DEATH NOTE: Injustice, Morality, & Righteous Murder

Death Note. 2017. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay by Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, & Jeremy Slater.
Starring Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Willem Dafoe, Jason Liles, & Paul Nakauchi.
Not Rated. 101 minutes.


Disclaimer: This discussion will contain SPOILERS. Turn around now, lest ye be spoiled utterly.
DN POSTERLet it be known, I’ve had no experience with Death Note in any way, shape, or form. Sure, I know the premise. But manga, anime, even just regular animated films, these things aren’t in my interests, outside a few titles like Perfect Blue and others.
On top of that, I feel fans of certain series’ are overly sensitive about adaptations. I love many books, many films from countries outside my own (which is Canada, by the way). Just don’t understand getting upset that a movie didn’t get made solely for the people who are already fans.
There’s absolutely a willingness to cater to fans of the source material, no denying. Seems many forget, though – the movie business is, at the end of the day, a business. They’re not going to make a movie JUST for fans. There has to be an appeal outside of that. So to expect there’ll be no deviation, no attempt at doing something different is as selfish as it is stupid.
Moreover, people wanted to say this was a whitewashed film, which is total nonsense. Whitewashing’s a huge problem in Hollywood, however, Adam Wingard – as well as screenwriters Charley and Vlas Parlapanides and Jeremy Slater – took the source material here, transposing the story into an American form, allowing for their own plots to take place.
You don’t need to know anything about the original Death Note, nor any of its adaptations to know this is not a case of any Asian culture being whitewashed. They’re not using anything Japanese here, except for a Japanese character being involved. There’s a problem with outrage these days in the film community: choose the proper time to be outraged. Wingard & Co. actually went to great lengths to ensure their film DIDN’T whitewash Japanese culture, instead truly giving their adaptation an American sense of self.
All that being said, let’s put the faux outrage aside and discuss what makes Death Note one of Father Son Holy Gore’s favourite horror flicks this year.
DN1The entire overarching theme in the film of morality and injustice, how sometimes we’re faced with no justice unless we’re to overcome our own morality to find vengeance. Then, is it still justice? Or something else entirely? Light (Nat Wolff) presents us with a case of understanding a vigilante, a guy whose mother was killed and had to watch the killer go free. On the opposite side is L (Lakeith Stanfield), the righteous arm of the law that’s so hellbent on pure justice he won’t even carry a gun because “its distracting“; he is the antithesis throughout this story to the position of L.
Ryuk: “There are no sides, only the game.”
There’s the process o the law, then there’s human emotion and expectation. Who gets to decide the law, the punishment for breaking it? Vigilantism is a slippery slope. Light believes that “sometimes you gotta choose the lesser of two evils.” Yet you’re still choosing evil, if that’s the case. The best exemplification of this theme carried through is watching L’s trajectory, going from a man wanting only real justice, a pure form of law to cast out criminals, to one who’s ready to even forego the gun and go straight to the Death Note book in the end; or will he? Love that we end on that beat, with L hovering over his decision, Light telling his father the truth, and Ryuk watching from the shadows in grim amusement. Justice can let good people down. By the finale, we see many ways in which the quest against injustice can warp people into haggard, unreal versions of themselves.
DN2Wingard, even in his more fantastical bits of work, has an ability to keep his films grounded. Even in the strangest of ways. For instance, the chase later in the film when L’s finally picked up a gun again is uber realistic. Unlike the archetypal Hollywood chase scene, L and Light both knock people over, smashing dishes, one guy gets his faced mashed into a bowl of food at the counter of a diner, liquids and ketchup and everything goes flicking everywhere. More than that there’s a feeling of, amongst the fantasy, a reality. The characters feel genuine, like actual people, with true motivation and desire. This is effectively what drives the human plot at the story’s heart, the decisions of morality each character grapples with at one point or another.
Much to love in this film. A bunch of great effects, from Ryuk’s quietly terrifying look to decapitations, heads smashing into bloody bits, people tossing themselves off a building en masse. Tons of spectacle-like horror. Chase scene between L and Light is a neon-lit, shadow drenched action sequence that feels – in a good way – like it could’ve been another scene in Wingard’s earlier picture, The Guest. During the climactic scene, there’s a massive, impressive action set-piece with scary and intense emotion mixed together, plus a nasty, scheming Ryuk – or so we’re led to believe.
And that big scene’s music choice is PERFECT! In fact, the score from Atticus and Leopold Ross is all around excellent, like something out of the ’80s and fitting like a glove. Even the soundtrack with INXS and much more is killer.
Of course the shining point, for me, is the performance of Lakeith Stanfield as L. The rest of the cast is stellar, without question. Lakeith works on another level, providing nuance and meat for his character, embodying the strange posture and all the idiosyncrasies such as his craving for sweet things. It’s phenomenal watching him work, the intensity on his face alone is enough to sell the role. He and Dafoe, doing the perfect voice for an American Ryuk, lift an already solid cast to new heights.
DN3People will say what they want, existing fan bases will rage if they don’t get what THEY want. But Father Son Holy Gore says Wingard’s Death Note is a fascinating piece of work, a best in horror for 2017. Filmmakers will never please the fans of a long-running series. Nowadays, while there’s actual whitewashing to be concerned about, directors and writers (etc) have to contend with the added outrage people love to toss around on social media. As someone who has no previous affections for this series, Wingard drew me into this world; one which, previously, I didn’t even care about, one which I now might like to see more of soon.
Regardless of what people say, this is recommended. Make your own decisions. And think long, hard about your decision to rail against supposed whitewashing. As previously mentioned, there are so many other better places for that argument, places where it’s actually warranted. This movie? It’s just a goddamn fun, spooky, thrilling ride that I’ll gladly take more than once.


Barrett & Wingard Deal Another Terrifying Blow with BLAIR WITCH

Blair Witch. 2016. Directed by Adam Wingard. Screenplay by Simon Barrett.
Starring James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, & Valorie Curry.
Lionsgate/Room 101/Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 89 minutes.

posterThis movie was a loaded gun for me when it hit. First, since I first saw The Blair Witch Project I’ve loved it completely. In all honesty, the marketing got to me when it was released, and for those who experienced it in the early days of internet there’s this buzz that still gets you going every time the movie plays. You get taken back to those trailers, the opening scenes, all the faux-reality, but the terrifying faux-reality that gripped horror lovers.
Second, I dig Adam Wingard and his frequent collaborator writer Simon Barrett. They haven’t reinvented the wheel, yet every project they take on is unique. They have such an excellent rapport as a director-writer team, which translates well into each film. A Horrible Way to DieYou’re NextThe Guest; each of these, for me, was a thrilling experience, albeit in their respective ways.
When it came out finally that The Woods, their latest collaboration, is in actuality Blair Witch… well, needless to say, I got excited. Taking on a sequel to one of the most groundbreaking horror films ever made, after the first fairly miserable sequel Book of Shadows failed to impress, is a monumental task. Not everyone is going to love Blair Witch. People seem to fall into a couple categories: either they think it strays too far from the original (to which I smirk questionably), or they think it’s too similar (there goes that smirk again).
Me, I find Wingard and Barrett’s film admirable, in a lot of ways. It gets more intense than its predecessor, that alone is saying something; hard to beat, but this sequel gives many of the best scenes from the original a run for their money. More than that Barrett’s screenplay, as opposed to the improvised and looser style of The Blair Witch Project, does wonders for the tension and gives the actors good stuff with which to work, ultimately allowing for better performances. Not every last person is going to love this. I do, and I hope others were as thrilled as me when they sat through its terror.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-8-29-18-pmOne of the immediate aspects I noticed, and enjoyed a ton, is the great sound design, helping to put it above the intensity of the first film in specific moments. There’s a feeling of being lost in the woods alongside these people because of the sound; a hovering, pulsing sound wraps the audience up, as it surrounds the characters. This, in conjunction with the camerawork – chaotic and frenzied in the more mortifying moments – makes for good scares. The original movie does well with its bare sense of reality, having the actors sent out into the woods relatively on their own and manipulated into being scared. Blair Witch succeeds in its mission to creep people out partly due to the sound and the visuals together, plus the fact Wingard did things similar to The Blair Witch Project‘s directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez.
Mainly, Wingard used an air horn in the background of scenes in order to attain the right amount of jump from actors. And some will say, “That’s what an actor is for, they should just act!” – I say nonsense. Sure, don’t go William Friedkin and fire a gun next to somebody to scare them. I feel like the air horn is fine, it did elicit appropriate reactions. There are honest places actors sometimes aren’t going to get simply because they need to be genuinely scared to get there, not pretend scared, and Wingard gets the actors under his care to that place, manipulating horror from them in an unexpected way. Moreover, the actors just haul you to the darkness of that woods and far too many times, in the best kind of sense, you’ll feel as lost as they do, disoriented, frightened, paranoid; the whole gamut of terrifying emotion.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-29-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-30-23-pmThe acting is great, aside from any of the jump scares or the pure bits of scary madness. And it’s strange, because I’ve seen people complain that the acting is no good, or that it takes away from the tension. Totally disagree. Each of the actors gives it their all, as well as the fact a couple of them give absolutely awesome performances.
Wes Robinson & The Following‘s Valorie Curry as Lane and Talia, the would-be guides into the Black Hills woods, don’t only play interesting characters Barrett penned in addition to the others, they’re two of the best in the cast. Robinson particularly gets to the core of the paranoia driving so much of the story’s suspense. Once things progress to a certain point, both Robinson and Curry take us into a horrific space that gets eerier by the minute.
James Allen McCune (whose stint on Shameless was incredible) plays the brother of Heather Donahue, the catalyst of the adventure, and he does a nice job straddling between non-belief and belief until the situation becomes painfully clear near the end. I also can’t forget to mention Corbin Reid as Ashley. She plays a role that could’ve easily been lost in a bunch of blood and moaning and crying; while there’s a little of that, Reid brings an uneasy feeling to the gut when we see her character descend into the forest’s terror. Everybody involved brings their A-game, even the couple more minor characters. With a bigger cast this time, in contrast to the original’s trio, Blair Witch utilises every one of them to the fullest extent.
screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-9-36-52-pmI don’t want to spoil any of the best moments, although I have to mention one, hopefully without giving away too much. Just before the final half hour takes us into a frightening place, a scene involving the wooden Blair Witch figurines takes their presence to a whole new level. I can’t say much more – other than the actors’ reactions combined with the editing, and again the sound design, make for the moment that both shocked and pounded me into a state of horror.
Blair Witch is about on par with its original. Maybe a lot of others don’t think so, but damn it, I do. And I can’t deny that. I went into this expecting that there was a possibility I wouldn’t be thrilled. Regardless if Barrett and Wingard made this, two artists I admire and love to see working in any capacity (the latter’s stint with Cinemax and Outcast did wonders for the TV horror lover’s soul), I didn’t count out disappointment.
Yet no part of me was really disappointed. Barrett and Wingard did interesting things with the legacy of such a beloved piece of horror cinema. They refused to move too far from the film Myrick and Sánchez. Likewise, they branched out a bit, too; they didn’t retread too many paths. I loved the ending because it goes out on a similar note to the first, and in doing so almost shows us how the first actually ended. Dig it. As well, there’s an interesting conception of time in the screenplay; that’s all I’ll say. This does wonders in terms of writing to make the movie different, yet similar in a weird vein to the original film. If you want a good spoiler-filled look at this idea, check Screen Crush’s interview with Wingard here.
So even if there’s no general consensus, or even if that consensus is that this sequel doesn’t hold up, I dig this one. Barrett and Wingard confirm once again they’re worthy of helping to carry genre film forward, year after year. And who knows, maybe this will help a franchise get going, which I’d love to see. This didn’t wow at the box office, but it did make a profit for a relatively low budget film in today’s Hollywood system. I know that I wouldn’t mind seeing at least one more film surrounding the legend of the Blair Witch, no matter who takes it on. This movie proves you can update or reboot films years later without being totally derivative and without straying too wildly from what made the original so popular.

Outcast – Season 1, Episode 1: “A Darkness Surrounds Him”

Cinemax’s Outcast
Season 1, Episode 1: “A Darkness Surrounds Him”
Directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, The Guest)
Written by Robert Kirkman

* For a review of the next episode, “(I Remember) When She Loved Me” – click here
Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 9.35.18 PM
Cinemax has blessed us. Let us indulge in the Adam Wingard-directed pilot of Robert Kirkman’s Outcast, shall we?
Even the credits sequence here is awesome, a nice ambient and unsettling bit of music over eerie imagery. This first episode begins with a boy that’s definitely not quite right. When he smashes a bug to death with his head (/face?) this only confirms suspicions. Downstairs his family is arguing. When he pops down to see them, covered in blood, they’re too busy arguing to notice at first. The way the boy moves is so creepy, you can tell his head is messed up. Finally, his mother notices he’s not eating chips like he was at first. Now it’s his finger.
Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 9.35.34 PM
Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey) is playing some cards with some colleagues from the local fire department and the local holy man Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister), too. They get interrupted by an urgent phone call from a Mrs. Betsy Austin (Lacy Camp). She owns the little boy, Joshua, whose body’s definitely being possessed by something.
At a rundown-looking house, Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) is sleeping. He dreams of another time before the nasty dilapidation of his current situation. He sees a woman, himself with her. But a knock comes at his door, he snaps back. In a room nearby there looks to be some things belonged to a woman. Instead of answering the door Kyle wanders around his home ignoring it. Finally, he opens the door and it’s Megan Holter (Wrenn Schmidt). Clearly a friend, but he is at a distance. She thinks he’s “punishing” himself. He doesn’t want any of her shit, or her charitable friendship. The house is his childhood home, he doesn’t feel like leaving.
Yet it isn’t all roses in his memories. Living with his mother there did not always feel like family time. By the looks of it his mother was possessed, similar to young Joshua. She’d lock him in the closet and that’s where he’d stay, for who knows how long. A traumatized young man. Why does Kyle want to stick around, though? How is it healthy? Or might there be unfinished business, a reason to stay close?

We discover Kyle shouldn’t be calling somebody. The woman in his dream. For her part, Megan does her best to encourage him positively. While they’re out shopping Kyle runs into some people who knew him. They also suggest he head back to church for a good rip roarin’ sermon. They further tell him about Joshua, who’s “fallen prey to dark forces“, which starts intriguing Kyle.
At the Austin house, Father Anderson is calling out the dirty demon. It starts kicking the shit out of everybody. Brutally. One awesome exorcism scene that both calls on films we know, plus adds its own creepy stuff.
Furthermore, it seems as if Kyle was once under the influence of Anderson. Yet now we know Anderson ain’t full of shit. Megan wants to have him over for dinner, though he isn’t so keen. He’s her adopted brother. And apparently people have… ideas about him, particularly nowadays. She’s married to Mark (David Denman) and he definitely does not want Kyle around. This is obviously a point of contention between the married couple. Surely we’ll see that develop the more this season goes on, as Kyle’s being around will impact a lot going forward. His little niece reveals a possible clue: she says he hurt his little girl, now Kyle isn’t her daddy. This upsets him, then he leaves. If this is really the case, that’s a devastating, heavy thing, and certainly paints Kyle as a character in a wholly new light within this first episode.

Kyle calls the woman he isn’t supposed to. She knows it’s him without his saying a word, and it unnerves her. He borrows his neighbour’s car, a man named Norville (Willie C. Carpenter). He heads over to the Austin household, asking for Reverend Anderson. Then inside he goes. Evidently to help. Anderson believes Kyle stopped whatever was happening to his own mother, so apparently he’s got a gift. Possibly.
Within the room, Kyle comes face to face with evil: “I know you,” says the thing inside Joshua. The way Kyle approaches it is from a rational, adult perspective. He sees it as nothing more than a kid pretending to get out of school. But the demon in the boy talks more about things he shouldn’t know, about the pictures in the pantry on the door, all those things. It’s terrifying. He evens scratches like Mrs. Barnes. “So long have we tried to find you Outcast,” the demon explains. Then it jumps Kyle, sucking something out him as Kyle flashes back to when his mother seemed to have done the same. What a god damn unsettling moment.
Afterwards, Kyle only has one bit of advice: run. He doesn’t have any faith or belief in a higher power. Pretty much the very opposite. However, it was what happened in the Barnes house that turned Reverend Anderson into an exorcising machine. So they’re at two different places, which is an interesting juxtaposition between the characters. Look forward to more of their relationship.

The tortured childhood of Kyle is awful. We get more flashbacks, as he goes to visit his catatonic mother in the hospital. He remembers being locked in that closet, similar to how she’s now locked inside herself, imprisoned in her own body. Some justice, I suppose, for all that terror. Later, he and Norville chat together, eating some stew. We discover Norville knew something terrible was happening when Kyle was a boy. The crew of characters that we’re being introduced to is excellent. I’ve never read the comics, though I certainly will not. And I’m already intrigued to see where a lot of these plots and threads end up weaving.
Kyle goes back over to the Austin place with Anderson. He starts to figure out further similarities between Joshua and his mother. First it’s the light that burns their skin. Then they begin to torture the demon, trying to hurt it. But the thing is strong and it fights hard. Sucking more of the essence out of Kyle, at least until he gets the upper hand and starts beating Joshua a bit. Love that this show has a grown man beating a little kid, evne if there’s a demon inside him. He goes a bit too far, but then the demon bites him, and Kyle’s blood burns him badly. Ah, interesting. The Outcast has power. Because this sends projectile, black vomit spewing out of the kid before dissipating into smoke-like fog. Luckily, back to the real world comes the boy, a little worse for wear but alive.
Of course Kyle ends up in cuffs after the whole ordeal. Although, he’s let go and Mrs. Austin doesn’t want charges pressed. Thankfully. That’d open up tons more cans of worms in Kyle’s life. As if he needs anything tougher to push through.

At the end of the episode, Kyle goes back to his house alone.
Then we flash back to a time before. Something had been possessing his wife, hurting his child. Love that we’re only getting bits and pieces, so as to draw it out. Keeps me wanting more. “Come and get me,” Kyle speaks into the dark sky at whatever darkness is surrounding him, right before the credits roll. Gnarly. Dig that line so hard.
Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 10.29.16 PM
Stay with me. When the series officially airs, as Cinemax has only given us a taste just yet, I’ll be continuing on following this series. Adam Wingard is a favourite director of mine, so I wish he were sticking around (at least he isn’t that I know of other than directing the first episode). Nevertheless, I have faith in Robert Kirkman, as well as Cinemax after The Knick and Banshee.
This one’s going to be a wild ride.

Drowning in Love, Alcohol, & Serial Killing: A Horrible Way to Die

A Horrible Way to Die. 2011. Dir. Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett.
Starring A.J Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, Brandon Carroll, and Lane Hughes. Anchor Bay Entertainment. Rated R. 87 minutes. Horror

★★★★1/2 (Movie)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)


I’ve been a longtime fan of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. Though, I did experience Barrett’s writing in the eerie Civil War-era horror film Dead Birds before I experienced his recent partnership as a writer-director team with Wingard. They are a really great pair. I think Wingard doesn’t just work well with Barrett in the sense they’re probably good friends, he seems to get what the writer is saying, or at least they appear to have the same sensibilities. This translates really well onto film. I don’t think they’ve exactly reinvented horror, but I do think they continually succeed in breathing new life into tired genre filmmaking.

Always hesitant to say it myself, Wingard belongs to the small group of horror filmmakers people like to dub with the yawn-worthy label “mumblegore” – an offshoot of “mumblecore, what I see as a silly labeling of films concerned with more natural approaches to dialogue, story, or any aspects really, as opposed to a lot of the fake, plastic genre filmmaking pumped out of Hollywood. “Mumblegore” then are simply horror films that look to achieve these sorts of aesthetics. A Horrible Way to Die is a new look at the serial killer horror movie, which is presented to us through Wingard’s unique eye from a script by Barrett. The whole thing might seem, to some, as an aimless sort of method towards telling a story and visually showing us the film. On the other hand, I think Barrett and Wingard present a truly humanistic version of what could be a simple story about the psychology behind that of a serial killer balancing his home life and his criminal life on a razor’s edge. It also doesn’t hurt there’s a nice little twist in the finale.
great-genre-filmsA Horrible Way to Die tells the story of Garrick Turrell (Bowen), a convicted serial killer operating in the southern United States. He escapes custody while being transported from his prison facility. He starts to kill his way back towards home. There, his former girlfriend Sarah (Seimetz) is drying out. Sarah spends her nights now trying to kick the alcoholism she adamantly believes caused her to overlook Garrick’s true personality. Through Alcoholics Anonymous, Sarah ends up meeting a guy named Kevin (Swanberg) with whom she begins to get close after slowly letting down her guard. All the while, Garrick continues a path of destruction trying to reach Sarah once more.
hjwvkI think one of the reasons this movie came across so well for me is due to the amazing cast. First of all I’ll mention Joe Swanberg because his role is the smallest in comparison to the two leads. His character starts out feeling sort of awkward, but not because Swanberg’s acting is bad; he conveys Kevin as a bit of an odd guy, obviously struggling with his own alcohol problems. Eventually, however, you start to sense something about him is not exactly quite right. You just can’t put your finger on it. I think Swanberg did a lot of subtle acting with this character and it really worked well for the plot. I think not enough focus is given to how well he plays off Amy Seimetz here. Partly because she is really great.

Seimetz does a great job playing a very conflicted women in A Horrible Way to Die. I think a lot of people, who just want to complain, might try and say Barrett writes her poorly as a strong female role. I disagree. Women don’t have to be perfect. Just as they don’t have to look pathetic and near complete helplessness like Stanley Kubrick’s portrayal of Wendy Torrance in The Shining. Sarah is a complex woman with difficult problems on her plate. If there hadn’t been such a great performance by Seimetz perhaps this character may have come off like a real pushover. Instead, I get the impression she’s someone who doesn’t want to give up. One scene shows her having a bit of a relapse and then proceeding to pour all the rest of her liquor down the toilet; you can tell, while she fell off the wagon briefly, a realization set her back in place. Unfortunately for Sarah, there are other, higher powers at work threatening to undo everything. It’s a really great role and I think nobody else but Seimetz could do it. She fits in very well with the style of Wingard.
a-horrible-way-to-die-aj-bowenThe ultimate best part about A Horrible Way to Die is absolutely A.J Bowen. I’ve been a fan of his for awhile now ever since I first saw a movie called The Signal; he was fantastic in it, and ever since I’ve paid attention to anything with him in the cast. Here, his portrayal of Garrick Turrell really does something for me. He’s a lot more dapper and charming than Michael Rooker’s titular character from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Still, there is something about him in this film which reminds me of Rooker. Underneath Bowen’s boyish good looks and disarming voice lurks the presence of evil – Turrell can barely go fifty feet without seeing another person he wants to kill. It’s like this part of him is engrained into his DNA, hardwired to his brain. He can’t forego the urges.
I think casting Bowen really helped this character. Very well-written, but Bowen brings the Ted Bundy-ish charm to Garrick Turrell. I can see how this guy would get away with things so long if he were being careful, just as Bundy himself was doing until he went even more insane than he initially was and got himself caught – the charming nature really takes people off their guards and leaves them vulnerable to Turrell’s sick whims.

I really loved the opening scene of the movie when Garrick is sitting in his car; he snaps awake, as if out of a nice nap, gets out and opens a trunk to  reveal a woman bound and gagged. He apologizes and tells the lady he must have dozed off. It’s the way he says it which really sets the tone for things to come. There are a few interactions Turrell has with people that speak to his chilling character, such as in a flashback scene to a night when he gets home to Sarah late, and naturally she has questions; coupled with what we know about him already and what we’ll learn more of soon after, the ease with which lies come out of his mouth to explain his otherwise unexplainable whereabouts is astonishing.
Again to reference real life, I imagine this might be how many serial killers have sounded to their significant others. Specifically I think of a man like Dennis Rader, a.k.a B.T.K (Bind Torture Kill), who went home to his wife and children every night while also going out to do heinous things, maybe after they all went to bed or maybe he made up a story like Turrell to explain his absence later. I imagine Rader probably sweet talked just like this. It’s very chilling. Bowen is amazing in this movie, and in general. His casting is genius here.
AtSw8As a film, I absolutely give this 4&1/2 stars. There’s nothing wrong with A Horrible Way to Die. Admittedly, some may not necessarily enjoy all the cinematography Wingard chooses to use. I think while the story tries to distance itself from the typical outings we usually get in regards to serial killers, as there are tons, the handheld camerawork Wingard does in this movie really sets it apart from what we’re used to – apart from a few unique slashers, Se7en, as well as more recent works like the Red Riding trilogy and HBO’s True Detective, there aren’t too many really fresh takes on serial killers floating around. A lot of the same old meal. I have to at least admire, above all else, the effort on the parts of both Barrett and Wingard to try and subvert expectations a little while still somewhat working with a formula familiar to audiences.
Most recently, they’ve moved into action-thriller territory with a fabulous film, The Guest, attempting to do the same thing with a different genre. I will always keep my eye on either of them, whether as a team or not. Great director and great writer.

The Blu ray release from Anchor Bay Entertainment I have also comes with three other films: WWE Films’ No One LivesHatchet, and The Alphabet Killer. While it does have a bit of extra content, it’s less than you might expect from a single release of the title. That being said, I really, really enjoyed the commentary with Barrett and Wingard. Lots of valuable insight not only into the film, but also into their thought process, both personally and artistically. They’re genuine guys from what I can tell, so it’s always nice to hear an audio commentary where the people talking are concerned first and foremost with discussing the film, and not themselves. Also, there’s a nice little featurette, “Behind the Scenes of A Horrible Way to Die” where you get to see a lot of fun little bits from the production of the film. I admire Wingard a lot as a director because he really loves to be hands on, and you get to see a lot of small bits where he’s basically doing the job of director, as well as director of photography (for those who don’t know – this would be the individual in charge of the camera/lighting crews).  While it is a small movie, it’s still great to see how much of Wingard’s vision is really coming across in the finished film.
ahwtddeath082410This is absolutely a fresh film on an old subject. If you’re a fan of Wingard’s earlier work, or even his latest, you should definitely see this – likewise with Barrett [Dead Birds is the first of his movies I saw & I really love it – own it on DVD – so if you’ve seen his other stuff please check that out also]. There are lots of visually interesting scenes in this movie. Some might not enjoy the frenetic look of the camerawork. I think it really fits the tone and subject of A Horrible Way to Die, and brings a unique perspective to the serial killer sub-genre. Not to mention the score of this film is totally ominous; this is one of those dark, brooding scores where the music really crawls under your skin, rattles your bones and teeth, and generally unsettles you. Everything works together here to provide horror with, at the very least, something different. A Horrible Way to Die is a great and non-typical experience amongst so many other movies trying to do the same thing while failing to actually do so. There’s an atmosphere and mood about this one that will haunt you for days. It haunted me. Still does.

For my review of You’re Next, the home invasion horror-thriller by Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett, click here.

V/H/S/2: A Mixed Bag of Nasty Tricks

V/H/S 2. 2013. Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, and Jason Eisener. Magnet Releasing.
Rated 18A. 96 minutes.

★★★1/2 (Movie)
★★ (Blu ray release)

For my review of the first V/H/S on Blu ray, click here.  For a review of the third installment in the trilogy, V/H/S: Viral, click here.

vhs_2_poster_3The wraparound story for the first V/H/S held things together well enough. While it was at best a decently played out section of the film, what really sold me on it overall were the individual segments (minus one), which I thought were really creepy and the first was fairly innovative in terms of their use of found footage. This time around in V/H/S/2, the wraparound segment called “Tape 49” (directed by usual writer Simon Barrett) is much better than that in the first installment of the series, and by the same token I didn’t really like as many of the shorts this time around. While I still love this series, I do think V/H/S/2 is essentially the weak link of what is so far a trilogy; I’m a big fan of third regardless of what others think – I think it’s the most unique and definitely the most far reaching in terms of concepts, particularly the segments by Gregg Bishop and Nacho Vigalondo. That is for another review.

I’m a big fan of Adam Wingard, and I honestly love almost every single bit of his work, however, I really can’t get hugely into his segment here, “Phase I Clinical Trials”.
Quick synopsis: Wingard plays a man who has a bionic eye implanted by a company that will monitor his every move and record whatever he does – it isn’t long until he discovers the eye helps him see just a little too well, and a little too much.
500full It is not badly done whatsoever – let me start by saying this – I have no problem with the visuals or aesthetics in general. What I’m not a fan of is the execution in terms of how it was written. I find usually Barrett, who wrote this segment along with the one he directed, subverts some of the norms I come to expect from horror. Here, in “Phase I”, Barrett really plays into some foolishness. Like when the girl just suddenly decides the best way to ignore all the weird, undead-like stuff going on around her and Wingard is to take off their clothes and start having sex. I mean – come on. I am a big fan of both Barrett and Wingard, and I usually never find myself saying these things about their work together, but here it is just unbearably bad. I really thought this was some tired writing. The direction worked well, as well as benefitting from Wingard acting in the short, in terms of the filming techniques used (he talks about this in one of the featurettes on the Blu ray – Wingard wanted to have an actual actor play the part but because of the fact he was shooting the segment in the first person perspective he felt it easier to take on the role himself). Other than the fact Wingard directs well, this segment isn’t really much fun – a few cool effects don’t make a decent short horror. I like its finale; there are some creepy ghosts and all that. The build up, on the other hand, doesn’t really do anything for me.
VHS2_19-1024x576Eduardo Sánchez is another filmmaker whose work I really enjoy. He does really well in the found footage sub-genre, and thrives. His segment is a zombie-filled romp through some woods called “A Ride in the Park”, which sees a mountain biker zipping through forest recording on his GoPro – he comes across a wounded woman, gets bitten, and then slowly becomes a zombie. From there, we follow him and his GoPro as he wanders with a herd of zombies through the trees, terrorizing others, including a little girl’s birthday party.
Not only do I like the innovative use of found footage here with the GoPro camera on the biker, I really thought it was interesting to follow the perspective of a person who gets bitten by a zombie and becomes one himself. The GoPro really helps add to things by giving us a very up close and personal view of this perspective. Sánchez explores ideas about what happens to us after the zombie virus takes hold – do our feelings still linger? Can we retain any sort of control?

One really great, and heartbreaking, moment comes when the man-turned-zombie hears his phone making noise. After fumbling it from a pocket and realizing he accidentally dialed his girlfriend, a single pathetic-sounding groan comes from him, and it’s the stuff of good drama really. Thoroughly enjoyed this segment. It was good in all these senses while also being downright fun zombie madness – after the zombies infiltrate the birthday party it is just awesome.

Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto teamed up to create a really horrifying and adrenaline injected segment named “Safe Haven”. This short takes a young documentary film crew inside the complex of a cult run by a man known as Father. They want to give an inside scoop into the cult with untampered footage, giving the leader a chance to present his group, unbiased, to the outside world. Father allows them unprecedented access into the complex. Soon after, the crew begins to realize something is amiss. I won’t say any more. Go in knowing only this, or less.
500full-1I love how the pacing really keeps up in this segment. Things kick in with crazy gore, horror, and downright terror. I enjoyed every second of this one. The effects are outrageous, in the best way possible, and even the performances, specifically that of Epy Kusnandar as the previously mentioned Father – he is maniacal, a little funny at times, and absolutely scary as hell. This is by far the best segment of the first two V/H/S films because it scares the life out of me, but it also remembers to stay fun, and doesn’t take itself seriously the whole time. The final moments of “Safe Haven” are brilliant, hilarious, and terrifying all wrapped into one.

I enjoy Jason Eisener, especially after I’d seen Hobo With A Shotgun, but his segment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” isn’t his greatest work to date. Not that I didn’t enjoy it – it was a lot of fun. The story is basically about a bunch of kids, with the parents gone away, who are then laid siege upon by a UFO and some aliens. Pretty good little plot for a short.
I just thought there was a bit too much epilepsy-inducing light flashing. The effect worked in certain places. Others, it was highly annoying. It really did help several shots look more effective, particularly when one of the kids goes up into an attic, and there ends up being a number of alien-creatures already there, some coming up behind, and I thought it definitely enhanced things. On the whole, though, there was too much of it. I just wanted the segment to end after things kicked into high gear. The adrenaline was pumping, there is no doubt, however, I don’t think it pumped correctly because there was too much flashy nonsense.
Eisener should have focused more on the horror itself and the terror rather than trying to forcibly slip us into being terrified by flashing lights and noises; I, personally, was creeped out as it was with the aliens, I didn’t need some of the nauseating effects that came along with it to be scared. Really disappointed in this section ultimately, but I did love the initial setup, as well as some of the kids’ dialogue.
VHS2_72-1024x576Part of the reason I really did enjoy V/H/S/2 is, as I mentioned earlier, the wraparound segment. Barrett’s “Tape 49” follows two private investigators who are looking for a missing student, and after they manage to get into his seemingly deserted house they come across a bunch of strange VHS tapes. Once they watch the tapes, their night gets even worse.

I thought this angle for the story that sort of encompasses the film, explaining the tapes themselves, worked very well, and it was also directed well by Barrett. I just thought it worked even better than the simple premise of the first film’s wraparound segment. It was more intriguing.
VHS2_75-1024x576I think one of the things V/H/S/2 really does have going for it, adding something new to the second installment of this series, is that the whole film is really fun. It’s absolutely an exciting and entertaining ride. Though I didn’t really click with Eisener or Wingard’s shorts, they were still enjoyable even if I had some problems with them myself. “A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven” really hit the mark the best I could have possibly imagined (I expected good things from both Evans and Sanchez because I was huge fans of theirs previous to this movie), and they keep the energy of the entire film at a really high level.

If you enjoyed the first V/H/S then you will most likely enjoy V/H/S/2 because, for all its faults, the film tries its best at all times to be entertaining, innovative, and above all else scary, as well as disturbing. You can do worse than this movie – certainly, I wouldn’t own it on Blu ray if I didn’t think it was worth watching.
That being said, the Blu ray release is not really the greatest. While the picture and sound are incredible, there is little else to be excited about other than a 3-minute featurette on each of the segments; one includes a ridiculously pointless video of Sanchez and crew tipping over a dead and rotting tree, which ends in slight injury. I only enjoyed the featurette for, surprisingly enough a segment I wasn’t big on, “Phase I Clinical Trials” – I really like Wingard a lot, and just hearing him talk a little about the filming process, et cetera, it was nice. Though, it was still only 3 or 4 minutes. Neither of these features are longer than 5 minutes tops. Disappointing, especially considering this is a film highly based around the visuals. They could have done better.
Check out the Blu ray, but don’t expect a ton of great extras to keep you entertained. You’ll be getting the film and not much in the way of added toppings. The movie is pretty good. The Blu ray? You’re better off waiting for them to put out all the V/H/S movies as a set. Maybe then they’ll get some more, and better, footage to include for the fans. Until then, this a mediocre at best Blu ray release.

The Guest is like a Young Terminator in Post-Blackwater Era

The Guest. 2014. Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett. Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, and Lance Reddick. Picturehouse.
Rated 14A. 99 minutes.


To begin, I’ve been a fan of Adam Wingard a long while. I think the first time I actually saw one of his films it was A Horrible Way to Die, which I recently got on Blu ray and enjoyed again to the fullest. After that I got the chance to see both Home Sick and Pop Skull within a couple days. Though I enjoy his later work more, I still really dug those films. Wingard really has a different sensibility about the way he makes movies than a lot of new, young horror directors. Not to mention, Simon Barrett, who has been writing films for Wingard since, I believe, A Horrible Way to Die. Barrett is a really interesting writer; another of his works I enjoyed before his partnership with Wingard is the creepy Confederate gold horror Dead Birds. Together, the two of these guys are a great pair as writer-director partnerships go. Especially in the horror genre. I think these guys continually prove they’re the next big thing (hell – I think they’re the big thing right now) in horror.
That being said, after You’re Next, Barrett and Wingard have moved onto a slight change of pace with The Guest.

THE GUESTThis story follows a young soldier named David (Stevens). The film begins as we follow behind him, jogging. Soon, he reaches the home of a soldier he knew, Caleb, who recently died. David tells the family Caleb wanted him to find them and give them his love. David also says he promised Caleb he’d do anything possible to help them. Anna (Monroe), Caleb’s sister, seems suspicious. However, the rest of the family, especially the mother (Sheila Kelley) and younger brother (Brendan Meyer), take a liking to David. Even some of Anna’s friends, including a sleazy sort of dude named Craig (a nice small role played by Joel David Moore), think David is the best. Eventually, David’s past comes back to haunt him. People start dying.
And soon enough, Anna starts finding things out about David; dangerous things.

The movie plays out like something we’ve seen before, and yet The Guest feels different. A lot of people focus on it seemingly being a throwback to 1980s action-thrillers, and also some of John Carpenter’s works specifically, which I agree; a lot of this film seems very much inspired by the look of Carpenter, as well as the feel of certain action movies from the 80s, most specifically probably The Terminator. Regardless, The Guest is not some 80s rehash. It’s a smart little thriller with the entertainment of thrillers we’ve known before. Yes, there are influences here. Yes, the soundtrack is most certainly a heavy lean towards the 80s.
But Barrett and Wingard both are too clever to make this just a throwback piece.

For anyone who has not actually seen The Guest yet, what I’m about to say in the next little bit has a huge SPOILER in it. So, if you’d rather not have the film spoiled, and I’d rather you not because I don’t want anyone complaining when I’ve clearly forewarned them (even though I think the whole concept of ‘spoiler alert’ is ridiculous – if you don’t want anything spoiled, stay away from the fucking internet), PLEASE TURN BACK.
The-Guest-1So, one of my favourite pieces in the entire movie is nearing the finale. Just as things start going haywire for David, he and Mrs. Peterson (Kelley) are in the kitchen, taking cover from gunfire and such. I honestly believed David was going to protect the family. I figured we’d be treated to a massive shootout, as well as maybe a few hand-to-hand combat scenes. Instead, Barrett subverts those expectations, and David instead stabs Mrs. Peterson just before she yells to the men outside the house as she figures out his intentions. I really didn’t see that coming. Also, I think this is really clever because even earlier when David kills two other people, we don’t necessarily switch him to the bad guy. We’re still wondering what exactly is going on with him; maybe the government has done his head in, maybe they turned him into a killing machine without the off switch – who knows?
But once David kills the mother, all bets are off. We now see him as an unstoppable force. He strategically snuffs out any single person who may, or possibly may not, it doesn’t matter, become a trail leading back to him. Then from this point on things get even wilder.

This is one of the many reasons I really enjoy The Guest. Another thing – Wingard avoids going for some extended, unnecessary sex scene during a party in the film. Whereas a lot of other filmmakers might make it into a whole scene, Wingard keeps it at a very brief few shots, which gives us enough information to deduce that, yes, the two characters indeed have sex.
It’s not that I’m against sex scenes. In fact, I’m not at all. I think if the plot provides a moment where a sex scene is organic and natural, then why not? But on the contrary, if there is no need for it, if it doesn’t serve the plot or characters in any way, then why include it? Only makes for a bit of fast forward. You can either have sex or watch it on the internet whenever you want – it doesn’t need to be filler in a movie. Not for me anyways. Kudos to Wingard for not falling into the same old traps other filmmakers do. Instead, he uses every scene, every shot, because they’re all meant to be in there. Signs of a good filmmaker, in my opinion.
the-guestI really enjoyed Dan Stevens as David. I’ve never personally seen him in anything else, though I know what he’s done. His portrayal of this character was incredible. He swung between charming and handsome, to dark (still handsome) and brooding. There were times he genuinely chilled me with a few of the looks on his face; not even his words, just expressions. I think I’ll definitely have to see some of his other work. Great casting.

Though there are a few small performances I enjoyed (Ethan Embry as a small-time arms dealer, Joel David Moore as the burnt out Craig, Lance Reddick as Major Carver, the always unique Leland Orser as Mr. Peterson), the one other performance aside from Stevens I enjoyed most was Maika Monroe. She did a wonderful job as Anna. Again, I don’t ever really recall seeing her in anything else, but she was great here. This could’ve easily been played badly had they cast someone else, however, Monroe turns the character of Anna into someone less-angsty and a bit more intelligent than most young characters we see in horrors, action-thrillers, and the lot. Also, she gets to utter the final line – I absolutely love it. The way she says it, the three words themselves; it all puts things perfectly in perspective. Another great instance of casting. She and Stevens played well off one another, as well. Some really great scenes between the two.
GUESTEXCPICSNEWS1The Guest is a fun and weird ride through what could have been a typical action-thriller, but instead comes off as the next legitimate step on the path towards greatness for Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. I think this is not only better than most action coming out post-2000, it’s also just one of the better action-thrillers I’ve seen. I recently rewatched The Terminator on Blu ray (and I probably consider that to be the best action-thriller ever), and I can honestly say, for me, The Guest ranks up there with that film.

I love the dialogue, as I usually do in movies scripted by Barrett; I never find myself stopping and wondering why someone had to say that, why the screenwriter left this in there, et cetera. The plot is a lot of fun, and Wingard really executes things well. He is great with a lot of the handheld work in his previous films, but I think with the bigger budgets his and Barrett’s talents have started bringing in his films will start to see more and more stabilized framing. Not to say handheld isn’t good, or that Wingard isn’t good at it (the opposite – as I said he is great), I just think with The Guest, Wingard proves he is capable of true beauty with more steady framing and shot composition. There are just absolutely magnificent shots here; one such action-style shot is when Craig (Moore) is running away from David, who lets him go, and eventually picks him off with a headshot from long range. Just really great and twisted stuff.

The Guest will be on Blu ray January 6th, but is also going to be available for purchase as a Digital HD release on December 16th through VOD services. As soon as you can, check this out. I’m looking forward to the Blu ray because this is a gorgeous looking film with great camerawork, a killer soundtrack, and some top notch performances.

V/H/S is a Creepy Found Footage Treat

V/H/S. 2012. Dir. David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Mat Bettinelli-Olpin, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West, and Adam Wingard.
Starring Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Kentucker Audley, Adam Wingard, Hannah Fierman, Sarah Byrne, Simon Barrett. 18A. Magnet Releasing/eOne. 116 mins.

4 out of 5 stars (Movie)
2.5 out of 5 stars (Blu ray release)

A film I highly anticipated when it was originally released, V/H/S on Blu-ray comes with a little extra for your viewing pleasure. The film itself looks great. Although most of it is shot with the intention of looking lower quality, as if on second or third generation VHS tapes, probably recorded over more than once, it looks even better here than on the big screen. You can see everything much clearer, even with the intentionally grainy look the filmmakers tried to inject. It’s wonderful.
VHS-2012-Movie-Poster-e1347981753499The film’s stories are also a lot of fun. The only particular piece I didn’t enjoy was Joe Swanberg’s short. Not because I don’t like him – I’m actually a real big fan. I recently saw his film Silver Bullets, and thought it was excellent. I just didn’t like this one. I thought it was almost too much jammed into one story. Things felt forced. Other than that, I really love the rest of the shorts. My favourite is Ti West’s segment, “Second Honeymoon”; funny enough, one of the actors in this short is Swanberg, who plays his character well (I almost like him more as an actor than director). There’s something really eery underlying everything throughout. West builds up the feeling of dread throughout, and the end is a quick, shocking conclusion that really got to me. The wraparound story of the whole film is fun.
I thought the filmmakers did a really good job of making things sort of plausible, as to why there were these tapes, what they were, why they’re even being shown. That’s one challenge of the entire sub-genre of found footage: how do the tapes even show up in a natural way? I thought V/H/S had a good story to go with this idea.
vhs10Next up are the special features on the Blu-ray. They have some generic stuff on here. Such as a small collection of clips and 10-second interviews with a few of the directors and writers. Most of the features are like this: fairly lame. Nothing to get too excited over here. Most of the extras involving each short, not all though, are fairly silly little bits.
There’s a little piece about 5-minutes long, if that, about the segment called “Amateur Night”, and it shows the filmmakers testing helium balloons with a compartment attached holding their camera (why will become obvious once you’ve actually seen the short itself). This part I enjoyed because they basically dissected the final shot of that segment, including some of the VFX/green screen stuff, and I thought it was well done. I never considered how they may have done those shots. But it was really neat to see it played out in front of me.
Other than this 5-minute section, the special features are a bore honestly. I mean, some of the interviews are okay, but with a high concept found footage film like this I would’ve liked to see more stuff sort of like the little section on “Amateur Night”. I bet some of the directors could show off some neat little tricks they used to achieve some of the effects. On the other hand, maybe a magician shouldn’t reveal all his or her tricks.
The film itself I give a 4 out of 5 stars. The Blu-ray is a 2.5 out of 5 honestly. I would definitely suggest picking it up, but don’t do so on the pretense you’re getting a good release full of some worthwhile special features. It’s worth the purchase to have the film in a great print of high quality. Aside from the film itself the Blu-ray is nothing special.
Maybe a few years down the road once the V/H/S series has peaked (I think they should keep going; I loved the latest installment called V/H/S: Viral) they will re-release the whole thing on Blu-ray as a box set and throw in a load of unused footage, et cetera, to treat us all. Until then we’ll have to do with this.  It’s decent.  I just hoped for a little more.
VHS-33900_5Nonetheless, the film is great. A fresh, unique movie with some thrills, chills, and a nice showing of gory bits – enough to satisfy me, anyways.