When an American tattooist gets his hands on a cursed Samoan tattooing tool, he finds that everyone he tattoos begins to die.
The Tattooist begins as a young boy named Jake hides in a basement with a pentagram tattooed on his arm. His father finds him and cuts off the tattoo with a large knife, while quoting the Lord’s Prayer. When the movie picks up in present day, the boy has grown into a tattooist specializing in healing tendencies. Early in the film a father demands Jake tattoo his son to save his life, despite Jake informing him the child does not need a tattoo, but needs a doctor.
Jake’s curiosity causes him to steal a unique Samoan tattooing tool. Following an encounter on the street with the angry father, blaming him for his son’s death, Jake accidentally cuts himself with the stolen tool. Unfortunately, the tool is cursed and everyone Jake tattoos following this incident becomes cursed as well.
One thing I enjoy about foreign horror films (The Tattooist was made in New Zealand) is discovering fascinating superstitions found in various cultures. Those superstitions and beliefs are interesting but are a little overshadowed by the generic story we are given. At its core, The Tattooist is a ghost story. The only way Jake can save his new girlfriend Sina, who he recently tattooed, is to find out what the ghost wants. The investigation into those answers, as well as the setup of the movie to begin with, is a little too convenient for me. The final resolution of what needs to be done to satisfy the dead is also weak.
The gore is pretty nice in spots and the death of a young party girl is especially gruesome. I would call that death the high point in the movie and an especially great use of gore effects. When this girl dies, the movie solves a problem I have with many horror movies. More often than not, authority figures (police, doctors, etc…) dismiss the supernatural despite seeing it with their own eyes. It makes all authority figures look stupid in the long run. The one authority figure Jake finds blocking his path, a doctor, understands something supernatural is occurring and lets Jake go find a solution. A professional not acting like a complete idiot is a nice change of pace.
It is also the only place in this movie where it is not a carbon copy of every other ghost story out there today. Actually, I take that back. As with most movies, there is a medium that can see ghosts and you and talk to them through. Most of the time, it is an old crazy woman or a midget. The Tattooist might be the only movie where that medium is a little fat kid that looks like a gang banger. When the spirit began to talk through the little kid, I couldn’t help but laugh.
The picture is fantastic and the movie looks spectacular. The pacing is a little slow, but I didn’t mind as it was setting up the cultural significance of this superstition. I don’t think the end was good enough to follow the setup, but in and of itself, I enjoyed the lead up to the final climactic battle. Peter Burger comes to this movie from the world of television and seems to comfortably create a visually dynamic and interesting looking film. The problems don’t like in the directing, but in the script. The writer presents a great idea and sets it up well, but when it came time to deliver the end, he fell short and took the easy way out.
The movie started with a roar but ended with a whimper. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise decent film.
There is an audio commentary with director Peter Burger and actor Jason Behr. The two share a conversational talk track throughout the movie. There are also three deleted scenes. None of the scenes were needed, although there was an alternate end where you actually see the bad guy and what was left of him.
There are five featurettes. The Tattooist: Behind the Scenes (11:45) is a talking head featurette where the cast and crew describes what the movie meant. Their explanations are shown through some behind the scenes clips. Behind the Tattoo Designs (02:26) talks to the tattoo designer for the film (who also has a cameo in the film). The Colors of the Tattooist (02:20) talks to the director about the color palette used in the film. As a filmmaker, this was a very interesting little feature. The film uses brown and orange and then adds blue on occasions. The only time a rainbow of colors was used was in large public settings that were completely removed from the world of the ghost. Real Life Samoan Tattoo (03:19) talks about the process of the Samoan tattooing, and actually shows the process. Becoming a Chief (01:51) explains how to become a Chief, which is an award given to someone who tells the world about the power of tattooing. Both Jason Behr and Peter Burger were given the title of Chief.