Friday, 26 November 2010

Little Erin Merryweather

2003
Dir. David Morwick

The grisly murders of several students at a quiet college campus tie in with recent sightings of a red-hooded figure creeping around the local woods. Student Peter Bloom decides to investigate, and before long realises that the killer, who has a connection to the school library, is also obsessed with fairytales. Peter must act quickly to figure out the bizarre modus operandi and stop the killer before she strikes again…

'A flash of red... Then you're dead.'

I bought Little Erin Merryweather for £1 in a local discount shop. I wasn’t really expecting much; so was pleasantly surprised when it actually turned out to be not half bad. It’s not a great film, but it has its fair share of interesting moments and startling imagery. And it was £1.

An intriguing opening sets the fairytale-image drenched scene, as a young college student is lured into the woods by a mysterious figure in a red cape, only to be set upon and gutted. Even though we don’t see the act, the utilisation of queasy sound effects leaves little to the imagination. The red-caped figure and snow-covered woods ensure the fairytale connotations practically drip off the screen…

"Licking his paws after his last sin,
He foolishly threw caution to the wind:
See how simple it is to creep,
When playing this game of hide and seek?

Slice the belly – what did she see?
Not a trace of father; completely empty.
She gave him his fill, though not so clever,
To make him a prisoner in his garden forever
…"


The tale of Red Riding Hood has been adapted and reinterpreted for film before, in titles such as Freeway, the forthcoming Red Riding Hood and The Company of Wolves. It has often been interpreted as the documentation of the blossoming of female sexuality – the big bad wolf standing in for (aggressive) male desire; innocence encountering primal, guttural lust. Angela Carter ain’t got nothin’ on me. Little Erin Merryweather updates the tale to feature Red Riding Hood as a serial killer with severe psychological hang-ups originating from her molestation as a child. The 'big bad wolf' in her past, being her father. As fucked up as it sounds, the film is fairly subtle in its approach to these themes, with flashbacks depicting the girl’s abuse leaning on suggestiveness rather than crass explicitness. Indeed, the flashbacks have a strangely giallo-esque feel to them, with an emphasis on nursery rhymes and disturbing children’s drawings exhibiting an obsession with ‘dirty handed men.’


All grown up now, Erin Merryweather is a timid university librarian by day, and a frenzied, red-hooded and be-caped slasher villain by night. She begins offing the male populace on campus when memories of her childhood are triggered – mainly when she encounters men with dirty hands. And as bad luck would have it, the guys on this campus obviously need to brush up on basic hygiene… Leading the tender-footed investigation, as the cops seem as inept as most horror movie cops, are student Peter Bloom (writer/director David Morwick) and student reporters Sean and Teddy (Marcus BonnĂ©e and Brandon Johnson). When they realise the killer’s calling card is filling the stomachs of her victims with stones, they begin to uncover an unhealthy obsession with fairytales that may help them solve the case. Luckily they have their gravel-voiced lecturer Dr Paula Sheffield (Elizabeth Callahan) on hand to prompt debate and tell them to fuck off to the library and do some research. Turns out she’s a former criminal psychologist. Natch. Being students and prone to intellectual debate, various scenes feature conversations about trauma, deviant behaviour, childhood and debates about when victims become victimisers… This all of course ties in with the murder mystery at the heart of the film.


The fairytale images that pepper the narrative are as striking as you’d expect – a discarded broken doll here, a shock of blood or a red cape on white snow there. Despite the low budget the film looks rather beautiful, and it often feels much older than it actually is. And then there are the sketches drawn by the titular character – Grimm-like illustrations that give us a further peek into her warped mindset. Murderous Erin is portrayed sympathetically by stage actress Vigdis Anholt. At times she seems to be a little girl trapped in a woman’s body; at other times she is revealed to be manipulative and obviously unhinged. The script often calls for her to be the ‘weird girl’ on campus, and she can usually be seen skulking about in a red cloak and acting all ‘mysterious,’ i.e. wide-eyed and distant. Anholt’s big expressive eyes, conviction to the role and steadfastness in avoiding obvious histrionics ensure the audience feel sympathy for the disturbed and pathetic Erin.


What sets Little Erin Merryweather apart from many recent horrors is the lack of female protagonists (aside from our villainess and the gravel-voiced lecturer). Also unexpected is the unveiling of the killer at the beginning of the film, stripping many of the later events of any tension or mystery. We know who the killer is, why she kills; but we have to wait until the characters figure out what we know, in order for the action to move forward. Maybe this is tension. Maybe not. Morwick makes a number of strange choices – not all of which are successful – though he seems to be making them in an attempt to subvert convention, and his flashes of creativity aren’t restricted by the often workmanlike story or plot developments. While events verge on the ludicrous, his competent direction keeps things ticking over just enough to retain your attention – even if you do see what’s coming from a mile off. This isn’t your average straight to DVD slasher movie though.


A strikingly shot, if somewhat by-the-numbers thriller that is elevated from the doldrums by a dedicated cast and intriguing premise.

9 comments:

Cody said...

Another great review. I wasn't really impressed with this when I saw it, but I did love the fairy tale elements. I guess I was expecting a lot because of the whole "Single Best Horror Movie" of the year quote on the front.

Aaron said...

Nice! This isn't a movie that I see talked about very often. I pretty much agree with you all the way, it's not a great movie, but a tad bit above average compared to a lot of the more recent slashers. I watched this one early last year when I was on this weird fucked-up-fairytale adaptation kick. I was really surprised by it, but not completely blown away. I liked the little homage to THE BURNING (and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V) with the garden sheers. And, as you pointed out, it was interesting to see the roles reversed with a group of men being stalked by a female killer.

James said...

@Cody "Single Best Horror Movie" was a bit of an overstatement, wasn't it?

@Aaron There were a couple of nice little homages throughout, dude. During role-call Dr Paula asks if Nancy Loomis is present... That made me smile.

Maybe I should get out more. ;)

Cody said...

A little bit, yeah.

I forgot about the Nancy Loomis thing!

Did you change the look of the site? I like it.

James said...

I sure did. Though I'm not sure I like it so much...

Mykal said...

James: As often happens, you've managed to interest me in another film I would have otherwise not put in the que - which is the mark of a good review - and a good writer.

I miss the old banner and the older (and darker) look of the blog. Normally I keep my opinions about such things to myself, but since you breached the topic. Please feel free to tell me to sod off (is this the correct Irish/British expression?).

James said...

Thanks Mykal, I appreciate that! I also appreciate your comments about the new 'look.' I'm not sure about it either - I also miss the darker look, but can't seem to revert back to that old style now that I've updated the blogger templates.

Will probably play around with it a bit more. Idle hands and all that!

I hope you are well - and I'd never dream of telling you to sod off! (correct expression, indeed).

:)

Aaron said...

I like the new look a lot better than the last one, James. If you want the old school template, let me know. I have it saved, so I can e-mail it to you if you want.

James said...

Cheers Aaron!
And yeah, I'll message you me email address on FB - would be good to have a look at the blog using the old template. Thanks again! Appreciate your help. :)