When I first heard that the fledgling religious arm of 20th Century Fox, Fox Faith, was bringing out a faith-based horror picture, I thought, “Well, why not?” After all, a lot of horror movies are faith-based. Every time someone whips out a crucifix to back down a vampire, it’s faith-based. And what are The Exorcist (1973) and its progeny if not faith-based horror films?
It takes faith (or a suspension of disbelief, if you prefer) for such movies to work. So, really, the faith-based horror picture idea isn’t as screwy as it might at first sound. Unfortunately, the resulting film, Thr3e, is. Thr3e is also mind-bogglingly inept on every level and — if you’re in the mood for a strong dose of Bad Cinema — hysterically funny. (I defy you to keep a straight face when the line, “This is about to blow,” arrives — several reels after the viewer has already reached that conclusion.)
For starters, Thr3e (its copycat title indicating, I suppose, that it’s not even half as scary as Se7en) isn’t supernatural horror, but is more in the mold of a psychological thriller. Since it lacks the inherent faith quotient found in supernatural horror, God has to be grafted onto the proceedings — a clunky proposition and one that is strangely not much stressed. Apart from making the main character, Kevin Parson (Marc Blucas, First Daughter), a seminary student and tossing in a line in the last scene informing us, “We need the power of God to teach us good and evil,” there’s nothing especially Christian about the movie.
Indeed, the only thing that sets it apart from any other PG-13 thriller is the notable lack of swearing and tepid sexuality — oh, and a body count. Thr3e may be unique in that its central “murderer” manages to kill exactly no one over the entire course of the movie, thereby proving that unique is not invariably a good thing. OK, so he does manage to incinerate a dog (offscreen) and inflict a good deal of property damage via the most amusingly dreadful computer-generated explosions ever to hit the screen. Just as God has been grafted onto the proceedings, the explosions are merely stuck to it with library paste. The scene of faux flames burning in front of a city bus will go down in the annals of Le Cinema du Frommage.
Technical lousiness, however, is nothing compared to the dramatic content of the movie. The screenplay by Alan McElroy is about what you’d expect from the scenarist of The Marine (2006), Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever (2002) and Left Behind (2001). It’s based on a book by Ted Dekker, who appears to have some kind of Christian thriller cottage industry going (another of his books, House, is up for Fox Faith treatment later this year). How closely the movie is based on this book is something I can’t answer (I suspect the theology is thicker on the printed page than it is here), but one can only hope the book is less addled than the movie.
The premise finds seminary student Parson as the target for a crazed murderer (horror cult figure Bill Moseley, frequently festooned in a mask that looks like it’s made of duct tape), who seems to have seen one Saw movie too many (he even speaks through a device that makes him sound like the killer in the Saw films). The killer is determined to have Parson confess to some unspecified crime, otherwise he’ll blow him up. And if he can’t blow him up, he’ll blow up a fellow divinity student (who looks more like a Billy Idol impersonator than a divinity student) or Parson’s platonic girlfriend (Laura Jordan, Berkeley) or a bus or a warehouse or Parson’s stupefyingly dysfunctional family. Oh, yes, Parson’s family — and his tormented background — figure prominently in the $1.98 plot.
It seems that Parson’s parents died when he was a wee nipper, leaving him with what must have been a really handsome insurance legacy (it’s seen him through a B.S. degree, a stint at the seminary, and affords him a loft the size of a bus terminal filled with aged, creepy religious art and enough books to fill a library). The downside is his surrogate family. There’s Three’s Company alumnus Priscilla Barnes as his Aunt Belinda — known in the family as “The Princess” by virtue of the dime store tiara she affects, presumably to set off her inch-thick makeup and the prosthetic wart that occasionally starts to slide off her chin in the middle of some scenes. The motherly type, she ain’t — unless the mother is Tammy Faye Baker channeling Piper Laurie in Carrie. With her come a fez-wearing genial loon uncle (Tom Bowers, The Hills Have Eyes) and a mentally challenged cousin (Jeffrey Lee Hollis, Six: The Mark Unleashed) with a pudding-bowl haircut and a Game Boy he thinks is a computer. Good heavens, no wonder the boy has issues.
All of this comes together in an ending that I can only say is fully worthy of everything that precedes it. Stick around for the heavy metal ending song, “Ein, Zwei, Drei” — that’s not just the name, it’s the entire set of lyrics. Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and terror.
â reviewed by Ken Hanke