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Rock, Paper, Scissors (originally titled Rock, Paper, Dead) is the long-awaited collaboration between director Tom Holland, who brought us Fright Night and Child's Play, and writer Victor Miller, who wrote the first Friday the 13th. It involves a former serial killer named Peter “the Doll Maker” Harris (Luke Macfarlane), who was sent to an insane asylum. However, he is released at the behest of his doctor, Dr. Evelyn Bauer (Tatum O’Neal), as she believes he has been rehabilitated, despite the skepticism of former police detective Doyle Dechert (Michael Madsen). Upon returning to his family home, Harris is plagued by horrific memories of his abusive uncle, and it takes an unfortunate emotional toll.
A collaboration between two horror giants such as Holland and Miller is obviously going to have big shoes to fill. Rock, Paper, Scissors is... meh. Frankly, it’s pretty disappointing. There were a lot of delays in production and release, so it didn’t generate the hype one would expect, given the names attached. It only had a fairly limited theatrical release and was primarily relegated to VOD. And honestly, I’m kind of glad about that. It likely would have felt like even more of a letdown if it had been given more pomp and circumstance. I didn’t even really hate it. In several spots, I actually thought it was pretty entertaining. But this should have been fantastic, not just slightly better than mediocre.
Let’s talk about those two titans of horror, because from what I could see, one of them appears undeserving of blame. Tom Holland’s work behind the camera still somehow manages to shine through in several spots. One can clearly see that the budget of this movie was really low, so Holland didn’t exactly have CinemaScope and ILM to work with. But he does manage to find ways to create a decent atmosphere. This is some of the sickest material Holland has done. This is most definitely an exploitation film, given its themes (and frank depictions) of torture, insanity, and sexual abuse. It doesn’t sugarcoat any of these things, and the director deserves some credit for that.
But that’s about where the major positives stop. The performances in the film range from decent to bland. Michael Madsen really seems to be phoning it in, which is really a shame. A lot of the other actors appear to be either inexperienced or out of their depth.
It’s not particularly well-written, either. It’s a pretty cool concept, but the dialogue is, usually, kinda lame. Again, the atmosphere sometimes makes up for it, but this is a pretty poor script. And without spoiling anything, the ending (which features two different twists) feels like a bit of a cop-out. I expected much better from Victor Miller, and while he did have a newcomer as a co-writer on this project, but he missed the mark here.
Rock, Paper, Scissors certainly isn’t bad enough to be classified as a failure, or even generally bad, but it’s most definitely disappointing. Despite the involvement of two horror veterans, and a refusal to shy away from some disturbing subject matter, it still manages to feel fairly amateurish. While director Tom Holland is able to create some truly chilling, sleazy atmosphere, he’s only able to salvage so much. It’s got plenty of bright spots, but it’s a far cry from Fright Night or Friday the 13th.