Archive

Monthly Archives: November 2018

November 30, 2018

Review – Cam

Film by: Daniel Goldhaber & Isa Mazzei

Starring: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters

Run Time: 94mins

“Cam” is the latest hyped horror to hit Netflix and is said to be “freaking everyone out.” It has certainly been a strong year in horror for the streaming giant with the likes of “Veronica,” “Cargo” and “Apostle” all getting decent receptions. That is also before we even get to the success of TV show “The Haunting of Hill House.” Shall “Cam” be another horror hit for the company? Early reactions suggest so.

The premise of the movie is a relatively simple one of stolen identity. Telling the story of Alice (Madeline Brewer) an intelligent, ambitious young woman who does camgirl shows, under the pseudonym Lola_Lola, in her house and hopes of becoming the most-watched girl on the site using a variety of shock tactics to so. Just as she appears to be going up the rankings, she discovers she has been replaced on her show by a woman who is the exact double of her. She then sets out to find out how this could happen and who this woman is. It is a very Hitchcockian set-up but one that is made to feel current due to the filmmakers, unusually the film is credited to both director Daniel Goldhaber and writer Isa Mazzei, clever use of technology.

Not that any of this arrives until the end of the first act as the opening half an hour or so merely focuses on Alice’s life and her cam show performances. A smart move on the filmmaker’s part as it grounds Alice’s reality and makes us root for her once the stolen identity plot. This component is essential to making the movie work as the story largely rests on Brewer’s shoulders. A factor she deals with well in what is an excellent performance.

These early scenes are filmed with an almost documentarian eye and realistically paints that world. Not that this should be surprising given as writer Mazzei’s own camgirl experiences. Also while it could be argued how feminist the film there is a clear subversion of the male gaze going on here. As all the camshow scenes are not in the least titillating instead portraying the often grimy reality of it. Particularly the opening scene where Alice fakes a suicide with some of her online admirers actively baying her into it.   The cam scenes are also visually interesting as their Day-Glo surrealism contrasts well with the documentary look of the real world scenes.

If there are drawbacks here, it is you get the sense the filmmakers did not quite know how to wrap this mystery up as the conclusion leaves far more questions than answer. Not that everything has to be cut and dry, just that there is something slightly unsatisfying about the ending. There are also times it feels merely like an extended “Black Mirror” episode. Regarding the actual horror as well you feel that the filmmakers could have added more scares or cranked up the suspense more. Although it is telling that some of the most horrifying scenes are Alice’s real-world interactions with men who know or find out she is a sex worker.

Overall: A decent film with an excellent central performance which gives a fascinating look at the world of camming as well as delivering an intriguing central mystery even if it does not entirely pay off on its excellent initial set-up.

6.5/10

November 23, 2018

Review – Suspiria (2018)

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Alek Wek, Angela Winkler

Run Time: 152 mins

 

Remakes are always tricky propositions especially within the horror genre where films have such dedicated fanbases. This trickiness counts for double when you are remaking a movie like Suspiria which is considered an all-time horror classic.  Also given the critical snobbery often surrounding horror it seems especially risky for Oscar-nominated arthouse darling Luca Guadagnino to take on this project. So was it worth the risk? Mostly but not entirely is the answer to that.

It was entirely apparent from the trailers that this Suspiria was going to be different. The most immediately noticeable difference is the visual palette. This Suspiria looks very grey, sombre and more not unlike say, a Michal Haneke film, which is a considerable distance from the colour drenched original. Also, this movie has moved the action from Freiburg to Berlin. With Guadagnino stating in interviews, he wanted to make a film which also looked into the socio-political climate of late 70’s Berlin. A noble purpose but this is one of the elements that does not work. All the references to the Baader-Meinhoff complex and the politics of the time feel shoe-horned in and superfluous to the central plot.

The central plot, or certainly it’s beginning, is one of the things that has not changed. As just like the original we have a newcomer American dancer Suzie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arriving at a prestigious German dance academy supervised by Madam Blanc (Tilda Swinton). An Academy that just so happens to be run by a coven of witches. Many of the plot beats of the original remain here but with slightly different twists. Such as one of the students, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), disappearing at the start and Suzie’s best friend Sara (Mia Goth) finding the coven’s secret lair.

In terms of the horror on display here, there is undoubtedly some compelling moments, the death of one of the dancers being a genuinely wince-inducing moment. There is also a couple of dream sequence which are unsettling. However, there is a curious lack of tension or suspense to proceedings. Something horrible happens then the film meanders on then another horrible thing happens etc.  This lack of momentum can be frustrating, and there are times the movie does not seem to be going anywhere. The film particularly stalls when following Dr. Josef Klemperer (Swinton) whose sub-plot while necessary to an extent could have been cut down. The same criticism could also extend to the film’s epic 2 ½ hour running time.

There is also plenty to admire here though as the performances across the board are strong particularly Swinton’s multi-faceted performance as Madame Blanc. The dance sequences are also intense and exhilarating spectacles imbued with a brooding horror. Getting under your skin in a way you wish more of the film did.

Overall: As a remake it can’t compare to Argento’s original. As a movie itself, it is overlong and overstuffed but also at times captivating and unsettling.

6.5/10

November 2, 2018

Review – Summer of 84

Director: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell

Starring: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye       

Run Time: 105mins

RKSS films, the people who brought you “Turbo Kid,” are back with another slice of 80’s nostalgia in “Summer of 84”. Given the sea of 80’s inspired TV shows and movies that have come out in recent years, this might be seen by some viewers as a bad thing. Also given this is a Coming-of-Age thriller there will be inevitable comparisons to “Stranger Things” even although the plot is entirely different.

The central story focuses on Davey (Graham Verchere), a conspiracy-obsessed teen who starts to suspect that his next-door neighbour Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer) is a serial killer. His friend’s Dale (Caleb Emery), Tommy (Judah Lewis) and Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) are initially sceptical about Davey’s theories but eventually decide to go along. The group’s investigation takes up the bulk of the movie.

As a horror, it is a slow burn affair which focuses more on creating a foreboding atmosphere rather than gory thrills. Also while some may guess early whether or not the next door neighbour is indeed a serial killer the filmmakers do well to keep the mystery going throughout the film.

There is much to admire here as the period detail is excellent and it is clear to see the filmmaker’s genuine love of all things 1980’s. There is no sense that this is cynical bandwagon jumping. It is also clear that they wanted to make their own story within the 80’s style and not just be a mere pastiche of the movies they are paying tribute too, such as Amblin films. Some of the classic 80’s elements really work too, from an entertaining investigation montage scene to the synth-heavy soundtrack.

Not everything works so well though. As while the central character of Davey is likable and compelling, the rest of the gang seem both annoying and underwritten. Particularly Tommy who is that archetypal obnoxious loudmouth character whose behaviour is excused by the fact that he has terrible parents and an even more obnoxious brother in what seems like lazy writing. Talking of lazy writing the only female character of note, Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), is risibly underwritten cool dream girl who only real purpose is to be pined after, and become a quasi-love interest, for our lead. However, Skovbye does her best to give the character some spark.

Some lazy writing aside there is much to enjoy here, and the film cranks into gear in the final stretch paying off all the tension that was expertly built up throughout the film.

Overall: “Summer of 84” is not doing anything new and can at times feel clichéd but it also a highly enjoyable Coming-of-Age story with a decent lead performance, engaging plot and a cracking synth score.

6/10