Open 24 Hours, 2018
Directed by Padraig Reynolds.
Starring Vanessa Grasse, Cole Vigue, Emily Tennant, Brendan Fletcher, Daniel O’Meara, Selina Giles, and Tomislav Stojanovic.
After setting her serial killer boyfriend on fire, a paranoid delusional woman gets a job at an all-night gas station.
Open 24 Hours is by-the-books roadside horror in bumblefuck isolation, to a sensationless detriment. It’s the kind of film that relies on clichés when building any semblance of dread. Ideologically, there are complex narrative choices that ponder one person’s consequences for another person’s sinful actions (in this case, a serial killer’s murders). The problem is, suspense and execution never equal the provocative nature of this true-crime-meets-slasher framework. Padraig Reynolds tries, no questions, but intentions and outcomes are different beasts.
Mary (Vanessa Grasse), an ex-convict seeking employment, takes the only gig she’s offered as an overnight gas station attendant. Her crimes were that of secondhand nature, but society doesn’t care about specifics. Media outlets dubbed her “The Watcher,” accomplice to a serial killer, who stood by while her boyfriend James (Cole Vigue) killed innocent girls and women. Years later, James is in jail, but even as Mary tries to move on, as a pump overseer at Deer Gas Market, she’s still plagued by visions of her violent partner in hallucinatory form. Or so she thinks until events during her first graveyard shift turn deadly.
Reynolds’ cleverness in weaponizing Mary’s disturbed and frantic state, which frequently includes visions of atrocities only in her mind, is sharp. Arms that burst through rest stop bathroom tiles to grasp a shaken Mary or a toilet overflowing with blood-red water. Mary’s mind is a mess of repressed guilt through imagined reenactments of James’ deeds, plus psychological torment, that allows the viewer to question whether James is real, or just another fakeout. We’re never outright deceived, but the device works.
Outside of these more fantastical, often gorier diversions, Open 24 Hours is a dull string of stalker expectancies. It’s the kind of film where characters spend the first act spewing lines like, “I’ll finally start my new life,” or, “Nothing bad is going to happen,” like they’re fooling anyone. Audiences are treated like we’ve never watched a horror movie before, whether it’s Mary’s withholding of information that’d help others understand her danger, or supporting player deaths. Characters are only developed as far as their archetypes. Be it the best friend who doesn’t leave quick enough (Debbie, played by Emily Tennant), or the nice-guy worker who checks on Mary throughout the night (Bobby, played by Brendan Fletcher). It’s all horror window dressing, transparent, and for decorative purposes only.
Shifting the focus to presentation and editing, Open 24 Hours cannot enhance intrigue given how cinematography is point-and-shoot proficient at best. Sans a shot or two of James’ raincoat outline either engulfed in flames or standing ominously in the background, there’s a flatness to imagery whether that’s due to muted color profiles or sterilized views. Not to mention how cuts can’t hide when actors react too early to a pulled-punch stunt, or how James’ hammer attacks reuse the same “blood spatter into camera” trick to hide massive effects needs. A single sledgehammer cave-in appeases the practical application appreciator within this critic, but perspective angles or CGI additives poorly protect most other wound inflictions.
Open 24 Hours is never as stimulating – performatively, presentationally, provocatively – as the premise teases. Its thesis has a sharp hook, but what unfolds is hardly the assessment of forgiveness, retribution, and pasts being pasts that Padraig Reynolds introduces. It’s a pit-stop bloodbath that attempts various tricks (open on the ending, blur reality with illusions), yet follows in footsteps that’ve been worn flat-and-smooth by too many other indie horror filmmakers to count. It’s an unfortunate fate for a script that starts with promise but loses its heady fizz quicker than a jumbo-sized store-brand cola left in the blazing sun on an endless road trip.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).