The rote and borderline reprehensible new slasher flick The Girl in the Photographs opens with a high-minded quote from junkie provocateur William S. Burroughs. That preface couldn’t be more misleading, because the film directed by Nick Simon (the writer of 2014’s equally terrible Egyptology bloodbath, The Pyramid) couldn’t be more low-minded. That’s not the only bait and switch offered before the movie even starts, however. The Girl in the Photographs is also being shopped as the final film credit of Wes Craven, who’s listed as an executive producer. And while that may be factually accurate, anyone buying a ticket expecting either the cleverness or goosebump thrills that the horror maestro once specialized in will feel cheated. Needless to say, Craven deserved a better tribute.
Set in the sleepy, remote burg of Spearfish, South Dakota, The Girl in the Photographs starts with the self-reflexive, Craven-esque gambit of two young women walking out of a movie theater. They’ve just sat through a horror movie (no doubt better than this one) and part company, heading to their respective cars. One is followed home by a creep in a mask and a red pick-up truck, who proceeds to slip into her home while she’s getting undressed and violently takes her hostage, snapping photos of her as she tries to fight back. The next time we see her, she’s cowering in a chicken-wire cage being fed cat food. Yes, it’s that kind of witless woman-hating movie. And yet, it’s so much more!
The next day a young grocery store worker named Colleen (Claudia Lee) finds these anguished torture-porn photos. They’ve been left for her to taunt and toy with her. But whether it’s due to the fact that the script stinks or that Lee isn’t a very good actress, Colleen doesn’t seem all that rattled. Neither does the local police chief (Mitch Pileggi in a thankless role), who brushes her off. As Colleen starts receiving more photos, a skeezy, Terry Richardson-esque L.A. photographer (played by Harold and Kumar’s Kal Penn) gets wind of them on the internet and becomes turned on by the killer’s charnel-house pics. They’re so authentic, so real, man! Penn’s character is conveniently from Spearfish, too. So he informs his vanilla assistant (Kenny Wormald) and model girlfriend (Miranda Rae Mayo) that they’re going to head back to his hometown and do a photo shoot that mimics the at-large sicko’s pictures. Once there, they naturally run into Colleen at the grocery store and invite her to a party at their rented lake house because…well, why the hell not? Let the selfie-generation body-count commence.
Penn, who was once so winningly dazed-and-confused back when he was on a stoned White Castle burger quest with his pal Harold back in the mid-2000s, is a creepy, sexist-pig drag here. But the filmmakers don’t even know what to do with him. After all, Slasher Movie 101 pretty much dictates that any character who’s as unrelentingly unlikable as Penn’s deserves to get an especially splashy and violent comeuppance. But Simon can’t even do that right. His death (I’d say “spoiler alert”, but let’s be honest, you’re not going to see this thing) is just another bloodletting handled with the same inept indifference as the film’s other victims. As a final girl, Lee’s Colleen doesn’t bring a lot to the table either. She’s not particularly resourceful or sympathetic. There’s no urgency in her performance and you honestly don’t care whether she manages to stick it out until the end credits or not. Which is fine, because I’m guessing most audience members won’t stick it out until the end credits, either. D