There’s a strong aesthetic connection between horror movies and musicals. Both genres balance the demands of storytelling with the expectations of a certain kind of spectacle. Also, they can only achieve some degree of success by honoring either story or exhibition, rather than both. A good horror movie can have awesome, brutal kills or scares but a weak storyline, just like a mediocre musical having nothing but bops on the soundtrack. Trying to honor both and failing is the most assured route to a bad version of either genre.
Horror movies that do both are in that rare Quadrant 2, along with Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018 – read our review here) and Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street (1984 – read our review here). Other movies drop into that top spot with a good story and bad kills like Travis Cuff and Chris Lofing’s The Gallows. Most films in the genre fall into Quadrant 4, where the kills are awesome and the characters barely matter, as we’ve seen in the Hatchet movies or most of the slasher films from the Golden 80s.
Eduardo Castrillo’s new film, The Pining, is a solid Quadrant 4 horror film. It’s got great kills and special effects that carry through from start to finish, as well as solid genre performances from Tom Sizemore and Jackie Dallas, but the story never quite comes together and pushes the film into that top spot.
The plot follows the mysterious, brutal, bizarre deaths of various members of a support group. On the case is Detective Harris (Jackie Dallas), a tough-as-nails, take-no-shit cop whose investigations bump up against group leader and local priest, Father Williams (Tom Sizemore: Atomica 2017 – read our review here). Caught in the middle is the handsome, charming, wheelchair-bound Joe, played by Diogo Hausen. As Detective Harris gets closer to the truth, the bodies from the support group pile up, and the freak accidents that killed them start to hint at something darker at play.
What gives The Pining its juice is the supernatural-slasher formula at its core. As Jackie combs through the files of the deceased support group members, we flash back to their gruesome, stylistic, Final Destination-esque ends, and Castrillo’s ambitious visual imagination can come to the forefront. Like a good musical, the technical aspects of these key gory set pieces go a long way towards restoring the balance after tough-to-get-through scenes of Joe flirting with models in his day job as a photographer.
When The Pining remembers to be a genre film, you get competently shot scenes that call to mind supernatural thrillers like The Relic (1997) or Dead Silence (2007). Jackie Dallas’ detective work is believable and grounded as she puts the screws to Joe and Father Williams for details about the night everything changed for their support group. Father Williams, to Tom Sizemore’s credit, plays exactly like a Tom Sizemore character ought to, vacillating between tired and terrifying throughout the film’s modest run time.
Most egregiously, The Pining suffers from a classic filmmaking blunder: choosing mystery over a compelling hook. Make the right choice, and you get a clear villain and inciting incident, like with the aforementioned Final Destination series. We see those kids cheat Death and watch as Death catches up to them. In The Pining, we watch death after death without knowing why, and when it’s all revealed to us, it feels incidental in the face of the film’s carnage. Sometimes, suspense isn’t nearly as important as knowing the rules of engagement for a movie like this.
Watch The Pining Right Now!
Those interested in a few gruesome, interesting murders stuffed like spicy strips of chicken in the bland tortilla of a plot, check out The Pining for a good, gory time that won’t ask all that much of you. Those looking to feel something will find themselves pining for something else to watch.