The Back-up Plan is one of the ten most terrifying movie experiences of my life. The other nine movies on that list are a motley and varied assortment of everything from M. Night Shyamalan to Hitchcock, yet this one is in a class of its own. I can only assume from the bubble-gum pop blaring out of the theater’s speakers that it was director Alan Paul’s intention to create another one of those bland Jennifer Lopez romantic comedies which seem to do so well. But replace The Back-up Plan’s secretary rock score with music composed mostly of chillingly high-pitched string instruments and you’d have the scariest movie of the year.
Warning! Unlike most of my reviews, this one contains spoilers. Don’t worry, it may not matter. The Back-up Plan defies explanation.
It stars Lopez as yet another lonely woman with a ticking clock. When we meet Zoe she’s riding a pair of stirrups while a slightly off kilter-doctor shoves donor sperm in her cunt. She’s given up on finding Mr. Right and has opted to take matters into her own hands. She leaves the doctor’s office, almost certainly pregnant, gets in a cab and meets the perfect man.
Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) is a farmer with stalker tendencies who not long ago divorced his Swedish wife after their Vermont inn went belly-up. He has since moved back to New York where he owns a New York City adjacent goat farm and makes his own cheese. By day he hangs out in a Manhattan farmers’ market boring people to death with his brie obsession, by night he secretly attends community college and majors in economics, presumably because he didn’t think his brooding looks, gravely voice, dead-eyed stare, and tendency towards lurking where he’s not wanted made him creepy enough. Zoe’s (Jennifer Lopez) a single thirtysomething who steals other peoples’ cabs, refuses to pick up pennies unless they’re heads side up, has friends whose lives revolve entirely around her whims, and not long ago quit her vague, non-specific job at an internet company to get revenge for her dog’s hip dysplasia by buying a pet store.
Most of these things are part of a checklist recited by the characters, not actual personality traits. Stan acts nothing like a farmer, or an inn owner, or an economics major. Zoe doesn’t really seem like she cares about animals, though she does have this one dog whom she talks to a lot. He responds in cute little grunts and woofs which sound like they’re being made by a PA standing somewhere off camera and barking. Because these characters have all these overly complicated, marginally ridiculous back-stories which don’t fit anything that’s actually going on in the movie, it only serves to make the whole thing freakishly weird. It’s like their entire lives are all an elaborate front for some sort of secret sex slave smuggling operation. You wouldn’t be surprised at all to discover dead bikini models hanging at the back of Stan’s cheese barn, maybe hidden beneath the floorboards in some kind of secret underground meat locker. And then it gets satanic.
On their first date, wine literally bursts into flame. On their second date Zoe visits Stan’s farm, they have multi-orgasmic sex in a massive barn full of cheese, she gets off his cock to vomit and she tells him she’s pregnant. He freaks out, she decides she wants nothing to do with him and leaves. We never see his farm again. Instead the next day he knocks her door, she opens it, and they wake up next to each other in the morning. He immediately goes to the doctor with her where this time the physician sticks a sonic dildo up her vag, then pulls it out and waves it under Stan’s nose just to be sure everyone in the audience knows it’s covered it blood. Stan faints. I considered throwing up.
Flaming wine and sonic blood dildos were just the beginning. Clearly there’s more to Zoe’s pregnancy than simple artificial insemination. The movie never comes right out and says it, but I’m betting on demon possession. See eventually Stan starts to question the decision to be with Zoe, you know, the decision we never actually saw him make. Luckily he meets a wandering black man who accuses him of being a pedophile, gives him grape juice, then tells him how horrible it is to have kids… except for this one thing which makes it awesome, but apparently it’s so awesome he can’t actually tell Stan what this one thing is. The movie hints around that it may have something to do with pet feces, but never comes right out and says it. This doesn’t matter. Despite the lack of evidence Stan is convinced and goes back to Zoe. But one night his doubts resurface and so while Zoe sleeps he lurks in a darkened kitchen making hundreds of pancakes, cooking and flipping, cooking and flipping, cooking and flipping. And just when you think Stan’s about to grab an axe and go all Jack Nicholson… it happens.
Zoe and Stan are invited to intend the home birth of one of her single mommy friends. They arrive just as she’s going into heavy labor, and what follows is the most horrifying birthing scene ever put to film. It’s like something straight out of Rosemary’s Baby. A hideously obese woman circles, pounding on a drum and chanting while the laboring mother wallows on the floor in a kiddie pool. They’re surrounded by freakish looking Goth girls who chant and sway while the mother screams and sweats and contorts her face as if she’s calling out for Beelzebub. She howls for a mirror and claws at JLo’s arms staring into her eyes as if she’s projecting flames. Stan plunges the mirror towards the water in front of her while she shifts to all fours, screaming into the mirror like some sort of feral dog, presumably because that’s the only way you can see the demon. It goes on and on like this with the mad chanting and the horrifying screams, the candles burning the women’s faces contorting, the water churning, fecal matter floating, the baby crowning. I’m pretty sure these same chicks were in Wicker Man.
After the birth of Hellboy, Zoe moves forward with her own pregnancy. Only now, perhaps possessed by the same dark forces which haunted her friend’s birthing, she’s become a raging bitch. She throws out her man for telling someone that the babies aren’t biologically his, then she holds her best friend prisoner and uses her as a pillow. She ruins her grandmother’s wedding by making unnecessary phone calls during the ceremony, and then when she gets bored with the whole affair knocks over a bunch of brittle, elderly nursing home patients and steals her granny’s limo. Satan is now in her womb.
Ignore the poppy score, that’s just misdirection. If this were a movie about a man falling in love with a woman who’s already pregnant then the film wouldn’t have skipped over the scenes in which he decides to stay or for that matter, it might have actually shown the birth of Zoe’s baby since, you know, those moments are kind of the entire point of the movie. As a horror film though, this may be one of the most frightening pieces of celluloid ever created. Unfortunately since this is a movie that sets out to be a romantic comedy I’m forced to judge it as is. On that scale, as a romantic comedy, The Back-up Plan may be one of the worst movies ever created.
But somewhere inside The Back-up Plan, entirely unintentionally, is another movie. It’s a horror movie; one of the most bizarre, frightening horror movies ever created. It’s a mad, depraved, satanic, acid-trip triumph. A direct and accidental successor to Rosemary’s Baby. You know that scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Johnny Depp loads up on mescaline and starts hallucinating hideous, cocktail drinking lizards? You know that scene in every drug movie where everyone gets high, goes to a boring movie, and then discovers something horrifying and sinister hidden beneath the film’s other banal plot? It’s like that, only you won’t need the drugs to see it. See The Back-up Plan and your life may be changed, horrifyingly, and forever.