7 Days of May: Day 6 - Toolbox Murders
Does Angela Bettis redeem this film in the end?
By M.T. Bates
Tobe Hooper’s 2004 remake of The Toolbox Murders is an interesting film and quite possibly the most peculiar pick of this event, mainly because I don’t know if it is good or mediocre. It starts out like your typical slasher film, with your typical slasher score, but they crank up the rate of speed at which things happens rather significantly. Angela Bettis plays Nell, who just moved into a hellhole of an apartment with her husband.
Nell is crass and a little short-tempered, and definitely not as likeable as some of Angela’s other characters, but at the same time that is refreshing. She can’t play a likable character in every movie, so this is a change of pace for her. However, there is also problem with this formula as Nell is just an average character all around. There is nothing overly memorable about her and nothing that sets her apart from anyone else. It doesn’t help that the building she moves into seems more like a halfway house with the cast of characters who also inhabit the building.
The first 30 minutes of the film don’t feel like they go anywhere but also make you feel like you missed around 2 hours of backstory somewhere. You keep wanting more depth out of Nell but the movie never quite delivers. It wants you to feel bad for her, as she is dealing with the trials of moving into a rundown building with noisy and annoying neighbors, but you never quite reach that emotional state. Even when we start to learn a little more about Nell and her past, it is too little, too late.
It doesn’t take long for neighbors to start being picked off by a masked killer with a toolbox full of goodies. The kills, however, aren’t overly creative or suspenseful. As more neighbors are killed, Nell finally begins to open up more and show some character. It is at this point that the movie becomes a pseudo mystery movie and begins to become interesting. It takes 50 minutes but you’ll finally start feeling engaged with both the movie and Nell.
Nell develops a new passion for figuring out the many mysteries of the building. Watching her dive into all of the building's anomalies is your reward for making it through the first half of the movie. Before this point, all we have is a mystery killer who seemingly has no motive and an Angela Bettis character with no charisma. Even the score steps its game up and becomes engaging.
Her determination is the fuel this movie needed from the beginning, but perhaps the mundane start to the film was deliberate as a means to draw you in later. As her investigation continues, so does the tension of what she will ultimately discover. The atmosphere of the film changes drastically in the later half, with Nell being the driving force behind it, as Angela is finally given something she can work with to expand on Nell.
7 Days of May: Day 5 - Roman
We get a little bit of a role reversal for the next installment of our special event celebrating the work of Angela Bettis.
When the movie takes the turn we have been waiting for, it feels like a reward. The killer is revealed and Nell comes alive (as does the movie). The kills become more intense and the killer reveals a twisted personality. You end up watching the movie intently for the last 30 minutes and it is worth it. The more the film reveals, the more intense it gets, and the better Nell gets. She takes on a true final girl role, and while it’s not the kind of role truly fitting for Angela, she makes it work. The ending scene is particularly fun as it uses some horror techniques that I particularly adore.
The movie ends and nothing is truly solved about the killer or the building. While that sort of feels like a letdown in one respect, it also feels appropriate. The worst part about the film is how hard it is to critique Angela’s overall performance because she isn’t given anything to work with until the last bit of the film.
The final act of the movie is great from start to finish and some of the kills are fun. This film's killer is interesting as well.
This movie starts off fast before slowing down big time. You don’t care about any of the characters and the ending has no real payoff.
Angela Rating: 5/10
Capturing the essence of a good mystery slasher film is definitely a herculean task that Toolbox Murders tries to figure out. The beginning stumbles with flashes of greatness and it isn’t until the final act when the movie rewards you for your patience and makes you wonder, “Was this a good flick?” Angela was given a role that she really had no right playing. What I mean by that is that the character of Nell as a whole is too vanilla for Angela, but thankfully we see that she can pull it off in the end.