From 2016

FSHG’s Favourite 50(+) Films: 2010-2019

Against all odds, Father Gore gives you 50(+) of his favourite films this decade had to offer.

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31: Creeps, Clowns, & Chaotic Terror

31. 2016. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie.
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Malcolm McDowell, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson, Richard Brake, Pancho Moler, David Ury, Lew Temple, Torsten Voges, & E.G. Daily.
Bow and Arrow Entertainment/PalmStar Media/Protagonist Pictures.
Rated R. 102 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
posterI’ll defend Rob Zombie to the day I die. You can say you don’t like him, you don’t dig his brand of horror; that’s totally fine. To each their own. You can’t say objectively that everything he does is bad. Because that simply isn’t true.
31 is a markedly different piece of horror from Mr. Zombie. It’s so clearly in his style, from the way he directs to how he writes his characters. At the same time, this is even more savage than his previous efforts with scarier characters, and we’re not given too much explanation so as to ruin the effect of his various maniacs. There is the recognisable Zombie directing, the old school 1970s-type freeze frames and his unique brand of dialogue. He’s just decided to take it up a notch.
The game at the heart of Murderworld – where Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell), Sister Serpent (Jane Carr) and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson) bring their victims – is truly terrifying. Not something we haven’t seen before. Zombie makes the gimmick worth it. This isn’t some kind of Saw building setup with booby traps. No, Father and the Sisters have gathered together the worst of the worst killers, assembled their massive warehouse like a carnival of rooms and let those murderous clowns loose to play. Along with Zombie’s dare to be disturbing these clowns are something to behold.
pic1Totally dig the opening scene with Doom-Head (Richard Brake). He’s capable of channelling sinister energy, which comes out nicely here. The way Zombie has everything open, before we discover the pastor sitting on the other side of the shot awhile later, it’s as if Doom-Head is speaking right to us, the viewer. He tells us a tale before the kill. Of course he’s talking to the pastor. But it’s a neat way to get things going. Compounded by the fact it’s shot in black-and-white, there’s something jarring. Essentially, it’s the prologue to Zombie’s tale of horrific madness. A no-nonsense immersion into the stark terror for which Zombie so clearly aims. We come back to Doom-Head later, as he’s the ultimate main villain of the film. When we do, Brake goes into full awe mode, as he quotes Casablanca, Che Guevara, as well as has ferocious sex while watching Nosferatu, among plenty of other insanity; and it works. He’s a showstopper. Watching him put on the makeup is a transformation of acting and editing. Brake pumps himself up in terrifying form screaming “Im not crazy Im in control” then punching himself in the nose a ton. Meanwhile, the cuts leading up to his little chant flash around, skipping, like a schizophrenic fit, and then Brake’s face turns from a smile to a frown; the blood runs cold watching him become a vision of disorder.
The crazy clowns are each pretty gnarly! Sick-Head (Pancho Moler) surprised me. I feel like there was too much time spent on his character. Otherwise, he’s nasty. From the Nazi-Hitler fixation to the fact he’s a tiny man, it hits that shocking spot just right. The ones who disturbed me most were the pairings: brothers Psycho-Head (Lew Temple) and Schizo-Head (David Ury) wielding chainsaws, threatening sexual violence, looking like the sort of child molester clowns we all feared as children; then there’s Death-Head (Torsten Voges) and Sex-Head (E.G. Daily), a walking Freudian horror nightmare. Out of the two pairs, Sex and Death are the most bloodcurdling. Their size is off-putting, Death looming so tall and Sex so tiny. Death is physically intimidating and really strange-looking; Sex is tiny, violent, cute in a way that doesn’t make me feel good, and scary as fuck. While I do think Doom-Head steals the show because of Brake’s startling performance, the rest of the gang are equally well written by Zombie to give them all their own frightening elements.
pic1Zombie’s always guilty of a few writing mistakes. Mostly, he often doesn’t trim some of the fat. Like Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie) when she gives us the cliche “You wanna know whats going on inside my head; Ill tell you whats going on inside my head” before, yes, telling us exactly what’s on her mind. More than that I also find the character of Panda Thomas (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) poorly written. Could be that Hilton-Jacobs’ performance is super forced and annoying, too. Not sure which is the worst part of it. Either way, Panda isn’t as interesting as some of the others.
There’s lots of gritty, stylish directing on the part of Zombie, though. For all the slack in his writing he makes the whole film visually interesting. Whether it’s sticking to that ’70s practical effects driven horror and old school editing (those awesome swipe transitions at certain points make the movie feel like a comic book), or stylised sequences such as the showdown with Sex and Death, Zombie finds a way to bring something more than turning the camera on and letting the blood flow. He promised his most brutal film yet. I’ve seen some reviews out there who don’t think he’s accomplished that. I disagree. He’s definitely done disturbing before. Although, never before has his disturbing material reached such an adrenaline-fuelled, frenzied height of ferocity. In the best horror loving sense, it’s beyond fun.
pic2There’ll be constant detractors of Zombie because they just don’t like him, for whatever reason. There are legitimate horror fans who can’t get into his style. I respect all opinions, long as you can back them up. But for me, 31 is a blast. Some of my favourite horror is the more cerebral sort, the kind you can get lost in and think about constantly. In high regard I also hold the horror which purely scares me, to the bone. Doesn’t have to be an elaborate, twisty story to make me feel creeped out. Brake, among the other Heads, does enough to get to me, let alone some of the general blood an gore tossed in. SPOILER ALERT AHEAD: the ending does it for me, when we see Father Murder and the Sisters change back to their normal lives, and yet Doom-Head can’t let go. Yeah, the others are clearly sick, but how Doom can’t change back without finishing the game, you see how utterly lost in the delusion he’s become. A simple, horrifying conclusion.
I feel there are things Zombie could’ve easily changed, made better. A couple performances aren’t what they ought to be. Once more, Brake saves the day, as do Jeff Daniel Phillips, and Meg Foster (of whom I’ve always been a big fan). But Brake, he is the supervillain of the Heads, the violently crazy clowns of Murderworld. He gives me an actual fright, in the quieter, more subtle moments. There’s a pulsating electronic score at times, not the typical Zombie stuff (with help from John 5), which helps with much needed tension. The camera is chaotic, and also there are beautifully framed shots that linger: later when Doom-Head chokes Charly, their eyes are intercut in closeups, mirrored again right before the final shot. I do think Zombie, amongst all the viciousness, keeps improving as a filmmaker in a lot of different ways.
At the end of the day Zombie sets out to do what he wanted: to get fucked up, disturbing and nasty. He wants to get under your skin. Maybe if you think there’s too much violence, he did his job. Maybe if you feel the Heads are all too much, he did his job. And perhaps if you don’t feel like there’s enough violence, like Zombie didn’t deliver on the dripping blood and sloppy gore, then I don’t know if we were watching the same film.

Midnight Special is Emotional Sci-Fi with Action Bones

Midnight Special. 2016. Directed & Written by Jeff Nichols.
Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks, David Jensen, Sharon Landry, Dana Gourrier, Sharon Garrison, Allison King, & Sean Bridgers. Faliro House Productions/Tri-State Pictures/Warner Bros.
Rated PG. 112 minutes.
Adventure/Drama/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
POSTER
When it comes to independent films, Jeff Nichols is a writer-director I’ve admired now for a few years. Shotgun Stories in 2007 was a great little movie that tackled the flawed masculinity inherent in Southern blood feuds as it examined two sets of half brothers in the aftermath of their father’s death. It also starred the wonderful character actor Michael Shannon, whom many have grown to love as of late particularly. Later, in Take Shelter again starring Shannon, Nichols took us into a highly psychological world that bent the limits of reality, begging us to wonder whether or not the events onscreen were real, or if they were just manifestations of the lead character’s troubled mind. Mud was an interesting, subtle look at people on the fringe, how they come together, and how they survive.
But now, teaming once more with Shannon alongside a slew of other wonderful talents from newer (Adam Driver) to classic (Sam Shepard), Nichols breaks out with an emotionally charged, intelligent, slick thriller that runs the gamut of family drama and adventure to science fiction. Midnight Special is a lot of things. Above all, it is engaging. In a day and age of remakes – some good, a lot terrible – big budget blockbusters without any soul, Nichols’ films are continually a ray of light. This is no different. There are many things to enjoy. And if I can suggest anything, go in without knowing anything. Even the plot. It won’t ruin things if you do, but the beginning is even more tense and filled with excitement if you’re relatively clueless.
And for that reason let’s just dig right in.
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The plot is a lot of fun. Despite knowing from trailers that the film is heavily science fiction, there’s a very raw human drama to the opening few scenes. It doesn’t stop there either. As Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) rush Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) around from one place to the next, under cover of night, all we know of the situation for sure is that there’s a massive hunt for the boy, an amber alert, everything. So if you had no better idea it’d seem like a truly distressing situation. But slowly, Nichols lets the information trickle down. What starts and continues as a human drama also takes on elements of a larger, more complicated, complex universe that Nichols has created.
We’re introduced to people from The Ranch, the men dressed in suit and ties, the women dressed like Jehovah’s Witnesses. They all seem to have a strange fascination, or rather obsession, with little Alton. And the gravity of everything is so evident. Not only are Roy and Lucas transporting Alton extremely secretively, to the point of gunning down a cop early on, it seems the father is dead set on protecting the boy. There are a ton of things happening, too. In a movie that’s just a little shy of two hours in length, Nichols packs a good punch. All the different aspects of the screenplay are pretty well fleshed out without having to be too full of exposition. Plus, things get real action oriented past the half hour mark, which then takes the pacing to another level. The first thirty minutes are a nice, effective slow burn that picks up steam quickly heading forward.
When we finally start to see more of Alton and his powers, the whole movie gets infinitely more interesting. More and more, scene after scene, Nichols reveals further bits of the boy’s abilities. Yet there’s a cryptic nature to them until late in the game. We’re never cheated, but Nichols definitely draws it out. Expertly. The suspension and tension as the plot moves on at a steady pace really will get your heart rate up, in the best kind of sense.Film Review Midnight Special
Alton: “Whats Kryptonite?”
Lucas: “Its the only thing thatll kill Superman
Roy: “Its made up
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There is never enough Michael Shannon. He’s a talented actor whose work is consistent. Even in movies that aren’t so great (i.e Man of SteelThe IcemanPremium Rush), his talent makes things more interesting, more credible. He can really disappear into a lot of different roles, which is why he’s best deemed a character actor. His strength is that he’s got the handsome look, though there’s something odd about him, too. He has an affable quality, then there is a dangerous, strange side to him that can come out just as easily. Here, he plays a devoted, loving father pushed to the limit. He is a father under special circumstances. So there’s all this conflict in his character, but above all he is a father who wants to protect his son, no matter what the cost. And he’s forced into a blind faith, all out of love for his boy. A great performance, well written role.
The rest of the cast are equally as excellent. Edgerton is a fantastic talent (also a good writer) and he plays well off Shannon. They’re very believable together, which is honestly something I never predicted beforehand. What I like is that Edgerton has the same kind of qualities as Shannon, except in a different way. He is at once that manly, tough-looking kind of guy when he wants to be, at others he has a sensitive quality. In addition, Kirsten Dunst is good here as the mother of Alton, estranged from Roy. I’ve long said she is a solid actor, having recently given a complex performance in Season 2 of Fargo. She adds an extra, intriguing aspect to Alton and Roy, as a family. That brings us more of the family drama that makes Midnight Special a more interesting science fiction themed film than many others out there.
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When the action gets pounding the film never lets up. There are moments where it’s a chase movie, others the guns start to fly. Sometimes we get wild expressions of Alton’s powers. All the while, the cinematography by Adam Stone captures everything so naturally, and in turn beautifully, even in the moments of pure speculative fiction that happen throughout. Add to that some really great synthesizer score from composer David Wingo, and those moments of tension where things are tight, the pulse is pumping, they become more intense. Sometimes it’s a semi-homage to the 1980s, but most of all it is simply an effective bit of electronic music that serves to augment a film; like any good score should.
This is all around an excellent film in terms of its visual components and its sound, not just the score but also the design. There are too many moments to list really. But Nichols, as director, crafts Midnight Special into a beautiful piece of work aided by these two artists.
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Absolutely a 5-star film. There are so many derivative science fiction works out there, in movies and literature. It’s nice to see Jeff Nichols take the initiative and make something different. He lets everything flow out organically, never pushing the plot too much or too far, but rather just allowing it to unfold. The science fiction, though utterly central to the story, is not always the most interesting element. The family, the cult at The Ranch, the relationship between father and son, the relationship between best friends Lucas and Roy; so many things take precedence over the presence of a little boy with sort-of-super powers. Everything comes together here and Midnight Special takes its rightful place near the top of the best list of modern science fiction over the past couple decades. Nichols turns this into something completely unexpected. By the time it’s over, you won’t know what hit you.

Hush: Flanagan and Siegel Offer a Quietly Unnerving Horror

Hush. 2016. Directed by Mike Flanagan. Screenplay by Flanagan & Kate Siegel.
Starring John Gallagher Jr, Kate Siegel, Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, & Emma Graves. Intrepid Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER I’m unabashedly a fan of Mike Flanagan. While a lot of people were blown away by his horror Oculus, as well as the short film which preceded it, my favourite of his work has been the smaller, even more independent feature Absentia – a story of grief, loss, tragedy, and ghosts. Flanagan is capable of capturing terror in a way that doesn’t necessarily require the typical jump scares or other cliches expected from the horror genre. Not saying he doesn’t go for them now and then. Rather, he doesn’t rely on it as a technique to gain him the audience’s terror.
So, once Hush came along – premiering worldwide today on Netflix – the premise alone guarantees there’ll be a few interesting tweaks to the horror sub-genre of home invasion. What might, at the hands of a lesser director, be a generically tedious slasher-like horror becomes a nicely crafted work of tension and suspense that delivers more than just creeps around the corner and a few mild frights. A quiet, unnerving piece of cinema, Hush is another proper notch on the terrifying belt of Flanagan.
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Living in a house in the woods, Maddie (Kate Siegel) – a deaf woman – spends her days in virtual isolation. Although, she does have friends nearby who check on her, come to visit, as well as read her work, as she is a budding author.
But one evening, as the sun starts to go down, she finds herself being stalked by a masked man (John Gallagher Jr). Once things take a turn for the worse and the man unmasks himself, Maddie realizes there may only be one way out: kill, or be killed. As the night progresses, she has to fight for her life if making it out alive will ever be an option.
Will Maddie’s deafness spell her murder? Or will she defend herself and her home from the unknown assailant?
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Dig the way Flanagan gives us the inner world of Maddie. Early on, she writes in her novel and her inner voice rattles through variant sentences, different thoughts, et cetera. So there’s this incredible effect of her being deaf, though, still being able to hear her own voice in her head. And that’s juxtaposed with the fact things can happen around her without being noticed. Quickly after we watch her writing the novel, a masked man kills her friend right outside, banging her against the doors. Immediately, we’re setup with the premise, all it entails. Going forward, Flanagan uses all this in order to play on our emotions, to set up tense situations, and to draw out every bit of suspense possible.
What’s even more interesting is how Flanagan and star Siegel, also co-writer and life partner to the director, have crafted 80-odd minutes of film, only about 15 of which actually has any dialogue. So around 70 minutes of Hush goes by with the natural sounds of Maddie breathing, moving around the house, as the man stalking her is silent most of the time, too. To create an atmosphere of palpable dread, and also uncertainty, out of a film that spends so much time in quietude, Flanagan really does get to show off his chops. Above the horror and thriller elements, this home invasion flick tries to give us a central character whose trajectory is not solely defined by helplessness. Yes, Maddie is helpless in that she’s both deaf and lives in an isolated area. Although that does not define who she comes to be over the course of the film. In fact, she’s actually defined by her power, the fact she actively fights back and takes a proactive role in her own defense. Despite her disability, Maddie does not fail herself, she doesn’t make a ton of idiotic decisions like so many “Final Girls” and other similar characters typical of the horror genre. There’s no reinvented wheel here. Simply, Flanagan and Siegel aim to try and do something different, unusual with a cliche home invasion sub-genre setup.
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In part, the sound design is a major aspect to the film’s mood. Obviously in a story that centers on a deaf woman there’s going to be some type of effort on part of the director to bring us into her world. For instance, right off the bat Maddie is cooking – the audience hears everything loud, boisterous, the water bubbling, the garlic getting crushed, vegetables chopped. The sound design is heavy and almost abrasive. Then quickly, Flanagan takes us inside Maddie’s brain. The room becomes silent, airtight, not a single sound escapes. Frequently, we’re taken back into her head, as a space that sort of closes us off from the sound design. Even then, we hear the dull thump of sounds around her, the slight sounds in the environment, though, she hears absolutely nothing. This does heighten the suspense and tension. Then when a scene comes where there’s dialogue, it almost feels foreign, and the entire time you’re feeling unnerved, uneasy about what may happen. There comes a point the audience is almost more comfortable in the silence than they are with normal sounds. Furthermore, Maddie speaks to herself, in her head. So because of the amount of time we’re treated to what’s happening inside her mind, Maddie’s perspective feels like our own. This could be accomplished just by spending the entire film with her. At the same time, allowing us access to her inner sanctum, while also getting the perspective outside her head, this really cements the feeling as a first-person perspective that sometimes allows us third-person insight.
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What could have easily been typical, drawn out, boring, becomes exciting material at the hands of director Mike Flanagan. Along with Kate Siegel, both star and writer, this story evolves into a nice treat for fans of the horror genre, as well as the home invasion sub-genre. Absolutely, Hush is a 4-star affair. Flanagan knows how to work with dread. Here, he allows us over 80 minutes to become emotionally attached to Maddie, to understand her, and mostly, root for her survival. With perfect sound design, a very fun score by The Newton Brothers, plus a knockout performance from Siegel and John Gallagher Jr giving us his ghoulish best as the man after her, Hush is jam packed with enjoyable, nail-biting moments.
Available as of today on Netflix, you really should check this out and see what it has to offer. Here’s to hoping Flanagan keeps making more solid horror movies, and that his adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game actually comes to life, because this setup was a great way to start exploring some of the techniques which might be useful in filming that.

The Witch: Religious Madness and Persecution in Early America

The Witch. 2015. Directed & Written by Robert Eggers.
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings, & Wahab Chaudhry. Parts and Labor/RT Features/Rooks Nest Entertainment/Code Red Productions/Scythia Films/Maiden Voyage Pictures/Mott Street Pictures/Pulse Films/Special Projects.
Rated 14A. 93 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★★
POSTER
People will tell you that The Witch is overhyped, that critics are simply trying to sell Robert Eggers’ feature film debut  as something more than it really is, or rather that anyone calling the movie a modern horror masterpiece is, to put it plainly, full of shit. I’ll put my two cents in to say Eggers has made an impressive, unapologetic horror about witchcraft, religion, repression, and above all paranoia. Eggers’ talent is enormous as a director, not to mention he brings with him the further talents of cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (who will no doubt see a spike in his being booked for future films), as well as a host of others who elevated this picture to its level of art. The quiet and subtle essence of the film is its strongest point. Around the edges of all the amazing cinematography and direction is a score from composer Mark Korven, which at times calls to mind classic horror films and at others brings its own feeling while keeping you on edge, engrossed in the moment and continually wondering what may come next. There are so many things to love about The Witch, from its look and entire atmosphere to the cast whose willingness to go all in on the characters makes each scene worth relishing.
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The year is 1630. In New England, William (Ralph Ineson) and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) live as devout Christians, so much so that they do not fit in with the colony, and William’s refusal to conform with the church sends them out into the wild on their own with their children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Mercy (Ellie Grainger), Jonas (Lucas Dawson), as well as the newborn infant Samuel.
After settling into their new life, one day Thomasin plays with the baby. But out of nowhere, Samuel goes missing. They search for  aweek for the child, to no avail. While Katherine is distraught, blaming Thomasin for the disappearance, the children believe it is a witch hiding out in the forest, stealing and eating babies. William, steadfast in his religious ways, assures Katherine of their favour with God, that he is merely testing them. However, once Thomasin goes into the woods hunting with Caleb, and only she returns, the search is on once more. Only this time, even William begins to suspect his daughter may have been wed to the devil.
As religious paranoia and repression take hold, the family’s land becomes haunted. And the devil slowly but surely creeps his way into their hearts and minds.
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I’ll admit, maybe Eggers isn’t for all horror fans. My expectations, though they were huge and still paid off, were also subverted, completely. There were many times I expected things to happen, or the plot to go a certain way, yet Eggers defied me at nearly every turn. There isn’t anything particularly revolutionary in terms of plot here, but the way in which it plays out is lots of terrifying, horrific fun. The dialogue may be a problem for some, as I’m sure not every horror fan will enjoy the Early Modern English dialogue. But that’s part of why I love the screenplay, we truly feel in the time and part of what makes everything so scary is that the story feels real. So all the different elements to the movie make each aspect seem true to life. Part of what sometimes angers me in period pieces is that the characters don’t speak properly for that period in time (we see much of this similarly in films that have people supposedly Russian or German speaking English only with the respective accents; another piss off we sometimes have to endure for Hollywood to make the stories they want). The Witch brushes that off by having the dialogue all in Early Modern English, which drives home, along with so much of the natural-looking cinematography, the authenticity. Furthermore, I love the way Eggers keeps us guessing. Without revealing too much of any actual plot detail, other than the obvious, what intrigued me most is that we’re never quite sure whether or not what we see is reality, if everything in each scene is truly taking place. At least not until the plot develops more and certain events (see: Caleb and the apples) force us to realize exactly what is happening. Again, not an overly fresh idea as a whole, but certainly Eggers takes it and puts his spin on it, absolutely providing us with a fresh take on an old tale. And the fact there was lots of research put into the writing in terms of looking at actual records (et cetera) from the period that still remain, folktales and other bits of writing as well, only makes the movie more enjoyable for its attempts at getting things right.
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The dark beauty of the film is very much a result of Eggers’ direction, Jarin Blaschke on duty as cinematographer, and Mark Korven creating a tense, moody score to compliment their work. Even shots of the forest itself seem ominous, as it stands tall and shadowy in the midst of day, the stands of trees casting a deep sorrow within the woods. Putting Korven’s score on top, Eggers shows us ominous, foreboding frames of the vast wilderness, which itself almost becomes as terrifying as the witch out there. The natural lighting of the interior scenes, inside the family’s small barn or its main house, casts everything in long shadows, flickering on the walls and on the faces of the characters; again, this technique amplifies the authentic feeling of the entire film. The rich texture of the movie’s look makes things feel perfect, as if you’re right there in the trees watching them go by, right next to William as he chops wood, or in the field with the children playing.
Best of all, though, are the brief and unsettling scenes where we see the witch herself. Barely do we ever get a straight look at her, but still, she is a devilish presence. Very early on we’re treated to a scene where she mashes up what we’re to believe is a baby, smearing its blood all over her body, all over a large thin tree, and every last bit of this is covered in shadow, so that there’s barely much you can see. What you do see is disturbing. It sets the tone for everything to come. Another aspect of the film I dig, that Eggers gets the macabre atmosphere going almost from the start, within very little time. So much so there is rarely a moment without tension, not many moments where you’ll feel able to breathe a sigh of relief. Just another reason this film is a modern work of horror art.
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Aside from the technical aspects, The Witch is dominated by powerful acting. Each of the actors brings their role to life, even the young kids who add their own authenticity to the scenes. Particularly, both Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy are magic here, as they are both faithful, religious people in their own rights, but who end up walking down quite different paths. Taylor-Joy does spectacular work with the character of Thomasin, which isn’t easy, and especially once the finale arrives I found myself hooked on her eyes; watching just her face in those last few minutes will chill any warm heart. Ineson is perfection as William, a man trying to keep his faith and family together as one, and a father confronted with the ultimate evil at his doorstep, invading his home; his delivery of lines will keep you glued, even if Early Modern English troubles you, as he can reel you in with just a look, a motion. Two excellent performances heading an already solid cast.
5 stars go to Robert Eggers and . Everyone in the theatre with me today seemed transfixed, whether they liked it or not. Certainly this isn’t a film for everyone, and those looking for a modern horror with all the modern cliches will be disappointed. Likewise, don’t go in expecting the same thing as It Follows or The Babadook, two other notable modern horror movies that did well recently. The Witch is entirely its own brand, despite taking on a timeworn sub-genre in witchcraft. This creeped me out royally at many points and I’m liable to see this again someday soon, as the atmosphere and the entire production itself really hit the spot, I’d love to experience it another time around. Until it hits Blu ray; then I’ll watch it to death, whether I die or the disc dies first remains to be seen.

Martyrs 2.0 – The Little Remake That Shouldn’t

Martyrs. 2016. Directed by Kevin & Michael Goetz. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith; based on the original characters from Pascal Laugier’s film.
Starring Troian Bellisario, Caitlin Carmichael, Kate Burton, Bailey Noble, Toby Huss, Diana Hopper, Lexi DiBenedetto, Taylor John Smith, Peter Michael Goetz, and DaJuan Johnson. Blumhouse Productions/The Safran Company/Temple Hill Entertainment.
Unrated. 81 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★1/2
COVERI always try to give remakes a fair shake. Slightly different story when you have to push through a favourite film being remade, especially if it comes out poorly. Though I love Spike Lee, as a filmmaker, his remake of Oldboy is one of the worst in recent memory. And that’s been a favourite of mine for years. When I heard Pascal Laugier’s frantic, bloody, wild movie Martyrs was being remade, it didn’t exactly excite me. Sure, I love when a fresh take or update can be done on a film, such as Alexandre Aja and his efforts on The Hills Have Eyes. But more often than not, an excellent foreign language film gets turned into nonsense by way of North American directors and writers.
Sadly, this new version of Martyrs is not up to the task of making things fresh, exciting, or even much different. It is definitely not a shot-for-shot remake, but it also doesn’t have a lot of what made the original French film so impressively visceral and continually interesting. This re-imagining, remake, or whatever word you choose to employ, didn’t have to go for big gore and get as graphic as Laugier. What it did need, though, is the emotional resonance, the quality techniques of Laugier and the original team, and generally a better screenplay if it were meant for glory. Not near being one of my favourite remakes. Another great film gets an unjust treatment for North American audiences, many of whom are probably too lazy to read subtitles and watch the original, evident by how many foreign films get remade here in the West. If that weren’t the case, if the demand weren’t so high, I’d assume people were seeking out the original pieces of work. In this case, I certainly suggest you watch Laugier’s movie. It’s leaps and bounds better than this mediocre, run of the mill dishwater.
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Two young girls come together as orphans at a young age, Lucie (Troian Bellisario) and Anna (Bailey Noble). Lucie escaped from a terrifying, abusive situation of captivity, which Anna helped her get past.
Cut to years later. They’re grown young women. Lucie finds the family who supposedly held her captive, then shotguns them all, including the kids, to death. She calls Anna frantically, telling her what happened. Her friend arrives to try and help things go smoother, as far as is possible. But Lucie spirals out of control. Soon, Anna is in the house, bodies everywhere, and a group of armed people take over.
Brought to room and tortured, Anna discovers what Lucie went through. The two girls are pitted against their captors. Although, the past comes back to bear on their present situation. As things are revealed the capture of Lucie as a young girl becomes more clear, the movie behind it all unearthed. Can they survive this? Will Lucie be able to make it out of the horror a second time?
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*SPOILER ALERT: TURN BACK OR THOU SHALT FOREVER BE SPOILED!*
One thing I quickly disliked about this version is that the screenplay from Mark L. Smith (The RevenantVacancy) decides to keep both of the main women alive. Whereas in the Laugier original, the Lucie character dies. What I love about that original screenplay is that the Anna character is then forced to deal with the aftermath of the situation, as well as the group who come to find her, forcing her to also suffer the torture her friend once did years ago. In this film there’s this sense of a bunch of subjects captured at once, while Anna and Lucie then also find themselves captives. Part of why I enjoyed the original French film is that Laugier went for a definitively tragic and truly epic plot. Smith, though he did amazing stuff with The Revenant, makes the mistake of going for something more hopeful. Realistically you have to look at the group doing these experiments; they are obviously massive, a solid organization, so to just do another escape thriller with this setup is wasting a lot of potential. The original capitalized on all its brutality, as well as emotions, and went for a dark ending. Without spoiling anything, this remake cops out. Some say the original was all nihilistic. Except for the fact the people torturing the hopeful martyrs, for all their faults and bloody terror, are seeking a way to discover what makes someone into such a portal to view what’s in their eyes, seeing beyond life and into the chasm of death. So, it’s not really nihilistic, not in true terms. But any of the impact of the film is taken away in this screenplay. Not at all impressed with Smith’s choices.
The execution isn’t a whole lot helpful either. Tons of exposition that the original never needed, as well as so much sanitized horror. It all combines into a real mess. There are, yes, several moments of decent blood, and also several intense sequences. Yet none of this adds up to even half the impact Laugier came off with, which does nothing to make me enjoy this needless remake. There was a grim, moody atmosphere and a gritty tone to the original. Here, most of the movie feels glossy, bright even in the darkness, and overall there is nothing technique-wise that ever grabs me. Kevin and Michael Goetz did 2013’s Scenic Route and I actually enjoyed that a good deal. It was entertaining, gritty at times, funny even. Lots of good stuff. Their follow-up film is nowhere near as good. Hopefully next they’ll go with an original film with a better story because they’ve proved themselves on the previous movie. Martyrs is a step backward.
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I’ll give the film a 1&1/2 star rating, solely because I did enjoy aspects of Bailey Noble’s performance, even if I wasn’t a fan of the plot. Likewise, Troian Bellisario is decent enough to keep your attention particularly later when the torture commences once more. But this is an unnecessary remake. Honestly, I try to give these remade films a chance, however, they more often than not let me down big time. This one is no different. Over the past few years this is one of the worst. Again, I hope the Goetz brothers go forward and make something better. As I hope Mark Smith pushes on and finds better success with another movie. These are better artists than the movie suggests. Martyrs, the original, is worth your time. Despite what others say about a totally boring, gory film, Laugier made an impact with that one, which I will never forget. Skip this, see his original. You’ll thank me.