Movie Review: ROCK PAPER DEAD (2017)

ROCK PAPER DEAD, the latest film from iconic horror director Tom Holland, is a psychological thriller about a serial killer who becomes “cured” and is released back into society after ten years in a hospital for the criminally insane. The film, written by Kerry Fleming and Victor Miller (Friday the 13th), stars Tatum O’Neal (“Rescue Me”), Luke Macfarlane (“Brothers & Sisters”), Michael Madsen (The Hateful Eight) and Jennifer Titus (Zoombies).

The film centers around Peter Harris (Macfarlane), otherwise known as “the Doll Maker”, who is convicted of killing a slew of women and becomes confined to a mental institute for the criminally insane. After ten years, he is released by his psychiatrist (O’Neal) who unequivocally believes that he is cured of his demons. Now free, he returns to his family home to start his life over, however the demons of his past have not relinquished their hold over him. When he meets his new neighbor Ashley (Titus), he starts to develop feelings while quenching his more unnatural desires. As his secrets pore out, he must decide whether to continue on as a cured man or succumb to his old ways.

Having been familiar with this film for the past year and a half, I was excited to finally see the finished product. Though I felt the execution of the film could have been better, there were definitely moments throughout ROCK PAPER DEAD that I really enjoyed. I’m not the biggest fan of serial killer horror films, however, I found myself being incredibly entertained by Luke Macfarlane’s portrayal of Peter Harris. Even when Peter was deemed “cured” he still had a bit of insanity behind his eyes which I found utterly fascinating. I wasn’t familiar with Macfarlane’s work prior to ROCK PAPER DEAD, but I truly enjoyed his performance in this film, especially when it came down to playing two different roles (you’ll have to see the movie to learn more…).

Whether it was intentional or not, the performance that really had me laughing was that of Michael Madsen as Detective Doyle Dechert. I’m just going to be upfront, I love Madsen in most everything he does, whether it’s in acclaimed films such as Reservoir Dogs or lesser known indie movies, he is always a dynamic personality that never goes unnoticed. As Detective Dechert, his persona is large and in charge, and some of the lines he delivers are both laughable and cringeworthy. Maybe it was in the way he delivered these lines, or maybe it was due to the writing, but whatever the case, I just couldn’t help but be blown away but his somewhat ridiculous character. I will say this about Madsen, it was a much needed departure for him to play a good guy for a change. Having been typecast as the villain in so many films, it was a nice change to see him play a character that meant well and was truly fighting for justice. Also, I want to give a shout out to John Dugan who played Uncle Charles as his character was absolutely vile and elicited a lot of genuine disdain from me. He really took that role and ran with it and I give him props for eliciting such a strong reaction out of me.

Where I think some flaws of the film came from were in the writing and the directing. Tom Holland is an iconic horror director, having put forth such films as Child’s Play and Fright Night, so any horror fan is going to be excited over a new Tom Holland film. However, I felt like this one wasn’t his best and that in a way, he was kind of phoning it in. There is a familiarity to Holland’s film, almost a warmth, but ROCK PAPER DEAD felt very cold and unforgiving. Maybe it’s a new tactic of his, I have no idea, but it didn’t have that signature flair that Holland’s films typically have. In regards to the writing, I felt like there needed to be some improvements and overall tightening of the script. With that said, I still enjoyed the story of Peter Harris, I just think some of the loose ends could have been tightened up a bit more (and maybe that’ll happen in sequels).

Overall, there were definitely some issues within ROCK PAPER DEAD, but in the end, I still enjoyed the film as a whole. I definitely could see this movie becoming a cult classic and I’m excited to see how any additional films will continue on with Peter Harris’ story. Though there were moments that felt rough around the edges, there’s a lot to appreciate it and I have a lot of respect for the amount of work that went into getting this film off the ground. If you are looking for a fun popcorn flick to watch with friends that incorporates a terrifying twist and a unique origin story, than you’ll definitely want to check out ROCK PAPER DEAD.

Shannon McGrew
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