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Killing Ariel: One Fatal Flaw

June 27, 2009

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” – Poe

Killing Ariel begins with promise. It’s 1933; a little boy creeps slowly down the hallway toward his parent’s room. He peeks in just as his father’s blood splatters against the wall.  Mom sits down, slowly maneauvers the shotgun to its place just beneath her chin, and before pulling the trigger, glances over at her son.

Cut to present day (shouldn’t Ricky look at least 75?).  Little Ricky is now in a mental hospital undergoing therapy.  While Rick narrates that fateful day in 1933, we get to watch.  Mother is writhing with pleasure beneath a hairless demon; father watches from the foot of his bed, confined to a wheelchair.  The bedroom door opens, father and mother look over to see Ricky peering in.

So far, Killing Ariel is intriguing.  These opening scenes are tight, awash in atmosphere, and colored in dark oranges and reds.  The incubus is a powerful image, as is the father in his wheelchair, watching intently as his wife enjoys the passion and pleasure that he can obviously no longer provide.  Counter this with little Ricky, the cute, innocent little boy sadly exposed to such debauchery, and Killing Ariel seems like a winner.

But then we cut to 1973.  We meet middle aged Ricky, with beautiful wife and two cute children.  I was ready to spend time here. I wanted to get to know him and how he turned out after such a violent and horrible childhood experience.  But screenwriter and director Fred Calvert doesn’t seem to believe in his audience.  We learn that Ricky loves his wife, communicates with his children, and is too tired for sex- “you need a new battery,” his wife says.  “I ordered one,” Ricky responds.  And that’s it. 

Suddenly, Ricky buys a Porsche, picks up a jogger, and is headed out of town for the weekend.  Calvert, who apparently has been working in television at least since 1965, doesn’t give us anything to care about.  He rushes through the heart and soul of the story to get to the “Killing Ariel.” But the lesson he needs to learn here is that this is not TV.  The audience for Killing Ariel is not going to change the channel during the character building.  The audience for Killing Ariel is smarter than Mr. Calvert can acknowledge.  Unfortunately, when the titular act begins, I found myself bored and wondering how much time was left.

There are, however, lots of cool moments and as he kills Ariel over and over, the move tries to redefine itself as a black comedy, somewhere between Evil Dead and The Shining.  During one memorable moment, Ricky (Michael Brainard) actually becomes Jack Nicholson, and without make-up.  If only Calvert’s script had found itself sooner, Brainard could have been unleashed much more often.  Ariel is beautiful, and in spite of her ever changing accent, is effective as the seductive, playful sex demon. She gets all the good lines ( “you just killed me, super stud” and “this time don’t be so damned polite, I like it rough”), but it is her reference to Poe that is most revealing. And in the end, it all feels as pointless and repetitive as the dream within the dream often does.

cant judge a movie by...

can’t judge a movie by…

The lesson of Killing Ariel, as with so many efforts that just don’t quite make it, is to respect your audience. We will invest the time necessary to grow attached to your characters.  With a little more humanity, a little more dilemma, and little more arc, Killing Ariel could have put its demonic hooks in me and dragged me into the hellish world of Ricky’s twisted mind; but instead, the movie  devolves into a corny, comic book (albeit pretty cool and bloody) presentation that ultimately copies too many previous efforts to mention.

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