This New Year's Eve party is going to get killer
Like a playbook version of Donald Trump's MAGA plan. Complete with Russian murder tourists. Prescient much?
The Darkness. 2016. Directed by Greg McLean. Screenplay by Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, & McLean.
Starring Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, David Mazouz, Lucy Fry, Jennifer Morrison, Ming-Na Wen, Matt Walsh, Tara Lynne Barr, Paul Reiser, Ilza Rosario, Parker Mack, Krista Marie Yu, Trian Long Smith, & Judith McConnell. Blumhouse Productions/Chapter One Films.
Rated PG-13. 92 minutes.
I’ve been a fan of Greg McLean ever since first seeing Wolf Creek. His whole anthology of work concerning that film, its sequel, the recent series, is enjoyable. Better than just its slasher horror sub-genre skin suggests, that catalogue of tales (a third film is on the way) concerning deranged Australian madman Mick Taylor is both exciting and frightening. His 2007 killer crocodile flick Rogue, also starring Radha Mitchell, is a decent bit of fun. So naturally, I’m always intrigued to see what he chooses next. With a couple other pictures just about in the bag, if not completely so, McLean dips into The Darkness, which is as far from those more reality driven horror movies as you can get.
Starring Mitchell and Kevin Bacon, The Darkness is a supernatural horror-thriller about a family that comes home from a vacation at the Grand Canyon toting something other than family members and luggage. This one got savaged by critics, so it seems. I understand there’s a certain amount of cheesiness at times. I have to say, though, there’s a palpable air of dread and fear that builds up a long time. All the parts never add up to anything more than a lump sum. I don’t personally find this a terrible horror. Certainly won’t say it’s anything more than okay, but likewise I can’t turn around and say it’s complete trash. The last 40 minutes aren’t near as good as they ought to have turned out, so the initial strong first half hour of the film builds things up and then never make it to higher ground, never capitalizing on all the effort. Sadly, McLean did all he can as director. Most of the problems lie in the script itself, as the actors generally carry the material to the best of their abilities.
I love the entire opening sequence out in the Grand Canyon, then following the family on their way home from the vacation. That’s a strong way to start out, as there’s a whole lot of things happening. First of all you’ve got the young Michael (David Mazouz), an autistic boy, falling into a sort of hidden cave, finding strange stones, likely Native American oriented with markings on them. Then his mother Bronny (Radha Mitchell) is an alcoholic, we get a slight sense of that, as well as the fact she suspects her husband Peter (Kevin Bacon) of being unfaithful, which is only further exacerbated in the upcoming few scenes after their arrival home. But that beginning 10 minutes is impressive, setting the tone for everything that follows. Later on, daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) reveals to us her bulimia and this makes the entire pile of family issues more intense. In between all that is the supernatural force that won’t let go since their vacation in the desert, since Michael disturbed that cave and its relics.
To my mind I’m not sure exactly what’s the biggest problem people have with The Darkness. Not saying this movie reinvents the wheel on supernatural horror. Doesn’t need to be revolutionary to be eerie good fun. One big element to the screenplay I enjoy is the family dynamic. The spirit clinging to the family exploits all their worst issues, their biggest personal problems. Michael’s autism makes the spirit and its influence early on feel real and lulling the family into complacency, misdirecting them towards his mental condition. Unfortunately, there’s never any pay off. The film builds, it has all the interesting and heavy emotional weight available to play with, however, there’s nothing that makes it lift above mediocrity.
A large part of why The Darkness doesn’t work is because there’s nothing innovative at all about the ghostly, spirit element to the horror. Supernatural films are always a test for me, honestly. As a horror fanatic, the one sub-genre of which I’m always wary is the supernatural arena. There are some great classics – Poltergeist (by which this one is heavily influenced), The Exorcist, among others. Although these are the best examples, clearly. Through it all, McLean doesn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before, nor does it spin in a refreshing way to scare us. I found certain elements creepy, particularly early on. As the plot wears on there isn’t anything much other than hand prints, shadows and the like to hover in the background, over the sheets, blood on the walls. Nothing excitingly scary happens even when the finale rolls around.
The actors try their best. For the most part they do a nice job. Once the whole plot descends into the final twenty minutes their acting only falls along with the entire movie. The whole conclusion is cheesy, anti-climactic, and all around does nothing to make everything which came before it worth the ride. It’s really too bad. Even the young boy playing Michael does a decent job. Then there’s Lucy Fry, whom I enjoyed thoroughly in McLean’s Wolf Creek mini-series. Bacon and Mitchell are both decent, as well. They’re just all incapable of transcending the boring material of the script.
There was potential in the ending for this movie to defy its own expectations, and that of the audience, too. Instead the script opts for a cheese-filled, maple syrup sappy end, and squanders the last of its potential. I don’t hate The Darkness. There were elements that work, early on I found myself enjoying the dreadful atmosphere and the tone of what was to come. In a tragic twist of poor writing, the movie drops off quickly, and then all but kills itself. If McLean and the writers could have managed to keep up what was happening in the first big sequence at the canyon, a little after when they went the family was headed home and things started to feel a bit chilling, this whole thing had a chance. Rather than that keep that up the screenplay falls into tired territory, offering nothing new and borrowing liberally from other sources, right up to the shoddy finish. Even how the last scene is cut, then the eerie music of the credits lead into a shot of the stones we saw from the cave, as if somehow imaging a world where this movie could drum up a sequel. I have to say, I don’t hate the movie, but I’m more than unimpressed with McLean having directed this outing. Not worth his talent, and he wasted a bunch of it here with middle of the road horror that can’t sustain itself. I’ll be busy waiting for the third Wolf Creek and his other projects, doubt I’ll ever watch this one again.
The Gift. 2015. Directed & Written by Joel Edgerton.
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Philipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Katie Aselton, David Joseph Craig, & Susan May Pratt. STX Entertainment/Huayi Brothers Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 108 minutes.
Joel Edgerton is a triple threat – he can act, write, and direct. The first thing I’d seen him do as a writer was the exciting film The Square. That same year, he put in a stellar acting performance as Ian Wright in the underrated dark thriller Acolytes. Next, he was spot on Barry ‘Baz’ Brown in David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, and another solid screenplay in 2014 for director Michôd’s The Rover. So to see him in The Gift with all three barrels blasting, starring on top of directing and writing together, it is truly phenomenal.
While this movie wasn’t exactly as great as the hype suggests, Edgerton does craft a very deep, at times highly disturbing thriller with lots of human drama and intrigue, weaving the story of two men together in adulthood concerning a terrible secret from when they were children. Most of all, Edgerton explores how we never really know people. Not fully, not all of them. Some hide things, unnerving and even awful things. And this is a story about when those secrets in the past crawl their way into the lives of people in the present. Often with horrific consequences.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callum (Rebecca Hall) are a well put together married couple. They eventually want to have children, but other than that everything is wonderful. Until along comes Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley (Joel Edgerton), an old high school acquaintance of Simon. He starts showing up unexpected at their home, usually bearing a gift. Except this continues and continues to an odd length. Soon, Simon feels he has to tell Gordo to back off.
However, the past is tricky. Not everyone, even those married and close to one another, knows the people around them completely. Everybody has a secret. It just so happens some are worse than others. And the secret Simon’s been hiding is certainly worse. As the presence of Gordo in their lives starts to threaten their plain, enjoyable existence, Simon and Robyn are confronted with how the past can taint the present forever.
Aside from Edgerton, whom I dig, Jason Bateman is part of why I immediately found myself drawn to The Gift. He’s someone how has impeccable comedic timing and delivery, so to see him in something darkly serious is interesting. He does a good job with the character of Simon. What’s fun is that the character begins at one end of the spectrum, commanding our empathy for the situation in which he finds himself, as well as the fact his wife is inadvertently drawn into his past. Then by the end of the movie we’re questioning exactly where the loyalties lie as viewers. He is no longer worthy of our empathy, but at the same time we’re left to question how much punishment he actually deserves. One thing’s for sure, the true colours show and we finally see who Simon was all those years ago.
There’s also Rebecca Hall, she is a treat as usual. Here she gets a better role than most of the other films I’ve seen her in, as the character of Robyn is complex, endearing, and of course once the movie has run its course there is so much more involved. She plays the role well and she definitely has chemistry with Bateman, even Edgerton, too.
And Edgerton, he does a fine bit of work. Gordo is a nerve wracking character who’ll make you nervous almost every last second his face is onscreen. Whereas Edgerton often has a fairly built physique, or a manly build, whatever you want to call it, Gordo is more sheepish. He isn’t lost of confidence, not at all. But physically he isn’t imposing, he is sort of odd, awkward, and that makes him even more menacing in a way.
The sad and smiley faces are something that warn you right away. Gordo’s stuck as a young boy, one used to writing notes across the class with pretty girls, smiley faces and all. This is an immediate clue, even from the first smiley, that something is amiss. Of course he’s a bit creepy all the time. There’s something about the notes, the smiley and later sad faces drawn on, which bring your attention to something traumatic. People who go through various kinds of trauma at a young age can often find themselves stuck in that age, often times for the rest of their lives. So later, once things are uncovered more and more, we’re clued into the fact that these little droplets of character actually mean something. It’s weird from the start, but gains further eerie significance after more story details fall into our laps. That’s part of why Edgerton’s script is really enjoyable. Despite being a fairly slow burn for most of its run there are so many moments to hook you in, keep you glued to what’s happening.
Spoiler Alert: if you’ve not seen the film, do not go on. I’m about to discuss & spoil the ending.
Personally, I don’t think Gordo raped Robyn. To me he doesn’t seem like that type, no matter if he’s a creep. And above all, because he didn’t need to do that. All he required was the seed of doubt. Plant that in Simon’s head once and it’ll never go away. Simon would spend the rest of his life wondering, likely afraid to say anything about but all the while allowing it to consume him. That’s the greater revenge, in my opinion. Now there are some people I saw complaining about the rape angle being used here as a plot device, and I identify as a male feminist, so I understand there are films which really do exploit these types of situations and events. The Gift is first and foremost about the specter of abuse, rape, sexual assault. Because going back to the original events which spurred Gordo on, they were fictitious. So why not give Simon a taste of his own medicine? That’s what it all hinges on, in my opinion. Gordo wanted Simon to experience exactly what he did. Right down to a big fake-out.
Ultimately, this is definitely a 4-star dramatic thriller with a good dose of mystery. Joel Edgerton’s done a fantastic job crafting a tense story. With the stellar main trio of performances this script comes alive. Sure, it is slow and at times moves with a snail’s pace. But that’s never a bad thing if the plot is compelling. And The Gift is absolutely compelling, if anything. It engages you with a highly adult story that stems from childhood, making you question how people change, can they actually change, is it possible to shake off the devastation of the past, among many other questions begging for an answer. The finale might shake many people. Even as a seasoned horror veteran, the end of the film is still shocking in its own right. Regardless, the whole ride is worth taking. Hopefully Edgerton takes on some more films soon as director because he’s got incredible sensibilities for directing in terms of shot composition, pacing, all the necessary elements. Only a few flaws to be found, but otherwise this is a taut, suspenseful piece of cinema.
Area 51. 2015. Directed by Oren Peli. Screenplay by Christopher Denham & Oren Peli.
Starring Reid Warner, Darrin Bragg, Ben Rovner, Jelena Nik, Roy Abramsohn, Frank Novak, and Glenn Campbell. Aramid Entertainment Fund/Blumhouse Productions/IM Global/Incentive Filmed Entertainment/Room 101.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
Right back to the supposed McPherson Tape, later given a bigger budget and made as Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, there have been plenty of found footage films dealing with alien encounters. We’ve also got Jason Eisner’s segment from V/H/S 2, the 2014 film Alien Abduction, then there’s Apollo 18 with a bit of pseudo-revisionist history. There are more, but I won’t ramble on into the night about every last one.
Area 51 is not necessarily the same as the others. Right from the beginning, not many films involve the actual infiltration, or attempted infiltration, of Area 51. There are some, but not a great many. Plenty of mentions, though, in film and television about Roswell, New Mexico, Area 51, and areas around Nevada. In some respects, Oren Peli’s latest film is much different than anything else. At other times there’s nothing different at all. Mixed bag mostly.
Peli is someone I’ve enjoyed far more as a producer than director. His two films as director, Area 51 and Paranormal Activity, aren’t that much different than one another except for the fact they’re completely different settings. Mostly I like that he produced the three Insidious movies, The Lords of Salem, as well as both Chernobyl Diaries and The Bay of which I’m a fan despite what others might think of them. With this film – originally completed around 2009 or so and unreleased until 2015 – Peli doesn’t do much else other than try to show new ways of incorporating found footage, techniques which aren’t necessarily fresh or innovative but above all else just fun to look at.
Three friends – Reid (Reid Warner), Darren (Darrin Bragg), and Ben (Ben Rovner) – head to a huge a party. There, Darren and Ben lose track of Reid briefly. They see him staring into the sky. Later, they find him again in the road – quiet, but fine.
Three months later, Reid has planned a trip for them: to Vegas. Or, more so Area 51.
Once on their journey, they meet with Jelena (Jelena Nik) whose father worked in the base for a time before getting fired for prodding into things too far; he later committed suicide. The four head out to try and make it onto the legendary base.
However, once they arrive and start to move further and further inside, they come to understand perhaps it’s better off the American Government keeps their findings under wraps.
An aspect of Area 51 I really did enjoy was the plot of how they managed to snag the old guy’s ID and the bottle of his cologne in case they required any fingerprints. That was pretty slick! While I think once inside there’s a lot of lapse of judgement on the part of the writing, in turn affecting the characters, much of what I liked about the movie was its build-up and the first half where it’s almost more like a thriller than anything. We’ve seen plenty of this type of stuff in other movies, I dig that Peli injects the found footage into something with which we’re familiar.
Another extremely fun part were the effects. I think, despite of how mediocre I found its scares, Peli’s Paranormal Activity at the least introduced the movie industry to new aspects found footage could carry: such as special effects. In this film, Peli takes that on to different levels. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Once Darren, Jelena, and Reid enter the Area 51 facility, there are a host of interesting effects the movie introduces. The alien technology this trio comes across is impressive. I totally loved the small, smooth craft Reid gets into; from the outside it’s almost a big oval, an egg-like structure, inside Reid is soundproofed yet the whole ship is transparent. Honestly, regardless whether you like the movie overall or not, I can’t see how you wouldn’t enjoy these moments. Seeing special effects with the found footage done well, such as they are in this case, is a treat for me because it isn’t often we get to see that in other movies.
There’s a genuine creepshow of a sequence after Jelena and Reid end up in a tunnel system underneath the Area 51 facility itself. In these few scenes, Peli brings us back to straight horror filmmaking. Not in a bad sense. There’s the obligatory slow shots of the camera, light shining, moving through the darkness, but a sense of real tension is happening. I’d honestly expected, after Darren has a quick run-in with the facility security, the finale of the film was going to be an extremely big, loud chase sequence, and the effects would come fast, barely noticeable, and the film would go out on a bang. Instead, the screenplay slows things down in pace for awhile. We get these very quiet bits before the REAL chase gets on. Then we switch back to see how Darren is doing, there we get the big chase, the loud sound design, alarms, and so on. Not a bad thing, however, I thought Peli might’ve done well to keep with the subtlety through to the end and create a more effective scare for the audience. Sadly, what was built up loses its steam with a big shift between Darren/Jelena and Reid. Peli should’ve left Darren and his situation unknown, it’d be more unsettling that way instead of spelling ever last thing out visually for us. Keeping with Jelena and Reid could have created an insanely tight tension that would not let up until the finish. It still has suspense and it keeps you on edge, no doubt there, but I don’t think it reached what it could have been with more focus.
That being said, I found the final ten minutes – in regards to scenes involving Jelena and Reid – pretty damn spectacular at times. SPOILERS AHEAD! When the two of them appear to abducted there’s an amazing scene/series of shots, as they’re sort of lifted up inside this white space, no gravity, and the camera gets sucked out of a tube only to fall down to the ground. BONUS – if you watch until after the credits, which you should as respect to all the various artists who work on a film (not to be a dick but I have many friends in the industry + I’m an aspiring screenwriter so it’s always nice to spend an extra couple minutes watching them), there is a POST-CREDITS SCENE. Pretty nice little add-on.
Only for the fact that this scene may negate the found footage aspect. An old man – the same one poking around the group’s vehicle earlier in the film – finds the camera Reid dropped in his abduction, or whatever you’d like to officially call it. So my only beef is: how did the footage get “found” then? It seemed to me like this old guy was a part of the conspiracy, in some way. Perhaps I’m wrong and he was another intrigued mind, maybe the reality is he came across the tape while trying to find his own evidence of some sort. Then it’s VERY clear how the footage made it out. So I can’t knock Peli for this last bit, as I’m not sure how exactly it was intended to play off. I’d like to believe the old man was another person prodding around for tangible proof of Area 51 and its contents, just as Reid and his friends; the knocking on their door in that one scene would then be seen as him probably warning them, attempting to steer them off a course of danger.
I don’t think Area 51 is anything special, but it’s also not as terrible as some seem to be making it out to be, as if there aren’t worse instances of both aliens/Area 51 and found footage out there (which there most certainly are).
Overall, it’s about a 2 out of 5 star film. The build-up is marred by too much jumping back and forth in the finale. Oren Peli instead tries to lean hard on the exposition, spelling out the fate of each and every character perfectly without leaving any sort of room for imagination. This isn’t always bad – you don’t have to NOT answer questions to be a good film. But Peli is too heavy handed, and any of the mystery he’d cultivated throughout the first three quarters of Area 51 disappears over the closing fifteen minutes. There are a few great scenes, honestly, from scares to interesting uses of the found footage sub-genre. The acting isn’t awful, but it’s by no means anything to write home about. Especially in the finale of the film, all the emotions and intensity of those scenes could’ve come off WAY BETTER if the actors pulled their weight, or in turn if the actors were replaced with better actors.
I’m not even that big on Paranormal Activity, other than the fact it was slightly innovative for found footage, but I’d absolutely recommend seeing that one over this directorial effort from Peli. See this if you’re looking to burn off an hour and a half. Plus, you might enjoy a few of the special effects the way I did. Who knows; stranger things have happened.
The Gallows. 2015. Directed & Written by Travis Cluff/Chris Lofing.
Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff, Price T. Morgan, Theo Burkhardt, David Herrera, Gannon Del Fierro, Mackie Burt, and Adrian Salas. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 81 minutes.
Found footage is a sub-genre I do enjoy, honestly. That being said, there is still a fine line between what I enjoy and what I find crap. Some people say it’s all crap; that’s just dismissive, to me. I’m a fan of Cannibal Holocaust, unapologetically I love The Blair Witch Project, and then there’s newer stuff I’ve enjoyed like the V/H/S trilogy (I got a ton of online shit on an IMDB message board for my love of all three especially the third), Lovely Molly, and the terrifyingly unsettling Home Movie. There are other titles, I just don’t want to go on. You get the picture: if something is done right using found footage, I believe there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyable. Certain people seem to think the whole sub-genre is useless, but again, I say that’s nonsense. Found footage needs to be used effectively, otherwise it’s simply another gimmick. To say there’s no good found footage is ignorant.
The Gallows has a fun premise and I haven’t seen any found footage so far to use this setting. The majority of what I enjoyed about this movie is the atmosphere, most of which came from the location of the school’s auditorium/theatre. Otherwise, I found almost all the characters to be stiff; the high school dramatics felt real, I did think Reese Mishler and Cassidy Gifford were pretty decent throughout the movie, but overall the cast wasn’t very solid. With only a little to enjoy, The Gallows feels more like a wasted opportunity than an absolutely useless horror.
Starting with a recorded home video from 1993, we see a boy named Charlie Grimille accidentally hang to death during a high school play. Worst of all, it happens in front of an audience who watch on in absolute fear and horror.
The present day in The Gallows sees a new production of the play being put off. In one of the main roles, a jock named Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) tries his best to play his part opposite a girl he has a crush on named Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown). At the same time, Reese’s jock budy Ryan Shoos (that’s also his real name) films everything behind the scenes, supposedly helping but doing nothing except make a mockery of the production while others work hard and passionately to make it the best they can.
In an effort to supposedly save his buddy Reese the shame and failure of going onstage, Ryan suggests breaking into the school’s theatre at night and trashing the set. That way the production would be halted and Reese could ‘comfort’ Pfeifer. Misguided and foolish, Ryan, Reese, and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) head into the school through a door said to never be locked, due to it being broken for years.
However, once they run into Pfeifer inside – who wonders why they’re even there in the first place, as they wonder the same about her – they discover the door is now locked, out of the blue. What follows is a horrifying night for the group of friends while they begin to figure out all about what happened 20 years ago to Charlie Grimille, and why he’s still lurking in the shadows of the school.
There’s certainly an innovative aspect to The Gallows in its premise. I think beyond that, there’s not much to distinguish it from other found footage horror movies. However, the whole concept is pretty fun. Theatres in general all have their own spooky nature; there’s something eerie about a theatre, all the history and the many people who’ve graced both the stage and the seats. Add in a school and it’s even creepier, as old schools all have their own history, many lives passing through its halls and corridors, as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the filmmakers used this premise enough to their advantage. As I said, most of The Gallows sticks to the bargain basement techniques of Found Footage 101. For instance, there’s an early and needless jump scare – that you can’t even fully call a proper jump scare – which involves Ryan (Shoos) just popping up in front of his camera in his bedroom; not even horror, simply him trying to pull a gag. Stupid, and also gets your heart pumping for no good reason. A jump scare is effective if there’s a reason, if there is purpose to it, however, if you simply make people jump without any substance whatsoever then it’s a piss off. For me, anyways. There’s always the “trick jump scare” in horror movies, but this is not one of those at all. It’s just a dumb addition; in fact, the scene in which it’s involved serves no purpose itself, so the whole 1 minute or so could’ve easily been trimmed out of the film.
Even though the movie uses so much of the shaky cam style, there’s still a decent atmosphere all the same. As someone who acted a great deal from a young age up until my early twenties, I spent a massive amount of time in theatres; specifically the big one at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts back in my hometown, which partly resembles the auditorium of the school in this film. There’s something inherently spooky about the cold, sterile like hallways in the basement, the darkness of the theatre behind the stage, which immediately makes things unsettling.
If this were done in straight style, using some more steady handheld work even, I think it would’ve benefited greatly. Now I know, Blumhouse most likely wanted to try another lower budget found footage effort and try to make big bucks; the estimated budget is only$100K, which by industry standards in Hollywood is a minuscule production. But still, this is where the concept of the entire film becomes wasted. I’m confident had the filmmakers chosen to do this without found footage, a ton more emotion would’ve come through, the backstory might’ve benefitted – as well as the ghostly presence of Charlie – and the scares could’ve been ten times more effective.
Sadly, The Gallows comes out much like so many of the low budget indie efforts in the found footage genre – the ones unable to rise up to the weight of their premise.
One particular scene I did find effectively creepy, regardless of the found footage style (mostly because the phone camera being stationary for the shots), was when SPOILER ALERT Cassidy (Gifford) is in the red lighted hallway; behind her in the dark creeps the figure, hooded like the Hangman from the play. What I find most scary here is how there’s a moment where you don’t see anything, then all of a sudden – as if magic – the noose is around her neck. An unseen force drags her away through a door in the background of the shot, and it slams shut behind her. Very good and creepy scene, I found it wasn’t jumpy it was simply a nice shock to the system. A solid scare.
Furthermore, there’s a scene where Reese (Houser) and Pfeifer (Brown) are running from the ghostly presence of Charlie, clad in the suit of the Hangman, and they’re climbing up a ladder – we get an excellent, terrifying look at the Hangman mask/suit up-close. It’s again not a jump scare, so much as it’s one brief look that gives you enough to make you go WHOA. I’d almost love to see a slasher now set in medieval times, or before, with a hangman as the slasher – it’s just the first thing that popped in my mind when I saw the mask. Awesome little shot, not too long and not too short.
A part of the plot I did like was when everything returned in a circular fashion to the stage, as Reese and Pfeifer act out their scene together, and the camera turns on. The lights go up as well and the stage is set.
However, after that sequence I found things started to fall off. What I don’t like is how Blumhouse is basically setting things up right at the end for another movie. That’s essentially what happens, can anyone disagree? It’s like a mash of things happening right at the end. There’s simply too many reaching connections. So SPOILER ALERT AGAIN we’re meant to believe that Charlie’s girlfriend – the woman who continued to sit in the same seat and watch the practices, waiting for another performance of the play which killed her boyfriend 20 years ago – is also Pfeifer’s mom? I’m pretty slick most of the time, so I apologize if I’ve misunderstood. But the finale is pretty much tell us all that. I found it very mixed and matched, like puzzle pieces not intended to fit together which were simply mashed into a pile for the sake of trying to turn The Gallows – and Charlie – into an iconic style horror movie.
But this is another problem I have, I feel like Charlie is made out to be this slasher type killer. Instead he’s a ghost with a noose. That’s fine. At the same time, the movie is being marketed in a sense that Charlie’s supposed to be aimed toward becoming the next Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I think not. First of all, the movie itself is nowhere near good enough to become anything like either John Carpenter’s Halloween or Friday the 13th. Second, Charlie just doesn’t come across in that way. There are most certainly a couple creepy scenes, there’s not enough viciousness for me to say Charlie is a bonafide slasher. Maybe had he really done a psychotic job on one of the high school kids, I could give in and say there are elements about the character which fit the bill. I can’t say that at all because most of what happens is ghostly creeping in the background, supernatural deaths, and nothing in the way of any blood. It’ all about the noose. Certainly no gore anywhere to be found. Is there really any way we can call Charlie a SLASHER if he did no slashing? Something to think about. I guess that’s partly the marketing’s problem. Still, I feel as if the filmmakers were also pushing towards that, particularly with the ending. There’s just no way I can get with that.
I can give The Gallows a 2 out of 5 star rating and feel okay with that. Some people say this is utterly trash. That’s fine, I respect anyone’s opinion as long as they’re not trying to force it on me as if I should feel the same way. However, I don’t think every last piece of this movie is bad. There are spots I thought were incredibly unsettling – one scene where Ryan slowly discovers there’s a body hanging up in between the walls in this tight crawlspace-like room I found to be VERY CREEPY. Ultimately though what makes The Gallows fall short is a reliance on horror cliches and tropes to the point of retreading too deeply through the footsteps of so many other found footage horror efforts, as well as the fact I found much of the acting (aside from Cassidy Gifford and Reese Mishler) extremely wooden. Not to mention I found the ending poor, beyond rushed, and it felt as they were forcing everything down our throats. While I did find parts of it scary, that finale did nothing for film overall and only served to make me actually say aloud once the lights came up: “Oh wow – that end was rough”.
Like I’d mentioned before, I think The Gallows would’ve made a better film if it went without found footage. Alas, Blumhouse – while doing exciting things on other ends – loves to go for the low budget shots in the dark like this after their huge success with bleeding dry the premise of Paranormal Activity. So it’s no wonder they went for a found footage style here instead of filming it regularly. Maybe more money would’ve been pumped in, but it still could’ve told the story more effectively, creeped people out in a much more visceral way than they accomplished here, and perhaps the performances might’ve also benefited from having a solid style. I can’t recommend this much, however, it isn’t as terrible as some critics and people online are making it out to be.
See it if you want to judge for yourself, and I urge you to do so – I’m no one to be listening to, really. Just don’t believe all the trashing, while at the same time you need to remember you won’t find anything more than a generic found footage horror. There are tons of better found footage movies out there to get you creeped out.
The Purge. 2013. Directed & Written by James DeMonaco.
Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis, Tom Yi, Chris Mulkey, and Tisha French. Blumhouse Productions. Rated 14A. 85 minutes. Horror/Thriller.
Now to start – I have an aunt who is a full-fledged American, I have friends who are American – so when I say things about America, please don’t assume that I’m talking about EVERY SINGLE AMERICAN. I’m not, at all. Many of you who read this are American, and I bet you’re awesome people.
However, American society as a whole has an obsession with violence. Not just violence, gun violence in particular. It’s an epidemic. Anyone who denies that is in denial, in my opinion. It’s an obvious observation; nothing revolutionary about what I’m saying here. Every single day there’s a new story about police killing unarmed black men, every week or two a mass shooting in a public place. Violence is on the news almost endlessly, it seems.
So when people bash on The Purge for not being realistic, sure – it isn’t meant to be a documentary. This is also not science fiction, as the IMDB categorization would have you believe. This is speculative crime fiction in my mind. There are elements of a thriller, obviously, as we’re treated to a snapshot of what American life might be like on nights when a Purge would happen. Also, a few good moments you can say are straight up horror.
It isn’t a perfect movie, but I think that it’s pretty damn good. There’s solid acting in the lead roles, as well as several of the supporting ones. Director & writer James DeMonaco doesn’t rely on any ridiculous CGI to get the job done. What he does rely on is the acting, but also his own script affords opportunities which draw on the fears of everyone watching: what if The Purge was a real event? Yeah, I know in the real world the likelihood of this actually happening is so slim there’s no point in discussing it as a real event (perhaps there is in a more educational perspective than my shitty little blog). However, there doesn’t have to be a perfectly plausible world where this would happen. It’s speculative fiction, it represents a metaphorical space where this could happen because of the far right-wing conservative views that some groups/parties hold in America. I could see some politicians backing a ridiculous policy like The Purge, trying to pass it as an alternative to reducing crime/et cetera; it would never pass, clearly, but is it so hard to believe some nutjob would actually suggest something wild like this? I don’t think so. That alone is enough to justify The Purge as a fun little horror flick.
Regardless, it’s about totalitarianism, the concept of a police state – in every single American state – and how extreme right-wing politics have the ability to rise in the wake of economic collapse.
The American government becomes a totalitarian regime in the early 2010s. After the economy collapses, a police state emerges to combat the effects felt across the nation. Every year, on March 21st an event named “The Purge” occurs where all crime is legal, as well as the fact all emergency services are suspended for 12 hours until 7am on the 22nd. Very few restrictions are involved, mostly pertaining to government officials and Class 4 weapons. Apparently, The Purge is responsible for a drop in both crime and unemployment, bringing the American economy back to a level of unparalleled growth.
In 2022, as The Purge begins, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) heads home after having an excellent day – he sells security systems designed specifically to lock down houses for The Purge (ah ha – commentary!). He and his wife Mary (Lena Headey), plus their two children Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder) are getting prepared to lockdown for the evening. However, things don’t go as planned this year for James and his family. First of all, Zoey’s boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) has snuck himself in to stay overnight; he’s older, which pisses her father off. Unfortunately for Zoey, Henry unknowingly has plans to confront dear ole dad. Even worse, though, is the fact that young Charlie lets in a man off the street (Edwin Hodge) who claims he’s being tracked, saying they’re trying to kill him. With the man inside, James is unprepared for what will come next.
Soon, a group of people come knocking. They’re out for The Purge – to “release the beast” as it’s frequently called – and are lead by a man who unmasks himself (Rhys Wakefield). He rings the doorbell, politely explaining himself, and tells James + family that they’re looking for the man who was let inside. Ultimatums are given, James tries to stand his ground, but eventually those “fine, young, very educated guys & gals” will get in, one way or another. Even if they’ve got to huff and puff and blooooow the house down.
“We don’t want to kill our own,” he says. “Please just let us Purge!”
There are a lot of things going on in this movie that I think people ignore. Sure, maybe the logistics of everything are not perfect, but whatever. There are a lot of messages in here about the social issues, violence included, which plague America on a daily basis.
Right now, on a day when Officer Dipshit or whatever that piece of garbage’s name is who shot Sam DuBose, is it so hard to look at The Purge and admit it says things which are downright true about America overall?
The line above screams the problems of race which America faces on a day to day norm. Black men are killed by the dozens every year, it seems, worse and worse as the years go by. Here we’ve got a bunch of lily-white American “guys & gals” out having their Purge and who do they choose? That’s right, a black man. Because he’s not one of their own. So they hunt him down and any sympathizers in their way? Release the beast on them, too.
Just like nowadays, people who support the victims are treated like the Sandin family. Clearly not literally, but you catch my drift.
What I love, though, is that James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is not an innocent in all this debacle. While his wife and children are indeed innocent bystanders, essentially, James is guilty as anyone. He may as well be out Purging with the rest of those people; even explaining to his son what the night ‘means’ he says that if they felt the need to, he and his wife would Purge because the annual night “saved this country“. So while we feel terror for James, and certainly his family, he’s still culpable partly in the overall societal go-along with The Purge as an event.
Sandin makes money selling systems that are built solely because of The Purge. Now, I don’t mean to say that’s how it started off. I’m sure James probably worked for a security company of some sort and once The Purge was enacted as an official event they probably just up and capitalized on the opportunity to make money. Regardless of the process (I just know there are people who nitpick so let’s get to the fucking nitty gritty then), James and the company he works for are exploiting this, so they’re only going along with the entire totalitarian government which has a deathgrip on American society here in DeMonaco’s film.
I just find that whole angle interesting because there are elements to that part of James – guilt, fear for his family and what he has been a party to as a profiteer of totalitarian policy – which I felt Ethan Hawke really brought out in the character. He’s one solid actor. I love that he’s done some horror/horror-ish stuff as of late, including the not amazing but a lot of creepy fun – Sinister. Brings a bit of credibility to genre pictures when you have good actors; they don’t have to be big time names, but that certainly does not hurt. Here it works with both Hawke, as well as Lena Headey. She gets a break from being a hard ass bitch – Cersei motherfuckin’ Lannister on Game of Thrones – to play a woman who is thrust into a world she never ever wanted, hoping her family can make it through the night. She and Hawke play well together as husband and wife, especially in some incredibly tense moments.
There’s a cold calculation to the character Rhys Wakefield plays, the unmasked Purge vigilante at James Sandin’s door. The way he shoots one of his fellow Purgers who screams “just give us the homeless pig, you fuck!” into the house, I found it perfect. It’s not just sly acting on Wakefield’s part, who does well with his performance. The character shows us how those sort operate – the type who have problems with the homeless, the black, the people of any other colour, yet they act civilized, as if politeness on the level of manners is in some sense a way to validate all their other disgusting behaviour (racism/sexism/you name it). So I think this moment, when he shoots the masked Purger, is a real great bit that works on a couple levels: shock, as well as a brief insight into the polite Purger.
We get some morality play as well with the conflicted character of James Sandin. Eventually, he has to make a choice, and in the end: is it worse to kill some straight out, or to hand them over to people knowing they will be killed? Isn’t it the same?
Part of that is a total moral/philosophical debate that could really rage on for a while, depending on who’d be doing the debating. Anyways, I think it adds a fun level to the action in the last half hour of The Purge.
Not only that, there’s a great twist in the finale.
AHHHHHH – LADIES & GENTLEMEN, AHHHHHHH – THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN SPEAKING. PLEASE BUCKLE UP: WE WILL BE EXPERIENCING SOME SPOILERS COMING UP FOR A MOMENT OR TWO.
I thought it only added to the commentary of the film that already existed to have the neighbours, who we’d previously seen only briefly at the start of the film, be the ones who want to have the thrill of killing the Sandin family. It’s just bloody and poetic justice, really. In a disturbing sense. I’m glad that things played out in the very end how they did, but still – the neighbours were a good touch.
Because it speaks so well to the idea that we don’t know the people around us, not truly. We never can, no matter how long we spend around them. Sometimes the same goes for people you even live with, but here it does well to show how even the “normal” people around the neighbourhood would indulge in their Purge fantasies, willingly
One of my favourite moments: the masked girl skipping on down the hall, machetes in town swinging at her sides. It is super creepy, I dig it so hard. Only for a moment, long enough to set in. Perfectly executed shot that I thought worked wonders.
In reality, this movie is a 4 out of 5 star horror-thriller, with some speculative social fiction mixed into the pot.
Balls to the folks who say “This would never happen” – okay, well let’s throw out Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and countless other horror films that are wonderful. Not saying this is on the level of those, which I do consider classics and I don’t care what kind of bullshit people get on with like that it’s typical to like those movies; whatever the fuck ever, man. They’re great stuff and helped the genesis of what horror is now today.
So I had a lot of fun watching The Purge. I also enjoyed the sequel, despite what others seem to think about it on the whole. For me, it’s an interesting concept with both horror and thriller elements. Like I said, it also has some social discussion going on. If people want to ignore that, fine, but it’s there. You can’t shake that fact. I tend to believe there are some good statements here, too. Not just all nonsense and scriptwriting creation – there are things to which we ought to pay attention. But if you want, think it’s trash and that horror movies can never say anything worthwhile.
I’ll take what I can from it, and enjoy a good viewing every now and then – it’s a fun modern horror movie with lots of tense thrills.
Unfriended. 2015. Directed by Levan Gabriadze. Screenplay by Nelson Greaves.
Starring Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman, and Matthew Bohrer.
Rated R. 83 minutes.
I don’t need to really lay out the plot here much: a girl named Laura Barns commits suicide, then one year later someone claiming to be her starts message a bunch of her friends who frequently chat online together. This leads way to a gruesome series of vengeful outings, all the dirty little secrets of the group coming into the light, out of the shadows.
One thing that does interest me about the whole movie and its gimmick is that there’s actually a few scenes where we get little to no dialogue. Now, that doesn’t automatically makes things interesting, or good, but I think it works because there are these down moments where we take the time to really hone in on what’s being typed, the looks on peoples faces; certain moments, this works in helping to ratchet up a bit of suspense. There are times this absence of much talking/dialogue works to take us off balance, which works better than the usual jump scare, in my opinion.
Plus, I think the whole gimmick of Unfriended, regardless of how good a movie it is or is not, works well enough to make a case for horror movies – or other films in general – trying to keep up with technology, as well as popular culture overall. Every generation has horror movies that speak to the time in which they’re made.
There are some issues the movie raises concerning internet culture. For instance, cyber bullying or stalking is part of the whole plot, in a sense. While this is obviously extreme, there’s a part of us asking: why don’t they just log out and walk away? The entire problem is that these kids are obsessed. Even before the games began with billie227, they were all meeting on Skype – no true interaction, they were hanging out and just talking. So it’s easy to see that this group of friends is addicted to being online. Says something about how internet culture has taken over the lives of so many, both young and old, to the point that even seeing friends killed online, right in front of their eyes, might not even be enough to deter some from walking away. Even worse, it’s almost as if the internet has taken away reality: they can’t seem to believe what is going on is real. Shows the distraction and distancing from really that some experience after being swallowed whole by the internet and social media/online interaction.
Another point this movie pushes is how people are remembered so well after death even when they were despised and hated while alive. Laura Barns was, by all accounts, a fairly stuck up sounding girl who made fun of others, et cetera. Yet once she is dead, people are putting up a Facebook account – it gets near 6,000 likes and one of the kids mentions how she has more friends now than she’d ever had before – and it seems all of a sudden Laura is no longer such a bad person. It shows how the internet culture makes people mourn in a way that focuses more on them, the living left to grieve, than it does the actual dead person; it’s more about validating the feelings of others, the people posting to dead people on their FB pages “We love you and we’re thinking of you everyday”. I’ve always thought about this as it is, so I like that Unfriended, in its own way, tackled that issue. It’s certainly one that’s prevalent the further we head into this digital, social media society.
SPOILER ALERT – YAR, THERE BE SP’ILERS AHEAD!
I loved the part where Ken (Jacob Wysocki) gets ambushed. The hand in the blender part I did not expect, although I did wonder early on when Ken showed the blender onscreen why it would be introduced; should have known. Still, it was a decent, bloody bit of work. Effective stuff, especially watching his friends have to endure the sight of his mangled hand, cutting in and out on their webcams.
The video of Laura Barns which prompted her saying “Kill urself” – it’s absolutely vicious. I thought it would be a bit of a rough little video, but I wasn’t prepared. It is heinous. Certainly something I can see happen to a young person – who hasn’t witnessed a drunk person either piss or shit themselves? – and then of course if it were passed around I can absolutely see it destroying that person’s life. For all its flaws and how often it mainly seems to be another screamy teen slasher flick, Unfriended has some decent, dare I say even poignant things to say about how internet culture is moulding people into terrible human beings, as well as sheep being herded to the slaughter; here, the slaughter is very, very real, unfortunately.
I also liked how bille227 began to whittle away the group by playing “Never Have I Ever”. Amazing way to incorporate the dissent of the group, as is the norm for found footage. However, I liked the way they did this because it wasn’t the typical banter of found footage horror where one person is yelling “Turn off the camera” and “Why won’t you stop asking me questions? What’s wrong with you?” Sure, it may play out in similar ways because they all start turning on one another, but it’s the way in which it happens I enjoyed. All the friends are exposed as typical teenagers, each flawed and snotty when they’re called on their individual bullshit.
“How you Lie, Lie, Lie” by Connie Conway is incorporated wonderfully into a scene where everyone has absolutely broken down, turning against one another worse and worse with every passing second. I thought that was pretty awesome. Love when a fun tune is used in a horror film. It’s got that light, beautiful sound while things are descending into complete chaos.
It might prompt people to say then that it’s just teenage junk, but it is not. The story is about teenagers, though, it is a pretty decent little horror for the new age of social media and Skype users moving forward into the 21st century.
Ultimately, I like a lot of what Unfriended wanted to accomplish. Not everything works. A lot of this comes in the typical form of a lot of teen slasher-style movies, as well as so many titles in the sub-genre of found footage. All the same, there’s enough in this movie for me to say it’s a 3.5 out of 5 star film.
Mostly I am impressed with how certain films like Open Windows and Unfriended are working towards using new technologies in telling stories. With all these new ways of communicating and interacting with one another, there are not only interesting innovations, but there are so many ways in which people can hide – anonymity on the internet is scary. Not just that, people find new ways to hide their ‘other lives’ from their friends and loved ones. Unfriended, particularly, explores this angle, as the main group of friends is attacked, all together, then one by one, and the secrets of their lives unravel right before their eyes.
I think it’s worth seeing this movie because there are fun bits. The end was a good bit of tension that paid off in full; really hit hard and spoke volumes. This is a suspenseful film at times and there are even a few good horror deaths that surprised me. Far from perfect, Unfriended is a fun new horror that has a raw edge at moments, and certainly it goes for the jugular – attacking both the trials of youth in this new day and age, as well as the addiction to the internet so many seem to be facing. We get to take a look at issues from cyber bullying, to the trust between friends, to the new social media obsession with celebrating/remembering the dead (simply for their own selfish attention-seeking needs). Trust me – it might have elements similar to other so-called teen slashers, but it’s not near being useless. See it and be the judge. I had a decent time watching this one.
And remember – just because a movie uses something from pop culture, or things such as the latest technology, does not automatically make them dumb. Sure, say that after you’ve seen it; that’s your right as a human and a filmgoer. But don’t trash this simply because you don’t like Facebook or you don’t like Skype, et cetera, et cetera. Half of the people crying that Unfriended is all gimmick, no substance whatsoever, are probably the same people logging onto FB to comment on IMDB or somewhere else, railing against the filmmakers trying desperately to write something funny to get a bunch of likes.
Irony? Un-huh, you’ve got it!
Creep. 2015. Directed by Patrick Brice. Written by Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Starring Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
★★★★★I know Mark Duplass mainly from two sources – his amazing portrayal of Pete on FX’s raunchy fantasy-football comedy The League, and the film Baghead which he co-directed with his brother Jay Duplass. He’s a great talent, and of course I’ve seen his other work; another film he wrote and directed with his brother I love is the acerbically funny Jeff, Who Lives at Home. But it’s his performance on The League I love most.
In Creep, Mark Duplass channels brief spots of Pete, which I think are mostly culled from his own personality anyways, and yet there is a real childish gentle quality to the character he plays – at least in the beginning. This, above all else, drives Creep into terrifying territory.
The film starts with Aaron (Brice) who is heading to meet someone he has contacted through Craiglist that wants to be filmed, of course in exchange for money. Aaron arrives at a cabin in the hills where he meets Josef (Duplass) who explains he is dying, and about to be a father, so he wants the video of him to reflect the good & bad of him; later to give to his son. Josef wants to be filmed constantly. Even as he strips naked for a bath, what he calls “a tubby“, which is recorded all for his yet-to-be-born son, Josef asks Aaron “are you okay?“, and seems to want him to be at ease during the process. Uncomfortable, yet harmless, the conversation and relationship develops between Josef and Aaron, but all is just not as it seems.
For those who don’t want a small portion of the film spoiled – turn away. I think when I really started to finally become unsettled is partway through the film as Aaron shuts off the video on his camera, but leaves the audio recording, and Josef reveals something he’d never told anyone before. It starts off like a weird animal porn story, evolving into a quasi-rape Josef says he perpetrated on his wife while wearing a wolf mask. This comes only awhile after we first see the mask – Josef tells Aaron initially the thing was a mask his dad had, a character named Peach Fuzz that he’d developed. But once the story is told, which worked well only as audio because it ratcheted up the suspense, the wolf mask takes on a new terror.
What I love most about Creep is that the found footage sub-genre is used appropriately. Maybe there are a few minor nitpicks, but for the most part this film really follows the unwritten rules of the sub-genre to perfection. Best of all, the premise of the story fits in very organically with found footage.
Even further I think the idea of the whole thing initiating from a Craiglist ad is a great post-modern twist on the genre; while scary and enjoyable as a movie, it actually makes you re-think the whole idea of the online communities such as Craiglist where people anonymously perform transactions on everything from professional jobs to the unprofessional world of buy, sell, trade, and online prostitution. But most of all, the fact it’s just two guys, two characters, for the most part in one remote setting the greater portion of the film really works for the whole story. The found footage sub-genre often fails and seems beyond stale when the style is being forced inorganically into a situation where there’s disparity between how a camera should or shouldn’t play into each scene, and so on. This in turn stirs the nitpickers who will tear a film apart, sometimes rightfully so, to say ‘this doesn’t follow the “rules”‘ or what not. The sparse setting, characters, and basic plot really help the environment remain controlled and helps showcase the found footage style without too much going on.
The moment that got me most is the phone call from Angela, when Aaron picks up the phone. A real great reveal, so to speak. It sort of peels away Josef’s facade slow with each sentence until you sort of gasp to yourself – not terror, but the feeling of the moments before a terror strikes – and from that moment on the creepiness descends upon us in torrents, waves, scene after scene, up to the end.
The mask really creeps me out. At first it wasn’t so scary, but in the final half hour it becomes the thing of nightmares; one scene, as Josef wears the mask and stands blocking a doorway, is spectacularly weird and creeped me out wholly.
There’s a genuine amount of suspense going on throughout the closing fifteen minutes or so, an air of dead, which ultimately leads to a real shocking conclusion. I thought it was about to go one way, yet still the finale was surprising, and didn’t come exactly as I’d expected it to. Duplass really makes the last couple scenes pop with the creep factor he puts out, and you should freeze frame it if you can right before the credits roll – a very dark, suggestive shot, brief and yet long enough to get under the skin. Then the title appears, the credits go, and you’re left to ponder. Great stuff.
I’ve got to give this a full 5 stars. Going into any Blumhouse film I’m honestly weary. There are a couple films I don’t mind, a couple I like, and then several I hate. Creep delivers the goods. Sure, it’s a very contained and limited film, but that’s not to say those are negative commentary. As I said earlier, I think found footage can be terrible if it tries to put in too much, this is exactly why Brice’s film is directed so well in my mind, why the shots all work and things seem to flow naturally without being forced. This is one of the most efficient uses of the sub-genre in horror. Along the way there are some excellent comedic moments, mostly dark I think, and they come in little bursts. I honestly found myself dropping my jaw a few times, amazed at the way things were going in the awkward relationship between Aaron and Josef – I watch a ton of horror, I’ve seen a ridiculous amount of gore and shock horror and all that, but regardless, Creep has so much tension, suspense, and the performance Duplass gives is creepy beyond belief, that the film goes over perfectly.
See this, ASAP. It’s on VOD via iTunes, and I would assume other platforms, today. Real great little watch. It isn’t an outrageous horror with elaborate plot, it doesn’t have any blood in it, or monsters, or supernatural entities – it is a straight up, balls to the wall psychological horror, and it melted me. I loved it. I can’t say that enough. And not to ruin anything, but I hope that they’ll expand and go for a sequel. No doubt Blumhouse is already champing at the bit for a sequel, or two, or three. This is one film I wouldn’t mind seeing more of, maybe even a prequel to see Josef before he arrived to his relationship with Aaron.
This is a creeper of a movie. I can’t wait to watch it again.
Whiplash. 2014. Directed & Written by Damien Chazelle.
Starring Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, and Paul Reiser.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
★★★★★I think one of the most incredible things about Whiplash is the fact it captures the blood, sweat, and tears which go into the making of a true musician so accurately that it’s almost a little scary. In fact, with J.K Simmons’ performance this really becomes a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the beating heart of music. While most people only see the surface of musicians, Damien Chazelle opens up the doors and shows the world what it’s like behind them. Now, not all musicians go through such strenuous training – many famous rockstars would have you believe they’ve run the gamut, however, the studied musicians who have trained for years and years, who have literally bled and spent hours grinding themselves into dust just for that extra bit of practice to get ahead, they are the true masters. I’m not discounting what famous bands, et cetera, are doing (there are absolutely famous musicians who’ve gone the hard road of classical training) – I only mean that the real tough and uniquely talented individuals are those who went through the trenches.
Whiplash tells the story of a young drummer named Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) who attends a very prestigious music school. There, he comes face to face with a fearsome, well-respected professor, Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons). The two butt heads. Andrew wishes to be one of the greats. While Fletcher initially seems to give him a positive response, soon Andrew finds himself at the mercy of a merciless maniac consumed by only one thing – perfect music. Continuously the two clash to more and more unexpected results.
One of the most obvious things that impresses most people about the film is Miles Teller. Firstly, it’s incredible to know he played the drums. I mean, if you pay attention to the film for more than ten minutes you’ll obviously realize it’s him – very hard to hide anything the way Chazelle shot the film. But it’s still mind blowing. There are some really tough scenes in here. I can imagine some of the blood, and no doubt every last drop of the sweat, were all Teller; one hundred percent of the way. This is a performance where an actor really dives in. Not only pulling off a complex emotional character, but additionally playing the music of the film. Apparently, Teller has played drums since the age of 15, and took more intense lessons to prepare for the role. It shows.
He also certainly did a great job while not on the drums. His performance reflected a lot of what I’ve personally seen in musicians over the years. Myself, I’d never strived to be anything more than a decent musician who could play for fun. I grew up with an aunt and uncle who both have their Master’s Degree in music – both of whom taught me, in one form or another, over the years. I planned piano and trumpet for a long time, fairly well I might add, but not at a truly competitive level other than music festivals throughout grade school. I mention this because I’ve come across a lot of people such as Andrew Neiman while coming up. They are determined. Some times to a fault. However, I’ve always been fascinated with their determination. Trying not to ruin anything, I think it’s the finale which really brought me around to believing Teller did a fabulous job. You really see the determination, the pain, the anguish of Andrew in these moments. The ending is really beautiful. Overall, and for the character of Andrew himself.
The other undeniable aspect of Whiplash and what makes it so good is, of course, the always fascinating J.K Simmons. In him, the character of Terence Fletcher really comes alive and jumps out of the screen. I know he played this role in the short Chazelle did before getting the funding for the feature, so that certainly was good for Simmons as an actor; being able to live with a character more than just a small period of time while filming. Either way, I’m sure he could have pulled this off. He has a great knack for playing hard ass characters, however, I think this goes beyond that – Fletcher is a cruel, relentless savage who stops at nothing to secure the best performance possible from every musician under his eye. Again, while Andrew is a very real character to me, so is the character of Fletcher. I’ve known people who could really push the envelope, as far as what is or isn’t acceptable to say to a person in regards to conductors. Even my own uncle who has been conducting, writing, teaching musicians for several decades now – this coming from both his nephew and a former student – could be an asshole. This wasn’t because being an asshole got him any further. It was always in service of the overall performance. Not only him, but other band teachers I had in grade school were also intense. I’ve seen and heard some fairly foul stuff from these guys over the years. One of them actually smacked me on the top of my head lightly with a trumpet mouthpiece – if you’ve ever held one, you know it doesn’t take much to leave a nice goose egg on the top of a teenager’s skull. All that in mind, Simmons really pulled off a spectacularly villainous role. He’s probably one of the best film villains of the last decade, and this is purely a dramatic film about music. So, I really think the praise is deserved, as much as any other great performance from 2014 – if not more. A great actor who deserves the most recognition possible.
In the end, I really think the best thing for me about Whiplash is the fact I really didn’t know where this film was headed. For a while, I sort of thought this might end up being a really cheesy music movie because of where I thought the plot might go. Luckily, was I ever wrong. Especially in the last third of the film. I really didn’t expect things to take the turns they did. Without spoiling too much, I think Chazelle made some interesting, non-typical choices. In particular, the very end played extremely well. I was expecting the film to end on a certain note, and while it did end in similar fashion to what I imagined, there was a distinct lack of ham. What I mean is, I really thought Chazelle might fall into the trap of lesser films where they go for sentimental conclusions which make me feel forced. I don’t like to feel forced to say “oh that’s nice a happy ending”. Whiplash ends on what I believe is a positive note, but doesn’t jam any sappy finale moments down your throat. It’s actually really intense. I found myself wide-eyed and wondering how things were finally going to clue up. I was impressed once Chazelle finished the film in the way he did, and walked away feeling great.
I can honestly say this is a flawless drama. It’s a 5-star movie about music. There is no doubt. While some might try and say it does no service to music because it seems to say practice can make anyone great, this is absolutely not the case. At one point in the film we see Fletcher’s only moment of weakness: a young musician he moulded, who went on to be a fabulous musician, dies in a car accident. Later in the movie, he explains a few things to Andrew. Fletcher ends up mentioning that even though he tried his best he never really “had a Charlie Parker” – right there and then, even if you know already, you realize this is not about saying practice can make anyone into one of the greats. Even this student Fletcher thought was the best he’d ever produced was not who he deemed to be “a Charlie Parker“. The point is, Fletcher pushed people to go beyond what was expected of them. He never guaranteed anybody greatness – only the opportunity to learn the tools through which greatness might then be attainable. The message isn’t wrong, but certainly will be misinterpreted. You won’t be great just because you practice yet ultimately, no one can be good without practice, and certainly not great – this is the message.
I highly recommend everyone see this film once they get the chance. It’s a great movie about music with incredible performances, lots of jazz, a bit of psychological horror in a few scenes, and always, always tons of heart. I enjoyed this every step of the way, and it defied a lot of the expected moments I anticipated to see.