MR WRONG DVD artwork
Two and a half stars   
"If you thought Christine was mean ..."

directed by: Gaylene Preston
starring: Heather Bolton, David Letch, Perry Piercy, Suzanne Lee, Margaret Umbers, Danny Mulheron, Gary Stalker, Michael Haigh, Phillip Gordon, Kate Harcourt, Jan Fisher, Meriol Buchanan, Ross Jolly, Don Linke, John Bullock

choice dialogue:

"They can't stand you having a bigger one than they have. It's penis envy!"

- I think she's talking about the car.

slash with panache?

[review by JA Kerswell]

The mid 1980s saw a small splattering of feminist, female directed nods to the subgenre. Remarkably, two of them were produced in the same year in New Zealand (the other being TRIAL RUN). MR WRONG was also the first New Zealand film of any type to have both a female producer and director.

  Margaret begins to think she's bought the wrong car in MR WRONG.

However, for anyone expecting a straight ahead slasher, Gaylene Preston's film might be a disappointment. It is more of an inversion of the subgenre rather than a slavish attempt to mimic it. However, despite this stubborn refusal to play by the rules the film manages to generate some good suspense in its closing scenes. Perhaps surprisingly, the film also has a quirky sense of humour, although some of the touches that might resonate best with a New Zealand audience could be lost on audiences from outside.

In MR WRONG, Margaret (Heather Bolton), allows herself to be talked into being sold a rather unsuitable run around - a classic Jaguar car. Curiously, the pushy salesman seems to be especially relived to be shot of it. Despite her reservations, Margaret initially is pleased with her new purchase. However, almost immediately she realises that not all is right and eventually even suspects the car may be haunted. In one instance, she hears disembodied laboured breathing from the backseat that vanishes every time she turns around. She also dreams that the car chases her along a country road.

If this wasn't enough, Margaret picks up a man and woman during a rainstorm. The woman looks disorientated and pale, but stays silent as the man tries to strike up a conversation. However, Margaret is shocked to discover that the woman has vanished from the travelling car. Confused and scared by this seeming impossibility she attempts to get the man to leave; only managing to when she stops at a petrol station, when he also appears to vanish.

  Although the makers of MR WRONG almost go out of their way to make an anti thriller thriller, they can't resist stealing some shots fromt he slasher movie toybox.

Soon she's had enough and tries to sell the car. However, it is almost as if it refuses to be sold, as it won't unlock to potential customers or freaks out an old woman's dog. Margaret eventually finds out that the car belonged to a woman, who had vanished but is believed to have been murdered. She eventually comes to suspect that she has become the target of the same mysterious killer ...

Margaret is an unlikely horror heroine. Bolton is certainly not unattractive, but is more of an everywoman than you might normally see in genre films from the time (she is possibly the only horror heroine ever shown rinsing out her tights in a sink!). A little frumpy, she is none-the-less resourceful and seems almost resigned to the male attention she receives (whether it is wanted or not). On one hand she has a kindly suitor, who woos her with a rose (and her gay boss is also another sympathetic male character). Another is the boyfriend of one of her housemates who treats the flat as if it is his own. She watches female self defence videos on the TV whilst she eats her dinner, but when he drunkenly tries to force himself on her her initial reaction to flee gives way to a surprisingly more pragmatic acceptance of his machismo and subsequent apology. She even wonders if she should have made him a cup of tea! Among these clumsy male irritants is the shadow of something much more deadly, as the killer closes in on her.

MR WRONG is as much a ghost story as it is a subgenre film - and it somewhat subverts both. Initially the audience might think that the car is the villain of the piece - in the same way, as say, John Carpenter's CHRISTINE (1983) or THE CAR (1977). However, it soon becomes apparent that the car - or whatever possesses it - is less villain and more a benign presence. It is here that the film is more than willing to adhere to the trope of the supernatural dead willing the living to unravel the mysteries of their demise and seek justice on their behalf.

It is not surprising that the killer is simply called The Man in the credits. He looks less like a bogeyman and more like a businessman. The last half an hour of the film flirts with the subgenre, as Margaret creeps around her darkened house and jumps at threats both real and imagined. It is resolved rather conventionally although pretty satisfactorily.

  MR WRONG is closer than you think.

The director has said that because many victims in real life do not get justice, it was important that Margaret is able to do exactly that and settle the score on both her behalf and that of the ghostly presence. However, it could be argued that the director was rallying against a fallacy: that women were the perpetual victims in slasher movies and rarely vanquished their foes. This was a common misconception at the time of people who perhaps didn't actually watch many slasher films and partly led to the backlash against what was dubbed 'violence against women' movies. Yet the reality is that the mainstream slasher movie from the Golden Era was generally typified by strong women taking on monsters and winning. They were not films mired in misogyny; rather they signalled a new type of heroine who was handy with a chain saw and fought back when she needed to.

Ultimately, MR WRONG spends so much time attempting to be an anti-thriller that you may be forgiven for wondering why Preston bothered to tackle the subgenre in the first place. However, whilst it is never going to win any prizes for thrills, it holds the attention and is worth the time of those looking for something a little different.

Outside of the film festival circuit and a few art house showings, MR WRONG was rejected by film distributors in its homeland for not being commercial enough for a wide release. However, the film got a limited release Stateside to screens under the much more generic title DARK OF THE NIGHT in early 1986. Critics who warmed to its feminist themes gave it favourable reviews. The Village Voice said: "A witty and well made nerve shredder". Judith Crist said: "A dandy thriller marked by excellent performances". The film, however, was too atypical to make much of an impact at the American box office.


BODYCOUNT 1   bodycount!   female:0 / male:1

       1) Male dies in car crash