Stylish, Suspenseful Revenge in ‘Valentine’
“Valentine” is a smart, stylish horror picture that offers a fresh twist on the ever-reliable revenge theme and affords a raft of talented young actors solid roles that show them to advantage.
Director Jamie Blanks makes the most of this adaptation--by many hands--of the Tom Savage novel. He builds suspense adroitly and leavens chills and thrills with laughter. Best of all, he delivers the requisite gore in a manner that allows us to complete its grislier aspects in our imagination.
Ostensibly set in San Francisco but shot, you guessed it, in Vancouver, “Valentine” opens 10 years earlier at a junior high prom in a school gym. A boy named Jeremy Melton, who would be nice-looking were it not for ugly glasses and prominent teeth, bravely faces one rejection after another in his quest for a dancing partner until he spots a girl sitting alone and forlorn in the bleachers. She’s pretty but plumper than the other girls.
Instead of dancing, the two outcasts wind up making out under the bleachers until they are discovered. Horrified at being identified with the nerdy boy, she screams out “Pervert!” and accuses him of molesting her. The hapless kid is attacked brutally by a group of boys.
Cutting to the present, we discover Shelly (Katherine Heigl), a premed student on a disastrous blind date with a clearly disturbed guy who has a strong physical resemblance to that young victim of a decade earlier. Indeed, Shelly and her girlfriends were in that gym, cheering on the boys in their mindless savagery. Not long after Shelly has given her date the brush off, she becomes a murder victim, stalked by a knife-wielding figure wearing a cherub’s mask.
Shelly’s funeral brings together her old friends: Kate (Marley Shelton), a pretty blond journalist; Paige (Denise Richards), a brunet stunner with a wry wit; Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw), an elegant blond; and Lily (Jessica Cauffiel), yet another blond, her face framed with curls. Pretty soon they start receiving beautifully handcrafted valentine cards, which, once opened, reveal rhymed death threats; pretty soon they’re beginning to wonder if Jeremy is at long last seeking revenge.
None of them has given a second thought to how Jeremy’s terrible beating affected his life. Even now only Paige is capable of acknowledging that “we were horrible.” In any event, the old school pals clearly seem to be in danger.
In the meantime, Blanks takes the opportunity to acquaint us with these women, to present them in full-dimension and thereby create a portrait of young single women making their way in the world.
In a very real sense, they are as vulnerable, despite their good looks, as Jeremy was a decade earlier. At times the film recalls Claude Chabrol’s classic “Les Bonnes Femmes” with its young Parisiennes full of dreams--and a strangler in their midst.
But this is a horror pic, after all, and yes, bodies do start piling up. “Valentine” is expertly structured, and includes scenes of an art gallery that has been transformed into a maze of screens presenting cropped images of videos of men and women selling themselves as sex objects. It is at once an homage to the fun-house, mirror-maze sequence in “Lady from Shanghai” and a comment on the depersonalized contemporary dating scene.
“Valentine,” gleamingly photographed by Rick Bota, climaxes appropriately at a Valentine Eve party at Dorothy’s mansion. Until the last moment, Blanks keeps us guessing as to the identify of the serial killer; timing and staging are everything at moments of truth, and Blanks pulls off his revelation with a flourish that elicits an unexpected feeling of poignancy.
* MPAA-rated: R, for strong horror violence, some sexuality and language. Times guidelines: intense, disturbing images of horror violence, some sex, language; inappropriate for youngsters.
Marley Shelton: Kate
David Boreanaz: Adam
Denise Richards: Paige
Jessica Capshaw: Dorothy
Jessica Cauffiel: Lily
Katherine Heigl: Shelly
A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment. Director Jamie Blanks. Producer Dylan Sellers. Executive producers Grant Rosenberg and Bruce Berman. Screenplay by Donna Powers & Wayne Powers and Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts; based on the novel by Tom Savage. Cinematographer Rick Bota. Editor Steve Mirkovich. Music Don Davis. Costumes Karin Nosella. Production designer Stephen Geaghan. Art director Sue Parker. Set decorator Andrea French. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
In general release.