I know what you’re thinking – my god, what the hell happened to Val Kilmer? Wasn’t he one third of Heat, with DeNiro and Pacino, and once a Hollywood caliber leading man? Now he is bloated and cancer-pale, and is starring in an unheard of direct-to-DVD dust collector renamed from Mr. Nobody to The Traveler. This film has been kicked around and bullied like the kid with big ears on the bus – but I’m here to tell you, its my pick for this January’s Gem in the Rough (a film that is left for dead, but actually worth a go).
We lovers of the horror genre are no stranger to the fallen star. We’ve seen everyone from Renee Zellweger to Michael Keaton try to reboot their forgotten careers with an obscure, under the radar release – meddling with a genre they had forsaken for an entire career prior, and have no right being in.
Enter now Val, needing the paycheck and hooking up with a low lying production crew to bring you The Traveler . In it, director Michael Oblowitz (The Breed) delivers a story about a mysterious man who walks into a police station to confess to six murders. Detective Black (Dylan Neal) leads the squad this dark night – a man who has grieved through the abduction and murder of his 4 year old daughter. A man who, like the rest of the department on hand this evening, carries the burden of a dark secret: On the night Detective Black’s daughter came up missing, they brought in a no name vagrant who was last witnessed in the child’s presence. They took him into interrogation, and beat him into a coma that lasted over a year – until the victim finally died – never hearing anything from this person’s mouth but “Im innocent” – never getting any information about the child abduction from him at all.
So now, today – in walks The Traveler (Mr. Nobody) – a man with no name. He begins to confess to his crimes. But each time he conveys his crimes, a police officer in the station turns up dead by the same means described by Kilmer. It doesnt take long for them to assess that this man is no ordinary man – and that they are dying horrific deaths each time this suspect confesses his supposed sins.
Its easy to enter this film and immediately go on a foray of insults to Val – scoffing at the remnants of a man who once had the clout of Batman. To insult the shoddy low production value of the set. Pick at the plot and the obviousness of the elephant in the room. But what starts as a 3/10 quickly rises to a solid 5/10 by film’s end.
Why? A few particular reasons.
1. Val Kilmer. Say what you will, but a dilapidated 56 Chevy will outwow a shiny new Volkswagon Beetle any day. Kilmer may be banged up, but he has natural acting ability and presence that surpasses most, and it shines through after the stun of his poor appearance wears off. His softly spoken and calm, motionless presence, combined with the Irish Mass melody he whistles in the echoed halls of dying light bulbs – it works and gives the film something buoyant to adhere to – and you have to admit that after the insults.
2. THE GORE! The special FX crew led by Darcy Davis (who assisted on the FX for Final Destination) made the most of what a pair of scissors, some fists to the face, and a shovel, can do. Aside from a lame, initial belt lashing death, there was meat flying everywhere, chunks of it splashing and sticking to walls, organs flopping out of torsos, heads, arterial spray. I don’t know how many horrible titles Ive had to sit through the past few months that forget they’re horror films, and forget to sever those circulatory vessels and spill the crimson. The Traveler doesn’t forget. One particular scene – where the lady cop goes down – she is strangled, suffocated, stabbed, and decapitated for six minutes straight! Overdone, yes, but bloody fucking awesome, just the same.
3. The no-name cast and simple plot. There’s no flip-flop-twist-turn-whip-out-the-encyclopedia-and-study-a-class-to-understand-it type plot here. It starts simple, you know whats happening the whole time, and the ensemble cast plays it out with just enough earnest and sincerity to buy you in without scoffing at the discount efforts, so you can just sit back and ride. The slight twist in the end is ‘meh’, but makes enough sense related to the plot, and works for the most part. As much as you can point at the plot and say its dumb, its sewn up neatly and tight enough to sit though effortlessly from start to finish.
You can rip Kilmer a new asshole from ten different angles from the onset of this film, but if you forget about his comparable career, you wont be able to do anything else but admit that its a decent horror flick. Even though he looks fresh out of rehab (or a lack thereof) Val possesses acting/presence skills, and they tend to rise to the occasion regardless. The gore was all over the walls and floors and nailed this into the horror genre for sure. It is weak, and direct-to-DVD flawed, but its better than most of the obscure new titles I saw hit the bylines this month – or last. Everyone everywhere will warn you to avoid this loser of a drop. I say, see for yourself. I’m going out on a limb and saying its better than what the majority is claiming. The Traveler hits DVD shelves January 25, 2011.