Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In short: Stage Fright (2014)

Ten years after the murder of his star Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver doing the old, traditional, famous first victim thing) directly following the premiere of their probably career making musical production of “The Haunting of the Opera”, former producer Roger McCall (Meat Loaf being quite awesome for someone whose music I loathe) is the owner of a not exactly successful musical summer camp. He has taken Kylie’s children Camilla (Allie “I’m your final girl of the evening” MacDonald) and Buddy (Douglas Smith) in like real adopted children, which is to say, they work as cooks for him.

This year, the musical kids have decided to stage a revival of “The Haunting of the Opera”. Camilla has long dreamed of stepping into the shoes of her mother, and she certainly has the talents to match, so she decides to audition for the lead role. Not only will she have to fight through the expected backstage intrigues (and possibly sell her soul – or at the very least her body - for her role), but there’s also a metal singing killer lurking around in the camp’s dark places who just might provide a very interesting opening night.

This might suggest I’m a cynic, but when I heard Jerome Sable’s Stage Fright described as a comedic slasher musical, I was rather convinced the resulting film would be a victim of that most dangerous of illnesses, gimmick-itis. Turns out that’s not true at all, for Stage Fright feels like an absolute labour of love instead of an attempt to cash-in on surface strangeness.

Just look at the sure-handed way the film mixes genre quotations, a rather meta story, everything you ever heard about the backstage shenanigans in musicals, song and dance I’m not at all prepared to judge beyond calling them really fitting, and some pretty fun kill scenes. Nary a minute goes by in which the film doesn’t do something clever, or funny, or delightful (if you’re the kind of person delighted by over-blown violence in your movies, at least, which I tragically seem to have turned into) with the genre pieces it is working with, without ever falling into the sort of lame drudge where a director only quotes better films but doesn’t actually know how to turn these quotes into a thing of its own.

A large part of Stage Fright’s copious charms are of course based on the seeming incompatibility of the genres it mixes. However, once you’ve taken the film’s measure, you might agree the very formulaic genres of the slasher and musical have quite a bit in common, as all things formulaic have, and work rather well in tandem, particularly when there’s a script at play that really knows how to play with the respective genres’ individual absurdities, as well as with our idea of what the genres are about. There’s a playfulness at display here that left me feeling delighted more often than not, even though – it has to be said – Stage Fright does get a bit flabby around its middle, mostly, I suppose, because featuring more murders before the grand finale than the film does would have made the plot rather more implausible than even a meta horror musical with a metal slasher could get away with.

That’s not too much of a problem for Stage Fright, though, because the flabbiness never becomes actual boredom, and the film stays an unexpected pleasure even when its plot is dragging its feet a little.

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