THE MAD HATTER (2021)
Directed by Catherine Devaney.
Written by R.V. Romero, Armando Gutierrez, Catherine Devaney.
Starring Armando Gutierrez, Nick Miller, Samuel Caleb Walker, Michael Berryman, Isadora Cruz, Dennis Mallen, Rachel Brunner, Julia Kay, Benjamin Dougherty-King, Yvonne Gougelet, John Hardy, Sophia Rose Nikolov, Fedor Steer, Landin Wilkins, & Zac Zedalis as The Mad Hatter!
Find out more about this film here!
A group of psychology students take a trip with their professor to a mansion in the hills rumored to be owned by an eccentric millionaire who threw decadent parties. It’s also rumored to be haunted when the last party ended in an inferno, killing all of the partygoers. When the kids arrive at the mansion, they meet the odd staff (lead by horror icon Michael Berryman) and begin experiencing nightmares eluding to past traumas of each of them. While the professor conducts sessions with each of them, the nightmares become more prevalent, creeping into waking life and behind it all appears to be a mystical being known as the Mad Hatter!
I want to start off positively and say that writer/director Catherine Devaney has a wonderful eye for making gorgeous and nightmarish imagery on the screen. This is a film on a very small budget, but Devaney’s previous work as an art director on such films as DOCTOR STRANGE, MEN IN BLACK 3, and other high profile projects shines through. Devaney makes what could be a very low budget film look much more extravagant and grandiose due to some simple set designs and decent CG work. It shows that Devaney has the potential to do great things as this is one of the better looking low budgeters I’ve seen.
Unfortunately, THE MAD HATTER’s script is problematic. Basically, this is a twist on A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and it doesn’t seem like anyone is trying to hide it. The Hatter himself is a burned shadow man in a hat. He doesn’t speak, which sets him apart and makes him less scary as Freddy, but he utilizes the insecurities, traumas, and tragedies of the kids to haunt their nightmares and waking hours. And while each of the kids seem to have their own issues worth delving into, the film takes an excessive amount of time to get to them. It also seems to get into boring ones while simply grazing over others. A lot of time is spent on the characters of Chelsea (Isadora Cruz) whose father is suffering from cancer and Henry (Samuel Caleb Walker) who was there when his sister drowned as a child. These are potent traumas but repeated scenes are dedicated to these traumas whereas the other two students; Val (Rachel Brunner) who had an abusive mother and a tendency to bite her nails and Ian (Nick Miller) who seems to have been physically and sexually abused in his foster home, barely get enough time to shine. Val and Ian’s problems are much more vivid and interesting in terms of turning them into a nightmare, but never do we get a scene where Val eats her own hand or some other nightmare scenario and we only get one hint at sexual abuse with Ian as Val turns into a man while Ian’s having sex with her. I feel these are missed opportunities and the filmmaker was distracted with other aspects of the film to get into these meaty psychological issues. We get to see one of the sessions Professor Hart (Armando Gutierrez) has with the kids, but after that, we really don’t get to see any therapy going on revisiting these traumas. It’s all so surface level and it didn’t have to be. I can understand a low budget preventing the film from going into a special effects showcase, but some scenes that actually delve into these kids’ problems would have made the film feel much deeper. Instead there are multiple scenes of Val and Ian making out, the kids sneaking to the basement to steal wine, the Professor creeping about the house, and Ian chasing his ghost sister about the halls. The story drags, seemingly to fill time, but I think had a little more effort gone into the story phase, this really could have been a great film.
THE MAD HATTER also drifts to a rather aimless and anti-climactic ending. Sure the fates of the kids are decided, but there really isn’t anything of heft that happens. It just kids of slogs to the epilogue scene and forgets about them. There is not a lot of time spent on making the Hatter more than just a CG monster in the shadows, so there’s not a lot to do with the character as the threads of this tale begin to come together in the end.
The effects are decent. The look of the Hatter himself is somewhat interesting. And I liked the subtle nods to ALICE IN WONDERLAND. The acting actually holds up decently, though I feel Berryman is once again delegated to a non-speaking role which is a shame since I think when he has been able to speak in films, he’s been great. But they just use him as something spooky for the scenery. It feels like a missed opportunity to incorporate the Hatter’s staff as other Wonderland characters and if any film needs a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE style dinner scene, it’s this one. But alas, that doesn’t happen. THE MAD HATTER had potential, as does it’s director Catherine Devaney. I feel good things are in her future. THE MAD HATTER highlighted some of them as this is a very good looking film, but the problematic and listless script really does it a disservice.