One of the difficulties in reviewing a Hatchet film is the direction of which to take the review, given that the franchises’ overexposed issues with the MPAA and overt criticism plants seeds into a horror fans subconscious. On one hand, this element effectively makes an objective review almost impossible, unless you’re focusing solely on the film as a narrative, difficult to do with a sequel no less, or in terms of technical skill, in which you’ve got the give and take between execution versus context. Therefore, the best approach is likely to put the cards on the table in a way that most closely resembles the experience of watching Dark Sky Films’ Hatchet III.
To its credit, Hatchet III is much better than its immediate predecessor, despite an incredibly thin story spread over two simultaneous narratives and a style that’s become too formulaic and predictable for the franchises’ own good. However, Hatchet III contains stronger acting than the previous entry, as well as more visually satisfying kill scenes and a more believable scope achieved from the on-location shooting of the film. Likewise, BJ McDonnell is likely the films’ MVP, objectively stepping back from the smothering fan service on display in the second film to deliver a comparatively restrained and more fluid chapter in the Victor Crowley saga.
However, for all of the visible good that can be taken in from Hatchet III, there must also be the bad and the ugly. While the first Hatchet film was an enjoyable and unexpectedly brutal excursion into the old-school slasher film archetype and Hatchet II was a mean, unfocused response to the shock-and-awe response to the first film, effectively removing mystery and likeable characters, Hatchet III feels like a stubborn game of one-upsmanship to bring every insane idea to the fray, with the problem being that the game is only played by one person. Tie in some erratic dialogue, poor story structure and some bizarre tinkering in racism, and Hatchet III separates itself from the franchise in a relationship akin to that of a freak show to a carnival.
Hatchet III’s strongest suit is the acting, slightly below that of the first film yet leaps and bounds above Hatchet II, especially in terms of the leads. Where some of the acting delves too far into the ring of self-referential horror territory, most particularly Caroline Williams and the slightly-less-grating Cody Snider, Danielle Harris once again goes for the gusto as Marybeth, despite having less to do than in Hatchet II, and Kane Hodder adds a certain level of intimidation to the wash-rinse-repeat portrayal of Crowley via vastly improved make-up effects. And although the small appearances by genre figures like Jason Trost, Sean Whalen and a few familiar faces from previous Hatchet films, the shining lights of the film come in the form of Derek Mears and Zach Galligan.
Mears, who rarely gets an opportunity to show off his acting talents as he’s relegated to make-up and CGI enhanced creatures, impresses with his standard-issue hard-ass military type, inserting a certain immovability and uncompromised skepticism into what could easily have been a throw-away role. And even though his eventual interaction with Crowley is a let-down, especially considering the potential of a Vorhees vs. Vorhees grudge match, Mears proves to be engaging in many of the scenes in which he’s featured. Galligan, essentially brought out of retirement for the film, steals the show, unleashing a surprisingly emotionally affecting and sometimes intense performance as the frustrated and disbelieving sheriff in charge of getting to the bottom of the Crowley murders. Galligan shows an unforeseen strength and depth in his role, and by the end of the film, you’ll be wondering why a character actor of his caliber has waned so far into obscurity since his heyday in the ‘80s. Hopefully, Galligan’s work in this film will lead to an all-the-more welcome presence of the Gremlins star in the genre community.
Nevertheless, the strengths of the performances fall beneath the shadow of the films laundry-list of faults and flaws. Despite the attempt to catch the pulp-cartoon vibe of the first film, Hatchet III finds itself most mismanaged within the humor department, landing one genuine laugh against every thirty or so painful misses. Furthermore, despite the feeling of closure in the films final frames, there is a stunning lack of resonation or resolution for the film, instead giving off the vibe of an over-stuffed textbook rather than a sweeping cinematic send-off. Lastly, the violence, while looking better-than-ever under McDonnell’s lens, is overall inconsistent and unimpressive, rarely hitting the effectiveness of the first film or the pure anarchy of the second film.
Furthermore, Hatchet III’s most dangerous flaws come in its ill-conceived and frankly strange descent into political incorrectness, dangerously walking the thin line between humor and racism disguised as humor. In one particular scene where a genre icon appears in a surprise cameo, the resulting racially-inspired back-and-forth plays less like Shane Black and more like H.P. Lovecraft, as each missed joke compounds the uncomfortable atmosphere and the audience feels like they’re on the outside of an inside joke. Moments of misogyny and class criticism also appear throughout for no real purpose of character development as well, and sometimes not even for a humorous effect, which is even more baffling to even ardent slasher fans. And the inherent stupidity of the film, which is even commented on in one of the films funnier moments, doesn’t necessarily benefit those outside of the established base of Hatchet supporters who have already given the film a rigid suspension of disbelief.
In the end, Hatchet III is not the best entry of the franchise, nor is it the worst. If anything, Hatchet III is a rather harmless and disappointing conclusion to a trilogy that started out incredibly strong, especially when compared to other attempts to reboot the slasher genre. The film is borderline inaccessible to those outside of series creator Adam Green’s “Hatchet Army,” who are loyal enough to probably disregard the criticism given to the series thus far. And even though Green is an incredible filmmaker in his own right with an enthusiasm and determination in his craft, perhaps his distance from the franchise might have suited the film better as well, or at least had allowed some checks-and-balances in the films weak screenplay. Hatchet III isn’t an unforgivably terrible film, even though it leaves many areas open for outright dismissal, but with a franchise almost seven years in the making, the film should have been more of a swan song and less of a lame duck.
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.