From DVD

Gary Oldman Fights for Innocence in BackWoods

BackWoods. 2006. Dir. Koldo Serra. Screenplay by Serra & Jon Sagalá.
Starring Gary Oldman, Virginie Ledoyen, Paddy Considine, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Jon Ariño, Lluís Homar, and Kandido Uranga. Lionsgate.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
Thriller

★★★★ (Film)
★1/2 (DVD release)
tirtle-backwoodsThis is one of those films I may never have heard of, if only maybe for a late night search spree on lesser known Gary Oldman flicks, except for the fact I stumbled across it in a $5 bin at a local rental place a few years back; in fact, the disc still has the store’s sticker on it to this day. I saw it, realised that not only was Oldman in it but also Paddy Considine of whom I’m a really big fan, and snatched it up quickly. Turns out it wasn’t just a decent little snag for five bucks. It’s a quality movie. An old school backwoods style thriller. There are times it not only feels set in the 1970s, I truly felt a lot of moments could’ve almost been filmed back then, as well. There’s certainly moments of homage towards both John Boorman’s classic Deliverance, as well as Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 dramatic revenge thriller Straw Dogs. Mainly there’s just a really great nostalgic feel about the story and the setting, which comes across quite well.
BackWoods sees two couples, Paul (Oldman) and Isabel (Sánchez-Gijón), as well as Norman (Considine) and Lucy (Ledoyen), venturing into the Spanish back country. Paul and Isabel now live in the Basque region after they married. Norman, and his young wife Isabel, are heading to visit. An idyllic vacation in the forest turns to a nightmarish situation when Paul and Norman stumble across a deformed little girl who has been locked up in a small shed-like structure, pad locked and hidden away. They bring her back to Paul and Isabel’s home in the woods. But not long after, local men from the village show up looking for the girl, and all is not as it seems in the quaint little pocket of Spain. Paul and Norman find themselves facing a desperate and brutal situation, fighting for their lives, as well as those of their wives.
This goes down some of the same roads we see in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Specifically, the character of Norman is really pushed to his limits here. Initially even the sight of a rabbit being killed by Paul is shocking to him; there’s a lingering shot of Considine looking fairly troubled by watching the rabbit die. However, Paul tells his friend something which resonates through the whole film – “there are hunters and prey, Normanits the only fucking truth in this world.” While Paul understands the human nature of hunter and prey, Norman doesn’t quite get it. His rude awakening comes later in the film when the men coming to look for the deformed girl appear to be more ruthless than he could have ever imagined. It’s a really great way to introduce these themes, all starting with just a tiny little rabbit. Nice touch.
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I really enjoy how this film stayed mostly as a dramatic thriller. It had a few little elements of horror (the backwoods ‘battle’ between city folk & villagers + the deformed girl locked away in the woods/ et cetera), but it didn’t stray into full on terror or anything. This works really nicely as a 1970s style thriller.  It’s also particularly performance driven, as opposed to plot. While the plot is deceptively simple, the characters here are rich and very full.
For instance, Oldman’s character Paul is a pretty diverse character. There is a lot to him. I get the feeling he sort of went out living in the forest with his wife as a kind of challenge. One aspect I enjoyed once the villagers lay siege on Paul and the others is how there was so much tension between the two sides. On one hand, Paul feels he belongs there, and he does because he already lives there; he made it his home. The other side, the villagers, see him still as an outsider. Worse still, he has clearly wandered into their world. He is not one of them, regardless of how well he hunts and navigates the male-dominated world of the villagers.
This leads me to another part of BackWoods I enjoyed a lot. Whereas a lot of films might have taken up a portion of the running time drawing out the deformed girl’s story, rounding things out and maybe giving her some kind of history, Koldo Serra leaves intrigue to spare. We don’t get any definitive answers on what exactly the deformed girl is doing out in the woods, in the sense of who she is or where she came from – it’s simply a plot element. It sets up the city versus nature theme running throughout the film, which ultimately drives Oldman’s character. Norman, Considine’s character, is also affected by this theme, as he is even less of the “back country” type than Paul. He is even more thrown into chaos because of how far removed from that lifestyle living in the city keeps him. There’s even a scene where Norman raises his gun to kill a rabbit of his own – ultimately, he is unable to actually pull the trigger. This sets the stage for the real burning question to come later – can he pull the trigger when it’s more than a rabbit staring down the barrel of his rifle? We get the answer later in a very tense, horrifying scene. Of course, what happens then sets off a whole other chain of events.
The entire presentation of these themes is really well done, and made the film more than just a backwoods thriller. It lifted this from out of simple genre fare. This could very well have been some exploitation film, a cheap grindhouse style movie. Instead, it becomes a tension-filled dramatic thriller.
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For the most part, a lot of BackWoods surprised me. I figured it might go down the same road as similar films. Instead, it subverts a few of my expectations. For instance, the scene where Norman is finally forced to either pull the trigger, or else face possibly terrible consequences, I really didn’t expect it to pan out the way it ended up going. I was happy because I thought Norman wasn’t going to change whatsoever as a character. His actions both change him and create more issues for his character to deal with. It’s really great stuff.
The ending, as well, was not something I particularly saw coming.
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This can safely be categorised as a 4 out of 5 star film. There isn’t a whole lot wrong with it, but it’s not perfect whatsoever. I think Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine did a really wonderful job fleshing out the characters they portrayed. Particularly, Oldman gives a strong and emotional performance, unlike a lot of the roles I often enjoy him in, and I don’t know how more people don’t talk about this one, or at least mention it in passing – solid lesser seen role by Oldman. There are also a couple excellently paced chase sequences which help move the film along nicely.  The pacing was helped by how the plot never gets too bogged down in one area, however, that’s also a drawback – I wanted to know more about Paul and Isabel because it seemed there was more to their relationship than what we were given. While sometimes it’s nice when less is more, there are case, like BackWoods, where I could have even done with an extra few scenes just to really give us a portrait of their lives. Oldman does such a spectacular job with his character, I feel even more justice might’ve been done to the film in general had they provided more insight.
Regardless, BackWoods is a pleasant surprise. When a lot of tripe gets doled out in terms of thriller films, this is a refreshing little movie that doesn’t go down all the expected routes.
While the DVD is fairly lame, providing only the film itself (though the picture/sound is beautiful & it looks gorgeous in widescreen) and a trailer, I highly would recommend anybody who can get their hands on a copy of the film do so – it is worth your time. I don’t watch it often, when I do I’m always impressed with the thrill it provides. If you’re a fan of Oldman, Considine, or just those gritty 1970s revenge thrillers in the vein of Straw Dogs and the backwoods city versus nature themes found in classics like Deliverance & even less praised titles like Southern Comfort, this will no doubt quench your thirst. You can do far worse for a movie night than BackWoods.

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William Friedkin’s Cruising: Serial Murder on the Margins

Cruising. 1980. Directed & Written by William Friedkin; adapted from the novel by Gerald Walker.
Starring Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino, and Joe Spinell. Warner Brothers.
Rated R. 102 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★1/2 (DVD release)
bg65bhnsgOK0thCxspXXbOkUqXgCruising came about for William Friedkin in a number of ways: through his own observations about the gay bar scene, Gerald Walker’s novel, and his own link to a man convicted of murder (an extra from The Exorcist during the medical scenes). Listening to him talk during one of the featurettes on the making of Cruising, Friedkin really found something to connect with in the story. There is a sense he had a real interest in the whole social scene of the gay bars, as well as a grasp on the danger a lot of these men were in during those times being susceptible to abuse from all sides – not to mention the onset of the AIDS epidemic.

Cruising is about a young police detective, Steve Burns (Pacino), who is recruited by a police captain (Sorvino) to go undercover into the gay clubs of New York City, specifically the underground S&M clubs where some wild stuff goes down. There is a serial killer out cutting up young gay men and dumping their body parts into the river. Fairly on his own both as a cop and mentally, unable to tell his own significant other exactly what he’s doing undercover, Burns starts to find the assignment wearing and tearing down his psyche; he starts to change.
We watch as Burns goes into the underground of gay New York, the hardcore clubs, and we watch as the work starts to infringe on his personal life. It’s a great character study wrapped up in a murder mystery, and with slightly subdued horror undertones. For instance, in one of the first scenes we actually see a really vicious knifing; it plays out tense and mysterious, and then quickly becomes brutal with some brief shots of blood spilling all over the place. I love how Friedkin sort of weaves between genres, mixing them up together into a single, great pot.
cruising4Some of the moments we see here with the killer are really the stuff of amazing psychological horror. Yet there’s something very real about it all, too. Friedkin has a great sense for things which horrify us, and yet even though he has made one of the greatest horrors of all time I still wouldn’t classify him whatsoever as a horror filmmaker. He is most of all great with personal drama; the study of characters. Even in The Exorcist, one of the best things about that story is Ellen Burstyn’s character and her own personal journey amongst all the terror she and her daughter experience. Here in Cruising, for all the interesting bits in the creepy parts of this story, the main meat of what’s here is the character study of police officer Steve Burns, and what the work he’s participating in is doing to him. The murder mystery elements are simply a great backdrop for all of this character work to take place.
Cruising 1980 Al Pacino pic 3There is a lot to enjoy visually in this movie. Friedkin used a lot of dull tones, in the sense there isn’t much colour in the film. I like that because it makes things sort of blend together. This works together with one of the themes being transformation; from one place to the next, all the locations almost feel as if they bleed into the next. Just as we start to wonder who the killer really is, over and over at times (another trick Friedkin used was multiple actors playing the actual killer – the DVD lays it out very well which points out how much work went into the red herring effect they achieved here), and certain characters feel as if they bleed into one another, so does the look and the colour of the film. It’s really excellent. Also works to make things feel more grim and gritty.

The soundtrack of Cruising is spectacular. Pairs nicely with the look and feel of the film. Especially the stuff in the gay bars – really rocking soundtrack. Then there’s the score behind a lot of the scenes, which helps to set the mood along with all the colour palette choices. Very good instance of a lot of different aspects working together to create a fuller portrait of a film.
CRU5Al Pacino, as he is in many films, is really great here. He does a lot of interesting and subtle work here. Many people seem to often play into the idea that Pacino only does the loud and brash dialogue, or over-the-top type characters. I couldn’t disagree more on the whole, but in Cruising he absolutely shows his chops. Yes, there are times here when he does go into a rage; one moment in particular is a real outburst. Though, it works. The disintegration of this character’s psyche really starts to show in the way Pacino looks, as well as how he starts to treat those around him. He did an amazing job, and his performance is one of those in his filmography people really overlook time and time again. That may have more to do with the controversial nature of the entire film more than with his acting on this occasion, but regardless people shouldn’t skip this over so much. Awesome performance by one of the best actors in film.
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Many people probably see too much controversy in this movie to enjoy it. Or at least I can see how some people, specifically in the gay community, might misunderstand William Friedkin’s intentions here – it could be seen as making the gay community, certainly the earlier communities in the late 70s & 80s, look bad. But that is certainly not what he means to do. This is an exploration of a murder mystery, as well as a character study. Friedkin himself says, in the audio commentary & the special features, the gay scene (et cetera) is all about backdrop; he says it was “an interesting background” in which to set this specific story. Add in the novel, as well as Friedkin’s own visit to meet the extra from The Exorcist who bludgeoned a man to death, and you can see why he just found all of this interesting. I absolutely understand how certain people might take this film the wrong way, however, if you really give it a chance, and look at what it’s all about underneath, Cruising is an amazing thriller with horror and mystery elements thrown in for good measure. This is one of Friedkin’s most underrated movies, in my mind. It’s my favourite of his films.|
Both the DVD and film are great. Though, I wish the DVD had more features, it’s still a great release. Certainly for a film that had so much trouble getting released, and after its release. I would love to see this on Blu ray, packed with as many extras and additional cut footage Friedkin could drum up. For now, this DVD will do.
Incredible film. See it when you can, and check out this DVD if you find yourself becoming a fan of this lesser known, amazingly executed film.

John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13: Action on a Sweet Soundtrack

Assault on Precinct 13. 1976.  Directed & Written by John Carpenter.  Starring Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charlie Cyphers, and Nancy Kyes.  Image Entertainment.  Rated R.  91 minutes.  Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★★ (Movie)
★★★★ (DVD release)8VmiPlwde02etrSHJpHrwjMEPbJAssault on Precinct 13 is one of the best action thrillers of all-time. It’s probably my personal favourite if I had to pick one. John Carpenter crafts an incredibly tight story about a band of police and criminals forced to fend themselves off from a street gang who’ve taken a blood oath against the police; all the while, the rag tag gang of cops and robbers are trapped inside a near defunct precinct in an isolated area of Los Angeles. Everything is set off in the beginning after a police ambush a number of gang members, killing them, and prompts the remaining gang members to take a blood oath against the Los Angeles police force. It’s basically a siege-type film.
Carpenter has always been an open fan of the Western genre, as well as a lot of the old & great Hollywood epics because he grew up watching a lot of classic filmmakers’ films. More specifically, he’s also a huge fan of Howard Hawkes (director of such classics as the original Scarface, the William Faulkner-written The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, & more). In the audio commentary for this movie he actually talks about Hawkes in regards to the cigarette gags ongoing throughout Assault on Precinct 13; he attributes this as an homage to Hawkes who frequently did all sorts of cigarette-related gags. The reason I bring this up is because Carpenter really wrote this movie as more of a Western, but set it in the contemporary world of a ghetto-like area in Los Angeles during the 1970s. You’ve got the story of a new cop coming into town – his first day is looking like it’ll be a boring one & then suddenly he’s fighting for his life. There are a lot of little elements in Carpenter’s film which pay homage to his love for Westerns, as well as the (excellent) tropes of the genre.
1416928139_00-23-47I think one of the things that really amazed people when this first came out was the level of brutality Carpenter chooses to show us. By now, anybody who is either a fan of his or a movie buff has seen/heard about the infamous “Ice Cream Truck Scene” – this contains one of the more shocking images in an American film during the ’70s, no doubt about it. I don’t want to go ahead and ruin for those who haven’t yet seen Assault on Precinct 13. Just know, it is a real doozy. Even now today, after all the horror and disturbing films I’ve seen over the years (4,000 films later & counting). This scene still gets me. There’s a chilling quality to it that grips you and doesn’t let go. It also really sets the tone for these brutal gang members. Yeah, sure – we know they’re hardcore. They’ve taken a blood oath to kill all the police in Los Angeles. But to do what they do in this scene is downright savage behaviour. It really sets them apart from most killers that turn up in action-thrillers. I mean, Hans Gruber was pretty god damn bad ass, but he never killed any little girls or anything.
In the best of Carpenter’s films there is a layer of tension underneath every inch of the plot. He moves the pacing of Assault on Precinct 13 along slowly, which helps build up the suspense and tension. He does this in a few of his best movies. With this one, he makes the important move of putting the time in the corner of the screen every so often in big bold white lettering – this might seem arbitrary, but it’s not. Carpenter uses this visible clock to enhance our feelings of suspense. We watch as the gang keeps moving across Los Angeles, further towards the precinct, and we watch as those in the precinct go about their night without any knowledge of what is headed towards them. The clock continues to move, and it keeps us on the edge, guessing.
ff29b6e7fd384a4b8f81f23d0e5a4449Eventually, once things start to move into the action scenes, it really works well because Carpenter throws us from a tense atmosphere into thrilling, and often pretty violent, scenes where the gang is just running the gauntlet on this rundown, ready-to-close precinct. I think Carpenter is a master at pacing. Assault on Precinct 13 is a master class in tension. Excellent work.
There are a few really iconic shots in this film.  I really love the way Carpenter shot most of his films, especially the earlier work. There’s a shot nearly halfway into the movie when a man whose daughter has been murdered by the gang flees some of the members and runs to the precinct. It all starts as he stands in an isolated telephone booth. There’s nothing but the booth and the darkness looming everywhere. Carpenter gives us a nice wide shot, but tightened in a bit on the man in the booth; from behind him in the darkness suddenly appear several members of the gang, literally as if out of nowhere. It’s one of those great classic, and creepy, shots Carpenter is known for – he does this sort of thing in a few other films like Halloween and The Fog, where they are also really effective. There are a bunch of great moments where Carpenter uses the shadows, as the gang encroaches further and further onto the precinct property. It sort of kick starts the adrenaline while maintaining a slow pace. Then gradually the action ramps up and becomes more exciting. Carpenter is really one of the greats when it comes to the overall composition of a film and how smoothly things transition from one point to another.
One of the best aspects of this film is the score itself. The main theme of the film is just absolutely amazing. An excellent special feature on this DVD release from Image Entertainment is the Isolated Score from Carpenter, who did the score himself using what I’d assume to be a synthesizer. It’s really bare bones stuff, but it works for this film. There isn’t anything fancy here in the sense of ‘flash’ – anything fancy here comes from very practical means at the hands of a practical and talented director such as Carpenter. The score is perfect because it doesn’t overpower the film; it works in conjunction with the images and the pacing. It’s a great underlying layer beneath everything else, and it’s also one of those scores that will absolutely have you walking away humming. After I watch this, I always go around for a day or two humming the main theme. It’s so damn catchy. A lot of the modern retro scores you hear using synthesizer have a lot to owe to Carpenter – he made it cool to do your own low key, electronic scores. Definitely inspired more than a few filmmakers out there.
ap13John Carpenter is one of my favourite filmmakers, and Assault on Precinct 13 is absolutely one of his best films, though it’s hard to choose a definite favourite. This is a really great exercise in suspense and tension. It’s also one of the best examples in film of action done correctly – there’s no need for a massive budget or the biggest names in Hollywood or the wildest effects ever – Carpenter proves ideas and creative execution are the main components to a successful action thriller. While a lot of action is often filmed by flashy directors, Carpenter is a more subtle and interesting filmmaker who makes unique choices, and his number one focus is how to make things look good while still being thoroughly entertaining. He’s certainly one of the best in the business. I’ll repeat that as much as possible.
This DVD release is not perfect. However, the picture is really flawless, I must say – looking forward to picking this up on Blu ray soon, too. The sound is great. Carpenter’s score comes alive on some nice speakers; the Isolated Score option is a real treat, as well. I could listen to the score over and over. Gets me pumped up. A few of the effects look especially awesome on this release. Plus, we get a good audio commentary from Carpenter. Though, I wish there were a few more bits, I’m still satisfied overall.
I really suggest any fans of action-thrillers see this original – the remake isn’t horrible, but does not do this amazingly tight film justice. The DVD release is pretty good, but I bet the Blu ray is even better. Give this a chance, as opposed to the Michael Bay flashy action stuff (not to rag on him – there are plenty others less famous than he who perpetrate the crime of glossy imagery over character and plot). You’ll really be doing yourself a favour. Soak it up – everything here is pure cinematic gold, and real old school filmmaking at its finest.

Cold Prey III is the Birth of Fear

Fritt Vilt III (English title: Cold Prey 3). 2010. Dir. Mikkel Braenne Sandemose. Screenplay by Peder Fuglerud & Lars Gudmestad; story by Martin Sundland.
Starring Ida Marie Bakkerud, Kim S. Falck-Jørgensen, Pål Stokka, Arthur Berning, Sturla Rui, Terje Ranes, and Nils Johnson. T2 Entertainment.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
Horror

★★★★

I’m in the the tiny little column of people who loved all three of these Fritt Vilt films. One of the best slasher trilogies out there, and it’s certainly one of the best slashers in modern horror. While a lot of horror fans seem to have dismissed these movies, I champion them. If you’ve yet to read my reviews, here are Fritt Vilt and Fritt Vilt II – and certainly if you haven’t watched those yet don’t go into this one. I’m sure most people sensibly would watch the trilogy in order, but just in case, turn back, and make sure you get a look at the lead up. Though this is a prequel film, Fritt Vilt III does rely on some of our knowledge of what came before cinematically in order for us to fully realize the chronology. Even further, it cements these three movies as a really great series with a memorable killer at the center.

Fritt_Vilt_III-1This movie opens in 1976 at the mountain hotel where the original Fritt Vilt was set – we get slightly expository scenes filling in the killer’s background. His mother Sigrid and stepfather Gunnar claim he went missing, which takes us back to the very first film. It’s clear now that when we originally saw the boy running through the snow in Fritt Vilt, he may have been running from someone close to him. Gunnar does not like his wife’s son. He keeps the boy locked away in the basement. Sigrid tries her best to let the boy stay upstairs, claiming he barely gets any sunlight, but Gunnar thinks he is a freak (remember the boy’s significant birthmark across his face – of course that’s no reason to treat anyone, let alone a child, terribly like this..) and wants him kept hidden. Afterwards, we see Gunnar treating the boy worse than a dog. It’s obvious the boy was either trying to run away from home, or Gunnar might’ve been trying to kill him – we never get a full answer, which is better that way, but the strings are there to lead us on. Then, one night after a few days of the boy being missing, he returns to see his mother. The boy proceeds to kill her, as well as Gunnar. He disappears into thin air, it seems, and nobody sees any of them again.
17We also see a subplot concerning a local Sheriff named Einar, involved in the investigation into the disappearance of Sigrid, Gunnar, and the boy. Einar goes to see his brother Jon, who is clearly an outcast and living in a cabin somewhere near the national park around Jotunheimen. There is some sort of rift between them. Einar comes to question Jon about whether or not he’s seen the boy from the hotel; apparently Jon’s cabin is one of the only places between the hotel and civilization. Jon declines to say much, leading his brother to believe he’s not seen the boy. However, once Einar leaves, Jon can be seen holding up a picture of the boy with his mother and stepfather; around the edges are bloody, smudged fingerprints.
vlcsnap-426311Cut to 12 years later. 1988. A group of friends are heading into the national park near Jotunheimen in search of the area, which has apparently been taken off the map, where the hotel lies abandoned in the mountains. Einar is dropping the group off and returning the next afternoon to bring them back out from the park..
On the way, Einar runs across his brother Jon; they have an awkward, one-way conversation, and the sheriff warns his brother, who has a rifle in the back of his truck, there is no hunting within the national park. They head off on their way, and Einar drops the friends in the park. They set out and eventually find the hotel, but it’s filthy and worn down, so a few of the group would rather not stay, and instead opt to find somewhere better to camp. After this decision, they fall prey to the boy, now 12 years older and closer to being a man, who has been roaming the woods for over a decade and honing his dangerous, brutal skills.
7One of the defining things about the entire trilogy is the brutality of the kills. It doesn’t stop at the first sequel – Fritt Vilt III really keeps up the pace in terms of savagery in the slasher’s kills. The very first death in the movie is really great because it sets up part of the themes throughout the whole thing.

For instance, the first death comes as a result of a situation that could easily be an accident anyone might come across in the deep woods where people hunt and poach, if they aren’t careful anyways. Two of the characters slip into a pitfall, most likely created by the sheriff’s brother Jon; one is skewered by a pointed stick in the pit, the other gets out to try and locate help. After she leaves, the other character is left to be found by the killer – as if the fall into the pit wasn’t bad enough, the killer then viciously finishes him off. From there, we see how the killer has grown, gotten very angry, and learned a lot about hunting – mostly just the killing part. This then leads to proof Jon has been helping and sheltering the killer. When the big slasher hauls his prey back to the cabin, Jon also finds the escaped girl and brings her back – he scolds the now grown boy saying these people are “humans… not animals”. It now becomes very clear the killer’s earlier abuse took the heaviest toll possible; his humanity, any empathy or sympathy possible inside him, was taken away from him completely. He can’t distinguish man from all the other animals, or worse, he was abused into believing/knowing man to be the most dangerous animal of all. So, just like Michael Myers’ famous head-tilt in Halloween (when he pins the one teenager up against the wall dead & stands back with his head tilted to the side just like a dog while admiring his work), this scene truly cements the Fritt Vilt killer as an animal of a man.
The kills follow a pattern in that they reflect the killer’s life out in the woods, fending for himself and trying to stay alive. Obviously Jon taught him to hunt in order to survive, eat, et cetera, but because of the boy’s awful home life in his very formative years this training and experience lead to his being a serial killer, and not just an avid, experienced hunter. Instead of all knife-slashings and the like, we’re treated to bow and arrows, rifles, and just downright savagery at times. It’s pretty incredible. We go into slashers looking for this sort of thing – don’t be surprised when you’ve found it.
006-Cold_Prey_3PERkAnother thing I really love about this entry is the fact it takes most of the action from out of the shadowy corridors of the abandoned mountain hotel and the second entry’s dark hospital hallways, and it puts a lot of the scenes in a brighter, more visible landscape. This works well because the first kill itself [the pitfall scene] is shrouded in a lot of darkness. From this scene, things move outwards into the light. There’s something scarier about a slasher film when it can work in the light of day versus needing the shadows to make things tense. When a slasher has many scenes shot in the daytime, it subverts our normal image of the slasher movies we know best, and also catches us off guard – in a good way.
A couple great moments in this regards:
– I really like a few moments where we’re seeing shots of a character intercut with looks through the sight of his rifle. This provides some nice suspense; things become full of tension, as we literally look down the barrel of his gun. What makes these bits really scary is the killer lurks in the forest. Yet it’s completely light out. While the character is holding a gun, waiting for the moment to fire, we still believe the killer will get him – he doesn’t need to the darkness, he can hide in plain sight. It’s unsettling.
– My favourite scene is actually later in the film when Anders and Hedda are near a sort of cave, which sits next to a pool of water. Anders has been shot through the shoulder (when the bow and arrows make an appearance). They’re trying to rest, but the killer can be heard coming in the trees. Instead of running, Hedda hides. When the killer comes and circles Anders, just like an animal would its prey, Hedda comes out and stabs the killer – this doesn’t phase him and he keeps coming. Then Anders smashes his head with a rock. They leave the killer floating face down in the pool of water. This leads to one of my top creepy shots in the whole trilogy – the killer raises up from the water, his head down, his hood up and covering his face – he gasps hard for air making a terrible noise. It really is a great scene, which gives the characters a little win while also showing us just how much longevity the killer has, and how he is damn tough.
1I also can’t forget to the mention the cinematography here is absolutely incredible. The locations here were very well chosen. There are some abnormally beautiful shots in the film, which is very atypical of a slasher (for the most part – there are definitely some great looking visuals in slashers out there). One of my favourite parts about this final installment in the trilogy.
vlcsnap-429110I can’t help but give this third film in the series a 4 out of 5 rating.  There were issues with pacing in the beginning, but about halfway through the movie’s running time things pick up, and it really starts to cook with gas going forward.
A lot of people say the prequel by nature has a tough time keeping suspense up in terms of us wondering who will live or die because we already know, going in, the killer clearly will be around for years and years – the first Fritt Vilt is set probably almost two decades after the events of this film. So we know at the start the killer won’t be stopped. However, the movie gives us a lot of interesting insight into the killer. It helps us fill out the back story instead of leaving him as a masked and nameless slasher. This may work for a lot of movies out there – or maybe it doesn’t work, they just keep getting people to fund their useless sequels. On the other hand, Fritt Vilt creates a really excellent story, and the icing on the big cake that is that story comes with this third installment in the series. Giving us a fuller background on the killer makes the whole trilogy better, in my opinion. Not only that, Fritt Vilt III on its own really has a lot of great themes in it – man as animal, man as hunter, et cetera. The deaths are nasty, the plot is grim, and it really shows us how the killer of the series became what he was in the first Fritt Vilt. This was a great slasher and really did justice to the other films. Sadly, not many appear to agree. I couldn’t care less.
I love this, I watch it often, and I’m confident in putting the whole trilogy up as one of the best horror series’ out there while being at the top of my list when it comes to the greatest slasher trilogies ever made.
Check out the whole trilogy – have some fun!

COLD PREY II Gives Homage & Stays Brutal

This sequel to COLD PREY homages HALLOWEEN 2, though stays fresh in its own right.

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DIG: The Ego & The Id

Ever watch a documentary that pissed you off? Well, here's another one.

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Cold Prey is a Vicious Modern Slasher

Fritt Vilt (English title: Cold Prey). 2006. Dir. Roar Uthaug. Screenplay by Thomas Moldestad, Martin Sundland & Roar Uthaug; story by Jan Eirik Langoen & Magne Lyngner.
Starring Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Endre Martin Midtstigen, and Viktoria Winge.
Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Not Rated. 97 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Mystery

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (DVD release)

I don’t think that Fritt Vilt a.k.a Cold Prey necessarily reinvents the wheel on slasher horror films or anything, however, I really love this, and I do think it’s one of the better offerings of modern slasher movies I’ve personally seen. Specifically post-2000. There are a few I really enjoyed, but not many since the millenium dropped. Most are a tired rehash of older films, which were far better than they’ll ever end up being.

Fritt Vilt follows a group of friends who head up into the snow covered hills of Norway to get into a good weekend of snowboarding. Deceptively simple. Once Morten Tobias (Rolf Kristian Larsen) hits a bad jump and breaks one of his legs fairly badly, the group are forced, with night falling plus the snow yweather getting worse, to take shelter in a strangely abandoned ski lodge in the middle of the mountains. The place seems idyllic, yet for some reason or another it is totally vacated. Not a soul is left. Or so they think.
Once the group settles in, everything seems all right for the time being. Morten Tobias is put on bed rest, laying on a couch in the lobby, and topped up with booze. The rest, including the one taking most charge Jannicke (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), try to sit back and relax. One of the couples on the trip head off to a room for a more secluded and romantic getaway in the lodge. Shortly after, it becomes quite apparent to the audience, and soon enough the characters, the lodge has not been totally abandoned. There are still signs of life on the premises. To the eventual dismay of all the snowboarding friends, a terribly dangerous man is still living in the rundown mountain hotel, and he is not happy to have any guests.
The film begins giving us shots of a young boy fleeing from an unseen force behind the camera, running through snow. This is cut with his parents being asked questions by reporters, news clippings and the like; the boy’s mother and father miss him, and say he has never run away from home before like this.3253708506_977628aOnce things start going wrong for the group of friends in the lodge, it takes us back to the beginning montage, and we start to piece together clues of the killer’s identity, as well as exactly why he may be a killer in the first place. I really enjoy the whole backstory. Also, it helps there are two other films in the Fritt Vilt franchise: Fritt Vilt II, which follows directly after the events of the first, and Fritt Vilt III takes us back to the origins of the killer long before even this installment. Personally, I love all three of them. It’s one of the better slasher trilogies out there. Brutal, savage, and interesting.

Immediately, any horror movie that isolates its characters in a believable way has my attention. Not to say I end up enjoying all those films – of course not. But isolation generally equals tension, and if a filmmaker can play with that tension, build up suspense, both subvert and engage typical tropes of the genre, it really turns out to be an excellent horror film. The mountain setting in Norway here is especially awesome. The idea these friends are all going to snowboard is a normal, understandable situation. Furthermore, once Morten Tobias smashes his leg up, the setting moves to a once glorious mountain lodge. A lot of horror films, slashers in particular, tend to avoid much of a setup. In turn, that usually leaves a movie lopsided because without a setup, without legitimate reasons for why characters are in the setting they appear, or move to a different setting, then things really start to fall apart. I can’t really be truly terrified by any horror that doesn’t properly set up the premise. I can enjoy a movie, regardless of this aspect being poorly executed, but I won’t really be affected in a big way if it doesn’t come off organically. At least in part. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect. I love a lot of horror that certainly is far from perfect.
Fritt Vilt does a good job of working with isolation and making it a part of why its horror comes off as natural and terrifying.  One of the reasons many people often say John Carpenter’s films, most notably The Thing, are so creepy is because he really gets into your head with the isolation and all the tension utilized in the stories he tells. This film does a good job of emulating that sort of feeling. There are a lot of ominous shots of emptiness here; hallways, snowy valleys and mountain peaks, the cold and vacant feeling of the lodge itself. It really makes me think of Halloween at times, and some of the spooky shots Carpenter achieved there were these real empty looking moments where it felt as if danger lurked everywhere. You get a lot of those same feelings here, though with a more modern look all the same. This helps the horror and shock of the film come off even more fiendish, as it almost literally comes out of nowhere.
In fact, just to mention, the sequel Fritt Vilt II is set in a hospital and has a feel quite similar to the 1981 sequel of the original Halloween. Not a bad thing in the least. I loved that one just as much as this one, if not more. Certainly doesn’t hurt they hit a lot of the same tones Rick Rosenthal did with his sequel to Carpenter’s masterpiece.
I hate comparing films to others just because it often makes it seem like I’m saying one is derivative of the other – I am absolutely not making that statement about Fritt Vilt. This great Norwegian horror movie pays homage to a couple of the greats which really paved the way for these types of modern horrors. Everything from Carpenter’s films to Tobe Hooper.
For instance, another homage-like moments is the first kill we witness. One of the girls is left alone after a small fight with her boyfriend (yes a typical trope yet one that works). There is a brief moment where she bends down to pick up a necklace she’s dropped, and just as she stands up the killer strikes. This reminds me so much of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and that first quick bit where Leatherface appears, screaming, before smashing his mallet down on the unsuspecting victim at his door – before he pulls him away and slides the metal door shut viciously. That moment really terrified me. And here, whether homage or not, I dig this moment. Kicks things into gear quickly, efficiently, and using an old horror trope we’ve all seen plenty of times before. It works well because of the situation going on at the time. Once again, I like things if they work in naturally. No matter if it’s a trope of the genre or not, a film can still be fun and exciting while also retaining some of the typical things we’re expecting to see.

Another aspect of Fritt Vilt I enjoy is the brutality. Honestly, when you go to see a slasher, what drives you? You’re not going to see the drama of the people being hunted by the killer. Ultimately, regardless of whatever it is about movies in general you love, when you’re watching a slasher horror you are watching because there is something inside you wanting to see the people (a.k.a victims) murdered. Not saying we’re sick. Who knows – maybe we are?
What I’m saying is the point of a slasher is the violence. Therefore, the hallmark of any true, great slasher is brutality.
First and foremost on the top of the list, you absolutely have both Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees as top dogs in the brutality department. While Freddy Krueger is certainly up there in the big shots list, his kills are more wild, I would say. Jason and Michael each kill a lot of times with their bare hands, or wielding a knife or machete respectively. Their kills are more upclose and personal. The brutality is a lot more present in their murders.
That’s where the killer in Fritt Vilt really excels. The sheer brute force of the man is absolutely unbelievable. He is a scary, scary character. Though we do get bits of his origin story, there’s still enough mystery left around him to make things thrilling. His face is almost fully shrouded the entire film. It is really unsettling to watch his devilish grin behind the ski-mask getup he wears. He looks the part, that is for sure. That’s another thing – as a slasher, he’s a very great and realistic character. Yes, there are horror tropes involved with him, too. But you can’t deny this guy is a terrifying fellow. He is savage. His kills are just full of pure hatred.
One wonderful addition to the slasher genre and certainly one of the best slasher characters in the post-2000 horror landscape.
cold_6Strong female leads in horror are excellent. I’m not talking about the waif-like girl with big breasts who ends up as the “Final Girl” when things come to an end. I’m talking about kick ass women who take charge of a situation, whether it’s fighting off a bad guy, or just helping a friend mend his broken leg for the time being. Jannicke, played by the talented Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, is one of the latter types. She’s not only tough, but also a great friend, as she refuses to leave friends behind, and instead opts to face the killer and all his horror. She doesn’t run around, flailing about, and just so happens to end up in the right place at the right time by the film’s close – she actively fights back. This is why Fritt Vilt isn’t the same as all the other slasher films out there. Sure, it isn’t the first, or the last, to use the strong female lead as a subversion of the genre. That being said, it is definitely one of the better ones in the genre, and absolutely one of the greatest modern horrors to do so.

The film itself is a 4 out of 5 star horror. I can’t praise this Norwegian horror enough to make you realize how excellent of a movie you’ll be getting yourself into if you choose to watch. I recommend you do. There are some great kills, a bit of suspenseful and tense drama, and a really great lead character who doesn’t fall into the typical trappings of a female lead in many slasher movies. Plus, you get a nice few bloody moments that are more than worth it.

This film’s DVD released by Anchor Bay Entertainment really hits the mark. Not only is there good stuff like an Alternate Ending and a featurette called “Behind Cold Prey“, as well as a very cool look at the visual and audio effects in the film (everything from sound design to colour grading), the best feature of the DVD is the inclusion of a couple short films: a 2-minute short called Mountain Rose Runs Amok (a sort of spoof making fun of their own film) and An Evening in the Green (an early film made by the director; at home in his parents’ backyard). The second is absolutely hilarious and gory – you can tell he had an early knack for horror. I always love seeing things like these included. It doesn’t all have to be behind-the-scenes and movie magic stuff – you can have fun with the features. These are a great addition to an already excellent DVD release. I recommend anyone who is a fan of Fritt Vilt to pick this up – I’ll be getting a Blu ray soon, as I’d love to see the horror and terror of this film in amazing quality. Excellent slasher and a great release, as well.

Check out my review for the sequel Fritt Vilt II.

Refn Looks Back on the Criminal Life in PUSHER III: I’M THE ANGEL OF DEATH

The second sequel to Refn's groundbreaking PUSHER is a bleak look at the end of the road for one Copenhagen druglord, as he juggles recovery, family, and business on a very special day for his daughter.

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Pusher II: With Blood On My Hands – One Criminal & a Baby

Refn's sequel to his 1st PUSHER film is another bleak trip to Copenhagen's underworld.

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Pusher: A Gritty Copenhagen Tale of Crime

Refn's debut, PUSHER, is a brutal, bleak piece of cinema.

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The Raid 2: Because Somehow It Gets Better

The Raid 2: Berandal. 2014. Directed & Written by Gareth Evans.
Starring Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Yayan Ruhian, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, and Kazuki Kitamura. Entertainment One Films Canada.
Rated 18A. 150 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

Even the trailer just absolutely melts my face off. I couldn’t wait for this movie to come out. And boy, was I ever not disappointed in the least. In fact, this is one of those few sequels where it surpasses its predecessor joining the ranks of The Godfather Part IIStar Trek II: The Wrath of KhanStars Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, and The Dark Knight. This addition to what will hopefully be a trilogy is an incredible action film, and most certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The plot of The Raid 2: Berandal begins only a few hours after the previous events of the first film. Now, Rama is forced to go undercover in a ruthless prison to protect his family, as well as infiltrate the criminal organization which stretches even into the police. He must become a mob enforce in order to break through and gain the information needed. This is easier said than done. Once again, Rama has to fight through criminal after criminal to succeed in his objective.
So get ready for an all-out brawl with so much balls you’ll feel the kicks and punches in your gut with every bone smashing scene.

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O
ne of the things I immediately loved about The Raid 2 is that it gives us another chance to engage the character of Rama. In the first film, Evans gave us a look at tough yet nervous rookie, who was navigating a world completely unfamiliar to him. Even more so this time around, Rama is in a dangerous and unpredictable environment. But this time, Rama is also more experienced.
Right off the bat we’re treated to amazing fight choreography just in the first 25 minutes or so. First, we get to see an enclosed space brawl where Rama fights off numerous prisoners, as they kick and punch their way to him. Then, later, Rama must fight for his very life, as a gigantic brawl begins in the prison yard. Arms and legs are broken. Heads are smashed in with fists, rocks, and whatever else these men can grasp their fingers around. Some inmates are kicked to death in the muddy yard by groups of other prisoners. It’s just an absolutely incredible scene.  ‘m not sure how many actual edits are in there, but Evans makes it all look like one long, fierce take just following fight after fight, death after death. It’s one of those powerhouse sequences where it feels unbroken for a nice long time. You see a lot of these types of shots in other films, but action films it’s not exactly commonplace to see these extended takes because that takes a lot of work. Evans, however, pulls out several of these throughout the film.

A really amazing sequence, among many, is the crowded fight in the car. Watching how Evans actually accomplished that entire fight including some very unique and tricky camerawork, it’s just a breath of fresh air in the action world. Not only does Evans care about the fights themselves looking great and natural at the same time, he still pays close attention to the details of the actual camerawork for such fights. I know there are other stylized action films out there. Nevertheless, Evans and his two Raid films really takes the cake on visionary action-thriller filmmakers. Seeing the camera operators passing the camera around through the car, as well as discovering there’s one of them actually dressed as a seat (I never would have guessed that on my own – not in a million years), it is spectacular movie making. There aren’t enough minds like Evans, especially in the action genre.

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Love the role of Uco played by Arifin Putra. He did a great job. It was good to see another strong role in The Raid series aside from the main role of Rama (Uwais). This guy did a nice job with a character who could be typical. In certain respects, he is, quite typical. Yet there’s a savage, brutish nature to the way Putra plays Uco I really enjoyed. I sort of felt bad for him in a way, even though he’s really just a spoiled little psychopath.
Regardless, Putra gave a good performance, which worked well opposite Iko Uwais, who was just as excellent (if not more) in this film as he was in the first. Uwais had more to work with here, as the treacherous waters Rama must wade through become deeper and darker, murkier than before. In particular, there’s a fight later in the film where Rama scalds a man’s face terribly (a man he discovers afterwards is a police officer like himself). Following the fight, Rama is absolutely devastated with what he has become in order to fight criminals – essentially, a criminal himself. Uwais does a terrific job with this role and I felt for his character, which we rightfully should. Then of course his fighting has only gotten better, it seems. Not long after the previous scenes, the aforementioned car fight goes down; it’s one of the more wildly choreographed and executed scenes in the entire movie.

Action films are always better served by good performances (stupid thing to say – any film is served well by a proper performance), so having both Putra and Uwais play their roles with skill only makes things better. When you get good action with fun, interesting characters it isn’t hard to enjoy. The Raid 2 really improved in a lot of ways from the first, as much as it could seeing as how that one was incredible. The main way in which this film is better comes down to the performances. Though there is plenty of action, even more than the first (or at least on a bigger scale than its predecessor), this sequel really gets into the performances more.
There are some really unique characters in here. One in particular sees Yayan Ruhian (who also apparently choreographed bits of this film – not sure exactly how much but that is excellent) back in action; here, he plays a different character than his insane Mad Dog character from The Raid: Redemption.The character he played was weird, which is awesome.  Not only that, he fights a bunch of dudes in the street, while holding a machete, and yet doesn’t actually use it on any of them – not until the final person he fights. This also includes a great blood effect that I cannot get enough of! Evans does a shot of a body sliding down a wall after being ran through with the machete’s blade, except it’s from the rear, and so we get a nice view of the bloody hole from his gut to his back, as it slides down the wall leaving only Ruhian visible through the hole in the wall. Maybe that sounds like a mouthful, but believe me – it is an awesome little, almost throwaway, practical effect. It looks really gnarly, and I totally dug it to the fullest.

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Two other honourable mentions must be noted when it comes to characters: Hammer Girl (seen above in mid-kick assery) & her equally demented sibling Baseball Bat Man. Great additions to the film. Not only was it sort of fun and a kind of homage to less serious/more silly martial arts flicks, it really kicked up the madness of the entire Raid series another notch. In the first movie, we get that real crazy vibe from the machete gang. I was really wondering what Evans would do in this film; if there would be that sort of vibe I got from them.  This is where Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man came in. Their fight with Rama was just absolutely intense. One of those great sequences where you’re actually not sure for a few moments here and there if the hero would come out on top. I like that, when a filmmaker isn’t afraid to tease us a little with the true fear of a character’s death. But of course Rama is the man; I mean, do you really doubt that? This fight is one of the more balls-to-the-wall sequences out of either of the Raid movies, and I couldn’t rewind enough to watch it over and over.
Not to take away too much from the final fight Rama endures – it is a dam fine fight both in the camerawork used and the fight choreography of the actual scene. I just particularly wanted to mention those characters. The last fight, regardless of how much I enjoyed Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, was near perfection. Incredible, the score really amped things up with a sort of John Carpenter feel to it, and it was just really beautiful and brutal all at once. Plus it comes to a bloody conclusion.
Also, it’s worth mentioning the locations Evans chose to shoot were really interesting to look out, so while there’s great fight choreography and bone crunching hits happening, there’s also a beautiful visual style to the whole film overall in the form of interesting locations, as opposed to a ton of set pieces (I’m not positive whether there were specifically built sets used in this film or not – to me most of the locations look natural). Always a plus for an action film.

As a film, The Raid 2: Berandal is easily a 5 star experience. It stands on its own as a really great crime thriller with extraordinary action sequences and fight choreography. In regards to its status as a sequel, this definitely improves on the first for me – there were no characters here I felt weren’t portrayed well. The acting really did it for me here, and took The Raid series to a higher level. The fight choreography stepped it up, too. The prison yard fight alone is enough to raise this up over the first movie. Put all those things together and you’ve got one hell of an action film. There isn’t the same music as the first, but I think the score here really works for the movie, and the fact it doesn’t sound the same is not a drawback. Yet there was a wonderful use of my favourite artist Nine Inch Nails both in the very last moments of the film and over the credits, as well. Really awesome music from Trent’s work on his Ghosts collection of albums. Excellent experience overall, from action to character to plot to sound. You won’t find too many films, particularly action-thrillers, better than this one.

The Blu ray release, again, is a god damn treasure. Getting a look behind the scenes of these Raid films is a treat for me. Like I said before, the fight in the car and watching it broken down kept me busy forever. Not to mention the entire featurette included called “A Violent Ballet”, which is focused solely on the choreography involved in the production of the film. Of course there’s also some director commentary (really worthwhile to listen – a lot of insight from a great filmmaker), and another featurette about shooting a sequel to the first film. These are all really wonderful extras. Highly suggest checking them out if you pick up this release.
Also thrown in is a four and a half minute deleted sequence entitled “Gang War” – this shows a group of thugs getting ready for what promises to be a massive battle, putting guns and grenades and ammo in bags, marching together down the street, and finally they meet another gang. This climaxes in a ridiculously wild and gory shootout between the gangs. I loved every last second of this. There are some great effects in the 4-minute span of this scene. Although, I can understand why Evans opted not to include this sequence in the finished film, it’s really fun to watch. An action packed deleted scene if there ever was one!
The Blu ray release is beyond worth the purchase. 5 out of 5 star ratings times five. I’ve spent hours watching the extras. The picture itself is worth seeing because it’s as close to seeing it in theatre as you can get. Really great experience. The fight sequences look incredible here. Evans’ work as a director shines when you can watch his film in such gorgeous definition. Recommended to the fullest – go pick this up and you will not be let down in the least by either the film or the Blu ray.

One Ass Kicker Cop v. A Building Full of Psychotics in The Raid: Redemption

The Raid: Redemption. 2011.  Dir. Gareth Evans.  Starring. Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Tegar Satrya, and Ray Sahetapy. XYZ Films.
Rated 18A. 100 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

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

There are not a lot of action films I truly love, in the sense I don’t particularly favour the genre over others. Whereas I’m a bigger fan of horror and thriller films, action movies really need to be a big deal for me to get hooked in, and for me to walk away thinking it’s a great piece of film. That being said, there are a few I absolutely love. For instance, The Terminator to me is the best action-thriller ever conceived; it’s not only thrilling and full of great action sequences, a great plot to boot, it has the sci-fi element thrown in, which really helps it. However, there are action films that come along from time to time which really surprise me. Not only are they jam packed with some really impressive fighting and choreography, they’ve often got one or two solid performances alongside a decently entertaining plot and story.

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The Raid is one such film. At the beginning I sort of expected something derivative of a typical ‘good cop gets in over his head’ scenario. I soon changed my mind. Quickly.
The story follows a rookie member of an elite special-forces quad named Rama (Uwais) who is allowed to go along as the team attempts to extract a savage crime boss called Tama (Sahetapy) who runs a dilapidated apartment complex.
But when a spotter blows the team’s cover, Tama offers up a great incentive for anyone on any floor of the building who brings him the heads of the intruding police. Rama ends up having to take charge when a big load hits the fan.
From there it’s basically a massively entertaining and brutal action film. Yet it isn’t just an action film. It really is thrilling. I really can’t get over a few of the fight sequences. The choreography is some of the best I’ve ever seen, in any action movie. While there’s a beautiful rhythmic way the camera follows these fights, it is all very real. The punches and kicks are hard and crushing. You can almost feel every bit of it. There are so many action movies where the fight scenes are either outrageous, or consist of people fake fighting. Instead, The Raid is like a giant sparring session.
One thing I really love is that this film doesn’t at all go for the ‘one man versus ten’, as they all go at the one man individually, single file, and he fights them off. In particular, one scene in the hallway where Rama is basically forced to fend off several men at one time by himself really does away with this tired trope. But what I love isn’t necessarily that it bucks the norm, it’s the fact that we get to see the fighters really showcase their talents. After this film, as well as its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal, I suspect Iko Uwais’ name will only get bigger and bigger.

Another little scene I love is when Rama and Officer Bowo (Satrya) are forced to hide in one of the building tenants apartments. They’re hiding behind a wall, as a gang of thugs lead by a machete wielding maniac (when in fact they’ve all got machetes) search the place for the two cops. The maniac puts his blade in through the wall, one place after another, until it slides in and slices open Rama’s face. At that instant, the owner of the apartment urges them to get out. The maniac leaves his machete in the wall and yells at the man. Evans really pulls out a great gem of a moment here – Rama holds the blade, and as the man hauls the machete back out, he wipes the blood off it, so nobody is the wiser. We’ve all watched those scenes where someone is hiding, just about to be caught, and yet something prevents it; this moment really subverted those typical scenes into something new. I dig that. Not usual many action films really screw with the tropes of the genre, and The Raid does a great job with this at times.

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There’s really something to be said about action films being violent. I mean, isn’t that the point of certain action really? When I go to see action movies, I don’t particularly look for a great performance. What I do focus on while I’m watching them is what the fights look like, how they’re paced. I don’t want to go and watch an action film that’s got too much drama. Although I like some; there’s a mix that can be attained. There’s just enough here in The Raid to satisfy the drama quotient. Just a little. Sort of like adding flavour. What really sets this apart as a great action film is the fact it isn’t rated PG-13. Evans pulls out some perfect gory kills here. Even some vicious kills that weren’t gory, just really nasty. One I thought was unique happened when Rama just tosses this guy running at him over the ledge of one floor, and the guy lands on the opposite side, one floor down, right on his back; I actually said “ouch” aloud. Delightfully awful. Another is after a savage brawl with the machete gang when Rama jumps back through a doorway hauling one of his opponents’ heads down with him, putting a jagged piece of broken door through a guy’s neck and throat. I just didn’t see it coming, and it was one of those martial arts moments where you realize this guy Rama is so aware of his surroundings; he’s a god damn excellent candidate for law enforcement.

Iko Uwais is a really talented guy. Of course there wasn’t really a massive amount of drama here as I said, he still pulled off his character convincingly – in between kicking ass, dodging bullets, and generally saving the day. The beginning, as well as a few points in the latter half of the film, show him with his wife, and he did a nice job. Certainly things also get dramatically tense once we find out more about the plot, as the film goes on. He gets more chances to showcase his acting abilities over his fighting prowess, and gave a nice performance. I won’t give away exactly what happens or who he meets, just for those who’ve yet to see it, but one other moment I love is when Rama comes in contact with somebody he did not expect to see in the apartment complex. Both him and the other actor did great. I loved their scenes together. It adds more complexity to Rama’s character, as well as the entire film.
The rest of the cast was great. Although I honestly did not enjoy Ray Sahtapy as Tama, the crime boss. It never clicked with me. Also, I wasn’t really a huge fan of Pierre Gruno here. I didn’t like his portrayal of the character. I felt he was flat compared to everyone else.
But aside from those two, the rest of performances were good. The brief bits we get with Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog were spectacular, and he was one of the real shining points in the supporting cast. Even in a smaller role he blew me away. Not only with his fight scenes, which were outrageously awesome, but his acting was surprisingly nice (I only say surprisingly because I’ve never seen him anywhere else but here – that I know of anyways). I hope to see more of him outside The Raid movies.

Another aspect of this film worth mentioning is the excellent music. The dubstep-style songs in certain parts really fit, as well as the rest of the suspenseful, intense scoring during other moments. Everything really piece together well. The music helped with the film’s tight pacing. One of my favourite moments concerning the music is when Rama is trying to bust a hole through the floor with an axe; there’s just something so gritty and kick ass about the music there, it really sets the tone. Action films need more music like this. When it wasn’t the dubstep-style music, we got some great, low-key electronic scoring, and at other times it sounded beautifully dark and intricate. Amazing.

I’m absolutely in love with this movie. One of the best action films I’ve ever seen. Certainly one of the best in the last 10-15 years, if not the best action film of those years period. I give this a 4.5 star rating. It’s almost a perfect film. I cannot recommend it enough. Especially if you’re having one of those movie nights where you can’t decide on something. If you’re looking for an action-thriller of the highest quality, look no further.

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The Blu ray release is also pretty damn fantastic. First of all, Claycat’s version of The Raid was so funny and so awesome. Put it on and you will most definitely have a blast. I cracked up.
The featurettes on this release are beyond incredible. Listening to Gareth Evans break down scenes as he shot them is inspirational, honestly. Some of the takes here were insanity. They broke down the ‘Hole Drop’ scene, as Rama busts a hole in the floor for the team to escape through. While one of the actors jumped down through the hole, a camera operator was sort of lowered partly down into the hole, and another operator took the camera from him continuing on to shoot as he follows the actor. Watching it while Evans talks is so cool. I always love seeing these types of things on a Blu ray or DVD release because, as someone who eventually wants to make films (short films at the least) it’s interesting to watch certain scenes broken down because it gives me ideas, and also exposes people to the intricate process of filmmaking most movie watchers often don’t pay attention to, or are even aware of in a lot of cases.
Evans talks further about the stunts, and how many scenes were actually stitched together to make them look how they did in the final film; particularly, the kill I mentioned with the broken back. Very cool. Most of the stunts, of course, were natural in the fighting process. There weren’t many shots here that needed any wire work. Not as far as I can tell, anyways. Regardless, watching the filmmaking in all its forms is amazing. The featurettes go through everything from soundtrack and themes to stunts to production. Mike Shinoda and Gareth Evans sit down and talk through a lot of it, which was definitely an interesting watch. The Blu ray is hands down a 5 out of 5 stars. Nothing wrong with this release. There is beautiful sound design, the picture is magnificent, and the special features really do the release justice.

If you haven’t seen The Raid: Redemption, go see it now. If you love it – get a copy of the Blu ray, and sit back to some amazing visuals, balls-out fights, plus a pack of extra features to keep you busy.