- First there's Jensen Ackles' character, Tom, who's dealing with lingering trauma from having been abandoned by his friends while being attacked by a psycho. On top of that, he's inherited the dying mine where the attack happened, which is still (barely) providing the bulk of the town's jobs--oh, and he returns to the town to discover that his former girlfriend is married to the jerk that left him behind in the attack. The movie's trying to set him up as the protagonist with mental and emotional scars who finds his former home unfairly turned against him, but he doesn't really get a chance to win over the audience because of all of the corpses happening all over the place. It's a bit distracting. I mean, I felt kind of sorry for him because his life has clearly been kind of shitty, but I never really was able to get beyond that point.
- Then there's the former friend, who's now the town's sheriff, but obviously spends most of his time kicking around town and solving the same petty thefts over and over. He's also cheating on his wife with ... one of her coworkers? Not sure, I kind of skipped through things a little at the beginning. I think he's supposed to be the antagonist? But he's also sort of the lead in trying to figure out who's doing all the killing? So it's kind of hard to know what to do with him. He's clearly a jerk, but he's just not believable as a possible suspect for the killings, no matter how ticked off he is that his wife's former boyfriend is back in town. Also, the actor playing him just doesn't have the kind of voice you can take seriously--he still sounds kind of like a teenager. Maybe the idea was to give him a story arc of finally proving himself as a mature man, or to atone for leaving Tom behind when the attack happened, but again, there's just no room for that character arc to actually develop.
- And finally there's the wife/ex-girlfriend, who I'm just going to call "the chick", because that's what she is in this movie. She's probably the most sympathetic of the characters, since you can see how she's kind of stuck in the middle and just trying to keep on with her responsibilities as wife, mother, and working woman, but she doesn't really have any actual character, so it's hard to really care. Theoretically there's a love triangle between her, Tom, and her cheating husband the sheriff, but again--it just doesn't actually go anywhere. She seems more like a scolding mother figure with Tom than a former/potential lover, and she's merely dutiful wife with the sheriff. It would've been fairly easy to give her a storyline about missed opportunities and second-guessing decisions, or perhaps guilt that she wasn't able to pull Tom out of the way of harm (and massive trauma)--but there really isn't any of that. She just keeps repeating that she's married to the sheriff and then proceeds to have absolutely NO chemistry with Tom whatsoever. If you told me they were actually siblings instead of former boyfriend/girlfriend, I'd probably believe you.
- The last piece of the potential story is really the town itself, which is a slowly-dying mining town. There's a lot to potentially play with here--you have a place that gets mentioned in the news only because of a decade-old killing spree, where all the jobs are dependant to some degree on a single mine. Tom leaving and then coming back in order to sell the mine could be used to examine all kinds of stuff, but it's used simply as a way to guilt-trip him and then brow-beat him into revisitng the place of a truama so deep it gave him a split personality or something. If the killings were less erratic and more spread out chronologically, the idea of someone using them to get the town back onto the map would be a pretty strong red herring. If the mine's going to be sold, perhaps it might be possible to turn the town into a somewhat macabre tourist destination--but for that, you need more corpses, and cue the second murder spree.
- One last possible theme is the stigma related to needing psychological treatment. The fact that Tom had to spend time in a mental institution of some kind in order to recover from the trauma of the attack is used repeatedly by the sheriff in order to discredit him. Again, this is something that could be pretty easily spun out into something more substantial, if there was room in the movie to do so.
Verdict? If Jensen Ackles wasn't in it, I doubt people would even remember it existed. The only thing that's somewhat memorable about it as a horror movie is the murder weapon. But since Jensen Ackles is in it? Well, it's passable. Set your expectations to "slightly dull B-grade horror" and you won't be disappointed.
(Just for the record, I am never going to watch House of Wax, not even for Jared Padalecki. Never.)