Pin (Canada, 1988)
In the 25 years since its release, Pin has developed something of a reputation as an overlooked cult classic. I’ve read reviews which describe it as weird and disturbing, which made it sound very much like my kind of thing. Now, after having seen it, I can’t help but wonder if those reviews were for the same film that I watched. While there is a definite danger of an over-hyped film not being able to live up to expectations, the disappointment of Pin is something keener.
The story is a relatively simple one of a mentally ill young man, Leon, his unhealthy relationship with his younger sister, Ursula, and his even more unhealthy relationship with an anatomical dummy, Pin. Pin, the doll, is named for Pinocchio, and like Pinocchio, Pin, the film, is largely wooden while exhibiting the occasional sign of life.
The conceit of the story is that Leon, suffering from Hollywood schizophrenia (a mental illness which manifests none of the actual symptoms of schizophrenia, but gives the sufferer licence to act a bit weird and occasionally kill people) has become so convinced by the ventriloquist trickery of his MD father that he believes his anatomical dummy to be alive and an active member of the family. After the death of their parents, Leon and Ursula share a house with Pin, and Leon’s behaviour gets steadily stranger as he tries to convince everyone around him that Pin is real. And that’s pretty much it.
Pin himself is a creepy presence, but this isn’t enough to lend the film any tension or sense of horror. On the whole, it feels like a 1980s TV movie, and barring the occasional frisson from the uncanny valley effect once Pin is made-up to look human, the film is about as frightening as custard.
David Hewlett turns in a reasonably intense performance as Leon, but the script and tedious pacing of the film stop him from ever being genuinely sinister. There are a few moments where his obsession with his sister’s sex life evoke shudders, and these are as close to real horror as Pin manages to get.
While Pin isn’t a terrible film, it feels like a missed opportunity. Dolls and mannequins can be unnerving, as Dead of Night, May and Magic have proved. With a bit of imagination and daring, Pin could have been the stuff of nightmares. Instead it is forgettable, and while Pin’s plastic features may stay with you for a while, the rest of the film will pass out of memory like an idle daydream.