“Cornered” is a uniquely structured horror movie that manages to build suspense through a series of unfortunate events that transpire during a night of murder. Upon the initial viewing, it may seem that certain scenes are random time fillers for an 80-minute feature, but like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece connects to crucial plot points and defining the characters. Nothing in the film is what it appears to be, and for that, the element of suspense (along with some exceptional performances) is evident throughout.
A serial killer is stalking the streets of Los Angeles as the crew of a local convince store discusses the ransom money offered for the killer. Each has an elaborate plan on what they would do if they ever came across the killer. These characters may seem stereotypical at first glance, but they eventually become an interesting array of people to watch as they get ready to play poker in an apartment above the convince store. These people are so different that it is hard to imagine how they became friends.
Slowly, we discover that many of their cell phones are not working, and that portly worker Donny (Peter Story) accidentally bordered up a door blocking one major exit to the store. Steve (Eduardo Antonio Garcia) is trying to keep his nephew Jimmy (James Duval) off drugs, so he has locked all the doors to the store with his keys, which eventually go missing. With their cell-phone service slowly diminishing and being locked in, the characters are cornered by a serial killer.
On top of that, the serial killer manages to kill them all in the ways they described they would kill him. So it is up to the audience to place their bets on who the killer might be.
Director Daniel Maze has taken elements from past slasher films and updated them for a modern audience in a horror movie that is a cut above the rest. It asks everybody in the audience to draw their own conclusions and emotions for the array of eccentric and unusual characters while sending chills down your back. The pace of the film keeps you in that frame of suspense. A large part of that is due to the great cast, which keeps you glued to screen even if you have a sinking feeling that you may know who the killer is.
Duval is nothing short of amazing in his performance as the drug-addicted cashier suffering from withdrawals. His performance ranges from comedy to drama while allowing the audience to empathize with his needs. During his withdrawals, he exhibits a fear of cockroaches that will leave your flesh in goose bumps. The scene where roaches seem to be crawling all over the store is both funny and frightening due to Duval’s conviction on selling it to the audience. He exhibits that raw, early charisma that Keanu Reeves once thrived upon.
Story portrays the lovesick, donut-loving Donny to perfection. He convincingly exposes us to a man who is shy, but head-over-heels for the luscious Jess (Elizabeth Nicole), who has a ton of personal problems. Their interaction adds another dimension to the picture, as well as two strong characters to be the main protagonists.
A special mention must be made of Steve Guttenberg’s work in a horror picture, which is nothing like what we’ve seen from him in the past. In a few short scenes, he reminds us of the charm that was present in movies such as “The Chicken Chronicles,” “Diner” and “Police Academy.”
The cinematography is done so well that we are instantly trapped in the drab lifestyles of the main characters, and are caught up in their hopeless struggle. It is a universe that draws you in, but allows you to be glad to leave it all behind at the end. This is some grim, dark, edgy filmmaking that manages to keep a sense of humor, which helps balance the grimy feeling created by the cinematography.
The work put into the murder scenes is also a major highlight to this independent treat.
“Cornered” is nothing at all what you’d expect it to be, and is constantly stating that with the fresh voice from Maze. You are not watching the usual gaggle of teenage victims being hacked up, but rather an interesting cast of characters that are easy to sympathize with.