I’m a sucker for many things in the horror genre (zombie flicks, slasher flicks, excessive and gratuitous gore …). But something you don’t know is that I could never turn down watching a movie based on an Edgar Allen Poe story. It doesn’t matter if it’s a straight up influence or one that’s “loosely inspired by”. TELL TALE falls mainly into the later category – Poe’s influence is definitely there, but the story is modernized and given a fresh spin. In the end TELL TALE is an enjoyable flick despite it having some pacing problems, bad characterizations, and a beginning that is confusing.
We start the film with Terry, played by Josh Lucas (Hank from 2001’s Session 9) getting a new heart from a donor who died from some kind of blunt force trauma to the head. We then cut away and join Terry about 4 weeks later as he’s still trying to adjust to his new heart. Terry’s been dealt a pretty shitty hand in life: His young daughter Angela (Beatrice Miller) has a rare genetic disease that’s causing all the ligaments and tendons in her body to harden; his young wife left him; and he has a bad heart. Luckily his daughter’s doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Clemson (Lena Heady) really cares for both Terry and Angela and will do anything to make sure they are ok. As a relationship slowly builds between Terry and Elizabeth, Terry’s new heart seems to be taking him down a path of revenge. He finds out that his donor didn’t actually donate his heart voluntarily, and every time Terry runs into one of the people responsible for his donor’s death his heart starts pounding in his ears until he kills the guilty parties.
This film is obviously inspired by Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” (first published in 1843). Director Michael Cuestra (who directed five episodes of Dexter in 2006) does a good job with keeping the heart of Poe’s story (tee hee) the same while at the same time updating it and making it feel unique and fresh. The cast also does a good job despite there being some problems with their characters. I’m always ready to watch the sexy Lena Heady (Laid to Rest) in anything and here she does a great job as a strong, smart, independent woman. There’s a slight twist at the end of the flick (that you’ll probably see coming) that kind of puts into doubt her motivations. This twist works as explaining something in the plot, but fails in that it drastically changes her character. That twist didn’t work for me. Lukas also does a pretty good job here as Terry, but often times he comes off as an annoying, over-aggressive prick rather than a tragic character carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. And rounding out the cast is genre favorite Brian Cox, in a wasted role playing the detective (Philip Van Doren) who catches onto Terry’s revenge plot but does nothing about it. Cox’s character seems like a last minute addition in order to write him into the film; but really his character is unnecessary. It’s a shame; Cox always puts in a strong performance no matter what and he just seems so wasted and under-used here.
Besides the beginning being a little confusing there are some pacing problems in the second and third acts that bog the film down and make it seem really sluggish. But if you stick this one out I think you’ll enjoy it. It has a pretty fun final act that throws in an illegal organ harvesting ring and a pretty brutal face stomping scene that will make you cringe and think of 2002’s Irreversible. Despite all it’s flaws I found myself enjoying this one. It successfully updates a classic Edgar Allen Poe story and has some good performances. Check it out.
Director: Michael Cuesta
Plot: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer