Written by: Harris Wilkinson
Directed by: Zach Lipovsky
Starring: Stephanie Bennett, Andrew Dunbar, and Melissa Roxburgh
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"Fuck you, Lucky Charms!"
Don’t allow the above quote to fool you into believing Leprechaun: Origins to be some kind of high camp romp in the order of the previous films in this series. Instead, just know that it’s the lone semblance of self-awareness acting as something of a lifeboat in this hopelessly dire, misguided attempt to reboot the not-so-venerable Leprechaun franchise. See, this is the latest example of Hollywood’s obsession with rebranding everything with a grim and gritty sensibility, a notion that sounds especially goofy when you’re set to apply it to the goddamn Leprechaun series. Those earlier films might have been jokes, but WWE Studios’ attempt to correct course in such a manner is actually more laughable, especially since its most lively moment directly lifts a line of dialogue from the original film.
Rather than continue the exploits of Warwick Davis’s diminutive holy terror, Origins wipes the slate completely clean and reimagines the killer leprechaun premise as a rather straight-faced tale of idiot kids stumbling upon and falling prey to foreign lore. In this case, a quartet of American students visits Ireland, where they discover some ancient symbols and artifacts. The over-friendly locals implore them to stick around and even provide a cabin in the woods for them under the pretense of aiding their research. Instead, they merely become the latest victims of the community’s ritual sacrifice to a nearby leprechaun that has haunted the place ever since the town ancestors slighted it by stealing its gold.
Look, I’m not saying it’s impossible to make a truly serious, scary Leprechaun movie, but I am saying it’s probably damn difficult to do so, and nothing about Origins disavows you of this notion. It doesn't invigorate the franchise, nor can it be considered a bold new direction when it simply feels like they’ve cut-and-pasted leprechaun mythology onto a woefully generic monster movie. Like so many rehashes, it’s a film driven less by actual ambition and more by a studio’s apparent realization that they have a preexisting IP to exploit: it goes without saying that (despite its title) Origins has nothing to do with the original six films, an approach that wouldn’t be all that maddening if the reboot had bothered to be anything but such an obviously half-assed attempt to resurrect this franchise. Only a few expository alterations would be necessary to switch out the leprechaun with pretty much any other horror creature—one could easily imagine this being Werewolf: Origins, Vampire: Origins, or even more truthfully, Naked Irish Wildebeest: Origins.
Not content to just be lazily, ruthlessly formulaic, the film is shoddily constructed all the way around, with dull, forgettable characters who act like they’ve been given marching orders to evaporate from your consciousness before the film even ends. Nothing about its now completely trite scenario (it’s probably a good idea to put a moratorium on the whole cabin-in-the-woods thing considering, you know, The Cabin in the Woods exists) is executed with any sort of skill, and the film quickly degenerates into an endless procession of dumb characters stumbling around in the dark while investigating strange sights and sounds.
Occasionally, the titular leprechaun makes obligatory appearances, but you’ll barely see him when he does. WWE performer Daniel “Hornswoggle” Postl is credited in the role, though it’s hard to say why considering the creature appears to be brought to life by a Vaseline-smeared lens (to replicate its POV shots) and a hunk of ashen rubber. While hiding a monster in the shadows is generally a laudable technique, it’s difficult to say if that’s the intent here because it seems to be the result of incompetent, frenetic camerawork. When combined with the already murky, pallid setting and flat cinematography, it gives off the impression of being held captive in a basement while someone rolls you around in a barrel and periodically allows you to glimpse something that looks sort of like the monsters from The Descent. In a Leprechaun movie.
Given my disdain for films that are only treated as complete, irredeemable jokes, I am obviously not advocating Leprechaun: Origins take that route. A silly film need not be completely, utterly stupid and glib, and the previous Leprechaun films are a testament to the ability for filmmakers to straddle a fine line between knowing camp and lazy, intentionally bad junk. Watching Davis’s leprechaun become the heir apparent to Freddy Krueger’s throne as the Clown Prince of Horror was at least consistently amusing, with each of his adventures somehow becoming even more batshit crazy as the series soldiered on. Even his going to the hood twice didn’t feel nearly as lazy as anything that happens in Origins, a film that has been engineered without any sense of fun or any notion of entertainment. Postl’s casting was initially met with derision since his Hornswoggle character is a comedic in-ring performer, but wouldn’t that have been preferable (not to mention more logical) to stuffing him into some monstrous suit and having him trudge around in a total bore of a movie?
If WWE Films deserves any credit, it’s for at least not resorting to Asylum levels of Z-movie mockery. Their grim, gritty approach might be wrongheaded, but they’re at least committed to it, if not excessively so. Unsurprisingly, their idea is their undoing, as it only amounts to a stifling tunnel vision that sucks whatever fun the film might have to offer, including its climactic one-liner and its admittedly gruesome gore effects (though it also doesn’t help that you can barely see the latter). Leprechaun: Origins reveals the perils of the other extreme when it comes to monster movies: it might not be a complete gag, but it’s just as difficult to swallow as your average SyFy Original. Clearing that low bar shouldn’t be so difficult, even for a damn leprechaun. We’ve been saddled with quite a few soulless, transparently manufactured cash-ins of familiar properties in recent years, and this is easily among the worst in that regard. When your title is Leprechaun: Origins, you obviously have two jobs at the least: deliver a leprechaun and its origins. Inexplicably, this does neither; if you told me this idea somehow originated with WCW (WWE's long-defunct competition that often masqueraded as a dumpster fire), I'd probably believe it. Trash it!
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