Saturday, October 4, 2014

Horns


Short synopsis: Ig’s girlfriend Merrin is found murdered in the woods, and Ig is the prime suspect.  He awakens one morning to find that he has sprouted horns, which give him some highly persuasive powers.  He uses these powers to find out who killed Merrin.

Notable actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Heather Graham, David Morse, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan

My thoughts:
I had been looking forward to this movie since I first saw it announced.  I already had plans to see it upon its release on Halloween. 
Apparently I’m terrible at keeping up with horror news, because Horns hit VOD on October 3.  I grabbed it as soon as I got home from work and watched it.


Just like the book, it has a strange tone throughout.  It starts out darkly comedic, then slowly loses the comedy as it goes along.  After the comedy has been stripped away, you’re made fully aware of just how twisted the events of the movie really are.


The comedy is terrific.  It’s odd to say that the guy with the horns works as the straight man, but that’s exactly what happens here.  Daniel Radcliffe’s horned Ig Perrish finds that everyone he comes in contact with feels compelled to tell him their darkest desires.
A woman with a bratty child tells Ig that she wants to abandon her family and run away with her golf instructor.
A bar owner says he wants to burn his bar down to collect the insurance money.
And so on.  Through it all, it’s the reactions of Ig that sell the comedy.  Radcliffe shows off a wide array of faces that feature a mixture of shock, disgust, curiosity, fear, exhaustion and amusement.  Ig navigates his way through his town with a set of horns, but it’s the rest of the inhabitants that show their monstrous side.  (Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.)


At its heart, this is a love story.  The only times we see Ig and Merrin together are through flashbacks.  We hear a lot about her from others, and it’s clear that she was well-loved by everyone who knew her.  In a particularly beautiful and heartbreaking statement, Derrick Perrish (Ig’s father) proclaims, “She was my favorite thing about you,” to which Ig promptly agrees.  The hatred the people in his life have for him is directly proportional to the love they had for Merrin.


It’s a great story, and it’s told really well.  It has great characters and a terrific cast.  It was also a faithful adaptation of the book.  While they changed some things, they were minor and didn’t hurt the overall feel or the story. 
Let’s talk about the book for a few seconds.  I liked the book, but there were quite a few cheesy/cringe-worthy moments that found me rolling my eyes.  A lot of those moments were omitted here, which I appreciated.

I loved this movie, and I love it even more the more I think about it.  My expectations were sky-high, and this may have exceeded those expectations.  I will definitely be watching this again sooner rather than later.

Rating: 5/5

A few random thoughts:
There was some great music here.  The usage of David Bowie’s “Heroes” was absolutely perfect (not that there’s really a bad moment for that song, but still).

The movie looked great, and had some really amazing visual moments. 


The actor who played young Eric Hannity (“Meatbag”) reminded me a little bit of Thurman Murman.

I absolutely loved this quote: “People say you have to do the right thing.  Sometimes there is no right thing.  Then, you just have to pick the sin you can live with.” 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mini Review: Rigor Mortis


You ever have one of those movies that you watch, get to the end and ask, "What was that?"  For me, that movie was Juno Mak's Rigor Mortis, a vampire/possession-zombie(?) movie that starts and ends in some kind of gray mud, which can probably serve as some sort of commentary on the entire film.  It was made in tribute to the Mr. Vampire series of films and stars a lot of the actors who made their name in those films.  I have not been able to track these down, but I have it on good authority (Wikipedia) that they exist.  So that's something.

Rigor Mortis belongs in the jiangshi genre.  Jiangshi are hopping corpses in Chinese folklore.  These are also known as "hopping vampire films", which sounds about right.  There were hopping entities in this film, complete with red tendrils protruding from their entire body, for reasons I wasn't entirely clear on.  Were they vampires?  I'm still not entirely sure.  They seemed to be more like demons or ghosts, but that's neither here nor there.

Vampires?

Let me try to explain the plot to you and we'll see if my head explodes.  A washed-up actor moves into a decrepit apartment complex with lots of strange characters.  He immediately tries to kill himself and is saved by a resident; a great rice cook/vampire hunter.
There's a woman who lives in the complex with her little white-haired son.  They used to live in an apartment, but now they don't, so they wander the halls, stealing food.  They live in the basement because the kindly security guard feels bad for them.  They used to live in the apartment the actor moved into, but her husband cheated on her and got killed by ghosts?  Maybe?  That whole scene was hard to follow.
There's a warlock.  Like, a straight-up warlock.  It might just be me projecting my thoughts when looking back, but I think he had a really dark goatee and wore a robe.  (He did not wear a robe.)  He coughs a lot and smokes "special cigarettes".  (Spoiler alert: it's the crushed-up bones of innocent children.)
There's an elderly lady and her husband.  He dies by falling down stairs, and the warlock convinces her to do a ritual that will revive her husband.  It's weird and creepy and she becomes unhinged quickly.  He becomes a monster who likes to kill, and she seems legitimately surprised by this, despite the fact that he looks like a monster and was raised from the dead by a warlock.

He's fine, you guys. He's just really sleepy.

There's a big fight scene at the end that I didn't fully understand.  There's a little scene after the fight scene that I didn't fully understand.

I feel like I would have understood this better if I had been very familiar with the Mr. Vampire films.  But I have never seen a Mr. Vampire film, so I was very much in the dark for the duration of the movie.

YAAAAAAAA!

It looked really cool, though.  I feel like this was one of those movies that would be perfect for putting on in the background of a Halloween party.  If I had Halloween parties, I would absolutely do that.  Mute the movie, throw some music on and glance over at the screen from time to time.  It would be tremendous.
I can't recommend it as an actual movie, though.  Cool as it may look, the story is absolutely nonsensical.  It wasn't a complete waste of time, but it was a 75% waste of time.

Rating: 1/5

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mini Review: Life After Beth


Description from IMDB:
A young man’s recently deceased girlfriend mysteriously returns from the dead, but he slowly realizes she is not the way he remembered her.

Notable actors: Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick, Dan DeHaan, Matthew Gray Gubler, Garry Marshall


It’s a well-known fact that I enjoy zombie movies.  Because I have seen so many, I find myself drawn to films that are a bit different from the norm.  I like seeing a familiar story from a different angle.  This is true of horror movies in general.  FidoColinShaun of the DeadThe Cabin in the WoodsScream. And so on.  If there is a movie with a new way of looking at familiar tropes, chances are good that I’ll enjoy it.  (Not all of them, though.  American Zombie was terrible.)


So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I loved this movie.  It made me laugh pretty consistently throughout the entire movie.  It started off quickly (one of the first scenes is Beth’s funeral) and didn’t really hit any lulls.  The cast was terrific.  I wasn’t sold on Dane DeHaan at first, but he grew on me as the movie progressed.  I loved seeing how Plaza played Beth; she started as a sweet and fun amnesiac, and ended up being the flesh-craved zombie we knew she would become.  I loved John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon as her relentlessly na├»ve parents.  Most of all, I loved seeing this weird little story play out on the fringes of a citywide zombie outbreak.


My main complaint is that the music seemed to overtake the dialog from time to time.  I loved the atmosphere of the music (dissonant guitar squawls, courtesy of the great Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), but it had a tendency to be louder than it had any reason to me.  Perhaps that was to contribute to the chaos on screen, but I could have done with it being a little lower in the mix.  (Look at me, complaining about music being too loud.  I’m officially old now.)


That’s a minor complaint, though.  It’s not a perfect movie, but I had a lot of fun with this.  I’m already looking forward to watching it again.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mini Review: Under the Skin


Thoughts on Under the Skin, in three different stages:
1. During the movie. 
What is going on?  She's an alien, right?  That's what the description said.  Is she going to be driving around in this van for the entire movie?  Are those guys actually having sex with her and then getting destroyed, or are they consumed and converted to fuel without ever touching her?  That seems kind of cruel. 


2. Immediately after the movie. 
That was okay, I guess.  I think I kind of liked it.  It was different than I thought it would be.  I liked the thought process behind her trying to eat cake.  "I think I'm starting to feel things.  Maybe I'm human.  Let me check by eating this cake."  There are worse ways to check to see if you're human or not, I suppose.


3.  The day after the movie.
I really loved that movie.  Scarlett Johansson gave a tremendous performance.  She gave her stoic character a ton of depth, and brought her subtle character arc to life with silence.  It was odd and heartbreaking, and I'm really looking forward to watching it again.


Translation: it's not necessarily an easy movie to watch, but it gets better the more you think about it.  Plus, it can kind of be described as "Art house Species," which I’m a fan of.


Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mini Review: Snowpiercer


Bong Joo-ho's Snowpiercer - based on a French graphic novel - has some not-so-subtle things to say about class warfare, but that's an article to be written by someone much smarter than me.  An attempt to reverse the effects of global warming have backfired, leaving the sole survivors of Earth to circle the frozen globe in a self-sustaining train, powered by a Sacred Engine.  There's a cautionary tale in that, but I'm not the man to unravel it.

Instead, I'll just talk about how much fun this movie was.  Curtis (Chris Evans) is leading a rebellion against the powers-that-be.  To do this, he must lead his ragtag group from the filthy rear car to the posh front car.  It was almost like a video game, with each car presenting its own challenges.  Some of them contain puzzles to be solved, with new truths being presented that may disrupt their quest.  Others may be a car full of hatchet wielding maniacs who cut open fish to intimidate their attackers.  Others may contain exposition dumps.


It's a dark action movie, all taking place inside a train barreling through snow-covered landscapes.  It's a post-apocalyptic movie unlike any I've seen.  And, while it's bleak, there is a small glimmer of hope.  It's also a lot of fun to watch.

The acting is terrific.  Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Allison Pill are the highlights, but everyone here is great.


I've seen nothing but praise for this, and, while I loved it, I'll preach a little bit of caution.  I don't think it's quite as amazing as the rest of the world seems to think it is.  It’s a bit long and can drag at times, drawing out small scenes to be longer than they have any reason to be.  When I saw this, the hype level was still pretty low.  If I had seen it with sky-high expectations, I would have walked out disappointed.  As it was, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I had some minor issues with it.

It’s not perfect, but it’s still really good.  Keep your expectations reasonable, and you’ll love it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mini Review: Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead


I will talk to anyone and everyone about the extent of my love for the first Dead Snow.  It's a little slow out of the gate, but it eventually delivers the full-fledged insanity I hoped that it would, while still developing characters I wanted to spend some time with.  It's one of my favorite zombie movies of the past 5 years.  What Tommy Wirkola was able to do on a small budget (roughly $800K) is nothing short of extraordinary.

As I mentioned in my Trailer Talk post, I was very much looking forward to the sequel.  Seeing as how Wirkola's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters made $225 million on a $50 million budget, he was given a little more money to play with this time around.  It's tough to find exact numbers, but it looks like this film had a budget of around $5.5 million.

As near as I can tell, Wirkola took that money and immediately asked himself, "How can I make this movie crazier than the first?"  The answer, of course, was more.  More characters.  More zombies.  More fights.  More intestines.  More blood.  More deaths.  More weapons.  More laughs.  More insanity.


Daniel (Martin Starr), Blake (Ingrid Haas) and the Star Wars obsessed Monica (Jocelyn DeBoer) - self-appointed members of the Zombie Squad - travel from America to Norway to help Martin Hykkerud (the only survivor of the original) with his Nazi zombie problem.  "We've seen thousands of zombie movies," Daniel proclaims, as if this is enough information for Martin to have complete faith in their zombie-killing acumen.  Martin doesn't seem overly convinced, but put a hammer/shovel/hatchet in their hands, and they're more than willing to prove their worth.  Not to mention the fact that Blake has one of the all-time best zombie killing faces.



Martin had cut off his arm in the previous movie after being bitten.  In a case of mistaken identity (armdentity?), doctors attached a super-strength Nazi zombie arm to Martin.  At first, he found himself at war with it in a way that conjured up memories of Ash.  Eventually he learned to control it and found that he could bring the dead back to life.  Herzog - the leader of the Nazi zombies - has the same ability.  And so, as the trailer shows, we are treated to a massive zombie war: Herzog's zombies vs. Martin's zombies.  It's the kind of scene Wirkola didn't have money to do in the first film, and he's clearly holding nothing back here.  It's terrific.
The Evil Dead remake was a tense, nasty film, but it was clear the filmmakers were having fun as they dumped buckets of blood on the set.  That same feeling of glee is present here, only the events on the screen are much more comical.  Wirkola clearly had a lot of fun trying to think of new ways to kill people, or new ways to use their intestines.  With every new trick, I found myself grinning like an idiot.  I'm sure he was doing the same thing.


There's too much insanity to properly describe here.  If you like buckets of blood, miles of intestines and aren't easily offended, you need to watch this as soon as you can.  Even if you don't like zombie films, you're still likely to enjoy this one.

Rating: 5/5

Added note: I loved the chemistry between Martin and Roy (Stig Frode Henriksen) in the first film, so I was really happy to see Henriksen show up in this one as a different character.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mini Review: Willow Creek


"Bobcat Goldthwait directed found footage Bigfoot movie."
That lovely bit of word soup is all I knew about this movie going in.  Since I had just visited the International Cryptozoology Museum, my interest in Bigfoot was at an all-time high.  My relationship with found footage has been a rocky one, but I was pretty excited about this. 

While I liked Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) pretty well, Jim (Bryce Johnson) really grated on my nerves.  One minute he's admonishing Kelly for not believing in Bigfoot and making fun of the town ("You don't believe?  You don't believe?  How could you not believe?  Believebelievebelieve?"), the next he's poking fun at a Bigfoot mural or jokingly interviewing a wooden Bigfoot or mocking a man who is singing a song about Bigfoot.  You can't have it both ways, fella. 

The movie was slow and riddled with plot holes/standard found footage complaints, but it was short (80 minutes) and provided a few good scares.  While it was ultimately disappointing, I thought it had enough going for it to offer a lukewarm recommendation.  Of course, that may just be my Bigfoot-mania talking.

Rating: 2.5/5

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mini Review: Oculus

As many of you know, I've been writing for Horror-Writers.net for quite some time now.  I started off writing reviews, but have since become the main TV writer there.  That (along with my time at PackerUpdate.net) has cut into my movie review time.  I'm still watching movies, but I find that I don't have as much time to write about them as I used to.  As much as I'd love to write a long, in-depth review on every movie I see, the reality is that I just can't do it at this time.
So I thought I'd change it up a bit.  In an attempt to ramp up this side of my writing, I'll be posting mini reviews for the horror movies I watch.  Nothing huge.  Just a sentence or paragraph saying what I thought about it.  Maybe I'll get around to writing full-length reviews of these.  Maybe I won't.  But these mini reviews should help me to still talk a bit about every movie I watch, if only a little.

First up, Oculus.


The trailer for this looked really creepy.  I had high hopes, but I was trying to keep my expectations low.    I had a fear that it would basically be Mirrors 3.
I'm happy to report that this was tremendous.  The cast was great (Karen Gillan and Katee Sackhoff, in particular).  Even the child actors were really good.
This was a really creepy film throughout.  I love how it played with the perception of reality.  I was never quite sure if what I was seeing was real or just an illusion of the mirror.  It hooked me early and kept me interested throughout.  There were a number of images that will be sticking with me for a long time.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Godzilla


Monster movies are tricky in that the titular star is often a minor character, behind those that it affects. He is a plot point.  A puzzle to be solved. A villain to be conquered. They are often the center of the film, but they are unable to carry it. That duty in Godzilla falls on the humans.  For as much as I loved the characters in Monsters, I didn’t feel any connection to them here.  Bryan Cranston was great as the crazy-but-not-really-crazy engineer, but he didn't get nearly as much screentime as I hoped he would.  I really like Elizabeth Olsen, but her character bio was nothing more than "concerned wife".  Aaron Taylor-Johnson is supposed to be our proxy, but I felt no connection with him.  He was constantly in danger - he spent the entire film in the path of Godzilla and other nuclear monsters - and yet I never cared whether he lived or died.  If he was a minor character, the lack of connection wouldn't be a big deal.  But it takes a while for Godzilla to show up (and it takes even longer for him to do anything interesting for longer than 5 seconds), leaving Taylor-Johnson's meathead Ford as the driving force behind the film.  It's a terrible combination of an underdeveloped character and an actor with zero charisma. 


I wouldn't care that it took so long for Godzilla to show up if the characters were more interesting or their stories more compelling.  They needed to make me care about the characters and their struggles.  Get me invested in them, then bring up Godzilla and make me hope and pray that everyone makes it out okay.  They didn't do that, so the first half of the movie really seemed to drag.  The only thing I really loved in the first half was Bryan Cranston's running face, and that was a short-lived joy.

"Godzilla will get NOTHING."

We got a little action about an hour in, but it wasn't Godzilla.  We had two creatures designated as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) that fed off radiation.  We saw some decent destruction involving these creatures: they were equipped with EMPs, so they would periodically shut down all electrical devices, which led to some great scenes of planes spinning helplessly to the ground and exploding on impact.  We saw one of the MUTOs - which looked like a mix between a Starship Troopers bug and the Cloverfield monster - rampage through Las Vegas.  They were good destruction scenes, but they weren't Godzilla destruction scenes. 

Once the Godzilla action showed up, it felt a bit like a tease.  Godzilla showed up in the city, a MUTO descended on him, a battle was starting...and a door closed in front of the camera, so we didn't see any of it.  We had a few of those false starts before the real action started.  And once that happened, I was all in. 
The fight scenes between Godzilla and the MUTOs felt like a clumsy bar brawl in the middle of a city; staggering into buildings, screaming and breathing fire.  They were glorious, and they left me walking out of the theater being really excited about the movie.


But that excitement fades after a little while, and I'm left thinking about all the problems.  The shallow characters.  The fact that EMPs knocked out all electricity, yet the news cameras still worked.  The fact that the army decided the best place to attack a monster who travels primarily by sea was a suspension bridge.  And so on.  And so forth.

"USA! USA!"

It was impossible to watch this and not think about Pacific Rim.  There was the obvious ("They should just build some giant robots to fight the monsters."), but it's also worth exploring some of the writing.  Pacific Rim knew the strength wasn't in the writing, so they just threw a handful of massive fight scenes at the audience to keep us happy.  Godzilla seemed to think its characters were good enough on their own and didn't feel the need to keep us distracted with fights.


I don't think the characters were better written in Pacific Rim, but I found that I cared about them more than I cared about the characters in Godzilla, and I think that's because the characters in Pacific Rim actually spent quite a bit of time together.  The characters in Godzilla were often in completely different places.  I found it hard to care about the relationship between Ford and Elle because most of their interactions were short conversations over the phone.  It was hard to see much love between them, so I had little love for them.
In the end, the main downfall of the movie was the lack of connection with Ford.  He was the one who was constantly in harm's way, yet I didn't care what happened to him.

Walking out of the theater, I could say that I really enjoyed myself, but its problems are impossible to ignore.  The long lead-up to destruction is a necessary evil, but I can't help but think that it could have been more interesting.  The characters could have been much better, but, in the end, we got to see The King of the Monsters beat up on a couple lesser monsters and unleash a number of his trademark screams. 

It's not a perfect movie, but it's worth seeing for the fight scenes if nothing else. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Before the movie came out, I wrote a Trailer Talk post about it.  You can read that here.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Sacrament


Description from Netflix:
Using "found footage", this unnverving thriller recounts the tragic story of an exiled Christian cult and the grisly events that transpire after three journalists - one looking for his missing sister - arrive at the commune.

My thoughts:
Lisa and I had a rousing debate over the term "found footage".  In some movies, it's an accurate descriptor.  In others, not so much.  Because of that, I will refer to this movie as being in the "first person" subgenre of horror.  I'll try to remember to do this for all films in this subgenre going forward, but I make no promises.  Old habits die hard.

My thoughts on Ti West are pretty well known at this point.  I hated House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, and his segment in V/H/S.  I haven't seen Cabin Fever 2 in years, but I don't remember liking it.  I haven't seen his earliest work, mainly because I have no desire to see them.
With that being said, I kept an open mind going into this one.  As I said in my review of The Innkeepers, Ti West knows how to make a movie look good, so I figured this would be visually interesting if nothing else.
I also knew that this film was, at the very least, a nod to the events at Jonestown in 1978.  As is the case with any religious cult, those events have long interested and horrified me.  I even went so far as to listen to The Jonestown Death Tape (I do not recommend this).
What I found in The Sacrament was not so much a nod to the events of Jonestown as it was a modern day retelling.  Many events were exactly the same as those that occurred at Jonestown, right down to some very specific details.


It almost lost me in the early-going.  While it had a nice set-up that kicked off the film quickly, it also featured a number of common first person horror problems: camera shaking around, people repeatedly yelling, "Turn the camera off," etc.  I don't have a problem with first person movies: when done properly, they can be terrifying.  The audience doesn't have to find someone to identify with on screen, because they are essentially in the movie.  However, when done poorly, the problems are nearly impossible to ignore.  If these problems are a minor blip over the course of the movie, it's easy enough to gloss over.  But if it's a problem throughout, it drags the entire film down (looking at you, Hud, for repeatedly screaming "Rob!" in Cloverfield).  The annoyances at the beginning threatened to derail the film for me.  Thankfully, none of these lasted very long.

That's not to say no first-person problems reared their heads.  The one that really got me was the excessive dialog (this is the first time this complaint has come up about a Ti West film).  It's a downside of a first-person movie.  To make it feel like real people in a real scenario, characters are forced to react as normal people would.  That means lots of questions about what they're seeing, and talking about what they had just seen.  It's a realistic depiction of what would happen if I were in that situation, but it kind of suffocated the film.  We see some horrifying and confusing things.  Instead of laying back a little and letting the audience process what they have just witnessed, we are bombarded with questions from the characters.  "Did you just see that?  What was that?" then immediately answering those questions.  Every emotion was vocalized.  Every question answered before the audience has had time to fully process everything.
Again, I realize this is to make the events feel more realistic, but it really hurt the film as a whole.  They needed to let the movie breathe a little more.  Let the audience sit with what they have just seen.  This was my major problem with the film.  If you were to read my notes, you would see the phrase “LET IT BREATHE!” repeated ad nauseam.
There was also a pretty big (if nit-picky) problem later on, but it spoils a pretty major plot point, so I won't get into that here.


I also had a problem with our main protagonist (Sam) in the beginning.  As soon as he got to Eden Parish (the Jonestown-esque commune), he immediately started looking down on its inhabitants.  He was nice when trying to interview them, but, behind their backs, he was rolling his eyes.  It didn't get the character off on the right foot.  Thankfully, this didn't last too long.

There were a handful of moments that saw the plot (and paranoia of our characters) driven forward by some pretty large logic leaps.  The major offender was when Sam finally got a chance to sit down for an interview with Father (the Jim Jones of Eden Parish).  The interview is going well, if a bit odd, when Father suddenly asks if Sam loves his wife.  For no reason whatsoever, Sam is immediately rattled.  He's wearing a wedding ring, so it shouldn't be a shock that Father knows about his marital status.  Sam's reaction to that simple question shook me out of the scene a little, which is a shame. 
The interview is one of the best scenes in the movie.  It's the first time we get to see Father, and it’s a terrific introduction.  He isn't overly charismatic, but it's easy to see why he has as many followers as he does.  He's manipulative in a way that doesn't seem manipulative.  He deflects and redirects questions with ease; in doing so he assures himself of only answering questions that fit his agenda.  He's a kindly older gentleman who can lead with a smile and some words about fulfilling the will of God.  Father is played to perfection by Gene Jones.  It would have been easy to have made Father into an arm-waving tent revival preacher, but they wisely went with a more understated vibe.

At some point, we begin to realize the people are brainwashed.  (Personally, I assumed as much before the movie started even started.)  That was, indeed, the case.  As we meet the residents of Eden Parish, we get a better picture of how this happened.  The best way to brainwash is to find people at their lowest, gain their trust, and promise them something better.  That was the case with pretty much everyone who ended up at Eden Parish.  Caroline - a sister of one of the cameramen, and the reason they were able to gain entrance to Eden Parish - suffered with drug abuse for years.  Two brothers who grew up in a violent community.  An elderly widow who had nothing after her husband died.  These were people at their lowest, and Father preyed on that to build his idyllic community.   He convinced them to sell off all their worldly possessions to fund Eden Parish.  He cut his followers off from all communication with the outside world, so he could control the flow of information about the outside world.  Father’s paranoia became their very real fear.  These people saw a lack of communication with the outside world as freedom, when really it just allowed Father to create a prison for them.
To make things even more chilling, I don't believe Father was malicious.  I truly believe he was doing what he thought was right.  That makes him something worse than a con man: that makes him a monster.
It’s worth noting that all of this is in line with what Jim Jones did.  It may have made this film easier to watch if Father was a fictional character.  To know that there was a man and a place almost exactly like this made for a supremely unnerving viewing experience.


There were some creepy scenes scattered throughout the film (I kind of enjoyed the addition of the familiar "girl in the white dress and long hair" horror trope), but none of them were of the jump-scare variety.  They were born of the environment, not manufactured out of thin air.

The film moves along at a pretty good clip, dragging a creeping dread and paranoia around with it.  By the time everything came to a head in the final act, the madness that ensued was well-earned.
If you know anything about Jonestown, you have a pretty good idea of how this ends (even down to some very specific details).  It did not disappoint.  It was horrifying and off-putting.  There were a couple dumb character moments that threatened to overtake the ending, but, thankfully, they didn't. 


After the movie was over, I wasn't overly impressed.  "My favorite Ti West movie, not that it's saying too much," I grumbled to myself. 
But this one really stuck with me.  Certain scenes are impossible to get out of my head.  A couple days away from it, I think I really liked it.  As I mentioned above, Gene Jones was terrific as Father, and, after a rough opening, AJ Bowen turned in a terrific performance as Sam.
It's not a perfect film, but it's definitely worth watching.  Throw your preconceived notions about Ti West and first-person horror out the window and watch this for what it is: a horrifying portrait of darkness disguised as light and hope.  This is the worst of mankind, masquerading as the best.  This isn’t the monster in the closet or the zombie shambling down the street.  This is something that could be in your hometown.  This is Jones.  This is Koresh.  This is Heaven's Gate.  This is Solar Temple.  This is Manson.  This is Gacy.  This is Dahmer.  This is real life, and it’s one of the more unnerving films I have seen in recent memory.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wolf Creek 2


Description from Netflix: Backpackers Rutger and Katarina escape the city for an adventurous vacation in the Australian outback…but their dream trip turns into a nightmare when they run into a bloodthirsty serial killer with a penchant for sadistic games.

My thoughts:
I love slasher movies.  It’s a well-known fact about me.  And yet I didn’t love the original Wolf Creek.  It took me a while to figure out what I didn't like about it, but I think I finally nailed it down: it seemed like they were more interested in making the killer interesting than about fleshing out the people he was killing.  It seems lazy; like they’re skipping a step.  The great slashers – the icons – didn’t start as the focal point of the movies.  Michael Myers.  Freddy Krueger.  Jason Voorhees.  Leatherface.  The movies focused on their victims.  They made us care for the victims.  The idolization of the killers came after.  With Wolf Creek, it felt like they had built up this killer to be interesting and magnetizing, and forgot to make the victims people worth caring about.  If I don't care about the people on the other end of the knife (or machete, or chainsaw...), the movie loses some of its heart.  This is not necessarily true of sequels - when most teens are nothing more than cannon fodder - but it's true of the first in a series.  Wolf Creek failed at that most basic premise.


All that being said, I was still interested in the sequel.  I was curious to see where they would take it.  After all, the first movie was nothing if not simplistic: seemingly friendly bushman kidnaps, tortures and kills.  It's a basic slasher set-up, if in a different location than we're used to seeing.  Setting it in the vast expanse of Australia was the most interesting thing about the first movie.  Even when you escape, you don't necessarily have anywhere to run.  It lent an extra air of hopelessness to an already bleak situation.

That was present again here.  Australia makes for a beautiful setting, but also a terrifying one.  Unfortunately, the setting alone does not a good movie make.  Aside from the setting, this movie had very little going for it.

For starters, they decided to make Mick Taylor an even bigger presence in this movie.  It was as if they were actively trying to convince me that Mick Taylor deserved to be the next big slasher icon.  They did this by making him talk more.  Rattling off one-liners.  Saying "funny" things about the terrible deeds he was committing.  Perhaps this worked for some people, but it didn't do anything for me.  Freddy Krueger didn't go into full wise-cracking mode until his fourth movie (if you want to say it was his third, you'll get no argument from me), but he was on an entirely different level from Mick Taylor from the word "go".  They were going for "wacky and endearing," but all they got was "annoyingly over-the-top".
Writer/director Greg McLean has said that "[Mick Taylor was] the most interesting thing about the first movie."  That would explain the direction this one took.


I have already fallen into the same trap as the writers.  Thus far, I have only focused on Mick Taylor.  So let's talk about his victims for a second.
We start with German backpackers Rutger and Katarina (who sort of reminded me of Lizzy Caplan) hiking to Wolf Creek, camping along a trail, and getting attacked by Mick Taylor.  Rutger is killed and hacked up while trying to protect Katarina.  (This raises a question.  Mick has a house with a "workshop", so why does he hack-up Rutger out in the open?  It's dark, and the chances that someone would come across their path is minimal, but there's still a chance that someone could see the atrocities being committed, especially since Mick has the huge floodlights on his truck on.  Not hard to miss when you're surrounded by flat land.)  Katarina is able to escape and makes it to the road, where she is discovered by Paul, a handsome British tourist in a jeep.  Paul tries to drive off with Katarina, but Mick appears and shoots her.  And so, roughly 20 minutes into the movie, who we thought would be our two main characters are dead.  This aspect reminded me of 2009's Friday the 13th.

What followed was a series of scenes featuring Paul trying to get away from Mick.  Most of these were terrible.  An example: we have seen Paul driving his jeep off road a lot.  It has been established that his jeep can handle the Australian terrain.  And yet there is a long scene in which he is chased by Mick in a semi truck (which is definitely NOT an all-terrain vehicle), but for some reason decides to stick to the road.  If I haven't made myself clear, the road is the only place the semi can go.  And yet he stays on the road as Mick tries to kill him with a semi.  So, basically, it turned into The Hitcher for about 15 minutes.  (Maybe that's why they named one of the characters Rutger?)  “Just go off road,” I repeatedly screamed at the TV.  Paul never heard my cries.


During this chase scene, Mick hits/runs over a herd of crossing kangaroos.  As he did his, he was spouting off one-liners like John McClain (if John McClain killed kangaroos instead of terrorists).  This was supposed to be funny.  It most definitely was not. 
Again, this goes back to the lack of connection with Mick.  I don't really have any connection to the character, so why would I like when he runs down kangaroos and makes jokes about it?

There were also a fair number of standard slasher complaints.  "When you knock him out with a hammer, make sure to finish the job."  Things of that nature.  But, if you're a fan of slashers, you've become accustomed to overlooking this faulty logic, so I won’t dwell on them here.


That's not to say the movie was all bad.  The performance by Ryan Corr (as Paul) was tremendous.  There's a long scene of him being terrified, but also trying to humor Mick.  His face fluctuates seamlessly between laughter and pure terror.  It was the best scene in the movie, and Corr carried it.  (Fun fact: Corr had a very small part in Where The Wild Things Are.)
I also really liked Mick's lair.  It was filled with terrible tools to do terrible things.  It was a small, claustrophobic room that offered little chance of escape.  Because, even if you did escape out of the oh-so-tempting door, all you would run into would be a series of winding corridors filled with previous victims, bloodthirsty dogs, and booby-traps.  These corridors weren't on the level of House of 1000 Corpses, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 or True Detective, but they were still pretty creepy.

This wasn't a very good movie.  There were a few redeeming qualities, but not many.  If you liked the first one, you'll probably like this one.  The key to enjoying this movie hinges on one question: do you like Mick Taylor?  If you do, you'll like it.  If you don't, your views will probably be a lot like mine.

Rating: 1.5/5