Thoughts on “Pledges”

So, I think I’m going to make this week’s posts all posts on those dinky little $10 horror movies that I’ve been watching and kinda enjoying. There are a few reasons for this. First, I’ve actually managed to watch three of them over the past while and so have three to talk about. Second, I also have Dynasty and potentially She-Ra to talk about for the net few weeks and want to make sure I leave room for them. And third, things have been hectic lately and these posts tend to be shorter to write than the deeper philosophical posts and yet aren’t just me talking about video games, shows I normally watch, or myself like the other short posts are.

So, let me start by talking about “Pledges”, a movie that’s desperately trying to be a typical B-movie/exploitation movie. Its cover features a Scarlett Johansson look-alike dressed up as a cheerleader carrying a pom-pom and a knife. Eye-catching, certainly — it’s what drew my attention to the DVD — but it has nothing to do at all with the content of the movie at all. Heck, it may not even be a picture of any of the actresses in the movie; the woman featured does resemble the more promiscuous woman of the cast, with a different hair colour, but might not actually be here. Then, on the back cover, it talks about leaving them tied up in their underwear in the woods to start, and moving on to building camps later. This actually does happen. And to cover off the gore part, the movie starts with a fairly graphic — which, to be honest, is so over-the-top that it’s actually more funny than anything else — decapitation. So, yeah, this is looking like your standard movie trading on sex and core to get people to watch it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t succeed at actually doing that.

There actually isn’t all that much sexual content or gore in the movie. Yes, the three girls and three guys start in their underwear, but soon get other clothes, which are skimpy but not to an extent that would really titillate. There’s also at least one — if not two — sex scenes, but they are rather tame by the standards of what you could see in most other movies. Other than some ogling of the promiscuous woman’s butt, there really isn’t all that much sexual titillation in the movie at all, although it does talk about sex a lot. As for gore, there’s not that much of that either. Other than the decapitation, there’s a tame body transformation scene that plays out across scenes throughout the movie, and a seemingly festering wound, but other than that the killings tend to be “stabbed through the chest” types of things, that you can see in pretty much any other movie. As a B-movie/exploitation flick, it’s inferior.

It’s also a very short movie, but spends time having us watch them around the campsite and spends a surprisingly long time having them all describe why they want to join the organization — I think it’s some kind of Greek thing — that has kidnapped them — yes, they are indeed actually kidnapped there, not told to go there directly — and left them in the woods, while obstinately refusing to spend any time explaining what is generally in the woods and thus is what is attacking and killing them. This tendency boggles my mind. In a typical slasher-type horror, especially one where the killings are horrific, you shouldn’t really need to spend time trying to make us feel sympathy for the victims. Unless they are presented as complete and total jerks, we’re probably all empathetic enough to believe that they really don’t deserve the horrific tortures and murders being inflicted upon them and thus want them to escape. You don’t need to make us like them in order to get us not wanting to see them die horribly. And in this movie, they do still make two of the characters kinda jerky … and yet we still don’t really want to see them die.

And the sad thing is that they wasted a good set-up for a subversion where they don’t humanize them beyond stereotypes. At the beginning of the movie, they list off the six people as they are being kidnapped, and assign them a big title name based on their stereotype — Princess, Good Girl, Douche (literally) and so on — which pretty much puts them in the role that they would fit into in any standard horror movie. That’s all they needed to do to humanize them, and insistently relying on that to ludicrous extremes could have been interesting. They also could have tried to subvert it, but the movie is not long enough for that and you have to do that in normal scenes, not in a short campfire scene where they might say things that differ from their presentation, especially if you roughly keep to that presentation throughout the rest of the movie. That time could have been better spent either building suspense or revealing details about the threat.

But, oddly, the real problem with this movie is that it seems to keep relying on building mystery around things that we already know. For example, the original premise was a good one: a bunch of people are left in the woods as a hazing prank, and are facing a real threat but can’t tell if the strange events are from a real threat or are just pranks being pulled on them to freak them out. But the movie gives us the two people who are running the hazing — as they sit in a van nearby watching them — and has them react to the things that they didn’t do. So we know that they didn’t do them. So we know for certain that there’s a real threat, and after the two of them essentially run or are dragged off we know that everything is a real threat. The characters, however — not unreasonably — still act as if it could be pranks. Which is fine and in-character, but it’s not going to do anything to add or subtract fear from the audience. We know that it’s a real threat and not a prank, so it adds nothing plot-wise, but isn’t followed up on enough — someone treats something like a prank and gets hurt or killed because of it — for that to pay-off. What would have worked much better is for them to have stretched the movie out across the entire weekend and have them doing more normal tasks for the actual hazing, and then have things slowly start to get weirder until neither they nor we are really sure what is what, and only then make the real threat obvious. This would add mystery and suspense and give us something to ponder while things are happening. Instead, the movie lampshades there being actual time-skips to make the events stretch over an entire weekend. Thus, instead of giving us content for that time — even if it didn’t show it — the movie instead introduces another supernatural element that they never explain and which adds no real mystery because, well, it’s never explained nor are there even any clues left around to make us really wonder what is happening.

But the worst one is actually a bit of a plot-hole and ends up being nonsensical. At one point, the Good Girl, Emma, wanders off and meets a doppelganger that berates her in an attempt to break her spirit, which is pretty much always a precursor to some kind of possession. In that scene, Emma wears the outfit given them by the organization, while her doppelganger wears a similar but strikingly different outfit. This, of course, makes for an obvious difference between the two that we, the audience, will certainly notice. When Emma returns to the group … she’s wearing the outfit that the doppelganger was wearing. So, without anything else being introduced, we’re definitely going to think “doppelganger”. And then wonder why no one else noticed that she was wearing different clothes. Okay, we don’t always pay that much attention to what other people are wearing — especially in the stressful situation they were in — but there are two problems with that being done in this movie. The first is that they didn’t wear their own clothes, but were instead wearing a uniform provided by the organization. You might not notice what they specifically were wearing, but when you’re all wearing the same thing you’d probably notice when someone is suddenly wearing something different. Second, one of the creepy things added to the movie was a “graveyard” where there had been left lots of items of clothing (which is even a plot-point as Douche goes to get some clothes from there to bandage a wound). With all the creepiness going on, someone would probably pause to wonder if Emma changed into clothes from the “graveyard”, which would be rather creepy, certainly. The movie at least lampshading that and having her give an excuse would have easily closed that hole.

But, fine, whatever, would have been nice but … sure. Except they have Emma return and act like her old self, for some reason, except for not wanting to leave the camp, for some reason. And at the end, she ends up wandering the woods as well, still acting like Emma, and even disappearing in a way where the last survivor, at least, is worried about her. And then the monster appears, and she shows up clearly on the side of the monster, to the surprise of … no one in the audience. And there was no need for her to be there to have that guy killed, because the monster had clearly done a great job of that without her. And she doesn’t even really seduce or deceive him into that either, or at least not in any way beyond the last couple of minutes. So … why have doppel-Emma at all? What does she provide for the entity or entities or whatever that’s behind this? And why was she converted while the others were just killed? The movie doesn’t explain that because it doesn’t explain anything about the horror, and so all we end up is a convenient conversion that leads to a betrayal that we all saw coming because the movie went out of its way to telegraph while pretending that it hadn’t done that.

Yeah, that could have been done better.

At the end of the day, it’s not a bad movie. It’s short and does move, so you don’t really have time to get bored of it, so it kills an hour and fifteen minutes without being really annoying. It’s just not a very good movie and doesn’t really achieve any of the things that it might have wanted to achieve as a movie. It’s essentially like plain microwave popcorn: it didn’t take long to set it up and consume it, but it didn’t really leave any kind of impression on you other than as something you consumed for a while. Yes, the plot hole and telegraphing hurts it, but most of the movie doesn’t really have those sorts of problems. It’s ultimately a movie that I could watch again and might even have watched again if I had nothing else to watch, but with so many alternatives there’s no real reason to bother; I can kill that time much more entertainingly with pretty much anything else I have that I could use to kill time.


One Response to “Thoughts on “Pledges””

  1. Thoughts on “Wrong Turn 2” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] show and the cannibals killing people as well. This is actually a pretty good idea, and unlike in Pledges they do indeed take a little more time to have the reality show premise at least keep the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: