From Timo Tjahjanto

MACABRE is Brutal & Fun & Wears Hooper on its Sleeve

Macabre. 2009. Directed and Written by Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto (as The Mo Brothers). Starring Shareefa Daanish, Julie Estelle, Arifin Putra, Sigi Wimala, and Ario Bayu.
Gorylah Pictures.
Unrated. 95 minutes.
Horror

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Only discovering Timo Tjahjanto through V/H/S 2 and The ABCs of Death, as well as the fabulously deranged recent outing Killers, I was pleased to be able to finally watch his and Kimo Stamboel’s Macabre. Together, they are The Mo Brothers, and they are vicious. That’s for sure.
What I really liked about Macabre is how it shows audiences in the Western world that people from other countries, other continents, do enjoy good ole gory horror like us Canadians and the Americans down below. Not to say it’s an average film because I really think it’s a fine piece of horror, but I think often hardcore horror movies like this with the setup of a family in a lonely house, all of them homicidal, seems to be pegged as an American style. It isn’t, and The Mo Brothers show us all how it’s meant to be done.

The setup for Macabre is nothing innovative or overly new – a young group of six friends are on a big road trip when they come across a girl named Maya from out of nowhere. She says she has been mugged, and so the group of friends help her; they take Maya to her house, which is coincidentally and conveniently enough for The Mo Brothers, deep in the woods. On arrival the friends meet Maya’s very grand mother, Dara, who is both beautiful and mysterious. Once there Dara is grateful they were able to help Maya, and so the group eats dinner with the family. From then on the once happy road trip becomes bloody murder, literally, and the friends discover what lurks in the quiet house is beyond nightmares and full of death.
Macabre-1I enjoyed that the group of friends were young, but not so young this was a sort of teen slasher. This could have easily followed too much of a formula. As I said, this doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, however, it could’ve really fallen into some traps had it tried to fill the film up with beautiful-looking teens like Hollywood and Western films so often do. Instead Macabre is very frightening because the characters are real, they feel normal and not character types being marketed. Perhaps that’s part of the benefit of The Mo Brothers making this film in Indonesia, they didn’t make it within that Hollywood style system.
Of course there are plenty critics who’ve decided Macabre is derivative of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other similarly styled films, most of which all owe to TCM. I don’t think this is derivative. I believe The Mo Brothers know their influences, and they pay homage within a certain context. Outside of a few things there is enough in Macabre for it to stand on its own and not be lumped in as a copy of something else. For instance, just some of the scenes and how they were filmed are great, like the first moment we see the chainsaw – not only is it wildly gory and brutal, there are neat shots from the chainsaw’s perspective, and the way The Mo Brothers have really elegant, beautiful music playing over top instead of actually hearing all the blood gushing and the bone crunching and people crying in the next room… it’s just… perfect. Sure, we’ve seen that cannibal angle before, and certainly TCM did a fine job of really putting the whole “cannibal family in the backwoods” genre into perpetual motion for the rest of film history, but whatever – it works. I can’t knock this film for using these supposed tired cliches because for Macabre those things work.
macabre-2009-19338-156041570For one thing, the acting is pretty good in this movie. There are several scenes where people are crying, yelling, screaming in pain. There are also highly intense pieces, especially those involving Dara later on, which showcase the chops of the actors. I really enjoyed the character of Ladya (Julie Estelle) and I thought she was played very personably, not reacting/acting the way typical female roles are written in the majority of horror films whether American or otherwise. I can’t not mention Dara, played excellently by Shareefa Daanish, because it would be insane – she may seem like that typical ‘head of the family of cannibals’ we see in these types of movies, but she is much more, and there’s some eerie quality about her that lingers, maybe it’s in her eyes. Either way, Daanish is a revelation here and keeps much of the horror on that razor’s edge where it can be horrifying and so immersive at the same time. All the roles are well performed, but Estelle and Daanish particularly really draw out the emotional intensity of the film and take it out of the realm of a lot of films that truly are trying to knock off The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
macabreAnother thing I enjoyed about Macabre is how it doesn’t come at you glossy and perfect and shiny. Instead, there is real grit to its look, and I think this has a part in its overall effect on me. The reason so many modern horrors, specifically American-made horror films, are not up to par is due to the fact they look way too glossed over, as if the whole film print had been slicked down with oil. Even when those movies are trying hard to look gritty they still end up coming out like shiny little diamonds. I mean, the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came off like a big budget fashion commercial with Jessica Biel running around with her pants hanging at her ass cheeks, and all the forced-looking dirt and grime; it wasn’t all terrible, but lord, was it rough. That’s where a film like Macabre keeps it snout out in front of the race, because it doesn’t sacrifice atmosphere and tone for the sake of looking like it has a ton of money behind it. Not that the movie looks cheap, either. Not saying it does, I think it looks great. There’s just a nice gritty quality to the film which keeps it from coming out like a Michael Bay remake special.
macabre-photo5Ultimately I have to say this is a 4 out of 5 horror in my eyes. There’s enough to satisfy a lot of areas for horror fans. There is a ton of gore, some style, that grit, and the actors all hold up their ends of the collective bargain. The Mo Brothers are a great team. Having seen the recent Killers, I can confidently say these guys are on top of my list of awesome horror directors I’ll continue to watch in the future. They have that hardcore sensibility while still retaining the good qualities many horror filmmakers lack – the ability to write decent characters/dialogue for them to speak, the ability to create atmosphere and sustain tension, among other things. Plus, I like the final 25 minutes of Macabre so much because it is real damn creepy and the gore, quite literally, explodes + SPOILER AHEAD: one moment when a man in the house finds a picture of Dara from the 1800s is just awesomely nasty, in so many ways. Great, great stuff to finish things off on in a finale that is as outrageous as it is fun.
If you aren’t into subtitles, you’ll miss out. I’m not a snob – I understand some people just don’t process as fast as others, and therefore really get no enjoyment out of trying to both watch and read at the same time. There are some out there who get their nose up and act like “well if you can’t watch a subtitled film you’re not cultured”, but that’s rubbish. My girlfriend loves a lot of great movies, and she does enjoy reading books, but it isn’t her cup of tea to watch a movie and have to read the dialogue; for her, watching a film is good enough visually. That being said, she caves and watches foreign films with me, and enjoys them. But I get that certain horror fans aren’t all that into subtitles – what I say is, throw that out the window, at least for Macabre. It’s worth the time because it’s one of the best gory horrors I’ve seen in the past few years. Might not change the industry, but Macabre is solid frightening horror with a good dose of sanguine streams to satisfy all the gorehounds out there, too.

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APOCALYPTIC(ally Bad)

Apocalyptic. 2014. Directed & Written by Glen Triggs. Starring Jane Elizabeth Barry, David Macrae, and Geoff Pinfield. Dark Epic Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Drama/Horror


apocalyptic
A lot of people seem to have had more than their fill of found footage. Me – I’m not quite done with the sub-genre. Of course, that’s me, I like to wring the life out of something until there’s no fun left in it anymore. Not really, I just try not rush and judge something by its predecessors before giving it a full chance.
Unfortunately there’s nothing in Apocalyptic that was worth waiting for, in any way. I’m always a sucker for a good, creepy poster, and the first one I’d seen is not the one I used here – it has a shot of some frenzied, bloody-mouthed person running into the frame. I thought it was decent, but certainly a poster is nothing by which to judge a film.

The premise is pretty simple – a pair of filmmakers, Jodie (Jane Elizabeth Barry) and Kevin (Geoff Pinfield) are going to get a first-person perspective on some sort of cult-like religious group, all under the care and eye of Michael (David Macrae), who is himself fairly unsettling. Things are strange from the start when they come into the woods where this group lives and are met by two females, one older than the other and both dressed in the same attire, and then they are lead towards the house where they live in the country to meet Michael. They learn Michael picks one of the women around the dinner table after they eat, and that one must go with him, staying with Michael through the night. Naturally, the situation deteriorates, as Jodie notices one night that Michael picks a very, very underage girl, and off they go to the bedroom as if nothing is out of the ordinary. From this moment on, nothing is the same as it was before.
eePY7kQBasically there isn’t much of anything that makes this film worthwhile. All I can say is that there are some really wonderful looking shot, gorgeous to see in an eerie, spooky sense, but there is little-to-no substance throughout Apocalyptic. For instance, (SPOILER AHEAD) once the big moment of the stoning comes later in the film there is almost no suspense or true tension to keep us tethered to the characters/plot emotionally, and it comes off terribly. I don’t like to rag on a film by being too cheeky, but man, was this part ever poorly pulled off. It could’ve carried at least some weight, instead it’s just like a big metaphorical premature ejaculatory incident caught on film. The camerawork in the scene is bad – and yes, it’s found footage, but there’s no need for it to be unwatchable, there are plenty of these types of movies where it’s not all shaky camera angles and garbled frames – and the acting is poor, and the whole look of it effects wise is just kind of embarrassing as far as I’m concerned. This scene could’ve come off as a whopper and really freaked people out, but it is far from that type of moment.

Worst of all is the climax of the film, at the finale. Apocalyptic‘s final ten minutes plays out like a bad rendition of Jonestown, Michael as the stand-in Jim Jones, like The Sacrament except in the dark and not nearly as well-directed as Ti West’s movie. It’s the same thing you’ve seen time and time again – people flail around in the black frames, occasional scenery popping in and out of the darkness, screams, a bit of blood, discovering bodies laying on the floor. A real mess. Sure, you say, “they’re all like that”. Well, no they aren’t, sorry to break it to you. Sadly, Apocalyptic took a concept that worked really well in something like V/H/S 2 for Gareth Huw Evans & Timo Tjahjanto in their short “Safe Haven”, and Triggs fumbled a chance to do different things. West’s movie worked because it was basically a contemporary look at a Jonestown-esque event in our society, nothing groundbreaking yet it was effective and unsettling. Whereas Apocalyptic aims to be different, poses as something different, but ultimately does a near exact replica of the most well-known aspects of Jim Jones and the whole massacre in Jonestown. (SPOILER AHEAD) The very end plays out like the last few moments of Jones’ life, and of course like West does with The Sacrament. So there is really nothing at all innovative about any part of this movie, which is a shame. Cults are always good for a bit of horror.
apocalyptic2I wasn’t overly taken by anything in this one, aside from some of those juicy creepy creep shots like images sort of lost in darkness and a few that were covered in a fog, like a mist wrapped the frame. I’ll give Triggs 1 star, solely for those few fleeting moments, and I did like the opening. However, once the mystery started to slip away and the plot revealed itself, I was less an less taken, found myself not really caring about anyone in the film other than the poor young girls being obviously abused and raped by Michael. There just was no emotion. Even the main performance by David Macrea wasn’t anything to write home about. He tried, a valiant if only decent effort. It just was not enough to lift Apocalyptic out of tedium, a pit of boredom, and the whole thing is not even mediocre, it’s bad. Whereas a film like Red State, which I personally loved, had someone such as Michael Parks to really propel the movie into another stratosphere of excellence, Apocalyptic did not have any of that, from either of the lead characters. If maybe there was a great scare in the end, moments which were downright terrifying, or even a bit of wild gore or effects, I might have been able to give this more than 1 star.
But no such luck in life. This was a rough one to sit through – believe it or not, I watched it twice just to see if there was anything I’d missed in my first round of boredom. I don’t recommend it, only for completists who want to see all the found footage they can get their grubby mitts on. Almost not even worth the time and eyeball moisture.

V/H/S/2: A Mixed Bag of Nasty Tricks

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

★★★1/2 (Movie)
★★ (Blu ray release)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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