The Chair is a new horror/psychological thriller based on the Alterna Comics graphic novel of the same name. How does an innocent man on death row cope with a sadistic warden and brutal guards? Can he come to grips with his reality while dealing with the monsters inside the prison? Who are the real monsters? The Major Spoilers review of The Chair awaits you!
Starring: Roddy Piper, Naomi Grossman, Zach Galligan, Noah Hathaway, Bill Oberst Jr., Tim Muskatell, Ezra Buzzington, Susan Eisenberg, Kin Shriner, Joe “Animal” Laurinaitis
Director: Chad Ferrin
Screenplay: Erin Kohut
Story: Peter Simeti
Studio/Distributor: Alterna Comics, Crappy World Films, Girls and Corpses Magazine (in association with), Girls and Corpses (in association with), We Make Movies
Runtime: 1 hr 34 min
A WIN FOR THE LITTLE GUY
Before getting to my thoughts about the film, it should be noted that this independent movie was partially funded through Kickstarter. For an independent comics publisher, this is a big deal and Alterna Comics certainly has something to be proud of. Even better, the writer and editor of the graphic novel, Peter Simeti and Erin Kohut, are the writers on the movie as well. Needless to say, this is a giant win for creator-owned comic books all around, as it proves that even the little guy has a shot.
MAN VS. MONSTER
Richard Sullivan is an innocent man on death row for the murder of twelve children. He had a family, but that was about 10 years ago. Besides being stuck in a cell next to murders, child killers and rapists, the warden of the prison takes pleasure in torturing the inmates. While you wouldn’t be wrong to think this is a “torture porn” or Saw-esque movie, it isn’t. I love horror movies and going in, even if it was going to be like Saw or Hostel, I’d still enjoy myself some. What I got was totally unexpected: A psychological horror movie that was more disturbing than brutal and better acted than I anticipated.
The entire movie has a claustrophobic atmosphere, making you feel like you’re in the prison with these men. The disgusting setting along with the abuse given by the guards, you almost start to feel for these men. But then you start to find out why they’re there. From killers to rapists, minus Richard Sullivan, these are horrible human beings. Luckily, the movie focuses on Sullivan and his reaction to the deplorable events taking place. Guards urinating in food, routine beatings and of the course the warden. Played by Bill Obrest Jr., the warden is a character you would expect to see in Hostel. Rubber gloves, bloody smock and some creepy steam punk style goggles. The way he speaks over the intercom is calm but chilling, intensified by the lullaby record he plays. We rarely see what happens when a prisoner is taken to see the warden until Sullivan is dragged in. What I thought would play out as gruesome was a lot tamer than I expected. And there’s something to be appreciated about that. Rather than always showing the horror behind the terrifying steel door, we hear the screams and see the aftermath. Gore fans need not worry though, there is enough blood here to satisfy. This is a dark movie, both thematically and literally. The blacks are so crushing, at times I thought nothing was on-screen. It doesn’t help that the prison set is limited to five cells, removing the illusion that this is in an actual prison. I’m sure it is due to the limits of the budget but it’s worth noting.
WAIT, THAT’S RODDY PIPER?!?
The acting is a bit of a mixed bag but overall well done. For viewers who like to play the “Hey, it’s that guy!” game, this is a perfect movie. Gremlins star Zach Galligan plays one of the guards. His performance is a bit over the top but will never let you watch Gremlins the same way again. Other names like Noah Hathaway (The Neverending Story) or Naomi Grossman (American Horror Story) make an appearance. Tim Muskatell plays Sullivan well, though I never felt as connected with him as I should. The biggest shock came when I finally recognized the late Roddy Piper. Piper plays the head guard Murphy and gives the best performance in the movie. I found myself hating the character for how he treated the inmates. I knew Roddy Piper was in the movie and kept waiting for him to show up. Then I looked at Murphy closer and “Holy f@ck! THAT’S Roddy Piper?” It’s uncanny how the man used his performance to transform himself into a human monster.
WORKING AGAINST ITSELF
I was lucky enough to get a copy of the graphic novel and the film doesn’t stray much. All the ideas presented in the book are in the movie but I found the movie works against itself at times. There is a twist at the end that is much better explained in the comic. I watched the movie twice before reading the comic and each time wasn’t sure whether I understood the ending correctly. It’s that twist that makes you look at events in the movie differently and question them. unfortunately, I was so focused on what happened at the ending I thought less about the ideas the movie presented.
Human monstrosity is what the film wants you to think about. This is a horror movie, so one should expect some horrific things. Child abuse is seen in flashbacks to Sullivan’s childhood. It’s brutal and actually made me uncomfortable at times. There is also a ten minute (seriously I timed) rape scene. It’s not a fun ten minutes and while the guards are raping a rapist, it doesn’t help a whole lot. Plus, it’s another instance of the movie working against itself, conflicting with the “what’s reality and what isn’t” nature of the ending. This would have been much more effective with the less is more approach the comic takes.
BOTTOM LINE: MADE ME THINK, NOT FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS
I appreciate what The Chair is doing. Who is really the monster seems to be the theme/question it wants you to think about. Are the guards and warden worse than the men on death row? What makes a person a monster? I did feel uncomfortable at times, certainly during the rape scene, but isn’t that what a horror movie is meant to do? I liked most of The Chair even with the floundered ending. Roddy Piper delivers a phenomenal performance and I hope lots of people get to see it. The themes and questions presented to the viewer are valid but overshadowed by the ending’s nature and lack of clarity. The Chair did leave me thinking, just not in all the ways I think it wanted me to. Still, horror fans could do much worse than watching this creepy, disturbing and thought-provoking film.