Alexandre Aja's remake of the 1970s Wes Craven original has big, scary, political balls.
High Tension. 2003. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur.
Starring Cécile De France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andrei Finti, and Oana Pellea. Alexandre Films/EuropaCorp.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
★★★★★ (Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment DVD release)
Right out of the gate, I’ll say it: I’m an unabashed, huge fan of Alexandre Aja as a director. While I don’t necessarily think he’s as good a writer as he is director, he’s still pretty good at writing when it comes to certain stuff. Honestly, his only writing-directing duel gigs I didn’t enjoy hugely were P2 (which he only wrote) and Mirrors (wrote/directed). Other than that, I am IN LOVE with this movie, I loved his screenplay work alongside Grégory Levasseur on his 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and I really enjoyed his screenplay for the remake of Maniac.
But it’s High Tension I continually come back to, the one I always find myself putting on when I want something intense and gory with nice use of practical effects. It’s a fallback every time I can’t think of anything else to put on and I’m looking for a scary flick. A lot of people want to file this one away with a ton of similar films. Sure, the twist itself in Aja’s film is not original, it has been done before. Regardless of that, he does an incredible job taking something slightly familiar and crafting an entirely new, vicious beast. Just a little over 7 minutes in, there’s a moment you realize: this is not like the others. With a very gritty and vibrant look from the cinematography of Maxime Alexandre, High Tension is a modern horror masterpiece with a depraved serial killer, a bad ass female lead, and it announced to the world Alexandre Aja would attempt to carry on the torch of hardcore horror as best he could from the older Masters of Horror from which he learned the craft.
High Tension is the story of Marie (Cécile De France) and Alexia (Maïwenn), two friends from college heading back to Marie’s house in the country, out in the cornfields, to stay with her family a few days. Arriving late, Alexia’s father (Andrei Finti) welcomes them and they get settled in.
Later that night, Marie in the room at the top of the house witnesses a sadistic killer (Philippe Nahon) break in. First he kills the family dog, then murders the father; even Alexia’s little brother isn’t spared a savage fate at the end of a shotgun. Her mother (Oana Pellea) gets perhaps the worst of it all, while Marie hides in a closet and is forced to watch the woman bleed out in front of her after a slit throat and other injuries.
But when the killer takes Alexia hostage in his truck and is about to speed off into the night, Marie makes a quick and drastic decision to hop aboard in order to make sure her friend makes it out alive.
Beginning as they hit the road with the insane killer driving them to who knows where, Marie and Alexia experience a night of absolute terror and madness, coupled with constant murder.
Okay, so to my surprise when I looked specifically to see who the special effects makeup artists was for High Tension, I discovered Giannetto De Rossi was the man responsible. And get this – his filmography is out of this world. To start, he worked on Once Upon a Time in the West, Zombi 2, The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery, Dune, Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, and Waterloo. So for the work Rossi did with Lucio Fulci alone, I can see why Aja probably sought him ought purposefully.
Because the effects here, the blood and gore and the nasty violence, it’s all classic already. Honestly, even if you don’t dig the movie overall, you can’t say the makeup effects are not well done. It’s ignorant to even say that because they’re brilliant. If you don’t like the plot, the story, fine – you just cannot deny Rossi’s work is incredible. It helps keep with the tone of Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography, which casts everything in this vibrant yet dark light. You get to see everything full on, there’s no shying away from the hardcore kills and violence, but it also fits with that darkness Alexandre sets up through use of the shadow and dark both in interior and exterior scenes. There’s nothing worse than when a horror film with lots of very noticeable makeup effects goes with something that visually sets itself off too much from the lighting and colour of the scene’s shots. In this way, Rossi’s work compliments that of Alexandre and his cinematography very effectively.
The GREATEST EFFECT, even amongst a ton of them, comes so early on when Alexia’s father gets his head cranked off. Some people have said it’s a silly effect, but I think it is incredible! It doesn’t matter to me if it’s totally realistic; the effect itself is so gnarly and amazing, it works beyond how well it should. I remember the first time I saw this, I actually blind bought the DVD years ago after hearing it was a good horror – that moment made my jaw drop and then I was on the edge of my seat, like “Bring it on, Aja!” What a solid horror effect. There are rarely awesome effects involving heads coming off, being blown up, et cetera, but this one is SPOT ON. Nailed it. The blood after the father’s head rips off is wild, too. A very surreal moment, compounded by the fact his wife comes out to see what’s happening not long after and sees him with his body still wedged between the staircase bars, blood EVERYWHERE. Vicious sequence I can’t get enough of, one that ought to go down in classic horror history as time passes.
There are a bunch more effects where that came from, this is merely my favourite of the bunch. Also, there’s the scene where Alexia’s mother has her throat cut savagely by the killer, filmed neatly through the closet as Marie watches between the wooden slits of the door. All around, that entire part is also very well executed and full of nasty, gory stuff. I was continually impressed with how great and realistic the effects looked. Too many moments to list.
It isn’t only in the effects department that High Tension succeeds with its horror. There’s a genuine air of tension and lots of suspense. At times, you’ll feel like your skin might start to crawl right up off your bones, as Marie creeps along trying to stay just out of the killer’s reach/eyesight. The first moment to really ratchet up the tension is when the killer stops at a gas station. The attendant, Jimmy (Franck Khalfoun), nervously talks with the killer and Marie, in the background, tries to sneak through the place without catching any attention. Great few moments then a BRUTAL KILL. Always nice to see a good axing in horror.
I think that whole sequence in the gas station is fairly suspenseful, start to finish. It’s similar to a classic slasher horror movie style bit, but Aja directs it well. The smooth and at the same time gritty cinematography of Maxime Alexandre looks marvellous with the dirty gas station bathroom; something about the way everything looks with all the white tiling against those green stall doors, a very raw and vibrant visual. Plus, the steady tight shots of Marie really draw you in. Then seeing mostly the killer’s back as he goes to each stall door, peeking in, sort of gives him a more ominous feeling; we’ve seen his face, but I like the way the camera in these moments sticks to rear shots, as it’s creepier that way.
Undoubtedly, though, the most perfect and incredibly effective part about High Tension is its finale. In fact, the entire last 25 minutes is some of my favourite horror, period. The final showdown between Marie and the depraved, sadistic serial killer is beyond fantastic. First off, the makeup effects here just go above what most other slasher horrors achieve; the bits with the barbed wire – savage! I love every second of these scenes. Secondly, when the killer is running around with that big saw – looks like an industrial concrete saw or something – I think that will come to be an ICONIC, CLASSIC horror movie moment when people look back at it 20-30 years on. I truly think this movie in general will find itself that sort of status after a couple decades more pass. The finale cements it in that category.
WARNING: BIG TIME SPOILER AHEAD!
The twist is where High Tension seems to lose people/piss them off. Either you dig it, or you think it’s derivative and foolish. I love it because we’re basically seeing EVERYTHING from the perspective of Marie, that’s why so many things seem impossible if you try and look back at the whole plot and say “Well how did she do that if she was the killer?”. You can’t do that because Aja made everything look the way Marie would’ve been seeing it. Only once she starts to come to her senses and realize what has happened do we, the audience, get treated to her viewpoint, as well. And that is why I think Aja’s film is brilliant modern horror. Because with a familiar twist, he pulls people in and makes them believe everything is real. After the fact, it pisses some people off they were, essentially, fooled into believing Marie was the heroine. When what it is simply equates to good horror filmmaking. That’s just my opinion, but I love this finale so much, from the fight with the killer to those final moments where Marie reaches out towards Alexia who is standing behind two-way glass; very creepy, very cool.
I’m giving Alexandre Aja’s High Tension full marks; 5 star horror movie. I can’t say any different. You can have your opinion, if it differs from mine, and that’s totally understandable. I get some people just won’t dig this, or they’ll have problems with the supposed movie logic, or whatever the case may be. However, I think this is one of the best savage horror flicks out there, certainly of the last 15 years or so. Aja revealed himself to the world with this nasty feature and as I said earlier I’m sure this will go down as a New French Extremity classic.
The DVD is a pretty awesome bit of work in its own right. There’s a few good hours worth of extras and Special Features included here on the Lions Gate release, which includes my favourite: a spotlight on Giannetto De Rossi’s special makeup effects for the film. He is an incredible artists at work. The featurette is only about 7-8 minutes long, but long enough to get a sense of how much work went into the effects they pulled off. Watching a man Rossi’s age on set with blood all over him, enjoying his work, it is ridiculously enjoyable. It’s so great to see someone still enjoying what they do after all those years. As Aja points out, having him onboard was a way to truly bring this film back to the spirit of the 1970s horror movies from which Aja draws influence.
The Making-Of featurette is all around a good deal of fun. It’s around 25 minutes long and there’s a look at just about every little aspect of the film, accompanied by both Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur giving insight into the entire process. I think they make a good team, which is clear by how they discuss their techniques working with one another, but merely by listening to how each of them talks about different aspects of the film it’s obvious how they came together and made something incredibly horrific like High Tension.
If you’re ever looking for a bit of shock, some gore and tons of blood, plus an interesting film with a FUN twist and a kick ass lead female performance, then look no further: High Tension has got what you’ve been looking for, friend. See it soon and enjoy all its horrific pleasures. The DVD is an added bit of enjoyment if you’re a fan; I certainly would suggest you pick this up for your collection.
Aja is a gifted talent and though some say otherwise, I think he’s one of the few new, younger horror filmmakers out there with both balls and an old school moviemaking sensibility about him.
Mirrors. 2008. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur; based on the film Into the Mirror by Sung-ho Kim.
Starring Keifer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Peil, John Shrapnel, Jason Flemyng, Julian Glover, and Ezra Buzzington. New Regency Pictures.
Rated 18A. 110 minutes.
For starters, I’ve been an Alexandre Aja fan for a long while now. Ever since I first saw Haute Tension (English titles: High Tension & Switchblade Romance) I thought that Aja had a sense of old school horror in him.
I continue to feel that way. While some people really might not agree, I think even his lesser films have things worth enjoying, worth taking away – sometimes that may just be the effects, parts of the script, or the story. Regardless I think that Aja carries with him some old school horror movie sensibilities in terms of his use of practical effects (though at times he does opt for some shitty CGI I must admit), as well as the stories he chooses to film.
Mirrors is the most supernatural horror that Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur have written together. It still has a bit of a realistic feel because of where the story goes eventually, however, there’s always that strong supernatural vibe going on from start to finish. In this way, it’s a little different from almost anything else that Aja himself has directed (of course since then he’s also done the fantastic Horns).
While it is not particularly great, I think the movie has merit mostly because of a creepy and weird story, and at times amongst some bad CGI effects we’re treated to a handful of really awesome practical make-up effects shots courtesy of Howard Berger, Gregory Nicotero, and some other wizards from KNB.
Ben Carson (Keifer Sutherland) is a former NYPD detective. He killed a man in a shooting some time ago after falling into a downward spiral of alcoholism; disgraced, he retired from the force. He’s cut off from his children most of the time, as his ex-wife Wife (Paula Patton) has custody of them both.
To try and make ends meet, Ben works as a security guard. Now he has a new job as the nightwatchman for the Mayflower Department Store which had been partly wrecked with fire years before. There, he begins to experience strange phenomena. Worse is the fact the last nightwatchman cut his own throat with a piece of glass from a mirror in a subway station bathroom.
Eventually Ben starts to feel as if the mirrors aren’t being looked into – they are looking out. And he does not like what they’ve started to project, as it slowly begins working its way out of the Mayflower Department Store, into him, into his life. Things get worse, until soon enough the things in the mirrors are following Ben home, to the home of his ex-wife and children. Unfortunately for Ben, at first nobody believes him because of the medication he takes while trying to stay off the booze. That all changes once the things in the mirrors reveal themselves to everyone else around him. Then, nobody is safe.
I really do love the opening sequence. An unwritten horror movie rule is that you need one of those opening scenes that POPS, usually a murder – maybe even the murder that begins the whole story. Doesn’t have to be that, but you know what I mean. There are many variants, yet a ton of horror movies all start out that way with a scene that’s meant to get our adrenaline going, getting the terror started. Mirrors does a fine and bloody job of starting things out. A worthy opening scene to the many that have come before it.
Throughout the movie there are definitely a few instances of terrible looking CGI shots. I think that’s overall one of my biggest problems. When you’re doing a supernatural film, especially, you really need to either do practical effects the whole way through, or you’ve got to be able to put up some quality CGI that doesn’t make things feel so fake and awkward.
One of the worst, to me, is when Ben Carson (Sutherland) thinks he’s on fire, looking in the mirror; he drops and rolls around, the fire consuming him all over the length of his body. Though, he is not on fire it’s meant to look and seem very real. In opposition to that, it doesn’t look any bit real. I’m not saying you’ve got to put someone in danger by lighting them on fire to get the shot, but does the alternative have to be awful effects? Either do it right or forego doing it at all. It was like watching Keifer Sutherland wriggle around in a green-screen blanket or something. Really rough to watch.
I don’t want to lay any blame for this scene on Grégory Levasseur especially. Unfortunately for him, Aja had to leave set to be with his wife who’d prematurely gone into labour, so Levasseur took over duties on this scene. I guess ultimately he didn’t have either control or say over the special effects in that scene, but either way he could’ve been part of the problem. He only recently directed The Pyramid, which I enjoyed yet was not great, so at this point in 2008 he probably didn’t have too much experience behind the camera as a director.
With that being said, I’ve got to commend the really well-executed make-up effects on the part of Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, as well as other artists from the KNB EFX shop. These guys have done so many films and shows, everything from The Walking Dead to Day of the Dead, Misery, Evil Dead II, Phantasm II, and so many more between them all.
A great and classic horror movie death happens in this film. BRIEF SPOILERS AHEAD!
Angela Carson (Amy Smart) dies while in the bathtub: her reflection grabs the top and bottom of her own jaw, starts ripping, tearing it open, upward until the whole thing just starts hanging loose, tongue out, bloody and gore everywhere. The water is full of blood. One of those real gory horror scenes that is enough to satisfy a lot of gorehounds out there! The effects in the beginning as she starts tearing involve a slight drop of CGI, however, the after effects and midway through the process are all practical; looks amazing. I thought so, anyways. Some true gore.
Not a huge fan of the acting, I must say. Mostly it’s only Sutherland who impresses me, and even he doesn’t exactly swing for the fences in a full-fledged, honest effort. I’m not saying he’s bad, at all, I just think that at times he’s a bit too flat. He plays that broken down guy well, there’s no doubt. But it feels like he doesn’t go from one place to another, there’s always this stagnant feeling to the Ben Carson character. Neither is he meant to go and turn into some new person, I just feel like there’s not much range here in Sutherland. Maybe that isn’t his fault, either. Could just be the script from Aja and Levasseur didn’t give Carson enough life on the page. Because I certainly think Sutherland is a good actor – not a fan of his Jack Bauer turn but I love him in Stand by Me, Freeway, A Time to Kill, and more. So he’s capable of range, I just don’t see much of it in the character itself, therefore we don’t see much out of Sutherland. Though, what he is given he plays well. As I said, I buy him as that sort of broken down, washed up/disgraced former cop figure. With that bit, he does what he can.
Otherwise, as I said, no one else truly grabbed me other than a couple of the supporting actors with creepy parts to play. Paula Patton certainly did not do anything for me; I find her bland and could take her or leave her, preferably she’d be left.
By far, my favourite part about Mirrors is the backstory of what’s going on inside the Mayflower Department Store. Once the film gets to the 1 hour 20 minute mark and Ben Carson is starting to unravel the Esseker mystery, this is where things get fairly creepy and unsettling. Not that it’s like blow your socks off scary, I just enjoy the mystery, the creepy moments when Carson goes to see the nun, tracking down information, it’s all pretty disturbing. I dig that whole final half hour. It’s by no means perfect, but it has that macabre backwoods element which I really love. To tell you the truth, I could’ve gone for a prequel where Aja explored the origin story in fuller detail, showing the Esseker girl and the lead-up to everything, her ‘possession’ or what not and that whole angle. The execution leaves something to be desired, all the same I thought Aja and Levasseur did a decent job with the story as opposed to the lacklustre work they did with dialogue and character development.
In the end, I’ll give Mirrors a 3 out of 5 stars. It’s not the worst of what Alexandre Aja has to offer, however, I also can’t say it’s one of his best. A mid-range effort on his part. Mostly, it’s the CGI and nonsense in the plot that throws me off, coupled with not a whole lot of stellar acting. The writing could’ve been done much better. There’s not only bad dialogue, there is a major lack of character development, as well as just some parts that didn’t feel to make a whole lot of sense even when it comes to the movie’s own internal logic. The finale was my favourite part, yet even some points there I said to myself “Hmm what?” and didn’t exactly feel like things went where they needed to go ultimately.
Also the ending sets things up for a sequel. I hate that. You can go for a downbeat, horrific ending that doesn’t have to be a lead-in to a sequel, which it feels like here. This would’ve worked with a haunting, open end but instead it’s like Aja just wanted to set it up so that someone else could spin this into another film.
Aside from those points that I thought were lacking, or were downright bad, I do enjoy the backstory of the film. There’s a lot of creepy things going on in that story and even if they were not represented as accurately and effectively as possible to maximize the horror/terror in the final product, I still think Aja did a decent job at trying to draw out some of the creepiness that was there. All in all, this is not something I’ll probably watch again, though, I did enjoy it enough to seek it out to review it and then watch it for a second time. This will be my last. I much prefer Aja’s remake of the Wes Craven classic The Hills Have Eyes, his French gore horror masterpiece High Tension and his film adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel Horns, and still there are a good deal who think the latter of those two is garbage; maybe some even don’t like the first. But me, I love Aja, and even though this is far from a great horror, I still give him credit for trying to instil a bit of old school-ness into his films, whether it be classic style supernatural ghost story stuff or the presence of some wild practical make-up effects.
Just search elsewhere to find his best work, you aren’t going to find it in this film.
The Pyramid. 2014. Directed by Grégory Levasseur. Screenplay by Daniel Meersand & Nick Simon.
Starring Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O’Hare, James Buckley, Christa Nicola, Amir K, and Faycal Attougui. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
There’s no way that I can honestly say The Pyramid is a great horror – most of the CGI alone warrants enough criticism to put it out of the running.
However, what I can say for my personal take on Grégory Levasseur’s film is that I enjoyed it simply because it’s fun.
A movie does not need to be perfect to be enjoyable. You don’t have to either love or hate a movie; not in the real world. It’s silly to think that movies have to be flawless in order to be enjoyed.
By the same token, you can both criticize a film for its flaws while simultaneously you’re still able enjoy what you’re watching.
The Pyramid is enjoyable for me because it’s fun. It isn’t the same old found footage movie of people going out into the woods, or a tv show presented and his crew get trapped inside a haunted building. At the very least, we’re treated to a location and situation that isn’t often touched on through found footage (the only similar film is another one I enjoyed though plenty seem to hate – As Above So Below).
The Pyramid takes place during 2013 as the protests in Egypt against President Mohamed Morsi were heating up big time.
Father-daughter archaeology team, Dr. Miles Holden (Denis O’Hare – of whom I was a big fan already but especially since his genius turns on FX’s American Horror Story) and Dr. Nora Holden (Ashley Hinshaw) are on a dig where a pyramid with only three sides, as opposed to the four contained on the pyramids in Giza. Once the structure is unearthed, a robot is sent in – as soon as the pyramid was opened, toxic air inside killed a man in a near instant. After the robot goes offline, the Holdens, as well as their team – along with Sunni Marsh (Christa Nicola), a documentary host, and her cameraman Terry “Fitzie” Fitzsimmons – all head inside, geared up, ready to discover what they can.
Unfortunately, the area is being cleared out due to the protesting in Giza and surrounding areas. Quickly the team enters the pyramid quickly as possible without alerting any of the authorities.
Inside there are dark and dangerous things lurking amongst the shadows, things that have spent centuries feeding, and waiting for the arrival of fresh meat.
“Stop being an archaeologist for a second and start being a human being” – I keep seeing people cite bad dialogue, using this as a source. I mean, why? What makes that such a bad line? Denis O’Hare’s character was just saying he didn’t want to destroy a wall because it had been put there, however long ago, by people who’d built that pyramid, so much historical hard work. Instead of wanting to get out of that place, he was more concerned with preserving things for historical and archaeological purposes. So I don’t understand how that line comes off as poorly written dialogue. Someone please explain to me why that line written on paper is bad because I don’t see it. Maybe the delivery isn’t perfect? Either way, this is not, to me, an example of bad writing. You don’t think someone would ever say those words? Try being trapped in an ancient, underground pyramid with a guy who’d rather just suffocate alive than bust up any of the old artifacts down there. Then perhaps the line might feel more ‘natural’.
Now, I’m not saying that The Pyramid avoids all the tropes of the found footage genre, or that it’s perfect – as I said starting out, it’s far from a perfect horror.
Typically there are always the arguments of “You lead us here”, et cetera. This moment comes, of course, after things start to get really hairy and one of the members, MIchael (Amir K) on the expedition is killed. Sunni flips on Miles and blames him for leading them down there, but as he points out she has to take responsibility because nobody forced her into the pyramid. I guess you can’t really avoid these types of arguments in found footage, as usually there is a ring leader. Most often, though, it’s usually the person insisting on keeping things filming – SO THAT THE WORLD WILL KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! If anything, at least they don’t go for that exact scenario. There’s a reason to keep filming here, as just being in the pyramid alone is a pretty amazing feat. I’m just glad there isn’t the same series of arguments over “Get that camera out of my face” and “Stop asking me questions – what is wrong with you?”, and so on. Might not be all fresh, but it does still avoid some of the familiar nonsense of the sub-genre.
There’s no part of me that will deny the CGI throughout The Pyramid is pretty bad. Almost all of it, honestly.
I guess when it comes to certain stories, characters, et cetera, in horror films there’s only so much you’ll be able to accomplish with practical effects beyond the blood and the murders. That being said, there’s no reason CGI has to look atrocious. I think, had the filmmakers somehow come up with a way to costume an actor instead of draping them in CGI, the Anubis creature could’ve been much more frightening.
Problem is that when bad CGI dominates the screen, there’s a real smack in the face for an audience. You go from seeing these big sets, this giant pyramid and all these hieroglyphics around, statues, to this hulking presence of bulbous CGI pushing through the frame. It’s too much of a contrast from the real look of everything else to the fake look of Anubis, as well as the other little creatures and things. I liken it to looking a nice painting then throwing a bunch of cartoon cutouts on top and acting out a scene. There’s already suspension of disbelief with a horror like this, but that doesn’t mean things need to look fake and silly looking. I’m sure it’s easier said than done to balance the budget of a huge film, especially when there are so many costs. However, with Alexandre Aja (director of such films as the fantastically gruesome High Tension, the stellar remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and another I enjoyed which others hated – adapted from Joe Hill’s novel, Horns starring Daniel Radcliffe) backing this project, you’d think there would be some way to make sure the CGI came out looking much better. Really dropped the ball on this aspect, which is one of the reasons so many people did not enjoy the film overall, I think.
SPOILER ALERT – HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
One effect I did like, or at least the second half of it, is when Dr. Miles Holden gets his heart ripped out. The first part looked a bit cheese-filled, but when the hand is sticking out, Miles is staring wide-eyed at it, and then it pulls back out of him, I thought that piece of the effect went really well. Because it didn’t look completely CGI built, it had at least a fraction of practical effects. Another bit I liked was the first night vision bit with Fitzie where he sees Dr. Holden get his face melted off – Anubis is all CGI, but the face melting still looks pretty damn gnarly!
For me, I love the practical make-up effects instead of big nonsense computerized junk – any day of the week. Most horrors will at least get a star or two alone from me if there’s an effort on the part of practicality. If not, I find it hard to engage with. Some horror does have pretty good CGI, but the good ones in that arena are those that don’t overuse it either – they know when to employ it, sparse, and they recognize all the other times where there’s no need of it at all. So, if The Pyramid was able to include more effects of a practical nature there might have been a better visceral reaction to all the other.
I can’t recommend The Pyramid in that way I would recommend other horror movies I’ve enjoyed. Simply because I don’t think this is a great movie.
But like I said in the beginning – you don’t have to think a movie is perfect to have a good time watching. There are fun bits in The Pyramid. While the CGI is far from anything I thought worked, there’s adventure to this horror-thriller. We don’t have to watch a bunch of young people running around in the woods, constantly screaming – both in terror and at one another – there’s actually a different story here than the same old tripe with which we’re presented.
The Pyramid does not need to be perfect. Sure, I would’ve loved to see a lot of changes because this could’ve been an absolutely excellent horror movie if there were better practical effects and not so much reliance on the bad CGI. Especially the final 10 minutes – Anubis looked the worst when the red flare lighting was glowing and you could seem him terribly clear. Before, he skulked around in the dark, so there were times it didn’t look as glaringly bad.
So there is plenty of room for improvement. I don’t deny that at all.
What I’m saying is, just because a movie doesn’t work as a 5-star film does not mean it has to be without merits. There is at least some decent acting, a halfway sensible script (despite what others might say), and an intriguing location/plot to work around in. See this for a bit of fun – don’t expect something on the level of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, but don’t expect a complete piece of trash like some reviews might have you believe.
Enjoy – or don’t! That’s up to yourself.
A bit of Christmas sneer when a psychopath takes captive his perfect Christmas dinner guest.
Horns. 2014. Dir. Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Keith Bunin; based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham, and David Morse. Mandalay Pictures.
120 minutes. Rated R.
Horror can often look like a tired genre. The heyday of 1970s psychological horror and 1980s slashers passed quickly, while birthing some extremely talented artists. This period gave way to a fairly unoriginal decade throughout the 90s. However, since the year 2000 there have been some new horror directors stepping out of the shadows to reclaim the genre.
One in particular is French director Alexandre Aja. He got his first big break with his French horror Haute Tension (English title: High Tension), which brought him to the attention of American horror master Wes Craven. Aja was given the privilege of remaking Craven’s own The Hills Have Eyes: one of the only worthy horror remakes in recent memory.
Horns, based on the best-selling novel by author Joe Hill whose famous father happens to be Stephen King, is Aja’s newest film, and for the most part it is a very fun, very wild ride.
Horns is about a man named Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) who recently lost his girlfriend Merrin (Temple). She was brutally murdered, and everyone thinks Ig did the deed. After some time Ig caves and sleeps with an old friend of his while drinking heavily. The next morning, to his horror, Ig discovers two horns have started to sprout out of his temples—all of a sudden people start telling him things he never asked to hear. From one person to the next, Ig hears everyone’s dark, dirty secrets. At first it seems more of a burden, but soon he decides to use his newly discovered persuasiveness to root out his girlfriend’s murderer and prove his innocence.
The story itself is wonderfully weird. I’m a fan of Stephen King myself, and knowing now Hill shares his father’s predilection for the macabre I will most certainly be picking up a copy of Horns to read, as well as other books.
There’s just enough horror to keep it in the genre, but this story really works because of its humour. Ig hears his share of disturbing tales and sadness due to the horns, but it’s the comedy that comes out of a few conversations that really got to me. I’m not a huge horror-comedy fan, but this script worked well enough with both elements.
Though Hill did not write the screenplay, it’s easy to see he and his father are drawn to similar stories; the flashbacks to Ig’s childhood are reminiscent of some scenes from King’s novel It, both in setting and tone. While the comparisons are there, Hill is most certainly his own man. I’m hoping some of his other work will end up being adapted soon enough.
My personal favourite part of Horns is Daniel Radcliffe. For one, the guy does a near flawless American accent. A lot of British actors play Americans on film, but Radcliffe is one of the few who can slip into the accent and never waver. Juno Temple does a fine job as well. This film, though, is all Radcliffe. His performance is incredible. Always determined to shed the perpetual image of Potter, here he hurls curse words, strips down to nothing, and conveys every shade of emotion on the spectrum. But more than that, he’s natural. Nothing about his performance feels forced.
I was always a fan, but after Horns I can definitively say I think Radcliffe is one of the best young actors out there. In the final act of the film he acts circles around everyone else on screen.
I would highly recommend this film to anybody. If you’re a horror fan, Aja provides a few creepy little bits to satisfy true genre lovers. For those who aren’t so inclined, Hill’s story is actually a beautiful romance disguised as a horror-comedy. If you let it, Horns will grab hold of you. My only complaint about the film is its use of CGI. Though there are a few really graphic bits where Aja sticks to practical effects, a lot of the film’s finale was very plastic looking. There was no other way to really do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t look all that good. Unfortunately, these few effects near the end really take away from some of the film’s emotional weight. I found myself not caring as much about what happened in the last five minutes as I did about just making it to the end credits. That being said, it did not ruin the film. It’s another great step in Alexandre Aja’s career as an interesting and important director of modern horror.
Maniac. 2012. Dir. Franck Khalfoun. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur; based on the original screenplay for the 1980 film by Joe Spinell.
Starring Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, and America Olivo. Canal+.
Rated 18A. 89 minutes.
★★★★ (Blu ray release)
First off, I really enjoyed the William Lustig directed original Maniac with Joe Spinell from 1980 (click for a review of that one from Rare Horror). There is a certain gritty, low-class charm to that movie which just really works. Spinell, of course, really terrified me, and most everyone who watched him become that insane killer onscreen.
But along comes Alexandre Aja, producing as well as doing some writing with Gregory Levasseur, and recreates Maniac, with help from director Franck Khalfoun. This vision of the film is even more crazy, more intense than the original, in my opinion. They took an idea, fleshed it out, changed it up a little, and came out the other side with something even more bizarre and frightening.
Not only do I find it more disturbing and more frightening than the original, it also uses unique techniques to really get the audience inside the killer’s head. The entire film, save for a rare few shots here or there at opportune and specific points (each with their own reason), is shot from the perspective of the killer, Frank (Wood). This means we see his whole life right from the windows of his soul. It is creepy. Also highly engaging: everything Frank sees, we see. We experience his experiences. The blood gets on his hands, and it feels like we’re there. Great way to immerse people in a character. Not forgetting how difficult it can be at times, depending on the story and situation, to film a movie as if right in the killer’s direct point-of-view.
The whole plot of Maniac revolves around Frank and his delusions. He restores mannequins in a shop his mother used to own. It becomes more clear as time goes by, the influence of his mother looms larger over his life, and has obviously damaged Frank in some way; it’s clear to us which way, very clear, immediately. Frank later meets Anna, and this shows some promise of maybe taking Frank out of his delusions. Although soon enough we see this will not be the case, whatsoever. Frank likes to scalp women. He likes to take the scalps home and staple them to his mannequins. He wants to build a life; one full of lifeless, obedient, perfect mannequins of his choosing. Frank is certainly a maniac.
Aja, whether he is directing or producing, always manages to dowse his films with incredible effects. Maniac, beyond its fresh use of point-of-view filmmaking, is ripe with blood and guts and disgusting things. Not only the blood, but there are some other images, horrifying sexual ones at times, that really stick with you long after the credits roll. A lot of the effects in Maniac are beyond visceral.
In fact, one of the best effects happens nearly right off the bat. The first scene depicts Frank stalking his newly discovered prey. He follows a young woman from a bar, all the way right up to her apartment door. Frank then ambushes her viciously, and takes his prize: a fresh and sloppy scalp. As he holds the girl by the back of her head, gripping her hair and slicing away, the scalp slips off, as its poor owner falls in a pile of dead weight on the floor. Sets the tone for Maniac and lets you know it will not be skimping on any of the horror, any of the gore for this remake. This kick starts the film’s pistons, which never stop pumping.
Another noteworthy mention about Maniac is the score. This film’s music blows me away. I can listen to it on its own, which I don’t often do with a film score or soundtrack either way. But the music is haunting. It’s a mix of piano and electronic music. The sounds get under your skin. There’s something about them that draws you in, taking you to Frank’s world. The score is beautiful and creepy, all at once. There’s something elegant and terrifying in the main theme especially. Sets the overall mood and jives well with Khalfoun’s atmosphere.
On top of the effects present, the film is really carried by Eljah Wood and his eerie performance as Frank. Khalfoun mentions in the Blu ray’s Making Of featurette how there is something more disturbing about a killer who does not look the part; for instance, comparing Spinell’s brutish character to Wood’s more slim look. One of the things which really works for Wood is the fact he doesn’t particularly appear imposing. You take one look at Wood and you don’t really feel the same fear as you might when meeting Joe Spinell in a dark alley, whether in a film or not.
Wood draws out Frank’s character with a lot of subtle acting. There are times when he goes wild, of course, however, it’s mostly the small, quiet moments where Wood really gets into things, and the character goes to fascinatingly creepy places. Without a really strong central performance a lot of horror films fall flat on their faces. With Wood and what I believe are his wonderful talents, Maniac really soars above most modern horrors where filmmakers often go for effects, whether CGI or practical, over character and plot.
As a horror film, Maniac is a 5 star experience. A lot of people expect a remake to expand on the original concept, as well as maybe step it up a little – if you feel that way and don’t believe Maniac delivers, then I have no idea what you’re really looking for in a remake. On its own this stands as a great modern horror, which to me will be a classic one day down the road. Even as a remake, this still holds its weight. The 1980 Maniac is loved dearly by a lot of hardcore slasher and horror fans. But I don’t see why people can’t get with this one. It is a fresh update; creepy, frightening, and gory at times. With, as I said, a spectacular lead performance in Elijah Wood. 5 out of 5 all the way.
Concerning the Blu ray release, it’s a 4 out of 5 stars. There is a great Making Of featurette, as well as a poster gallery, and some good commentary with Khalfoun and Wood. But there isn’t anything that really bumps this Blu ray above anything else in terms of being packed with extras. The quality is phenomenal. There’s nothing like watching a horror with style on a good screen in real high definition. You get to really dig into the effects. Not to mention the sound is quality – top notch.
Check this out. The Blu ray is beyond worth it, but don’t really expect there to be anything too amazing. The one featurette included is an hour long, so that’s not disappointing. You’ll get your money’s worth that’s for sure. Just not particularly my favourite release in terms of extra features that I have on my shelf, personally. As a movie, you can’t go wrong. This is a solid horror with many creepy, creepy scenes. This still lingers with me, even when I haven’t watched it in months.
Another Rare Horror review can be found here – this time for the remake.