From June 2015

True Detective – Season 2, Episode 2: “Night Finds You”

HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 2: “Night Finds You”
Directed by Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto

* For a review of the next episode, “Maybe Tomorrow” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Western Book of the Dead” – click here

Picture 7I thought the opening of “Night Finds You” was a really great little piece. Not because of what Frank and Jordan Semyon [Vince Vaughn & Kelly Reilly] are talking about particularly, but because of the image above. First, Frank sees the water stains in the roof, and he wonders where they came from as it hadn’t rained that much recently. Then, as the second scene crossfades with the one before the images mix and the water stains become the eyes of Ben Caspere, City Manager, who was found dead at the finale of the first episode.
Now what I enjoy is how the water stains come to represent a couple things. The obvious one is how Frank sees them, and yet they’re big blotches, brown and almost rotten, so they must’ve been there awhile. Only now is Frank noticing them. The stains represent the things which are right in front of us, the things growing and festering right under our noses but in a blind spot, somewhere it’s almost too obvious so it gets passed over. This can mean a lot of things. Then the stains also come to mean something else.
The other idea of the water stains and what they represent is how everything eventually bleeds through, like the water through to the inside of the house. For instance, the cops of True Detective, their “other lives” outside the badge blur into the badge, and then the job itself bleeds out into the other parts of their lives as well. Velcoro, obviously, has every part of his life both touched by the law and tainted by the law’s inability to always and effectively dole out justice. Woodrugh represents how the lives people live before the badge come to affect the way they do their jobs because they still have to go on and live a life outside the badge; he also symbolizes the people who cannot come to terms with who they are because they believe they must be a certain type of person to do a certain job, to lead a certain life, et cetera. I think the idea of those stains is what reflects throughout the course of the episode, and likely what might be the rest of the season. Frank has a great quote in the early part of the episode at the beginning when he mentions how everything seems like paper mache, and this is because the paper is wet, things bleed through; everything is mixed, there are no dichotomous distinctions only grey areas, like life is one giant cesspool.
See? Pizzolatto’s philosophical pessimism and ruminations on life are still all there, you just have to dig a little deeper than Rust Cohle’s eloquently lobbed softballs from the first season.
Picture 12BAM! This season is definitely moving at least a little away, initially anyways, from the violence against females which heavily characterized the first season. Not to say it was an epidemic of scenes including women being beaten or anything – I know the difference – but last season certainly had enough of it packed in there with the storyline and plots surrounding to last a lifetime. Such is life, things can be grim! Regardless, I think that whether or not Pizzolatto is intentionally moving away towards something else or if it’s natural doesn’t matter. The story is great so far, and I think people are worried there are too many characters. I’m not. There’s enough plot to keep us going – with Ben Caspere dead, above with his genitals removed, there are wheels in motion, and Episode Two “Night Finds You” shows us the consequences of what happens to people who get in the way of the big, heavy, moneymaking wheels.
IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN THIS EPISODE – WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM? WHY ARE YOU READING THIS? TURN BACK NOW OR FOREVER BE SPOILED.
Really, I shouldn’t bother warning anybody dumb enough to come looking at reviews of an episode they’ve not yet seen. Alas I follow suit to be polite.
Anyways, Ray Velcoro [Colin Farrell] is the man who meets the heaviest of consequences in this second episode. Life for Ray is deteriorating fast as it is because his ex-wife wants to take his son away, after getting wind of the savage beating some unknown man, clearly Ray, laid on a bully’s father [for those who don’t remember Ray beat the dad and told the kid if he ever bullied/hurt anyone ever again Ray was going to come back and buttfuck his father with the mother’s headless corpse on the front lawn in Episode One]. He makes the mistake of telling his buddy/master Frank [Vince Vaughn] there isn’t much reason for him to keep going along with everything that’s going on, et cetera. However, I don’t think the fate Ray meets at the end of the episode is something Frank had anything do with, and here’s why…
In Episode One, there’s a shot of Ben Caspere’s corpse riding in back of a car, and upfront alongside the driver sits a big crow/raven type of mask.
Picture 1
Now, Frank seems to not know anything about what’s happened to Caspere, so when the crow/raven mask shows up again in the episode’s finale it’s hard to believe Frank has anything to do with what’s being done. Then again, we can never count on truly knowing what’s going on in True Detective, and certainly not when we’re only two episodes into the whole mess.
Picture 10Image above and all, Ray Velcoro is not out for the count just yet.
Picture 2Not even with this last shot either. Everyone can stop discussing. All you need to do is check it out – Farrell is listed as appearing in all the episodes of this season, so that’s enough right off the bat. Then, there’s the fact that he’s being shot at mid-to-low range here. I would imagine Farrell is wearing a vest. He survives, no doubt. Plus, there are images released, pieces in the trailers/teasers that show him in other scenes not yet aired. At the very least he’s in flashbacks. People need to calm down. Yet, this is what Pizzolatto knows, HBO too, and they play the game quite well.
This event will mostly just serve as paranoia and motivation for Velcoro. He’s probably going to immediately assume that Frank Semyon has done him in, but then again, Ray also realizes the men he works for in the Vinci P.D are not the most honest and uncrooked men there are in existence. So, the rabbit hole begins for ole Ray.
Picture 8Other than Ray, this episode showed us that Detective Bezzerides knows who she is working with. At one point she flat out asks Velcoro himself to tell her exactly how “compromised” he has become. The distrust in the picture above when she is with the other detectives and officer on the case is evident.
Furthermore, we get a little more evidence as I referenced in my last post [re: Officer Paul Woodrugh] that Paul is definitely having issues with his sexuality. Not only do we see him apparently checking out a corner where what looks like gay prostitutes are getting rides/dropped off with a bit of desire in his eyes, mixed with hatred, mostly for himself, but then he further tells another detective that a “fag” was checking him out and that he almost knocked the guy out – to which the other male detective responds “and why would you do that?” – so it’s more than clear Paul is having a lot of rough times dealing with the sexuality inside him that wants to be free. This should be interesting to see play out. I also want more of his Black Mountain Security past to come out because there’s no doubt neat places to explore in that part of his psyche, mixed with all the homosexual angst he feels so far.
queensdamnedsWith many believing death looms over Detective Ray Velcoro, I safely tell you – Ray lives. Don’t worry. Either way, this was an excellent second episode, and I think definitely built with strength on the first. Things are beginning to unfold now, and the further we go, the better this ride will get. The events of the second episode are really going to propel the third somewhere else. There are many places to go from here – what will Ray do if/when he survives this attack by the masked birdman? what will Frank do when he finds out about Ray/if Ray comes after him for the attack? is Paul going to continue wrestling with his sexuality, or will it give way to some kind of acting out in lieu of gratification? can we expect Ani to start unravelling some of the dark secrets behind Ben Caspere’s murder and maybe even the men she’s working with? So, so many avenues to go down. Let’s wait and see what happens, I know I’m beyond pumped to watch more True Detective. I’ll see you all next week.

True Detective – Season 2, Episode 1: The Western Book of the Dead

HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 1:
“The Western Book of the Dead”
Directed by Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto

* For a review of the next episode, “Night Finds You” – click here
Picture 2To start, this is NOT a repeat of True Detective True Detective Season 1 – the show is trying to do a new story, new characters, the whole shebang. Of course the whole thing is still very existential, regardless if Rust Cohle is not spouting out Nietzsche rehashes and what not [which I loved but come on – they weren’t anything groundbreakingly new outside of philosophical circles]. I mean, Colin Farrell’s low-down-and-dirty Ray Velcoro already gave the beauty line “We get the world we deserve” in the second episode of this season, so there is definitely still an existential element kicking around inside of Nic Pizzolatto’s second season. However, this time around there’s much of a demon-within type of vibe going. Whereas the police detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart were truly trying to serve justice for the sake of the victims, all those poor young girls taken and killed by vicious, hateful men, the second season of True Detective seems to be focusing on how some of those same police get lost along the way, how they bend the law to work for them, and even though they’re ultimately trying to do good, they end up doing a lot of bad along the way.
Picture 1Starting off, we get to see Ray Velcoro [Farrell]. His tale is a rough one – his wife was raped, they never found the attacker, and neither she nor her now ex-husband Ray know if their boy is his or not. Certainly Ray does the true blood thing to do: he raises the kid as his own. He doesn’t want to know anything about DNA, he just wants his son to be his son. Problem is ole Ray has vices – the drink and the drugs – and his temper is fierce. Like anyone, Ray wanted revenge for what happened to his wife, and as an officer of the law, he naturally felt stuck when even the law let him down. In comes Frank Semyon [Vaughn] who facilitates the revenge Velcoro needs by tracking down the man responsible, which coincides with Ray’s wife and her statement. This puts Ray deep in with Semyon, who uses him as a man on the inside, and as Ray climbs the ranks to detective, of course Frank reaps the benefits.
I think Ray is going to be one of the most interesting of the bunch in this season. There’s a scene involving Ray and a kid who bullies his son at school, plus the boy’s father, which really takes you from “Okay, Ray is a normal guy in a bad situation” to “Wow, Ray is a bad dude”. Even while you side with him, he takes things much too far. Not hard to see the booze and the cocaine, and the more booze, doesn’t help his natural temperament. At the end of the tunnel, for Ray I see a bit of redemption. Now, whether or not Ray will have to die for this, it is way too soon to tell [even in light of Episode Two’s events]. We will see.
Picture 3Next is Rachel McAdams as Detective Ani [Antigone] Bezzerides who has more than her fair share of issues, as well. First, her estranged father Eliot [David Morse] is a New Age guru-type who runs a sort of 1960s style institute or commune, and clearly is a narcissist. Then her sister, Athena, is a webcam girl doing porn who is off her medication and living free. Not to mention the fact their father named both her and her sister Antigone and Athena. So, Ani drinks, gambles, and raids houses to find out where her sister is when she feels like it. Also, her boyfriend is not exactly the sexually adventurous type when Ani clearly surprises him with something in the bedroom he couldn’t handle straight away. She is a dominant woman; she carries knives all over her, making clear in the next episode this is because she has no illusions about certain female-male situations where she will be physically smaller than a larger man in which the knives will come more than in handy. There is no doubt the years living in the cult with daddy brought on issues, most likely from some kind of abuse, but we can never be sure. Perhaps she’s just a smart, cautious woman who has seen too much. Either way, I’m excited this season has a lead female character and one who is also in the police. Offers a great new perspective for the show.
Picture 9Officer Paul Woodrugh [Taylor Kitsch] is another interesting character. Clearly Paul is a troubled man. He worked for Black Mountain Security in Iraq, obviously mimicking a similarly named military contractor, and has issues from what he calls “the desert”. It isn’t hard to see Woodrugh has issues with his sexuality; he sneaks a blue pill while claiming to be showering and taking far longer than necessary before trying to have sex with his girlfriend, then when she is going down on him Paul looks off into space as if troubled, maybe trying to concentrate so that he’s able to get an erection. This becomes even more clear in the second episode with a comment he makes to another detective. Furthermore, Paul obviously has deeper issues – he speeds out on the highway on his motorcycle, flicking off the headlight and rushing through the darkness, almost daring death to come and get him. I can’t wait to see more of him. Kitsch is a talent, and I don’t care what anyone says. Given the right material with this character I can see Kitsch doing excellent work this season.
Picture 4Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon spit out the worst line by far of the entire show since the first series began, along the lines of “don’t do anything out of hunger – not even eating”. Now I’ll give it to you – some of Rust Cohle’s lines, which personally I loved, were equally batty, but Matthew McConaughey was able to let them roll off his tongue and out of his mouth like they were natural to that character. Vaughn is good, I dig him, even as Semyon. I just didn’t dig that line. I can buy Vaughn as that character, totally, because he isn’t an outright psychotic gangster type like something out of Goodfellas with Henry Hill’s outbursts or the violence of Joe Pesci – I buy Vaughn as a collected, calm business sort of crook, and sure, he’s a big guy, I bet he can lay hands. Mainly, I think his attitude suits the part. However, that line in his mouth sounded like garbage. Moving past that point, Vaughn was great, and he does the dark/brooding thing well. Given more time the character of Frank will grow on people, I believe.
Picture 5Mainly people need to lay off this season, and forget about the first, in the sense that this is an anthologized show. There is no continuity other than it involves police work; that’s it. Once again, there are existential themes at play here, heavily. We just need to keep in mind – existential doesn’t mean that people have to constantly spout philosophical musings. That was a character Pizzolatto used, and it worked. This season is different. Existentialism has to do with human beings, the experience of existence and reality, and the touch of humans on existence. So we’re going to see how human beings deal with their terrible inner demons, and this season we’re going to see more about the abuse of power from the perspective of those abusing it mainly instead of solely from the perspective of those outside and looking in. The police here are good police, but they toe a dangerous lines, more so than anything Rust Cohle did in Season One. I can’t wait for the next episode.

GET HARD’s White Fear of a Black Prison

Get Hard. 2015. Directed by Etan Cohen. Written by Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, & Etan Cohen from a story by Adam McKay, Jay Martel, & Ian Roberts. Starring Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Craig T. Nelson, Alison Brie, Edwina Findley Dickerson, Ariana Neal, Erick Chavarria, Paul Ben-Victor, and featuring T.I.
Warner Brothers.
Rated R. 100 minutes.
Comedy

★★★★
get_hard_ver7To start – I fall in the category of people who grew up in the 1990s watching Will Ferrell for the first time via Saturday Night Live, such sketches as Dogshow and The Lovers with him and Rachel Dratch as Roger/Virginia Clavin just a couple of my all-time favourites. So I really do love Ferrell. However, in recent years with so many of the same formulaic comedies coming out after the success of Ricky Bobby’s dumb ass charm (see: Blades of Glory and The Campaign and yes I’ll say it Anchorman because it isn’t as funny as people want it to be and The Other Guys and Semi-Pro), I can definitely say I’m growing tired of a lot of his movies.
That being said, there are his great years on SNL as one of the people during that era who carried the show, in my opinion, aside from the writers themselves. There’s also the outrageously funny Step Brothers which proves how well he and John C. Reilly work together with the right comedic material; two masters at work. His cameo in Wedding Crashers is a thing of legend. Even in the mediocre-to-lame Starsky & Hutch update, Ferrell is on his game as the wildly weird Big Earl.
Now, finally, there is Get Hard. Not only is Ferrell pretty great here, but the pairing of him and Kevin Hart makes for some hilarious bits that I enjoyed. The movie also changed my mind on Hart, who I wasn’t exactly sold on beforehand.

Get Hard starts with millionaire James King (Will Ferrell) getting arrested on charges of fraud and embezzlement, his sentence ending up at 10 years to be served in the notoriously hard San Quentin Prison. Enter Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), a mild-mannered nice guy, a family man, who runs a a car cleaning service. Because Darnell is a black man, King assumes he has been to jail and offers him money to help get him ready to head to the Big House. Instead of being offended, which by all rights he should be, Darnell decides to take King up on the offer – all in order to help get his family out of a bad neighbourhood and somewhere nicer, someplace safer. From there the relationship progresses, as Darnell pretends to have been to jail in order to get the money and maybe prepare King a little for jail.
GH_D3_019.dngWhat I really like is that they played both sides of things – it’s obviously racist for Ferrell’s character to assume that the black man has been to prison, and that’s clearly why he is running a car cleaning service, yet Hart’s character takes advantage of that, and so he’s playing into a stereotype simply to gain money. This is where some people need to take a long look at the movie to realise this is a movie that knows what it is doing. I’m not saying the whole thing is high-brow, not in the slightest, what I am saying is that the movie plays very keenly with the fact that it’s tiptoeing over a lot of racial lines. That’s the whole point, and I don’t think a lot of people who are reviewing this film saying “it’s racist”, “it’s homophobic” are really understanding that the movie knows where it is treading, and is purposely doing so. At least that’s how I understand things.
Plus, it works. I mean, when Darnell finally just decides it’s time for James to “learn to suck a dick” and takes him to a restaurant that’s well-known for gay male hookups, I thought it was absolute hilarity! First, you get to see Ferrell try and talk himself into giving a blowjob to a man (none other than the hilarious Matt Walsh from Old School and other films with Ferrell among much more), prosthetic penis and all. Then, what really makes it all work, is when a gay man mistakes Darnell for someone looking lonely and needing company – this leads to more funny moments. Later in the film while Ferrell is trying to make friends at a clubhouse of a white gang, Darnell waits outside in his truck where he talks on the phone to the gay man who semi-propositioned him at the restaurant; they’re friends who talk about relationships now, and the man tells Darnell he’s “the boyfriend I never had.” It’s so funny, and after that especially if people say the movie has some sort of homophobia in it they are sorely mistaken. Great, great stuff.
Get-Hard-009One of the best gags for me in the whole film is the running Boyz n the Hood joke that starts when Darnell is put on the spot by his wife to tell the story of how he got put in jail, and Darnell in turn gives James a faked explanation torn right from the script of the famous Cuba Gooding Jr/Ice Cube-starring movie. It’s just way too funny. I love the fact it plays on how a lot of white people like the James King character probably wouldn’t know what they’d most likely call a “black movie” like Boyz n the Hood. In reality, it’s just an incredibly poignant film, and everyone should see it if they’ve not already. It gets even better when James brings the story up after Darnell takes him to see Russell (played by T.I.), and everyone gets a nice kick out of the fact James has no idea what he’s said. Certainly if you haven’t seen the movie you’ll never really get the joke as much as it’s meant to be taken, but regardless, it’s still a laugh. For those who’ve seen it, the moment Darnell says the names Doughboy and Ricky you’ll probably find yourself chuckling.
will-ferrell-in-get-hard-movie-8Overall, I loved this movie. Maybe it isn’t everyone else’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I thought Ferrell and Hart together were an excellent team. Some of the gags didn’t work, but most of them did. I’d like to see these guys do another movie again someday, not right away to capitalise off this but down the road. Definitely a 4 out of 5 star comedy. They toed the racial lines, and some of the homosexual ones as well, and I don’t think they went for any kind of shock value solely for the sake of shocking; everything worked to their respective ends the way they were meant and without straying into blatant offensiveness/lacking the comedic punch. The black-white dynamic ultimately worked so well because both Ferrell and Hart are good comedians, but also the writing didn’t fall into complete laziness using quasi and full-on racist gags to get laughs. A lot of excellent jokes were at the butt of James King, the clueless white man trying to initiate himself into both black and jail culture while being exactly that: beyond clueless.
In the end, I think Get Hard is one of the smarter Will Ferrell comedies in awhile, which is great because I love his work. I believe it had something to do with Kevin Hart – I wasn’t a fan until recently, between this and the Comedy Central Roast he hosted for Justin Bieber – now I think he’s got great talent. Hopefully Ferrell might make some more hilarious movies along this line because I genuinely think this had some brains, even if it did meander at times. Highly recommended, and I may watch it again in the near future for a nice laugh.

BOUND TO VENGEANCE Subverts Typical Rape-Revenge Constructs

Bound to Vengeance. 2015. Directed by Jose Manuel Cravioto. Written by Keith Kjornes and Rock Shaink Jr.
Starring Tina Ivlev and Richard Tyson. Dark Factory Entertainment. Unrated. 80 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

BTV_posterart-691x1024★★★★

For the so-called “meninists” out there (which is a stupid term to begin with because feminist is derived from feminine, the male term being masculine, so wouldn’t it be masculinist if we’re being correct?), you’re in for a real rough go of it with Bound to Vengeance. I love it, so much. Like a dose of cinematic vengeance, poetic justice.
The trick to director Jose Manuel Cravioto’s film being a great, entertaining, and horrific feminist film, in my opinion, is the lens through which he captures all the action.

Bound to Vengeance starts very typically with a man holding a young woman in a dark, dank looking basement. The man is Phil (Richardy Tyson). The woman is Eve (Tina Ivlev). But where most films might show us all the torturous events which lead to there, or maybe even more to follow, where Eve is treated like a wild animal – beaten, starved, hurt – and even worse than that, raped, sexually abused, and so on. Not so for Bound to Vengeance – the opening reel begins as Eve smashes a brick across Phil’s face. She runs and heads to get away. Only she stops. Eve finds evidence that there are other girls – many more – than her, stuck in places like this, kept hidden away to be used for the pleasure of others. This prompts Eve to threaten Phil: either show her where the other girls are, or die a brutal death. Phil complies. Yet things get tricky.

I think the atypical beginning, the whole opening segment (the titlecard BOUND TO VENGEANCE doesn’t appear until about the 20-minute mark, I believe) is really awesome. It subverts the expectations. You almost want to sigh as the whole thing begins – Phil walks down to a room where Eve is laying on a dirty mattress, chained up – but then suddenly the brick, and WHAM – things are on another course.
Tina Ivlev does a fantastic job at selling this film. Richard Tyson works well, too, but it’s Tina who is the star. She is strong and at the same time vulnerable at the right points. She is not perfect, nor should she be. For a small horror-thriller film, good acting is always the key. No matter what. Here, Ivlev does great. I think had the female lead here been weak, things could’ve easily fallen apart. Regardless of how well Tyson or anyone else played the character of Phil, having a weak Eve wouldn’t have been any good. Ivlev makes this a strong female driven film.
Stills.BTV_.IMG_0827-1024x6831-620x400The aspect I love most about this film is how it’s a story of sexual abuse and victimization of women without having to resort to showing graphic representations of the violence itself – unlike such modern films like the remake of Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, among others. This way, it really becomes a great revenge horror-thriller, and also one that I find specifically geared towards women. I don’t mean that it should be marketed solely to women; not one bit. This is a great movie. What I mean is that it works great in an equal sense. As men, we get tons and tons of these rape-revenge fantasies, which in a way are unhealthy because it promotes this maidenic ideal of women that we as men have to be the shining white knights and charge in to save the girls from their attackers. Bound to Vengeance doesn’t sacrifice a woman’s power or sexualize women to do anything.
boundtovengeance1I consider this a feminist film, in the best sense of the word, and I don’t think it’s so because men are being killed. That’s a lame, and dangerous, assumption to make about what anything means to be feminist. I believe it’s feminist, first and foremost, because the women in the film don’t require being shamed graphically in front of our eyes the way it is in most films especially nowadays (think of the remake and following sequels for I Spit on Your Grave) to also receive retribution. Of course it’s implied, we know what’s happened, but it doesn’t have to be shown, we don’t have to see it sexualized and have women paraded naked and raped on camera. Furthermore, the fact it is a woman getting revenge does not fetter her to needing a man for protection, or to protect any of the other women – Eve does it all on her own. I think this is one of the best revenge films of the last decade for sure. Not perfect, but excellently done in the sense of how it treats violence against women.
reversal2I especially enjoyed the editing. As time goes on, the videos of happier times being weaved throughout and edited into the present tense become more chilling. At first it’s very reminiscent of something sweeter, a better day than what Eve was experience there and then with Phil, everything after him. But then things get worse and worse. I thought that part of the film worked really well, and it’s something that can go unnoticed. Not saying it’s the most genius thing ever conceived, I just believe it worked effectively for this film. The ending has a good impact with the way things are edited in this sense.
The whole movie had an interesting tone. There was a gritty feel and an almost retro look yet not quite; grainy, at times bright and glaring. I enjoyed how everything, from scene to scene, had a raw and realistic feel, which is always something that helps towards setting the mood. Also, the score was some good stuff and I like the way it worked with the overall atmosphere of the film.
boundtovengeance3This is definitely a 4 out of 5 star film for me. Bound to Vengeance treats really horrifying subject matter in a way not too often done. As of late I’ve been much more interested in gender issues, and regardless of how others feel I’ve always approached fiction in a way that helps me also confront real life – you don’t always have to consciously think of it, but it’s always there working that way. We incorporate everything we take in – no matter if it’s fiction, non-fiction, weather, social structures, et cetera – and it becomes a part of our daily lives. So, I really found that this movie works in a feminist perspective. Very well, in fact. The image above is the most graphic thing in regards to sexual violence shown throughout the entire film – it’s disturbing without being full-on graphic. That’s a part of what I liked about Bound to Vengeance, is that we don’t need to see all the dirty, disgusting, terrible details to enjoy what happens afterwards. We can see the consequences without requiring to have seen the acts perpetrated. Death Wish and other much more brutal, graphic movies about rape-revenge fantasies need to go for that shock, the awe of rape or sexual torture whether it’s completely physical or possibly just psychological. This movie does not have to go that way, and I think it really work great, even better than if it had opted to show any of that sort of thing. For that, I applaud Cravioto, and I think this is hands down one of the best revenge horror/thriller I’ve seen since the beginning of the 2000s.

APOCALYPTIC(ally Bad)

Apocalyptic. 2014. Directed & Written by Glen Triggs. Starring Jane Elizabeth Barry, David Macrae, and Geoff Pinfield. Dark Epic Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Drama/Horror

★
apocalyptic
A lot of people seem to have had more than their fill of found footage. Me – I’m not quite done with the sub-genre. Of course, that’s me, I like to wring the life out of something until there’s no fun left in it anymore. Not really, I just try not rush and judge something by its predecessors before giving it a full chance.
Unfortunately there’s nothing in Apocalyptic that was worth waiting for, in any way. I’m always a sucker for a good, creepy poster, and the first one I’d seen is not the one I used here – it has a shot of some frenzied, bloody-mouthed person running into the frame. I thought it was decent, but certainly a poster is nothing by which to judge a film.

The premise is pretty simple – a pair of filmmakers, Jodie (Jane Elizabeth Barry) and Kevin (Geoff Pinfield) are going to get a first-person perspective on some sort of cult-like religious group, all under the care and eye of Michael (David Macrae), who is himself fairly unsettling. Things are strange from the start when they come into the woods where this group lives and are met by two females, one older than the other and both dressed in the same attire, and then they are lead towards the house where they live in the country to meet Michael. They learn Michael picks one of the women around the dinner table after they eat, and that one must go with him, staying with Michael through the night. Naturally, the situation deteriorates, as Jodie notices one night that Michael picks a very, very underage girl, and off they go to the bedroom as if nothing is out of the ordinary. From this moment on, nothing is the same as it was before.
eePY7kQBasically there isn’t much of anything that makes this film worthwhile. All I can say is that there are some really wonderful looking shot, gorgeous to see in an eerie, spooky sense, but there is little-to-no substance throughout Apocalyptic. For instance, (SPOILER AHEAD) once the big moment of the stoning comes later in the film there is almost no suspense or true tension to keep us tethered to the characters/plot emotionally, and it comes off terribly. I don’t like to rag on a film by being too cheeky, but man, was this part ever poorly pulled off. It could’ve carried at least some weight, instead it’s just like a big metaphorical premature ejaculatory incident caught on film. The camerawork in the scene is bad – and yes, it’s found footage, but there’s no need for it to be unwatchable, there are plenty of these types of movies where it’s not all shaky camera angles and garbled frames – and the acting is poor, and the whole look of it effects wise is just kind of embarrassing as far as I’m concerned. This scene could’ve come off as a whopper and really freaked people out, but it is far from that type of moment.

Worst of all is the climax of the film, at the finale. Apocalyptic‘s final ten minutes plays out like a bad rendition of Jonestown, Michael as the stand-in Jim Jones, like The Sacrament except in the dark and not nearly as well-directed as Ti West’s movie. It’s the same thing you’ve seen time and time again – people flail around in the black frames, occasional scenery popping in and out of the darkness, screams, a bit of blood, discovering bodies laying on the floor. A real mess. Sure, you say, “they’re all like that”. Well, no they aren’t, sorry to break it to you. Sadly, Apocalyptic took a concept that worked really well in something like V/H/S 2 for Gareth Huw Evans & Timo Tjahjanto in their short “Safe Haven”, and Triggs fumbled a chance to do different things. West’s movie worked because it was basically a contemporary look at a Jonestown-esque event in our society, nothing groundbreaking yet it was effective and unsettling. Whereas Apocalyptic aims to be different, poses as something different, but ultimately does a near exact replica of the most well-known aspects of Jim Jones and the whole massacre in Jonestown. (SPOILER AHEAD) The very end plays out like the last few moments of Jones’ life, and of course like West does with The Sacrament. So there is really nothing at all innovative about any part of this movie, which is a shame. Cults are always good for a bit of horror.
apocalyptic2I wasn’t overly taken by anything in this one, aside from some of those juicy creepy creep shots like images sort of lost in darkness and a few that were covered in a fog, like a mist wrapped the frame. I’ll give Triggs 1 star, solely for those few fleeting moments, and I did like the opening. However, once the mystery started to slip away and the plot revealed itself, I was less an less taken, found myself not really caring about anyone in the film other than the poor young girls being obviously abused and raped by Michael. There just was no emotion. Even the main performance by David Macrea wasn’t anything to write home about. He tried, a valiant if only decent effort. It just was not enough to lift Apocalyptic out of tedium, a pit of boredom, and the whole thing is not even mediocre, it’s bad. Whereas a film like Red State, which I personally loved, had someone such as Michael Parks to really propel the movie into another stratosphere of excellence, Apocalyptic did not have any of that, from either of the lead characters. If maybe there was a great scare in the end, moments which were downright terrifying, or even a bit of wild gore or effects, I might have been able to give this more than 1 star.
But no such luck in life. This was a rough one to sit through – believe it or not, I watched it twice just to see if there was anything I’d missed in my first round of boredom. I don’t recommend it, only for completists who want to see all the found footage they can get their grubby mitts on. Almost not even worth the time and eyeball moisture.

Mark Duplass is CREEP(y)

Creep. 2015. Directed by Patrick Brice. Written by Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Starring Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Blumhouse Productions.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Comedy/Horror


★★★★★creep-posterI know Mark Duplass mainly from two sources – his amazing portrayal of Pete on FX’s raunchy fantasy-football comedy The League, and the film Baghead which he co-directed with his brother Jay Duplass. He’s a great talent, and of course I’ve seen his other work; another film he wrote and directed with his brother I love is the acerbically funny Jeff, Who Lives at Home. But it’s his performance on The League I love most.
In Creep, Mark Duplass channels brief spots of Pete, which I think are mostly culled from his own personality anyways, and yet there is a real childish gentle quality to the character he plays – at least in the beginning. This, above all else, drives Creep into terrifying territory.
The film starts with Aaron (Brice) who is heading to meet someone he has contacted through Craiglist that wants to be filmed, of course in exchange for money. Aaron arrives at a cabin in the hills where he meets Josef (Duplass) who explains he is dying, and about to be a father, so he wants the video of him to reflect the good & bad of him; later to give to his son. Josef wants to be filmed constantly. Even as he strips naked for a bath, what he calls “a tubby“, which is recorded all for his yet-to-be-born son, Josef asks Aaron “are you okay?“, and seems to want him to be at ease during the process. Uncomfortable, yet harmless, the conversation and relationship develops between Josef and Aaron, but all is just not as it seems.

For those who don’t want a small portion of the film spoiled – turn away. I think when I really started to finally become unsettled is partway through the film as Aaron shuts off the video on his camera, but leaves the audio recording, and Josef reveals something he’d never told anyone before. It starts off like a weird animal porn story, evolving into a quasi-rape Josef says he perpetrated on his wife while wearing a wolf mask. This comes only awhile after we first see the mask – Josef tells Aaron initially the thing was a mask his dad had, a character named Peach Fuzz that he’d developed. But once the story is told, which worked well only as audio because it ratcheted up the suspense, the wolf mask takes on a new terror.
creep-mark-duplassWhat I love most about Creep is that the found footage sub-genre is used appropriately. Maybe there are a few minor nitpicks, but for the most part this film really follows the unwritten rules of the sub-genre to perfection. Best of all, the premise of the story fits in very organically with found footage.
Even further I think the idea of the whole thing initiating from a Craiglist ad is a great post-modern twist on the genre; while scary and enjoyable as a movie, it actually makes you re-think the whole idea of the online communities such as Craiglist where people anonymously perform transactions on everything from professional jobs to the unprofessional world of buy, sell, trade, and online prostitution. But most of all, the fact it’s just two guys, two characters, for the most part in one remote setting the greater portion of the film really works for the whole story. The found footage sub-genre often fails and seems beyond stale when the style is being forced inorganically into a situation where there’s disparity between how a camera should or shouldn’t play into each scene, and so on. This in turn stirs the nitpickers who will tear a film apart, sometimes rightfully so, to say ‘this doesn’t follow the “rules”‘ or what not. The sparse setting, characters, and basic plot really help the environment remain controlled and helps showcase the found footage style without too much going on.
Picture 1The moment that got me most is the phone call from Angela, when Aaron picks up the phone. A real great reveal, so to speak. It sort of peels away Josef’s facade slow with each sentence until you sort of gasp to yourself – not terror, but the feeling of the moments before a terror strikes – and from that moment on the creepiness descends upon us in torrents, waves, scene after scene, up to the end.
The mask really creeps me out. At first it wasn’t so scary, but in the final half hour it becomes the thing of nightmares; one scene, as Josef wears the mask and stands blocking a doorway, is spectacularly weird and creeped me out wholly.
There’s a genuine amount of suspense going on throughout the closing fifteen minutes or so, an air of dead, which ultimately leads to a real shocking conclusion. I thought it was about to go one way, yet still the finale was surprising, and didn’t come exactly as I’d expected it to. Duplass really makes the last couple scenes pop with the creep factor he puts out, and you should freeze frame it if you can right before the credits roll – a very dark, suggestive shot, brief and yet long enough to get under the skin. Then the title appears, the credits go, and you’re left to ponder. Great stuff.

I’ve got to give this a full 5 stars. Going into any Blumhouse film I’m honestly weary. There are a couple films I don’t mind, a couple I like, and then several I hate. Creep delivers the goods. Sure, it’s a very contained and limited film, but that’s not to say those are negative commentary. As I said earlier, I think found footage can be terrible if it tries to put in too much, this is exactly why Brice’s film is directed so well in my mind, why the shots all work and things seem to flow naturally without being forced. This is one of the most efficient uses of the sub-genre in horror. Along the way there are some excellent comedic moments, mostly dark I think, and they come in little bursts. I honestly found myself dropping my jaw a few times, amazed at the way things were going in the awkward relationship between Aaron and Josef – I watch a ton of horror, I’ve seen a ridiculous amount of gore and shock horror and all that, but regardless, Creep has so much tension, suspense, and the performance Duplass gives is creepy beyond belief, that the film goes over perfectly.
See this, ASAP. It’s on VOD via iTunes, and I would assume other platforms, today. Real great little watch. It isn’t an outrageous horror with elaborate plot, it doesn’t have any blood in it, or monsters, or supernatural entities – it is a straight up, balls to the wall psychological horror, and it melted me. I loved it. I can’t say that enough. And not to ruin anything, but I hope that they’ll expand and go for a sequel. No doubt Blumhouse is already champing at the bit for a sequel, or two, or three. This is one film I wouldn’t mind seeing more of, maybe even a prequel to see Josef before he arrived to his relationship with Aaron.
This is a creeper of a movie. I can’t wait to watch it again.

SOAKED IN BLEACH Exposes the Bullshit of Cobain’s “Suicide”

Soaked in Bleach. 2015. Directed by Benjamin Statler. Written by Donnie Eichar, Richard Middleton, and Benjamin Statler.
Starring Tyler Bryan as Kurt Cobain, Sarah Scott as Courtney Love; featuring, as themselves, Tom Grant, Brett Ball, Max Wallace, and Norm Stamper. Daredevil Films.
Rated PG. 100 minutes.
Documentary/Drama/Crime.

★★★★★
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Admittedly, even though I’ve always thought Courtney Love is bat shit crazy, I never believed she (or anyone else) might’ve been covering anything up or hiding information concerning Kurt Cobain’s suicide. As much as I loved Cobain, worshiped Nirvana as a young musician with a bad attitude and even worse fashion sense, I just took what the media fed me about his depression and how he’d always seemed suicidal, that he took his I.D out and put it on his wallet so that when he shot himself they’d be able to identify his body easily… and so much more.
After watching this, the other reviews and articles touting this documentary as a ‘conspiracy theory’ are way off base. There’s too much in this film to deny, from actual police documents, the tapes Private Investigator Tom Grant has with Courtney Love on it saying some downright incriminating things and even some with Rosemary Carroll (the Cobain/Love lawyer) saying things against Love. See for yourself. Judge on your own. But here’s my take..

The first thing we hear is a conversation between Tom Grant and Courtney. She hired him to investigate after Kurt went missing, this was only briefly before his alleged suicide. On this first tape, Grant questions Courtney about where she’d found some other letter, supposedly from Kurt, and she is telling him it was under the pillows on her bed. Grant, being there the night before Kurt was found dead, knew different; he’d tossed the bed and found Rohypnol, which Kurt had a prescription for. He knew the difference, and yet Courtney tried sticking to her guns even when Tom told her otherwise. So right off the bat, we get this very real, raw version of Courtney – outside of the media, outside of other celebrities and what they think of her or the general public and their view – right from a tape. It’s damning.
From there, we learn a little about Grant whose life story reads much like a lot of police/military officers. The thing I kept wondering is, for those who don’t believe the man or doubt he is credible – what does he have to gain from this? He’s pretty much haunted with what he sees as the facts. He’s not exactly a celebrity himself because of Kurt or Courtney; most people pass him off as just another conspiracy theorist. Yet, as he mentions later, Tom still gets letters, e-mails, all sorts of communication asking about Kurt, wondering why nothing has been done when there’s actually a lot of evidence suggesting he did not die by suicide. It isn’t only Tom who believes, but unfortunately the police seem to be the real roadblock.
soaked-in-bleach-1It becomes very clear that police negligence really had a hand in what came to pass. On top of that, Courtney Love set the stage for this “suicide” – when she hired Tom Grant, filed a police report (and did so in fake fashion using Cobain’s own mother’s name – the media promptly reported his mom was worried he was suicidal and filed a Missing Persons), and then perpetuated the myth of Cobain being frequently suicidal. What really troubles me is this idea of the myth – that Kurt really wasn’t a suicidal person. Yes, he was depressed. Yes, he had killer stomach pains that put him in agony. But he was happy with his friends and people around him. After the stomach pains were cleared up and doctors put him on the correct medication after many stressful years, Cobain himself told an interviewer he felt the best he’d ever felt and he was plenty happy. Sure, no one knows what’s going on in the mind of someone behind closed doors – ultimately, we never know. I had a friend who killed himself and none of us in our circle of friends ever expected it. Yet so many close friends claim Kurt never ever talked about suicide once.
Furthermore, he’s not in the movie but Buzz Osborne knew Kurt, and the rest of Nirvana, from the beginning – he and Kurt went to high school together, he knew him before and after Nirvana hit the bigtime. Buzz claims Kurt was never suicidal, it was all a lie. He has harsh words for the other Cobain documentary that recently came out, Montage of Heck, because aside from the suicide myth it portrays other stories that are not actually true (the story that Kurt supposedly had sex with an overweight, mentally handicapped girl when he was young is a total fabrication, according to King Buzzo). So during Soaked in Bleach, we get a lot of other opinions from people very close with Cobain that jive with that of Osborne – that Kurt could be quiet, shy, but the idea that he was a suicide case is untrue.
What really drove this home is Courtney Love. When Cobain accidentally overdosed on his Rohypnol prescription after having a glass of champagne, the incident was not called a suicide at the time. At first people speculated it was an attempt, but it was confirmed as being accidental afterwards. Love did not, at the time, claim Kurt tried to kill himself. Nobody did. Then, after Kurt was found dead, immediately Courtney began telling the media how he tried it in Rome, he tried before, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. This is categorically untrue. Max Wallace brings up the fact they even talked with the doctor who attended to Kurt that night in Rome, and the doctor also denies to the bone it was a suicide attempt confirming it was most certainly an accidental overdose. It isn’t hard to see Love helped the media run with the image of Kurt as a suicidal persona.
news-cobain-2Once things get to the real down and dirty faces, looks at the crime scene and all that, it’s even more of an affirmation that Tom Grant is not just some ‘conspiracy nut’. The tapes are one thing, hearing Courtney go on about how maybe Kurt disappearing and all that before his death would be good for publicity on Hole’s next album and hearing her just lie to Grant over and over, but the crime scene is a whole other beast. I don’t want to say too much more because the evidence is some of the real knock-out stuff in this film.

I did like the little drama recreations they did with actors playing Love, Grant, Cobain, and others involved. Some of it was pretty decent. Not that she doesn’t deserve it after seeing this movie, but they really went hard at Love with their portrayal. However, I don’t see it as being that far off base. If you didn’t think Love was crazy before, you absolutely will after watching this. It’s hard not to. A lot of the evidence presented makes you wonder how this case isn’t being re-opened and investigated again. Truly. This was an eye-opener of a documentary. Even worse, it’s coming out that apparently Courtney Love has bought Twitter followers, et cetera, to help tank ratings on websites for the film; IMDB is usually bad for ratings, but the skewed low rating for this was ridiculous as about 1,000 ratings of 1 before the release drove it down. Suspicious? Make up your own mind.
kurtcourtneyfrancesbigThis is absolutely a 5 star documentary. I love Cobain, his music, all of it, but to see this was truly fascinating. I can’t get over it, honestly. I want to watch it again several times just to take in all the information. The whole thing is spooky. I’ll say no more other than – the directing is great, this whole film is put together well, and Tom Grant is a saint for offering himself up all these years as “that conspiracy guy” who has actually been fighting the fight for real justice.
One thing resonated with me deeply. Tom brought up how there have been tons of suicides that have been copycats of Kurt – either they did what he did exactly, or their suicide notes quoted Nirvana and related to the late rockstar – and he just wants the truth out there. Because it’s a shame for any kid to kill themselves, but if it’s partly due to the fact Kurt supposedly did, when he might not have, then there is a real need to have the truth known. Not only for all those kids, future kids possibly, but also for Kurt, for Frances Bean, and for all the people of a generation who related to him through his music.

WE ARE STILL HERE Channels Fulci

We Are Still Here. 2015. Directed by Ted Geoghegan. Written by Ted Geoghegan & based on a concept by Richard Griffin. Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, and Larry Fessenden. Dark Sky Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Horror.

3.5 out of 5 stars
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I’m a big fan of horror, big fan of Barbara Crampton, so naturally I was excited when I heard We Are Still Here would be an old school haunted house style outing with her as a main character. And while it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, it’s a head above most modern horror. Not to mention there are excellent moments of horror and also fun, interesting characters, which help remind us of the 1980s without trying too hard for nostalgia.

Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) are moving into the countryside of New England to an old house where they plan on starting over. The move is brought on by the death of their teenage son. Unfortunately, once they arrive at the house things begin to get strange. An old couple seem to have more than just genuine interest in them, and the house makes Anne feel as if there are spirits living there, as if she can feel their son within the walls. As the house’s history literally haunts the new tenants, Paul and Anne must figure out how to stop it, or at the least – how to make it out alive.

In general, I thought this was a fairly solid horror effort. The directing is sharp. Ted Geoghegan has done a fine job crafting the film into something partly fresh, partly old, but one that is certainly full of atmosphere and packs a nice little jab in some of the creepier moments.
Immediately I’ll start with the two small pieces of We Are Still Here I did not particularly enjoy.
First, there’s a death that I found beyond tired and played out – I won’t describe it fully, but it comes once the house starts taking victims. A character gets out of the house, into a car, and seemingly away from the evil… only to be surprised down the road, as a ghost is hiding in the backseat. My initial problem is that once the character got out, I thought “okay this is going to go a different way than most other films that use this type of scene”. It went exactly how I expected. That’s fine sometimes, my problem with this is that it sort of tosses the movie’s own ghost logic out the window – if the ghosts can leave the house, why do they need to wait until someone moves in to wake up every 30 years and take souls? This made me wonder.
Second, I didn’t like how the ghosts looked. They were kind of generic, the look wasn’t too terrifying or anything. Maybe that’s the way they needed to look because of the story, I get that. There are just certain films, which aren’t necessarily bad, where the ghosts or monsters [or whatever they are] don’t look scary like they ought to, but again – this look was mostly in part due to how the people died that eventually show up as ghosts, so I can’t exactly fault the effects. I just didn’t find them super effective in the end.
WE-ARE-STILL-HERE_Andrew-Sensenig-and-Barbara-CramptonNow, on to what I did enjoy. The performances were fantastic. You can pretty much bet your ass Barbara Crampton will give a good performance if she’s given a good script. I thought Crampton did a spectacular job ranging between the normal grief we feel and then all those supernatural feelings some get when confronted with death. I thought Crampton and Andrew Sensenig had great chemistry. Sensenig played an excellent character; little bits of his old-fashionedness came out with his remarks about women drivers and all those foolish yet harmless jabs. This really set up the idea that the husband was a much more skeptical type of person, very old-fashioned and set in his ways, which contrasted with Crampton. Then of course there’s the wonderful pairing of Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden as the New Age couple May and Jacob Lewis. They each did well, but Fessenden is always a treat. I love him as a director and even more as an actor – he always has a fun little part to play whether it’s in his own movies, someone else’s, or even on the FX comedy Louie. Marie and Fessenden were perfect as the binary opposite of Crampton and Sensenig. And once the story gets crazier, Fessenden really has a few good scenes to chew apart. Overall, if the acting were bad this film would not have succeeded. However, these four really were great, and the supporting characters were also played nicely.
WE-ARE-STILL-HERE_Larry-FessendenThe best part of We Are Still Here, for me, is the atmosphere and general feel Geoghegan conjures up with a lot of well-crafted cinematography, editing, and tone. Even the final shot of the film, as one character stands in a doorway looking to the basement, reminds me of an older movie. The atmosphere definitely has that retro-feel, but as opposed to other movies which try hard to get that across I think Geoghegan’s is a much more natural feel. The house itself has a lot to do with that, it’s a great little place in the country and there’s an ever-present nostalgia in it; reminds me of a cabin in the rural part of Newfoundland where I’m from, a lot of those places almost feel like houses out of time, stuck in the 1970s and 1980s when they were first built. So I think some of the throwback feel Geoghegan wrings out of the film comes organically.
Another of my favourite parts is how the film centers on an older couple. There are a couple younger characters in the film, but this is almost entirely about the characters of Anne and Paul, and what they were going through after their son’s death. So many modern horrors, even the ones trying to pose as retro, are entirely based on characters who are millenials – I’m one myself, born just after the end of the so-called Generation X – and that is honestly tiring. Young people aren’t the only ones who love horror; plenty of horror fans out there grew up in the ’70s/’80s when horror really had some balls, innovation, and a hell of a lot of ideas. So, I think Geoghegan’s film is great on that level because we get to see a story, while typical, yet instead of a bunch of young people in their late teens/early twenties being killed for 84 minutes we’ve got more of a mature look at something so familiar. It doesn’t offer much new, but does give a different perspective on the haunted house for a generation getting so used to drivel like Paranormal Activity.
we-are-still-here-imageThis is definitely a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It was refreshing to watch. Like I said, it isn’t necessarily a brand new take on the haunted house sub-genre of horror. However – I really enjoyed it. The couple small beefs I had with the movie aren’t enough to ruin the whole experience. Crampton and Sensenig did a solid job together, and Fessenden really livened things up during the middle part of the film. Geoghegan has a knack for creating atmosphere and setting a specific tone, so I hope to see something new from him sooner than later. We Are Still Here is, for all its faults, one of the better haunted house films to come along in the last decade. I can confidently say that, even with the problems I had. Check it out on VOD, or if it’s in theatre anywhere near you get out and take the chance. I don’t think you’ll regret spending the time to watch it, and you might find a creep or two just for you lurking in there somewhere.

THE STRANGER is Eerie Indie Vampire Horror

The Stranger. 2015. Directed and Written by Guillermo Amoedo. Starring Cristobal Tapia Montt, Ariel Levy, Luis Gnecco, and Nicolas Duran. Sobras International Pictures. Unrated. 93 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.

★★★1/2
the-stranger-poster Eli Roth, though some may say different, is a great talent. I enjoy his movies because they’re fun. I really enjoy him as a producer, as well. He manages to find people with interesting little concepts and help the directors/writers/et cetera bring them to life. One such film is the latest from writer-director Guillermo Amoedo, The Stranger, which is now available through VOD platforms.

The film has a fairly simply premise we’ve seen before – the titular character, the ever mysterious Stranger (Cristobal Tapia Montt) ends up in town looking for a woman. One night, a group of idiots confront him for no other reason than boredom. Peter (Nicolas Duran) watches these same idiots leave the man for dead, beaten, stabbed in the street. After the group leaves, Peter heads back and takes the Stranger home to his place. From there, the Stranger’s arrival in this small town creates a number of problems, all falling over one another, and everyone he comes in contact will be affected.

This isn’t a perfect film, nor can say I it’s perfect to me, but it’s a real great little independent horror. One of The Stranger‘s biggest strengths is that, while still remaining balls-out horror, it does not push too far too soon. Good horror can be like good food – way too much at once and it’s no good, boring even. There are good hardcore horrors, but the absolute greatest, in my opinion, are those which deal out equal doses of horror and of character, good dialogue, and a certain feel. For the most part, The Stranger has those.
4guide_the-strangerMy biggest complaint is the dialogue. Some of it is pretty good – I like a lot of the exchanges between the Stranger and Peter, especially nearing the end, for reasons you’ll understand once you see the film. The cop, played by Luis Gnecco, is my issue. I don’t know what’s worse, Gnecco or the written character. I think the dialogue was really stiff when it comes to the cop, and there were some cringeworthy moments between him and his son, played by Ariel Levy. Gnecco doles out some terribly stunted, flat, and downright boring delivery. To his defense, I really don’t think that character was written well, along with the other police officer who seemed highly one-dimensional.
Other than that, I was impressed with the acting. Particularly I thought Cristobal Tapia Montt was excellent in the role of the Stranger. He played very subtle, laid back, which gave the character a great vibe; instead of the whole ‘tough guy outsider’ he seemed more fragile, even when angry, and the brief outbursts from the regular subtlety he conveyed were still contained, they were like a scared and wounded snake. I think if the Stranger had been miscast there could have been major problems, the character needed the qualities Montt brought personally. Very expressive actor.
THE_STRANGERI like that there weren’t jump scares and all the typical bells and whistles modern horror movies often move towards. This one bucks the trend, or more like what’s become a habit. The atmosphere of dread builds towards intense scenes or shots, in turn this makes the fear more visceral than many modern horrors with shiny cinematography, jump scares, pretty looking actors, and CGI buckets of blood. I like that there weren’t jump scares and all the typical bells and whistles modern horror movies often move towards. This one bucks the trend, or more like what’s become a habit. The atmosphere of dread builds towards intense scenes or shots, in turn this makes the fear more visceral than many modern horrors with shiny cinematography, jump scares, pretty looking actors, and CGI buckets of blood.
The slow reveal of what’s really going on behind The Stranger‘s story is what propels this movie past a lot of recent efforts. Even once you’ve figured out what’s happening, who the Stranger is, the rest of the film doesn’t come off as played out or tired. From the beginning things get going. In the first fifteen minutes I was actually thinking to myself “this is a bit too vague”. However, by the time I thought that the mystery quickly wrapped me up. The more things are given out to us in terms of backstory, the more I found myself thrilled with the suspense, wondering when we’d find out exactly who or what the Stranger might be. There are some slowburns which really don’t end up being worth how slow the burn was, but Amoedo does a fantastic job creating a perfect atmosphere.
the_stranger_stillI can safely say The Stranger is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There are things I would’ve loved to see changed; mainly my problems with the cops, particularly Luis Gnecco, and the dialogue. One thing I also keep coming back to is that I wonder why there was a need they felt to set the film in Canada? I’m a Canadian, and love to see fiction of any kind set in my country, but it just struck me odd after watching that there was any reason the filmmakers would have set it in Canada. Not that it’s a bad thing, just strange. Especially seeing as how they didn’t shoot it in Canada.
I highly recommend giving this movie a shot. The main character does a great job, as does the actor who plays Peter. The dialogue them both is spot on. There is plenty of horror, it’s just doled out sparingly, when it needs to be. So those of you horror hounds who need the blood, hang in there – blood will come. The make-up effects are so damn solid; later on, the character Caleb (Levy) has some injuries and they are incredibly nasty looking, stellar practical effects.
I don’t want to say exactly what “type” of movie this is – you’ll figure that out once the plot moves along. Let’s just say it’s one we’ve seen plenty of. Yet this doesn’t feel like it is jumping on the trend or anything, this is a genuinely fresh take. Amoedo isn’t exactly offering up completely new visions of this sub-genre in horror, but I do think he’s given us something at least not as predictable as others, and certainly not squeamish – late in the film there is one severely nasty little kill, emphasis on little, which harkens back to ballsy films like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 containing a kill along similar but different lines.

Snatch this up on VOD – I love seeing independent horror making waves lately. There seems to be a change of tide, people are recognizing, as those of us who love the genre have always known, that horror is not all just blood, guts, killers. There is more to it, and the indie horror scene in the past few years now has been really churning out the good product; not all, but plenty. So support this, hopefully you like it, and equal hope to seeing more fun, innovative ventures in the horror genre from interesting minds like Guillermo Amoedo.

IT FOLLOWS: S.T.G (Sexually Transmitted Ghosts)

It Follows. 2015. Directed & Written by David Robert Mitchell.
Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Kelly Height, Daniel Zovatto, and Jake Weary. Northern Lights Films. 14A. 100 minutes. Horror/Mystery.

★★★★1/2
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There’s been a massive amount of praise roll in for David Robert Mitchell’s new horror It Follows, and it seems equal portions of people trying to say it isn’t what the hype is preaching. My take? Mitchell doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he does a damn fine job at making it spin smooth, intense, and a little better than the rest.

For the uninitiated, those who’ve yet to get a chance to see this film, It Follows starts with Jay Height (Maika Monroe who many know from Adam Wingard’s incredible action throwback, The Guest) who is a regular young woman – she goes to classes, hangs with her friends, and is seeing a seemingly nice guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). One night, Jay and Hugh are at the movies when he starts acting strangely, talking about a girl in a yellow dress who doesn’t look to be present when Jay searches for her. They leave, date over. The next time they go out, Jay sleeps with Hugh in the back of his car. Afterwards, Hugh suddenly throws a rag over her mouth and the next thing Jay knows she is waking up, strapped in to a wheelchair. Hugh explains he has ‘passed it on to her’ and that it will follow her, try to kill her – if it does, the thing will only circle back to him, so he warns her of some ground rules he has discovered. From there, things spiral out of control for Jay, and her friends are along for the ride. Everyone believes Jay was sexually assaulted, but the truth is far, far worse.

When I first heard of the basic premise I was almost reminded of the great graphic novel Black Hole by Charles Burns, which deals with a group of kids who encounter a very dangerous, strange disease being passed around through sex. Of course, the comic goes into a very different direction, but it sort of seemed like there was a creepy, similar vibe to both stories. It Follows is much more of a ghost story, obviously. One of the things I enjoyed most was the fact only Jay, or whoever is afflicted plus the person who has passed it on to them, can see ‘it’. There’s a great scene where Mitchell puts it to use when the group of friends are all hanging out at the beach, trying to help Jay as best they can with what they believe is just nutty behaviour after the supposed assault by Hugh. They all sit around casually, and Jay has her back to a trail coming out of the woods. Slowly a figure appears and we can tell with each passing second this is ‘it’ and not some random person. Very effective.
Leading out of that, I love how Mitchell really played around with this idea, of how the afflicted are the only ones who can see ‘it’. There are certain scenes you can notice a person in the background, their step slightly skewed and walk not quite right, they move at a snail’s pace, and you’re left to wonder – is that ‘it’? The ending also plays off pieces of this, but I don’t want to ruin anything on that end.
Even further, Mitchell also pokes fun at this concept, and directly at his own movie, which provides great tongue-in-cheek moments. There’s one exceptional part I laughed at hard when they track Hugh down again, discovering his name is not even Hugh but Jeff – he’s in the middle of explaining the whole concept of ‘it’ when a girl walks up on them, and frightened he yells out asking if anyone else sees her, to which they all reply ‘yes’. It’s always fun to see a solid horror film, or any film for that matter, poke fun at its own concepts and logic.it-follows-3When it comes to the horror aspect of the film, a lot of people who don’t find it scary, that’s fine. I thought it was very creepy. One of the first moments when Jay realizes someone, or something, is following her is downright terrifying. The actors playing ‘it’ do a phenomenal job, even though they don’t even speak. I just find the whole concept of the slow-moving ghost, zombie, whatever, a real creepshow – it’s been said time and time again, but it really is a great metaphor for death and how eventually, somehow, somewhere, some way, death is going to come for us all. Tired old cliche? Maybe. Works, though. The look of the film, the atmosphere, and the score combined all make for a great flick. Beautiful cinematography, which I love to see from horror films; it isn’t glossed over like an Anchor Bay remake, it looks gritty and raw and real but captured wonderfully. Disasterpiece does the score and it reminds me definitely of something a couple decades old yet still with a fresh, electronic sound. These qualities make It Follows one of the better looking and sounding horrors out there in recent years. 23-it-follows.w1200.h630There’s only one point of the film I didn’t like – when they’re at the beach. It isn’t because the scenes are bad, or the writing, or acting – all great. What I didn’t like were a couple of the ‘it’ appearances. For the first bunch of times we see ‘it’, the make-up and look is super unsettling. Then at the beach, there are a couple of the ‘it’ moments where the look is like a bad rip-off of Asian Horror, with the hollow eyes and the black around the sockets.
It felt as if, for some reason, Mitchell wanted to expand on ‘it’, but instead of keeping with a similar style he tried something different. By no means does it take away from the film overall. It did make those moments less frightening. In particular, there’s a tall version of ‘it’ who shows up, and had they kept with the practical looking make-up of the earlier appearances it would’ve been mind-blowing scary for me. That’s the only real nitpick I have. Some people have problems with the “monster logic” of the film. I don’t see much trouble there. I also don’t want to go into explaining why I think there’s not much to pick away at because it will ruin things, so if you do have opinions on their logic – comment, let’s have a discussion! Even when I love a film I can always admit if someone has a good point that counters my own. it-follows-2All in, I give It Follows a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. If Mitchell kept the same look throughout for ‘it’, in all forms, I would’ve said this is a full knockout. But once again, this doesn’t ruin anything. It’s still a really solid film. I’m a horror fanatic and often I like a few movies along the way others think are trash. I just can’t see this being one of them. Sure, people won’t like everything the same way, but in a state of film like we are in today, with all the terrible horror films being pumped out, all the subpar found footage [I love the sub-genre yet there are only a sparse few actually worth seeing], it’s great to see someone trying to do things a little differently. People have also whined about how the movie seems to try so hard to be retro? I don’t get that. Sure, the soundtrack has a retro sound to it, harkening back to the 1980s and genre classics like Maniac, I just don’t think there’s anything else in the movie people can say has that feel. It’s very modern, I’d almost say it has an urban gothic feel with all the rundown neighbourhoods and buildings and the lives of the young people in it. See it for yourself, be the judge. One thing’s for sure – Maika Monroe is building a great name for herself, which I hope continues as she did a great job with this film. Solid acting, writing, and for those who don’t pretend to be jaded [I’ve seen almost 4,000 films, the majority of which are horror – I’m not desensitized, so stop trying to be tough about movies and just be creeped out!] you’ll get a couple fun scares plus lots of creepy weirdness.