There are really two kinds of “scary” that horror movies tend to deal with, the known and the unknown. The unknown is easy to make scary. Whatever is out there in the dark, acting out in unexplainable and motiveless ways is innately scary. The known is a little trickier. Not only is it harder to make a known entity, one who has been explained and given motives, scary, the known breed of evil tends to make an audience member a little uneasy. It’s hard to be scared and engrossed by a film when it is constantly pointing out the real-life evil that surrounds us. With that difficulty level of creating a horror film with a relatable, known villain, one cannot but admire the voracity of Julian Richards and his latest film Shiver. With his direction and a script by Robert D. Weinbach, Shiver plants itself solidly into that “known” school of horror storytelling, to the point that we meet and get to know the antagonist well before we ever see our protagonist.
The problem with Shiver though, despite all of its boldness, is that it never takes into account or even acknowledges those innate narrative pitfalls of this style of villain. We meet Franklin Rood, aka The Griffon(John Jarratt) within the first frames of the film and not much mystery is allowed to envelop from this point forward. In fact, he is nearly devoid of it. The audience is treated to clunky flashbacks that reveal his motivations and general psychology. Beyond this, his characterization rises to nearly cartoonish levels by the time he meets our protagonist Wendy Alden(Danielle Harris).
And speaking of cartoonish elements, the relationship between Wendy and The Griffon is more than a little similar to a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon. Playing out through several sequences when that pesky, troublemaking Griffon pursues that wily Wendy who eventually incurs more damage on him than he ever does on her. This becomes both exaggerated and repetitive. The audience is treated to two or three final kills here, to the point that when the credits one can’t help but sigh a breath of relief. Not from tension, but bored exhaustion.
Adding to this, Richards doesn’t seem to recognize his own budgetary constraints here. Instead of shying away from filming complex car chases or especially gory scenes he embraces cheap looking green screen, day-for-night shots, and a large portion of CG blood spatter. Richards, and a lot of his low-budget peers would do well to study the films of Val Lewton, who understood that it was far better to keep the budgetary preventive effects in the shadows and off-camera than to show something obviously fake.
All of that aside, the largest problem with Shiver is the complete lack of pacing and basic narrative momentum. The Tom and Jerry-esque sequences seem like patched short films thrown together to create something that reaches a feature-length running time. Throw in the subplot of the detectives who ineptly hunt The Griffon, who mostly seem to be a stand in for the confused and lethargic audience, and you get several fragments story-lines that never really fit together and make the film seem to last noticeably longer than its mathematical running time.
So, while one has to admire the bravery it took to demystify the killer it also has to be acknowledged that the demystification is rather clunky here. To its credit, Shiver didn’t take the easy, formulaic way out of horror. But it is undoubtedly true that it lost its narrative way outside of those formulaic boundaries.