Review: 31, lost in the violence

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.

1/5

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If you are ever attacked by a gorilla just sit back and relax while you enjoy the once in a life time feeling of your limbs being ripped off.

14 thoughts on “Review: 31, lost in the violence

  1. I am so, so bummed. I really thought LORDS of SALEM was a sign that Zombie was finding his feet, but this film sounds like such a terrible, hot mess. Maybe he’s too busy with his new album? BTW, I love the “upcoming horror” part of your site. That component, and your highly anticipated monthly summaries of what to watch, always keep me on track. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, I’m glad to hear that! So many times I got lost in movie releases that I decided to keep track of them all in a calendar. It’s super helpful! And as far as 31, it really is a hot mess. Lords of Salem at least showed restraint, like he was truly onto something. 31 is just a huge disappointment. Bummer!

  2. Oh wow I am so glad I decided against going to see this. I guess it was a sign when the movie was being shown at the mall theater 40 mins from my house one week and then the very next week I checked out what they had and this title had already disappeared. . .

    1. Yeah, man, you dodged a bullet with this one. I almost didn’t bother watching it after all the bad reviews that were coming out, but I thought I’d give it a chance anyway. Mistakes were made!

  3. You and I talked about this one multiple times over the last year, or so, and how we liked the premise and hoped Zombie pulled it off. Man, i didn’t even watch the whole thing. I didn’t even like Doomhead as he was too over-the-top for me. I skipped around and briefly watched a few scenes and you hit the nail-on-the-head about the editing. It looked like a middle-school project. Rob Zombie is just too out-there for me. I doubt I watch anymore of his stuff; dude does not know how to create interesting characters or how to develop a story; his dialogue is lame, as well; all of his characters act the same in every movie I’ve seen of his. Good review!

    1. Oh I know! I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, which is why it stings as much as it does. I honestly think that if Zombie were to let someone else write his scripts and he just focused on directing, he’d turn in a hell of a movie because you’re right, his characters and story development are almost always the weakest parts of his films.

  4. Doesn’t sound good. I’m a fan of Zombie’s films but more often his less shocking and more deliberate style are the films I like, House of 1000.. and Lords…. Also the fast edit cuts are left over from the music video days, and era that is now mostly gone.

    1. That’s a good point about the terrible editing, actually. It was nauseating and ruined any chance of this movie being watchable. I still think he has it in him to make something truly great, he just needs to leave the writing to someone else.

  5. “Welcome to Hell” indeed. DAMN, this sounds terrible (the trailer is even pretty blah) and I can’t recall the last time you gave a 1/5 review to something that was so anticipated. Thanks for falling on the grenade for us on this one. Sorry that Malc McDowell got dragged into the whole mess, too. Am I confused, or did RZ partially fund this on Kickstarter or Indiegogo? I seem to recall some sort of crowd-funding. If so, sounds iike it may very well be the last time he’ll be able to raise money for his ‘next new, terrifying vision’ for a while…

    1. Thanks for the comment! I think I’ve only ever given 2 other films a 1/5, so it certainly doesn’t happen very often. The reason I came down so hard on this one is because of how anticipated it was and because I know Zombie is way better than this. And you’re right, 31 was crowd funded so it’ll be interesting to see how he approaches his next film. I’d like to see him just direct a picture and let someone else do the writing.

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