From Filmmakers

NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN’s Religious Parable

Nothing Bad Can Happen. 2014. Directed & Written by Katrin Gebbe.
Starring Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, and Annika Kuhl. Celluloid Dreams.
Not Rated. 110 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2

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While I usually try not to go too deep into personal theories of a movie, if it appears to me as metaphorical, Nothing Bad Can Happen feels very much to me like a film meant to be taken as metaphor, and with that, I feel like this review will mostly focus on my subjective interpretation.

The film follows a young man named Tore (Julius Feldmeier) in Hamburg who attempts to build a new life in a religious group, The Jesus Freaks. After having a seizure during a rock band’s performance, a man named Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) helps him out, and brings him to safety at his home. There, he begins a relationship with Benno and his family. Eventually Tore even moves into a small guest area at Benno’s home. However, things soon become darker, more sinister for Tore than he could have ever anticipated. A battle of wits begin, as Benno begins to mentally and physically torture Tore. Though the young man clings to his faith, Benno becomes more sadistic as time goes by, ultimately inflicting some of worst punishment possible on Tore.
Toretanzt_JuliusFeldmeier_SwantjeKohlhof_TORE_SANNYThis is apparently based on a news article director/writer Katrin Gebbe read. While I have not searched out the article in question, I still believe Gebbe uses the, at times brutal, story as a way to discuss religion. In particular, she looks at how those who are constantly, and consistently, abused over and over by their religious institutions still keep their faith – often going so far as to excuse the abuse. Furthermore, the actions of Benno as the movie progresses make you realize he was initially trolling for weaker prey when first meeting Tore – once he saw the younger man seizure, he knew this was his victim. Also, you can obviously realize after some time Benno is not Christian any sense whatsoever – much how I feel about those who abuse their power to rape and abuse those without it using their religious position to conceal their actions (those people do not truly believe in anything – religion or otherwise).
23_Toretanzt_0026652_ASTRID-AnnikaKuhl_TORE_JuliusFeldmeier_BENNO_SaschaGersakThis method Benno uses is exactly how the abusers, using religion as their cover, choose which person to subject to their torturous desires. Much like the rapists using the Roman Catholic Church to cover up their heinous sexual assaults on countless, seemingly never ending boys and girls. And still, the abuse reigns on as people continue to bow at the altar of these corrupt churches. Without ruining the ending, there is very little optimism in the finale of Nothing Bad Can Happen – there is a half and half, bittersweet sort of finish. One side speaks to us so that we can learn from all these abuses, and hopefully some who face this abuse also can get away eventually. On the other side, we see how faith can get someone through terrible, horrifying trauma, and yet at the same time could really destroy one’s self altogether. As much as Gebbe based this on supposed true events, I really do believe this is meant to be a metaphor of the larger-scale abuse going on throughout many religions – not simply the Catholics, as I mentioned (I was personally brought up Roman Catholic due to my mom and I living with my grandparents for the first 8 years of my life & when finally given the chance by my mother and father a few years later I gave up church for the rest of my life). Every religion has, and is capable of, abuses, and this almost says to me alone that religion is not as wonderful and miraculous as those who practice their individual religions regularly would have you believe. Nothing Bad Can Happen explores all these things, and more, through a very dramatic film while also incorporating real savage moments of psychological horror.
14_Toretanzt_IMG_9721_TORE_JuliusFeldmeierThe absolute best part of the film is its central performance. Julius Feldmeier plays Tore brilliantly. The whole film is quite subdued and what I call “quiet” – there isn’t any action, it’s all based around the drama of the script.  In these “quiet” films (I’m not generalizing – just stating for the purpose of this review), I find actors often get to really get into the scenes more, in terms of character. Sure, action stars can really get into their own characters, but in films like Nothing Bad Can Happen where the plot does involve or incorporate any big set pieces, special effects, or other things et cetera et cetera, actors have nothing else except for the dramatics of their character and the scenes to focus on. All of the subject matter here is very heavy, and Feldmeier gives a great performance as a young man who is determined to find his way through life, and everything that comes with it, through his belief in Jesus Christ. As somebody who does not take part in organized religion, an actor has to do some serious work for me to empathize with a character who is almost blinded by his faith. Regardless, Feldmeier does such a good job as Tore it was impossible not to feel for his character. With every degrading act Benno unleashes on Torre, both the determination and pain coming through in Feldmeier’s performance tightened the tension of the film, as well extended my empathy tenfold for the character. Really great stuff. I believe this is the first feature film Feldmeier has been a part of, and I do hope to see him again soon after this one.
303541.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxNothing Bad Can Happen didn’t reach Canada until 2014. Because of this, it is absolutely one of the best films I had the pleasure of seeing this past year. I’ve included it on Fathersonholygore’s Best of 2014 List. There’s something about this film which captivates me, and I believe most of that is due to the fact Katrin Gebbe gives us a dose of reality while also spinning the story into a much larger fabric representing the universal abuse of the weak, and possibly gullible, followers by their own religious institutions.
NOTHING-BAD-CAN-HAPPEN-excluisve-620x400The film itself is a real great work of drama with thriller elements, and a healthy dose of horror, to my mind anyways. This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 stars for me. I can’t wait to get a copy on Blu ray because there are no doubt bits and pieces I missed when I first had the privilege of seeing the film. Highly recommended. Keep an open mind – an inquisitive, free mind – and think about the bigger implications of Nothing Bad Can Happen. A real powerful work from Katrin Gebbe – someone who I again hope to see more from in the near future.

[REC] Follows Everyday Life into a Zombie Epidemic

[Rec]. 2007. Directed by Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza. Screenplay by Jaume Balagueró, Luis Berdejo & Paco Plaza.
Starring Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Pablo Rosso, David Vert, Vicente Gil, Martha Carbonell, and Carlos Vicente. Sony Pictures.
Rated R. 78 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2

First off – I’m not one of these snobs who feels the need to distinguish between a “zombie film” and an “infection film”, okay? If you’re going to argue with me, or not take my opinion on this great movie seriously solely because of the fact I’m going to call this a zombie movie (as I will any movie that features infected people who kill other human beings), then turn away now! For I will throw out the words “zombie film” & “zombie movie” like I’m giving away candy.
REC1-620x330Are you ready? Then let’s begin.

It’s actually sort of funny when I think about it – [Rec] is a combination of two very played out, tired sub-genres of horror: found footage and zombies. Now, I’m not saying these are the types of films I don’t enjoy. On the contrary, I love both found footage and zombies. That’s if they’re done well. Just as gangs of undead roam the apocalyptic streets of the sub-genre, hordes of zombie films crowd the market, as tons and tons of young amateur horror directors try to us their vision of such a world. There are actually a lot of really great zombie movies, however, as many of them that are good are paralleled with equal numbers which are mediocre (at best) to terrible – to unfortunate. The same goes for found footage. I really enjoy a bunch of found footage movies. By the same token, I can think of more than several handfuls that I did not enjoy. I think more and more these days, the amateur horror director now leans towards doing a found footage film above a zombie movie. Because whereas a zombie movie can be done on a low-to-non-existent budget, you can do found footage for as much or less.

recThen there is [Rec].

These two directors show us the story of a television reporter, Ángela Vidal [Manuela Velasco], and her cameraman, Pablo [Pablo Rosso], who are filming footage of the night shift at a local fire station. When an old woman calls, apparently trapped in her apartment, the firemen respond. Terrible screams are heard from the old woman’s apartment. Afterwards, the firefighters, along with Ángela & Pablo, discover what exactly is happening. From here, the night turns into a nightmarish situation for the news crew, the firefighters, and everyone in the building, as soon they are all trapped inside the building. While the situation unfolds, Ángela makes Pablo keep filming to make sure the outside world knows what horror has begun.

xtuuSOne aspect which can really kill a found footage film is how the filmmakers actually present the so-called footage. For instance, in Ti West’s recent film The Sacrament he used the real life news outlet VICE to help portray the footage itself – as they often do stories that are considered “immersionism”, this fit the film well because West was able to edit things, add a very foreboding score, and other such things. In the case of [Rec]Balagueró and Plaza present their film as a television news report. Essentially it all goes awry, and then the reporter plus her cameraman are left to fend for themselves. The fact Ángela urges Pablo to keep filming so they can let the world know what is happening in the building really helps the found footage angle work. Usually, we get people arguing “turn off the camera”, and then it all devolves into arguments, screaming, characters are then divided to later be killed off, or whatever the case. In this sense, many found footage movies can really blend together into the same old garbage. However, by having Pablo keep filming at the insistence of Ángela, this really makes things feel natural. It’s not one of those roll your eyes moments where you think “how typical”. This is one of my favourite things about this movie. I think [Rec]2 also did a good job of continuing this trend, and making the presence of found footage feel much more real than other lesser films.
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I think while a couple performances, particularly those of Manuela Velasco and even Pablo Rosso, were really good, much of what I most enjoyed about [Rec] was the blood and the zombies. I mean, that’s what we really come to a zombie movie looking to find. With this film, you will get your money’s worth. In particular, I just wanted to mention one of the last zombies we actually get to see in the movie. Without ruining anything in the plot, there’s this extremely terrifying zombie wandering around in the basement when Ángela and Pablo make their way down there. You’ll know which one I’m talking about because this scary lady is not only naked – she’s brandishing what looks like a ball-peen hammer. Now, I won’t go any further and say what exactly happens. I’ll just say this one bit of zombie make-up really looked spectacular. It’s very rare I actually drop my jaw and lean into the screen for a closer look at something creepy. This moment had me glued. I really love it. Plus, what happens after they come across this specific zombie is wild.
Rec-still-2I can give this a 4.5 out of 5 stars easily. This is one of the best zombie films out there. I know there are a lot of purists who seem to think George A. Romero is the only person to ever make a real zombie film. I say that’s absolute bullshit. He is the godfather of the modern zombie sub-genre in horror. Of that, there is no doubt. But you can’t discount a whole sub-genre (or maybe you could say it’s a genre unto its own nowadays with The Walking Dead dominating television on AMC) by saying only one man can do it right. I love his films. Still, there are plenty of other great zombies out there. Some of those are in [Rec].
rec04With the newest addition to the series out in the last few days, I wanted to revisit this modern classic. I love this one, as well as the sequel. And while I don’t particularly dig the third installment, this fourth movie almost reminds me of one of the Resident Evil games – Revelations, I believe – takes place on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Anyways – point is, I’m looking forward to seeing it myself. While it doesn’t seem to be the favourite of critics, I never usually fall in line with popular opinions. I’ll wait and see myself. If you’ve not yet seen any of these, please do yourself a favour and watch them soon. [Rec] is a fascinating found footage film, and it brings all the zombie carnage and mayhem you could have hoped for – highly recommended.

 

 

 

CHEAP THRILLS in a Bleak Economy

Cheap Thrills. 2014.  Dir. E.L Katz.
Starring Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, Ethan Embry, and David Koechner. Pacific Northwest Pictures. Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
Comedy/Crime/Drama

★★★★1/2
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Cheap Thrills begins as Craig (Pat Healy) loses his low paying job. On top of that, he and his wife, as well as their new baby, are on the verge of being evicted from their property. After losing his job Craig heads to a bar for a few drinks. He ends up running into an old friend from high school, Vince (Ethan Embry), and the two catch up. They also come into contact with Colin (David Koechner) and his young wife Violet (Sara Paxton) who begin a friendly little game of wagers for big money. Seemingly the answer to both Craig and Vince’s problems, the two down-and-out old buddies go along with the childish little games Colin comes up with for cold, hard cash. Eventually, however, the games get darker, and more sinister. At first it begins with Craig getting knocked out by a bouncer, but soon it ends up with he and Vince breaking into houses. The evening gets crazier until the two former friends start wearing thin on one another, each of them becoming more aggressive with the other as the challenges get more intense, and they soon begin to regret what they’re willing to do just for money.

I think the two big performances here are most definitely from Ethan Embry and Pat Healy, both of whom I really enjoy in other movies. Embry plays a great character – at first you really find him fun and a bit wild, but eventually you start to see what kind of guy he really is and it is not nice. Embry really gets into it. I’ve been a fan of his since the show Brotherhood specifically, and he does very well with dark material, or at least characters who have some sort of darkness in them; great actor. Healy does a fine job, as well, playing Craig. The evolution of his character from beginning to end is wonderful. In the beginning, he is a truly meek individual, but by the end (especially the last shot which may be my favourite of the entire film) he really comes out the other side as a bad ass dude.
cheapthrills2There are a couple really laugh out loud moments in Cheap Thrills and I think one of those is absolutely when Craig has the incident with his finger. I don’t want to ruin anything more than I already have, but this is just absolutely priceless. Between the way Vince acts, how Craig reacts to the finger incident, and Colin screaming “fuck yeah motherfucker” – it’s all just way too damn funny. I laughed my ass off during that scene.

While most of the comedy is quite dark, this is the sort of comedy I really love the most personally. There’s something really great when filmmakers can capture the hilarity behind grim situations. E.L Katz really could have done this as an outright horror movie, and believe me there are a few moments worthy of horror in here (maybe this could be called a psychological horror in some respects). Instead he keeps this a real dark comedy with dramatic elements and certainly a good dose of crime. I think the driving force behind Cheap Thrills has two significant parts: the friendship between Craig and Vince, as well as the overall competition in which they engage. Everyone can probably think of someone they might have a relationship with from high school similar to Craig and Vince – maybe not as contemptuous, but definitely someone you may not have as great of a relationship with in the present as you did in the past, and one that may cause tension. This just cranks those types of relationships up another notch. Combined with the fact these guys are desperate enough in their current life situations to go in on an increasingly dangerous and twisted game, this makes for great drama.

cheapthrillsI think the whole game for money with Colin and Violet really works as a modern tale about greed. Although this is mainly meant as a great and thrilling dark comedy, it really does work on deeper levels. Similar to the recent film 13 Sins, Katz does a great job telling a story that relates to our modern society – a society filled to the absolute brim with people who will do anything they can, aside from work for an honest living, to make as much money as possible in as little amount of time as possible. The increasingly sick nature of the things Colin suggest for Craig and Vince to do is really unsettling. One part I really thought was a little funny but also sad, in regards to the game itself, is when they’re dared to eat a dead dog – they tie in the end and Vince asks Craig to open his mouth to prove his finished, to which his friend replies maniacally “I’m finished“, opening his mouth with an “ahh” noise to verify. It makes you chuckle while also feeling disgusted with these two guys. And it only gets worse.
cheapthrillsbd720_01_01_12_00006This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star film. To be honest, while he wasn’t bad at all, I think David Koechner was a weak link for Cheap Thrills. If someone else had played this character I may have been more intrigued. He did not do bad whatsoever, I just didn’t really get into his performance specifically. I suppose he served his purpose well enough. The whole movie is just great, though, and his performance didn’t at all take away from it in any real significant sense. I cannot recommend this film enough. Ever since I first saw this I’ve been raving to others about how great of a movie experience this provides. A lot of fun. Albeit, a bit of sick fun along the way, but totally worth the ride. Two amazing central performances and a lot of gritty, dark laughs make this a must-see film. One of the best releases in 2014 my way. I hope others will enjoy it as much as myself.

SUMMER OF BLOOD: Unlikeable Hipster Vampires

Summer of Blood. 2014. Directed & Written by Onur Tukel.
Starring Onur Tukel, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Vanna Pilgrim, Jason Selvig, and Melodie Sisk. Dark Sky Films. Not Rated. 86 minutes.
Comedy/Horror

★★1/2

SUMMER_OF_BLOOD_poster_1-thumb-600x900-107753Erik Sparrow, played by writer and director Onur Tukel, seems to have a stable life – he has a nice job, he lives in a decent place in a good city, and he’s also got the love of a good woman. However, Erik is also very unaware of how much of an idiot he really is, and takes everything in his whole life for granted. Especially Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman). She proposes to Erik, but he opts not to say ‘yes’. This turns into an awkward night where they run into an old male friend of Jody, named Jason, and Erik really makes an ass out of himself. She goes off with Jason and Erik is left alone. He goes out and tries to find someone else, but unfortunately for Erik nobody wants anyone remotely like him – he is arrogant, ignorant, pessimistic, and is terrible at having sex. All this changes after one fateful night when Erik ends up meeting a vampire who, of course, turns him into one with a bite. After this encounter Erik suddenly becomes a very different man: he is cool and sort of interesting, optimistic, and he can have sex for hours and hours on end. Although these new changes in his life provide lots of excitement, Erik still needs to feed. Hilarity and horror ensue.
SUMMER-OF-BLOOD-620x400While I did think there’s a lot of refreshing and genuinely hilarious stuff going on in Summer of Blood, I almost couldn’t overcome my dislike for the character of Erik. I know he isn’t mean to be likable. Part of the whole plot is wrapped up in the fact Erik is a really despicable sort of dude. I like plenty of characters who are meant to be jerks, but there’s something about this guy I really didn’t enjoy. Whatsoever. There are a lot of wonderful comedic moments in this film. Because of Erik, though, they didn’t come off as well as they possible might have had the character been better.
Summer-of-Blood-Bloody-740x493My biggest problem is evident near the beginning in one of the first scenes – Erik encounters a man with a bad neck wound (whom we’re lead to assume later was a victim of a vampire also), and basically watches him bleed out forever instead of actually getting help, or trying to get help. Now – part of this scene is meant to be funny, and it is – I just think it went too far. I wasn’t offended – nothing offends me. I believe this is simply bad writing. It was funny at first, and grim, but it is far too unbelievable. This Erik character is a real douchebag. Regardless, no one, except for psychopaths, would let a man bleed out in the alleyway so ignorantly.
Summer-of-Blood-670-x-443Yes, the character of Erik is ignorant, but this ignorance plays out much better in other scenes than it did with this moment. It only continues on throughout because Erik time and time again proves how unlikable he is, I just think there’s a big suspension of disbelief required to get into this guy. Obviously we suspend disbelief to get into a story about vampires – this much is clear. Not everything is meant to require such a suspension. I’m willing to go real far for horror, and especially horror comedies, I just don’t think this is a particularly well-written film.

That brings me to my next point – the film wobbles all over the place a little too much for my taste. I really love genre-bending films.  Summer of Blood is just a bit misguided. After the finale of the film, I found myself a little disappointed. While I was truly digging this movie’s take on vampirism, and how they really took a fresh look at an extremely tired subject (we all know vampire films are played out), the ending really felt like Tukel didn’t know where to really go with the whole subject. I feel like there’s a certain amount of satire aimed towards the vampire sub-genre, but at the same time there’s not enough to really ‘say anything’. Not that I’m looking for a profound statement, I just felt as if the whole film was going somewhere, and along the way Tukel sort of lost the map. There were really great bits and pieces. As a whole, though, the script feels like a hugely disjointed work of horror-comedy.
Summer-of-Blood-C-670-x-443I think this film is about a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It wasn’t amazing, but also nowhere near being the worst. I really respect Onur Tukel for trying to do something different with vampires, as opposed to trying to really mess with vampirism itself (there are far too many films out there trying to force in twists to fundamentally change vampires). That being said, my respect for his attempts at innovation don’t make this a real great film or anything. It’s a mediocre indie. Though, I did laugh at a few bits fairly hard. There are a nice couple gory moments, as well, and I really enjoyed those scenes. I’ve seen some others say this movie is a “mess of ideas” which come together – I respectfully disagree. I did enjoy portions of the film, but mostly, as I mentioned, things seemed out of place, messy, and it made the finished product feel sloppy. A good effort on the whole. Just not something I’m likely to ever watch again.

Zack Parker’s PROXY: Twisting Tales of Extraordinary Madness

Proxy. 2014.  Dir. Zack Parker.
Starring Kristina Klebe, Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins, and Alexia Rasmussen. IFC Midnight. Unrated. 120 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★★
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Previously, I’ve seen Zack Parker’s work with his earlier film Scalene, which I actually really enjoyed. Perhaps enjoy is not the best verb to describe the experience of that film, but either way it was effective, and I knew I wanted to see more from Parker. While filmed in 2013, this didn’t hit Canada until 2014. This is by far one of the best movies I saw last year. There is no doubt. Parker provides not only several gruesome moments to make this partly a horror film, he does an excellent job of intertwining several stories into one overall plot and allowing it to flow together coherently. A lesser filmmaker might get lost trying to wrap a few stories into one thrilling plot, Parker does so with a lot of grace, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to bring up its similarities to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Proxy starts off with Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) walking home after a check-up appointment with her doctor, as she’s very far along in her pregnancy. On the way, Esther is knocked out by someone in a red hooded sweatshirt, and terribly assaulted; the attacker smashes her belly in over and over with a brick. The baby is pronounced dead, but Esther survives. Afterwards, having no real family or friends, Esther goes to support groups where she ends up becoming friends with a woman named Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), who says her husband and little boy were killed by a drunk driver. However, Esther sees Melanie in a department store later yelling that her son has been kidnapped, looking for help. After Melanie leaves the store, though, Esther sees her bringing out the very alive boy to be “found”. From here, things begin to spin out of control, as Melanie is exposed, and Esther herself is not everything she truly seems.
Soon, one vicious event begins a domino effect that ultimately affects the lives of everyone involved with both Esther and Melanie.
Zack-Parker_web3To say anything else about the plot of this film would be to ruin the movie for anyone who has yet to see it. While I’ve said a bit, the best comes once things really kick into gear after Esther sees Melanie with her child. I honestly had no idea where Proxy would end. This is one of the few films to really throw me for a loop. This is great because the plot structure really reminds me a lot of Psycho. Whereas the Hitchcock classic begins focused on Marion Crane and then grimly switches gears when Norman Bates is introduced into the mix, Proxy also begins with a character who sort of walks us cinematically into the real plot of the film when Esther finds out her friend Melanie is a con-artist, and then everything unfolds. It’s a beautiful way to structure things.
Zack-Parker_web5I know there are similarities to other films, but I really believe Parker fixed in on some great Hitchcock-style techniques, specifically those in Psycho. For instance, the score is really gorgeous and dark and sneaky. There are moments where tension ratchets up because Parker has such an enormous, sweeping score that makes those emotional and tense moments come across even more effectively. Just as Hitchcock had those strings in the right places for Psycho, as does Parker here with his film. I think, these days, suspense and tension are often left by the wayside in the hands of certain directors. Parker is not one of those. He keeps things very unsettling and you’re never sure of the ground you’re treading on. This film keeps coming and coming until there’s nothing left to your nerves.
Zack-Parker_web2I’ve always liked Joe Swanberg, and while there are some great performances by both Anika Barön, as well as Alexa Havins, I think he really does some of the best work going on in Proxy. The story is centered on the women of the film, however, Swanberg is one of the characters most affected by everything which happens in the plot. Without ruining too much, you really see the pain in this character come through in Swanberg. He’s great at playing normal people. That probably has to do with the fact he directs his own stuff, and acts in a lot, almost constantly. He does a lot of films. And most are highly independent, so they usually go for a quite realistic approach. I think this makes Swanberg a great fit for the role. His performance is nice and subdued. The overall plot made me feel bad for his character, but his abilities as an actor make things all the more sympathetic. Really great stuff.
Alexa Havins has to be mentioned, as well. It’s impossible not to comment on her great acting. The character she plays, Melanie, is absolutely warped – beyond belief. I think the character could have easily come off much to theatrical and overblown. Havins plays this great. There are times she really comes across as a scary monster; I wouldn’t doubt there are people out there so consumed with a need for attention to the point they would do the most awful things imaginable. It’s an effective performance, and the character’s story really draws you in with Havins playing it so appropriately.
proxy_01_largeThis is one of the best films from last year, but it’s also one of the better  movies I’ve seen in the last decade. Especially films in the horror genre. There are plenty of wild moments, in terms of blood and otherwise, however, this film really works on a horror level like Hitchcock’s Psycho. Parker does throw in a more than acceptable amount of blood and gore. Mainly what he does is make things into a psychological nightmare. While we begin the film feeling as if certain characters are the worst of the ensemble, later events come to change those opinions, and it’s just a really interesting character piece wrapped up in horror & thriller elements. This is flawless. A great modern horror masterpiece, and I continue to wait on more great work by Zack Parker.

BLUE RUIN’s Honest Amateur Revenge

Blue Ruin. 2014. Directed & Written by Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring Macon Blair, Tyler Byrne, Richard Peete, Vincent Savino, Alex Orr, and Anish Savjani.
Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Rated 18A. 90 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
blueruin-poster02 Personally, I love revenge thrillers just because they satisfy the real life need at times to dive into something similar to our daily lives. Many people can relate to the emotions of people who have family members, friends, loved ones killed or hurt in horrible ways. This is something we see in the news all the time. Even in our own hometowns. However, many revenge thrillers often push our limits of what’s believable. For instance, a lot of the lead characters in films of this sub-genre are often made out to be the perfect killing machine – even if they’re some mild mannered type before the events which change their lives, afterwards they become relentless, near superhuman people who can withstand any and all pain, as well as seem to automatically know their way around guns (including how to load them & et cetera) and have a plethora of unique ideas about how to modify simple everyday items into weapons. While I can get into some of those films just because they’re often good fun, when done appropriately and well-enough, I really respect a film that goes for a revenge thriller story but subverts what we’ve come to expect from other films of this sub-genre. This is one of those movies, which takes everything you thought you knew about the revenge thriller genre and turns everything on its head.

Blue Ruin is the story of a man who has nearly lost everything. Dwight lives out of his rundown old blue car (the titular Blue Ruin). He eats out of dumpsters, rifling through them to find whatever food he can that still smells edible. He takes a nice bath when he can – until the people who own the home he’s taking one in return. One morning he’s picked up by the police, however, they aren’t arresting him. An officer tells Dwight that Wade Cleland is about to be released; he is the man who murdered Dwight’s parents. After this, Dwight goes back to his home in Virginia. When Wade is released, Dwight follows him and proceeds to, messily, kill him in a bathroom stall. While escaping, Dwight drops his own keys in the bathroom, and ends up having to steal a limousine Wade was brought home in. The car itself is registered still under information leading back to his sister’s home. Dwight finds his sister, reveals what he has done, and begs them to leave in case the Cleland family decides to take their own revenge. Of course, this is what eventually happens. These events spark a brutal, raw war between Dwight and the rest of the Clelands, who will seemingly stop at nothing to avenge the death of Wade.
blue-ruin01The most excellent part about Blue Ruin, aside from Macon Blair’s absolutely phenomenal and subtle performance as Dwight, is the fact they didn’t try to make the lead character into some kind of ultimate assassin who has suddenly come into his own after deciding to take revenge. I mean, it’s awesome to see action, a bit of blood and guts, all that, but it’s nice to also see Jeremy Saulnier write a character who is very real and lifelike. Dwight only knows he wants revenge. He proves, time and time again, he does not know how to go about actually taking it – but still it drives him. Like any of us if our parents were murdered, Dwight is consumed by the thought of revenge. When we first see him try to kill Wade it is an absolutely astonishing mess. It really works because most of us would have no idea how to grab hold of somebody and cut their throat, other than to grab on and try, which is exactly how Dwight goes about the kill. This doesn’t go as planned, and things get really sloppy. I think immediately this shows us Saulnier’s revenge thriller is unlike most in the sub-genre. That’s a-okay by me. I think this is a really fresh film because it doesn’t fall prey to the same slips and traps as others in the sub-genre do. The market nowadays is flooded with tons of revenge thrillers, especially after Liam Neeson and Luc Besson’s Taken became a runaway hit.
blue-ruin04The acting in Blue Ruin is absolutely spectacular. Macon Blair has gotten a lot of praise for this role. Rightfully so. It is a real subdued performance, and you can feel the pain of Dwight coming through, radiating out of Blair at almost every moment. There are also times where you can just tell he is not equipped to deal with the murder coming along with his revenge – one scene, after watching a man get his face blown off, shows him on the side of the road by his car puking out his guts. In general, though, he really plays a broken down man here for the most of this film, and it is some of the finest acting in the last decade. Some of the best really in the entire revenge thriller sub-genre. Period – ever. I loved it so much solely because of Blair. It doesn’t hurt there are a few good supporting roles. Always awesome to see Devin Ratray – best known as Buzz from Home Alone. There is mostly focus on Blair, as he’s alone a lot of the time, or preparing himself for the revenge. However, there are small roles worth checking out here, and they fully round out the cast instead of just having Blair acting up a beautiful storm while no one else does anything. It’s nice to see even the smallest roles performed well.
blue-ruin05The cinematography in Blue Ruin is gorgeous. It really looks great. Especially when juxtaposed with all the grim scenes. Some of the effects are just as great. Right off the bat when Dwight tries to kill Wade there is a nice bit of savage practical blood work, and you know right from then there will be more and more of this to come. The brutality in this movie really fits because it’s very real. There are not a ton of situations where you just marvel solely at how impossible it would’ve been for one person to setup such a scenario. Instead, Dwight rolls through this movie very unprepared, and the gruesome, bloody scenes usually reflect this raw and real nature. I really loved a particular headshot that comes just after the last half hour begins – it looks amazing, and the sound design is incredible, as Saulnier easily and briefly represents how far away the bullet comes from. Very cool effect.
blue-ruin02Overall, this is a perfect film to me. Saulnier has created a very brutal, raw image of the revenge thriller. He takes it out of the ridiculousness of Hollywood and how big budget films treat the sub-genre. This is a spectacularly written, directed, and acted film. There’s nothing wrong here. I think this could’ve easily become generic fodder, like many of the Taken rip-offs (and also the awful Taken sequels themselves). Saulnier opted not to do anything like this. Blue Ruin is probably the best crowd funded film out there. He really put the money to great use. The cinematography makes the bleak & grim story come to life, and Macon Blair puts on a performance that should be nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Check this out. You will not be disappointed by this amazing modern revenge thriller.

ALMOST HUMAN: Help, My Best Friend is a Murderous Alien!

Almost Human. 2013. Directed & Written by Joe Begos.
Starring Graham Skipper, Josh Ethier, Vanessa Leigh, Susan T. Travers, and Anthony Amaral III. IFC Midnight.
Not Rated. 80 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
Almost_Human_Premiere_BD
While this was made in 2013 and released in certain areas, this didn’t make its way to Canada until 2014, so it’s one of my favourite films of the past year. Though, I’m sure many will have their own issues with this film directed by Joe Begos (his first feature), this is one of the best alien abduction films in the past decade. It’s a lower budget independent film, but it packs all the solid punch of a really great big budget sci-fi thriller.

Almost Human tells us of the disappearance of Mark Fisher, who is sucked into the sky by a mysterious blue light, as he leaves behind a helpless lover and his best friend Seth (Graham Skipper). Almost two years later, lights in the sky appear just as they did that fateful night. All of a sudden, Seth’s small town suffers a rash of brutal killings possibly perpetrated by one man. It turns out Mark has come home. While he may be almost human, he is still far from it. He came back to take what’s his, and to help his abductors begin a reign of terror on planet earth.
AlmostHumanJoshFeatYes, there are a few instances where the acting in Almost Human is not perfect. I don’t always need an indie film to have stellar acting. I can’t handle bad acting, and there wasn’t any here, but certainly a few scenes could have been played better with more experienced actors. That being said, none of these small moments ruin anything in the long run. They do nothing to subvert the tension or the horror in any way. There’s just a couple “oops” moments where you’ll probably think to yourself they should have done another take or two – unfortunately, that’s not always hot things work, especially when it comes to indie film. Whereas some may think these bits detract from the overall film, they don’t. Just a few minor bumps in the road. Begos put together a really awesome little cast. The lead actors had chemistry together, and that’s one of the most important things. The opening scenes were really great suspenseful, tense moments and this really shows how well the cast work together, at their best.

almost-human-620x248I admire any film that tries to go for something less typical. While there are a few shots in this movie that will no doubt remind you of other alien abduction films, mostly it is some really fresh material. For instance, I know people will think of Fire in the Sky particularly, as that’s probably one of the greatest alien abduction films out there. Period. But this really takes on a much different angle, where the aliens aren’t merely abducting humans – they’re beaming them up and essentially arming them to go back to earth and either destroy or reproduce. Not only that, there are a few incredible effects that were very effective in making this a different film than the norm. One of the craziest moments is when Mark finally gets hold of his former girlfriend Jen – alien Mark latches onto her between the legs in order to fertilize her with the some more little alien babies. This was just wild and disturbing. The men are given similar treatment, but not anally, just through the mouth. I don’t know what that says about Begos or the aliens, but either way I thought it was a really unsettling and scary way to play out. It was bad enough watching Mark suction his alien mouth onto some of the men he implanted – this moment is just WHOA. I love it though, as sick as it is, because the whole thing works. This is a horrorshow for alien fanatics.
ah2-e1403025137805I’ve got no problems giving Almost Human a 3.5 out of 5 stars. Sometimes it frustrates me when people respond the way they do to new, fresh ideas. While this is a tale we’ve sort of seen before, it’s still different. We have a few movies dealing with aliens taking human form and hunting down actual humans, or just aliens preying on humans in general (everything from Predator to The Hidden), but this plot is really spectacular and original, as opposed to so many formulaic alien films. There are some incredible effects, which really drives things along in an alien-themed horror film.  A lot of the ways people envision aliens are extremely played out, but Begos opts to mostly show the aliens in terms of them commandeering human bodies; we get their sounds, their bodies (the suction cup mouth-thing), all that sort of stuff, while the aliens are still inside human forms. So in that way, Begos doesn’t have to go ahead and give us any full-fledged looks at one of the aliens. This way, the budget isn’t overblown, and playing into the title, makes things much more human.
gargawrgn_largeI’d recommend any fans of alien abduction films check this out. There are some fresh bits in here you don’t want to miss out on, and I think there are also a lot of great horror elements to make this a must-see. This is a great throwback to older horror movies, as well. It has a retro feel without really trying to pursue it – the whole mood and atmosphere sort of falls into place with everything else, all on its own. Begos is a talented young filmmaker. I hope he’ll continue to try and bring innovative ideas into horror – whether they be totally original, or interesting twists on familiar stories. Regardless, this shows a lot of potential. It also deserves a much higher rating than it has online, as well as deserves more praise in general. Great alien horror fun! Plus, the end was pretty savage. Some may call it typical, but it was pulled off better than most who go for the same sort of finale.

Not Everyone’s Cut Out for POKER NIGHT

Poker Night. 2014. Dir. Greg Francis. Screenplay by Dough Buchanan & Francis.
Starring Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Titus Welliver, Halston Sage, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Giancarlo Esposito, and Michael Eklund. XLrator Media.
Not Rated. 104 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★

Poker Night-thumb-630xauto-51561I’d anticipated this movie just because of the trailer. Now, sometimes this can come back to bite me in the ass. I’ve been known to be duped by an interesting trailer, or even a bit of great artwork from posters, covers, et cetera. However, Poker Night really surprised. It’s got a phenomenal ensemble cast while also containing a pretty good central performance by young Beau Mirchoff, who I’ve never really seen in anything particularly great. Not to mention, the story of the film is really fun, and the way director Greg Francis chooses to show it play out, how the plot unfolds sneakily at times in front of our eyes, really helps this become more than just a VOD film. This really deserves respect. It’s a pretty good crime-thriller with awesome bits of action, a drop or two of pitch black comedy, and a nasty villain.
PokerNightFeatPoker Night takes the form of a titular card game – a group of veteran detectives get together to play poker, as they have for a decade, and use this as an opportunity to not just bond with rookie detectives, but to also instill them with lessons in the form of them all telling a story from their career’s past. The young rookie, Jeter (Mirchoff), is not just the new guy – he was involved with Amy, the young daughter of one of the veteran detectives (played by the always excellent Titus Welliver) who has recently gone missing. Despite this, they get together for their card game, and the older guys on the force try to help Jeter become one of the elite. After the card game, though, Jeter ends up taking a call. This turns out to be a trap sprung by the man who has taken Amy. Soon enough, Jeter wakes into a world where he needs to use all the advice given to him and the stories told by the veteran detectives at poker night to make it through this situation. From here, the twists and turns come flying.
PokerNight-2134_rev-thumb-630xauto-51576I think this could have easily been a by-the-numbers thriller. Instead, this has a bit of everything. I realized this would be a pretty damn good movie once the villain was introduced. He has this great introduction when he explains himself to Jeter – the director throws in this really great dark comedic bit where the villain talks about his former life, and all the while in a flashback he’s dressed in suit and tie, still with his creepy mask on. I thought it was so funny, and also really disturbing; when he lays out his ‘2 rules’, I actually dropped my jaw a little because it was so forthright and brutally honest. Very dark subject matter at this point. Really dig it. There are times when films go for the dark, creepy vibe and instead it comes off more in a cheesy, typical way rather than being fresh. The fact Francis steers the villain into real vile territory works well because, coupled with his later violence particularly towards Jeter, he seems like an actual maniac. Even with an obviously fabricated mask, it’s still scary. He does seem funny at times, but intentionally. He doesn’t come away as a cartoonish type villain, like some of those included in franchises such as James Bond. There are a few moments with the villain that were admittedly a bit of a stretch imagination-wise. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this character.

POKERNIGHTEXCCLIPFEATThe most interesting part about Poker Night is how the stories become the framework of the entire film. For instance, while Jeter listens to each detective tell his own story/lesson, he himself actually goes through the memory; in this sense, he’s literally putting himself in their shoes cinematically. It’s a really effective technique. Not only do we watch Jeter experience these stories firsthand, as I mentioned before he has to put these experiences to use in order to escape the villain and hopefully save Amy. It could have turned out real cheesy had the director sort of carbon copied the stories into exact situations from which Jeter had to escape. On the other hand, he sticks with the moral behind each lesson from the detectives – example: never give up even when things are stacked against you, or when you’re on your own do whatever you can to get yourself out of a bad situation, and other such bits of advice. This prevents the movie from feeling too hokey. While Jeter uses all the advice, the situations he encounters where the advice needs to be used aren’t too on-the-nose. Not for me, at least. All of this really makes Poker Night unique.

Some may say the flashbacks within flashbacks, techniques like this, cause disorientation or confusion. My opinion is that if you can’t follow this movie, I don’t know what sort of plot you’re looking for to stay entertaining. This is not hard to follow. It’s a unique film, but it’s not confusing in any sense. Pay attention from the get-go and you will have no problems whatsoever following the plot. The flashback sequences and the bits involving Jeter walking through the detectives stories are refreshing. They keep things exciting and a lot of fun at times, especially depending on which detective is telling the story (Eldard & Welliver’s in particular are both cool but also pretty funny).
PokerNight-1563-thumb-630x423-51571I found the cast great. While not all of them had their rightful chance to do a whole lot, they were all pretty wonderful together. The chemistry between them all during the card game scenes is just fantastic. If any of you have ever sat around a card table, you know much of the banter, policemen or not, goes on just like this between a bunch of men. The way they ribbed one another and joked, it was all so natural that I couldn’t help but get attached to the characters. Mirchoff and Perlman had some pretty good chemist as well during other scenes. I just love Ron Perlman, anyways, so to see him play a tough, no nonsense type of cop is really great; he gives bits of his dramatic chops up, and also plenty of his comedic talent. Altogether, the cast really makes things work.  If there were a bunch of people who had no chemistry this whole thing would’ve come off very flat. Instead, it’s raw, fun, and exciting in equal doses. Plenty of great laughs.

Overall, this is a really good movie. Absolutely worthy of a 4 out of 5 star rating. There was a lot of darkness in this thriller. While we get some great comedy and drama mixed into the pot, the dark angles of the film really help this standout. At times, there’s a Tarantino-esque influence happening, and I can also feel a bit of Joe Carnahan’s influence in there at times, honestly. One of the best things about Poker Night is the villain. I really loved his flashbacks in particular, as they never once gave up his identity by keeping his weird mask on during those scenes, even when it’s downright awkward and hilarious. I sort of knew who would be the villain just because of the cast, and the guy who plays him is really great at darker roles, but regardless I thought it wasn’t so much about his identity anyways – it’s not like there’s a twist involving him (or maybe there is? Muhuhaha). The villain really made this something special. Lots of good dark comedy, but mainly a great deal of sadistic violence and mayhem. You should absolutely check this movie out! Great and dark crime thriller. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It isn’t a perfect film, but in a sea of really average films, especially crime thrillers if we’re being honest, Poker Night stands above it with some exciting characters, good dialogue, and a wholly interesting premise.

Madison County is Weak & Trite Backwoods Horror

Madison County. 2011. Directed & Written by Eric England.
Starring Colley Bailey, Matt Mercer, Ace Marrero, Joanna Sotomura, Natalie Scheetz, Nick Principe, Dayton Knoll, Adrienne Harrell, and Katie Stegeman. Image Entertainment.
Rated R. 81 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★1/2mcpbOne of the young characters asks the question “where did he get the ideas if they weren’t true?” at an early point of the film while inquiring about a local legend the locals say is only just that – nothing more.  This really represents the sort of tired dialogue and story inherent in Madison County. Granted, the character speaking the line isn’t exactly the brightest seeming sort of guy, I still find it a really rough portion of dialogue. At least Eric England had the sense enough to let the old woman who’s asked the question explain it to the young man. Still, it is a bad piece of dialogue.

Other than this film, I’m actually a fan of England after seeing his most recent effort, Contracted, and I really would like to see his portion of Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear. He definitely has his own unique vision, I just don’t think that vision is most fully realized in the mediocre effort of Madison County.
MadisonCounty_4This movie tells the story of a young group who head into the backwoods of Madison County. They’re looking for an author of a book which details the real life account of horrible murders that took place there years before. Unfortunately, Madison County is much, much more horrifying than any book could ever make it seem. Once they’re in the small town, things escalate from one thing to the next, and as the day wears in it’s more than obvious they’ve stumbled across more than the author of some book. And they will be lucky to ever make it out of Madison County alive.

The plot description I’ve given could really sound like that of any other basic slasher movie taking place in the backwoods country of any state on the map. It’s real formulaic setup. I can’t really say much for how it developed, either. There isn’t much going on in Madison County to make me feel like England put a new spin on slasher material. When I said the dialogue is lazy, as well as the story, I don’t mean everything is totally a waste – there are moments of good dialogue, and also a few scary bits now and then. However, it’s the laziness which really overtakes the entire film. For instance, on their way into Madison County, the group encounters the archetypal “messenger” character many horror films include – the old man, often, who gives directions that lead a group into horror territory. On the contrary, here the group opt to not take the road mentioned, as it will most likely get them lost. This subverts our usual expectations for horror movies with this sort of setup.
37273398.pngThe first time we see the man wearing his pig mask, I thought that was done pretty well. I was sort of expecting something would eventually happen, but regardless I found the shot itself where he is introduced pretty chilling. We see a nice wide shot of the victim standing on top of a tiny waterfall, getting ready to hopefully jump in the water with two naked young women, and then – BAM – pig mask killer. There’s nothing revolutionary going on here. It’s just a really effective opening to the killing, which begins in full throttle after this scene. Also, the inclusion of the two girls is key – after the victim is stabbed and dumped in the water, the girls casually get out, as if their job was done – and it was, certainly. We get a lot of information here because if there were any hesitations as to whether or not the town itself were all in on the killer’s secret, those are completely dispelled after this death scene. Honestly, this is probably my favourite scene in the film. Effective and creepy.
madison-county-movieMy problems with this film are the problems I have with many horrors, and slashers in particular. I try not to judge a lot of characters in these movies in regards to real life – you can’t judge how you would react when confronted with a pig mask killer, or Leatherface, or any of these horror movie killers. That being said, if I’d seen my close friend with a baseball bat jammed into his mouth, blood spurting, a man in a pig mask standing over them, I would run until my breath ran out. Instead, the girl here runs until she finds one of her friends. Then the action slows down – she is crying, she can’t complete a sentence.  Sorry, but this is just awful. I mean, anyone would probably just run, even after meeting up with the friend. Yet we’re treated to another real mess of a horror because of ridiculously stupid decisions coming out of very tired writing. If that’s not enough, England has the pig mask killer creep up on the two friends moments later, right behind them on a dirt road nonetheless – but of course neither of them hear him. Somehow he manages to be quiet enough to wait for a really good swing, and still he misses. It’s just situations like this which do nothing for the slasher sub-genre. It makes the characters look stupid. Most of all, though, it makes the writer look sloppy. Basically, after the creepy introduction to the pig masked man, it loses the appeal and reverts back into the same old garbage. The whole section where he is chasing the two girls really grated on my nerves – so many bad choices, not only by the girls but also by the killer. Another example is when one of the girls decides to lure the killer away. I still don’t understand, at all, why the killer didn’t just take a nice swing at the one girl’s neck, kill her, and then chase down the other one. This movie makes no one out to be smart – neither the killer nor his victims. Too many missteps on every side.
matt-in-madison-countyFor a slasher, there are a few nasty bits. On the whole, however, I wasn’t overly impressed with any of the horror gags. I like the first knifing, but that was mainly due to the introduction of the killer, and how nice the shot itself looked; pretty aesthetically pleasing overall. Aside from that, the blood wasn’t anything spectacular. Most slashers try to go for an interesting kill or two. Madison County sticks mostly with a lot of axe-work and things of that nature. Not that I don’t like to see a good axe murder on film – don’t get me wrong, I do. I just think a slasher really needs to try and do something different to set it apart from the usual, typical pack. Even if it’s a few neat little bits of blood and guts, or a couple visually cool kills – there needs to be a defining element if the filmmakers want it to go above the hordes of low budget slasher horror movies out there stinking the place to high heavens. I feel like England could have done something much better. His latest film, Contracted, was really great on all fronts – innovative, gross, creepy. This is his second feature, so I don’t expect him to have been a master, but I do wish there was something more to this than the regular fare so often pumped out.
71728366.pngI give this a 1.5 out of 5 stars. There were a couple moments I enjoyed, mainly due to the level of violence, which helped it as a slasher. Unfortunately there were not enough of these to make this anything memorable. I can guarantee I will not be watching this again. I’d seen it once before, and watched it today for review purposes. After this, I won’t revisit Madison County. It’s a by-the-numbers slasher, set in the backwoods, and there’s really nothing special here to take away. If you want something at least more creepy, maybe check out Just Before Dawn or even Deliverance, because this just does not deliver as a backwoods horror. I hope to see more from England, and maybe wouldn’t mind seeing him take on a slasher movie again. If he does, there will hopefully be better characters, dialogue, and all around a more complex, original story than this altogether unremarkable slasher outing.

True Detective Season 1 Blu ray Review

True Detective. 2014.  8 episodes directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga; written & created by Nic Pizzolatto.  Starring Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, and Tory Kittles.  HBO Home Entertainment.  Rated 18A.  458 minutes.  Bonus Material Not Rated.  Crime/Drama/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Season 1)
★★★★1/2 (Blu ray)

true-detective-posterThe story of True Detective looks, on the surface, as similar to other television shows about police officers, serial killer cases, troubled partners with their own separate and troubled lives; you know the type. There are a lot of things, though, to separate this one from many of the others.

Nic Pizzolatto’s show begins its first season in the year 2012 – Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), former partners, are being interviewed about an old case involving a young girl named Dora Lange who was found dead in 1995, bound with a set of antlers placed on her head. Two detectives seem to be looking back into Lange’s death in relation to a new murder, which could be connected. The storyline spreads from ’95 to 2012, as well as hovering around 2002 when things went sour between Hart and Cohle. While the two men battle their own private lives and mistakes, they’re confronted with a possible conspiracy stretching across the state of Louisiana. Everyone believes the Lange murder to be some type of “occult murder“, but Cohle particularly deeply suspects a vast cover-up involving everyone from church officials to governors to the police force itself. Hart reluctantly follows Cohle until it becomes painfully clear he is most likely right.
Church4.998153ba2083cf214ffe0b0ce75d4e721-1024x576While the description I’ve given of the plot might even sound like a riff on Serpico or Prince of the City, it really is a fresh detective show. While many have accused Pizzolatto of stealing material from Thomas Ligotti (I won’t go into it here – look it up), I don’t necessarily agree. There is a lot of really good material. It isn’t all about McConaughey’s performance (which is amazing), nor Harrelson’s either (also amazing). It’s not even about Cohle and his whimsical conversation with the present day detectives sussing out from him what they can, or his great banter with Hart in their driving scenes, particularly the very first episode of the show. There’s simply a really great mystery to this show. Even when Pizzolatto really gives us a few great clues, ones not too hard to follow through, there’s still a lot of excellent tension. For instance, even in the final episode when we clearly know who the killer is there still exists a really tense and dreadful atmosphere. Right until the finale of the episode, it’s hard to predict what might happen in the end. At least in my mind. I thought to myself, several times, in that last episode I knew where things were headed – and constantly, Fukunaga and Pizzolatto really played with my expectations. That atmosphere carried through the entire first season of True Detective.
True-detective-1x02-7-660x371Another excellent thing about this first season is the presence of all the red herring material Pizzolatto doles out in many episodes. I’ve seen a lot of really thoughtful interpretations, pre-season finale, of who the killer might turn out to be, who is involved in the massive conspiracy. I’ve also come across a fair share of really mental interpretations too far out into the psychosphere (dig it) for me to give any modicum of credence. But that’s what makes some shows really engaging and interesting. When fans of the show, even certain people who rag on the show with what they deem to be formulaic interpretations, can’t stop discussing possible theories it really goes to illustrate how well the show has reached an audience. I’m not saying it isn’t divisive – it certainly has been. I just think Pizzolatto really did some great, twisty writing.
77b7a1297702fc3c5315bc8f0cd27376There was a point in time I really believed Marty’s father-in-law had some sort of involvement in the grand conspiracy, and maybe there is a chance that’s still the case (I don’t believe so – doesn’t make it so), but this is the great part – Pizzolatto leaves little trails of bread crumbs that don’t go anywhere, that play part in the coincidence of the real world, the unforeseeable events in life, and lead us off on paths of pure imagination. I mean, there are several little red herrings such as Audrey’s situation. For instance, Cohle calls his daughters down to dinner and as they leave their room he notices Audrey has placed 5 male dolls around a single female doll in a very inappropriate and suggestive manner. There’s also a small drawing in Hart’s house representing the spiral image drawn on Dora Lange’s back in the first episode; one of his daughters drew it. These little clues are really red herrings. Pizzolatto does not want the answers to come easily here, as he shouldn’t, and these extra bits really help to send a lot of people off on imaginary tangents, thinking of who the Yellow King really could be, et cetera.  Genius writing.

There are a few similarities between True Detective and the British trilogy Red Riding. Both take on stories about corruption and murder in rural areas; the original murders sparking both plots are similar, as the Red Riding story starts with a girl found dead, wings put on her back (as opposed to the antlers on the head here). One scene in the first Red Riding film with Andrew Garfield playing a reporter named Eddie Dunford is reminiscent of a scene in True Detective where Cohle visits a woman in a mental institution and drives her into hysterics; one difference mainly has to do with the difference in their occupations, as Dunford’s visit is followed by a severe beating at the hands of the police for bothering the woman, while Cohle is disciplined by his superiors. Finally, each of these shows has a young male prostitute who provides links to the murdered girl, albeit in different ways. Not to mention, in Red Riding the prostitute plays a much bigger part. Whereas Cohle only meets the young male prostitute present in True Detective during a single scene, which is basically thrown in as an extra link to something fishy going on in the main case. There are no doubt some similarities between Red Riding and True Detective, but mostly I would say they are coincidental. Certainly, most of these similarities are either connected to the similar themes (corruption in police force & authority figures), and the majority, if not all, are only really connected to the first Red Riding film; the other two in the trilogy really don’t connect up much, aside from the aforementioned police corruption angle. I think maybe Pizzolatto might have been influenced more by the novel Red Riding is based on instead of the films, and either way the influence is no more than a bit of the surface. Each of these works are quite different and aim to accomplish much different things.
0dc4717d0993ceb137a808855fdf745cThere are a few specific points I’d really like to address in regards to some of the deeper meaning behind True Detective overall.

First, I want to mention the reoccurring number five. I believe the first time this really comes into play is when Hart and Cohle interview Dora Lange’s mother, Mrs. Kelly (played by the fabulous Tess Harper) – while Cohle looks around and Hart asks the lady questions, he notices a picture of a young girl (most likely Dora) surrounded by five men on horses, each of them dressed in what we later learn are costumes for what’s called Courir de Mardi Gras. In the second episode, as I mentioned earlier, Hart finds his daughter Audrey’s dolls placed in a very promiscuous situation: five male dolls surround one female doll, one of the men is hauling down his pants to have sex with the girl.
abf745923f5bc60ce83a1ce9bcd11abaFurthermore, in the present day scenes during the latter half of the season, Cohle drinks beer while being investigated and cuts them up: he places them in a circle of five, indicating the undiscovered members of the grand conspiracy (harkens back to those five horsemen in the picture at Mrs. Kelly’s home).
Most people might look at this as another instance of red herrings, or some such idea. However, in literature specifically, the persistence of numbers, especially in earlier literature such as from the Middle Ages, usually has a kind of significance. I happen to believe the number five here happens to refer to the pentagram, or a pentangle as it’s referred to in an index of the Middled English Anthology edited by Ann S. Haskell.
dolls-660x438This ties into the plot of True Detective directly, as we clearly see in a scene with villain Reggie Ledoux – when Hart and Cohle arrest him, his back is visible and has a massive tattoo of a pentagram, more specifically the Sigil of Baphomet. These instances of the number five all tie in to the evil angle – the five horsemen are dressed just like those men in the video Cohle finds and shows to Hart in Episode 7, the beer can figures point to the five horsemen, as do the dolls in Audrey’s room. They might not be the only repetitions of the number five. They’re just the ones I’ve noticed. I think these little details are the sorts of moments which really elevate True Detective above a lot of the detective procedurals on television, and on film for that matter. Provides more to dive into aside from the main case the show focuses on with the story, and offers endless hours of re-watchable scenes.
p6k4k1-660x370One of the biggest things, for me personally, I ended up realizing was how Cohle sort of ended up predicting the future when he talks about being able to “smell the psychosphere“, and that it tastes like “aluminum and ash“. Maybe others noticed this quickly, but I think it’s something a lot of viewers never once thought about for a second. In the present day while Rust is being interviewed by the two new detectives looking through the old Dora Lange case, he is continuously smoking (ash) and drinking out of (aluminum) beer cans. He’s literally unable to escape the psychosphere he first found himself in. This was one thing I really enjoyed. Coupled with the end of the episode where Hart and Cohle meet up once again in 2012, Cohle’s broken taillight (not fixed since their decade old fight from 2002), this really goes to show how all of this case, everything in it, the fact it has not truly been solved and it was his case, really stuck to Cohle. There is nothing to do except solve the case because if not there is truly no escaping it. Having this “aluminum and ash” come back as a part of the story, in a very slight sense, was a really clever way of tying things from the past back into the present, showing how the entire atmosphere of the case would never really wash of Cohle. Another instance of the great writing inside True Detective.
378d71d234884a15171ed60aa326844eUndoubtedly, one of the greatest parts about the entire first season is the excellent character development.

There’s Hart, who is basically a by-product of the misogyny inherent in the place he lives. While he is not one of those elite predators who uses his authority to help cover-up the murder and abuse of young women, Hart is nonetheless affected by the overall state of misogyny and the atmosphere of where he lives. This can be seen through his treatment of women throughout the season – his daughter, his wife, his mistress. There’s even the thread where he reconnects with a young hooker from earlier in the season; Hart interviewed her in connection to Dora Lange in ’95, and later he begins to sleep with the girl when she’s older. This really goes to show, when he’s trying to reconnect with his wife, how much his heart is truly in a normal relationship. In ’95, Hart gives the girl some money and tells her to “do something else” – Cohle then ribs him by asking if it was a down payment. Of course, later we find out it really was an early payment for services to be rendered. Maybe Hart didn’t know it then, but his ideas of women would never change. Though she was older, the fact Hart could engage in a sexual relationship with the girl after seeing where she came from, the life she grew up in, and our look at his hypocrisy after having taken offense with the older lady who’d been pimping her out in ’95, it’s obvious this man is only good as a detective – he is a true detective, and nothing else. He can’t be a good father or husband, truly. Only good at enforcing the law.

Cohle is not perfect, however, he’s much more about control, as opposed to Hart who represents a real loss of control. McConaughey did a great job of playing Cohle, with all the philosophical thoughts and out-there theories. I don’t know if anyone else could have done such a great job with the material given. Cohle has a lot of different things going on. I really like how his story came to a close by the end of the season, and part of the pessimistic attitude he’d been displaying for most of the episodes tied off, or at least loosened a little. While coming face to face with death, he finally discovers there may possibly be something beyond the brink, or maybe not – regardless, he finds out the thought of something more than life, pas death, isn’t as terrifying and ignorant as he once thought it to be. On the one hand, I also think Cohle provides a really great opposite for Hart in the sense he is a man who lost his wife and child (the former because of the latter’s death) – Hart has those things but does not appreciate them, and yet he really wants to have those things in his life. On the other hand, Cohle lost it all, and whether or not he would have it again if that chance was available, he seems to really not have wanted it to be with – maybe this is due to the death of his child, maybe he has been this way all his life. I just think having Cohle be the way he was, Pizzolatto provided a really great antithesis to Hart; having them as partners really juxtaposed their separate world views and created more tension between them than what naturally existed in their dialogue. Not to mention, having Harrelson and McConaughey, two real life friends, play these characters worked better than could have ever been expected.
10-true-detective-1-1940x1091I have to mention the 6-minute tracking shot in Episode 4 “Who Goes There”. This is a monumental scene in television. Probably the best scene of any television show I’ve seen in the last 5 years or more. Honestly. Even shows I love like The Sopranos and The Wires also from HBO never had such incredible camerawork as this; while there were a lot of great scenes in both those shows, nothing like this. Just the sheer size of this tracking shot is really amazing. I can’t get enough of it. Right from the moment Cohel grabs hold of a hostage, the camera never breaks, following him through this whole scene. Fukunaga mentions on the Blu ray release how there was a need to give this scene some sort of tension – we know Cohle makes it out all right because we’ve already seen the 2012 narrative partially, so we’re aware he has survived – so the tracking shot itself serves as a way to really keep us in suspense, as we literally ride along with Cohle. I thought it was the most thrilling scene of the entire season. Tied only with the big finale with Hart and Cohle facing the murderer in his self-made world of Carcosa. If nothing else, you’ve got to give it to True Detective for really knocking this particular episode out of the park.

The Blu ray release from HBO is absolutely on point. While I expected maybe just a smidgen more, there are still some great features. To start, the picture and sound on this release are beyond perfect. While I watched True Detective several times over already, the Blu ray actually ended up revealing more to me than I’d ever noticed. Just little small bits. Everything is so clear and gorgeous here from the music, the sound design, to the spectacular sweeping shots of landscape and rugged terrain of Louisiana. Then there is the audio commentary, including bits from Pizzolatto, which really help the shed light on the overall production. One featurette on the release called “Inside the Episode” gives us bits from each episode with thoughts from both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto, covering everything from story, to writing, to directing, editing; all of it. There are really valuable pieces of insight from the writer and director. Definitely worth watching at least once. Also, there’s a Making Of featurette; this encompasses everything including some interviews with the actors, et cetera. Finally, there are some deleted scenes, as well as exclusive interviews with Harrelson and McConaughey concerning the filming of the series’ first season. All in all, a bunch of great stuff making this Blu ray a must-purchase for any real fans of the show. As in most cases, the picture and sound alone are worth it. I can’t get enough. I’ve watched the episodes through a couple times now since getting the Blu rays. Wonderful release.
true21Anyone who has seen True Detective knows it is either loved or hated – I don’t think there is much middle ground. My opinion is that this must be one of the best shows ever on television. Lots of people reference shows like Twin Peaks, and others, but I really think aside from influence and maybe a bit of homage, this series stands on its own. No matter if the second season turns out to be a bust, this first season is a classic bit of television. All of it was shot on film, giving things a really beautiful look, and the fact both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto were on board for the entire season really helped with its overall vision. I know there are those who don’t exactly dig the show, but I really find True Detective to be in a league of its own. I hope the show continues to prosper, I’m really looking forward to what Pizzolatto has in-store for the second season. Pick up this Blu ray if you loved this as much as I did, and you will not be disappointed in the slightest.

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