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.