The Tattooist Review
Some people tend to have fairly strong opinions about tattoos. I like them (although I have seen some utterly horrific ones) and am inked myself. Often when trying to dissuade someone from getting a tattoo it will be pointed out that the tattoo will be regretted later in life and will look horrible on ‘wrinkled and sagging skin’ (and the non-tattooed ‘wrinkled and sagging skin’ is going to look well hot right?). However I doubt anyone has ever said, as a method of discouragement, that if they get a tattoo a weird deformed ink monster will slay them brutally. Which brings us to The Tattooist; a 2007 film starring Jason Behr as the titular ink slinger. And once again, this review contains Spoilers.
It’s No Spoiler To Say That These Tattoos Are Fake
(And That He Appears To Be An Arse Man)
The film is prefaced with a quote: “The Samoan people believe tattooing is a gift from the Gods. He who misuses this gift brings shame upon himself and his family. In Samoan culture, to live in shame is a fate worse than death.” – Hate to think what happened to the bloke who got a David Dickinson tattoo in a studio I know.
We start with a flashback. An angry man who looks a like a cross between Christian Bale and Robert Carlyle makes his way menacingly into a cellar and finds that the lights don’t work. I’ve never seen a horror film cellar where the lights do work but he gives it the old college try anyway. He finds a young boy, presumably his son, who despite being about 12, has a fuck off massive tattoo on his arm. What decent tattooist would ink a 12 year old is totally beyond me. Dad isn’t too bothered by this trifling detail however and proceeds to carve the thing off (Sonny Boy seems to have the blood of Hammer Horror gushing through his veins, it’s all very red poster paint), all the while spouting the Lord’s Prayer with all the rationality of one of the fuckwits from the Westborough Baptist Church. (God was against tattoos apparently, which makes all the folk with religious tatts look somewhat foolish).
God Probably Doesn’t Care About Bad Religion Tattoos.
It’s fine though, Sonny Boy has grown into the hunky Jason Behr (forever known to me from that episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer he was in), and even the scar on his arm is healed in a sexy way. Lord knows that having a tattoo carved from your arm by a dirty knife in a disgusting basement by a religious mental would lead to infection and amputation in the real world. Jason Behr, aka Jake, hasn’t been put off tattoos by what would surely be a crippling childhood experience and is now covered in them, and I’m sure all mean something, like, really deep.
Now, Jason Behr appears to be some sort of tattooing exorcist (that’s got to be one of the dumbest sentences I’ve ever typed) and has been called in to help a stricken young boy by giving him a tattoo, in his bedroom. Health And Safety would have a field day with that, as not a lot of sterilising is going on, but the young boy’s father is insistent that only this can save this son.
Oh, he’s not a tattooing exorcist, he’s a tattooing doctor. The tattoos he does on people heals them of their ailments, that’s much more sensible that tattooing exorcist (although now I kind of want to see a film about a tattooing exorcist…make it happen world!)
‘Shit, He’s Armed With A Tattoo Gun And A Clip Cord, Run!’
Jake is at a tattooing expo in Singapore, which all looks pretty cool actually, lots of great shots of the city, and it all looks very exciting and vibrant. But Jake cares not for this and is very broody, writing in his journal about…being hunky and broody probably. What could possibly cut through all the deep, intense broodiness of him? A pretty girl of course! They share a smile, he immediately begins stalking her. And they say romance is dead.
He follows her to a tent where he sees a guy being tattooed with a magic chisel type affair. It looks painful, and, again, unhygienic! But the tattooists are chanting, which I guess negates the nasty infections. They are Samoan, practising an ancient tattooing ritual. He’s stared out by a mumbling buff topless guy, who makes it clear Jake is not welcome, and so he leaves, stealing one of the magic tattooing chisels on route.
It’s Actually Called An Uhi, But There’s No Jokes To Be Had With That.
Get ready for a shocker, the magic healing tattoo failed on the young boy at the start (I know right?) and his father is not happy. He pushes Jake over and his tattoo kit spills out onto the street. Jake accidentally stabs himself with the magic tattooing chisel; an act which I’m sure will have no bearing what so ever on the rest of the film. Well, I would be if I had never seen any films before, ever.
In wake of these events Jake suffers nightmare and jets off to New Zealand to return the tattooing tool. I hope this means we’re going to see lots of sweeping majestic shots of the country a la Lord of the Rings…bah, an airport?? Rubbish. Even Bad Taste did better than that. (Disclaimer: That wasn’t a dig. I fucking adore Bad Taste).
YAY! (I Wish I Was Watching This Film Right Now)
Jake makes his way to Bedlam, a tattoo studio, where he has an emotional reunion with his ex-mentor, who is both angry and British. You can tell because he says ‘wanker’ a lot. He’s a bit like Sean Pertwee in Dog Soldiers, if that character had appeared in Doomsday. He sets Jake up with a job and place to stay while he tries and track down the Samoan’s who he pinched the tool from.
The nasty cut from the tattooing tool has given Jake stigmatism in one hand, which at least would probably please his batshit father. Jake is not so chuffed, especially when black blood starts oozing out of it. He also sees…Vemon from Spiderman in his mirror? But, O M my actual G, when he swings round on the clashing music cue he’s gone! Oh, The Tattooist, you so original.
Jake is still plagued by bad dreams, and the wound on his hand refuses to heal, which one would hope teaches him not to be a thievey bastard. It appears the tool was used on someone who had a very bad experience with it in a dilapidated old shack. Or maybe he was a wuss and has the pain threshold of a lemon. Mysteries, mysteries.
Hooray! Tattooing montage! Jake is totally rad at tattooing and inks loads of people. Last of which are a pair of cousins, one sexy and wild (yawn) and the other who is nervous about the whole affair. “The Pain changes you. You breath it in, you breath it out”, Jake tells him. He’s soo deep and intense and that. Also excellent bedside manner, you would think tattoo artists would make their clients feel more at ease about marking their bodies for life. Also, he never takes a sketch or transfer of the tattoo beforehand, or even seems to ask the client what they want. I know you can get freestyle tattooing, but that’s just ridiculous. He also doesn’t give the tattoo any sort of dressing before they leave, which is pretty basic practise.
Hey, Think She’s Going To Die Horribly?
Not Sean Pertwee finds the group Jake is searching for and he goes off to investigate. A young hoodie tells him he knows someone is following him. How helpful. In my neck of the woods they’re more likely to toss cans of Stella at your head.
He finds the tattooing group, and after some casual racism from the buff topless guy from earlier (aka Ali), they tell him where to find the girl, Sina. She takes him to where a local Samoan family ‘live in shame’. Guess they all got matching Tweety Pie tattoos or something. No, he’s got the same intricate back tattoos as the others and is not happy when he catches Jake having a good old gawp. Should have just said he was staring at his arse or something. Much less embarrassing. He storms off and when Sina goes to placate him Jake does what any normal person does, and has a good snoop around the house. This isn’t Come Dine With Me mate. He is then unceremoniously (but obviously) kicked out the house.
Sina explains that the son of the couple couldn’t hack the pain of getting the back tattoo and fled, never to be seen again, thus bringing Shame (trust me, the way the people go one about it in this film, it deserves the capital letter) on the family. Jake helpfully offers that the son is probably happily running a hair salon somewhere. I’m not sure how to take this line. Is Jake implying that the son was gay (an obvious stereotype that few male hairdressers fall into) and therefore there was no way he was going to be able to handle the pain of a tattoo? Hmm, if that’s what he meant he’s a bit of twat. But if I’m just reading too much into it and jumping to the conclusion that Jake meant that because subconsciously when one hears about a male hairdresser they do assume he might be gay, then I’m the twat. Whatever though, I don’t think this film merits that much deep thought.
Here, Let’s Look At A Picture Of Jason Behr Brooding Instead.
Sina and Jake go to watch a ceremony marking the completing of the tattoo. She explains (this women is like an exposition machine) that the designs are handed down from father to son and that them both having the tattoo halves the pain and now they are now like brothers. Is that really closer than father and son? I’m getting a bit confused. The fact that at the end they break eggs on their heads doesn’t help any. Jake meets Sina’s passive aggressive Uncle who both welcomes him and tells him to fuck off in the space of about one minute. Jake confesses to stealing the tool in Singapore and is punished for this crime with some heavy duty flirting from the very attractive Sina. Not convinced that’s going to help him see the errors of his ways.
Jake is reluctantly dragged to a pool party by Victoria, sexy tattooed lady from earlier. He doesn’t stay long and when he goes to leave Vemon does the classic (read, hackyned and clichéd) horror film pop up in the back of his car. At the same time, the young man he tattooed earlier, um, explodes or something, in the pool. Either way there’s a lot of blood. He is dead, and it turns out he had horrendous CGI blood running through his veins (I prefer the Hammer blood meself), and his tattoo has somehow spread.
Cue Unsurprising Pop Up In 3, 2, 1…
Jake and Sina meet for dinner and Jake returns the tattoo tool. He utters the immortal horror film line; ‘What I’m about to tell you may sound weird, but…’, which along with casual theft of a family heirloom, is always a good starting off point for a relationship. He tells her about his strange dreams/visions, which obviously got her going as they go back to his place where she immediately asks him to strip, and he tells her the globetrotting exploits of his tattoos. Cue sexy tattoo session. Well, they do say there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain. And a merely annoying film and a shit one. Probably not great for a half-finished and exposed tattoo either.
Ah, The Sensual Touch Of Cling Film.
It seems all the folk Jake has tattooed are doing experiencing horrible inky death. Not going to be great for his rep. Victoria blames him for the death of his cousin and tells him he should go to the police. And impart to them what exactly? I stole a magic tattoo tool and now everything’s gone a bit mental and inky?
Jake rushes to find Lazlo, one of his clients, (just leaving Victoria behind, but hey, she was a slutty bitch in a horror film, her days were numbered anyway). Lazlo is now covered in ink, which makes his skin so soft it splits as soon as Jack touches it, seems realistic. We see in the reflection of a broken glass Vemon is creeping up for the finishing move but apparently Jake doesn’t see him when he turns and flees (manly, by the way). Must be one of those invisible black inky death monsters.
Jake goes back to his flat and tries to ring Sina. No answer. He finds Victoria in the shower, bloody and inky. He takes her to the hospital (hooray, a sensible idea!) where whilst she is being hurried to the emergency room he sees the creature, reflected in a passing window, crouched over her. They try to save her, but when the defibrillator goes right into her chest it definitely becomes a lost cause. I’m not sure if Jake can actually see the creature properly at this point but we the audience see it using the magic tattoo tool on her, if it weren’t gurning quite so ridiculously this would be quite a good scene.
How Nightmare In A Damaged Brain Of Them.
(But That Film Had Better Effects)
Jake tries to run away from the hospital, but is blocked by the doctor. Jake tells him an evil spirit is doing this and he has to save Sina. As opposed to just dragging him off to the nearest loony bin the doctor lets him go.
Jake finds Sina still alive and well and tells her what’s happened. Sina is not best pleased and runs off to find her Uncle, who sees this whole thing as something she did purely to fuck him off. His solution? Praying. Helpful.
Jake goes to Sina’s buff cousin Ali (sadly not topless this time) and asks for help. Ali is the one sensible character here (should be grateful there is one at all I guess) and he correctly bawls Jake out for stealing the thing in the first place. Looks like our two heroes who dislike each other must join together to save the woman they love. Seems The Tattooist isn’t above stealing boring conventions from other genres also. Oh, no it isn’t. Ali refuses to help and kicks him out.
This Photo Has Been Included For Entirely Superficial And Shallow Reasons.
At the final stretch, the film decides to introduce some comedy hip-hop fans. That’ll save it. Least they’ve got the hoodie kid, who can talk in tongues to our hero once the music in their pimpmobile is playing loud enough. Err, wut? This scene is just random that if the film had managed to build any tension it would be destroyed right at this moment.
Jake goes to the church where Sina and her Uncle are praying (The guy seems to have an internal GSP system, as despite being a newcomer in town he knows where everything is and can get there in a matter of minutes). Everyone is singularly unhelpful and basically they won’t help one of their own as she’s associated with an American. Yay religion!
Jake recognises one of the congregation as a member of the House of Shame, and goes there to confront them and get some answers. The house is empty and all the mirrors are covered. He uncovers them, perhaps not realising that the family don’t want to invite murderous spirits into their home. The runaway son’s bedroom has been kept as a shrine, in that unsettling way they always are in Waking The Dead type crime dramas. He threatens the father with a bat in his own home and tells him he killed his own son. He denies it, claiming to love his son. He tells Jake his son disappeared on the day of his tattoo, the artists claiming he never turned up. Jake surmises the son is the evil ink spirit and the artists, led by Sina’s Uncle, killed him.
Buff Ali has also been doing some thinking along the same lines and goes to confront the Uncle. Uncle doesn’t like this line of questioning and knocks him out. Jake and Sina go to the shack where the son was killed (the same one as in Jake’s dreams) and Jake smashes the mirror, revealing the corpse of the son.
Things aren’t looking good for Sina, the bad ink is spreading, and the son’s evil spirit is ready to pounce. And then everything kicks off at once. Uncle turns up with a massive knife and attacks Jake. It turns out Uncle infected the son and to avoid the shame, killed him (murder doesn’t bring shame?). Jake stabs Uncle, creature attacks him. His Dad shows up, and Buff Ali is there too? How the fuck did that happen? Dad makes peace with his son/creature, who can at last rest in peace. Dad is pretty ticked off with the Uncle though, for obvious reasons. Buff Ali stops him from killing Uncle by telling him to let him live with the Shame. Uncle carves off his own tattoo. It’s massive. Grim. The End.
Well, almost. The locals forgive the family for their ‘Shame’, fickle bastards, and the son gets a proper burial. Luckily the evil ink that spread over Sina’s back did so in such a way that Jake can turn it into a beautiful tattoo. They drive off into the sunset, to further tattooing adventures. Maybe next he’ll steal something that will gift him a personality.
And She Only Went In For A Butterfly On The Shoulder.
And that’s The Tattooist. It’s got some good ideas, but most of them are executed poorly. The culture clash is laid on with a trowel. Some of the film is just confusing for no reason. It’s engaging enough, annoying tattooing inconsistencies aside, but hard to care about any of the characters and their fates. The central concept is pretty good, and it’s good to see a horror film that isn’t entirely derivative or a remake, although the horror clichés that do occur do so with a clunk. What also lets it down is a lack of action and gore, it gets really bogged down at the point where Jack just follows Sina around while she explains everything he needs to know about the Samoan tattoo rituals. In fact, it’s like they saved most of the action for the climax at the shack, which is then needlessly rushed, as if the film makers realised they’ve tried the audiences’ patience long enough and they have to make up for it in the closing moments. I love tattoos. Horror films based around them, not so much.