DIRECTOR Michael A. Nickles WRITER Michael A. Nickles STARS Christian Slater; Ambyr Childers; Toby Hemingway DVD 16 July
As the one-time poster boy for the early 90s generation, playing iconic roles in films such as Heathers and True Romance, working with the likes of Woo and Tarantino, Christian Slater has not had a sniff of a hit for a very long time. He does still have appeal, but appearing in low-budget, direct-to-video trash like Playback isn’t helping.
Here Slater plays Frank, a perverted cop who gets his kicks from video clips of nude high school girls. Selling them is Quinn, a news station archivist possessed by a demonic spirit that transfers itself through a camera lens while he is investigating raw footage of the 1994 murder of a group of students. The spirit is that of Louis Le Prince (the genuine godfather of cinema, who the movie asks us to believe is Satan due to his surname, it translating as ‘prince of darkness’), which not only turns Quinn from a fresh-faced kid into a gaunt, hollowed-eyed psycho with a hoodie fetish, but even more bizarrely gives him the power to possess girls by planting cameras in their bedrooms. Frank’s taste for flesh then leads him to investigate a series of murders happening in town. It’s not as good as it sounds.
Writer-director Michael A. Nickles thinks his movie is a lot cleverer than it is, but any suspense that could have been built from the initial investigation into the massacre — to be fair, this has its moments — is soon dispersed in favour of bloody splatter and nudity. At one point he throws in a shot of a Peeping Tom DVD case, but while Playback lives in the same universe of voyeurism-horror as that classic, it has nothing to say about the act of watching, loneliness or just about anything else. Even for the casual viewer there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before, and towards the final act Playback seems to throw out the script and make it up as it goes along. At one point a kid makes reference to Ring. Do yourself a favour, and watch that again instead.