Paul Urikjo Alijo’s debut feature, Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil, actually debuted at Sitges last year. The film then toured the horror/fantasy festival circuit to plenty of acclaim before it landed on Netflix. It is a matter of thorny debate how good streaming services are for films like this and the detrimental effects of the likes of Netflix on the festival circuit. It would be accurate to say though that being on the streaming giant gives a chance for movies such as Erremantari to be seen by more people which is a good thing as this is a little gem of a film that deserved to be seen by a wider audience.
The story takes places in a small Spanish village in the 1840s where an investigator (Ortzi Acosta) arrives to investigate the disappearance of some gold that was stolen during the First Carlist War. His chief suspect being Patxi (Kandido Uranga) a hermit blacksmith who the rest of the village appear to fear. The investigation is beside the point though as this fable-like tale focuses on Patxi and a deal he made with a demon Sartael (Eneko Sagardoy). Not that this is a spoiler as we are told of the blacksmith’s demonic pact in the beautifully animated prologue. The other main focus is Usue (Uma Bracaglia) a rebellious little girl whose mother killed herself.
Given this is a Spanish fantasy-horror seen mainly from a child’s point of view it is hard to escape the Del Toro comparisons. This story even touches a bit on the same themes of grief, loss, and oppression (state & religious) as the likes of “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” However, it does so in a more heavy handed, broad brush strokes manner. Which is not to say it does not tell its story as well as it remains entertaining throughout. The film is unusual as well as it is Basque language films which is a rarity (there is an English dub but many have noted this make it seem silly and you are better sticking with the original language with subs).
Tonally the piece is curious as it starts as a brooding Gothic fairy tale but becomes more comical as the plot unfolds particularly after the introduction of Sartael. This tonal shift is not a bad thing necessarily as Sagardoy chews the screen with maximum glee (as the demon who looks not dissimilar to Tim Curry’s Satan in “Legend”). They say the devil gets all the best lines and that is certainly true here. You can’t help but feel though that film is strongest in its opening half when the focus is on the more human stories on Patxi and Usue. Both of whom are played superbly by Uranga and Bracaglia respectively and form the beating heart of the film. Concerning the other characters, much of the rest of village though is your stereotypical torch-wielding yokels that generally populate fairy tales.
The film does end on a high though with a hell set finale which is beautifully staged and impressively done particularly given its budget level.
Overall: Despite the tonal inconsistencies and clichéd elements this is a thoroughly entertaining fantasy-horror tale told with real brio and complete with visual imagination and a trio of enjoyable performances from Uranga, Bracaglia and Sagardoy.
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.
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.
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.
Believe or not this latest addition to the “Halloween” franchise, the 11th entry, is brought to us by the same people who brought us “Pineapple Express” in David Gordon Green (director/co-writer) and Danny McBride (co-writer). A combination we know can do comedy but what about horror? It turns out they do know their horror or at least “Halloween” as this movie is a fitting tribute to the original while managing to do its own thing for the most part.
It fits too that in a franchise with an incredibly convoluted history that this film adds to that confusion by ignoring all previous sequels and being a direct follow up to the original. So in this timeline, Michael Myers was arrested after the events of the original and has been in a secure asylum for 40 years. We first see Michael as two investigative journalists go to visit him. It is a very evocative opening scene as we see Michael chained up in a chessboard style courtyard with his back turned to us. The camera teases glimpses of his face but never shows his full face giving him an even more sinister air.
The investigative journalist’s angle is good as it gives us the audience a very easy to catch up on what has been happening in Haddonfield over the last 40 years particularly with Laurie Strode (Lee Curtis). It turns out she has two failed marriages, had her daughter taken off her and is now living as a hermit in a fortified house, seemingly waiting for Michaels return. In this opening section, we also get to see the strained relationship she has with her daughter Karen (Greer) and her better relationship with granddaughter Allyson (Matichak). The relationship between these three generations of Strode women forms the emotional core of the movie.
After this opening section, Michael inevitably escapes after a botched prison transfer and starts killing once again. Once the killing begins the film very much goes into traditional slasher territory. This element is one of the things that is likely to delight some while frustrating others as the movie feels like a slasher that could have been made in the pre-“Scream” era. As for the most part events are played with a straight bat, and there is little in the way of snarkiness or post-modernism here which may come as a surprise giving the creative talents involved. However, for the most part, this works well, but it does mean there are a bunch of characters who either you don’t care about or are actively happy to see bumped off by Michael.
As mentioned at the start of the review there are many nods to the original. While sometimes this seems a tad forced there are some instances of this that work well. Particularly the scenes that invert the original and highlight the oddly symbiotic relationship between Michael and Laurie. The other big nod to the original is that we have John Carpenter back doing the soundtrack the first time he has done a “Halloween” soundtrack since 1981’s “Halloween II.”
While there may be some skewy plot logic, annoying characters and some silly moments this latest “Halloween” does deliver some brutal kills, develops the relationship of Strode women well and has an absolutely barnstorming performance from Jamie Lee Curtis.
“Witch in The Window” is Andy Mitton’s first solo directorial feature after previously making “YellowBrickRoad” and “We Go On” with his screen collaborator Jesse Holland. Much like those films, this film has picked up plaudits on the festival circuit after premiering at Fantasia Fest in July. The movie also sees Mitton reunite with actor Alex Draper who is a long-time acquaintance of Mitton’s and one of the stars of “YellowBrickRoad.”
The plot focuses on Draper’s character divorced dad Simon who takes his twelve-year-old son Finn (Tacker) on a trip to fix up a house he has bought to flip in rural Vermont. However, it is not too long before they hear of the previous owner who died there Lydia who was believed to be a witch by her neighbours. Of course, as this is a horror movie soon after creepy things start to happen.
That said while there is no doubt this a horror movie this is not your straightforward haunted house tale. For one the film is as much a family drama as it is a horror. As the central narrative is about an absentee father trying to reconnect with his son, a plot that could easily tip into lazy sentimentally but instead is beautifully built up here. A good part of this is to do with the acting both from Draper and Tacker who both create rounded, believable characters. Even if Finn initially does come off as your stereotypical sullen adolescent.
The movie also wrong-foots the viewer as most of the jumps and scares happen in the daytime instead of at night. Talking of the jumps and scares these are sparsely peppered throughout the films short running time. Probably too sparsely for quite a few horror fans. Even fans of slow-burn horror may find themselves wanting a few more jumps to have been thrown into the mix. The jumps there are though are well-executed.
While the movie is low on jumps, it is high on atmosphere. There is a certain claustrophobia about the film as we are rarely away from the house and everything about the house is made to feel sinister. Also, Lydia (Carol Stanzione) is a creepily effective villain. There is also a sequence towards the end where the film really lets loose which is very well done, but part of you wishes there had been a tad more of that in what is otherwise an impressive movie.
It has been eight years since Panos Cosmatos eye-lacerating, mind-melting debut “Beyond the Black Rainbow” came out. While not a well-known film it is one that picked up a small but dedicated following that was eager to know what Cosmatos would do next. Anticipation grew further when this film finally hit at Sundance in January to rave reviews. However those who were not lucky enough to see it there had to wait until June to get even a trailer but now the wait is over, and “Mandy” has finally hit cinemas. Was it worth the wait? Well if you’re a fan of “Beyond the Black Rainbow” or Nicolas Cage almost certainly.
The movie is not the same as Cosmatos’s debut though as while it may be similarly visually intense, 80’s inspired, neon-soaked and trippy but it has much more of a plot throughline. In fact, in narrative terms, it is relatively simple. The film is set in 1983 where lumberjack Red Miller (Cage) is living out in the woods with his partner Mandy Bloom (Riseborough). Mandy is subsequently abducted and then murdered by a hippie cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Roache). These events inevitably lead Red on a path of revenge. This plot is the kind of plot set-up that will be very familiar to any action movie fan as it has been used innumerable times.
However, the plot of the movie is entirely beside the point here. No the magic of the film lies in its visual invention, atmosphere and a barnstorming performance from Nicolas Cage. As this is really Cage’s movie in many ways. With all the drugged –out madness going on you need a central figure to match that and Cage can certainly do that. It is often easy to disregard Cage given all the dross he stars in but this film reminds you what a talent he can be. As the performance he gives here is easily his best since “Kick-Ass” and should go down as one of his all-time best. That is not too disregard the other actors as the like of Roache and Riseborough give decent performance as well. Plus there is some decent cameos from Bill Duke and Richard Brakes.
If there is a weakness, it is it would have been good to see the character of Mandy fleshed out a bit. Due to Riseborough quality acting, you do get a sense of Mandy, but it would have been good to spend a little more time with the character. Also not unlike the films of Nicholas Winding Refn it is likely some will bristle against the film surface sheen and too-cool-for-school vibe. That may be a tad unfair though as you do sense this picture was a real labour of love for Cosmastos, and he is not just being cool for cools sake. There also no doubting his visual sense of flair from all the psychedelic interludes to the animated dream sequences to even the more naturalistic looking scenes early this is a stunning film to look at. Aside from his superb direction and the aforementioned Cage performance, the film also has a pulsing synth soundtrack provided by Jóhann Jóhannsson which fit perfectly with the films 80’s horror vibe. It is one of the year’s best and sadly the last one we shall hear from Johannson after he passed away earlier in the year.
While Dean Devlin’s has had a long career as a screenwriter, “Bad Samaritan” is only his second directorial effort. His first effort was last year’s critical stinker “Geostorm”. Just because that was bad though that does not necessarily mean this effort would follow suit but unfortunately it is. This is a shame in a way as there is some genuine talent involved here and a couple of decent performances from David Tennant and Robert Sheehan.
The story itself focuses on Sean Falco (Sheehan) a part-time photographer and small-time thief. He gets a surprise while robbing the house of businessman Cale Ehrendreich (Tennant) as he discovers a girl Katie (Condon), chained up in one of the rooms. This scene is one of the few genuinely effective jump scares in the movie as a flash from a camera reveals the shackled girl in the corner of the darkened room. After this discovery, Falco initially tries to free her before he gets scared and runs. This finding then sets off a chain of events where Falco gets trapped in a game of cat-and-mouse with businessman/serial killer Erendreich.
In fairness to the film, the tempo is kept high and it is quite watchable but there is a lot of issues here. Chief amongst these issues is the misogynistic nature of the movie. This problem is ironic in a way as you feel the movie is trying to make some comment on toxic masculinity with the character of Erendreich. The film however undercuts any point like this with it’s treatment of the female characters. Particularly as it fails to give even the main female characters Katie and Falco’s girlfriend Riley (Jacqueline Byers) any level of real characterisation. Plus, the way the latter character is side-lined and forgotten about will particularly stick in many a viewer’s throats.
Over the course of the movie, there are also plenty of clichés abound. From our reluctant anti-hero to the comic relief best friend to various comically inept cops to the dogged FBI investigator who is obsessed with our villain to Erendrecih himself who is always three steps ahead until the plot says otherwise. Talking of the plot while the movie starts out as a relatively grounded cat-and-mouse thriller it gets increasingly more ridiculous as the plot unfolds. By the end of the film, Tennant is not so much chewing the scenery as devouring it. This fact is not a problem in itself as Tennant whiny thin-skinned and OTT portrayal of Erendreich is one of the highlights of the film. The problem with it is that we have seen Tennant do a very similar character better in “Jessica Jones”.
“Upgrade” is the latest feature from Leigh Whannell. Surprisingly despite being a prolific horror screenwriter and co-creating two of the biggest horror franchises of the last 15 years in “Saw” and “Insidious”, this is only his second directorial feature.
Unlike a lot of his output, this film is not straight up horror instead it mashes up sci-fi, action, horror and even a bit of comedy too. You might think sticking all these elements would make the movie messy but Whannell manages to get away with it for the most part. That said if you have seen some of Whannell’s other work you will not be surprised by the level of nastiness on display.
The film starts with a neat touch with the production credits and the title being readout by a synthetic female voiceover, represented visually by sound waves. The story takes place in a near-future where technology controls nearly all aspects of life. It is a vision of the future that is both futuristic and retro as it calls to mind the look of various sci-fi actioners from the late 80’s/early 90’s, the film being particularly heavily indebted to Robocop.
The focus of the plot is technophobe Grey Trace (Marshall-Green), who spends his days repairing vintage cars for a dwindling clientele while his wife Asha (Vallejo) works for a tech company. After an idyllic opening between husband and wife, you know that tragedy is just around the corner. Right on cue, she is murdered and he is left paralyzed by a gang after the two survive a car crash. His only hope to walk again is an advanced experimental computer chip called STEM. The chip is provided by sinister tech billionaire Eron Keen (Gilbertson) who just so happen to be one of Trace’s clientele.
The chip, of course, not only allows Trace to walk but gives him superhuman reflexes and fighting skills. Meaning he can take revenge on his wife’s killers. As premises go it is one that has been seen a thousand times before. However, this is a movie that is more about execution than anything else and it does execute its action beats very well. There are several balletic and brutal fight sequences throughout that are as thrilling as they are entertaining. In fact, all the action choreography is excellent including a very well staged car chase near the end. The cinematography is also a real highlight with there being several visually sumptuous shots throughout the movie.
Character-wise it is hard to invest in anyone other than Trace himself. Trace might be your typical action hero in some regards but Marshall-Green manages to give him a depth and humour too. The only real issue with the character being the way he flip-flops from being terrified of what is happening to his body to a wise-cracking hero and back a little schizophrenically. Plot-wise it is nothing to write home about either but the film does deliver some nice twists near the very end.
Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao, Ruby Rose
Running Time: 113mins
The Meg is an odd film in many regards. Odd in that both director Turteltaub and star Statham openly complained that the film hitting screens is a watered down version of the original cut. The film is also odd because this is a big-budget blockbuster taking inspiration from mock-buster merchants Asylum. As let’s face this is just a bigger budget, slightly better-acted version of movies like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. There is also a cynicism to the movie as, like many recent blockbusters, it tries to pander to the Chinese market. Despite these issues, there is still plenty of fun to be had here.
The movie opens with an underwater rescue mission that goes awry. Statham is traumatized by the event after losing his two best friends and thinking he saw a Megalodon which nobody believes him about. The movie then cuts to five years later when Statham is called out of retirement to save his ex-wife who is trapped in a sub on the bottom of the sea being menaced by, you guessed it, a Megalodon.
We meet the rest of the characters in an underwater research facility. This being a summer blockbuster most of the characters are fairly stock like the asshole billionaire, the wise-cracking black guy, the young child who is smarter than all the adults, etc. Some of the characters do manage to stand out however. Other than Statham the two standouts are father-daughter scientists Zhang (Winston Chao) and Suyin (Bingbing Li). Suyin, in particular, manages to cut above the standard love interest character she is so clearly meant to be.
In the end, this is clearly Statham’s film. He steals pretty much all of the best lines as well as the best action sequences. Not that there is anything wrong with that as Statham is in fine form. There is also a lot of fun to be had with seeing him going one on one with a giant shark. The shark itself is well-rendered and proves an imposing threat. The movies action set-pieces also can’t be faulted, particularly the Sanya bay set finale.
The Meg is a stupid movie and knows it. The film probably could have pushed the boat out more in terms of gore and mayhem but it is still fun in the end.