CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND A FRANKLY REFRESHING SENSE OF HAVING YOUR EXPECTATIONS EXCEEDED FOR ONCE
For quite a while recently, the overwhelming majority of new horror movies have ranged between okay to absolute toilet, and only a few, such as Scream 4, have broken through the tolerable barrier and have actually been pretty decent. For whatever reason, the ratio of good to indifferent feels a lot slimmer than usual: maybe it's a huge increase in the number of cheap digital horror films made by talentless idiots dragging the genre's average quality downwards. Sure the industry looks to be in robust health given the number of titles on the rental shelves. But the more serious effect is that you approach every new horror movie with lowered expectations, so a film that's actually no more than solidly put together comes across as a masterpiece cross between The Evil Dead and Pan's Labyrinth and a perfunctory director looks like prime Carpenter or Cronenberg when stood against the legions of backyard camcorder auteurs.
A case in point (sorry) is Needle, a perfectly acceptable, perfectly efficient little Australian entry in which a bunch of uninteresting college teens are bloodily killed one by one shortly after one of their number inherits a mysterious wooden box from his late archaeologist father: an ornate mechanical device inscribed "Le Vaudou Mort". Originally identified as a prop from the days of Grand Guignol theatre, it turns out to be older and far more sinister than that: no sooner has the box been stolen from our hero than his friends start dying messily. What does it do? How does it work? Who stole it, and why?
Needle is really no more than a well crafted if anonymous and unstylish horror film. Granted, its array of bland, plastic teens is entirely uninteresting and you don't particularly care who's next to killed off; the identity of the mystery killer doesn't matter and their motivation is pretty unlikely. But it's nicely shot and scored (Jamie Blanks' music has more than a touch of the legendary Christopher Young's horror sound in places) and it stages its bloody kill sequences well enough, though curiously enough it has two characters killed offscreen. And halfway down the cast is Jane Badler who used to be in V!
Look, it's a competent and professional production and frankly that's the least a paying audience should have a right to expect. Sadly, in an era when any idiot can get their mates together and sling something together on a Sony Handycam and an iMac and release it on DVD no matter how hopelessly inadequate it is, I'll gladly settle for mere professional competence. Even taking into account the genre's current downward drag factor, Needle's fine. Not much more than that, but it's perfectly acceptable and I enjoyed it.