Steel Trap review by Matt Fuerst


I am absolutely a little late to this party, but I had a few breakthroughs last night in my thinking on horror in general, and the slasher genre in particular. We're all pretty familiar with the slasher setup by this point. We've got a mysterious seemingly unkillable (is that a word?) figure, stalking and systematically killing a group of individuals. Said victims probably have something in common (all being in a camp, living on the same street, taking college classes together, etc...). What makes slashers, specifically slasher series, popular? The bad guys, of course. I say the word slashers, the names Jason, Freddie, Michael very likely flash in your mind. Yet (bear with me here, I'm getting close to my point), the vast majority of the screen time for slasher flicks isn't spent with the killer/bad guy. The two real stars of a slasher type flick are the victims and the location. If you create an interesting and relatable group of victims set in an interesting locale, you've got yourself a winning slasher flick. Does Jason Voorhees really have all that interesting of a personality (he doesn't talk) or screen presence (the initial "potato-sack on the face" look wasn't all that cool)? Just like real estate - location, location, location. And some interesting victims. That's my stance and I'm sticking to it.

Steel Trap isn't a straight slasher per se, but I came to these conclusions while watching it and plan on using the criteria to judge it successful or no. Steel Trap has the typical slasher criteria, but includes some interesting giallo elements as well. Steel Trap begins with a trendy looking New Years Eve party. Held on the top floor of an abandoned high rise building, a group of media movers and shakers are gathered to hear a band ring in the new year being all young and modern, yet serious and executive-like. We are introduced to our group of future victims and the first problem flares up. Well over half of the group is annoying. This is a common tactic for most horror flicks. I believe the thought of the screenwriters is that they will create some very annoying characters, so the audience has a nice cheer when said annoying characters are killed in miserable awful manners. I personally find this to be an approach setup for failure. The audience has no attachment at all to a character, there is nothing but contempt for them when they are on the screen, and when they are dispatched we merely breathe a sigh of relief that we don't have to deal with them anymore. All the attendees sense the relatively lameness of the party, but all simultaneously receive a mysterious text message telling them of an exclusive invitation only party a few floors door.

When the group arrives, they find themselves presented with a relatively empty floor of an office building creepily dressed up like a childrens birthday party. Place cards are spread amongst the balloons and confetti announcing each participant and describing each in a disparaging, yet truthful manner - "two faced", "heartless", etc... The guests are soon presented with a puzzle that leads them around to various locations in the building. As they move from room to room, this quest that starts out as a relatively fun treasure hunt soon turns grim, and quickly thereafter deadly. The party goers are dispatched one at a time as they are carefully plucked from the group, trapped in the high rise and desperate to get out. Some of the giallo elements play out over the course of the movie, we the audience see the killer, but they are dressed all in black and are wearing two black facemasks! Like a typical giallo, the motivations for the killer come spilling out in a last minute information dump that may or may not make sense depending on how generous you are with the concept of "making sense". But since when do we require horror movies to make sense?

Using my aforementioned judging criteria of (A) interesting victims and (B) creepy locations, Steel Trap fails miserably on (A) and succeeds wonderfully on (B). The characters are completely awful. The writers attempted to create a clean split and have two relatively likeable characters and the rest as stupid annoying doofuses. We are supposed to care for the likeable guy/girl and wish immediate death on the others. In spite of their attempts, the "likeable" pair are pretty marginal at best. The female, Kathy a celebrity chef, really only shows an interesting glimmer of personality in her final seconds on screen and Wade, the likeable all-American guy is pretty cookie cutter. The unlikable group are given awful dialogue and absolutely miserable personalities. It's not the actors fault, I can only imagine the angst they feel on the inside when they read their script and it says:

That above is an actual exchange from the movie, by the way. And no, it's not done in a humor or smart assy way. That's completely straight. So our problem here with the characters is that they are stuck in this nebulous space between well done horror movies and the Scary Movie series when it comes to their dialogue and actions. Everyone plays their roles straight, yet what they say and do at times is so stupid you'd think it's copied from the outtakes of a Scary Movie DVD.

Now the location, for Steel Trap it's a huge winner. The filmmakers actually filmed the movie in an actual abandoned high rise, and it really works. The initial scenes at the party are pretty trivial and normal, but once our victims enter in the real party, struggling for their lives the building really becomes a cast member. And the best part is, it's the only non-annoying cast member of the group (though the silent killer with a neat mask is appreciated as well)! Director Luis Camara uses every aspect of the building to his advantage. Lots of cramped hallways, with flickering lights: check. Some wide open spaces to give a sense of doomed loneliness: check. Creepy anti-septic green lit shower room: check. Creeping, slow rolling camera shots of empty hallways effectively build a sense of dream for the annoying characters to come screeching into frame to destroy. Some of the scenes are channeling their best The Shining impression, and Kubrick fans alike will hate me for saying, Camara and his production staff do a good job of it.

With a DVD cover like above, no one is going to be blindsided by Steel Trap. If seeing that cover piques your interest, you most likely will enjoy the movie. It's a lot more like a good giallo than an Uwe Boll movie. Watching the movie muted, with subtitles may take the edge off your inevitable distaste for the characters, distaste that even on screen dismemberment doesn't wash clean.

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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