From here we’re introduced to FBI Agent Naughton, who is hot on the trail of a bizarre serial killer making his way across the country, abducting people and skinning their faces. We catch a glimpse of the killer’s handiwork when Naughton examines the body of the unfortunate bride from the previous scene. So far so good, XII hits the ground running and looks set to maintain its course. A number of other characters, including waitresses Claire (Emily Hardy) and Vicki (Vanessa McNab), are introduced and we’re given a snapshot of their humdrum lives in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. We also find out they are desperate to go and make new lives for themselves in the city because it’s all they talk about, and that Agent Naughton is a family man, because he talks to his young daughter on the phone loads.
The characters are fleshed out by a number of reliable actors, including Nick Searcy as down-trodden Officer Kent. Newcomer Emily Hardy provides a convincing performance of an at times infuriatingly weak character. Sure, this is the whole point – all Final Girls must go through the metamorphosis of victim to survivor - but Claire is just such an infuriating, wet blanket of a girl throughout. More convincing of a young woman with the balls to make a stand and defend herself when a killer comes calling is Vikki, played by Mercedes McNab with a dry, delightfully acerbic wit. Having the members of a jury as the film’s victims not only ensures a pre-destined body count – the ‘twelve’ of the title – but also provides a more engaging ‘fodder list’ than the usual bunch of randy teens heading to an isolated backwoods cabin to party.
Another interesting, though unfortunately underdeveloped idea is the central premise of someone extracting revenge on the jury responsible for his imprisonment. This group of people are being ‘punished’ as a result of their civic duty. They were only attempting to be responsible citizens. Is this perhaps a sideswipe at a culture resigned to shoot first and ask questions later; a culture in which the accused are already believed guilty before considered innocent? Who knows? These ideas are left on the back burner in favour of gratuitous, though admittedly very effective, scenes of torture and flaying.
XII is a mildly thrilling tale that while effectively put together, often lacks the real tension it could have mustered had it not stuck so rigidly to convention. Despite pulling a ‘Psycho’ by offing a character that was set up as the protagonist early on, it’s just too predictable. In its favour though are buckets of atmosphere and decently realised ‘Texas Chainsaw’ visuals – all harsh, amber-hued and burnished landscapes, bright blue skies and sunspots on the camera lens – courtesy of director of photography, Mark Petersen. The genuinely unsettling score courtesy of Tim Montijo and grimy Hooper-esque production design by Daniel Gomme also enhances the sinister, unsavoury moodiness of events.
An average slasher adequately executed. Sorry.