J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ten: Murder Island, or Ten Little Teens

By some measures, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is the seventh best-selling novel of all time. Therefore, you can’t blame filmmakers for coming back to it, even though René Clair’s 1945 film is pretty definitive. Both Mario Bava and the Detective Conan anime franchise memorably riffed on it. In the latter case, the basic structure was adapted to a high school setting well before Gretchen McNeil’s teen novel. There are infinitely superior And Then There Were Nones, but it is strangely satisfying to watch the obnoxious teens get slaughtered in Chris Robert’s Ten: Murder Island (trailer here), based on McNeil's novel (and Christie's, by extension), which premieres on Lifetime this Saturday.

How many guests do you suppose were lured to a party on a remote island? In this case, they are students from three rival high schools, all of which Claire briefly attended before her untimely suicide. Instead of U.N. Owen, they thought they were invited by one of the most popular girls in their overlapping social circles, but it is quickly apparent they have been had.

Since there is no direct accusation, the shallow, entitled kids will have to figure out their situation on their own. Naturally, suspicion quickly falls on earnest Meg, because she is probably the slightest of stature of the whole bunch. She also happens to have the highest capacity for empathy and deductive reasoning. As a result, the killer leaves her illuminating pages ripped from poor Claire’s diary after each murder. The unknown subject also keeps a more conspicuous tally in red paint for the other idiots on the island.

As you would expect from millennials, all ten guests are dumber than a bag of hammers and none of them has read And Then There Were None. At least China Anne McClain is generally likable and sympathetic as Meg. Within the ensemble, Annie Q (who was terrific in Cardinal X) is the most likely to break out big. This won’t be the film to do it, but the catty edge she brings as rebound girlfriend Kumiko helps make the film watchable. Katya Martin is also quite effective as the bullied Claire in flashback scenes. Alas, the rest of the ensemble is either blandly forgettable or prone to excessive overacting or just plain dead before we can make a fair evaluation.

Christie’s basic premise is so insidiously compelling, it takes perverse effort to screw it up. Clair’s version is a classic and 1965’s Ten Little Indians with Shirley Eaton and the voice of Christopher Lee on the gramophone is nearly as good. The 1974 desert-bound incarnation with Oliver Reed and Charles Aznavour also holds up nicely. Even a 1959 TV production with Nina Foch has some merit. They are all better than Ten: Murder Island.

These kids’ lack of intuition and survival skills is just too problematic. However, Robert doesn’t go down without a fight, offering up some nifty aerial shots to distract us. What it really needs is more caustic attitude and ironic humor in the Scream tradition. Disappointing, yet weirdly difficult to turn away from, Ten: Murder Island airs this Saturday (9/16) on Lifetime.

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