Thursday, August 13, 2020

Performance Piece: Paris Hilton, House of Wax (2005)

The performer: Paris Hilton

The performance: Playing "Paige Edwards" in the second remake of House of Wax (2005)

Why her?

Let me start off by saying: This isn't going to be like the first few Performance Piece entries have been. While I knew I was going to cover the 2005 version of House of Wax at some point for Cruel Summer Month, I decided later on to dissect one of its more (if not its most) controversial elements: The casting of Paris Hilton. I've touched upon the controversy surrounding Hilton's forays into acting briefly when I discussed Repo! The Genetic Opera during my Hot Take post from last month. Let me reiterate though: Basically, people hate them some Hilton, to the point where she won a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress for her performance in this movie. While I am not in the business of full-on defending Hilton (Except for her Repo! performance, because I find her legitimately effective in that), I did want to rewatch House of Wax and see if her performance was truly Razzie-level bad. So, instead of measuring what makes a performance so great as I have before, this month's Performance Piece is going to be an investigation of sorts. One into whether or not Hilton truly was that bad or not.

Paris Hilton as Paige in House of Wax

Let's start with an aspect of acting that tends to stick out to most, including myself: Line delivery. I will confess, I actually think Hilton's ability to read dialogue is the worst aspect of her performance here. Too often does she mumble out her lines in a monotone Californian accent instead of varying up her speech or trying to deliver the emotion. For example, when talking with best friend Carly (Elisha "RIP Happy Endings" Cuthbert) about her current pregnancy scare, Hilton's delivery when Paige is supposed to shoot down Carly's concerns of what might happen doesn't give us the sense that Paige is the least bit concerned about her potential pregnancy. This indifferent delivery is reused a lot for the most part, except for a few instances: Her debut scene, where she's congratulating Carly on getting a job offer to way in New York, talking about how her friend Dalton (Jon Abrahams) looks like a smurf while giving him a makeover, and throughout the big set piece featuring her character's death. The weakness of Hilton's line delivery is definitely not working in her favor when it comes to winning the audience's favor.

Next, let's highlight an area of acting that Hilton fares better at: The chemistry she has with her co-stars. While Hilton's line delivery needed work, her rapport with her various co-stars is actually good and even creates believable dynamics. Paige has several scenes with boyfriend Blake (Robert Ri'chard) that Hilton manages to display sufficient chemistry with Ri'chard in, including an intimate scene that features Hilton performing a striptease for her co-star. In addition to her rapport with Ri'chard, as mentioned above, Paige shares multiple scenes with Carly in which requires Hilton to display concern over Carly's future, as she wants Carly to pursue the job in New York rather than stay in town with her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki). Hilton and Cuthbert ultimately have enough chemistry to be believable as friends. Frankly, one of the strengths of House of Wax and the performances, including Hilton's, in my opinion is that there's enough chemistry that the young leads make a pretty believable friend group except for Padalecki, as his character is meant to be the outsider of the group. 

Paige and the rest of the young ensemble of House of Wax

Since it was touched upon earlier, let's get into the bread and butter of Hilton's performance: Her death scene. This is actually where Hilton shines, as she delivers everything being asked of her here. She acts appropriately terrified throughout and delivers some pretty damn good screaming (something Hilton was allegedly self conscious of having to do). Her fearful acting especially comes across well when killer Vincent (Brian Van Holt) attacks her by shoving a knife through the holed floor with the intent on striking her feet and incapacitating her. The material written for Hilton here also allows her character to make some surprisingly good decisions in trying to fend off Vincent, something that attempts to allow Paige to endear herself to the audience. It also allows us to see a scrappier side of Paige that Hilton delivers without a hitch, fleshing out the character right as she meets her end when Vincent tosses a pole that impales her through the head. A death that is a visual callback to an earlier scene when Paige is seen by her friends from another car as allegedly giving Blake a blow job (no doubt a meta joke about Hilton's infamous sex tape).

Paige gets whacked

So, in the end, when weighing her lack of line delivery skills against her good chemistry and very good acting during her death scene, let's repeat the question: Was Hilton really Razzie-worthy bad in House of Wax? The answer is, honestly, that she's fine. She's may not be on par with the previous actors I've covered in this series, but she's certainly not the worst actor ever. At least Hilton laughed her way to the bank, considering not only did House of Wax make its money back, but she was a part of that financial success as part of the campaign involved her selling shirts labeled "See Paris Die May 6." She knew what she was doing and it clearly worked out for her, Razzie be damned.

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