2016. Directed by Rob Zombie.
Rob Zombie's newest feature is his best made film and a return to more grounded, grindhouse glory. Essentially an overflowing urinal version of The Running Man, 31 is dirty ashtray film making at its finest.
A group of carnival workers are attacked and wake up in a nightmare. They must survive 12 hours in an maze like industrial complex while facing various psychopaths intent on doing them in, all for the entertainment of a demonic aristocratic trio.
Sheri Moon Zombie gives her first solid performance as the carnival beauty who embraces her primal side. She's supported by Jeff Daniel Phillips, Meg Foster, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and Tracey Walter as the contestants. Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson, and Jane Carr are the powder wigged elite. However, it is Richard Brake as Doom Head that is the whole ordeal. His vicious killer is charismatic, oddly noble, and manages to deliver gallows humor monologues without sounding Shakespearean and it works every time he makes an appearance. Even his hilariously egregious sex scene with Ginger Lynn is pitch perfect for the world that Zombie meticulously constructs out of used condoms and broken bottles.
Carrie Grace's costume design for the villains is trailer park grunge while still managing to evoke a Gothic sense of dread in the denizens of 31. The amazing Michelle Chung's makeup work enhances the costuming, summoning the monsters within the flesh to the surface, while also bathing the victims in sticky blood and grime. The amount of shots involving bloodied teeth might eclipse the film's title number.
David Daniel's cinematography was disgusting and desperate in all the right ways. There's some great overhead shots of Moon crouching in a stall that manage to encompass the claustrophobic environs perfectly. Almost every one of the killers gets their close up and the camera highlights the amazing makeup work while framing the violence in an almost tame way. If there's a complaint it's that the shock and awe was underwhelming given this film's notoriety. There's a strobe light sequence that really doubles down on the manic vibe and it fits into Daniel's vision perfectly, showing desperation and the often clumsiness of life and death fist to cuffs.
Overall, 31 is a well made film and show's Zombie improving upon his previous work. Those looking for the more artistic notes of The Lords of Salem will be disappointed and those expecting the nihilism of The Devil Rejects may also find it wanting, but on a pure cinematic level, this is a finely tuned horror machine, The strongest aspect being the evolution of Moon's character, coupled diametrically with Richard Brake's jaw dropping lechery. 31 is a world that breathes noxious fumes from decaying, forgotten machinery, inhabited by lost souls clinging to their neanderthal instincts for the prayer of survival, and it doesn't sell out in it's amazing, final sequence.
Coming soon to wide release in theaters, 31 shows that Zombie can handle himself when he's in control and is not afraid to learn from past mistakes. Simple in its premise and unrelenting in its execution 31 take a few precious minutes to get going, but once it does, you'll be fine in Zombie's blood soaked embrace.