[Deep Focus]

Photographer Cindy Sherman, whose famous "Untitled Film Stills" are richly titillating in their evocation of untold narratives, takes her best shot at making a sly, self-aware horror film in this disappointing, grade-Z black comedy. Dario Argento and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were apparently cited as influences, and the wickedly talented Todd Haynes (Safe) is credited with "additional dialogue," but the result is as lifeless as the corpses that pile up in mousy Carol Kane's basement.

Kane, along with Molly Ringwald, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Barbara Sukowa, and even Eric Bogosian (in an uncredited cameo) flesh out their characters, but they can't possibly have known how drab this business was going to turn out. Kane is Dorine, a proofreader with a history of emotional hardship who's hit by downsizing at Constant Consumer magazine. Partly by accident, she begins killing her officemates. Ringwald is the office's kitschy flirt, who suspects Dorine but can't convince anyone else. This has trashy potential, but Sherman's labored framing of every single shot saps the film of energy, and never once does she bother to give her actors a clog in the ass to liven things up. At 82 minutes, this still feels like a long and stifling experience. It's redeemed only by a very nice title sequence and some effective (but half-hearted) morbid humor that counts as too little too late. (Sherman offers an end-credit thanks to Carol Clover, whose book Men, Women and Chain Saws seems to have been an unfortunately academic influence on Sherman's approach to the genre.)

Miramax had the rights to this for the better part of a year, but finally dubbed it unreleasable. They were right. It was subsequently picked up, presumably for a song, by Santa Monica-based Strand Releasing, which will roll it out to selected art houses nationwide. With the stipulation that it's pretty bad, I can recommend it ever-so-mildly to Sherman's legion of followers, who will at least be interested to see what she came up with, and to hardcore horror fans who may get a kick out of the grossout or two to be found late in the film. Nobody else can say I didn't warn them.

Directed by Cindy Sherman
Written by Tom Kalin and Elise MacAdam
Cinematography by Russell Lee Fine
Music by Evan Lurie
Starring Carol Kane, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Molly Ringwald
USA, 1996; released 1997

A completely subjective archive
DEEP FOCUS: Movie Reviews by Bryant Frazer