The Mad Hatter: Ambitiously Boring
Let's start this off with a little exercise; I want you to close your eyes and imagine Lewis Carroll's character The Mad Hatter. You can imagine any version of him that you want. It could be from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the Disney movies, any of them at all. Now, what do you imagine? You imagine someone who is manic, all over the place, the life of a party. No matter which version you imagined, they all share a similar trait: they are not boring. Now imagine a film called The Mad Hatter, from the title alone, you would expect it to be crazy, over the top and wild.
Released in 2021 by Swen Studios/ Conglomerate Media and directed by Cate Devaney (whose prior credits are mostly in the art department for larger films), The Mad Hatter shows that you can make a film that looks pretty but is an absolute slog to get through. For a movie that is labeled as a 'Paranormal Horror/Thriller', the actual scares were lackluster, sparse and nothing to write home about. But let's talk about the film at hand.
The premise would follow one of the classic staples of horror cinema; a group of college students and a professor go to a supposedly haunted manor to conduct a study, where they will be exposed to a supernatural entity and shenanigans ensue. Not to say some tropes are bad, we have often gotten some decent horror movies with set ups like this. But the problem is, there is not much of a plot. The film meanders through with little advancement, no real stakes and not much to get invested in. It isn't until an hour into an ninety minute movie that a character is put into actual danger. The academic study premise of the film is barely implemented in the film to the extent, that you can easily forget that's why the group went to the manor in the first place. There was also several unanswered questions in the film that go unanswered like:
Who are the house keepers and why are they still making hats?
What is the cult? Why do they follow it? Why does it give them immortality? How does it work?
Why was Michael Berryman in this movie? How do you have a horror icon in your movie and not use him to the full capacity?
While the story had some potential to be unsettling and make the viewer question the reality of the film with using the idea of the mad hatter and old hat making techniques of using lead (which causes mental instability), the film ruins that possibility by introducing the supernatural early on in the film.
The characters of this movie would be your standard cookie cutter characters that you would often find in these kind of movies. There is Henry (Samuel Caleb Walker), a student who feels remorse over killing his sister, Ian (Nick Miller) who was possibly molested in an orphanage, his girlfriend Val (Rachel Bruner) who had an abusive mom, Chelsey (Isadora Cruz) whose father has cancer and Professor David Hart (Armando Gutiérrez). Giving the film credit that the characters have some character with their backstories but apart from that, none of them are characters that you really want to root for and you don't get invested in them. One of the only scenes in the movie where they felt relatable was early on where they are in a room of different hats and they try them on, replicating different personalities (Hint hint, nudge nudge). It also doesn't help that Henry goes through parts of the movie with his mouth hanging open. The Professor is not much of a character in the film, he only appears in small portions of the film and it's only revealed in the very last five minutes that he is the bad guy.
One of the few nice things that I can say about the film is that at times, the cinematography is good. There are some camera shots and edits that help to give the film some identity. There was effort put into this film to make it stand out. But at the same time, they can also be jarring and take you out of the moment. One of the problems that I find in horror movies would be the use of the sound tracks to help build up the scares. Sometimes this works in favor of the film, such as The Shaft from the 1979 movie Alien. But in this film, it comes off more as 'this is spooky, ooooh' and at points gave me a headache. Which brings us to the film's scary moments.
Admittingly some parts of the film were unsettling; for example, a scene where Val (Rachel Bruner) is brushing her teeth and they start to fall out of her mouth. But at other times, the scares are predicable and not very scary. Watching the film, I was feeling legitimately bored. That is something that no one should feel in a horror movie.
The Mad Hatter is a film that is aesthetically pleasing at points, but on the whole, boring. Admittingly there was effort done with the cinematography and character backstories, but the overall story, the lack of genuine scares, the lackluster pace and lack of the title character makes the movie not worth the price of admission. It is a shame because this could have been a movie with some potential that if done right, could have been actually disturbing. But as it is, it will not appease the larger audience of horror lovers.
The Mad Hatter is available on Youtube, Apple TV and Amazon Prime.