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Film Review – The Evil in Us

A police unit is called to a house party to find a bunch of dumb horny teenagers have literally torn each other to pieces. When the lone survivor is giving a police statement from her hospital bed, she pukes up someone’s finger. So far so good, right? The police eventually work out that the party-goers had ingested some very, very sketchy coke, and through the magic of police work manage to trace the supplier who happens to be a very nasty individual indeed. What’s more, they find out he’s heading off to a secluded cabin by a lake with a pocketful of said sketchy coke and another group of dumb horny teenagers in tow. Just what would horror movies do if it wasn’t for dumb horny teenagers? Anyway, as you can probably imagine, things degenerate pretty quickly. As the genius dual-meaning tagline says: Worst. Trip. Ever.

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This film reminded me a lot of Eli Roth’s classic Cabin Fever. It has the same claustrophobic feel, and is shot-through with the same kind of smutty humour and devil-may-care attitude. It’s actually three story arcs in one: the police investigation, the bunch of dumb, horny teenagers at the cabin, and the obligatory origin thread about where this batch of coke came from. It gets pretty gruesome in places and if you can overlook some cringey dialogue and general predictability, there are certainly some shocks on offer. Considering what we essentially have here is a first-time director working with an unknown cast on a limited budget, the results are extremely impressive and could herald the start of at least one very promising career. Remember, don’t take drugs, kids.

Get the original version of this review, as well as many others, in the FREE Morpheus Tales supplement.


Film Review – The Darkness (2016)

Last summer, I attended what was billed as the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance.’ What happened? Nothing much. It was hosted by ‘celebrity medium’ Mistica Maria Louisa and Britt Griffith, the volatile gun nut who once got himself fired from the cast of Ghost Hunters. Britt invited virtual participants to ask questions, which Madam Mistica would then attempt to answer. I ask who killed JFK. Disappointingly, my question was ignored. Other, equally valid questions from curious observers included, ‘Is Hillary Clinton the antichrist?’ ‘Where are my keys?’ ‘Can ghosts use Facebook?’ ‘Am I going to get laid tonight?’ ‘ ‘Should I wear my black shoes or the brown ones?’ and, hilariously, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’

Another participant doesn’t ask anything, instead typing I WANT BLOOD into the comment box repeatedly, which was a bit worrying.

One of the few questions Madam Mistica did choose to answer read, “My mother just died from lung cancer. Is she doing good?”

Personally, I don’t think a medium is needed to answer that particular question. And on it went. The point of the exercise? It was a publicity stunt for this movie.

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As a marketing ploy, the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance’ seemed to work. For a while, at least. It generated a lot of online discussion, even if most of it was tongue-in-cheek, and I wrote about it for Fortean Times. But the fact that the broadcast lost almost 50% of it’s viewers before it ended, and the organizers didn’t seem to know what a séance actually entailed, meant that ultimately the event had to go down in the ‘epic failure’ column. I couldn’t wait to see if the movie itself would join it.

The short answer is no. It’s not the best film ever made, as we all know, that title will forever belong to Lost Boys, but the Darkness isn’t as bad as feared, or as some critics would have you believe. Starring Kevin Bacon as the patriarch of a family who inadvertently take something else home with them after picking up a rock as a souvenir from the Grand Canyon, it’s a bit like a mash-up of Poltergeist and Stir of Echoes. On their return to the family home, mysterious events start to occur. Taps turn on by themselves, there are disembodied shadows all over the place, hand prints keep appearing everywhere, their slightly-weird son Mikey has conversations with ‘Sky People’ and most bizarrely of all, what appears to be a portal to another dimension opens up in the middle of Weird Mikey’s bedroom.

Finally accepting that something might be amiss, the family discover that the Anasazi Indians believed demons could be bound to rocks hidden in underground caves. Rocks just like the one they’ve brought into their house. Director Greg McLean claims the story is a true account relayed to him by members of the family in question, but we only have his word for that. The Anasazi certainly existed, they are the ancestors of several Native American tribes and are most famous for living in fortified cliff dwellings and suddenly fleeing their homeland sometime around the year 1200 for reasons unknown. Few events have provoked as much discussion and controversy amongst scholars of American history. Traditionally, it’s also not uncommon for visitors to want to return objects taken as souvenirs from supposedly cursed places because they feel some negative force has invaded their lives as a result. So, silly portal aside, this film is slightly more believable than a lot of other supposedly true stories given the Hollywood treatment.

The original version of this review appears in the Morpheus Tales supplement. Available free HERE.


The Forsaken (2016) – film review

K, lets get one thing straight right off the bat. This isn’t the 2015 western starring Kiefer Sutherland and Demi Moore. Neither is it the 2001 Australian vampire movie starring, well, nobody you will have heard of. It is, in fact, a brand-spanking new release from Justin Price, best known for last year’s Dark Moon Rising. You might say it’s a new film with an old title, but let’s try not to get judgemental. Not yet, anyway. They had to call it something. On review sites and message boards it has been drawing comments like ‘Completely unwatchable,’ and ‘Worst movie ever!’ which kinda piqued my interest a little. Surely it can’t be that bad? Folk on the internet can be really mean sometimes. I thought at the very least, it might fall into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category.

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As a rule I’m not a big fan of possession films. Boring. Every single one of them follows the Exorcist blueprint – Person gets possessed, someone calls a priest, priest unpossesses person. They usually have a touch of difficulty along the way, just to fill the paper-thin plot out a little. There is invariably some swearing, vomiting, flying Bibles, and more often that not, some walking backwards up walls and shit. But in the end, good triumphs over evil, you breathe a sigh of relief, and move on with your life.

This latest Forsaken stars David E Cazares as a priest with jowls and sad puppy-dog eyes, a rebellious daughter, and a gravely ill wife who may or may not be possessed. I know, just what you need, right? I mean, the guy comes home one day and finds his missus cooking pieces of her arms in a frying pan for dinner. Obviously, something has to be done. But this is where the priest gets it completely wrong and starts looking for help in some of the sketchiest places imaginable. There are a few jumpy moments, and for a low-budget flick the make-up and effects are pretty impressive. However, even for one so simple, the plot is a bit muddled. All the flashbacks and dream sequences are distracting and worst of all, sad, puppy-dog eyed priest insists on fumbling around in the dark, whispering all his dialogue and crying all the time. Come on, dude! Put the damn light on, have a shit, shower and a shave, sort yourself out and man the fuck up. In days of old this would be a straight-to-video release. Now it’s probably going straight to your nearest streaming device, where it will no doubt stay, neglected and Forsaken.

This review originally appeared in the FREE Morpheus Tales supplement


The Forest – Film Review

At the foot of mount Fiji in Japan lies the deeply mysterious Aokigahara forest, widely known as a popular suicide destination. In 2010 alone, there were 54 confirmed cases. Nobody is quite sure what draws people from all over the country, and even further afield, there to end their days, but it has a long association with the Yurei of Japanese mythology, similar entities to what we would call ghosts. Yerei pray on the sad, lonely and vulnerable, using their own negative emotions against them. Sounds more like the script of a horror movie, right? Well, now it is, thanks to producer David S Goyer (the Blade franchise, Da Vinci’s Demons, and cult noughties TV show FreakyLinks) reading about the forest on wikipedia.

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Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer plays an American woman who recieves a phonecall from the Japanese authorities saying that her identical twin sister has ventured into the Aokigahara forest and has not been seen since. Obviously, she gets on the next plane to the land of the rising Sun and rocks up to the very same hotel her sister was staying where she meets a western journalist who seems just a little too eager to help. Together with a guide, they head into the forest in search of the missing sister. All in all, it’s a good premise for a film. It’s atmospheric, well-produced, and for the most part well executed. It’s a pity the film lets itself down in other areas. The plot kinda drifts off and cannibalizes itself toward the end, and there are some mildly annoying oversights. For example, when Dormer’s character first meets the journalist (Taylor Kinney, aka Mason Lockwood of Vampire Diaries fame) she tells him how the sisters lost both their parents in a car accident caused by a drunk driver who was never caught. But… if the driver was never caught, how did anyone know they were drunk? They could just be a really shit driver. You would think with all the untold millions lavished on film production these days, somebody somewhere along the line would notice such a gaping plot hole. Evidently not. Sigh.

As you would expect, the film is laced with the kind of creepy, unsettling horror you would expect from something so Japan-centric, though it has minimal input from anyone actually Japanese apart from a few actors, which you would think was the minimum requirement. For the most part, it wasn’t even filmed in Japan. The Japanese government don’t allow filming in Aokigahara forest so apart from a few scenes shot in Tokyo, the bulk of the movie was filmed in a warehouse Serbia. I shit you not. The forest is suitably creepy, though, and there are some sleek touches.

On its release, The Forest was met with an avalanche of criticism and almost universal bad reviews. It has an overall rating of 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and let’s face it, it doesn’t get much more rotten than that. Even the regrettable Rocky V managed 28%. Does that mean the film most Rocky fans refuse to acknowledge is three times better than The Forest? Not at all. It could be better but plot holes aside, for the most part I actually enjoyed it. It’s a crazy world.

The original version of this review appears in the latest Morpheus Tales supplement, available FREE


Film Review – Darkest Day (2015)

“British zombie horror at it’s best!” screams the blurb on the poster, which is a bit of a leap. Whoever said that has obviously never seen Danny Dyer’s Doghouse. Anyway, it is customary when writing a film review to summarize the plot, to help the potential viewer decide whether it’s worth their time, effort and money or not. With that in mind, here goes…

Dan (Rickard, also the writer and director) wakes up with amnesia on a beach in Brighton, that weird yet strangely hip little outpost on the south coast of England made famous in Quadrophenia. He wouldn’t be the first young man to do that, but Dan manages to do it in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. So now he isn’t being threatened by the assorted shenanigans of lively groups of mods and rockers, but rather hordes of crazed, blood-soaked zombies, who run around flapping their arms and screaming a lot. To make matters worse, it appears there’s a bunch of soldiers on his tail, too.

DVD Cover

DVD Cover

Luckily for Dan, he soon runs into a small group of survivors, who are shacked up in a student house drinking Stella, as you probably would be when Armageddon comes. There’s even a stereotypically brash American, which is one of the more outlandish parts of the entire film, never mind the zombies. Apart from the awful accent, even in this brave, new globalized world of ours, Americans still don’t go to Brighton. Why would they? If she wasn’t trying to be American, I apologise, but that’s what it sounded like, and it sucked.

When the group of student survivors run out of booze and fags, they are forced to tool up with a selection swords and bludgeoning tools and leave the sanctuary of their squat. You can probably guess the rest.

Bearing in mind there’s only so much you can do within the confines of a zombie film, Darkest Day does at least make an effort to break the mould. It took seven years to produce on a non-existent budget, and the majority of the dialogue is unscripted, a very brave (or very stupid, depending on your point of view) decision when working with a cast of unknowns. Truth be told, this doesn’t lead to much more than a few extra swear words but it’s a big ask to keep the thing going, especially as the lack of budget means the whole thing has to primarily be character-driven. There isn’t much in the way of a plot and it probably won’t win any awards, but to give credit where it’s due, Dan Rickard and his mates achieved a lot with very little. There are fires and zombies and explosions and guns. Even a couple of helicopters. What else do you need? The special effects and CGI are pretty impressive. At times, you are left wondering just how they managed it all if the budget really was as minuscule as we are led to believe. An impressive underground effort well worth 90 minutes of your time.


Film Review – It Follows

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Running Time: 100 mins

Certificate: 15

Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

It’s always good to see a low-budget film make it big. You could say it’s a strike for the little guy against the monopoly of the major studios. There’s been a buzz building around It Follows ever since it became the ‘breakout’ film of last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Since then it has been generating some overwhelmingly positive reviews, somewhat unusually for a film of this genre. In fact it’s the only film I can remember to have garnered a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while The Telegraph newspaper called it the most exciting film of the festival, going on to say, “With its marvelously suggestive title and thought-provoking exploration of sex, this indie chiller is a contemporary horror fan’s dream come true.”

High praise, indeed. So what’s it all about?

Well, it starts as a simple boy meets girl story. Or girl meets boy. 19-year old Jay (played by Maika Monroe) is an ordinary lass who likes swimming, hanging out and watching TV. Everything seems to be going reasonably well in her slightly awkward budding relationship, except the boy is a bit weird and often claims to see people that aren’t there. Anyway, Jay overlooks this fact and Boy and Girl do it in a car. More-or-less normal teen behaviour, you might think. But then things get really weird, as the boy drugs Jay and holds her captive. I can’t divulge why, or that would give away a crucial part of the plot. Better to see for yourself. Afterwards, Jay finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. She too starts seeing people that nobody else can. Faced with being drawn into a waking nightmare, Jay and her friends must find a way to escape the horror that seem to be only a few steps behind. It quickly becomes apparent that in order for her life to return to normality, she has to address the curse, if that’s what it is, and ‘pass it on,’ a realization which throws up some interesting moral dilemmas.  

It Follows carries on the recent trend of foregoing blood and splatter in favour of good old-fashioned chills, often calling to mind the classic, atmospheric ghost stories of old (MR James, anyone?). There are also elements which echo Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and low-budget hits like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. The film is especially effective in its early stages, the formulaic jumps and frights getting a little predictable towards the end. But the really interesting thing is the subtext, which goes far beyond the traditional SEX = BAD epithet. This is hinted at in the press release, which says, ‘It Follows is a contemporary horror exploring teen sex, suburbia and the stuff of nightmares – a cult classic in the making.’

Who knows? They might be right.

UK Release: 27th February 2015

 


Film Review – The Babadook (2014)

If its in a word, or it’s in a book, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.

This could be the biggest revelation in Australian horror since… well, ever. One of those rare films that burrows under your skin and leaves an impression for a long time after the credits roll, it has been generating overwhelmingly positive critical reviews since its worldwide debut at the Sundance Film Festival where it won Best Actor, Actress, Screenplay and Feature.

Amelia (Essie Davis, who you might recognize from Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions) is a single mother left to raise her six-year old son Samuel alone after her husband is killed in a tragic accident. Samuel is obsessed with magic and fantasy stories, an obsession that increases tenfold when he asks his mother to read from a pop-up book that mysteriously appears on his bookshelf. It turns out to be the story of a nightmarish character called Mister Babadook, who wants to ‘eat your insides.’ After hearing the story, young Samuel becomes convinced it is real. Of course, Amelia doesn’t believe him. Parents rarely do. But then Samuel turns into the most horrible, despicable little kid on the planet, and all manner of strange things start happening around the house. As the sinister events increase, Amelia comes to think Samuel might just be right about Mister Babadook after all.

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Part of the appeal is the fact that the Babadook was written and directed by a woman, Jennifer Kent. As such, it benefits from a female perspective, sense of empathy, and even tenderness in places, especially when describing the unique bond between a mother and a son. Don’t get me wrong, there are shocks and scares a-plenty. The Babadook contains some of the most genuinely terrifying scenes in recent memory. The difference is that the scares are less visceral and in your face. There is no gore here, and very little in the way of cheap thrills. Instead, it gets you on an emotional level with all the accuracy of a sniper’s bullet creating more tension and atmosphere than any idiot with a bucket of fake blood can ever hope to.

For one reason or another, until now women have only been able to exert limited influence on the horror genre, but that could all change as audiences grow tired of gore-fests and start searching for something deeper. In many ways, the character of Mister Babadook could be a metaphor for angst, grief, alienation, fear, guilt and a ton of other emotions, none of them good. The embodiment of dark energy. How much is real, and how much is imagined, is often left ambiguous to the viewer. Deliberately so, I think.

The Babadook was reportedly produced on a meagre budget of $2.5 million, and has already grossed ten times that amount just weeks after opening in the UK. It goes on general release in America on 28th November, after which those figures are sure to climb into the stratosphere. An instant classic.

This review first appeared on the Huff Post UK:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/


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