‘The Girl in the Photographs’: TIFF Review

The Girl in the Photographs - H 2015
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
The use of cameras is strictly prohibited.

Wes Craven executive produced this second feature from horror guru Nick Simon.

A creepy and quirky suburban slasher whose prosaic script is boosted by a playful sense of style, not to mention a welcome sense of humor, The Girl in the Photographs marks an amusingly gory sophomore effort from writer-director Nick Simon (who co-penned the screenplay for Fox's The Pyramid).

Starring Claudia Lee (Kick-Ass 2) as a South Dakota teen tormented by a pair of sadistic shutterbugs, and the hilarious Kal Penn as an unbearable L.A. hipster you’re just hoping will meet his end, this offbeat indie chiller benefits from colorful cinematography and bits of satisfying butchery, even if a less than airtight scenario fails to make it run efficiently. Following a premiere in Toronto’s Midnight Madness section, a small domestic release and VOD playdates could be in store – especially with the endorsement of the late Wes Craven, credited here as executive producer.

Craven’s touch is felt throughout parts of Girl, especially in the way Simon stages the various killings orchestrated by a pair of young wackos (Luke Baines, Corey Schmitt), who pop up unannounced at the homes of innocent girls, subjecting them to grisly photo sessions that don’t require any makeup effects or Photoshop retouches. Their antics have something to do with bored local blond Colleen (Lee), though the justifications provided by the screenplay (co-written with Robert Morast and Osgood Perkins – director of the well-received Toronto Vanguard title, February) are not all that convincing, nor are the different machinations used to bring the characters together for the final bloodbath.

But this is a horror flick, where story is sometimes less important than gory, and in that sense Simon often delivers on his promise, especially in the home invasion sequences, as well as during the frantic closing ketchup fest. Working with veteran horror cinematographer Dean Cundey  (Halloween), the director takes his time to give each victim their due, using a ripe color palette to make the murders look both fresh and eerie, with Nima Fakhrara’s score accompanying the action in suspenseful ways.

While the script is often boilerplate B-movie fodder, it’s revitalized by comic touches involving pompous West Coast fashion photographer Peter Hemmings (Penn), who’s so taken with the barbaric pictures that he rolls into town with his crew to shoot a series of trendsetting recreations. The name is obviously a reference to the hero of Antonioni’s Blow-Up, though the character is clearly modeled on art-smut maestro Terry Richardson (thankfully, Simon doesn’t have Hemmings do full-frontal shots of his own junk like Richardson often does).

Penn (Dr. House, the Harold & Kumar movies) seems to be having a ball here as the unbearable ego-driven lenser, dishing out tirades about his artistic genius while humiliating everyone around him for the sake of it. You’re really begging for his character to get the ax, though Simon lets him survive long enough so that he can sprinkle the film with doses of humor – just until none of us can take it anymore and we’re even egging the killers on with shouts of “die hipster, die!”



Production companies: Al-Ghanim Entertainment
Cast: Kal Penn, Claudia Lee, Kenny Wormald, Toby Hemingway, Luke Baines
Director: Nick Simon
Screenwriters: Osgood Perkins, Robert Morast, Nick Simon
Producers: Thomas Mahoney, Andrea Chung
Executive producers: Wes Craven, Nawaf Alghanim
Director of photography: Dean Cundey
Production designer: Eric Fraser
Costume designer: Autumn Steed
Editor: Michael Griffin
Composer: Nima Fakhrara
Casting director: Nancy Nayor
Sales agent: CAA

No rating, 95 minutes