If horror comes in cycles, than it’s clear director Darren Lynn Bousman wants to return to the past. He made a name for himself by directing three “Saw” installments, using that clout to helm the hammy “Repo! A Genetic Opera”, a rock opera throwback to “Phantom Of The Paradise” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He’s at it again with the gimmicky “11-11-11,” a film with a shelf life beginning and ending today, and it works best for the nostalgic among us who regret that the masters of Italian gothic horror like Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava are either dead or working less consistently.
Even the premise of “11-11-11” could be dated 1981. Timothy Gibbs plays best-selling horror novelist Joseph Crone. Crone doesn’t look like he’s had any sleep since the horrific death of his wife and child, and his constant nightmares reliving the incident keep bringing him back to repetition of the number eleven. With his elderly father on death’s door, he absconds to Barcelona, where his brother, a priest named Samuel (Michael Landes), practices his faith.
Crone, a devoted atheist, has always been an outsider amongst family. His father has always been devout, and he’s interpreted his brother being a man of the cloth as becoming a man succumbing to blind reason. Though he’s returned for his father’s sake, Joseph can’t seem to resist opportunities for theological debates with his brother. “If it’s not tangible, how can you believe it,” asks Joseph. “You believe in George Washington,” counters Samuel. Religion one, Joseph zero!
“11-11-11” isn’t truly interested in this conflict (and Bousman’s script doesn’t make it sound like there are any dog-earned copies of the Bible in his household) because it’s invested in the forward momentum of a good old monster conspiracy. The eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year (of…the twenty first century) is arriving, and numerologists believe such a day will not spell the end, but the beginning. Demons are coming to Earth to begin a transition period for humanity.
Transition period to what? Nobody really knows, but that doesn’t mean horribly disfigured boogeymen can’t start popping up around corners, in crowded libraries, and dark hallways. It isn’t particularly well thought-out — if these demons wanted to emerge on 11-11-11, why would they spend all this time generating “boo!” scares from the people they need the most? Indeed, it’s clear Joseph and his brother will be pawns in whatever it is these beasts are planning.
Which just makes this entire movie kind of feel like it’s a waste of time. Bousman spends a lot of effort exploring the gothic remains of old churches, towering steeples and grinning gargoyles, earning cheap points by having a scene play out without revealing the hooded monster in the corner until the last second. When not piling on the scares, Bousman puts laughably expository lines in the mouths of these characters. “Even though your last book sold five million copies…” “Don’t you remember I’m an atheist?” If it were poorly dubbed from Italian and acted out by Tomas Milan and Edwige Fenech, it would be absolute bliss.
Bousman gives a game effort, refusing to gimmick-up his story in the way the “Saw” films suffered. The effects are minimal, with very little noticeable computer generated imagery, relying instead on the slowly building dread, trusting the work of the actors. Unfortunately, Gibbs, the model for the “Max Payne” games, is all square-jawed false gravity, intense but unconvincing. The movie rests on his shoulders, which is to say, it’s up to him to convey that this nonsense makes total sense. In fairness to Gibbs, it’s an impossible task. [D+]