As a huge fan of Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child's Play) and a horror writer for the last 5 years, I’ve had my eye on Rock, Paper, Scissors since the project was first announced two and a half years ago. Although back then, it was titled Rock, Paper, Dead. Holland directed from a screenplay which was written by Kerry Fleming and Friday the 13th‘s Victor Miller, and this marks Holland's first feature since his 1996 Stephen King adaptation Thinner! Surprisingly, after all of these years out of the director's chair, Holland has managed to craft an intense, at times brutal thriller that harkens back to many of the direct-to-video horror flicks that filled video store shelves during the ’90s.
In the film, Peter "the Doll Maker" Harris (Luke Macfarlane) returns to his ancestral family home after being released from the state’s hospital for the criminally insane – a "cured" man. Once inside the old house, anguished memories from a tortured childhood and ghostly visitations from his past victims shake Peter’s resolve. It isn’t until lovely young Ashley (Jennifer Titus) enters his life that Peter makes a fateful decision, a decision that will rekindle old desires that always ended in murder.
Rock, Paper, Scissors is actually a pretty solid little flick if you don't set your standards too high, I didn't and was pleasantly surprised with the experience as a whole. I felt the film did a decent job with blending psychological suspense and typical slasher tropes, while offering up just enough thrills to keep viewers interested and guessing all the way until the end credits.
Like any good horror film, a strong villain is the real test of one's merit. The killers, be it human or supernatural, get all of the glory in the horror genre, but they can also make or break a film. Thankfully, I'm very happy to say that Luke Macfarlane delivers an impressive performance as Peter. Before Rock, Paper, Scissors, I had never really seen Macfarlane in any other films, which doesn't really matter because he nails his part from the first scene. I can confidently say that he has a bright future in the horror business if he chooses to pursue one.
Jennifer Titus is equally impressive as the film's heroine and Peter's next-door neighbor, Ashley. I appreciate that her character isn’t written as a stereotypical, helpless victim or final girl. Instead, Ashley is able to hold her own, is cunning and can kick ass when she needs to, much like Halloween's Laurie Strode.
Unfortunately, that's were the great performances end and the mediocre ones begin. As much as I love Michael Madsen in Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Reservoir Dogs, he's become somewhat of a one-trick pony. It's almost as if he's gotten so accustomed to playing the same character over and over that he doesn’t put much effort into acting anymore. His performance as Detective Doyle Dechert isn't unbearable, just uninspired. Tatum O'Neal has a smaller supporting role as Dr. Evelyn Bauer, Peter's psychologist, but she has limited dialogue and puts forth just enough effort to move the narrative forward. Ari Lehman, who played young Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th, also makes an appearance, made memorable only by what happens to his character.
The film's runtime is also a bit of a blessing and a curse. Clocking in at an hour and 25 minutes, the film doesn't overstay its welcome, but it also doesn't allow for the screenplay to achieve any sort of depth or complexity. There are a few plot points in Rock, Paper, Scissors that I felt needed a little more clarity, and I feel that with just a few additional minutes and some more lines of dialogue, the film would've packed a bigger punch as a whole.
Most of the scenes in Rock, Paper, Scissors take place in one locale: the home Peter grew up in, performed heinous acts in, and returns to after his release from the nut house. This simplistic approach works as the house kind of takes on a personality of its own. Within said house, Peter is faced with nightmares, flashbacks, and hallucinations from all the years he's spent there. Some of the visuals that result from all of this are expected, but others will certainly catch viewers off guard, including several scenes of practical makeup effects. From slit throats to chopped off hands and ripped out eyeballs, Rock, Paper, Scissors keeps its throwback essence alive with effects that are very reminiscent of movies released decades ago. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if a film makes use of practical effects, it'll always earn some extra points in my book. The musical score by Harry Manfredini is stellar and significantly heightens the film's overall tension where it needs to.
All in all, I enjoyed Rock, Paper, Scissors and recommend it to anyone who misses horror films from a simpler time. This isn't a film that should be taken too seriously, it's the type of movie to sit down and enjoy for what it is. If you'd like a change of pace from the deep, thought provoking horror films that oversaturate the market these days, you should give Rock, Paper, Scissors a watch. There are many other low-budget horror films that fail to measure up to this film when it comes technical quality. It's a fun and entertaining return from the director of multiple horror classics that you already know and love. With Halloween quickly approaching, add Rock, Paper, Scissors to your holiday movie-watching marathon!
Rock, Paper, Scissors is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming services from Lionsgate.