March 6, 2019

Review: Piercing

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Starring: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa

Run Time: 81min

“Piercing” is director Nicolas Pesce’s follow up to his 2016 art-house horror “The Eyes of My Mother.” A film that while not a massive hit was enough of critical and cult success to get Pesce marked out as one of the bright young voices of horror (he is only 29). Not only that, but it also brought him to major studio attention as he currently post-production on the latest reboot of “The Grudge.”

Given the impression he made with his debut, it must have been tempting to do something similar. However, Pesce has gone for something slightly less arty and a little more pulpy in this adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s novel. That said, it is similarly stylized like his first film, and it is just as weird albeit in a different way. There is, for instance, a curious mix of genres with black comedy, erotic thriller, and horror all mingling together. How much of the odd tonal shifts are ripped directly from pages of the book and how much is pure Pesce is difficult to know having not read the novel.

The story set-up itself is straightforward enough. We have Reed (Abbott) who is a businessman with a young family who tells his wife he is going away on business, but he actually plans to go to a hotel to kill a prostitute to quell his murderous fantasies. The prostitute in question is Jackie (Wasikowska) who turns out not to be what she first appears. To say much more of the plot would spoil the curious twists and turns. Also, much like the many of the giallo’s the movie is paying tribute the plot is beside the point and it’s easy to see why some will write this off as an indulgent exercise in style over substance.

An assessment which is not far off the mark but the movie is raised by the performances of both Abbott and Wasikowska. Their characters are thinly written, but both give committedly bizarre performances that bring Reed and Jackie to life. They also have excellent on-screen chemistry which helps a lot.  Also, while the self-conscious cool maybe off-putting for some there is something delightful about the dedicated retro-style. From the use of miniatures for the buildings to the deployment of back-projection as well as the use of music from the likes of “Deep Red,” “The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.” and more. It is clear from the off we are not in the real world but a purely cinematic one.

Aside from the production design and the lead performances, there are some great individual scenes; such as the darkly humorous sequence where Reed practices his murder method before Jackie arrives in his hotel room. There are several other surreally blackly comical moments like this. The film really flies into gear in its final act too, but unfortunately, this good work is slightly undone by its abrupt and unsatisfying ending.

Overall: A weird, albeit stylishly made, curio which is an eminently watchable but somewhat slight sophomore effort from director Pesce.

6.5/10

February 15, 2019

Review: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror

Director: Xavier Burgin

Starring : Keith David, Ken Foree, Dr. Robin R Means Coleman, Tananarive Due, Ashlee Blackwell, Tony Todd, Rusty Cundieff, Ernest R. Dickerson, Rachel True, Paula Jai Parker

Run Time: 83mins

Black horror currently seems to be having a moment which is due primarily to the sterling critical and commercial success of “Get Out” which has opened many doors for black horror filmmakers. Of course, as any dedicated horror fan would know the story of black horror cinema is much bigger than “Get Out.” The rest of the story is what this excellent documentary sets out to illuminate.

Shudder’s first original documentary does, however, start with “Get Out” (whose director Jordan Peele is a contributor on this film) briefly discussing its impact before circling back to the early days of cinema starting with “Birth of a Nation.” That movie may seem like an odd starting point for a horror documentary, but as is succinctly put by the various talking head such as Dr. Robin R Means Coleman, whose book the documentary is based on, it feels like a horror movie to a black audience. Not only that it set a template for years to come in how black characters were portrayed not just in horror but in Hollywood movies generally.

Unsurprisingly, the negative stereotypes and clichés around black characters is a large part of the discussion here be it the evil voodoo priestess or the sassy best friend or the sacrificial black person who is only there to sacrifice their lives for the lead white character, etc. All these roles are cleverly picked apart and deconstructed by academics like the aforementioned Dr. Coleman, Tananarive Due, and Ashlee Blackwell. Each of whom also gives great insight into these topics as well as informatively providing the social context that they arose out of it.

As is highlighted social context is, of course, critical here. A case in point is “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) as while the fact the film had a black lead was always going to be explosive at the time of release, it was particularly so due to coming out as it did in the same year as the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Please do not get the wrong impression though dear reader this documentary is neither heavy nor is it dryly academic; it is instead a celebration of black horror cinema. It is also very entertaining featuring interviews with a variety of filmmakers, writers, and actors. Formally the film is quite simple interspersing as it does talking head interviews with clips from a variety of horror movies. There is quite a fun conceit though as the interviews, for the most part, take place in a cinema with the stars watching some of the movie discussed. Some of the contributors are also paired up lending a natural conversational feel to proceedings. This format also leads to some of the most entertaining and revealing moments such as “Blacula” director William Crain discussing his creative battles on that film with twitchy execs with “Tales from the Hood” actress Paula Jai Parker. Also, the banter between Ken Foree (“Dawn of the Dead”) and Keith David (“The Thing”) is priceless.

 Whether you are a casual horror fan or a dedicated horror obsessive, you will almost certainly learn something new here as well as pick up some film recommendations. It was indeed good to see underrated classics like “Ganga & Hess” being highlighted. Even if some spotlighted where over-praised, e.g. “Bones” most were given the props they deserve while also being aware of their flaws, e.g. many of the Blaxploitation films. Either way you will want to stick on one of the featured movies after you have watched this.

Overall: A highly watchable and informative documentary which is essential viewing for anyone who cares about the history of horror.

8/10

You can watch Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror on Shudder here

February 1, 2019

Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

Director: Dan Gilroy

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette John Malkovich

Run Time: 113mins

Horror has seen it all killer cars, dogs, mirrors you name it but killer paintings? That might be a new one (although it probably has been done) and it would be about the only new thing in this sophomore effort from “Nightcrawler” director Dan Gilroy. Not to say there is not much to enjoy here as the feature is a campy delight but just to say there are clichés and stereotypes abound.


Certainly, anyone expecting the same razor-sharp satire displayed in the Jake Gyllenhaal-starring “Nightcrawler” will be sorely disappointed. As where that film cleverly satirised the world of the paparazzi and asked intelligent questions about the role, this movie takes obvious pot shots at the commercial art world. A world ripe for satire indeed but given it has been so heavily satirised before it is hard to say anything new and so many of the gags here feel tired. For example, a bit where an art dealer mistakes a pile of garbage bags in an art studio as an artwork seems particularly hack. There are more bits like this, and you may feel they lack the any of the same bite shown in the likes of last year’s “The Square.”


The characters seem similarly one-note a revolving line-up of bitchy, pretentious and shallow art dealers, artists and critics. However, some of these characters are still entertaining given the relish they are played by some of the cast. In particular, Jake Gyllenhaal’s who camps it up to 11 as flamboyantly vicious art critic Morf Vandewalt. Yes, once again the effete razor-tongued art critic is a well-worn trope but Gyllenhaal’s wild-eyed bug-eyed performance brings the character especially the more the movie wears on, and Morf’s sanity starts to fray. Gyllenhaal is not the only one having a ball though as both Toni Colette and Rene Russo bring a similar devilish glee to their respective roles as conniving art dealer Gretchen and ruthless gallery owner Rhodora.


What of these killer paintings then, you may ask? Ah yes as this piece is not only an art satire but a supernatural horror centring on a series of paintings by unknown artist discovered by Josephina (Zawe Ashton), who so happens to work for Rhodora after the artist died in her apartment block. After this bad things start happening to all those who try to profit from them. The horror element, like the satire element, is not as clever as it thinks it is. Also for a movie that is aiming for something arty it’s funny it is not above using a classic cat based fake-out jump scare. On the flip side, some of the deaths are well staged, and there are moments of surreal horror flourishes that really land such when one character ends up turning into graffiti.


In the end “Velvet Buzzsaw” is probably best summed up by itself when Morf manically describes his theory of the cursed paintings to Rhodora and she pithily replies; “A bit baroque, isn’t it?” Indeed.


Overall: If you are looking for intelligent horror, a truly scathing satire or a thought-provoking critique on art vs. commerce look elsewhere, but if you want some campy fun on a Friday night this movie could be just the thing.

6/10

December 28, 2018

Review: Bird Box

Director: Susanne Bier

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson

Run Time: 124 mins

Since arriving on Netflix, last Friday “Bird Box” has received mixed reviews. Which may have been the case no matter what but you wonder how much that has been influenced by the movie coming out in the same as “A Quiet Place” as this is essentially “A Blind Place” (mixed with a dash of “The Mist”). To be fair though the film is based on a 2014 novel and would have been in production at a similar time.

The comparison does it little favours as it lacks the nerve-shredding tension of that film. However, the same level of the tension would have been difficult to create here given the story structure here that interweaves two different time periods. In one of these Malorie (Sandra Bullock) attempts a treacherous river journey with her two children. We also flashback-and-forth to five years earlier where the unseen force that drives most of society to commit suicide first struck. Here is another key advantage “A Quiet Place” has as there is a tangible threat. The unseen deadly force in this movie being something that is much easier to make threatening in a novel than it is cinematically. Director Bier does, however, do an excellent job of making this invisible force seem ominous when it does strike. Bullock’s performance as Malorie also grounds the stories reality.

Malorie is by far the most rounded character and is given a genuine psychological depth. Many of the other characters we are introduced when the event first happens not so much. As Malorie finds herself stuck in a house with other survivors many of whom barely register. From the ones that do most are clichéd from the wide-eyed innocent Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) to the wearily stereotypical black comic relief character Charlie (Lil Rel Howery) to the asshole in every post-apocalyptic group Douglas (John Malkovich). There is however great fun to be had watching Malkovich play the asshole.

Not all the characters are poorly drawn though. Despite a short amount of screen time, Sarah Paulson makes an impression as Malorie’s sister Jessica, and it is a shame there relationship could not be further explored. Trevante Rhodes also impresses as Malorie’s love interest, Tom. Yes, the character is probably a tad too much on the saintly side, but the relationship between Tom and Malorie is the most convincing in the film and is quite touching as well.

There may be plenty of flaws in characterisation, and the plot logic is oft-times screwy, but there is also plenty to admire here. The premise is interesting, the whole thing is beautifully shot, and the story is never less than engaging.  Also, Malorie’s journey down the river with her two children is rung not just for all the suspense it is worth but for every emotion too. It would take a hard heart not to be moved by it by the time the story reaches its conclusion.

Overall: While not as great as you feel it could have been “Bird Box” still hits many of the right post-apocalyptic notes as well as providing some truly heartbreaking moments.

6/10

December 23, 2018

Review: The House that Jack Built

Director: Lars Von Trier

Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Riley Keough

Run Time: 152 mins

It would be an understatement to say that Lars Von Trier is no stranger to controversy. Having carved a reputation for himself as one of European cinema’s enfant terrible dating back to his debut feature “Breaking the Waves.” This film may, however, be his most controversial work to date. Certainly, that is the impression you would get give its reception at Cannes where there was said to be several walkouts. That said reactions at film festivals do tend to be exaggerated.

Given what people may have heard you would be forgiven for thinking the work it is a splatterfest, it’s not. However, this is a profoundly nasty tale which includes moments of animal abuse (it should be stated not real animal abuse), child murder and torture amongst its many unpleasantries.

 “The House that Jack Built” centres on serial killer Jack (Matt Dillon) who we follow over 12 years in the 70s and 80s. The framing device for the movie is Jack recounts five randomly chosen incidents of murder to Verge (Bruno Ganz). During these dialogues, Jack also frequently goes off on tangents about art, poetry and particularly architecture. These dialogues with Verge can be engaging but also shows Von Trier at his most pretentious. They become particularly grating when they smugly point out plot flaws as if Von Trier wants to pre-empt criticism of some of the more grossly unrealistic moments.

Like many films in Von Trier filmography, there is an autobiographical element. In that, you can frequently interpret Jack’s dialogues with Verge as Von Trier’s conversation with his critics particularly in the frequent accusation of his movies being misogynistic. The misogynistic tag has seemed unfair at times, particularly in connection with “Antichrist,” but you would be hard-pressed to defend this movie against such accusations. Granted you can show acts of misogyny on screen without being misogynistic but the way the film, at times, indulges Jack’s narrative voice and the fact most of the female victims don’t even get a name makes for uncomfortable viewing.

There would be those who would say it is not supposed to be comfortable viewing, and they would be right.  However, there seems to be a lot of intentional button-pushing here that has little value beyond trying to shock and offend. The zenith of which occurs in a particularly disturbing scene where Jack hunts a woman (played Sofie Gråbøl) and her two children. These overt attempts to shock will work on some as it did at Cannes, but many will merely find it tiresome. Much like the adolescent nihilism that pervades proceedings with the film repeatedly making the same points about what a cruel and indifferent universe we live in.

Possibly the most annoying thing about the movie is it is not all terrible. Von Trier is still a great filmmaker, and there is some striking imagery in the film especially in its finale. There are also some excellent moments of dry black comedy, and Matt Dillon delivers a brilliantly oddball performance. Pity that so much else here is such a slog.

Overall: A fitfully engaging work from one of cinema’s most notable agent provocateurs but ultimately one that provides little beyond its desire to shock.

5/10

December 14, 2018

Review: Leprechaun Returns

Director: Steven Kostanski

Starring: Taylor Spreitler, Linden Porco, Pepi Sonuga, Sai Bennett, Emily Reid

Run Time: 86mins

Remarkably this is the eighth entry in the Leprechaun franchise. Remarkable not necessarily for the number of entries but as the Leprechaun franchise has never been as well-loved as some of horror’s other iconic franchises and not only that it is one of the most critically reviled franchises in horror. To give you an idea of how much no fewer than four entries have a 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

As you might surmise expectations for this newest chapter are suitably low especially as this is a made for Scyfy production. This latest instalment is also the second feature in the franchise not to feature Warwick Davis, the other being the god-awful “Leprechaun: Origins” which featured former WWE star Hornswoggle in the role and was the most recent entry until now. Not that this movie has anything to do with that one. In fact, following the route of this year’s Halloween, this feature ignores all the sequels in the franchise and leads on directly from the original. Taking place 25 years after the events of the first film (which came out in 1993).

The plot here centres on Lila (Taylor Spreitler) who is the daughter of the original films heroine Tory Reding (Who was played by a Pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston). She is returning to the house of the original at Devil’s Lake which is now an Eco-House run by a sorority. Unsurprisingly there is no return from Aniston, it is explained her character has passed away, but there is a fun cameo appearance Mark Holton who reprises his role as Ozzie from the original. The rest of the characters are your usual slasher fare. There is some effort to make Lila’s sorority sisters intelligent as they are all academic high-flyers instead of the bimbo characters associated with the sub-genre. However, as soon as the killing starts they end up being just as silly and two-dimensional as your standard slasher character.

On the plus side little time is wasted before the Leprechaun is brought back to life and the killing begins. Here is where the films strength lies as there is plenty of amusing gory moments. Also while some may complain at Warwick Davis’s aforementioned absence, Linden Porco acquits himself well as the eponymous villain. Granted some of his rhyming post-kill one-liners grate but overall Porco delivers a fun performance equal parts mischievous and malicious. Spreitler’s also provides a good foil for them, and their interactions are amongst the film’s most entertaining.

Not everything works some of the jokes clunk, most of the action is textbook slasher stuff, and the acting is the variable, but director Kostanski (The Void, Astron 6) keeps it all going at breezy pace and delivers some good kills in what is one of the better Leprechaun outings.

Overall: “Leprechaun Returns” might not be great but it is a solid enough reboot that is better than anyone had the right to expect.

5.5/10


December 7, 2018

Review – Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil

Director: Paul Urkijo Alijo

Starring: Kandido Uranga, Uma Bracaglia, Eneko Sagardoy

Run Time: 98mins

 

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.

 

6.5/10

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

October 29, 2018

Review: Halloween (2018)

Director: David Gordon Green

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilgnier, Will Patton

Run Time: 106mins

 

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.

Overall: “Halloween” 2018 can’t compete with the original but is a never less than entertaining, pleasingly throwback slasher and ranks as one of the best entries in the franchise.

7/10

October 24, 2018

Review: The Witch in the Window

Director: Andy Mitton

Starring: Alex Draper, Charlie Tacker, Arija Bareikis, Carol Stanzione

Run Time: 77mins

 

“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.

 

Overall: Some may quibble about the number of scares, but this slow-burn tale comes with great atmosphere, believable characters and an interesting spin on the old haunted house set-up.

7/10

 

Now Available on Shudder

October 19, 2018

Review: Mandy

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

Running Time: 110mins

 

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.

 

Overall: “Mandy” is an intense, gory, eyeball-frazzling, atmospheric, mind-bending, weirdly beautiful audio-visual experience that is worth the price of admission for Cage’s tour-de-force performance alone.

9/10

September 13, 2018

Review: Bad Samaritan

Director: Dean Devlin

Starring: David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon, Jacqueline Byers

Running Time: 110mins

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”.

 

Overall: “Bad Samaritan is a fitfully entertaining and has a couple of standout jumps. However, it is also largely a predictable and clichéd serial-killer thriller made worse by its woeful treatment of its female characters.

4/10

August 30, 2018

Review: Upgrade

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie, Betty Gabriel

Run time: 100mins

 

“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.

 

Overall: An expertly paced retro cyber thriller that may not be particularly original but is an entertaining thrill-ride and provides plenty of brutal set-pieces that genre fans should lap up.

7/10

August 22, 2018

Review: The Meg

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.

Overall: The Meg is a traditional summer blockbuster that provides solid popcorn entertainment.

6/10

May 18, 2018

Review: Revenge

Directed by: Coralie Fargeat

Starring:  Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède

Run Time: 108mins

Despite only being afforded a very limited release at the cinema Revenge is already one of the most talked about horror movies of 2018. This is not only because it is a rape-revenge movie, that most sordid and exploitative of all horror sub-genre, directed by a woman but also because it takes a more feminist twist on the sub-genre. This is a fact that is being celebrated, at least in some quarters, as quite ground-breaking indeed, although whether this is so is up for debate as there is certainly a bunch of stuff here borrowed from other movies with the director herself citing “Mad Max”, “Rambo” and “Kill Bill” as key influences. This may seem as surprising for a horror movie but it make sense once you have seen the film. In terms of other films that cover similar terrain you can see some influence from the likes of “Irreversible” and “Baise Moi”, however this movie is nowhere near as grim as either of those works. That being said, just because a film generously lifts from others does not mean it is of poor quality or that is does not have its own identity and this one more than proves it as it is excellent and stands on its own two feet.

The movie tells the story of Jen (Matilda Lutz), a young American girl who has been whisked away for a dirty weekend in the desert by her wealthy married lover Richard (Kevin Janssens). Their party is unceremoniously crashed when Richard’s two friends and business associates Stanley (Vincent Colombe) and Dmitiri (Guillaume Bouchède) arrive early for the group’s annual hunting trip. From the very moment Stanley and Dmitiri arrive there is a gut-wrenching tension as the viewer is immediately aware that only bad things await our heroine and director Fargeat wrings this tension for everything it is worth. Fargeat also makes the interesting decision to not make Jen a wallflower but a young girl who is playing with and flaunting her sexuality. This element is well employed when the rape does come, as the director uses it to make a (not subtle but entirely worthwhile) point about victim blaming culture. This is further illustrated when Jen’s rapist tries to sickeningly self-justify how she “wants it”.

This is only the start of Jen’s nightmare though as Richard shows his true colours when he tries to buy her silence. She then appears to be killed when trying to escape from the three men. I say appears as, of course, this is a rape-revenge movie and Jen must come back for her revenge. This is where the movie changes gears a little and it becomes more of an action-horror as our heroine tools up to hunt down her attackers while riding a motorbike through the vast desert landscape looking pretty  cool indeed. It is at this point where the aforementioned influences of the likes of “Mad Max” and “Kill Bill” start to shine through. Also in the way Jen is miraculously reborn it seems somewhat akin to a superhero origin tale. This is not quite accurate though as even while she is taking her revenge she never feels like an invincible heroine scything through her foes, there is always a vulnerability and girlishness to the character. While she has few lines, Lutz, manages to convincingly convey both the gritty survivor and the vulnerable girl. The other actors generally play their part well too, particularly Colombe who convinces a slimy cowardly creep Stanley who is also probably the best written and most convincing of the three attackers.

Away from the central plot it must be mentioned that this film is exceptional on a technical level. It has been shot with a ton of visual flair and the editing is super-slick. There is bunch of scenes that are excellent in these terms but it is a hallucination sequence in the middle of the film that particularly stands out. Another thing the film has going for it is all the carnage in the film is played out to a pulsating Carpenter-esque soundtrack.

 

Overall: In an outstanding feature debut Coralie Fargeat has delivered probably the most fun rape-revenge movie you will ever see while subverting genre tropes along the way.

 

8/10

March 21, 2018

Review: Veronica

Director: Paco Plaza

Starring: Sandra Escacena, Bruna González, Claudia Placer, Ivan Chavero

Running Time: 105mins

When a movie comes along that is dubbed as the “scariest movie ever” it is often met with understandable eye rolls from horror fans as this is something that seems to happen once every couple of years and often these are a) Far from the scariest movie ever and b) Frequently not even that good. This why when I came to  watch “Veronica”  it was with such trepidation as it has been hyped up in this way ever since it hit the Toronto Film Festival last September (although it came out in its native Spain the month before). I did have some hope though, given the directorial pedigree of Paco Plaza who has already delivered one of the great horror movies of the 21st Century so far in the form of [REC].

The film is loosely based on the real story of Estefanía Gutiérrez Lázaro, a teenager, who died mysteriously mere months after playing with Ouija board back in the early 90’s. The thing that makes this case even more exceptional is the policeman on the case alleged to have witnessed paranormal events during his investigations and it is the only time in Spanish history such phenomena has been written into an official police report.

As mentioned the film only takes inspiration from this story and does not draw directly from it. Instead the film tells the story of Veronica (Sandra Escacena) who is one of four siblings, the other three of which she mainly looks after due to her mother’s long working hours. The trouble starts for her when she, along two friends, conducts a séance with a Ouija board, in the basement of their school’s basement. The impetus behind this being the hope she can make contact with her deceased father. The scene in which this unfold is incredibly effective as the girls choose to do this while the rest of the school are out looking at an eclipse and the cutting between the séance and the eclipse gives it that extra layer of foreboding.

Predictably the girls do not make contact with Veronica’s dad but do unleash evil forces that only our protagonist can see and soon seem to haunting her house as well as her dreams. None of which sound like anything horror fans have not seen many times before and it isn’t but some of the best horrors, or films in general, are the ones that can make old hat material seem fresh or give it their own particular spin and this is exactly what this movie does.

That said not everything totally works; for example there is a blinding smoking nun character who gives our protagonist cryptic doomy warnings throughout the movie. Now while she is an entertaining character it also, maybe, just that bit too over-ripe and OTT for a movie that seems to be generally aiming for an unsettling, grounded tone.

Aside from this OTT element and the odd genre clichés there is little to complain about this piece of cinema and what really makes the movie sing is characterisation. Sandra Escacena is excellent in the title role and the character herself seems fully formed and you quickly immerse yourself into her world. Also the relationship between her and her two sisters Lucia (Bruna González) and Irene (Claudia Placer) and brother Antonito (Ivan Chavero) is beautifully drawn. The believability of their sibling bond also makes it all the more heart-breaking and tense when the ghosts/ evil spirits look to be coming after not just Veronica but her brother and sisters too. To say anymore would be to spoil the film and we would not want that now so I shall say no more on the story. I will however say other things that really bring the movie to life is the interesting use of traditional creepy horror music and 80’s synth horror music, the excellent cinematography and strong directing.

In the end is this the “scariest movie ever?” No, no it is not but is this a movie that is an early contender for horror movie of the year? Yes it most certainly is.

Overall: “Veronica” may lack in originality of concept but it more than makes up for it in the effective execution of that concept.

8/10

February 25, 2018

Review: Mayhem

Director: Joe Lynch

Starring: Steven Yuen, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie

Running Time: 87mins

Often two movies come out at the same time, that have been developed separately and simultaneously without one having knowledge of the other, that work on similar or even the same themes. It is generally the case that whichever is released second is compared to or even sometimes seen as ripping off the first. This is the case here with “Mayhem” coming out hot on the heels of “The Belko Experiment”. Although in this particular case it is a little unfair as while broadly similar this is set up differently to that film. As “The Belko Experiment” is more of a “Battle Royale” deal with office workers made to kill each other as part of a game. Where in this movie a virus makes them do it (which in some ways makes it more similar to 28 Days Later or the comic book “Crossed”)

The virus is called ID7 which makes anyone exposed to it completely free of any inhibitions and makes them act out all their most violent and sexual impulses or as the film puts it makes the viruses victim “pure Id”. The effects of the drug are illustrated in a violent opening narrated by our protagonist Derek Cho (Steven Yuen of “The Walking Dead”) who explains he is the lawyer that found a loophole which means nobody can be held legally responsible for their actions while under the influence of the virus. The use of Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” during this montage of violence also brings to mind “A Clockwork Orange” (a presumably deliberate nod by the director).

After that we are told about Cho’s job at a high powered law firm and how he went from wide eyed and enthusiastic to being another soul crushed by the corporate world. There are several stabs at corporate satire throughout the film which are fitfully funny and effective but really amount to little more than giving the corporate world the finger.

It seems unlikely though you will come to watch a movie called “Mayhem” for its nuance or biting satire but more for the violence and gore which it delivers in spade’s once the virus inevitably spreads through Derek’s office. This could not happen at a more convenient time for him as he has just been fired after being set up for something he did not do. He knows he now has window to carve his way to the top of the building to prove his firing was unjust to the board on the top floor and he is not liable for any the damage he causes on his way there until the virus wears off. He is helped on his mission by Melanie (Samara Weaving) who is a defendant he turned away but whom reluctantly teams up with him as she also want to get to his bosses.

From this point on the film is a series of increasingly over-the-top violent set-pieces. Which sounds dismissive but is not entirely as many of these gory standoffs are very entertaining indeed and in something of a throwback we even get a weapon tooling-up montage at one stage which is fun and generally fun is the operative word here. There is lots of fun to be had with this movie from the gore to the one-liners to the fight choreography to the chemistry between Yuen and Weaving (who similarly impressed in “The Babysitter”). Also Yuen acquits himself well in what is, his first, leading man role to date.

That said it also all feels a bit weightless as we know there is not going to be any consequences to this violence right from the very off and this means there is no sense of jeopardy  nor emotion and the violence washes over you much like in a video game. In fact as our duo have to achieve certain things to continually progress their way up the building it is very much structured like a video game as well as bring to mind the film “The Raid”. All that said the movie always remains nothing less than watchable.

Overall: This is neither the scariest nor the smartest of horror movies you are likely to see but it does have likable performance, some witty dialogue, is well paced and has plenty of OTT gore which makes it a decent Saturday night, switch-your-brain-off, type of flick.

6/10

December 5, 2017

Review: The Babysitter

Director: McG

Cast: Judah Lewis, Samara Weaving, Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Andrew Batchelor

Running Time: 85mins

Not just content with taking over television with their original content Netflix more and more are aiming to do the same with the movies releasing a number of Netflix original films. These are not just your regular TV movies either as this year we have already seen critically acclaimed releases such as Okja and the Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) coming from the company.

The Babysitter is one of their latest releases and more specifically their most recent delve into the horror genre. As this is kind of like a horror spin on Home Alone. Oddly a very similarly themed movie, “Better Watch Out”, will be coming out in the UK in just next week.

That is not the only odd thing here though as McG the movies director is not known for his work in the horror genre, bar exec producing Supernatural, and is most noted for his action work. Not that he is a director who has had much critical love over the years with his biggest films, “Charlie Angels”, “Charlie’s Angel’s: Full Throttle”, “Terminator: Salvation” and “This Mean’s War”, generally receiving responses running the gamut from tepid to outright hostile.

It is not likely that this film will do much to change that. Not that is outright awful or anything but it is not exactly very good either. The basic set-up is fun though as our main protagonist Cole (Judah Lewis) decides to stay up late to see what his babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving), who he has crush on, gets up to with her friend when he goes to sleep. Obviously he thinks it is something sexy but turns out Bee is the head of a fledgling satanic cult (this is not a spoiler as you will know this if you have seen the trailer).

One of the early strong point, before this revelation, is the relationship between Bee and Cole which is genuinely quite sweet and given she is supposed to be in her late teens and he is 12 manages to stay just the right side of creepy. This strength is somewhat offset by the knowingness of the film right from off. Now everything from “Scream” to “Cabin in the Woods” have shown this does not have to be a minus and can be done well but here it is done in a fairly clunky and grating way. Also the flashy graphics that splash across the screen to introduce characters or show up certain phrases seems like a forced attempt to seem “hip”. As well as that both McG’s action movie and music video backgrounds are plain to see as there is an overabundance of freeze frames and hyperactive camera work.

Once the horror kicks in there is definitely some fun to be had, as the gore effects are decent and some of the kills are pretty funny, as many of Bee’s friends and fellow cult member accidently walk in to their own death. Again though many a horror fan will feel this device was better used in “Tucker & Dale Vs Evil”.

While clearly trying to play with genre stereotypes the extended cast feel very clichéd as in the cult group we have a psychotic jock (Robbie Amell), a slutty cheerleader (Bella Thorne), a weirdo (Hana Mae Lee) and a pretty offensive black comic relief character (Andrew Batchelor) whose only contribution is to be hysterical and crack crass sex-related jokes. You think we would have been past that by now but nope.

On the plus side of the ledger the cast are mostly good. Both Judah Lewis who  goes from scared little boy to mini badass and Samara Weaving who goes from sweet, funny, pop-culture referencing babysitter to fiery, psychopathic, satanic cult  leader are excellent in their roles and are the beating heart of the movie. Robbie Amell should also be praised for making the most of his psycho jock character, delivering some of the movie’s funniest lines and stealing most of the scenes he is in.

Overall: There is some fun to be had here as it is fast-paced, there is some decent kills, and a few very good performances. However there is a sense the movie thinks it is way smarter than it is, it is frequently heavy handed and clunky in execution and there is an overarching sense that much of this has been done better elsewhere.

5/10

 

 

November 4, 2017

Review: Final Girls Presents – We are the weirdos

We are the Weirdo’s was the latest event hosted by the Final Girls group that have hosted various screenings up and down the UK which primarily focus on women in horror both in front of and behind the camera. This latest project was a showcase of 10 short films all directed by women. Final Girl co-founders Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe provided an intro before the shorts where they actually explained that they accepted short submissions from anyone and did not originally envision a purely female directed line-up. However of all the entries they received (over 1300, many of which they noted were awful but they also noted there was several great ones and it was hard to narrow to 10) the best ones, or the one that most resonated with them the most, were the female directed ones they were about to present and it has certainly been a fruitful time for women in horror recently with the last few years bringing us the likes of “The Babadook” (Jennifer Kent), “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (Ana Lily Amirpour), “The Invitation” (Karyn Kusama), “The Love Witch” (Anna Biller), and “Raw” (Julia Ducournau). That in mind it also seems hard to argue with the poster tagline for the event which is “The Future of Horror is Female”. After the intro we dived into the films:

The Puppet Man (Dir: Jacqueline Castel)

Right from the off everything about this short scream’s 80’s from the music (provided by John Carpenter himself!) to the titles to the lighting it is a very clear homage to 80’s slashers. The set-up is simple with a group of friends entering a bar after-hours were they convince the barman to give them a drink and then started to be picked off one-by-one by a supernatural killer. In some ways it is a slight short. It unravels in an entirely predictable manner. It also cheesy and hammily acted (although I presume deliberately so for the most part) and it kind of does not add up to much. That said there is a goofy joy to it and a nice cameo from John Carpenter as a taxi driver. While some of the individual shots are also impressively staged given it could not have had that much of a budget. So despite some shortcomings most horror fans should get a kick out of it.

7/10

Undress Me (Dir: Amelia Moses)

While not as overtly reference laden as the opening film this one also brought to mind a lot of other films, mostly the body horror of David Cronenberg. It tells a tale of a socially awkward girl who hooks up with a guy at a party only for her start falling apart…literally! It is certainly a gruesome watch as gore effects, as the poor girls skin begins to peel away, are brutally realistic. It is an uneven watch though as while it touches on some decent themes about fears of female sexuality and female’s fears around sex it feels like more could have been done with these. The acting is solid but unremarkable and it probably could have been a little tighter. All that said you could certainly see potential here.

6/10

Pulse (Dir: Becki Pantling)

The third short told a story of a husband attempting to cheat on his wife only to be stopped in his tracks as his technology, first his phone then other appliances, start to turn against him. Which is because they have been taken over by a ghostly bride. This particular tale brought at least one very decent jump scare but it seemed overall overshadowed by it influences, most notably the influence of the Ring and similar J-Horror. Also the way it was filmed, as if you are watching the whole thing over a webcam, may have seemed like an innovative choice but to your reviewer here it seemed on the gimmicky side and did not add much to proceedings.

5/10

I Should Have Run (Dir: Gabriela Staniszewska)

Of the 10 shorts on display this had to be one of most innovative and original. Certainly unlike the 3 which proceeded it was difficult to come up with obvious cinematic reference points. It was very simple tale playing on the age old fear of walking through a dark park home alone at night but it tells that tale very effectively. It also tells it in a unique way as there is no dialogue only a poetic verse narration. While it is generally excellent what makes it all the more remarkable is that was made on a budget of only £200! If there a slight knock to be made it is that director Staniszewska is possibly not the greatest actress as her reactions are a bit over-the-top but that does not lessen the  overall brilliance of  this atmospheric piece.

8/10

Sorry, We’re Closed (Dir: Alexis Makepeace)

We open here in a café in Vancouver. Waitress Charlotte is being chatted up a bit by a customer late night which, as you may guess, it does not turn out well for him. While still horror this is obviously played more laughs. With its bright colour palette and soapy acting there is a pleasing Twin Peak’s vibe to this one. On the downside Charlotte’s switch from “ordinary” waitress to sociopath seem quiet jarring and sudden and the filmmaker could have spent a minute or two giving the viewer a greater sense of her built up frustrations at the daily indignities she has put up from sleazy male customers. Mixed but it is still watchably grisly fun.

6/10

A Mother of Monsters (Dir. Julia Zanin de Paula)

This effort was both brilliant and frustrating. It was brilliant in look and the set-up really drew you in. The opening scene where a circus family stand around a table performing some unseen ritual is a magnificently evocative one. The visual stylings are effective. The circus setting and off kilter, dream/nightmare-like nature of it bringing the Jodorowsky classic Santa Sangre strongly to mind. Adding to the nightmare sense is the jarring disorienting editing which is music video like or like the best of Rob Zombie (say what you want about Zombie but there is a visual brio to his best work). The frustrating element comes towards the end after setting up this world beautifully and tapping into your dark imagination as to where it might go, it goes in a rather boring torture porn direction which felt a little hack given what had gone before and, for your reviewer here anyway, took the sting out of the tale. That said based on the visual imagination and editing I would very interested to see where this director goes next in her career.

6.5/10

Dead. Tissue. Love (Dir. Natasha Austin-Green)

The only non-fiction short of the bunch. This is an intriguing and beautifully filmed, if not wholly convincing, short documentary that touches on a very taboo subject. Namely Necrophilia. With the unseen narrator being a real life Necrophiliac. Now in case you are wondering, “why is she not in jail?” The narrator explains that neither she nor many of the people she knows in this subculture have actually slept with a corpse but thought of corpses and dead flesh do excite them sexually. While the narrator tells her tale there is a tableaux of images that come across the screen including many of insects and parasites (possibly symbolising decomposition), various models in corpse like states (which was both chilling and very well done) and beautifully shots vistas of mountains and forests. This last element left your reviewer somewhat confused but could have just been visual light relief given the subject matter. In some ways it did not seem to quite hold together but it was a curious peek into an unseen and taboo subculture.

6/10

Don’t Think of A Pink Elephant (Dir. Suraya Raja)

Well the previous entry was the only documentary and this one was the only animated feature of the bunch. As it uses stop-motion to tell the story of a teenage girl called Layla who keeps having intrusive thoughts of either murder or self-mutilation every time she picks up or comes in to contact with sharp objects. While obviously in this character it is done to the most exaggerated degree, the animation, does very deeply tap into that fear that a lot of people have of “what is the worst that could happen or I could do with this?” when people pick up a sharp object be it a pizza cutter or a pair of garden shears. In a very short time it fleshes out this character and her fears effectively and not only that her relationship with her annoying little brother is beautifully drawn as well. It was a scary, humorous, touching, absolute gem of a short.

9/10

Shortcut (Dir. Prano Bailey-Bond)

Shortcut is a very short short. Clocking a mere 5 minutes and basically it is a set-up to a gag. A gag where the punch line is really quite obvious. Here is the thing though despite the obviousness of what that punch line is. It does not make it any less hilarious. It is an excellent illustration of that certain type of guy that is boorish, loud, think he is always right and always, ALWAYS thinks he knows the best shortcuts to take wherever he maybe. You crave to see this obnoxious character get his just desserts and, of course, he does and in hysterical fashion. Also while I did say it is obvious when you watch it, I am not going to spoil that fashion here. Suffice it to say that it got a belly laugh from your reviewer as well as the rest of the audience in the cinema too.

7/10

I Want You Inside Me (Dir. Alice Shindelar)

This was a second viewing for this one as I had previously seen it earlier on in the year at the Dead by Dawn festival. As is quite often the case I actually thought it was better the second time round which is curious as it has a twist ending, where you understand the precise meaning of the title, and usually things that have a twist the effect is lessened upon rewatching. However before the ending there is an engaging mystery as an innocent teen loses her virginity in a cave in the woods only for her to blackout on the point of orgasm and her boyfriend to disappear. Did he just leave? Or was it something more sinister? Other than the mystery it also funny with our heroine’s snarky best friend being a particular humorous stand-out. As well as these elements there also interesting comment on burgeoning sexuality and feminine sexual power. Although what you will probably most remember is that hilariously horrifying end.

7/10

Overall: While not all of the shorts were winners none of them were duds either. All of them had some merit and all in all it was a good showcase of some of horror film’s future talents.