Rock, Paper, Scissors is the new film from Tom Holland, director of the original Child’s Play (1988) and Fright Night (1985). Holland directed from a screenplay which was written by Kerry Fleming and Friday the 13th‘s Victor Miller. The film, Holland’s first feature since 1996’s Thinner, is a fun, blood-soaked thriller that harkens back to many of the direct-to-video horror flicks produced during the ’90s.
Rock, Paper, Scissors follows serial killer, Peter, who is released from a mental institution and returns to the home where he grew up. The house is also the location for his most hideous crimes: the murder of thirteen young women. When new neighbor Ashley moves in next door, it doesn’t take long for Peter‘s deadly impulses to resurface.
Shades of a Psychological Thriller
A Rorschach-inspired opening credit sequence, disturbing hallucinations, and a subplot on whether or not Peter has a twin brother, Rock, Paper, Scissors is slam full of psychologically-tinged elements. While never moving the needle too far into the psychological suspense end of the horror spectrum, the movie offers enough information as to what is going on in each of the characters’ heads to keep viewers interested and guessing all the way until the end.
Let’s be honest, low budget, direct to disc/streaming movies often find themselves inhabited by thinly drawn, stereotypical characters, and Rock, Paper, Scissors is no different. The screenplay never attempts to reach deep into any one character’s psyche, and the short running time doesn’t allow such complexity. The characters are broad, but being paired with an appropriate directing style, each of them are important to the story, serve their primary purpose, and drive the narrative forward.
The screenplay makes an interesting choice to focus on Peter, the killer, as the primary character. From the opening scene to the “surprise” finale, actor Luke Macfarlane makes a full character arc, however superficial it may be. We watch him get busted while in the process of killing a victim, we tag along with him to the courtroom, and eventually follow him as he goes back home and grapples over what is real and what is imagined, eventually returning to his essence.
Jennifer Titus is fun as the heroine and next-door neighbor, Ashley. Her character isn’t a typical, helpless victim or final girl. Instead, Ashley has her own, strong-willed agenda, ala Laurie Strode in 2018’s Halloween reboot.
Also top-billed are Michael Madsen, Oscar winner Tatum O’Neal, and Ari Lehman, all who show up in smaller, supporting roles, but, like their counterparts, are memorable with limited dialogue and laser-focused wants and desires.
A House of Nightmares
Rock, Paper, Scissors mostly takes place in a single location: the house where Peter grew up. Through the course of the movie, the house takes on a personality of its own as Peter is faced with nightmares, memories, and hallucinations from his previous years spent there. It’s obvious that many of the visuals are present for shock value, but viewers will be genuinely surprised with some of the outlandish things that take place, including several scenes of practical makeup effects that add a wallop to the already existing ’90s direct-to-video feel. Setting such a large portion of a movie in one location could be a weird juxtaposition with characters that are so two dimensional, but, in the case of Rock, Paper, Scissors, it works decently enough.
Lots of Gore
By now you should know that, despite some of the heavier topics, none of Rock, Paper, Scissors should be taken too seriously. This is the type of movie to sit down and enjoy for what it is. As mentioned earlier, the film feels like a throwback of sorts. In this regard, the tone is spot-on, and Holland makes the most of the ambiance by offering plenty of blood and gore. From slit throats to chopped off hands and pulled out eyeballs, the gore factor is over the top and reminiscent of movies released several decades ago. Even with all of the mayhem, Rock, Paper, Scissors is never particularly scary, but the film does provide viewers with quite a few scenes that are pretty intense, largely in part to the musical score by Harry Manfredini.
A Short Run Time
Clocking in at only 84 minutes works both in the film’s favor and against it; good for pacing, but problematic story-wise. I got the impression that Miller’s original screenplay was probably much more involved than what appears in the final version. Cutting down to a bare-bones story structure is a technique I actually like, but, in the end, there are a few plot points in Rock, Paper, Scissors that I felt needed a little more clarity. By adding just a few additional minutes and several more lines of dialogue, the film would have had a bigger impact.
Overall, I enjoyed Rock, Paper, Scissors and would recommend it to horror fans who miss the direct-to-video releases of the ’90s. This is the first film by Tom Holland I’ve seen in a long time, and, after looking over his filmography, I realized that this production has elements of each of his previous features, a sign of a stylistically-focused director. If you aren’t in the mood for some of the deep, thought provoking horror films as of late (i.e. you would rather have fun), you could do a lot worse than checking out Rock, Paper, Scissors. It is an entertaining return from the director of several ’80s and ’90s classics that you already love.
Rock, Paper, Scissors hits Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming services on July 23rd, from Lionsgate. What is your favorite Tom Holland movie? Are you excited to check out Rock, Paper, Scissors? Let us know on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!