EXHIBIT A Offers Emotionally Superior Found Footage in a Sea of Mediocrity

Exhibit A. 2007. Directed by Dom Rotheroe. Screenplay by Rotheroe & Darren Bender.
Starring Bradley Cole, Brittany Ashworth, Angela Forrest, Oliver Lee, Jason Allen, Charles Davies, Emily Button, & Belinda Lazenby.
Warp Films/Bigger Pictures/Screen East/UK Film Council.
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★
posterThe found footage sub-genre is filled with movies which range from awful to great. I’d likely say found footage has a bigger ratio of bad to good than most other sub-genres out there. Depending on the premise, a movie using this style can really grab you. Too many try emulating the most popular offerings, such as Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project (as well as Paranormal Activity in the post-2000 landscape), rather than forge new ground on their own.
Exhibit A is a fascinatingly horrific look at the regular lives of a British family, whose patriarch is hiding a secret; one that proves to be devastating. Like a socioeconomic found footage movie. Instead of looking for ghosts in the woods or having a group of people filming while running away from an unknown force/serial killer/something else, this little flick, with chilling focus, peers into a normal world that may even hit uncomfortably close to home for some viewers.
Because of the plot’s humanity, director Dom Rotheroe (My Brother Tom) is able to tap into an element of us all, touching deeply on fears many feel – of rejection by our own family, of failing those we love; the fear a father may have of not being able to provide properly for his family, as well as what that does to his imagine in the eyes of his wife, his children, his friends. Within the normality of these peoples lives, Exhibit A manages to burrow under the viewer’s skin, scene by scene, until arriving at the shattering and shocking finale.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-43-42-pmOne of the major reasons I love this film is how it really plays up to the sub-genre of found footage. There’s lots of found footage teetering along the edge, playing with the conventions (or merely forgetting them a moment), which still ends up being excellent. What Rotheroe does is keep things consistent, as we view the entire film through the lens of the family’s daughter, Judith King (Brittany Ashworth). In fact, the immediate first scene shows us an official-looking stamp and print from the Yorkshire Police. This lays out the plot as actual evidence from a crime scene at the King family home. There are no opening credits. The title comes directly from the police report as Exhibit A, which is what you’d normally see when a tape is viewed in court. All of this helps work towards a genuine effort of found footage, pulling us into a natural atmosphere, as if it’s all real, actual people, instead of a contrived film’s story. From there, we witness all sorts of moments through Judith’s eyes, or that of the camera’s more specifically. This encompasses her own private moments, such as the burgeoning crisis of her sexual orientation, and then casts an eye on the private moments of Judith’s father Andy (Bradley Cole), as she tapes him secretly when he goes out to the shed by himself, when he’s confronted by an angry man from the office in which he works, and so on. Instead of wondering why the camera is always filming in this slice of found footage, there’s a perfect reason at all times, and as opposed to a lot of found footage already out there this is a welcomed addition to everything else enjoyable.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-44-20-pmThe biggest and most effective portion is how well both Cole and Ashworth play their characters. If it weren’t for the performances this could easily have become a dragging endurance test of boring scenes. The entire cast are fairly believable in their roles, but it’s these two who shine most. Ashworth is great because she has a difficult character to play, a young woman growing up in a family with hidden problems and at the same time trying to figure out herself sexually. The character Judith’s development is expertly presented through the images her camera captures – for instance, she stalks (too harsh a word but the only good description I can think of now) a girl next door by watching her through the video camera, and when confronted with her face to face Judith all but freezes completely. Later, the fact she is likely lesbian becomes a larger, more significant family event, although I’m not going to ruin that for you.
But this leads to Cole’s performance as the King family father, Andy. Truthfully, this may be at the top of the list of great performances in the sub-genre. All too often we’re treated to the same screaming, bickering, shaky cam (et cetera) and the performances are only mediocre (if we’re lucky). Cole transforms into a wildly charming yet secretive family man, his energy with his kids and his wife is evident from the get go. Gradually as the film progresses we start to see behind the mask, and Cole is the gatekeeper to let us in. He starts becoming more and more strange, both to the viewer and his family (especially daughter Judith). When the last 15-20 minutes come around, Andy King turns into a monster of epic proportions. It’s the way in which Cole as an actor draws us towards the semi-delusional state of living that Andy falls into throughout the course of the plot, making you feel for him even if he’s a liar and imagining how tough it must be for him to accept what’s happened in his life. The final moments are nerve wracking, in large part because of Cole’s emotional acting; you still feel for him, but the finale’s events erase any sympathy for his situation, as he brutally wipes out any chance of that.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-47-10-pmCole as Andy King is one of the best performances in any found footage film I’ve seen. His convincing portrayal of a man losing a grip on his family and his entire life, his career, is both sad and incredibly grim. One scene particularly, involving a party in his backyard, pushes you to the limit of being uncomfortable, as he dances around like an idiot, trying his hardest to be NORMAL and yet falling far outside of any pattern of normality. This is the turning point. After this, Exhibit A dives headlong into the morbid thrills of watching a family self-destruct at the hands of dear ole dad.
There are a number of intense scenes, ranging from well-meaning father behaviour to the desperate clinging of a man trying to make sure he never loses his family. So many scenes are perfectly played to make you feel the maximum amount of ruination. Ultimately, the position of trusted parent is at the middle of the violent cyclone and we’re privy to an examination of how Andy violated that position.
Exhibit A is a cracking film, one of the greater efforts in found footage since The Blair Witch Project. The acting, even how it’s shot (most camerawork was literally done by the cast), is near perfect. Ashworth and Cole as the daughter and father respectively are fascinating to watch; they lead us down the garden path into terror. The finale is completely unsettling because of how far we watch Cole’s character fall, comparing the end to the beginning is like watching two entirely different men. I suggest if you’re looking for a found footage movie to wow you, or at the very least step outside of the typical format and plot we see on the regular, this is one you have to check out. But I warn you: the end is disturbing, and those sensitive to family issues might actually find it tough to watch. Yet I urge you, watch. This is a gem if there ever were one.

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WE OWN THE NIGHT Examines a Family’s Violent Intersection at the Edge of Criminality & Law

We Own the Night. 2007. Directed & Written by James Gray.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Robert Duvall, Danny Hoch, Alex Veadov, Oleg Taktarov, Maggie Kiley, Paul Herman, Antoni Corone, & Craig Walker.
Columbia Pictures/2929 Productions/Industry Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 117 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
POSTER Ever since 1994’s Little Odessa, James Gray has been a writer-director to watch. He has an excellent style as director, but as a writer he also has as much style. Gray does well with the visual plane of any film he takes on. It’s his attention to detail and character that make the worlds he infiltrates so interesting. We Own the Night has a great throwback look of the 1980s, feeling of the time without being too heavy handed in its execution. More importantly, the main characters played by Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, and Robert Duvall each come off as realistic, endearing, frustrating. They’re genuine people. A lot of writers fill up their crime films with either generic characterisations or over-the-top caricatures. Gray explores characters in similar fashion to pictures from Martin Scorsese in that he takes us into that self-contained world, involving us in the lives of these people instead of making us feel like we’re standing at arm’s length. Also doesn’t hurt that Gray does fine work with Phoenix and Wahlberg, having previously directed The Yards; Gray and Phoenix also did The Immigrant in 2013, another amazing little drop of cinema.
But what you get here, all those elements together, is a classic crime story combining concepts of law and order, family and loyalty, as well as much more. Focusing on a cop family, and the one black sheep within it who rubs shoulders with the criminal world, Gray takes us on a ride through a Brooklyn rife with danger and new possibilities.
Pic1 The character arc of Bobby (Phoenix) is by far the most complex and interesting out of anything. He starts as this completely aloof, loving life-type guy who’s only concerned with clubbing, doing drugs, having a fun time with his girl and his friends. Even confronted with a story about a scary Russian gangster, he and his good buddy Jumbo (Danny Hoch) laugh it off making crude jokes, not taking it seriously in the least. Over the course of the plot, though, we watch Bobby move from careless and clueless to someone very aware of the dangers in front of him. The large divide between Bobby and his family – father Burt (Duvall) and brother Joseph (Wahlberg) – makes for such an exciting change. And it doesn’t happen instantly, not even once Bobby gets hauled into jail, charcoal poured down his throat, seeing a Russian with a self-inflicted slash in his throat bleeding over the police station floor. That’s where the entire thing gets so interesting. Because it takes a terrible act of violence committed against his brother to finally set his moral compass into motion. After that, the plot’s emotional intensity becomes ruthless, as Bobby dives into the world of his family instead of teetering on the edge of crime. Truly great writing.
Pic2 While We Own the Night comes most heavily as a dramatic crime-thriller, there’s a nice helping of action tossed into the mix. The first scene of that nature is probably most devastating. It stays brief, nasty. When Joseph takes a bullet, he gets it right in the face, and the way Gray has it shot makes for maximum effect; brutal and vivid. Later, the action pieces get more intricate as the plot does, too. Once Bobby feels compelled to start fighting against the crime right under his own nose, the nature of the plot involves more excitement, more suspense and tension. Leads to a great finale that’s at once action-oriented, but also wildly emotionally involving. We feel rooted to Bobby, his whole family, and through him Gray lets us feel the suspenseful moments ratcheted up to the point you could grip whatever chair or couch arm or anything next to you.
The obvious strength that lifts everything up is the performance of Phoenix as Bobby Green. Yes, Duvall and Wahlberg and Mendes, they each offer solid supporting performances. The meat of the emotional hook is in Phoenix. We start with a character that’s not particularly a criminal, he lives in the midst of them managing a club in New York and living the high lifestyle of which his police family does not approve. By the 60-minute mark, Bobby’s transformed into an entirely different person. He’s been sprayed with brains and blood, he’s jumped out a window just to survive, smashing his body into a chain-link fence and to the pavement below. The vulnerability and equal amount of bravery Phoenix instils in the character is really damn impressive. First time I saw this I expected nothing more than a run of the mill crime tale. Was I ever surprised, especially with the powerhouse performance at its centre.
Pic3 This is absolutely a four-and-a-half star film, all the way. Maybe a couple blemishes here or there. However, over all, We Own the Night builds upon a mountain of tension, each step filled with emotion and suspense, all kinds of elements in one gritty package. Phoenix leads the charge by making Bobby a real, ultra-human character with whom we relate, and then follow into the belly of the beast that is the Brooklyn crime world. Duvall and Wahlberg give their all as the cops in Bobby’s family, as well as Mendes makes Bobby’s girlfriend Amada an atypical female character in a male-dominated cast and story. The story is the crowning achievement. Gray directs well, yet his writing weaves a nice, dark tale of the line between criminals and cops, illustrated in rich colour by examining one family’s struggle in particular. All the turns the story takes could have felt melodramatic, but Gray allows it to flow organically alongside his excellent directorial choices. If you’ve not given this one the chance, do it. This is one of the better crime-thrillers since 2000 and it does not get the love it deserves.

Take a Tense Little Ride with Trigger Man

Trigger Man. 2007. Directed, Edited, & Written by Ti West.
Starring Reggie Cunningham, Ray Sullivan, Sean Reid, Heather Robb, James Felix McKenney, Seth Abrams, & Larry Fessenden.
KINO International/Glass Eye Pix/Scareflix/CCR Productions.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER This is a slightly unusual film out of Ti West’s filmography. He is a great director, in my opinion. You either dig him, or you don’t; no middle ground. And that’s fine, if everybody liked the same thing we’d be a boring lot of humans. For those of us who enjoy West and his brand of horror, Trigger Man comes as a surprise. I remember listening to an interview he did talking about how this film sort of came up on a whim. He wrote a script, brought it to Larry Fessenden, and then they had time to shoot it, so a real indie shoot came about. Ultra low budget. Almost rogue-style filmmaking.
Apart from the visual feel and the actual use of digital rather shooting on film, West looks at a more dramatic thriller angle than anything horror. Sure, the horror of humanity comes out. That’s a huge element. Most of his movies, aside from recently with The Sacrament, tend to go for classic horror elements while he does his best to subvert expectations, keeping with the spirit of indie film. Trigger Man works because it doesn’t necessarily try to change anything. It works by building up an atmosphere of dread, each scene slowly, steadily amping up the feeling that at any moment a horrible event is about to take place. True to what later became signature to his personal directorial style, West slow burns through his plot before reaching a nicely executed finale. Then if the terror isn’t enough for you concerning real people and their sometimes hideous actions in this raw look at a story that’s not unbelievable in the slightest, maybe I’m weak. Maybe I should hang up the ole horror hat.
Nah. I dig this one. It isn’t near perfect. However, West makes me sweat enough throughout this sparse flick that I can’t help watching it now and then. It’s a tough one to find on DVD, but luckily I picked it up last year. I’ll always support West’s films and I can admit when there are faults. I refuse to not acknowledge a solid low budget thriller when it’s in front of my face. You shouldn’t expect his best, though don’t sell West short here.
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This movie was never intended to be on a grand scale. West had the time and wanted to make something with a very minimalist take, so instead of opting to shoot on film (as he usually does) he went digital. The entire film is much different from any of his other work, even his early feature The Roost. With a handheld and kinetic style, West uses this feel to create as much tension possible. If anything, this is a nice exercise in suspense. You can judge this for being low budget and all that, but it wasn’t ever meant to be anything more. Larry Fessenden, a mentor of West’s in the industry, gave him about $10K to make it. They found some nice locations, kept the cast to a bare minimum. West had a small story that worked for the basic needs. Nobody’s expecting a reinvention of the genre. Part of me enjoys Trigger Man because West isn’t exactly swinging for the fences, as he so often does with his other brilliant features. Here, he does his best at cultivating a specific mood of tension that worms its way through the short 80 minute runtime. Many might not find the finale rewarding. I do. The tension pays off in an excellent way and I find it properly horrifying. Along the way we’re treated to a couple smatterings of blood, one particularly chunky, gross practical effect honestly looks real. I found that one unsettling, in the best kind of horror way.
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Ultimately, I don’t know if there’s even a lick of truth to the concept that West claims this is inspired by a true story. If so, I’d love to see what the real scenario was, how it played out, what exactly went down the whole time. But forgetting all that this is still a real-feeling situation. These guys essentially wander into the path of something over which they have no control. Then it’s a sort of city dweller v. backwoods story that descends into utter nastiness. Part of the ultra-realism is the sound design by Graham Reznick. When these guys are out in the midst of the forest, near the river, running for their lives, we get the feeling of being right next to them, as the river rushes and their voices carry. Some likely find that annoying, which I totally understand. To me, these elements only add to the extremely raw atmosphere. There’s also not so much a score as there is this wonderfully ambient noise from Jeff Grace . At times that does morph into something more musical in terms of short pieces that accompany specific moments. Still, the best parts Grace offers up are these brutish shrieks and hypnotizing swirls of sound that wrap you up then rattle you; almost representative of the mental processes going on in someone’s head were they in such a life threatening, insane situation as these guys. Everything is minimal. The story is contained. The blood is gruesome when it comes, but only comes in a couple little bursts. The camera work consists of digital handheld shooting, nothing fancy; only once or twice do we get shots that are motionless, everything else keeps the chaotic pace by wavering and keeping on the move with the characters, zooming from the landscape to their faces and expressions of fear. The music is kept down to a handful of places where it’s nearly perfect. Through and through, Trigger Man is a utilitarian production that if anything knows how to use its bare necessities and structures itself accordingly.
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You’ll either dig it a bit, or find it unappealing. There’s really nothing halfway about Trigger Man. Similar to the way people seem to feel about its director. Personally, Ti West is someone I find incredibly talented. He and I are close in age, so part of my affinity for his work has to do with the fact many of the movies he seems to admire and have grown up watching are the same ones as myself. Because of that they reflect in his own work, in turn capturing my attention. Not only that, though. West is simply a great director. He makes interesting choices, as well as the fact he’s an interesting writer. Preferring to take things slow, his films are sometimes categorized as being boring. A word I’ll never use in reference to any of his features. But to each their own. For me, he’s a fascinating artist that often takes a genre story we know and brings his unique vision to a story in order to freshen things up. Trigger Man doesn’t necessarily liven the survival thriller sub-genre. It does excite and keep you on edge, or at least it does for me. Give this one the chance, it’s a taut piece of work. Ignore the flaws and get past the handheld stuff. West is a scary guy, no matter if he’s working within the walls of a haunted hotel, dealing with vampire bats that turn people into the living dead, or wandering the forest with people running for their lives. It’s all spooky.

Zodiac: The Dark Reality of an Uncaught Killer

Zodiac. 2007. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by James Vanderbilt, based on the book of the same name by Robert Graysmith.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, John Lacy, Chloë Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John Terry, Candy Clark, & Elias Koteas.
Phoenix Pictures/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.
Rated 14A. 157 minutes.
Crime/Drama/History

★★★★★
POSTER In terms of people who’ve been making movies since the ’90s, David Fincher is one of those whom I’d consider as an auteur. He doesn’t necessarily tackle any abstract subjects – perhaps The Game and Fight Club are closest to being abstract – but he definitely has his own style, a look and feel all his own. His hand is on every last portion of the finished film. He’s plain and simple an auteur.
So even Zodiac, which is part procedural and part dramatic thriller, has all the earmarks of his genius on it. Everywhere. Not to mention the loaded cast, right down to spectacular character actors such as John Carroll Lynch filling out the back end. There’s enough intrigue in the Zodiac Killer case from real life to fill out a dozen movies, and it certainly has over the years with actual people like SFPD Inspect Dave Toschi having served as inspiration for other films like Bullitt, as well as both he and the Zodiac inspiring Dirty Harry. What Fincher does, using a solid screenplay from James Vanderbilt and based upon the identically titled book by Robert Graysmith, is create a dark, compelling piece of crime cinema that weaves through the enigma which is the Zodiac Killer case with a slick flow.
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July 4th, 1969: an unknown man shoots two people in Vallejo, California, with only one surviving. A month later, someone calling himself The Zodiac starts writing encrypted letters in a strange code to the San Francisco. Soon, political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts to get interested in the case, as big shot crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) is set to cover the case. At first, Avery thinks Graysmith is foolish. But soon he realizes the young cartoonist may actually know a thing or two.
A couple week laters, a San Francisco taxi driver is killed in Presidio Heights. Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) are assigned to the case, and it becomes Toschi’s personal mission to track the sick bastard down. But the Zodiac keeps on killing. And when he threatens school children, other citizens, even Avery directly, things get very serious.
Though we know how the story ends, or has kept going on, the darkness of the Zodiac and his story is all too engaging, as his grip on the city of San Francisco remains a still existent shadow to this day.
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The Zodiac was a scary genius. Assuming it was intentional, he killed across jurisdictional lines, which in turn landed all the various police departments scrambling trying to keep themselves coordinated. Zodiac‘s screenplay by James Vanderbilt is surprising. He hasn’t really done anything else that I’m personally into, though he has done a ton of successful stuff. This script does a great job of laying everything out and even while it is complex, intricately laying out a bunch of characters and major players in the search for the Zodiac, as well as casting doubt and questions over the identity of the killer himself. A story and plot such as this runs the risk of getting tangled up at some point, but Vanderbilt keeps it well on track. The pacing is solid, the character development is extremely solid and well fleshed out. In particular, the main two characters of Graysmith and Toschi are written to near perfection, as we start to see how they sort of became victims of the Zodiac, in that their lives were dominated and ultimately determined, in a sense, by his crimes and the pursuit. Another thing is that the ending comes at the right time. This is a long film at almost 160 minutes, and it’s never boring. But certain writers might not know how to, or when to, cap things off. Vanderbilt manages to cauterize the story at the appropriate time. As there’s a natural mystery to a case we all (should) know is unsolved to this day, the way the plot finishes is just right.
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Fincher and Vanderbilt together never glorify the violence. Yes, there’s a slow motion moment near the beginning as two people are shot, and we see much of the violence in a fairly upfront, raw manner. However, Fincher handles it so that there’s no glorification. It is most certainly stylized, just never put on show as violent erotica. I’m a horror fan, but have an appreciate for all film, especially anything that’s well executed, well composed. And Fincher manages not to make a spectacle of The Zodiac. Rather, we get deep into the psychological territory of the crimes getting drawn into long, dark takes that make us feel as if we’re right there with the victims, the near victims, and those hoping to catch the killer. For a movie that’s stylized, it also has a realism to it. Because it’s not played off like some serial killer of the week. The Zodiac is real, frightening, and the mystery of his true identity is played out impeccably via intelligent writing and, as usual, classic directorial choices on behalf of Fincher.
The soundtrack is amazing, everything from Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” to Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Vanilla Fudge, to Three Dog Night, Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher”, and a bunch more. Great period specific soundtrack that helps give authenticity to the era, alongside all the excellent costume and set design, the locations, and so on. Great stuff. In addition, there’s an eerie piano score which comes in now and then to punctuate dark moments: one of my favourites is the terrifying moment an unseen Zodiac tells a woman he’ll throw her baby out the window of his car before he murders her, then everything goes quiet except for a dreadful pounding piano note. Just everything at play comes together in a spooky tapestry to make this an unsettling film disguised as a crime procedural. Combined with the directing, the soundtrack and score, cinematographer Harris Savides (BirthThe GameLast Days) captures everything in an almost classic sense, as he and Fincher craft things in slick, rich frames to give things a gritty yet pristine look. What another filmmaker might process into mediocre fare Fincher turns into a masterpiece of crime cinema.
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This movie is built on good performances, solid directing and writing, as well as an interesting, enigmatic story of a real life serial killer. The Zodiac murders will linger on in the collective memory of Americans, particularly those in San Francisco, even the world. Because of the mystery involved, we’re often inclined to wonder exactly how he slipped away. David Fincher’s Zodiac doesn’t so much try and answer that, so much as recreate many of the events surrounding the case. Again, as I mentioned concerning the lead characters, much of this has to do with how it wasn’t only the dead left in The Zodiac’s wake. Toschi, Graysmith, all of them to an extent were sucked into the undertow of his unsolvable case. Maybe it was nobody’s fault, or maybe a big part was because of jurisdictional breakdown between departments and precincts, the stubbornness of cops, the bureaucracy of the law, so many things. Perhaps it was all due to the scary fact The Zodiac was smarter than anybody trying to stop him. Regardless, Fincher’s film is a contemporary classic in the crime genre. Many might expect further focus on the actual serial killing, as a lesser project might try (see: 2005’s The Zodiac starring Justin Chambers and Robin Tunney which actually felt all around like a lesser version of Fincher, or Ulli Lommel’s atrocious Curse of the Zodiac). Instead Fincher gives us little bits and pieces, then fills the rest of the film with a thrilling crime investigation, the odd real life characters involved in the case, and much more. This is definitely one of Fincher’s great films, as they’re all pretty impressive. But if you want a creepy serial killer flick that isn’t full-on horror and focuses more on real life, atmosphere, story, then Zodiac is always a safe bet.

Hostel: Part II – A Deservedly Misandrist Romp

Hostel: Part II. 2007. Directed & Written by Eli Roth.
Starring Lauren German, Roger Bart, Heather Matarazzo, Bijou Phillips, Richard Burgi, Vera Jordanova, Jay Hernandez, Jordan Ladd, Milan Knazko, Edwige Fenech, Stanislav Ianevski, & Patrik Zigo. Lionsgate/Screen Gems/Next Entertainment/Raw Nerve/International Production Company.
Rated 18A. 94 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
POSTER
I’m unabashedly one of Eli Roth’s biggest fans. When Cabin Fever came out, I couldn’t enjoy it enough while all my friends bashed it. But then again, I was always the biggest horror fan of my close friends. Either way, his career was on my watchlist. Then once Hostel came out I considered it the first post-2000 gore horror that was actually worthwhile. And truthfully, not many gory movies since have been as effective; albeit there are definitely a few as good, possibly a bit better. Not many, though.
Roth is a unique guy. He has his own sense of humour. His predilection for Italian splatter films shows, as does his interest in the B-movie feel. However, those aren’t a detriment to his talent. He’s ripe with fun ideas and his ability to shock yet shock with substance is visible even through the thick coat of blood covering his films. Don’t just look at the Hostel movies (forget there’s another one past the first two) and think it’s all about the gore. It’s about the secret impulses below a thin veneer of humanity in society. Maybe at times things are campy. That’s just Roth’s sensibilities that come from, like myself, a lifetime of watching any and all films you can get your hands on. No matter what, Roth brings the visceral grip necessary to keep Hostel: Part II fresh in your memory a while – the reasons for which may vary from person to person, even gender to gender.
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I’ve always loved the score in both Hostel films. There are these creeping string pieces that spell ominous, slowly scaling behind scenes. Great stuff. Reminds me of some classic bits of horror cinema, which adds a nice air to this gore film (and though I say gore film I mean it in the best sort of sense here). The ominousness of Roth sits over everything, as the score makes things more tense and suspenseful at times. It almost lures us in like the poor traveling souls that get roped into being meat for the hunters.
The special effects virtuoso pairing of Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, along with their wonderful team at KNB EFX Group, provide Roth with the appropriate nasty practical effects which make the original and its sequel into top notch horror. If you’re having gore, have it right. Berger and Nicotero have the right stuff, giving all those brutal bits a proper punch. The blood is plenty, and it looks great! You need a chopped off head or some even more disgusting effects? Greg and Howard are your men. And they’re unreal at their jobs.
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One thing I dig, in terms of killing and gore, is that Roth opts to include a woman engaging in the murder this time. The Erzsébet Báthory-style lady, whose predilections involve draining the blood of other women apparently. This shows that Roth is an equal opportunist, giving women just as much fun as the men. In sick, murderous terms. Furthermore, even just the fact this film is a bunch of women on a trip instead of men is pretty excellent. Roth isn’t afraid to try killing off a trio of women, as opposed to the horny young men from the first outing. Another part of this is that Bijou Philips plays a sort of horny character herself, though, this is offset by Jordan Ladd and Heather Matarazzo, as they play more subdued roles, women with heads on their shoulders; for the most part. It’s just nice to have a different group, instead of Roth merely switching the genders. He creates whole new, interesting characters out of these three women. And having one of them meet their demise at the hands of the Báthory substitute? Sweet horrific perfection. Another fun bit – the three women we follow are introduced in an art class, where a male model hangs dong; objectified enough? Perfect response to those who complained about women objectified in the first film. They were, in a sense. But they were more femme fatale than anything. Here it’s just a man being drawn, while also having his dick ogled by a bunch of women. Love it.
Also, Roth’s screenplay is almost better here than the first film. I dig how the original only barely touched on the secret society of human hunters. But the way it’s expanded upon here makes things so much more sinister. One of the greatest scenes out of Hostel: Part II is when all the big businessmen are bidding on victims – it not only shows us the vast, wide reach of the company, it puts us into the sick perspective of seeing many of these men in wholesome type situations, all the while flicking on their smartphones to find the perfect victim to suit their nasty needs. A well-written and executed sequence all around. Going further into the company, especially focused on the two men planning on engaging in a kill, is a real great way for Roth to move on in the sequel. If it were just another story of people going away and getting killed, which plenty of it still is, then things would be dull, and quick. Rather, Roth chooses to switch back and forth between the victims and the soon-to-be killers, providing a look at both sides of the operation.
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I love the look and feel of this film’s aesthetic over the first. Even though the original is a favourite of mine from the last 15 years in horror. Part II has an almost Gothic style. Particularly in the different chambers where people are being murdered. I love the sequence with Mrs. Bathory, as she’s listed in the credits. It is so god damn disturbing, and Roth films it in such low, flickering light that it takes on the feel of a dungeon. Later on, once we move further into the warehouse of kill rooms, it becomes even more Gothic in its darkness. Cinematographer Milan Chadima worked with Roth on Hostel, and again does good work here. The look of this sequel is slightly darker, it seems. More of a blue-ish hue over things casting many scenes in a dismal light, making each moment bleak. And does it ever get bleak. In fact, Chadima works with the girls from the beginning while they’re in the sun, enjoying a vacation. By the time he’s finished with them, the frame is almost always wrapped in shadow. Lots of  close-ups that capture some amazing looks, some pensive stares, as well as a few spectacular wide shots I cannot get over (ex. when they walk into the big murder factory with its rundown and Third World look; amazing shot). Overall, the cinematography is even better here than the first.
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WARNING: spoilers ahead in case you really care.
Eli’s writing may almost be at its best here. In my humble opinion. Because he takes on a whole bunch of things. Of course there’s female nudity again in this one, yet things have changed. Like I mentioned, a woman is part of the secret hunting society, and she kills brutally before bathing in blood. Then there’s the part I love most – one of the men, the one who showed the most bravado leading up to the event, ends up being a total fake. Or at least he ends up losing his courage, whatever. And better yet – the literal castration that happens is the ultimate thumb in the eye to any accusations of fragile masculinity on the part of Roth. He goes for broke on that one. And I love how Roth, likely unknowingly (because I’m being overly nerdy here), parallels – pardon my pun here – two balls. First is the eyeball of a woman burned up in Hostel, here it’s the dick and balls detached from a man. Just the fact that Ladd’s character turns the tables on the man torturing her is enough for me. She’s a bad ass.
The Ruggero Deodato cameo as an Italian cannibal is classic. Such a nice nod, and love how Deodato plays the character. The briefest sort of appearance, yet memorable. How he just smiles, cuts up some dinner then heads back over to his table.
A masterfully horrific 4-star affair. Roth is a modern horror man, whose influences show. Yet unlike Tarantino, whom I love but who borrows too liberally at times (mostly in the past), Roth translates his influences into his own passions. The fact Takashi Miike did a cameo in the first and Deodato does on here is testament to that; he literally throws his heroes in the mix. But the gore, the story, and the violence turned against men brutally for a change makes Hostel: Part II and underappreciated horror sequel in the post-2000 genre landscape. Roth is a modern master of horror, I continue to follow his work and will do so until he finishes his career; a long one, hopefully.

Rob Zombie Presents Halloween: The Horrific Origins of Michael Myers

Halloween. 2007. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie; based on the original screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Richard Lynch, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, Lew Temple, Tom Towles, Bill Moseley, & Leslie Easterbrook. Dimension Films/Nightfall Productions/Spectacle Entertainment Group/Trancas International Films/The Weinstein Company.
Rated 18A. 109 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
POSTER I never imagined, listening to White Zombie in the ’90s, that Rob Zombie would go on to be one of my favourite horror directors working. He always appeared imaginative, but I couldn’t have guessed his love of the horror genre ran so deep. He’s given the keys to the slasher horror castle here, reinterpreting the original screenplay for Halloween in 1978 from John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Instead of providing lackluster jump scares and unnecessary gore to overcompensate, Zombie crafts a new vision of Michael Myers. No more is Myers so much a force of evil, like some wandering, unkillable spirit. Now, he is a boy with a face, a child not just hidden behind a mask, who eventually grows into his skin and becomes the ugliest, most vicious serial killer in America (well, the fictional one anyways).
Switch the subtle techniques of Carpenter for a throwback aesthetic mixed with gritty realism, and you’ve got Zombie’s film in a nutshell. Although many want to try and pick one over the other, they’re different movies, different stories centered around the same characters. You can say what you want. But for me, Carpenter and Zombie both have their merits. No matter if the original is my favourite, and a perfect piece of horror cinema, Zombie brings savagery to the table, plus an interesting style of directing. This makes it more than worth the watch.
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Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) is a young boy with a fairly awful life day to day. Although his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) loves him, her sleazy boyfriend Ronnie White (William Forsythe) treats him like shit, all the while sizing up Debbie’s daughter Judith (Hanna Hall). At school, Michael gets pushed around and harassed, specifically about his mother being a stripper at a local club. But at home, alone, Michael dissects animals, getting blood all over his hands. Then once a kid at school finally pushes him over the edge, Michael beats him to death in the woods. The transition begins.
On Halloween night, Michael kills Ronnie, then Judith and her boyfriend. This shocks the town of Haddonfield. The law puts Michael in an institution, where Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) picks his brain to try and determine why evil lies in such a young mind. There’s also orderly Ismael Cruz (Danny Trejo) who talks to the boy often, trying to relate with him.
Only after 17 years go by, an older Michael gets a visit from a new, less friendly orderly by the name of Noel Kluggs (Lew Temple). He and his equally disgusting hillbilly cousin take advantage of having keys to the place. They rape a female patient after bringing her into Michael’s room, when Noel underestimates the now 27-year-old man. Michael kills the men and then begins on a path of destruction carrying him back towards Haddonfield, where his reign of terror is about to begin. As if it already hadn’t.
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Love the metafictional quote from Dr. Loomis’ book. Like a post-modern version of Carpenter and Hill’s classic, early slasher. The whole character of Loomis is much different from that of Donald Pleasence’s version, and of course that’s mostly the way it’s written. In the original film(s), Loomis is an underrated psychiatrist whose knowledge of evil, and particularly that of Michael, is unparalleled. Here, McDowell’s Loomis is a good man initially. Then he morphs into a fame-seeking, fame-whoring doctor who made his fame and fortune off the dead corpses of a bunch of people in Haddonfield. He’s treated as such, too. So apart from the other liberties Zombie takes, or should I say aside from the expanded history Zombie creates, there’s this totally new role for Loomis, which I love. Pleasence is a classic, though, Loomis is a completely new beast under McDowell and I dig him, as well.
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I don’t agree with the stance of people saying oh well we don’t want to see Michael Myers as a child, that’s the scary part. But wait a minute? Doesn’t the original Halloween, which I adore, start with that POV from the perspective of a young Michael? We already see that. Far as I’m concerned Zombie doesn’t really leap too far in reimagining Carpenter here. He takes what we’ve already seen, then elaborates largely. So yeah, maybe you don’t want to see the childhood of Michael completely played out, but the seeds were there in the original. So honestly, if Carpenter really wanted to keep his Myers as the almost supernatural, mythical Shape, then there’s no need to even show us the beginning of the child Michael; may as well jump right in. Not a criticism against him – I love that film, and it’s perfect. Period. That’s a criticism against those trying to rationalize their need for a theory on why Zombie shouldn’t have done it this way. For me, the best thing Zombie does here is humanize Michael. Because for all those people saying something is scarier about an unstoppable force of almost supernatural strength, I believe there’s nothing scarier than human evil, it never stops either. And personally, imagining Michael as a human killer, a kid who grew like weed out of hatred, is far more terrifying.
Carpenter wins overall, obviously. The techniques he used directing, some of those shots they achieved, plus the writing from him and Hill; everything in that movie is perfect. While Zombie’s film is not perfect, it wins on horror. There’s a more brutal aspect to this Halloween that hooks me in. It’ll never beat the quality of Carpenter’s original, but Zombie does a fine job crafting a gritty, raw remake. One of the better remakes that’s come out of the big Hollywood machine. Probably because Zombie isn’t exactly a Hollywood director, he just has the popularity to draw the Weinsteins and such. Regardless, this is miles better than the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street remakes, and that glossed over Texas Chainsaw Michael Bay-produced affair.
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As I’ve mentioned, there is a stern brutality to many of the kills in this remake. Part of why I still enjoyed some of the later Halloween sequels is due in large to the fact they started to up the pure strength of Michael. In one, he simply jams his thumb right through a victim’s forehead. After that, he became relentless in power. So even better that he’s a real humanized type killer here, coupled with the way he straight up just beats a few people to death. And I’m talking absolutely demolishing people. When he kills the orderly Noel, he repeatedly slams him against the concrete wall until blood starts to fly. It is a savage death. Then he drowns Danny Trejo’s character Ismael, which goes to show how brutal he is – no longer does Michael even care for people who show him any compassion. His heart is dead: “I was good to you, Mikey,” sputters Ismale while trying not to drown. Then a television gets dropped on the guy’s head. So if you didn’t already know this is a remorseless killer, he does not discriminate. Doesn’t matter who or what is in his way, not anymore. Since his mother died, the last of his humanity left, too. Lots of great kills after this, which Zombie captures in perfectly nasty fashion.
Some of my other favourite moments – the fight with Big Joe Grizzly (legendary Ken Foree) that is just pure unadulterated hypermasculinity, though oh-so-horror-good, and once more showcases that sickly strength in Myers; when Michael makes his way into the neighbourhood and goes mad on the young people it gets bloody and unruly; and when Michael goes to see the Strodes awhile before that, things are pretty rough, as well as creepy, and sad.
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On top of everything there’s Scout Taylor-Compton in the old Jamie Curtis role. She does a solid job, as she’s cute and personable and she plays a nice good-girl, at the same time she’s got attitude and can be funny. Also, proper at showing fear. Danielle Harris is great, too, even if she doesn’t have a massive role; nice to see her back after the performances she gave as a child in a couple of the original movies. Then there’s a bunch of cameos, such as Ken Foree, Zombie alumni Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Leslie Easterbrook, Sheri Moon Zombie (though hers is more than a cameo really), William Forsythe, Micky Dolenz of Monkees fame. Brad Dourif is awesome as the sheriff in all his scenes, too. Love seeing him anywhere, solid character actor.
All in all, I’m giving Zombie’s remake a 4&1/2-star rating. I don’t care, man. Dig it so hard. Lots of brutal violence in slasher tradition. Good, old school style filmmaking that both technique-wise and design-wise throws back to the 1970’s. But it’s the reinvention of Michael Myers and his story that draws me in consistently. I can always watch this, right alongside the original. And while I love Carpenter’s Halloween most, this one is a solid modern remake that gives us blood, thrills, and even some sly laughs.

Paranormal Activity’s Modern Hauntings

Paranormal Activity. 2007. Directed & Written by Oren Peli.
Starring Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs, Amber Armstrong, and Ashley Palmer. Solana Films/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 86 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
paranormalactivity_posterWhen done correctly, I am a huge fan of found footage. Whether it’s using the thriller style, as I recently enjoyed in the film 419, or horror (The Blair Witch Project, Cannibal HolocaustHome Movie, and many more), I believe that if a director uses the sub-genre appropriately then it can be extremely effective. Particularly, horror movies using found footage can end up having a huge impact if it isn’t simply a gimmick, or a wasted tool in the director’s arsenal.
Even further than that, a writer (or writers) needs to know the limitations of the sub-genre, as well as where it can go. Too many writers seem to let the screenplay of a found footage film fall by the wayside, like it isn’t an important aspect so much as the visuals prove to be. Very bad way to look at ANY genre or sub-genre; you always need a good script, or at least an impressive idea to work from.
There are things I do love about Paranormal Activity, while I’ve got a gripe or two, as well. Mostly, I think Oren Peli really did an excellent job as director in cultivating an impressive piece of modern horror. He singlehandedly changed the found footage game, in my mind, after the originals left their highly impressive (and better) mark – like The Blair Witch Project and the infamous, controversial Cannibal Holocaust. Now there are plenty of others, since this film’s release in 2007, trying to work off the simple yet excellent format Peli landmarked.
This is not a perfect horror, nor is it my favourite found footage film. However, I’ve got to say that when I first saw Paranormal Activity – and to this day – there were elements and scenes which really unsettled me greatly and left a lasting impression on me. I don’t think, as a veteran in watching films and TONS of horror, that I’m easily frightened. But genuinely, at times, I found myself clenching up. Not to say I wept in terror or curled into a ball. Though, I can readily admit my muscles tightened and my heart rate pumped fast in several scenes, which is all due to the acting of the two leads and the good work of writer-director Oren Peli.
paranormalactivity1I won’t waste time relating the plot. This is one of those movies we ALL know about; if not, head over to IMDB or Wikipedia and it’s laid out pretty well. I’d like to just move into the things I liked/disliked about the movie.
An aspect of the screenplay I truly do love is how the character of Micah antagonizes the presence in their home. Starting early on, within the first fifteen minutes even, Micah begins to make fun of the whole concept of some spirit (or whatever) in the house; he plays creepy music, saying he’d like to make the presence feel at home. I always like when a story incorporates scepticism in an interesting way; Micah is a part of that, as he pretty much riles up the thing in their house.
Otherwise, one of the greatest parts in my mind about Peli’s Paranormal Activity is that the effects really started to push the envelope for found footage. Since 2007 there have been plenty more found footage films which used effects to a greater degree, but at the time this came as sort of revolutionary for the sub-genre. Before this movie, and those which followed it (both sequels and other films imitating this style), most found footage horror tended to go for the lost in the woods scenario, adding in tons of shaky cam and screaming and blood/gore here or there. Peli came along and decided to keep the camera stationary almost all of the time, which really helped, and on top of that he tried as best he could to do as much practically as possible, as well as the great majority of the film is centred so much on the relationship between Katie and Micah.
Keeping the camera in one place the way he does, Peli is able to let us relax a bit and get more into the characters and the story/plot than other found footage allows us. As I said, the shaky cam is prevalent in many other films similar to this. Even the amazing Blair Witch Project, there are a couple nearly nausea inducing sequences where the characters are running, screaming, and the camera is jostling around along with their movements; to the point where it’s tough to follow anything. Luckily, that was one of the first real found footage horror movies where shaky cam became a thing, so at the time it wasn’t really overdone.
Paranormal-Activity-3Nowadays with so many less exciting films than that trying to read in its huge footsteps, we get too many horrors using found footage and throwing in the shaky cam as a legitimate portion of the film when in fact it only detracts from the end product; we’re tired and sick of the shakiness, it’s not simply low budget and realistic it makes things look lazy. In Paranormal Activity, Peli foregoes that nonsense and allows us to get into the relationship between Katie and Micah, watching their lives unfold instead of constantly having one of them manipulate the camera, moving it around, and so on. Though Micah absolutely holds the camera at times, it’s not him running around and catching nothing except blurs. Whenever he does move it, the moment is brief, or at the least Micah is usually standing in one place. I think, albeit probably an obvious touch, Peli does his film a great service by allowing the camera to stay still a lot of the time. That way, his story comes out further, the characters are more interesting, and the plot is able to move along without the audience becoming totally unnerved (not in the right way) by the camera movement constantly shaking us out of touch with what’s happening in the film.
For this reason, as well as the fact effects are incorporated in a fresh way (not saying they’re spectacular; merely they were slightly new to this sub-genre), I truly feel Peli broke new, interesting ground with his found footage horror movie. Not only did it spawn a series of sequels, a whole franchise, Paranormal Activity – in a different way from its predecessors – had other filmmakers looking to do a low-budget horror almost copycatting everything about it.
They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery; in this case, I think it’s mostly about cashing in.
still-of-katie-featherston-in-paranormal-activity-(2007)-large-pictureFinally, it’s the acting from Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston which truly got to me. I think Sloat did a good enough job, especially in terms of being the sceptical and doubting boyfriend; he isn’t completely ignorant and arrogant in his speech, mostly he brings this aspect across through his coy, annoyingly playful demeanour. He certainly acts like a bit of a douchebag, but I think that’s almost definitely the right way for Micah to seem, as a character – it brings out that doubt very clearly for all to see.
Above all else, it’s Featherston who sells this film from start to finish. I like the character herself; she’s been followed all her life, basically, by some kind of spirit, an entity. Not that it’s a new idea. It’s how Featherston plays the character, the innocence she always seems to display and this naive but concerned nature in her. While Katie is the one who believes in it all, there’s still this naivety about her in that she’s holding onto the innocent part of herself, even while this demon/spirit/entity has latched onto her and won’t leave her, or Micah, alone. The way Featherston performs is incredible, unbelievably actually in the final half hour. Once things start getting very intense and claustrophobic in their little house, Featherston does a perfect job portraying all the terror Katie is feeling; there’s one moment where she tells Micah she feels something in the hallway, and I honestly got a fright just out of the urgency in her voice, the look in her eyes. Amazing job and makes Paranormal Activity all the better for it; anyone else would probably not have been enough. Featherston pushed this film above a ton of other found footage out there with subpar acting and lazy characters.
Paranormal-ActivityWith an undeniably horrifying final 15 minutes, I can definitely say this is a 4 out of 5 star film. There could’ve been a little more in certain parts, but overall this is an excellent modern horror. I’m not saying this will send you to bed cowering under the covers like when we were children. What I am saying is that Oren Peli did a good job directing this, as opposed to so many shaky useless found footage efforts, and he tried to instil the film with as much practicality (from plot to effects) as possible.
This is a slow burn type of horror film, in my opinion. It does well building up tension, in part that’s due to excellent actors, and in the end there’s a massively satisfying and creepy conclusion. Love the end and watching this for the first time since its release 8 years ago, I must admit I like the film more than I’d originally thought.

Nazi Eugenics Family Horror in Frontier(s)

Frontier(s). 2007. Directed & Written by Xavier Gens.
Starring Karina Testa, Samuel Le Bihan, Estelle Lefébure, Aurélien Wiik, David Saracino, Chems Dahmani, Maud Forget, Amélie Daure, Rosine Favey, Adel Bencherif, Joël Lefrançois, Patrick Ligardes, and Jean-Pierre Jorris. Cartel Productions.
Rated NC-17. 108 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
frontier(s)-(2007) I’m a fan of Xavier Gens. Aside from Hitman, I think what I’ve seen of his filmography has been pretty spectacular. This was the first movie I’d seen directed by him, Frontier(s), and though some say it’s merely a Texas Chain Saw Massacre rip-off except in French, I thought it was a pretty good horror. An unsettling piece of work. So in an effort to watch more of his films, I waited and waited after hearing about The Divide until finally it came out; I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. That’s a completely different horror-thriller than this beast, but great in its own right; a devastatingly intense, emotional film about life after an epidemic breaks out and a city goes underground essentially. Then his segment “X is for XXL” in The ABCs of Death is fantastically grim, one of the best short horror films I’ve ever seen honestly.
But overall, I do feel that Frontier(s) is probably my favourite. There’s a familiarity about the story in this movie, definitely harkening back to Tobe Hooper’s indie horror masterpiece, but something about is different. It isn’t simply the plot which makes things different, I do find a genuine atmosphere and tone about Gens’ work here. In opposition to many other films trying to riff off TCMFrontier(s) uses the basics of that setup in order to explore an entirely different plot. Although you might see bits where it feels as if Hooper is being carbon copied, Xavier Gens only uses that as influence, perhaps a scene or two of homage. Apart from that, his film is a horrific story about desperation, family, and the will to survive.
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Frontier(s) begins with a new French president being elected into the office of France; he is a right-wing extreme type. A group of thieves – Alex (Aurélien Wiik), Tom (David Saracino), Farid (Chems Dahmani), Yasmine (Karine Testa) who is with child, and her brother Sami (Adel Bencherif) – use the riots which have erupted in Paris due to the new president as a cover for a robbery. When Sami is shot, the group splits up so that one can take him to the hospital. They agree to meat at an inn near the border.
When Tom and Farid take all the money and head to the inn, they meet innkeepers Gilberte (Estelle Lefébure) and Klaudia (Amélie Daure) who are fairly seductive. Things seem to be going pretty well at first, as the boys have a little fun in one of the rooms with the women. But soon it becomes clear the family running the inn are a little more than xenophobic. First, their apprehension towards Farid after he mentions he is Muslim speaks volumes. Although, racism is the least of Farid and Tom’s worries. Violence breaks out between the two men and two of the other psychopathic innkeepers, Goetz (Samuel Le Bihan) and Karl (Patrick Ligardes).
Once Alex and Yasmine arrive things get even worse. If that’s possible.
It’s when the family patriarch appears, Von Geisler (Jean-Pierre Jorris), the remaining guests come to understand definitively something is not right at the inn.
What follows is a descent into terror at the hands of a neo-Nazi family, hellbent on keeping the bloodline pure. Ironically enough, though, Yasmine – not caucasian by any means – is their choice to help extend the family and provide another male heir. Seems even the white supremacists throw their beliefs out the window sometimes, too. Sadly and unfortunately for Yasmine, this will lead to horrific consequences which she’ll somehow have to try and live through.
Frontiere-8504-4ee30da55e73d66bf20035c5-1323744213As I said before, no doubt you’ll find some similarities between Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Frontier(s). That being said, I think there’s a grandiosity to the family in this film that simply isn’t there with Leatherface and his family of mad cannibalistic Texans. Not saying I like this better, I don’t; TCM is one of my personal favourites, always has been, always will be. Regardless, I still do love this movie.
The family here seems to be like a small unit at first. However, it’s once the film progresses you see there’s a true clan. I enjoy the way it’s revealed as well, the extent of the family.
First, we get a glimpse around 40 minutes in or so, as Tom and Farid have driven into a massive pit, crashing the car and nearly killing themselves; they wander and find a possible way out, crawling through a tight tunnel-like hole, but come across strange creatures.
Later on, we figure out exactly what the creatures are, how they got there, which all comes to bear on the plot of the family. It’s pretty disturbing.

Something that always makes me enjoy a film, particularly horror, is if the atmosphere and tone are set correctly. As well as if they hold up throughout an entire film. Gens does well creating a tense atmosphere. The whole film has a dark, shady quality throughout every scene, almost as if a layer of fog sits over each frame. Furthermore, this helps to set a grim tone. You expect only bad things to happen, no matter how hard you hope for these people to make it out, no matter how badly you them to succeed and break away from this mad, Nazi family, there’s no hope anywhere. Not a bit.
Even more than the the shots themselves, many of which are intense, the film’s colour palette is incredible. That grim tone I mentioned is made even more nasty in that the whole movie looks washed out in grey. Gens achieves the foggy look with a colour scheme that isn’t only in the frames, the characters are all dressed in very drag colours for the most part, so other than a few points – particularly with BLOOD – every single shot looks hopeless; dreadful, in a good sense. That’s ultimately how any film can hope to achieve an aesthetic which adds to the film’s atmosphere and helps to create a sustainable tone to terrify its audience – through the use of colour, camerawork, and an overall compound of visual aspects to sort of setup a universe within the film itself.
Frontiers-Szenenbild-4One thing I found didn’t really impress me at all about Frontier(s) was the score. I think had someone composed a more unsettling bit of work in many of the scenes, I’d lift this movie even higher in my rankings than it already is now. A great score can take a mediocre movie and make it pretty damn good. Lacking here is such a score. If anything about Frontier(s) is derivative, it’s the music. There’s a part right before Alex and Yasmine experience the horror of the Nazi inn, full force, when the music sounds like a cheap rip-off of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score and it actually almost made me laugh.
As far as the sound design, I think a great job was done. Mostly my problem is with the music itself. There are a lot of excellently ominous background noises happening, especially in the big animal factory or whatever you want to call it; pigs making noise, chains rattling, and a foreboding, shadowy ambience around it all. If the score itself were something better, this movie would honestly impress me far more than it does. Not to say it isn’t impressive, that’s simply an aspect I think would’ve lifted this above an already great horror to near masterpiece.

For any of the hardcore horror hounds who need that good ole blood and gore, there’s certainly no shortage when it comes to Frontier(s). While it’s not the most savage thing I’ve ever seen, there are plenty of awesomely horrific moments that will tickle that horror bone. Even just the filthy feel of so many scenes is enough to put you in that terrorized headspace. Once the remaining guests at the inn are divided up in that animal factory – that’s just what I’m calling it now, for your information – things get nasty. You really feel bad for these characters, as they’ve each got to deal with their separate fates. Watching Yasmine and Alex roll around in the mud of one of those pig pens is already bad enough.
But it’s the gory bits that are worth the price of admission here. Gens gives us enough blood to satisfy the urge. As the film wears on, more people get maimed, more people die. It’s the ending which really delivers on this end, as Yasmine is forced to fight for her life in order to try and find way off that farm and back to real life, out there somewhere. A slick look to the film, Gens makes the savagery look gorgeous in a twisted way. But make no mistake about it, there is horror and the gore is present!

One huge thing I love about the New French Extremity movement, and French horror in general as of late, is the fact many of their films end up with strong female characters. Some times they are heroes, other times more like the “final girl” trope. However, Yasmine in Frontier(s) relies on no man to save her, she fights and claws her way from out of the Nazi inn, full of blood and viscera by the time she does, and it’s refreshing. Normally we have to see the female character raped and violated, then half the time a man runs in to save her; here, most of any real atrocities she faces are not shown, and there’s no need for anyone else to save Yasmine, she is no damsel in distress. Part of why I love this movie and why it isn’t simply a rip-off of previous horror. This is fresh in its own ways, of which a strong female lead is one.
still-of-karina-testa-in-frontier(s)-(2007)-large-pictureThere’s no way I can give Frontier(s) any less than 4 stars. I actually wanted to give it a half star more, but I think the score disappointed me enough that I felt it took something away from what could’ve been accomplished. In the end, it doesn’t matter too much. This is still a totally solid, effective horror. It follows in much the same vein as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, yet it doesn’t aim to repeat all the same moves, and it doesn’t try to carbon copy the characters or events. Xavier Gens comes up with an interesting new plot to add with a familiar story. While it might feel we’re seeing something that’s been done before, Gens gives us a fresh look at the family of killers sub-genre so often implemented in horror. Here it’s not only a crazed family of murderers, they also happen to be Nazis – upholders of racial purity. So there’s something extremely dark and eerie about the fact this family takes Yasmine as the new ‘bride’; haunts me to this day. There’s also the fact Yasmine is pregnant from the beginning, so this plays into the Nazi family plans later in the film. Lots of things going on behind the curtain.
I always recommend Gens’ Frontier(s) as a solid modern horror that has homages of older classics, but is all very much its own bouquet of horrors. If you want something intense, disturbing, and full of nasty blood and gore, you could do a lot worse than see this one.

WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END – Rollins Reality Show Ushers in Sleazy Backwoods Bloodletting

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End. 2007. Directed by Joe Lynch. Screenplay by Turi Meyer & Al Septien, based on characters by Alan McElroy. Starring Erica Leerhsen, Henry Rollins, Texas Battle, Aleksa Palladino, Daniella Alonso, Steve Braun, Matthew Currie Holmes, Crystal Lowe, and featuring Kimberly Caldwell.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 93 minutes.
Horror

★★★
WrongTurn2-2 By some accounts, this sequel to the fairly well-done backwoods horror flick Wrong Turn is meant as an homage to 1980s era horror sequels. Now, I do think this was a decent effort at coming up with a sequel to the first film, but I don’t really see much in the way of homage to 80s sequels. What I do see is a movie that wants to keep with the gore from the first, however, aside from the blood and the inbred cannibals being intense, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End falters hard on the acting side of things, as well as with the characters. There’s an overall lack of good dialogue, most of the worthy bits being uttered by either Erica Lerhsen or Henry Rollins, and the actors, most of them, didn’t really sell their characters; they were not only unbelievable, they were wooden and stiff throughout the whole movie. Aside from these flaws, I do like this movie, but I like it for what it is: gory fun.

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End opens with a real ridiculous scene where actress Kimberly (Kimberly Caldwell) drives through the West Virginia backroads. Eventually she hits someone, and believing them to be hurt badly, goes to check – it an inbred cannibal. Kimberly meets a rough end, but this first kill sets up a highly campy, outrageous atmosphere. I liked the gory bits here, I just think the tone started right away as an almost comical horror, when I don’t think this is a horror-comedy at all, in any way; even if there are a few jokes now and then. From there we see retired Marine Dale Murphy [Henry Rollins] hosting a new Survivor-style show that takes place in the supposed aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse, something similar anyways, and then the contestants show up – Nina (Erica Leerhsen), Jake (Texas Battle), Amber (Daniella Alonso), Elena (Crystal Lowe), Jonesy (Steve Braun), and when Kimberly naturally does not show up to film Mara (Aleksa Palladino) agrees to help her douchebag director boyfriend M (Matthew Currie Holmes) by taking the last spot. The rules are laid for competitions and similar activities, then the contestants head off with cameras strapped to a band on their heads, into the woods where cameras are setup everywhere. But cameras and the watching eyes of reality television are the least of their worries. For in the woods lurk more inbred cannibals, even Three Finger (played here by Jeff Scrutton) from the first Wrong Turn, and things will get worse as the night closes in.
1869_1The acting, as I mentioned, is what really does not work for this sequel. I think as a director Joe Lynch does a pretty good job. Unfortunately, not all these actors have enough skills to make the characters interesting. Some of the moments between Amber (Daniella Alonso) and Jonesy (Steve Braun) are beyond cringeworthy; Braun has charisma, but the character is one-dimensional and gets truly annoying after the first 5 minutes with him. Texas Battle tried to play the character of Jake Washington well. I don’t know if it was Jake’s dialogue, or him, I just could not stand him either. Also, there were just awkward moments in the script: at one point Jake and Nina (Erica Leerhsen) are running from the cannibals, Nina steps on a nail, so they stop and all of a sudden it’s like the perfect time to have a personal conversation, to develop characters. This moment could’ve worked, and it did in a sense, it just didn’t land in the right place. It would’ve been a good scene for earlier than it happened. There are a few instances like this where I think the script didn’t do Lynch or the actors justice. Henry Rollins was fun, and even he couldn’t save a few of the rotten lines they gave him. If only the screenplay were treated with more care the movie might’ve succeeded in the places where it disappoints.
wrong-turn-2-dead-end-343535lAn aspect of Wrong Turn 2: Dead End that does live up to its predecessor is the gore. Even with the opening scene and its ridiculous, over-the-top/completely silly kill, the blood and guts are here in spades, and aside from the beginning there are fun, fun kills (that’s sick, right?… whatever…).
SPOILER AHEAD: one of my favourite moments is when Amber, Jake, and Jonesy discover they’ve been chewing on human meat – what they thought was a plain ole hunter’s barbecue on an open fire – and then Jonesy pukes, and they all take off. The moment of realization is excellent, and works.
MORE SPOILERS: I thought it was excellent that they sort of throw us off, making the viewer believe Mara (Aleksa Palladino) is going to be one of the protagonists of the story, and then all of a sudden – WHACK – axe in the head, out for the count, cannibals chewing on her liberated appendages. Maybe some saw it coming, but I thought how Lynch and the writers set it up, with Mara and M (Matthew Currie Holmes) having a messed up relationship and her offering to become a contestant, that she would end up being one of the “heroes” later on. Pleasant surprise. I like when characters aren’t necessarily safe just because their setup makes it look that way, and Lynch played this card well.
19f91a4cf9572cc0d894647ee1f3aea9Lynch went hard at the incest angle of the inbred cannibals, which, of course, we know is happening. I just think there was a bit too much needless sexuality – from the cannibals actually having sex, one wearing the scalp and hair of a victim while she gets thrust into by her brother, to one of them having a good wank in the woods while watching Elena (Crystal Lowe) swim in the water. Not like I’m offended. I don’t get why Lynch wanted to include so much of it. Maybe it was to help the disturbing factor sink in, maybe it made things more unsettling, but either way I thought it was needless in the end. Sure – include a bit, I have no issue with that because it’s part of the whole plot of the series, that this family is inbred and they’re constantly creating more little monsters to run around feeding on humans as they please – there is a certain point, though, where something goes into overkill. The sexuality here was too rampant. Lynch did a fine job as it was using the gore to make things disturbing and creepy, I don’t believe those sex bits did anything for the characters, the story, or the fear he was attempting to instill in his audience.
wrong-turn-2-dead-end-152583lAll in all, I have to give this particular sequel in the series a 3 out of 5 stars. It isn’t awful, I think it was a worthy sequel to the first. By the same token, I do see a lot of flaws in the script, the acting, and some of the choices Joe Lynch makes. Lynch is a good horror mind, I do think so, but he didn’t really hit the mark here – no worry, he has gone on to other bigger, better things since. Mostly it’s the gore, the cannibals, Henry Rollins and Erica Leerhsen which made me feel like this movie is worth a 3-star rating. Lynch could’ve absolutely done a lot worse. Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is, if anything, a good dose of fun with tons of blood, gore, and creepy stuff to haunt you. It’s one of the better in the whole Wrong Turn series, which may not necessarily be saying much, but it’s worth watching. Horror isn’t dead, it’s only hiding the corners. This may not be an amazing or anywhere near perfect sequel. It is a good effort, and its heart + other internal organs are in the right place, even if not every last portion of the film succeeds.

[REC] Follows Everyday Life into a Zombie Epidemic

[Rec]. 2007. Directed by Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza. Screenplay by Jaume Balagueró, Luis Berdejo & Paco Plaza.
Starring Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Pablo Rosso, David Vert, Vicente Gil, Martha Carbonell, and Carlos Vicente. Sony Pictures.
Rated R. 78 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2

First off – I’m not one of these snobs who feels the need to distinguish between a “zombie film” and an “infection film”, okay? If you’re going to argue with me, or not take my opinion on this great movie seriously solely because of the fact I’m going to call this a zombie movie (as I will any movie that features infected people who kill other human beings), then turn away now! For I will throw out the words “zombie film” & “zombie movie” like I’m giving away candy.
REC1-620x330Are you ready? Then let’s begin.

It’s actually sort of funny when I think about it – [Rec] is a combination of two very played out, tired sub-genres of horror: found footage and zombies. Now, I’m not saying these are the types of films I don’t enjoy. On the contrary, I love both found footage and zombies. That’s if they’re done well. Just as gangs of undead roam the apocalyptic streets of the sub-genre, hordes of zombie films crowd the market, as tons and tons of young amateur horror directors try to us their vision of such a world. There are actually a lot of really great zombie movies, however, as many of them that are good are paralleled with equal numbers which are mediocre (at best) to terrible – to unfortunate. The same goes for found footage. I really enjoy a bunch of found footage movies. By the same token, I can think of more than several handfuls that I did not enjoy. I think more and more these days, the amateur horror director now leans towards doing a found footage film above a zombie movie. Because whereas a zombie movie can be done on a low-to-non-existent budget, you can do found footage for as much or less.

recThen there is [Rec].

These two directors show us the story of a television reporter, Ángela Vidal [Manuela Velasco], and her cameraman, Pablo [Pablo Rosso], who are filming footage of the night shift at a local fire station. When an old woman calls, apparently trapped in her apartment, the firemen respond. Terrible screams are heard from the old woman’s apartment. Afterwards, the firefighters, along with Ángela & Pablo, discover what exactly is happening. From here, the night turns into a nightmarish situation for the news crew, the firefighters, and everyone in the building, as soon they are all trapped inside the building. While the situation unfolds, Ángela makes Pablo keep filming to make sure the outside world knows what horror has begun.

xtuuSOne aspect which can really kill a found footage film is how the filmmakers actually present the so-called footage. For instance, in Ti West’s recent film The Sacrament he used the real life news outlet VICE to help portray the footage itself – as they often do stories that are considered “immersionism”, this fit the film well because West was able to edit things, add a very foreboding score, and other such things. In the case of [Rec]Balagueró and Plaza present their film as a television news report. Essentially it all goes awry, and then the reporter plus her cameraman are left to fend for themselves. The fact Ángela urges Pablo to keep filming so they can let the world know what is happening in the building really helps the found footage angle work. Usually, we get people arguing “turn off the camera”, and then it all devolves into arguments, screaming, characters are then divided to later be killed off, or whatever the case. In this sense, many found footage movies can really blend together into the same old garbage. However, by having Pablo keep filming at the insistence of Ángela, this really makes things feel natural. It’s not one of those roll your eyes moments where you think “how typical”. This is one of my favourite things about this movie. I think [Rec]2 also did a good job of continuing this trend, and making the presence of found footage feel much more real than other lesser films.
1860277-rec_2007_2
I think while a couple performances, particularly those of Manuela Velasco and even Pablo Rosso, were really good, much of what I most enjoyed about [Rec] was the blood and the zombies. I mean, that’s what we really come to a zombie movie looking to find. With this film, you will get your money’s worth. In particular, I just wanted to mention one of the last zombies we actually get to see in the movie. Without ruining anything in the plot, there’s this extremely terrifying zombie wandering around in the basement when Ángela and Pablo make their way down there. You’ll know which one I’m talking about because this scary lady is not only naked – she’s brandishing what looks like a ball-peen hammer. Now, I won’t go any further and say what exactly happens. I’ll just say this one bit of zombie make-up really looked spectacular. It’s very rare I actually drop my jaw and lean into the screen for a closer look at something creepy. This moment had me glued. I really love it. Plus, what happens after they come across this specific zombie is wild.
Rec-still-2I can give this a 4.5 out of 5 stars easily. This is one of the best zombie films out there. I know there are a lot of purists who seem to think George A. Romero is the only person to ever make a real zombie film. I say that’s absolute bullshit. He is the godfather of the modern zombie sub-genre in horror. Of that, there is no doubt. But you can’t discount a whole sub-genre (or maybe you could say it’s a genre unto its own nowadays with The Walking Dead dominating television on AMC) by saying only one man can do it right. I love his films. Still, there are plenty of other great zombies out there. Some of those are in [Rec].
rec04With the newest addition to the series out in the last few days, I wanted to revisit this modern classic. I love this one, as well as the sequel. And while I don’t particularly dig the third installment, this fourth movie almost reminds me of one of the Resident Evil games – Revelations, I believe – takes place on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Anyways – point is, I’m looking forward to seeing it myself. While it doesn’t seem to be the favourite of critics, I never usually fall in line with popular opinions. I’ll wait and see myself. If you’ve not yet seen any of these, please do yourself a favour and watch them soon. [Rec] is a fascinating found footage film, and it brings all the zombie carnage and mayhem you could have hoped for – highly recommended.