24 June 2015

THE NUMBER 23 (2007) + 23 (1998)


German Title:
Number 23

USA, 2007
Director: Joel Schumacher


After his lush and quite impressive movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's successful "The Phantom of the Opera" musical (which I enjoyed quite a lot, even though I'm actually a notorious musical hater), director / writer Joel Schumacher decided to return to his favorite genre, the mystery/horror-thriller, and delivered this interesting, but flawed and slightly underwhelming film that follows Walter Sparrow, an amiable animal control officer who becomes obsessed with the 23 enigma after finding a weird book, entitled "The Number 23", that deals with a detective who's completely crazy about the number 23, and paradoxically shares many similarities with Walter...

"The Number 23" isn't a bad film, but it suffers from too many script problems, and it also suffers from the fact that it came several years too late, because plot-wise, it's very similar to movies like "Fight Club" (1999), "Memento" (2000), "The Machinist" (2004) or "Secret Window" (2004), and therefore, it's extremely foreseeable. The first hour is pretty tense and superbly atmospheric, very well built and paced. I was intrigued by the constant rise of paranoia and anxiety, and couldn't wait to find out what was going on. Unfortunately, in the last third the whole build-up collapses like a house of cards: the supposed-to-be-shocking plot twist is lame and disappointing, the tension vanishes into thin air, everything gets explained in a frustratingly explicit way, and the semi-open ending (I assume it was supposed to be shocking too) didn't impress me at all.

Furthermore, I had the feeling that Schumacher struggled a lot with giving the viewer proper insight into the main character's '23 paranoia', because in the second half, there's lots of odd talk about the number 23 that felt and sounded as if 23 is actually a virus or an autonomous creature, which is obviously ridiculous and removes any scariness, seriousness and credibility from the movie. The slightly similar-themed German 90s movie "23" (see below) does a much greater job in delivering a character that is obsessed with the number 23 in a believable way (no wonder, "23" is actually based on true events...).

Visually, it's simply beautiful, thanks to the awesome-looking blood-red apartment of the Sparrow family, many eerie and excellently edited sequences that reminded me a bit of Schumacher's very own "8MM", as well as of David Fincher's "Se7en". Same for the music by Harry Gregson-Williams ("The Chronicles of Narnia 1+2") that often sounds a bit "Se7en"-esque. Virginia Madsen is as great as always, and I highly enjoyed Logan Lerman's surprisingly strong performance. Jim Carrey is good too, though throughout the entire movie, I thought that John Cusack would have been a much better casting choice for this role. Don't get me wrong: I like Carrey and I like his performance here, but... I dunno,I thought he was
miscast here.

Overall, a solid film, but far away from the quality of Schumacher's earlier genre flicks ("The Lost Boys", "Flatliners" etc.)


Alternate German Title:
23 - Nichts ist so wie es scheint

Germany, 1998
Director: Hans-Christian Schmid


Although "23" and "The Number 23" are radically different from each other, they have at least one thing in common: some guy who is obsessed with the number 23, though while Joel Schumacher's "The Number 23" is a work of fiction, the German film "23" is based on real events that happened throughout the late 80s in Germany, following the two young leftist and politically active hackers Karl and David who come in touch with a drug dealer and a deserter, ending up hacking into big companies and foreign systems for the KGB.

The movie focusses on Karl, a maniacal fan of Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea's "Illuminatus!" trilogy, whose obsession with the 23 enigma and the assumption that there's a massive conspiracy behind it, as well as his increasing consumption of Heroine, lead him into paranoia and delusion, unable to tell the difference between dream and reality.

The third feature of German filmmaker Hans-Christian Schmid ("Distant Lights") is a stunning and delightfully fascinating drama-thriller, that deals with the hysteric and alarming atmosphere of the Cold War era between 1985-1991 (Chernobyl disaster, rise of Colonel Gadaffi, assassination of Olop Palme...), the early stages of the global network (access via Network User ID and Acoustic coupler) and the collapse of a young man who made a few wrong decisions that turned his life into an irreversible downward spiral.

I love how the movie constantly jumps between light-hearted scenes, dark drama, thrilling eerieness and factual expertise without ever feeling awkward. There are parts that will make you laugh out loud, such as the scene where the two hackers smoke weed and loudly sing songs in a dining car, but there are also parts that will make you feel uncomfortable, such as the powerful scene where Karl tries to jump out of a driving car because he thinks he's attacked by military aircrafts.

The cast is excellent, especially August Diehl ("Inglourious Basterds") who delivers a flawless and very believable performance. Throughout the movie, he looks so goddamn whacked, you start to assume that Diehl really was on drugs during shooting. The soundtrack is absolutely ace ["Child in Time" - Deep Purple / "The Passenger" - Iggy Pop / "Eighties" - Killing Joke...], lighting, editing and camera work are all fantastic, and omg, the ending is fucking depressing.

If you're into German thrillers like "The Experiment" or "The Wave", this is definitely worth checking out too!


  1. Saw The Number 23 in the cinema and all I can really remember about it is likely the opening credits!

    23 does sound interesting though! Is it worth a look do you think?

    K :-)

    1. Well, the opening credits looked great. No wonder, you still remember them... ;)

      23 is definitely worth a look. If you need a copy, just tell me!

    2. does it go by another name? I can't find it on Amazon!

    3. Ah fuck it! Just realized that the German DVD has no English subtitles, and that it's out of print in UK & USA. Amazon.fr has it on stock, but only with French language options. Bummer... :-/

    4. Ha! That is probably why I couldn't find it! How annoying!!

      K :-(


Total Pageviews