We’ve all noticed the trend of home invasion thrillers ranging from stories of new houses haunted by paranormal activity to strangers wreaking havoc on suburbanites or campers in cabins. And usually in home invasion movies, loved ones must band together if they’re going to get through the night alive… unless you’re talking about the movie Scorned which offers up a new spin on the paradigm as a man is held hostage by the woman he brought up to his deserted vacation home for the weekend.
Although the romantic getaway begins innocently enough, things take a turn for the twisted following a romp in the lake when Billy Zane’s Kevin dutifully shed his clothes for his girlfriend Sadie (AnnaLynne McCord) to throw in the dryer, forgetting that his phone was in his pocket.
While this normally wouldn’t be a big deal, all it takes is a text message alert to go off when the phone is in his Sadie’s hands for her to discover that Kevin’s been carrying on an affair with Sadie’s best friend Jennifer (Viva Bianca) behind her back.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking – not only does Billy Zane always play a bad boyfriend but he always winds up in the water, following his breakthrough performance and blockbuster success in Dead Calm and Titanic respectively… but back to the movie.
As his beautiful tormentor, AnnaLynne McCord seems to relish in her Fatal Attraction meets Funny Games role as she holds Kevin hostage and following a phony series of text messages, does the same to Jennifer after luring her there to teach her betraying best friend a lesson.
But even though it’s trashy fun for a fleeting few minutes, the fast way that it moves from vengeful to psychosexual and exploitatively gratuitous – from threats of microwaving a dog to cutting hair, pulling teeth and more – is tough to take and any initial sympathy we had for Sadie goes out the window within seconds.
As if this isn’t enough, we’re given a bizarre, convenient B-movie plotline that would normally have been the A-story in a traditional horror movie as TV and radio bulletins chronicle an escaped convict from a local prison. And while I applaud the ambition of the screenwriters (Mark Jones and Sadie Katz) for building one paradigm on top of another, neither one is very effective in Scorned, save for its genre-obligatory open-ended gotcha ending.
While it’s a cheap manipulation to play the disability blame game as Sadie’s history of mental illness and history of institutionalization makes Scorned another entry in the very un-politically correct “beware the crazy person” subgenre rather than the terrifying rollercoaster of romantic obsession and revenge promised by the title, the trio of actors – McCord and Zane in particular, give it their all.
And although it’s a bit too convenient in the way that all of the various plot points all magically converge, Scorned is nonetheless buoyed by a far more successful third act than the film’s first two. Redeemed by a superb skin-crawling genre-salute end sequence that’s elevated by McCord’s sheer conviction as the scariest seductress this side of Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest, needless to say, unlike her onscreen alter ego, offscreen McCord’s phone will surely ring after this terrifying turn.
While it’s hard to imagine who would willingly want to sit through the whole thing from start to finish as the punishment goes far above and beyond any crime, by daring to go against audience expectation and audaciously experimenting with two classic horror plotlines (even if the results are less than stellar), it’s still a promising start for the screenwriters that makes me eager to see what they’ll do in their next feature.
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