Horror: a genre of entertainment focused on eliciting an audience response from a spectrum of dark emotions: terror, suspense, fear, revolution, disgust, anguish, sadness, gallows humor, etc.
That’s my personal definition of horror you see above. As typical of a film based on a comic book character, VENOM’s main purpose to is thrill its audience. It does not, by my measure, earn the “horror” label. But to ignore the movie’s appeal to the dyed-in-the-wool horror audience is absurd. It does, after all, feature a gooey alien monster who bites heads off.
It seems pointless to warn that spoilers will follow. If you’ve seen the trailer… or even heard someone mention the trailer in an echo down a hallway… then you no doubt have a solid mental premonition about the movie’s story. And you’re correct about all of it. 100%. To say the movie lacks any surprises is an understatement: scene after scene play out in the most economical way possible. Characters are established through shorthand. Arch-types are employed. A slight variation on the rogue-cop-getting-dressed-down-by-his-sergeant-for-not-following-the-rules scene even includes the boss character turning his back to our protagonist before firing him. Consider it a cat-crossing glitch in the Matrix, if you will.
It's totally understandable if it feels like a joke being told with the preface, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.” Because you have heard the joke before―
―And it's exactly here where this review takes the sort of sharp left turn that the film never does: VENOM is not a bad movie. It’s not ambitious, never as clever as it thinks it is, and does little to convince you that you NEED to see the inevitable sequel, but it also never puts a wrong foot forward. It’s never sillier than any of its proper Marvel or DC peers and doesn’t talk down to its audience, either. These are not statements that can be made of every man-in-cape flick that came out this year.
At its core, VENOM is an unabashed Tom Hardy vehicle. Thankfully, his performance bares little resemblance to the weasel-y mumbler from the film’s trailer. Instead, we follow an ethically challenged but morally correct man who is his own worst enemy. Hard times follow him only because he keeps them on a leash, always causing his own failures. We all know the type. Brock is more human than most superhero characters because his imperfections have real ramifications in his life. They’re not just character ticks meant to round out his persona, an approach that has haunted the comic book movie genre for decades.
The outline of the plot more or less mirrors the original Iron Man. Flawed man falls into horrible situation. Discovers superpowers. Uses found powers to defeat villain with same abilities. Hell, Michelle Williams’ final heroic scene maps closely to Gwyneth Paltrow's to an alarming degree. That said, it worked for Iron Man and it does again here. Not very original, but no missteps, either.
Well, maybe ONE missteps. There’s a baffling sequence in which dozens of drones are released to follow Brock/Venom on an extended motorcycle chase. Inexplicably- but hilariously- the drones seem to have been programmed to model the behavior of the eagles and vultures from BIRDEMIC. Their mode of attack is kamikaze dive bombing and exploding into random vehicles and the street behind, in front of, and to each side of our (anti-)hero(es). Friggin’ bizarre.
This braindead action beat is at least partially counteracted by the occasional Cronenbergian flourish; in their best moments, the experiments conducted at Life Foundation have a touch of the queasiness of THE FLY’s body horror. A better comparison may be Vincenzo Natali’s too-quickly forgotten SPLICE, but without that film’s Gigeresque sexuality. Again, VENOM is not a horror film, but it’s also unafraid to creep up to the line… at least occasionally.
So, should you, a horror fan, bother paying to see VENOM? It depends on your feelings about superhero movies. If you enjoy them, then sure, with expectations kept in your pockets, a tub of popcorn in your lap, and a date’s hand in yours.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Written by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel
Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed
--ABOUT THE AUTHOR--
Lorne Dixon grew up on a diet of yellow-spined paperbacks, black-and-white monster movies, and the thunder-lizard backbeat of rock-n-roll. He is the author of five published horror novels, including his most recent, Bleak December.