Robert Weinbach and Brian Harper
Danielle Harris as Wendy Allen
John Jarratt as The Griffin
Casper Van Dien as Detective Delgado
A killer calling himself ‘the Griffin’, kills young women and chops off select body parts – usually heads – for exhibition in his collection. With piano wire wrapped around a victim’s neck, he forces her to express how powerful and godlike he is to behold, before pulling it tight – crushing her trachea. The evidence suggests that he has sex with the corpse before removing the body part to add to his collection. Yet, his latest potential victim is not like the others and just before he can strangle her, she stabs him in the thigh – seemingly nicking an artery. Exhilarated by her spirit, the Griffin may have found the one he has been searching for – the one he intends to spend his life with as man and (living) wife.
The originality in Shiver (2013) lies in its lack of Hollywood embellishment. The Griffin is an overweight middle-aged man with sexual inadequacy issues. Although somewhat predictable in true-to-life serial killers, he is not the average slasher we encounter on the big screen. The depth of his pathology is illustrated in an extended scene in which he attempts to get along with Wendy as her husband. He yearns for love, but his concept of it is pieced together from second-hand information and clichés about relationships – resulting in an awkward and hackneyed outpouring that he expects her to reciprocate. Yet even though he wants to feel in love, he cannot control his baser sexual fantasies (depicted in brief flashes), which he partially realizes with the heads of those he killed and hopefully in actuality with Wendy.
Yet, this otherwise compelling, if somewhat mundane, portrayal of a serial killer is the only part of this movie that can’t be duplicated by fishing around in a septic tank for lumpy, stinky objects.
The acting confuses more than suspends disbelief. Characters display ‘shock’, when they are attempting to portray ‘concern’, or ‘surprise’ instead of ‘excitement’. Even though there are some B-movie names in the cast that have risen to the occasion in other films, in Shiver they sink to the level of mediocrity that the casting director seems to have demanded. Wendy – the female protagonist – often seems like she’s caught in a colorless haze of monotone expressions no matter how pressing the situation. The cops are not only too stupid to protect her, but cannot even muster action movie levels of dramatic expression.
To be fair, even Daniel Day Lewis would be hard-pressed to make the clichéd and poorly constructed dialogue seem believable. Yet, better dialogue would not save this one from an all too clichéd plotline. The Griffin fixates on Wendy and pursues her to no end. Once he has her, it’s a race against time. Can the cops get to her before it’s too late?
Yet those accustomed to the formulaic drivel Hollywood churns out, sometimes forget that ‘tiresomely predictable’ is not as low as writing can go. Fortunately, Shiver gives audiences a badly-needed reminder with a plotline pock-marked with hole after hole at the macro and micro levels. Among the more glaring: Despite suffering a quite severe (especially given the blood that flowed) stab to the thigh, the Griffin seems fine in the next shot. No limp. No blood. But the indestructibility of the male protagonists is not just confined to the killer, but also the lead investigator, who jumps up immediately after being shot in the chest. He is wearing a Kevlar vest, but even those who have only seen a couple cop shows know that a shot to the chest at a minimum knocks the wind out of you. More irksome still is Wendy’s inability to recognize the Griffin, when he disguises himself as a police officer, despite having already eluded him twice and listening to him whisper in her ears after several minutes of being pressed against his fat belly.
Like the broader plot, the action sequences – mostly Wendy struggling with the Griffin – are similarly unbelievable and poorly choreographed. The Griffin inexplicably takes long pauses during struggles – allowing Wendy to take the advantage – despite his intentions to the contrary, resulting in blow-for-blow scenes just as unbelievable as so many other aspects of this narrative. Although the kill scenes follow a similar course, the kill moments are not bad and even above average – with generous amounts of believably graphic gore. Yet, even these brief gasps of fresh air in the midst of an otherwise overwhelming stench are difficult to appreciate, as the ‘90s B-action-movie music sucks any enjoyment out of such moments and reminds viewers that they are still stuck in a pile of human excrement.
Bottom Line: Some interesting story points are drowned by a tidal wave sewage, in the guise of plot, dialogue, acting, etc…