US 2001
director : Jamie Blanks
script : Donna Powers, Wayne Powers, Gretchen J Berg, Aaron Harberts
(based on novel by Tom Savage)
cinematography : RickBota
editing : Steve Mirkovich
stars : Marley Shelton, David Boreanaz, Denise Richards, Jessica Capshaw
96 minutes

We open with a character discussing the motivation and background of ‘Jason.’ So this must be yet another post-modern, self-referential horror movie in the Scream mode, right? Wrong. Turns out Jason is the character’s own name – he’s the kind of egotistical asshole who refers to himself in the third person. Valentine disproves the idea that Wes Craven and the ‘brains’ behind Scary Movie put a stop to ‘straight’ horror and slasher movies. In fact, it’s so utterly generic it looks just like the horror films people go to see in movies.

This is a throwback to the kind of date-specific fright flicks studios churned out in the aftermath of Halloween and Friday 13th – including My Bloody Valentine. This time, the Valentine’s Day stuff is just a convenient peg on which to hang a by-the-numbers revenge plot, with an opening breezily stolen from Carrie: geeky teenager Jeremy is humiliated at a high-school dance by a gaggle of cruel girls, and ends up drenched in fruit punch. The girls grow up to be stunning beauties, but when they start dying in mysterious, bloody circumstances after receiving sick Valentine’s messages, it seems Jeremy is out to even the score. Surely the scrawny nerd couldn’t possibly have developed into one of the stunningly handsome men the knockouts knock around with..?

Valentine knows it’s cheap, so it might as well be cheerful about it: Vancouver doubles for San Francisco, and we hear the occasional tram bell in the distance, usually when we’re in the flattest, most un-San Fran streets imaginable. Director Blanks employs what might charitably be called a cautious approach – there’s one moderately inventive scene in an art gallery, with sliding video screens creating a disorienting maze of taunting sexual imagery, but this is very much an exception. He mainly sticks with a this-then-that-then-this-then-that technique that gets the job done without any real flair or wit. This prevents any notable build-up of tension in the final stages as the script, like the killer, becomes increasingly sloppy and indiscriminate – there’s sufficient evidence to suspect some slapdash post-production editing – but the pace remains brisk all the way, and it’s nice to see a movie revealing its killer in the very last shot.

David Boreanaz – TV’s Angel – has made a wise choice with Valentine, his first proper feature film. He’s getting valuable experience in return for minimal risk – just as Denise Richards can’t really be harmed by indulging in what is, for her, a bit of slumming. Boreanaz doesn’t have much to do as a boozy journalist boyfriend, but does it well enough, and his agreeably unfussy, slightly scruffy screen presence suggests he may pick up some of George Clooney’s castoffs. In terms of a full Hollywood career, however, the name to watch in Valentine is Jessica Capshaw, who rips into the so-so part of Dorothy. Her mobile features and sly reactions stand out a mile among the otherwise static prettiness of this alarmingly photogenic cast – Capshaw’s timing, smartness and versatility may remind over-50s viewers of Rosalind Russell. If anyone over 25 ever watches the movie, that is.

6th April, 2001