DreadWorld Review: 'Betrothed' (2016)

Post-Scream 90's horror is a weird little nugget in horror cinema lore. Film makers struggled to copy that films formula, adding a layer of self-aware humor to the established tropes of the genre. More often than not, those efforts came off as forced and derivative. Still, like with anything, time has given folks a chance to grow nostalgic for those mid to late 90's films that were a little too shiny and glossy, that treated the audience like it knew too much, and desperately tried to be funny. One of the latest films to try to recapture at least some of that 90's style snark is Betrothed, a film so confused in it's motivations it not only borrows judiciously from it's 90's predecessors but also tries to be a 70's grind house film and an 80's slasher at the same time.

The Cooper family is one fucked up group of folks, An isolated clan that leans heavily towards similar families in films like The Hills Have Eyes, with inbreeding overtones of  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the domineering mother Mothers Day. The family spends most of their time, when they are not running convenient stores or restaurants, kidnapping young girls to marry to the families sons, If these young women meet mothers approval they are welcomed to the family with severe beatings and mental degradation. If mother doesn't like them, then a lot worse will happen to them.

Audra West (Mikayla Gibson) runs out to get some pancake making supplies and runs a foul of two of the Cooper brothers, Before she knows it she's chained to a dirty mattress and engaged to Adam Cooper. Beatings, both mental and physical, continue. Setting up Audra for the classic I Spit On Your Grave turn where she exacts revenge on her captors for her torture. But writer Jeff Rosenberg and director Jim Lane get an itchy trigger finger. What should end up as a paint by numbers but still satisfying rape/revenge type film reboots itself twice in it's last half an hour.

Audra escapes with the help of newly discovered secret brother, Ethan, killing her captors in the process and wrapping everything up in a nice little bow. But wait! They stop at a diner for help - only to find the purveyors of the diner are related to the Coopers. Audra and Ethan escape again. Audra's family takes Ethan in and all is good with the world. Only it's not. Ma and Pa Cooper aren't dead (it's the second or third death fake out for Ma). Ethan turns and now Audra has to survive a third assault from the Coopers, this time in her own home.

Her story is cut with one of the weakest police subplots this side of an Argento film. To call the detective tracking Audra bad at his job would mean to imply he should have that job in the first place. Although his exploits do lead us to one of the brothers, or cousins, or sympathizers, dismembering and eating the Cooper's victims, which is a far more interesting film than the third act of Betrothed.

A little harsh? Perhaps. But Betrothed should be the new poster child for "keep it simple stupid" As a revenge thriller, the film would have been acceptable, mindless entertainment. Certainly not mold breaking or anything, but a good way to kill an hour and a half. While changing the formula is certainly something we support and frankly welcome, don't pull some bullshit bait and switch with the film. If you are going to ask an audience to invest themselves in certain characters and set up certain rewards for going on the journey with them, don't pull the rug out from under them an hour and ten minutes into the film. This isn't Janet Leigh in Psycho or Drew Barrymore in Scream, it's schizophrenia disguised as film making.

I mentioned the 90's motif earlier, Rosenberg and Lane try to salt the film with the type of quippy humor you might find in Valentine or other post-Scream films of that ilk. Only it's not funny. The lines are delivered with such poor time that not only do they fall flat, they are cringe worthy.

Betrothed could have been a perfectly acceptable, if not derivative, revenge horror film. Unfortunately, it drops the ball really bad in it's final act where it turns int an unfocused mess. There is some decent gore, when it's not blatantly cg, and does feature genre fave Bill Oberst Jr. doing what Bill Oberst Jr. does best, so the film has that going for it. But if you are looking for a film where the payoff matches he time invested in the set up, you may want to skip Betrothed.

** stars of *****

That's it for me. As always, thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich"

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