Written and Directed by Rob Zombie.
The movie starts in black and white, with Doom Head entering a room. He walks right up to the camera and looks right at us and talks about how he’s “not a fucking clown” before killing a man with an axe to the stomach. While the rest of the movie is in color, that sequence sets the stage for Rob Zombie’s 31. It makes you uncomfortable to be staring a psychopath straight in the eyes but you can’t look away as he continues to talk. You see the crazy, you hear it, and you can tell that it isn’t just Doom Head who’s crazy. It’s the whole damn film.
The story centers around five people who are captured and placed in a building where they are forced to play the game “31”; Survive for twelve hours while different maniacs try and kill them. It’s gripping, it’s intense, and it’s darkly humorous at moments in a film that doesn’t let go. While the Devil’s Rejects succeeded in making you feel disturbed because you were following the psychopaths who were usually the villains of a movie, 31 made you feel disturbed because you could just tell every one of the captured people were doomed yet you still follow them as one by one they’re killed off in disturbing fashion. The maniacs they face are an amazingly strange bunch that keep it fresh and frightening each time. First there’s a midget who’s dressed as Hitler and speaks Spanish. As the first killer to try and take down some of the group he acts as the door for the characters, forcing them to go from a group of hippies who just wanted to get high to a group of people who just wanted to survive. The trials the group is put through gives the characters such an interesting transformation. You see them start to turn in to the psychopaths who are killing them. They start to kill back. At the end, though all except one of the survivors are dead, the same goes for all the killers. They kill every one of the killers except Doom Head in ways that are brutal and bloody.
When reviewing a movie like this and you get to the acting it’s always a bit hard. With survival movies like this a lot of it is the same arc for all characters; go from original to survivor and do whatever it takes to survive. None of the characters have much of an arc, otherwise. But the acting within those arcs is top notch Rob Zombie film acting. Sheri Moon Zombie is back, but this time playing a little more of a reserved role. Most of the time her character doesn’t partake in the violence but she urges it on, and every other character has this urge to protect hers. The other four survivors act as sort of guardians to Zombie’s characters. They each have solid “fuck this” moments while also getting moments to show their range, going from tough to panicked and sometimes just crazy, showing just what survival can do. Malcolm McDowell plays the strange ring-leader of 31 with a satisfying amount of crazy, making the man an enigma that is odd to watch but entertaining. But without a doubt Richard Brake steals the whole show as Doom Head. Though he doesn’t get as much screen time as the others, every moment Doom Head is on screen is thrilling and filled with dread because he just exudes an air of doom. You can just FEEL that no one survives when he’s after them. After the beautiful opening monologue, we don’t see him again until near the end of the movie where he’s reintroduced when the ring-leader’s need someone to kill the rest of the survivors. While getting dressed for the role Doom Head constantly says to himself “I’m not crazy” and then proceeds to punch himself until his nose is bleeding. He smiles almost the entire time he’s killing someone and Richard Brake makes sure you know that this is a man you would never want to come near.
Rob Zombie feels like he’s at the top of his game with this movie. It is pure Zombie unleashed without the emotional disturbance of the Devil’s Rejects. The frame is always so beautiful, whether it’s in the tent of two insane clown brothers or basement halls as a midget Spanish Hitler chases down people, everything is always so colorful. The frame is bright and never drab. The movie is bloody but there’s never a highlight on the blood itself. As the strike come Zombie’s frame is always on the people themselves. We aren’t forced to watch the bloody parts, we’re forced to watch the faces of the perpetrators and are taken in to the depths of 31, “survive, no matter what it does to you.” The score is a constant thrum of energy that keeps your heart beating and your mind focussed on what’s happening. It speeds up with electricity at the moments where you can tell things are about to get even more messed up and then slows down for those moments where a character is safe from physical dangers, but must deal with the mental ones. The final moments, a showdown between Charlie and Doom Head AFTER the game, is set perfectly to Dream On, using the music as a voice from god telling Charlie she really hadn’t “survived”.
Rob Zombie’s 31 may not be his most well received or well known but I think it’s right up there with The Devil’s Rejects as one of his best. It’s violent, disturbing, and full of twisted and enjoyable characters that make for a thrilling ride. The stylish music and frames make it beautiful and easy to watch. If you haven’t seen this film and you’re a fan of Rob Zombie’s work, I absolutely recommend it.
So that wraps up the Rob Zombie review trilogy! Have you seen 31?
I’ll see you soon for the next review!