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J. August Richards
Valentine's Day 1988: At the school dance, geeky Jeremy Melton bravely faces one rejection after the other when asking four popular girls to dance with him. A fifth girl, plump and insecure, agrees, but they end up making out under the bleachers. When a group of school bullies catches them, the girl claims that Jeremy attacked her. This causes them to strip off his clothes and beat him up in front of the entire school. Flash forward to 2001. We meet the five girls who were in that school gym: Kate, Paige, Shelly, Lily and the formerly plump Dorothy. They are all in their 20's now and trying to sort out their love lives, which is appropriate, since Valentine's Day is coming up. After a disastrous date with a loser, one of the girls, a pre-med student, is murdered by a Cherub-mask wearing killer who sent her a death threat in the form of a Valentine card prior to the attack. After the four remaining girls are reunited at her funeral, they all start receiving threatening cards and ... Written by
Tertius Saayman <email@example.com>
A group of model-caliber San Francisco women who have been friends since elementary school are suddenly being threatened and attacked by someone sending them bizarre Valentine's Day cards. Who is the killer and why is the killer after them?
My rating will often change on subsequent viewings of a film--sometimes slightly up, sometimes slightly down. However, I can't remember another film where my rating has changed as drastically as it has for Valentine. The first time I watched it, upon its theatrical release, I thought it was pretty awful--I gave it a 4 out of 10, the equivalent of an "F" letter grade. Watching it for a second time last night, I can't remember what the heck I didn't like about it. I can only assume that maybe I was really in the wrong mood to watch it, or maybe I just didn't get it. In any event, I loved it this time, giving it a 9 out of 10, or an "A".
It might sound ridiculous saying I didn't get a film like this, but there is something to get. Valentine is almost a comedy/horror. Director Jamie Blanks, who was also responsible for 1998's Urban Legend, takes the stereotypical teen horror formula that became so popular in the late 1990s in the wake of Scream (1996) and pushes most of the elements up a notch, making Valentine intentionally cheesy/campy almost to the point of absurdity (where absurdism is a positive stylistic term). On top of that, he gives us a film imbued with humorous commentary on romantic relationships. The humor is unusual in that it has the same exaggeratedly campy tone as the teen horror aspects. Most of the situations in the film, and the modus operandi of the villain, humorous or not, are tied in to the Valentine's Day theme.
Many viewers will likely subtract points from the film for its various cliché-rooted but implausible scenarios and plot developments. However, in light of the above, the film is intentionally clichéd, implausible and ludicrous. It's as if Blanks is attempting (and mostly succeeding) to transcend the typical teen slasher by mocking/spoofing the conventions of the genre while also satirizing eros. That's the attraction to the irony of basing a horror film on Valentine's Day. It's an incongruity that is cleverly woven throughout the film, and that is itself at the heart of the slasher genre, making it prime fodder for Valentine's extravagant lampooning. Scream had a similar aim with its horror material, but the twist there was that the film was "self-aware". Valentine's Day is intentionally not self-aware; the viewer has to rely on contextual clues for satire. Lest some think I'm "reading too much" into the film, it's worthwhile to note that Blanks said in interviews that he "didn't want to just do another slasher film after Urban Legend" and producer Dylan Sellers said he wanted to do something "more adult".
Other viewers may dislike the fact that Valentine's Day differs so much from its putative source material, the novel of the same name by Tom Savage. The novel's characters, setting and plot are very different from the film. Sellers has said, "While it was a fine book, I didn't think it was the right story for a film". So instead the novel, which is much dryer and more serious in tone, was used as a launching pad, a motif to create variations on for a horror/thriller story centered on Valentine's Day. While those facts won't help purists familiar with the book like the film, it's helpful to understand why the film has its divergent plot and attitude. It's probably better to look at the film as an independent entity with a similar theme.
Blanks' direction is impeccable visually. Valentine's Day has a lush look throughout, with complex, deep colors, interesting sets, and good staging. Blanks is admirable for keeping his villain and attack scenes not too dark, with clearly conveyed action. He also directs his actors with aplomb, catalyzing often slyly humorous performances. David Boreanaz, as Adam Carr, is involved in many of the funniest moments.
While Valentine's Day is no masterpiece, it's a very good horror/thriller film that seems strongly prone to misconceptions. If you watch it expecting something more tongue-in-cheek you may find yourself appreciating it a lot more.
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