From 2005

The Duality of Appearances: Jaume Collet-Serra’s HOUSE OF WAX

Not all remakes are bad. Some are great. This one isn't great, but it is a lot of damn fun!

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The Cave is a Bad, Guilty Pleasure

The Cave. 2005. Directed by Bruce Hunt. Screenplay by Michael Steinberg & Tegan West.
Starring Cole Hauser, Eddie Cibrian, Morris Chestnut, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo, Rick Ravanello, Daniel Dae Kim, Kieran Darcy-Smith, and Marcel Iures. Screen Gems/Cinerenta Medienbeteiligungs KG/Lakeshore Entertainment/City Productions/Cineblue Internationale Filmproduktionsgesellschaft.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
Adventure/Horror/Thriller

★★
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Having recently reviewed Neil Marshall’s fabulously claustrophobic horror The Descent (which actually came out the exact same year this), I also decided on revisiting this guilty pleasure of mine. While I cannot, at all, say The Cave is a good movie, it’s not the worst I’ve seen, it’s – for me – on par with a lot of big budget popcorn flicks. And that was this is, a turn your brain off, have a snack and laugh with someone or even by yourself. Burn one down, throw this on. There are some laughable bits, absolutely. Are there some scary moments? For me, as someone who finds caves creepy, someone whose claustrophobia knows no bounds, and also as a person who loves the water/is terrified of it as well, there are definitely a handful of scenes where I found this movie really played hard on my fears.
The majority of The Cave‘s problem is the screenplay has one hell of an amazing plot and story, yet still this is squandered through bad dialogue, middle of the road acting, and effects which lack any sense of realism to help frighten us viscerally. Mostly, you could call this a creature feature, and though I find the creatures in this horror movie creepy, sort of intimidating at times, once you get more than the mysterious looks at it, hints of its size and power, the magic is lost. Regardless of its flaws – and there are a bunch – I’m still able to throw this on once every now and then, especially if I can’t think of anything else or if I know I want to turn my brain off a while to get some quasi-horror and a dose of action.
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Decades previous to the film’s events, a team of explosives experts are caved in while exploring a stone church built deep in the Carpathian Mountains. Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures) arranges a team of scientists and cave divers to examine the ruins and the massive cave system which exists below the church itself. Two brothers, Jack (Cole Hauser) and Tyler McAllister (Eddie Cibrian), lead everyone into the caverns, travelling over its steep rock walls and its seemingly never ending pools of dark water, mapping territory no one else has ever set foot on.
Or perhaps someone has already.
Deeper and deeper into the cave system, Jack and the crew begin to discover there is in fact someone else who has been down in those caves before. Even worse than that, they never ever left. In fact, they got bigger… they got more vicious… and they adapted to a world underground, without light, in the cold, deep, dark waters.

The opening sequence is a lot of fun. Later, once the diving team are headed into the cave system there’s an excellent callback to the beginning, as we see what happened to those characters who went into the old mountain church, falling through the floor and into the murky depths of what lay below. I won’t ruin it for anyone who’s yet to see it, but I really dig that whole aspect. They could’ve easily done something different and less effective. This was a nice way to introduce the virus aspect of the creatures in the cave, all the while Cole Hauser’s character becomes a living representation of that. Although the screenplay is not solid, there are bits and pieces I do enjoy. Overall, it’s messy. I’m just glad certain sequences were written well enough that the entire film isn’t useless.
Many action moments come off decent, as well as scenes of intense horror. One part at which I always shudder: the crew are in one of the various underground lakes in the cave system, in two groups – Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures) is taken by one of the cave’s creatures, at which point Jack McAllister (Hauser) looks under the water only to see the monster disappearing further and further into the deep, dark waters below, fading into black. HONESTLY, this brief moment scared me as much as anything in Jaws, which is saying something because that is one film that always left an indelible mark on my psche (I love the ocean/am terrified by it). But, that being said, it’s only one scene. The rest of the movie is nowhere near up to par with Steven Spielberg’s classic. A few other creepy sequences exist in The Cave, though, nothing as wild and unsettling as this one I’ve mentioned. As far as action goes, I did like some of the rock climbing scenes; they brought intensity, as well as surprise in a few cases. So there’s enough action-adventure at times to keep you glued. Problem is, never enough to make you love the movie, or to get you past its myriad script/overall problems.

Director Bruce Hunt, by all accounts, should’ve done better. Perhaps I expect too much of a man whose career as a Second/Third Unit Director has been fairly impressive: Dark City (director – additional second unit + miniatures & visual effects director), The Matrix (second unit director), The Matrix Reloaded (third unit director: Australia), The Matrix Revolutions (third unit director), as well as Australia (director – splinter unit), and the nice looking but less than stellar Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (second unit director – splinter unit). Sadly, none of his previous work comes to bear on this project. For a man who had a part in the effects of Dark City especially, I expected something more. Nevertheless, many of the special effects here are brutal, and it’s only when the cave monsters are relatively still that they look good. In other scenes where they’re flying around or attacking the diving team, they look terribly cheesy and underdeveloped, patched together with bad CGI. If more practical work could’ve been done, The Cave and its creatures could easily have raised above mediocre to forgettable. Instead, we’re left with not only a poor screenplay, but also too many visuals lacking the proper effectiveness a monster movie must have in order to be successful.
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This is, at best, a 2(out of 5)-star film. The story itself is intriguing enough, as well as the film’s opening sequence and the return to it later in the plot. But an interesting plot does not a proper movie make. The acting isn’t anywhere near what it should be, considering everything else falls so flat. If there were a few better elements the film could’ve passed for half decent. Instead, it is less than mediocre and forgettable. All the same, I still watch it from time to time as a guilty pleasure.

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The Descent: Female Driven Psychological Horror

The Descent. 2005. Directed & Written by Neil Marshall.
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Oliver Milburn, Molly Kayll, Craig Conway, and Leslie Simpson. Celador Films/Northmen Productions/Pathé.
Rated 18A. 99 minutes.
Adventure/Horror

★★★★1/2
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Personally I’ve enjoyed Neil Marshall from his debut, Dog Soldiers, and then he came on with this film and it all but cemented him as a solid horror filmmaker; hell, filmmaker in general. Since then he’s done two underrated movies – Doomsday and Centurion, neither of which are amazing, though, they are better than their reputations – a couple episodes of Black SailsGame of Thrones, and one whopper of a Hannibal episode in the 3rd season “The Great Red Dragon“. He’s also got a segment titled “Bad Seed” in the upcoming Tales of Halloween I cannot wait to see!
What I enjoy about Marshall is that he’s not just a director with a neat way of looking at things, he’s also, what I think is, a pretty wonderful director in terms of form; he simply films things in an interesting way. There’s nothing boring about his films or the episodes of television series’ he has directed. The reason so many filmmakers, particularly in the horror genre I must say, fail to really get over with their work is because their style is either a) too bland in terms of story/character/et cetera, b) too flashy (with no substance), or c) it’s just not overly enjoyable to experience visually. With Marshall, and I’ll single The Descent out from his work as the best example, he doesn’t opt so much to jump scare you here in order to create that feeling of action, or horror (or whatever he happens to be going for at the moment). His visual style helps to keep you rooted and then everything else just builds on – the drama, the horror, the suspense and tension. In this film, there’s plenty of imagery, a good lot of horror, and the characters help make things fun (even in the grim sense). Marshall’s movie can easily be considered as one of my top 10 horror movies since 2000, I’ll say that without hesitation.
vlcsnap-2012-10-15-17h08m59s91A trio of friends – Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Beth (Alex Reid), and Juno (Natalie Mendoza) go rafting on the river; their idea of vacationing. On the way home, Sarah sits in the passenger seat of a vehicle while her husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) drives, and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll) sits in the backseat. All of sudden, though, they meet head-on with another vehicle – Sarah survives, but Paul and Jessica are horribly killed.
One year later, Sarah, Beth, and Juno, along with a bunch of other adventure seeking women, go on an expedition to a cave system in the Appalachians, somewhere in the U.S. Deep in the woods they eventually find their cave, making their way in. However, after a little while things start to get dicey. First, their climb starts to go wrong little by little. But then soon enough it’s apparent to the women they aren’t alone in the caves.
Deep underground, stuck beneath the vast and reaching Appalachians, the group of friends find themselves in a fight for their lives against terrifying, human eating monsters, adapted to their environments below the earth. They’ll have to fight hard in order to make it out alive; if that’s even possible.
the-descent-cavethe-descent-claustrophobiaSo for me, and no doubt many others, what makes The Descent so incredibly effective is the sense of isolation and claustrophobia almost built into the setting. Furthermore, once the women get trapped after a tunnel caves in, this gets even worse as – plot point – Juno (Mendoza) has taken them all into an unknown cave, not in the correct system they’d all planned on, and so essentially even without any outside forces these women might have never made it out of the caves regardless. I think that’s one of the most interesting parts about this film is that you could easily have seen this as simply a dramatic thriller about a bunch of women heading into the caves, including the dynamics between Sarah (Macdonald) and Juno, in terms of what happened to the former and her family and how it connects with the latter.
Instead of being simple and dark, Neil Marshall has written a fantastic screenplay. Whereas a movie like The Cave (which I honestly enjoy as a popcorn flick even though it isn’t great) is lower common denominator for horror, more like a Michael Bay equivalent in the genre, The Descent opts to be more cerebral, and in turn when the visuals and the horror get thick things become pretty visceral, too. The characters here are complex, they aren’t one-dimensional type women. Which is another point, that Marshall has given us a bunch of excellent female characters and the man character, dare I say the heroine, she’s an ass-kicker. I like that it’s not the typical formulaic horror including women, such as the male dominated film with a “Final Girl”. Even though, yes, Sarah can be considered that “Final Girl”, it’s not the overused scenario, the same tired place where we’ve expected the plot to develop. Marshall brings all these women together, each different, and doesn’t need any men in order to instigate the horror, or any of the action. The faceless/featureless crawlers in the cave only bring further terror. Even while that whole KILLER V. VICTIM dynamic is playing out, as it usually does in one shape or another throughout the horror genre, I like that these female characters can inhabit a filmic space where these featureless monsters are the attackers, not some slasher, a deranged male who hates women; rather they’re simply the horror beneath, the unknown below.
More than that, these creatures also represent a symbolic sort of theme. Clearly the buried secrets between Juno and Sarah, concerning the former’s relationship with the deceased Paul (Milburn), are being unearthed; it’s possible without their predicament, the descent into the cave and into madness, this might never have come out. So in a way, these crawlers down in the cave are the literal, material embodiment of the ideas surrounding those buried secrets. They say secrets can eat you alive, right? Well in The Descent, this sentiment comes alive, in a brutally literal sense with secrets making their way out of the realm of ideas and into reality.
1200x1000px-LL-9b3ed840_ScreenShot2013-11-25at9.17.40PMThere are a few wonderful bits of imagery in this film, both in terms of symbolic/dreamy images and straight up horror visuals.
Right after the opening sequence, where Sarah’s husband/daughter die, there’s the beginning of a dreamy moment which crops up over and over, though not to overkill. Sarah has these short visions of a birthday cake with her daughter’s name on it, the candles lit up – I love the way these shots come to us, brief, really dark with what looks like natural lighting, and it has this eerie quality to it. What I enjoy is that these dreamy bits don’t feel particularly happy, more like the morbid remembrance of a dead child instead of anything happy. So there’s this really melancholy feeling I find struck in the character of Sarah without even much effort from Macdonald as an actor, although she’s great in spite of that making the role better for it. This is a striking visual Marshall uses a few times throughout the film, and while I say it’s melancholy there’s still part of it which sort of drives Sarah at the same time. Great, great stuff.
When it comes to the horror of Marshall’s film, several scenes and moments stick out ahead of the pack. I love how Marshall includes the first very close-up view of a crawler through the perspective of a camera in night vision. Why do I love it? He doesn’t use the camera as a gimmick other than, really, two or three times in the entire movie. It comes into play organically, with purpose, instead of simply being a way for Marshall to creep us out without doing the legwork. In opposition, the choice uses of the night vision camera shots make things creepy, knocking us off balance and in the case of the first time it’s used the effect amps the film’s pace up to a roar. The next couple times, again it’s not forced into the plot and works well. If the night vision was being used more frequently, as is the case in many found footage efforts trying to capture The Blair Witch Project magic in a bottle, there’d be a case for saying it was gimmicky, that it served no purpose and got jammed in for lack of ideas. Instead, Marshall uses this technique to his advantage and creates tension with how the handheld camera captures the monsters in the dark and the creepy environment of the cave. Plus, this is a director who doesn’t need any kind of trickery, he does well enough with his own sensibilities in terms of shot composition and overall visuals without having to settle for cheap scares.
descent-2005-09-gOnce the crawlers are out in the open, being seen full-on by both characters and viewers alike, there are some almost trippy visuals happening. There’s one incredibly tense scene where two of the women are hiding together, a crawler moving along by them, and their watch eventually goes off – all the while Juno is wandering alone, calling out to the others – and there’s this green filter over the two women/crawler (not really a filter; they’re using a huge glow stick), then for a few seconds we cut to Juno whose shot is bathed in a red light. There’s something about this which raises the tension. Not only that, the angles at which Marshall has things framed specifically while the two women hide from the crawler, it’s an unsettling, unstable sort of feeling it draws out; literally, the frame is askew, we’re off-kilter, not balanced, and the crawler coming at them sort of feels like he’s coming right at the viewer.
Furthermore, I have to say the effects – blood and gore, the monsters, et cetera – were at times really subtle, and other times (think: pool of blood scene) totally gnarly and in-your-face. My favourite honestly is the scene where Sarah finds herself in the blood pool, fighting off the crawler and stabbing it in the eye. Not only is it just wildly savage and bloody, the low lighting and the blood casts everything again in that red glow, so you’ve got two types of imagery – very visual in the sense of colour and visual in the way of actual physical nastiness, the blood and kills.
Overall, though, it’s the way Marshall manages to use the darkness to his advantage and he doesn’t make it dizzying. While some horror, mostly found footage these days, has your head swirling with the darkness too often being used to cover up a project’s low budget (or lack thereof), unless used correctly, Marshall manages to make things claustrophobic but doesn’t annoy us with how he accomplishes this feeling. It’s because, even when shots are frantic and full of chaos, he’s not making it seem so by having the camera itself being shaky, only the characters, their lights in the dark create the effect. He keeps in tight to the characters, putting us with them and in their perspective as much as possible without, for instance, putting us right in their video camera’s view while they run from the crawlers. Again this comes back to Marshall using that video camera perspective sparsely, when a lesser director may have exploited it too much to try and immerse the viewer. The way this film plays out in the dark and uses it appropriately is a big part of its effectiveness as a tensely frightening modern horror movie.
thedescent1With truck loads of horror, both blood/gore and emotional terror, an impressive visual style, a solid script with real and well-written female characters, Neil Marshall’s The Descent is pound for pound a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There’s very little to say, in my mind, against this movie. There are so many other horror movies out there in the post-2000 landscape of film which go for bargain basement plots, silly characters with even sillier and less thought out dialogue, cheap jump scares and pointless (as well as badly done) gore. Marshall doesn’t do anything typically here, he crafts a genuinely scary, emotionally testing and at various points traumatizing horror. There’s a feeling in me each time I watch this, for a little while afterwards, as if I’ve been through an ordeal. It’s one of the closest experiences I’ve personally had to the one I have when viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is still my pick for scariest horror movie ever made, and pretty much my top favourite.
So if you’ve not yet seen The Descent, do yourself a favour and search it out soon because it’s worth your while to experience its dread and tension, its inescapable horror and wild plot. I also thought the sequel was an all right movie, though, it’s not near as amazing as this one.

The Roost: Ti West’s Zombie Bats Are Coming for You!

The Roost. 2005. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Tom Noonan, Karl Jacob, Vanessa Horneff, Sean Reid, Wil Horneff, Barbara Wilhide, Richard Little, John Speredakos, and Larry Fessenden. Glass Eye Pix.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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In my recent review of Ti West’s The Innkeepers, I mentioned being a huge fan of him generally. So just keep that in mind. Maybe I’m biased; I still try to be a little objective when considering how others might look at the same film I’m looking at.
I don’t think this is a perfect movie, but it’s honestly one of my favourite horror feature debuts from a filmmaker in the genre. There’s a criminally low rating for this movie on IMDB – though, I personally don’t care about the ratings on any sites, let alone that one. While I spend a fair amount of time on there trying to even out the scores as best I can with my own, what I believe to be decent, ratings, I still don’t give much heed to it overall; mostly it’s a good database. You’ll see a lot of West’s films, most of them, have an underrated presence on IMDB. Because those people are sleeping, man. This guy is one of the greatest in horror today. He moves out from simple concepts, usually incorporating very personal relationships or at least characters who are relatable to an audience, then the horror takes hold. Basically, any horror writer – whether screenwriter or novelist or short story writer, et cetera – would tell you that’s part of what scares them: taking things to a personal level, the bringing on the horror. Many other horror filmmakers, particularly of the indie variety, try to do this, it’s no big secret. I believe, however, Ti West is simply better than the herd at making those types of excellent horror films.
While there’s a ton of old school sensibility in him elsewhere, I think so much of his 1970s/1980s influence comes through with The Roost simply because of the way there’s a frame narrative with the old school horror show on cable access and it leads into the real film itself. Right from then on, it feels like you’re watching an old school horror movie. That gives the movie a different style, something not entirely common these days, and within that I find it all pretty damn charming. Y’know, in that creepy horror charm sort of sense.
the-roost-movie-tom-noonan-horror-hostStarting with a late night horror t.v program on a local cable station, the host (Tom Noonan) introduces us to The Roost, the latest film playing on Cable 13.
A group of friends are on their way to see some friends get married. While heading along the road, they end up stranded. At a lonely farm out in the middle of nowhere, cornfields and the whole nine yards, the lost group end up coming face to face with what lays in the darkness of the farm’s barn.
Inside the old structure there are terrifying creatures of the night. Now, they seem to be waking up, and as night falls they’re looking for something on which to feed.
4503431_l2Something I love is how Ti West does these awesome edits with both visuals and sound. First, we get a SCREAM which happens during a transition from the barn out to the car, where and older woman is waiting for her husband to come back; it’s on the radio, but the way West crosses over to that bit is excellent. For a split second I honestly was waiting for someone to come running, or something. Effective, brief moment. Secondly another comes when the old woman wanders into the dark of the barn, then this sound starts to come that you almost feel is coming out of the shadows, yet it cuts to one of the friends standing behind the now broken down car revving, brake lights shining red in his face, and the sound has actually been the car the whole time. These are little simple bits people often don’t think of, however, when they’re used appropriately to put the audience on a tense edge, waiting for something, anything to happen, it’s a killer move. West uses these in a way other horror filmmakers might use jump scares – instead of frightening us, it simply ratchets up the tension and creates an unsettling, edgy mood.
the roost 2Being his first feature, I think West does a wonderful job creating atmosphere in The Roost. It’s something I find pervades all his films, even when he switched it up most recently in The Sacrament with found footage style. He’s great with setting up tension and executing suspenseful sequences in order to build up that atmosphere, setting an evident tone. Each of his movies have it, which is partly why I think he’s one of those important filmmakers in horror today; more than that, genre filmmaking in general.
Also, there’s a degree of playfulness at times I think is essential in certain horror movies. Creature features being one of them. I always love when a movie featuring killer-somethings (in this case BATS) has a good dose of dark humour. One little scene I love is when one of the guys sneaks up behind the girl, about to scare her, but he stops short as if disappointed she didn’t even turn around like she couldn’t hear him coming; then he lightly taps her, scaring her anyways. It made me cackle for a second. Good bit.
Moreover, the guy is a pretty good writer. In my opinion, anyways. As a fellow writer, I like the way he writes characters because I find them personable. I’ve seen a lot of people say his movies have all these “hipster” characters, this and that, but whatever man. I don’t see that at all. The way I perceive most of his characters is that they’re real people, genuine; not characters in that sense really, rather actual people. Not to sound cheesy. There are a lot of writers capable of doing this, he’s just one. It’s something I love in horror, though, as a believable character in a film is more likely to draw me into their emotions, the plot, and the overall story. Here in The Roost we get those inescapable dynamics of friendship, particularly it’s amplified with the upcoming wedding to which they’re all headed, and even further compounded by the fact the car breaks down and they find themselves stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Probably one thing I dig so much about the script and the writing, I think West sets up a great situation with which he can play around in with the characters before introducing the creatures and the HORROR and the BLOOD!
roostI personally dig the whole vampire bats turning people into zombie-like reanimated corpses. Some online seem to suggest it’s no good. Me, on the other hand, I thought it worked very well. Creepy stuff at times. One scene shows the old woman from early in the movie, now obviously bitten by the bats and taken over, just behind a character in the window. It’s a nice little moment where you dread what may be coming next.
This whole aspect also makes it more than a mere creature feature. The creatures are affecting the humans and then the whole friendship dynamic is tested, as they all try not to succumb to the murderous infectious bats flying all around the farm’s property.
Even better than that, Ti West treats us to a good helping portion of makeup effects. Lots of nice practical work here, as the effects fall in line with everything else old school-feeling about The Roost. Love the blood and gory stuff because it really does feel like an ’80s movie. The effects are good, they just bring me back to the older horror where most everything was practical and we didn’t have to suffer through movies made up of CGI blood and CGI green-screen’d stuff constantly. West does well with taking things back to a more simple time in several ways here, this being one of them.

Finally, I love the narrative framing device of the horror show. Tom Noonan is amazing, as always. Very unsettling and creepy. Simultaneously, he’s hilarious. I didn’t exactly like the end of this part either at the finale, however, the whole thing is good fun. Real nice way to showcase an indie horror adding in this cable access style show.

All in, I think this is definitely a 4 out of 5 star horror movie. While I don’t particularly care for the last shot, and not every actor was the greatest. there’s enough here in Ti West’s feature debut that I can say it’s a solid outing. The writing holds up, as well as the fact he relies on an atmosphere of tension and practical effects to sell the horror.
You can do A LOT worse when it comes to horror, certainly when it comes down to the creature feature sub-genre. This is a great modern creature horror movie. See it if you can; the DVD is pretty damn awesome. Love the look and feel of this film, and dig the horror it dishes out!

Eli Roth’s Hostel is a 21st Century ’80s Gore Flick

Hostel. 2005. Directed & Written by Eli Roth.
Starring Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova, Jan Vlasák, Jana Kaderabkova, Jennifer Lim, Keiko Seiko, Lubomír Bukový, Jana Havlickova, Rick Hoffman, Petr Janis, Takashi Miike, Patrik Zigo, and Milda Jedi Havlas. Raw Never/International Production Company/Next Entertainment/Hostel LLC.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
MPW-16778I’ll not back down from the rating and love I give Eli Roth’s Hostel. He’s honestly one of those younger horror directors that’s pushing the envelope for genre filmmaking. Continually to this day, Roth is pumping out the good stuff. Not everything is perfect, however, he’s one of the few directors that truly goes for shock and awe. But not simply that, regardless of how people feel about this movie, or any of his movies, there’s always a care for building character, developing tension, and on top of all the gory horror he offers I can always manage to find myself involved in the characters and situations happening in his movies.
Not the first gore film ever made, not by a LONG SHOT – that being said, something about Hostel struck critics and viewers enough in the rightwrong spot it ended up coining the label torture porn; something which I hate, I find it stupid, and though I know what it’s meant to insinuate I don’t particularly find it at all a useful label. The only reason people initially came up with that label, I believe, is because Roth’s movie has this beginning segment where the characters have sex, they party, girls are half naked and fully naked, and so on. Then, once the fun is over, all the nasty horror begins. THAT, my friends, is why we have torture porn. Really, I think the label means to say the torture aspects of these films (Saw is another film/series labelled this way – better deserving of the title than this film) are, in a sense, fetishized. I just can’t see it in this movie.
Reason being, this is – plain and simple – a gore film. Eli Roth came up with an interesting premise, something which has set off a number of other horror movies basing themselves on the TERROR OF TRAVEL TO UNKNOWN PLACES FAR AWAY FROM HOME, and on top of his initial idea he piled on the horror, mostly in bloody, gory form.
But it’s exactly what I’ve just said which makes Hostel more than a bunch of gore and torture scenes. The fact it was successful enough it created a new label (for a sub-genre of films which already existed long before), a ton more films (such as Turistas and The Chernobyl Diaries) based on horror while vacationing, and launched the career of Eli Roth to new heights, all goes to show the influence and importance of Hostel.
Because like it or not, this one changed the game.
fhd005HST_Derek_Richardson_005Hostel tells the story of Paxton (Jay Hernandez), Josh (Derek Richardson), and Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) who are on vacation together; the first two being old friends, the latter being a new friend they met while travelling. Heading to a hostel in Amsterdam where they’re staying, very late one night past curfew, the friends are attacked in the streets by people throwing bottles from their windows. A young man named Alex (Lubomír Bukový) opens his door and saves them from the flying bottles. While there, Alex reveals a hostel where they ought to stay, a Slovak village – it supposedly has many horny, willing women who particularly love Americans.
After arriving at the hostel, and a strange encounter on a train with a Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasák), the guys meet some beautiful women, they party.
However, one by one the friends disappear into thin air, until finally only Paxton remains. When he’s able to convince one of the girls they met to bring him where she claims Josh and Oli are, Paxton finds out there are things better left unknown in the sleepy little Slovak town.
544ceb51670d0d784894dea9I think Roth’s screenplay here deserves more credit than people give it. They toss several scenes off early on as if they’re nothing except a way for Roth to whittle away the time. But if you pay close attention, or not even, if you just WATCH the damn movie you’ll see he actually bothers to set up a bit of character development.
For instance, I think when Paxton (Hernandez) tells Josh (Richardson) about the experience when he was young, seeing a girl drown, it’s a wonderful scene on its own. Then later, it comes into play as Paxton refuses to walk out of the factor and leave the Asian girl behind to die (even though we all know what happens later). Everything comes to bear here in this script and I feel like people don’t pay this enough mind. It’s not as if the screenplay is revolutionary, I’m just trying to instil the idea that Roth isn’t simply rolling through torture scenes and not worrying about dialogue, character, and overall plot. There are still great moments like these.
That SUPERBLY CREEPY scene when the Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasák) first shows up on the train and he eats the salad with his fingers is, to me, a scene that will be viewed as classic horror from the 2000s. When you look at that scene, first glance it comes off as a quick and unsettling moment. Then, as the Dutchman shows up again and again, his connection to Josh grows a little, that scene with the salad becomes something much more telling than a ploy towards awkwardness and a way to make us feel uneasy. It becomes more and finds further weight as the movie wears on.
fhd005HST_Petr_Janis_002So now I’m mostly going to talk about the makeup effects, as well as certain scenes I thought were amazing.
To start, I love when the Asian girl is about to have her toe chopped, then Roth quick edits to her friend cutting her toenails. MAN – such a tense moment. Because for all he ends up showing later on, as well as the severed head not long before that, you’d almost assume he would go ahead and show us a nasty piece of blood and gore. Or a taste. Instead, he ramps up the tension with such a simple, easy cut from one shot to another. Simple yet so damn effective.
Also, in one of the next scenes Josh (Richardson) is in a bar and there’s this excellent song playing. While he watches Paxton (Jay) dancing out on the floor, there’s this fog splitting open all of a sudden where Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) appears standing triumphant out of nowhere. It’s not even a horror moment, it’s simply an awesome bit. There’s something about that moment which strikes me, every damn time. Merely a passing dream image to the character, but for the audience it’s this weird and cool sort of shot out of the blue. Certainly couldn’t go without mentioning it.
One INCREDIBLE SCENE sees Takashi Miike as a tourist – or should I say a customer of Elite Hunting – and though Miike does not speak English, he took a role in Roth’s film, speaks one line, gives a VERY SINISTER GRIN behind those shades he always wears, and then gets into a car, driving off.
jjonb24e1xvz4jbo-e1381021600733I think, ultimately, I can’t decide which is my favourite scene in terms of makeup effects and blood/gore. There are too many fun, nasty moments in Hostel for me to say for sure, personally. It’s a real hard go of it to come up with some definitive scene, in terms of any of those qualities.
What I can say for sure is that the final half hour is UNREAL! There’s nothing but savagery, a dose of black humour, bloody and gory special makeup effects, as well as a ton of creepy and effective acting. Starting with the German Surgeon (Petr Janis) toying with Paxton, who is handcuffed to a chair, there’s just an absolutely gritty, disturbing tone. This shifts everything into gear, as Paxton eventually gets himself out of the room.
But it’s downright horrifically perfect how Roth executes the finale of this film. There’s so much going on and we get all these excellent makeup effects, one after the other. Naturally, Kings of the Horror Industry Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, as well as the other artists over at their K.N.B EFX Group, had their hands in all the nastiness involved here. Their special effects, the makeup, their casting and moulding, it’s GENIUS! Every time. I’ve never seen bad stuff from them, honestly; they’ve done work on bad films, but their work is almost always perfect. It’s one of the highlights for sure out of this one.
IF I HAVE TO CHOOSE ONE: the eyeball effect, all around, it is a killer bit of work. I mean, if you’re not disgusted and totally thrilled by that, I don’t know where your pulse is at.
fhd005HST_Jay_Hernandez_011I’m not changing my opinion, not matter what anyone says, because I don’t think Eli Roth’s Hostel is just a trashy gore horror picture. It isn’t, at all. While a lot of fans might love it merely for that, and rightfully so there’s a TON of wild gory stuff, there is plenty more to enjoy about this movie. It’s a 4.5 out of 5 star horror, I have no doubt in that.
With all the effects to boot, Roth comes out with a nice screenplay that gives up a decent bit of character development, sets a dark mood from tension to humour to gritty atmosphere, and the actors all do their best in order to make Hostel an entirely effective experience. If you don’t think so, too bad, because for me this is one solid piece of work in the post-2000 world of remakes, reboots, rehashes, and re-blahblahblahs. Roth did something daring, which paid off. His brand of horror is his own, though, he’s definitely inspired other indie horror filmmakers to do their BEST by doing their WORST to the human psyche via terror.
hostel_eli_roth_horror-5See this if you’ve not, and if you have: watch it again. Maybe if you focus on something other than the gore and the blood and the nasty bits, there’ll be something else to catch your eye. Or maybe not.

Hard Candy Asks To Castrate or Not to Castrate?

Hard Candy. 2005. Directed by David Slade. Screenplay by Brian Nelson.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Odessa Rae, and G.J. Echternkamp. Vulcan Productions.
Rated R. 104 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
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Even while I don’t think 30 Days of Night is as great as some believe, there’s still good horror and blood in there. Always fun. That’s not even David Slade’s best work. The stuff he did on Hannibal (particularly these three specific episodes: “Savoureux“, “Ko No Mono“, & “Mizumono“) is masterful in so many ways, the best work he’s done.
As far as his films go, Hard Candy, his debut feature, is most certainly the best. It’s an engaging and definitely disturbing film. The subject matter is extremely edgy and a difficult one for many people to indulge, but I think with Slade’s direction and the screenplay from Brian Nelson the whole thing is handled in an incredible way. This could’ve easily strayed into an actual full on horror with certain directors and writers. Instead this is a tense, raw, thriller held up by two absolutely wonderful performances from Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson.

Hardy Candy begins with an online conversation, obviously between an older man and a younger girl. It’s flirtatious and slightly sexy, clearly very wrong. Afterwards, we watch as the fourteen-year old teenage girl named Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) meets with photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) at a coffee shop. They have casual conversation, though, immediately Jeff initiates physical contact: he wipes chocolate from her lip, licking it off his own fingers.
They go back to his place, where screwdrivers are had; Hayley makes them. She asks if he’ll take her picture, after conversation about his past with young models, but as he begins to shoot some film he becomes dizzy, passing out on the floor.
Once Jeff wakes up, he discovers himself bound to a chair and being interrogated by Hayley. What begins as a simple talk about his possible paedophilia, the fact he might have raped and murdered a young girl, soon boils down to something more vicious.
During a struggle Jeff is knocked out when Hayley chokes him out with plastic wrap across his face. Again he wakes up, bound, yet this time it’s to a table. And he’s got a bag of ice against his balls. Then Hayley explains she’s about to castrate him.
Surprisingly, and unfortunately for him, Jeff’s day and night of horror has only really just begun.
hard-candy-002I’m always going online to see what people are saying about a film, whether I like it or not. When I review, I take into account the ideas of others. What I found interesting, mostly funny, is how so many MALE viewers are totally offended by this film. Especially how they’re threatened by the character of Hayley. I mean, there are men who stick up for the character of Jeff. Really? He full-on admits to at least being there while Donna Mauer – the girl we’re meant to suspect him of killing according to Hayley. It’s actually insane how many people – all men – I’ve seen defending him, saying he didn’t deserve what she’d done. She never ACTUALLY cut his balls off, she only psychologically tortured him. She never forced him to walk off that roof in the end, she merely presented him with all the possibilities.
So anyone who tries to say Hayley had no proof? I’m not sure if we watched the same film. Not saying vigilantism is the proper way to conduct our lives. We do need law and order at times. However, it’s hard not say “Fuck Jeff” because he’s, by all accounts, a paedophile and he may as well have been the killer. Standing there and watching anyone get killed is a shame. Not to mention the fact he clearly raped her or assaulted her in some sense. He admits to everything, and Hayley reveals to Jeff she already knows who the other half of the duo was concerning Donna’s death. So how can anybody defend this man? It boggles my mind.
Yes, for a certain amount of time it’s meant to be unclear whether or not Jeff is who Hayley claims. But by the finale, it’s pretty god damn clear who Jeff is behind the curtain. Anybody who says otherwise has NOT WATCHED IT. You either fell asleep, or you’re a moron. Sorry, but it’s clear. Jeff confesses – not just under stress of being psychologically tortured by Hayley, he admits with details and confirms everything she already knew.
Did people not SEE the finale? I mean, the whole kicker is she’s already gone through this with the other man involved in the death of Donna Mauer. If people can’t pay attention to films enough to figure out the clearly demarcated premise, then I don’t think they ought to be online or anywhere else criticizing the film for perceived faults. Again, yes, vigilantism is not right, I agree. However, it is a film. Are you really so against women that you’re siding with a FICTIONAL PAEDOPHILE? Oh my. What a world. Honestly, if you’re still against this when knowing Jeff confesses at the end, you are strange, sick, and probably most fucking definitely a misogynist. You don’t have to think she should’ve done what she did, but Hayley is not the character to be disgusted with in the end. Jeff is the one who you owe disgust.
Ellen-Page-Patrick-Wilson-Hard-Candy-2The performances themselves are what drive Hard Candy.
First of all, Patrick Wilson does a nice job with such a difficult and unlikeable character, which is impressive. Like I said earlier, there is a time during the film where we’re not exactly sure if Jeff is who Hayley claims, so you’re actually wary of believing either of them. However, after Hayley finds the pictures in his safe – a line is drawn in the sand. Then he becomes this despicable guy because there’s obviously something terrible in the safe, from the reaction Hayley gives us. After that comes the very hateful part of his personality and instead of being completely done with this character, we still hang in and find ourselves interested.
Right up until the finale, it’s still not totally sure to what extent Jeff is culpable in the disappearance of Donna, so for such a while we’re on the edge, balancing between not liking him and being unsure what’s truly happening. Wilson does an amazing job with the character. He’s charming for awhile, then creepy. Mostly he works well with Page and acts appropriately terrified, vulnerable, and angered when necessary. One of his best, in my books. Up there with his performance in another excellent film Little Children.
hardcandypicThen there’s Ellen Page. What a sweet east coast Canadian treasure this lady is. I know she’s done some bigger stuff, such as Inception and more recently X-Men: Days of Future Past. All the same, I dig her most in the smaller indie films she’s been a part of like this and An American Crime. Even further, I loved when she was on the old Trailer Park Boys episodes as Jim Lahey’s daughter Treena.
She feels a lot like a more classically trained actor than some other young females in films these days. Not sure why that is, I don’t mean she’s necessarily got a stage-like presence, it’s just that even at seventeen (four years older than her character in the film) there’s an incredibly big life to her acting. This movie could have easily faltered because of the main performances. There aren’t many teenage actors I honestly find impressive; so sue me. In opposition to that, one or two come along now and then and really make me pay attention to a film. Page, particularly in this film, gives one of those performances. Holding her own next to Wilson throughout some savagely intense scenes, in a film concerning highly controversial subject matter, it’s a feat to enjoy. She pulls her weight every single step of the way and makes Hard Candy all the better for it.
hard-candy-patrick-wilson-33908895-1892-816With most of this movie taken up by dialogue, there’s not a huge amount of time dedicated to visuals. However, there are still neat visual aspects to the film. For instance, they went in after the fact and digitally altered some of the colouring. The iconic red hoodie was an afterthought, which was altered, as well as how the colours in the house and in the scenes often reacts to the emotions; such as when Hayley gets angry, colours deepen slightly at times. Very interesting stuff I’d not noticed until listening to some commentary on the DVD. Furthermore, I love that whole allusion to the story of “Little Red Riding Hood”, in that Hayley is the girl who has turned the tables on the nasty wolf.
Another aspect I need to mention is the sound design and the score. What I mean is that there’s barely any score or soundtrack, save for a bit of music played momentarily at Jeff’s house. Most of the sound design is made up of heavy breathing noises and other ambient sounds. I always find it interesting when a film can cultivate a great mood and atmosphere with little to no music. Impressive, as I’m always partial to a good score composed with care. However, Hard Candy does well enough without. I feel in that sense it’s very much similar to a stage play in that it relies solely on the setting and the characters, as well as the people performing those characters and the script they work from. Successfully this film works with barely no music at all and effectively conveys a brilliant tone.
still-of-patrick-wilson-in-hard-candy-(2005)-large-pictureI’m most comfortable in saying this is a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. There’s a little missing, in the sense I could’ve used maybe a more visual storytelling than what we ended up with, but part of that comes from the simplistic script and the fact they kept the budget under $1-million in order to keep the studio out of big decisions. Either way, I think perhaps this could’ve used a little dialogue stripped for parts and some more of David Slade’s slick looking visuals in its place. I don’t know. I’m just a lowly writer.
Either way, I think this is a fantastic and gripping piece of work. Even without a ton of visual extravagance, which there’s at least a little of anyways, Hard Candy is a tense work of thriller cinema.
If you’re looking for something challenging and extremely limit testing, this is the one for you. Not only that, there are two near perfect performances from two talented actors.
See this soon when you’re in the mood for a psychological workout!