Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Pin

Films: Pin
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There aren’t a lot of movies quite like Pin. Actually, that’s not quite true; there’s quite a bit of Psycho in Pin. It is a very unusual horror movie, though, one that doesn’t seem like it belongs in 1988. Aside from some very brief nudity, it’s close to bloodless. It seems very much like it belongs to an earlier time in film history, and yet it’s surprisingly progressive in certain ways.

At first blush, the Linden family seems completely normal. Dr. Linden (Terry O’Quinn) is a typical doctor. His wife (Bronwen Mantel) has a few issues, though. Specifically, she’s a germaphobe and a clean freak. The Lindens also have two children, Leon (played respectively by Jacob Tierney, Steven Bednarski, and eventually for most of the film by David Hewlett) and Ursula (played by Michelle Anderson, Katie Shingler, and finally by Cynthia Preston). The fifth member of the family is Pin (voiced by Jonathan Banks, "Pin" being short for "Pinocchio"), an anatomical dummy used by Dr. Linden in his practice. Dr. Linden, we soon learn, is accomplished as a ventriloquist, and speaks for Pin to the children.

All of this is fun and games until the kids are a bit older and it becomes evident that Leon thinks Pin is real and can actually talk. This becomes clearer when the Linden children are in high school and Ursula discovers at 15 that she might be pregnant. Unwilling to tell her father, she talks to Leon, who suggests that they speak to Pin, which is not unlike finding out that a kid getting ready to graduate from high school still believes in Santa Claus. It’s here that we discover Leon has developed his on ventriloquism abilities, although it’s also clear that he doesn’t realize that he’s voicing the dummy, essentially making Pin his alter ego.

The Linden parents are killed in a car accident after Dr. Linden discovers that Leon thinks Pin is really alive. Their mother’s sister (Patricia Collins) moves in, but Leon’s disapproval of her causes him to use Pin to give her a fatal heart attack, leaving the two kids on their own, albeit with a healthy inheritance. Around this same time, Ursula has gotten a part time job at the local library and attracted the attention of Stan Fraker (John Pyper-Ferguson), and the two begin to date. This does not sit well with Leon, who uses his Pin alter ego to start plotting against anyone who will come between him and his sister.

As I said above, Pin is close to bloodless. It works instead on a much deeper, psychological level. That’s one of the main selling points of the film, but it’s also the film’s biggest problem. Ursula, using her library time wisely, does a great deal of research into psychological problems and determines that Leon is a paranoid schizophrenic, a diagnosis that seems pretty accurate. And despite this, and despite his strange behavior, she continues to live with him, not suggest anything like treatment, and not alert anyone who can help her. In fact, she can’t even deny Leon the particular joy of introducing Pin to Stan, in one of the movie’s stranger sequences.

Pin is director Sandor Clegane Stern’s first non-television project, and it’s an interesting one. While not anything special from the directorial point of view, the script is actually pretty good and surprisingly progressive. Ursula’s pregnancy happens when she is 15, and in horror movie trope world, this would set her up as being someone quickly killed off by whatever monster ends up lurking in the film. Instead, Ursula becomes the center point of sanity, someone who, while she doesn’t deal with her brother’s insanity very well, is clearly able to think clearly and rationally most of the time. In that respect, she’s not punished for evidently liking sex, which goes against that particularly prudish horror movie convention.

There’s a lot going on with Pin that shouldn’t really work. It’s surprising that somehow no one seems to realize that Leon has gone far off the deep end before he’s a high school senior/graduate. The kid is obsessed with Pin through all of the early points of the movie, clearly not understanding when Ursula, at 11 (with Leon being 13 at this point), gets a birthday present from Pin that it’s not actually from his parents. He’s so obviously messed up that everyone would have to be either completely oblivious to everything or unbelievably tolerant to let behavior like that slide.

And sure, Pin is derivative in many ways of better, more famous films like Psycho. That really doesn’t change my opinion, though, because despite this, it’s very much its own movie and tells its own story. It’s perhaps a bit slow at the start. Pin feels like 40 minutes of set-up (up to the car accident) and an hour of actual plot, but even that works pretty well, and the set-up is smart enough to all be necessary. Leon is attracted to Pin because his mother’s obsessive cleanliness prevents him from playing with friends or inviting them over to the house. Ursula’s sexual behavior is hinted at early on when she’s caught flipping through essentially a girlie magazine. When the facts of life are explained to her (by Pin via Dr. Linden), she comments later to her brother that she can’t wait until she’s old enough to want to have sex.

So, while it doesn’t all hold together perfectly, it does hold together pretty well. I liked it more than I thought I would.

Why to watch Pin: A surprisingly effective little thriller.
Why not to watch: I’m not sure this is the way you deal with someone with severe mental problems

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