Rob Zombie’s 31 is his most Rob Zombie movie yet, this time injecting his signature style of trashy characters, vile dialog, and brutal violence into a compact version of The Running Man. But despite it featuring all the typical tropes that make his films stand out, 31 has to be Zombie’s most disjointed of them all. It’s a top-to-bottom mess that never finds cohesion between its characters and the violent world in which they exist, ultimately meandering through an incoherent plot. In it, five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned, Hell-like compound where they are forced to participate in a violent game of survival.
Doomhead opens the film with a powerful monologue before doing his best impression of Patrick Bateman by having some fun with an axe—it’s a menacing start to 31, brilliantly setting up the rest of the narrative. He sets the stage, promising a gnarly slaughterhouse movie aimed at those who dig a particularly bloody brand of horror. In doing so, the film firmly plants Doomhead as its big baddie, the one all should fear, especially in a game of survival. The problem is that as soon as he finishes his terrifying rant, Doomhead disappears for nearly the entire movie, and the rest that follows is just uninspired violence and forgettable characters. All of this is wrapped up in an aimless plot that puts no effort into actually explaining the world of 31—it’s just senseless violence with no direction.
And a big part of that is because it’s edited into the ground, making all of the on-screen violence practically incomprehensible. Zombie’s camerawork doesn’t do the film any favors, either—even if there were good parts in 31, you’d never be able to tell because the camera is all over the place, focusing on anything but the stuff you want to see. There’s supposedly a “better” movie in here somewhere (apparently the theatrical release is much different than what was screened at festivals), but I highly doubt a few extra scenes can fix this mess. A character would die in one scene, completely surrounded by the other survivors, and not minutes later they would walk into a different room to find that same person’s dead body conveniently on display. WHAT. THE. FUCK?
That isn’t even the most frustrating thing about 31, either. Other than Doomhead (who’s hardly in the movie at all) none of the killers are particularly scary. They’re supposed to be the main attraction, the wheel that spins the film into horrifying territory, yet they’re just one-dimensional psychos that are way too easy to kill. These dudes are presumably trained killers—not to mention they’re equipped with plenty of killing power—yet a handful of aging stoners survive for way too long. And all of this is going down in an abandoned compound that’s being run by a group of people that you know absolutely nothing about. Who are they? Why are they doing this? What’s the point? Anyone? Hello?
31 is the most disappointing movie of the year, a film that promised (at the very least) to be viciously entertaining and bloody as hell—it is a Rob Zombie movie, after all. Except it’s none of those things—the violence (what you could see of it, anyway) is a muddled mess, the characters are irrelevant, and the movie as a whole makes no sense. It’s not even dumb fun, it’s just dumb.