From VOD

Pod: Backwoods Indie Alien Horror with Teeth

Pod. 2015. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Larry Fessenden, Lauren Ashley Carter, Brian Morvant, Dean Cates, John Weselcouch, and Forrest McClain. High Window Films.
Rated R. 76 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2
podv3-681x1024If any of you may have read my reviews before, you might know that I’m a big fan of films which are of a specific genre and still they have the ability to cross over genres. The classic example is Alfred Hitchock’s adaptation of Psycho by Robert Bloch – the way we think the story is all about Marion Crane, but then Norman Bates shows up and the story takes on a different air. Same goes for Proxy, a viscerally intense horror thriller from Zack Parker, which I believe took much inspiration from Hitchcock and his classic horror film and seems to move between genres in a similar fashion.
So, for all its faults, I do like the way Pod starts out with an opening scene that’s very horror-ish, or at least highly suspenseful, then moves for a while into an extremely serious, often dour family drama before coming back to its horror elements.

Pod tells the story of Ed (Dean Cates) and his sister Lyla (Laurence Ashley Carter) who are heading up to a cabin in the winter in order to retrieve their out of control brother Martin (Brian Morvant). He needs an intervention of some sort. When they arrive, though, things are far worse than they’d ever anticipated. Ed is already worried, having received a frantic and terrifying call from Martin.
Once there, Martin tells his siblings he has something trapped in the basement, that there is a “pod”. He reveals scratches all over his body, infected and sore.
But after the worst happens, Ed and Lyla must confront what really is down in the basement. It most certainly is not of this world. Suddenly everything their crazy brother Martin had told them seems to be horrifying true.
IMG_1848I’ve been a huge fan of Larry Fessenden now for a good 14 years probably. I remember I saw his film Wendigo, an eerily low budget psychological horror, on some television channel late at night. Totally floored by it, I sought out anything he’d done before then kept my eyes on him afterwards.
What’s great about Larry is that he’s a fun horror director, while also popping up in the films of others as an actor. I think he likes to take on roles with young filmmakers he finds interesting, or just any filmmakers in general, young or old, he thinks has some talent. So to see him in this film is pretty great. He was in Mickey Keating’s previous directorial effort Ritual, which I’m planning to see soon, so I gather Fessenden must enjoy Keating and his filmmaking to have signed on for another of his films. He isn’t in this one much at all, though, to see him show up a little is enough for me most times.
IMG_1846Then there’s also the talented Lauren Ashley Carter who I’d first seen in The Woman and enjoyed. Then I caught her on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in a decent role. However, it wasn’t until the film Jug Face, which I own and love, that I saw what Carter is really made of. She has great range, as is evidenced by watching her across a couple films.
Here she plays a young woman whose family clearly has issues. She’s an alcoholic, her brother Martin (Brian Morvant) is most obviously a man with drug problems and all sorts of other compounded issues. It’s intriguing to watch her here, as opposed to Jug Face in particular, because this character is even more complex.
I really found the chemistry between Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) and her brother Ed (Dean Cates) worked very well. The beginning of the film for the first 10-15 minutes is a lot of them, alone together as they travel to give Martin a sort of impromptu intervention. It’s definitely a rocky relationship, though, we’re able to glean a sense of their family, their past, and it doesn’t require a huge amount of expository dialogue. There’s definitely some of it, but we get tons simply from how Ed and Lyla interact with one another. Once Martin actually comes into the picture, there’s plenty more family tension and further dynamics at work.
We get bunches of history about the family, especially Martin. Turns out he did something pretty terrible to a woman named Edith – flashes of a couple Polaroids with a VICIOUS BLOODY injury to her face come up really quick – he thought she was feeding him arsenic, that she was a spy of some sort. So it’s obvious why Ed, and to a lesser extent Lyla, is reluctant to initially believe anything Martin is saying. No matter what horror may come later, at the time it’s certainly relatable and understandable; Martin’s got psychological issues, plus the fact he was in the military and who knows what he truly saw, but it’s affected him in some highly real ways due to delusional thought.
A while later, Ed reveals to Lyla that the woman named Edith was a nurse. Martin tried to essentially rip her face off and escape from the hospital. So again, we see more of why the siblings – mostly Ed as Lyla seems to believe Martin slightly – have a tough time trying to trust anything Martin might say.
This all sets up the drama of the family, but what that serves to do is make all the thriller and horror aspects of the script come out even more intensely, as we’re sort of riding alongside Ed and Lyla listening to the insanity of Martin before – BAM! – everything kicks in.
IMG_1847Loved the style of how the film was shot. Not only that, the sound design and the score helps the suspense and tension of so many scenes. One awesome bit is just before the 30 minute mark, as Martin retells the story of waking up in a government lab; he’s a soldier who’s clearly seen some SHIT. But what I love is the score, the sound design with its crackling fuzzy noises slamming loud with the music at the right intervals, and all the while we’re closing in on the door of the cabin Martin has locked. There are scratches around the door, near the locks, it’s clear something is in there whether brother Ed wants to believe it or not. Definitely creepy style.
This sets up a really great atmosphere, another aspect of what I love about good horrors and thrillers; any films really. If a nice atmosphere and tone can keep up throughout a movie, then there’s a good chance no matter what I’ll walk away with something positive to think and feel about it, even if not every aspect is great. What Pod absolutely has going for it is a tense atmosphere throughout, a dark and sketchy tone.
One amazing, brief shot is after Ed pulls Lyla off to talk in private. There’s an excellent slow motion style shot, as Lyla stares wide-eyed at Martin while heading upstairs; she sees her brother grabbing his head, like a million voices are pounding his brain, and he looks so tortured you can almost feel his pain.
IMG_1845There’s a genuinely shocking moment near the 50 minute mark. I knew Martin was pretty crazy, despite the obvious weird happenings at the cabin, however I couldn’t see what he did coming. Not by a long shot. I don’t want to spoil anything too much, so I won’t say exactly what it was, but be prepared! It’s not vicious, definitely gory though. Mostly it’s just a good, solid shock that puts the final half hour into a really thrilling frame.
Once Ed and Lyla open up the padlocked door in the cabin, I thought the room itself was superbly creepy. It’s cast in this reddish light, there are drawings and doodles everywhere, writing on pages just tacked to every open space on the wall – the set design and anyone who worked on the room sure spent a nice bit of time making the place look like the stronghold of an insane man. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, but the way Keating directs these scenes it’s definitely tense and has a spooky air of mystery.
My most exciting moment, personally, during the film is when we get the first bits in the basement. Ed is walking around with a flashlight, and at first it seems like we’re simply watching an angled shot of him, when in reality it’s a view from the eye of the pod, or whatever it is hiding down there. VERY VERY EFFECTIVE! I loved this moment because it was a nice touch, unexpected and a little unnerving at the same time, too.
IMG_1844I’m not saying that Pod is a perfect movie, not at all. My problem is that when I went online to see what people were saying, so many moviegoers – likely many of whom pirated the film instead of paying for the pleasure – seem to say “Oh it’s like an hour of arguing and screaming”. There is plenty of arguing, definitely some screaming at points, but what did you expect? This is a riveting family drama for the first quarter or so, then it plunges into a mystery thriller before hitting the horror stride full-on within the last half hour. I mean, there’s no real doubt Ed and Martin would be yelling at one another. First of all, Martin’s psychologically damaged, he’s probably taking some drugs, Ed is completely fed up with his brother. Naturally there will be some fighting. So I just can’t agree with anybody saying this is ALL arguing and yelling. It’s not. Plus, this is a horror film and there are intense scenes of – you guessed it – horror. So I don’t see it as totally unrealistic that maybe people would be yelling at certain points. You don’t think you’d be frightened? Not even when a hideous, terrifying creature of some sort is coming up the stairs out of the dark after you? I call bullshit.
IMG_1842 IMG_1843With one whopper of a final 20 minutes, I can’t say that Pod is a bad film. Honestly when I go on IMDB and I see that a good indie horror film, with sci-fi elements, has a low rating like 4.5 (which would equate to about a 2 out of 5 star rating by my site’s terms), I’m consistently amazed at how lame a lot of people rating online have become. What’s so bad about this movie you’ve got to rate it THAT low? The acting isn’t bad. Lauren Ashley Carter does a great job as Lyla, Dean Cates is solid in his role as the caring and serious brother Ed, but can you really deny that Brian Morvant did a terrific job with the character of Martin? If you say he’s no good, I just feel you’re kidding yourself. It was a frenetic performance and it came off well.
I did love the inclusion of Fessenden, at the same time his character and how quick that aspect lurches into the film is one of my only big problems with Pod. I’m fine with the whole angle of someone protecting the pod, or having a part in the pod being there – whatever. The part I cannot abide is how swift that part came on, there’s no real buildup to this scene. I’m not asking to have things spelled out for me, though, there’s no way I can jive with how suddenly Fessenden’s character showed up and what he’s done (I won’t spoil it fully).
Ultimately, I’ve got to say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There’s an intensely horrific final 30 minutes, beginning with a gory throat cut then introducing the alien/pod in the basement, which all ramps up to the creepy and messy finale as Ed faces off against whatever the thing is Martin had been warning him of all along. The effects are KILLER here and I thought the pod/alien design all around was so perfect! The sounds it makes at the end while fighting with Ed are outrageous, I loved it. Unsettling piece of horror with that small sci-fi twist.
See this and absolutely DO NOT pay attention to all the slagging going on over at IMDB and other online sources. People who probably don’t appreciate film are the ones commenting, I see many of them brag they’ve not paid for it in any way and downloaded it for free, so honestly I don’t take people that seriously if they’re not willing to pay for films. Just sours my view on someone’s perspective when they’re robbing filmmakers then shitting all over their movies.
So get a copy legally, watch it, then tell me how you feel. I’m not saying everyone will love it, merely I believe this deserves more attention than the people online are giving it. They’ve clearly not paid attention to the worthy aspects of Mickey Keating’s film because there are likeable elements which I enjoyed a great deal. Nice little indie horror film for a rainy day when you want to get creeped out.

Mark Duplass is CREEP(y)

Creep. 2015. Directed by Patrick Brice. Written by Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Starring Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Blumhouse Productions.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Comedy/Horror


★★★★★creep-posterI know Mark Duplass mainly from two sources – his amazing portrayal of Pete on FX’s raunchy fantasy-football comedy The League, and the film Baghead which he co-directed with his brother Jay Duplass. He’s a great talent, and of course I’ve seen his other work; another film he wrote and directed with his brother I love is the acerbically funny Jeff, Who Lives at Home. But it’s his performance on The League I love most.
In Creep, Mark Duplass channels brief spots of Pete, which I think are mostly culled from his own personality anyways, and yet there is a real childish gentle quality to the character he plays – at least in the beginning. This, above all else, drives Creep into terrifying territory.
The film starts with Aaron (Brice) who is heading to meet someone he has contacted through Craiglist that wants to be filmed, of course in exchange for money. Aaron arrives at a cabin in the hills where he meets Josef (Duplass) who explains he is dying, and about to be a father, so he wants the video of him to reflect the good & bad of him; later to give to his son. Josef wants to be filmed constantly. Even as he strips naked for a bath, what he calls “a tubby“, which is recorded all for his yet-to-be-born son, Josef asks Aaron “are you okay?“, and seems to want him to be at ease during the process. Uncomfortable, yet harmless, the conversation and relationship develops between Josef and Aaron, but all is just not as it seems.

For those who don’t want a small portion of the film spoiled – turn away. I think when I really started to finally become unsettled is partway through the film as Aaron shuts off the video on his camera, but leaves the audio recording, and Josef reveals something he’d never told anyone before. It starts off like a weird animal porn story, evolving into a quasi-rape Josef says he perpetrated on his wife while wearing a wolf mask. This comes only awhile after we first see the mask – Josef tells Aaron initially the thing was a mask his dad had, a character named Peach Fuzz that he’d developed. But once the story is told, which worked well only as audio because it ratcheted up the suspense, the wolf mask takes on a new terror.
creep-mark-duplassWhat I love most about Creep is that the found footage sub-genre is used appropriately. Maybe there are a few minor nitpicks, but for the most part this film really follows the unwritten rules of the sub-genre to perfection. Best of all, the premise of the story fits in very organically with found footage.
Even further I think the idea of the whole thing initiating from a Craiglist ad is a great post-modern twist on the genre; while scary and enjoyable as a movie, it actually makes you re-think the whole idea of the online communities such as Craiglist where people anonymously perform transactions on everything from professional jobs to the unprofessional world of buy, sell, trade, and online prostitution. But most of all, the fact it’s just two guys, two characters, for the most part in one remote setting the greater portion of the film really works for the whole story. The found footage sub-genre often fails and seems beyond stale when the style is being forced inorganically into a situation where there’s disparity between how a camera should or shouldn’t play into each scene, and so on. This in turn stirs the nitpickers who will tear a film apart, sometimes rightfully so, to say ‘this doesn’t follow the “rules”‘ or what not. The sparse setting, characters, and basic plot really help the environment remain controlled and helps showcase the found footage style without too much going on.
Picture 1The moment that got me most is the phone call from Angela, when Aaron picks up the phone. A real great reveal, so to speak. It sort of peels away Josef’s facade slow with each sentence until you sort of gasp to yourself – not terror, but the feeling of the moments before a terror strikes – and from that moment on the creepiness descends upon us in torrents, waves, scene after scene, up to the end.
The mask really creeps me out. At first it wasn’t so scary, but in the final half hour it becomes the thing of nightmares; one scene, as Josef wears the mask and stands blocking a doorway, is spectacularly weird and creeped me out wholly.
There’s a genuine amount of suspense going on throughout the closing fifteen minutes or so, an air of dead, which ultimately leads to a real shocking conclusion. I thought it was about to go one way, yet still the finale was surprising, and didn’t come exactly as I’d expected it to. Duplass really makes the last couple scenes pop with the creep factor he puts out, and you should freeze frame it if you can right before the credits roll – a very dark, suggestive shot, brief and yet long enough to get under the skin. Then the title appears, the credits go, and you’re left to ponder. Great stuff.

I’ve got to give this a full 5 stars. Going into any Blumhouse film I’m honestly weary. There are a couple films I don’t mind, a couple I like, and then several I hate. Creep delivers the goods. Sure, it’s a very contained and limited film, but that’s not to say those are negative commentary. As I said earlier, I think found footage can be terrible if it tries to put in too much, this is exactly why Brice’s film is directed so well in my mind, why the shots all work and things seem to flow naturally without being forced. This is one of the most efficient uses of the sub-genre in horror. Along the way there are some excellent comedic moments, mostly dark I think, and they come in little bursts. I honestly found myself dropping my jaw a few times, amazed at the way things were going in the awkward relationship between Aaron and Josef – I watch a ton of horror, I’ve seen a ridiculous amount of gore and shock horror and all that, but regardless, Creep has so much tension, suspense, and the performance Duplass gives is creepy beyond belief, that the film goes over perfectly.
See this, ASAP. It’s on VOD via iTunes, and I would assume other platforms, today. Real great little watch. It isn’t an outrageous horror with elaborate plot, it doesn’t have any blood in it, or monsters, or supernatural entities – it is a straight up, balls to the wall psychological horror, and it melted me. I loved it. I can’t say that enough. And not to ruin anything, but I hope that they’ll expand and go for a sequel. No doubt Blumhouse is already champing at the bit for a sequel, or two, or three. This is one film I wouldn’t mind seeing more of, maybe even a prequel to see Josef before he arrived to his relationship with Aaron.
This is a creeper of a movie. I can’t wait to watch it again.

WE ARE STILL HERE Channels Fulci

We Are Still Here. 2015. Directed by Ted Geoghegan. Written by Ted Geoghegan & based on a concept by Richard Griffin. Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, and Larry Fessenden. Dark Sky Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Horror.

3.5 out of 5 stars
we-are-still-here_poster
I’m a big fan of horror, big fan of Barbara Crampton, so naturally I was excited when I heard We Are Still Here would be an old school haunted house style outing with her as a main character. And while it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, it’s a head above most modern horror. Not to mention there are excellent moments of horror and also fun, interesting characters, which help remind us of the 1980s without trying too hard for nostalgia.

Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) are moving into the countryside of New England to an old house where they plan on starting over. The move is brought on by the death of their teenage son. Unfortunately, once they arrive at the house things begin to get strange. An old couple seem to have more than just genuine interest in them, and the house makes Anne feel as if there are spirits living there, as if she can feel their son within the walls. As the house’s history literally haunts the new tenants, Paul and Anne must figure out how to stop it, or at the least – how to make it out alive.

In general, I thought this was a fairly solid horror effort. The directing is sharp. Ted Geoghegan has done a fine job crafting the film into something partly fresh, partly old, but one that is certainly full of atmosphere and packs a nice little jab in some of the creepier moments.
Immediately I’ll start with the two small pieces of We Are Still Here I did not particularly enjoy.
First, there’s a death that I found beyond tired and played out – I won’t describe it fully, but it comes once the house starts taking victims. A character gets out of the house, into a car, and seemingly away from the evil… only to be surprised down the road, as a ghost is hiding in the backseat. My initial problem is that once the character got out, I thought “okay this is going to go a different way than most other films that use this type of scene”. It went exactly how I expected. That’s fine sometimes, my problem with this is that it sort of tosses the movie’s own ghost logic out the window – if the ghosts can leave the house, why do they need to wait until someone moves in to wake up every 30 years and take souls? This made me wonder.
Second, I didn’t like how the ghosts looked. They were kind of generic, the look wasn’t too terrifying or anything. Maybe that’s the way they needed to look because of the story, I get that. There are just certain films, which aren’t necessarily bad, where the ghosts or monsters [or whatever they are] don’t look scary like they ought to, but again – this look was mostly in part due to how the people died that eventually show up as ghosts, so I can’t exactly fault the effects. I just didn’t find them super effective in the end.
WE-ARE-STILL-HERE_Andrew-Sensenig-and-Barbara-CramptonNow, on to what I did enjoy. The performances were fantastic. You can pretty much bet your ass Barbara Crampton will give a good performance if she’s given a good script. I thought Crampton did a spectacular job ranging between the normal grief we feel and then all those supernatural feelings some get when confronted with death. I thought Crampton and Andrew Sensenig had great chemistry. Sensenig played an excellent character; little bits of his old-fashionedness came out with his remarks about women drivers and all those foolish yet harmless jabs. This really set up the idea that the husband was a much more skeptical type of person, very old-fashioned and set in his ways, which contrasted with Crampton. Then of course there’s the wonderful pairing of Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden as the New Age couple May and Jacob Lewis. They each did well, but Fessenden is always a treat. I love him as a director and even more as an actor – he always has a fun little part to play whether it’s in his own movies, someone else’s, or even on the FX comedy Louie. Marie and Fessenden were perfect as the binary opposite of Crampton and Sensenig. And once the story gets crazier, Fessenden really has a few good scenes to chew apart. Overall, if the acting were bad this film would not have succeeded. However, these four really were great, and the supporting characters were also played nicely.
WE-ARE-STILL-HERE_Larry-FessendenThe best part of We Are Still Here, for me, is the atmosphere and general feel Geoghegan conjures up with a lot of well-crafted cinematography, editing, and tone. Even the final shot of the film, as one character stands in a doorway looking to the basement, reminds me of an older movie. The atmosphere definitely has that retro-feel, but as opposed to other movies which try hard to get that across I think Geoghegan’s is a much more natural feel. The house itself has a lot to do with that, it’s a great little place in the country and there’s an ever-present nostalgia in it; reminds me of a cabin in the rural part of Newfoundland where I’m from, a lot of those places almost feel like houses out of time, stuck in the 1970s and 1980s when they were first built. So I think some of the throwback feel Geoghegan wrings out of the film comes organically.
Another of my favourite parts is how the film centers on an older couple. There are a couple younger characters in the film, but this is almost entirely about the characters of Anne and Paul, and what they were going through after their son’s death. So many modern horrors, even the ones trying to pose as retro, are entirely based on characters who are millenials – I’m one myself, born just after the end of the so-called Generation X – and that is honestly tiring. Young people aren’t the only ones who love horror; plenty of horror fans out there grew up in the ’70s/’80s when horror really had some balls, innovation, and a hell of a lot of ideas. So, I think Geoghegan’s film is great on that level because we get to see a story, while typical, yet instead of a bunch of young people in their late teens/early twenties being killed for 84 minutes we’ve got more of a mature look at something so familiar. It doesn’t offer much new, but does give a different perspective on the haunted house for a generation getting so used to drivel like Paranormal Activity.
we-are-still-here-imageThis is definitely a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It was refreshing to watch. Like I said, it isn’t necessarily a brand new take on the haunted house sub-genre of horror. However – I really enjoyed it. The couple small beefs I had with the movie aren’t enough to ruin the whole experience. Crampton and Sensenig did a solid job together, and Fessenden really livened things up during the middle part of the film. Geoghegan has a knack for creating atmosphere and setting a specific tone, so I hope to see something new from him sooner than later. We Are Still Here is, for all its faults, one of the better haunted house films to come along in the last decade. I can confidently say that, even with the problems I had. Check it out on VOD, or if it’s in theatre anywhere near you get out and take the chance. I don’t think you’ll regret spending the time to watch it, and you might find a creep or two just for you lurking in there somewhere.

THE STRANGER is Eerie Indie Vampire Horror

The Stranger. 2015. Directed and Written by Guillermo Amoedo. Starring Cristobal Tapia Montt, Ariel Levy, Luis Gnecco, and Nicolas Duran. Sobras International Pictures. Unrated. 93 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.

★★★1/2
the-stranger-poster Eli Roth, though some may say different, is a great talent. I enjoy his movies because they’re fun. I really enjoy him as a producer, as well. He manages to find people with interesting little concepts and help the directors/writers/et cetera bring them to life. One such film is the latest from writer-director Guillermo Amoedo, The Stranger, which is now available through VOD platforms.

The film has a fairly simply premise we’ve seen before – the titular character, the ever mysterious Stranger (Cristobal Tapia Montt) ends up in town looking for a woman. One night, a group of idiots confront him for no other reason than boredom. Peter (Nicolas Duran) watches these same idiots leave the man for dead, beaten, stabbed in the street. After the group leaves, Peter heads back and takes the Stranger home to his place. From there, the Stranger’s arrival in this small town creates a number of problems, all falling over one another, and everyone he comes in contact will be affected.

This isn’t a perfect film, nor can say I it’s perfect to me, but it’s a real great little independent horror. One of The Stranger‘s biggest strengths is that, while still remaining balls-out horror, it does not push too far too soon. Good horror can be like good food – way too much at once and it’s no good, boring even. There are good hardcore horrors, but the absolute greatest, in my opinion, are those which deal out equal doses of horror and of character, good dialogue, and a certain feel. For the most part, The Stranger has those.
4guide_the-strangerMy biggest complaint is the dialogue. Some of it is pretty good – I like a lot of the exchanges between the Stranger and Peter, especially nearing the end, for reasons you’ll understand once you see the film. The cop, played by Luis Gnecco, is my issue. I don’t know what’s worse, Gnecco or the written character. I think the dialogue was really stiff when it comes to the cop, and there were some cringeworthy moments between him and his son, played by Ariel Levy. Gnecco doles out some terribly stunted, flat, and downright boring delivery. To his defense, I really don’t think that character was written well, along with the other police officer who seemed highly one-dimensional.
Other than that, I was impressed with the acting. Particularly I thought Cristobal Tapia Montt was excellent in the role of the Stranger. He played very subtle, laid back, which gave the character a great vibe; instead of the whole ‘tough guy outsider’ he seemed more fragile, even when angry, and the brief outbursts from the regular subtlety he conveyed were still contained, they were like a scared and wounded snake. I think if the Stranger had been miscast there could have been major problems, the character needed the qualities Montt brought personally. Very expressive actor.
THE_STRANGERI like that there weren’t jump scares and all the typical bells and whistles modern horror movies often move towards. This one bucks the trend, or more like what’s become a habit. The atmosphere of dread builds towards intense scenes or shots, in turn this makes the fear more visceral than many modern horrors with shiny cinematography, jump scares, pretty looking actors, and CGI buckets of blood. I like that there weren’t jump scares and all the typical bells and whistles modern horror movies often move towards. This one bucks the trend, or more like what’s become a habit. The atmosphere of dread builds towards intense scenes or shots, in turn this makes the fear more visceral than many modern horrors with shiny cinematography, jump scares, pretty looking actors, and CGI buckets of blood.
The slow reveal of what’s really going on behind The Stranger‘s story is what propels this movie past a lot of recent efforts. Even once you’ve figured out what’s happening, who the Stranger is, the rest of the film doesn’t come off as played out or tired. From the beginning things get going. In the first fifteen minutes I was actually thinking to myself “this is a bit too vague”. However, by the time I thought that the mystery quickly wrapped me up. The more things are given out to us in terms of backstory, the more I found myself thrilled with the suspense, wondering when we’d find out exactly who or what the Stranger might be. There are some slowburns which really don’t end up being worth how slow the burn was, but Amoedo does a fantastic job creating a perfect atmosphere.
the_stranger_stillI can safely say The Stranger is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There are things I would’ve loved to see changed; mainly my problems with the cops, particularly Luis Gnecco, and the dialogue. One thing I also keep coming back to is that I wonder why there was a need they felt to set the film in Canada? I’m a Canadian, and love to see fiction of any kind set in my country, but it just struck me odd after watching that there was any reason the filmmakers would have set it in Canada. Not that it’s a bad thing, just strange. Especially seeing as how they didn’t shoot it in Canada.
I highly recommend giving this movie a shot. The main character does a great job, as does the actor who plays Peter. The dialogue them both is spot on. There is plenty of horror, it’s just doled out sparingly, when it needs to be. So those of you horror hounds who need the blood, hang in there – blood will come. The make-up effects are so damn solid; later on, the character Caleb (Levy) has some injuries and they are incredibly nasty looking, stellar practical effects.
I don’t want to say exactly what “type” of movie this is – you’ll figure that out once the plot moves along. Let’s just say it’s one we’ve seen plenty of. Yet this doesn’t feel like it is jumping on the trend or anything, this is a genuinely fresh take. Amoedo isn’t exactly offering up completely new visions of this sub-genre in horror, but I do think he’s given us something at least not as predictable as others, and certainly not squeamish – late in the film there is one severely nasty little kill, emphasis on little, which harkens back to ballsy films like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 containing a kill along similar but different lines.

Snatch this up on VOD – I love seeing independent horror making waves lately. There seems to be a change of tide, people are recognizing, as those of us who love the genre have always known, that horror is not all just blood, guts, killers. There is more to it, and the indie horror scene in the past few years now has been really churning out the good product; not all, but plenty. So support this, hopefully you like it, and equal hope to seeing more fun, innovative ventures in the horror genre from interesting minds like Guillermo Amoedo.

PRESERVATION is All About Female Survival

Preservation. 2015. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton, and Pablo Schreiber. The Orchard. Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
Preservation-2014-movie-poster
I’m a fan of the survival thriller sub-genre, whether it’s something strictly thriller based, or a film that’s a little more horror oriented. I’ve enjoyed films like Southern Comfort, the classic Deliverance, and even horror survival movies such as the 1981 cult classic Just Before Dawn and more recently Eden Lake. Preservation is a pretty good little movie, but fails to reach the heights of the movies I’ve previously mentioned. Christopher Denham (most of you will remember him from various projects as an actor like The BayArgo, a small role on The Following, and the excellent sci-fi indie Sound of My Voice) did a really great job directing his first film in 2008 – a found footage horror called Home Movie about one family’s harrowing path to madness. I really loved that movie/own it. While I do enjoy Preservation, and think there are several awesome aspects to it, I don’t enjoy it near as much as his previous effort.

This movie tells the story of Mike Neary (Aaron Staton – most recognizable as the face of the video game L.A Noire) and his wife Wit Neary (Wrenn Schmidt), along with Mike’s brother Sean (Pablo Schreiber – the well-known Porn Stache from Orange is the New Black), who take a camping trip together out into the great outdoors. Mike and Wit are having some intimacy issues, as his job seems to be coming before their relationship – not to mention the fact that early on we see Wit is hiding a possible pregnancy from her husband. Further than that, Mike’s brother Sean has recently come home on leave from the army. Or at least that’s what he first told Sean. Once in the woods, things start to change.
After they go to sleep on their first night out, the three of them wake up: all their belongings have vanished, including Sean’s loyal dog, and each of the three have a large X marked on their forehead with marker. From there things become a gripping story of survival, as Mike, Sean, and Wit have to defend themselves against unseen assailants hiding amongst the trees of the forest.
PRESERVATIONAREADENHAMFEATThere were a few surprising moments throughout the film. I wasn’t totally shocked or anything – the kills weren’t particularly gruesome. At least not for someone like myself who watches a ton of horror, and I do mean a ton. Too much even. I’m not totally desensitized. Some say they are, but that’s too bad for them. I still have fun and get excited and get freaked out at the movies. Preservation didn’t really have any awful kills. Though, they were done well, I must say. I liked the tension mostly. Denham did a great job at drawing out the suspense and really grinding on the tense moments. One specific scene I really enjoyed was when Mike gets trapped for a few minutes in a portable outhouse – I thought the tension was thick as hell here. Really good stuff. Being a horror hound, I would’ve enjoyed more raw kills here. This was a good movie, decent enough, but could have definitely turned things up a notch with a bit more gore. Maybe. Maybe not, as well. There was just something missing along with all the tension Denham managed to work into the movie.

One thing I did enjoy was the character of Wit. Past here, we’re getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so please – if you don’t want to get the movie spoiled you should turn back now!
preservationfeatI think Wit’s whole situation, involving the initially hidden pregnancy, really played into the whole plot and helped her character stay very interesting. Personally, I found the aspect of her not being able to shoot an animal and then having to face off against real human killers a little tired. This sort of angle has been played out far too many times. What I really did enjoy about Wit was the fact she was about to become a mother. I think once we discover these are just kids hunting them down for, basically, a laugh, it really becomes something much more intense for Wit particularly. She has just discovered awhile ago that motherhood is upon her. Now, all of a sudden, these kids are reigning terror upon her life. I mean – if that’s not birth control food for thought, then what is? This angle of the plot was really interesting for me, and fresh. We’ve seen the kid killer thing, even the pregnancy plot, but combining the two worked here. Not exactly unique or wholly fresh material. Just executed nicely.

This is a pretty good little thriller with a bit of horror thrown in. I would mostly call this a thriller. Definitely a psychological aspect. There are a couple really good performances. All three of the main characters are pretty excellent. Though, Pablo Schreiber doesn’t have a huge part I really did enjoy him here. Usually he seems to be pigeonholed into playing the creepy jerk, or the weirdo, the psychopath, whatever – here, he does a great job at playing an outsider type character, but essentially a good guy. He has some acting chops, I’ve always thought that since first seeing him. Aaron Staton is pretty good here, as well. Mostly, though, it is the Wrenn Schmidt show in Preservation. She plays a complex female character who isn’t perfect, who gets the hell beat out of her, and who has to do things no expecting mother would ever want to have to do – and she comes out of it a whole different kind of lady. I loved her performance. This was definitely the shining point.
One other thing worth mentioning before I clue things up – the score is a real treat, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Really added a nice element to the entire film. I’d actually enjoy having it as a standalone soundtrack. Great work.
Preserve_KM_102313_677All in all, this is about a 3 out of 5 star film. I didn’t think it was amazing, but I’ve absolutely seen other movies in the same sub-genre that didn’t satisfy me near as much. Christopher Denham is a pretty good horror director. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his acting – Sound of My Voice is probably his best work in that sense. I do prefer Home Movie over this, although I’d absolutely, and will absolutely, watch this again. This goes recommended for people who enjoy the sub-genre. If not, you may walk away from this less than thrilled. For the fans I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just don’t expect Denham to have reinvented the wheel on this one. Plus, it’s one of the rare modern survival thrillers where you don’t have to watch a woman get sexually assaulted, or have the implications of such things happening off screen – nowhere to be found here. Personally I don’t shy away from something just because of such things, but I do hate movies that use it as a silly exploitation move. Luckily, Denham does no such thing. Sit back, watch a bit of thrilling fun. Might not be the best of the sub-genre, though, it beats some of the lesser titles to death.

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.

The Interview Suffers from Hype-itis

The Interview. 2014. Dir. Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen. Screenplay by Dan Sterling; story by Rogen, Goldberg & Sterling.
Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, and Diana Bang.
Columbia Pictures.
Rated 14A. 112 minutes.
Action/Comedy

★★1/2
the-interview-poster1 This film will no doubt divide people. There are a lot of people who want you to believe watching The Interview is some sort of patriotic act. Fact is, if Sony hadn’t initially backed down because of the threats over its release this would have just gone into theatre. Sure – the threat is what started it, but essentially Sony prevented everyone from seeing it by negotiating with terrorists. All that being said, you should see this just for the fact we should never let anyone tell us what to see, whether it’s a person, a government, our government, a foreign one, or anybody. Never. Now that Sony has decided to put it out, you can through Google, Xbox, and other outlets – plus, it’s a cheaper alternative than actually seeing it in theatre.

People need not be looking at this as some sort of way to take part in activism. It’s not. If the movie were a bit more satirical than outright foolish maybe I’d see it in more of a political light. This movie is in no way actually political. I’m sorry if you see it that way and disagree – I respect those opinions.
Personally, I just can’t enjoy this in any other way than a bit of stupid fun, as opposed to something like Bulworth, which on the surface feels silly at times but really has a true message behind things. The Interview has points it seem to want to make, claims about the way North Korea treats their people, et cetera. Unfortunately, there are less hits than the multiplicity of misses, and there’s mostly just a lot of jokes falling flat. While I love both James Franco and Seth Rogen, they’ve done much better before with This is the End and Pineapple Express.
1ac9e07d1c4826beee272a27e88c8dcb_imresizedEveryone knows the plot of the film because unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, or living in North Korea (and not working for the Supreme Leader), you no doubt heard something about The Interview. Two trashy journalists, host Dave Skylark (Franco) and producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen), similar to the type of guys and gals who populate TMZ’s “newsroom” (pains me to even call it that), end up scoring an interview with Kim Jong-un, who is apparently a big fan of their tabloid show “Skylark Tonight”. The CIA gets wind of their interview and taps them both to assassinate Kim. Of course things go wrong in, supposedly, hilarious fashion, as neither Rapaport nor Skylard are equipped, mentally or physically, to handle such responsibility.
the_interview_2014_photo_wallpaper-800x533One of the first parts I really didn’t enjoy was when Skylark feeds Aaron ecstasy. Now, it’s not because I’m afraid of drugs; on film, they can be especially hilarious when portrayed correctly. My problem with this quick little segment is that it feels like Goldberg and Rogen just said “hmmm we need a segue from one scene to another – let’s recycle”. It reminds me so much of This is the End when Jay Baruchel accidentally drinks a can full of ecstasy; it then kicks into a little montage of them all high as hell getting crazy. I enjoyed it the first time. This one just felt out of place. While I did laugh because I always find it funny in a movie or television show (never in real life – and that’s for fucking real – never do this to anyone) when someone ingests drugs unknowingly, it really is completely recycled from their previous collaboration.

This scene also just didn’t fit at all. They could’ve introduced Lizzy Caplan’s character in any other way. For some reason, they decided this little drug-fueled sequence leading to Franco & Rogen waking up in the same place was the best. Maybe it was to make room for the raunchy, but really hilarious, “dick stink” joke Franco plays out. We laughed pretty hard at this one, I have to admit. Overall, I just don’t think it played well. I know the point was to have the two main characters somewhere alone together, so as to allow for the secret CIA meet with Caplan, however, I have to imagine there was a better way to write this scene than the scene that exists.
screen_shot_2014-11-25_at_4.58.14_amMy problem with The Interview doesn’t lie with all the crude humour or any sort of perceived offensiveness. Not at all.  It’s not particularly a great comedy. In the slightest.
I do find Seth Rogen funny. I’ve honestly considered myself a fan of his ever since Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. I like more of his recent work, too.  For me, though, this is just not a good example of his best work. While Rogen is absolutely one of the funnier parts of The Interview, that isn’t to say it’s one of his funnier movies.
One example of a real good scene for Rogen is when he and Diana Bang share a “love scene” (you’ll understand the reason behind my use of quotation marks once you’ve actually seen the movie). It’s not just funny because of the physical comedy involved – Bang and Rogen are both really hilarious here. Genuine laughter. There’s also another very quick, crude little moment with the two of them I did not expect. The girlfriend and I laughed, as well as being generally surprised, when this happened. It’s quick, but an effective little gag.

I also like James Franco quite a bit. Maybe even more than I like Rogen. No matter how people view Franco I’ll always enjoy his performances because I usually find him pretty engaging, as well as a fairly interesting actor. On the other hand, there are a few of his movies where I don’t really enjoy him. Throughout The Interview I swayed back and forth between finding a few of his scenes funny, to being perpetually annoyed with his character; and that’s not in a sense that he was trying to be annoying. Certain jokes Franco tries to pull off here really aren’t funny. They verge on being worthy of a cringe or two. While I found some bits really funny (example: the bit with Eminem at the beginning was funny), others that were maybe not meant to be as funny (example: Skylark finds some fake fruit setup in a grocery store), certain scenes intended to play for outright laughs went over like a wet fart in church (example: “hate us ’cause they ain’t us” both in the earlier scene with Rogen & later in the scene with Randall Park were excruciatingly bad). There was just such a mix with Franco’s performance as Skylark. I don’t know if it’s how Franco played the character or how his character was written, but I just couldn’t get into him consistently enough to enjoy.

Some say Randall Park is absolutely hilarious in this, as if his performance was a revelation. He was competent enough, and yes, I absolutely did laugh at a handful of moments with him. Regardless, it wasn’t anything great. He looks a fair bit like Kim, though not at all identical, but the role itself (not Park – he did a decent job) isn’t exactly written well. I mean, the stuff with Katy Perry was funny during the tank scene. I laughed hard. Then, once they brought it back from the dead and beat it to death, I just got sick of the whole thing. The role of Kim could have been satirized much better. I don’t understand how anybody can’t see that – world leaders have been skewed with more clever wit in a movie like Dr. Strangelove, where even the Russian president’s role was hilarious while his dialogue is never actually heard, only second-hand through Peter Sellers as fictional United States President Merkin Muffley. That is not Park’s fault whatsoever. The writing for Jong-un’s character in the film was sloppy. They had a chance here to really knock it out of the park with a biting characterization. Instead they went solely for the slapstick comedy. While I do enjoy certain slapstick-style comedies, this just didn’t connect because it was really lazy, opting for silly jokes such as Kim Jong-il telling his son margaritas are “gay”.  On the surface they’re good for a chuckle, but little else.
theinterview01Honourable mention for Franco must go to – the end of the scene where Skylark busts into Aaron’s office to let him know about Kim Jong-un being a fan of the show. Another guy from the show busts in and claims there’s a possible video of Matthew McConaughey having sex with a goat, to which Skylark replies: “Get the goat!  Get the goat! (turns to Aaron) I got some questions for that goat.” Honestly, just the way Franco does the turn, looks at Rogen and delivers the line, absolutely slays me. There are some really great little throwaway lines in here like this. That’s perhaps the problem. There doesn’t feel, to me, like there is much of a constant throughout The Interview, but rather a ton of tiny jokes thrown together in a script. Worse still, many of the jokes, even some of the actual funny stuff, often rely solely on the bromance between Franco and Rogen. I do enjoy their hilarious friendship, I just don’t want to watch a movie where they’re not playing themselves and yet still playing themselves somehow.

While a lot of people have high praise for The Interview that is just one bandwagon I cannot jump on, even if I wanted to hitch a ride. While I found it funny enough to make it through the near two-hour running time, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again. I really wanted to watch it, and pay for it, because I do believe in freedom of speech. Although I don’t necessarily think this is the greatest representation for this particular right, people really should go see it just to make your own personal statement; you should never let anybody, as I mentioned earlier, determine what you can or cannot see in terms of art (I mean real art – pederasts unfortunately use this rhetoric to try and justify their sick visions of “art”).
sethrogenjamesfrancopuppy1201 On the other hand, don’t expect The Interview to really break down any sort of barriers or any new ground in comedy. This really is meant to just be a fun comedy. Due to all the controversy and the hackers, North Korean or otherwise, people want to give this movie more meaning than I believe it ever intended to convey. I expected more in that sense, however, in the end I’m just ultimately disappointed by the comedy itself. I’ve enjoyed lots of what some critics would like to call “low brow comedy” (for instance I love Dumb & Dumber and even lesser loved raunchy comedies like Kingpin), I don’t have anything against crude humour, dick jokes, anything like that – I’m 30 and I don’t think I’ll ever stop laughing at fart jokes. But even in the dirtiest jokes there’s still a way to tell them to ensure they actually make people laugh.
Basically, I just don’t think the performances, all together, add up to enough. Rogen is the only one I really found funny from start to finish. Some may even disagree with me on this point, too. Caplan and Bang weren’t in there enough to really be hilarious, and they were great female roles, which is sad; I particularly enjoy Caplan and wish her character was better. There are a lot of individual jokes I enjoyed (the honey pot/honey dick lines wore away my nerves after the numerous repetitions), but I can’t say this is anything more than a mediocre comedy at best. See it – only to say you didn’t like cyber terrorism ruin our collective right to see the movies we want. Otherwise, don’t expect much more than a few laughs and a lot of Franco hamming it up beyond belief.

V/H/S: Viral is a Weird, Wild Ride

V/H/S: Viral. 2014. Directors: Marcel Sarmiento, Gregg Bishop, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, and Nacho Vigalondo (the Blu ray release will include the segment “Gorgeous Vortex” directed by Todd Lincoln).
Starring Emmy Argo, Emilia Ares Zoryan, Justin Welborn, Amanda Baker, Gregg Bishop, Nick Blanco, Dan Caudill, Stephen Caudill.
Magnet Releasing.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★

Click on the titles for my previous reviews on the Blu ray releases for V/H/S V/H/S/2.VHS-VIRAL_FINISH-27x40_halfsize-691x1024So apparently a few people, for some reason, can’t get why I’ve given this movie such a high rating. I’ll attempt to explain it even further than I already have just in case any anonymous people once again have problems reading my review.

This is probably the most misunderstood and maligned entry in the V/H/S series. I never judge a movie by its rating online, or anywhere for that matter, but IMDB for instance has this somewhere around a 4 out of 10 star rating (IMDB, unfortunately, is mostly only great for finding titles/actors/et cetera – the ratings are ridiculous on there). I think that is such a nonsense rating. This is a worthy entry in the series, and it’s also a good, innovative horror movie. People don’t see it right now.  I get that – or no, no – I don’t get it, actually. I really don’t understand because I think this is the film where the whole concept of the V/H/S series comes to life, full steam blowing ahead.
I think it’s misunderstood simply because I don’t know why people prefer the other V/H/S films over this one. I love them all, but this installment has the most unique segments, and it’s definitely the most exciting in terms of energy; I never felt any sort of lag in this movie.

But who am I?  Just a lowly cinephile in a horde of horror fans.

The wraparound segment in V/H/S: Viral is definitely an interesting one. I wasn’t sure on the first viewing if I really dug it or not; things felt very chaotic and I wasn’t sure if it worked. Then, once I went back and watched this once or twice more, I started to really get into the whole segment (its official name is “Vicious Circles”) because it sets up the whole viral angle from the title; not only the main character’s intentions of being “a part of something bigger” than himself, but also just in how the videos come to is, as if transmitting around through cell phones wireless by way of this strange ice cream truck that’s rampaging through the streets on the run from authorities. It felt weird on the first watch, but second time around I started to really pay attention more, and I thought it worked very well to setup the whole film’s theme.

There are some real brutal moments in this segment, as well. Particularly, I really loved the scene where one kid is being dragged along from the back of the ice cream truck – his feet are flailing around awhile until finally they start scraping wildly along the pavement, and the sound is just disgustingly great, becoming only flying flecks of blood and bone. It’s one of the few moments in any film where I’ve literally cringed because of how it made me feel. A painful-looking moment. Loved it.
Vhs-Viral-Dante-640x360The first short directed by Gregg Bishop is called “Dante the Great”.  It centers around a magician, Dante (Welborn), who came into possession of a mysterious cloak (one formerly owned – apparently – by the great Harry Houdini but got sold because it frightened him). The cloak allowed him to do crazy, normally unattainable feats. But soon, it’s obvious there is something sinister driving the cloak and behind all its magic. Eventually, Dante kills people in pursuit of being the ultimate magician. I won’t say any more – you need to see this for yourself!

I really loved this segment. It’s my second favourite of the lot. The story itself is just really innovative in terms of horror – there aren’t too many horror movies out there (though a couple of questionable quality do exist) dealing with magicians. Why is it innovative? First off, “innovation” is defined as being “something new or different introduced”. So for starters, I began with saying there aren’t too many magician-themed horror movies. A user on IMBD had a particular problem with my review, which is fine. However, he commented that nobody wants to see a horror movie about magic “because it sucks and no one wants to see that *beep*” – I guess if that’s considered an explanation, then sure. For some of us, “Dante the Great” was unique in that a horror story about a magician is rarely done & I don’t think we’ve ever seen a found footage film about magic – correct me if I’m wrong. If this is the first magic-themed found footage movie then that alone is fairly innovative. It didn’t suck for me in any way. In a sea of horror movies, there are so many fast-forward-worthy films; the ones you just want to skip over until they’re done. For me, V/H/S: Viral had none of those moments. If it did for you, that sucks.  “Dante the Great” in particular is one of the better offerings in this installment.
I really dig this one. Bishop really uses the camera in some interesting and fun ways. A lot of people seem to get their brain in a twist over “who has the camera” and such things – but by using a magician and a supernatural-type cloak as the center of the plot, Bishop is able to not worry about all those little things. Because it’s about the magic! Dante can do anything. He proves this time and time again. Some of the scenes involving the police, specifically when they cuff Dante and put him in the back of the car, are just absolute perfection. The plot is great enough, but just the visual effects and the camerawork alone are worth the price of admission here. Really impressed by Bishop here, and hope to see some more fresh work from him in the near future.
VHS-Viral-photo-01Right off the bat, I absolutely love Nacho Vigalondo’s filmmaking. He is a special voice in a sea of horror films. Of course he loves time travel, so it’s no surprise his segment “Parallel Monsters” draws on elements of time travel, alternate universes (et cetera) to help him craft an expertly creepy, odd, and at times weirdly funny horror short. This one is about a guy who has built some sort of machine which allows him to essentially open a door and look into an alternate universe; through the door, he sees himself. We begin here as the man decides to finally switch places with the alternate version of himself on the other side. They agree to meet back there and switch over once more at a certain time. However, things get very weird for the man when he discovers the alternate universe into which he’d been peering is not at all what it seems. On the surface, at first it seems a little sexy, but slowly it devolves into the man’s discovery of a terrifying universe where nothing is sexy – and everything, especially sex, is awfully scary.
Vigalondo really knocks it out of the park with this one. I don’t know where he came up with this, but that man’s brain is genius – when he passes away, hopefully at a very old age, we should take that brain and preserve it, let future filmmakers study it/him. I can’t get over this segment. I really love, and own a copy of, his film Timecrimes. He does such an amazing job with the concept of time travel, et cetera. I don’t know if it’s just something he’s always been interested in, or it’s a concept he got into because it lent itself to very interesting horror movies – whatever the reason, I’m glad he loves it. When we finally get a look at some of the ‘people’ in this alternate universe, after they appear in their true forms, it is some of the scariest shit I’ve ever seen. Honestly. I was horrified. Once again, apparently this makes me crazy. I’m 30-years old, I’ve seen over 4,000 films, but because I’m terribly creeped out by something another person finds subjectively unscary I must be 12. OH – I’m sorry – have you been to the alternate universe where people have glowing faces, women’s vaginas are huge claw-like traps, and dicks are dripping, hair werewolf arms? Well, I apologize. The rest of us were disturbed by this. We’ve not yet been granted the ability to cross over into other universes and experience what life is like for the people there. Guess I’ll have to book a trip before watching any of Vigalondo’s movies from now on.

This segment is the best one in this film. It’s also the best segment overall in any of the V/H/S movies so far (I hope they continue to make more) – without any doubt. Anybody who disagrees? That’s fine. I love when people have differing opinions. I just agree to disagree. Even if they make another great V/H/S movie I doubt I’ll have a new favourite. “Parallel Monsters” is just so creepy, and a lot of fun.
VHS-Viral-Trailer-600x337The next segment is “Bonestorm” directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead, of whom I’m a fan (they did the excellent modern horror Resolution and the fantastic Spring). I enjoyed this one mostly because of nostalgia – I spent a lot of my teen years beating around the streets in my town skateboarding with my friends although that was in the late 90s and we mainly just had actual cameras. I actually still have some of the snapshots I took of my buddies and I doing lame tricks. Loved that stuff. “Bonestorm” is basically just the story of some skateboard kids, one who of course has a gun (maybe a little gun commentary on America in there?  I don’t know but it works!), who end up going into Mexican cult territory just across the border where they encounter some very scary people. This ends up in an all out blood bath where the young skateboard kids, the two who aren’t immediately killed, fight for their lives against a creepy group of cult-like worshippers (whose blood boils and catches fire, et cetera). It’s pretty wild.

I liked this segment, but it wasn’t all perfect. Though a lot of the young kids’ dialogue worked because they were young, some of it felt so forced and awkward. I wasn’t totally put off. Some of what they said was awesome, especially once the big fight starts going down. I loved how one kid went and switched on their music – says so much about our culture nowadays, and more so the younger kid – can’t even murder a bunch of weird skeleton people without putting on some tunes.
On the surface, “Bonestorm” sort of looks to be a real big excuse for blood and guts without much to it, but it’s more than that. First, we get a natural reason for the cameras, which sometimes is often an aspect fumbled in found footage; with the kids being skateboarders, especially in modern day, it’s only normal at least one of them has a GoPro or some type of recording equipment. I mean, one of them has a gun – not hard to believe they’d also have access to cameras. Second, I found it to be a good subversion of what we often see in horror – the monsters, or the villains (whatever they happen to be), don’t just rise up and obliterate everything, or at least not in total dominance. Instead of turning and running, the skateboard kids fight back. One even switches on their music, so they’ll have something to fight to – a soundtrack. Benson and Moorehead could’ve simply stuck with the kids running away, trying to escape all this scary stuff going on. Instead, they turn and fight. One of them sort of goes mental, which was hilarious. But it’s the end that caps it all off.
I thought the end of this segment was really awesome. Some people think it ripped off “Safe Haven” from the previous film, however, I think it went well with the whole cult vibe going on, and maybe it was more so meant as an homage. I don’t think, other than one part of the end, this resembled Gareth Evans & Timo Tjahjanto’s short from V/H/S/2. It fit well here for me because just as the two skateboarders think they’ve really kicked some ass and driven all those skeletal cult members into the ground, this (I don’t want to ruin anything so I’m keeping it vague) “thing” appears. Very cool.
Screen-Shot-2014-09-18-at-12.49.48-PM-620x400This is absolutely my favourite of the three V/H/S films. I can say that in absolute confidence. Not only are the ideas big, they are well-executed. I don’t know why I’ve seen some of the complains about this entry into the series that I have, granted some of that is mostly banter I see around the internet. I think all three of the shorts are great. The wraparound segment is pretty good, but there are also some parts I didn’t like a whole lot. I wasn’t a big fan of the moment in “Vicious Circles” where we land with the Latino gangsters – not that I have anything against the Latino gangsters, I just felt it sort of went too stereotypical, and also made them look really bad (misogynistic and very trash all around). It just didn’t flow with the rest of the wraparound. They should have tried to include less switching from camera to camera stuff, which is why they put this portion in, but it just comes off as too much; trying to cram all these bits into one. They might as well have just went ahead and included Todd Lincoln’s segment anyways, and cut some of the fat off those spots.

Regardless, I think V/H/S: Viral is easily the best in all aspects of the three films, so far, in this horror anthology series. I know I’m in the small minority, but usually I am when it comes to underrated films, or at least films I see as underrated. I think the ideas in the shorts themselves, mainly “Parallel Monsters” and “Dante the Great”, are so unique. That’s what a series like V/H/S needs if they want it to continue to have any sort of longevity. Otherwise, people will really bore with the whole concept. To me, it seems like a lot already are tired by it, but I think this is going to see better life on Blu ray, et cetera. Once people give the three films more time to sink in (it feels to me like they were almost rushed out in succession though I really love the series anyways), I really believe it’s going to hit people differently. I already love them. However, sometimes you have to give the general public awhile to digest certain movies. Maybe this will be one of them.
Right now, I suggest you watch it. I hope you’ll enjoy it. And either way, hit me up – we’ll discuss. Don’t just talk shit on the message boards. Don’t just say “the movie sucks” & half-quote what I’ve said trying to make your case. If you think it’s bad, share your thoughts – tell me! I know I’m in the minority, but that being said don’t expect me to give your opinions any type of equal weight in consideration if you can’t sensibly and sociably discuss a film. That’s what movies are all about.

The Guest is like a Young Terminator in Post-Blackwater Era

The Guest. 2014. Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett. Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, and Lance Reddick. Picturehouse.
Rated 14A. 99 minutes.
Action/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★

To begin, I’ve been a fan of Adam Wingard a long while. I think the first time I actually saw one of his films it was A Horrible Way to Die, which I recently got on Blu ray and enjoyed again to the fullest. After that I got the chance to see both Home Sick and Pop Skull within a couple days. Though I enjoy his later work more, I still really dug those films. Wingard really has a different sensibility about the way he makes movies than a lot of new, young horror directors. Not to mention, Simon Barrett, who has been writing films for Wingard since, I believe, A Horrible Way to Die. Barrett is a really interesting writer; another of his works I enjoyed before his partnership with Wingard is the creepy Confederate gold horror Dead Birds. Together, the two of these guys are a great pair as writer-director partnerships go. Especially in the horror genre. I think these guys continually prove they’re the next big thing (hell – I think they’re the big thing right now) in horror.
That being said, after You’re Next, Barrett and Wingard have moved onto a slight change of pace with The Guest.

THE GUESTThis story follows a young soldier named David (Stevens). The film begins as we follow behind him, jogging. Soon, he reaches the home of a soldier he knew, Caleb, who recently died. David tells the family Caleb wanted him to find them and give them his love. David also says he promised Caleb he’d do anything possible to help them. Anna (Monroe), Caleb’s sister, seems suspicious. However, the rest of the family, especially the mother (Sheila Kelley) and younger brother (Brendan Meyer), take a liking to David. Even some of Anna’s friends, including a sleazy sort of dude named Craig (a nice small role played by Joel David Moore), think David is the best. Eventually, David’s past comes back to haunt him. People start dying.
And soon enough, Anna starts finding things out about David; dangerous things.

The movie plays out like something we’ve seen before, and yet The Guest feels different. A lot of people focus on it seemingly being a throwback to 1980s action-thrillers, and also some of John Carpenter’s works specifically, which I agree; a lot of this film seems very much inspired by the look of Carpenter, as well as the feel of certain action movies from the 80s, most specifically probably The Terminator. Regardless, The Guest is not some 80s rehash. It’s a smart little thriller with the entertainment of thrillers we’ve known before. Yes, there are influences here. Yes, the soundtrack is most certainly a heavy lean towards the 80s.
But Barrett and Wingard both are too clever to make this just a throwback piece.

For anyone who has not actually seen The Guest yet, what I’m about to say in the next little bit has a huge SPOILER in it. So, if you’d rather not have the film spoiled, and I’d rather you not because I don’t want anyone complaining when I’ve clearly forewarned them (even though I think the whole concept of ‘spoiler alert’ is ridiculous – if you don’t want anything spoiled, stay away from the fucking internet), PLEASE TURN BACK.
The-Guest-1So, one of my favourite pieces in the entire movie is nearing the finale. Just as things start going haywire for David, he and Mrs. Peterson (Kelley) are in the kitchen, taking cover from gunfire and such. I honestly believed David was going to protect the family. I figured we’d be treated to a massive shootout, as well as maybe a few hand-to-hand combat scenes. Instead, Barrett subverts those expectations, and David instead stabs Mrs. Peterson just before she yells to the men outside the house as she figures out his intentions. I really didn’t see that coming. Also, I think this is really clever because even earlier when David kills two other people, we don’t necessarily switch him to the bad guy. We’re still wondering what exactly is going on with him; maybe the government has done his head in, maybe they turned him into a killing machine without the off switch – who knows?
But once David kills the mother, all bets are off. We now see him as an unstoppable force. He strategically snuffs out any single person who may, or possibly may not, it doesn’t matter, become a trail leading back to him. Then from this point on things get even wilder.

This is one of the many reasons I really enjoy The Guest. Another thing – Wingard avoids going for some extended, unnecessary sex scene during a party in the film. Whereas a lot of other filmmakers might make it into a whole scene, Wingard keeps it at a very brief few shots, which gives us enough information to deduce that, yes, the two characters indeed have sex.
It’s not that I’m against sex scenes. In fact, I’m not at all. I think if the plot provides a moment where a sex scene is organic and natural, then why not? But on the contrary, if there is no need for it, if it doesn’t serve the plot or characters in any way, then why include it? Only makes for a bit of fast forward. You can either have sex or watch it on the internet whenever you want – it doesn’t need to be filler in a movie. Not for me anyways. Kudos to Wingard for not falling into the same old traps other filmmakers do. Instead, he uses every scene, every shot, because they’re all meant to be in there. Signs of a good filmmaker, in my opinion.
the-guestI really enjoyed Dan Stevens as David. I’ve never personally seen him in anything else, though I know what he’s done. His portrayal of this character was incredible. He swung between charming and handsome, to dark (still handsome) and brooding. There were times he genuinely chilled me with a few of the looks on his face; not even his words, just expressions. I think I’ll definitely have to see some of his other work. Great casting.

Though there are a few small performances I enjoyed (Ethan Embry as a small-time arms dealer, Joel David Moore as the burnt out Craig, Lance Reddick as Major Carver, the always unique Leland Orser as Mr. Peterson), the one other performance aside from Stevens I enjoyed most was Maika Monroe. She did a wonderful job as Anna. Again, I don’t ever really recall seeing her in anything else, but she was great here. This could’ve easily been played badly had they cast someone else, however, Monroe turns the character of Anna into someone less-angsty and a bit more intelligent than most young characters we see in horrors, action-thrillers, and the lot. Also, she gets to utter the final line – I absolutely love it. The way she says it, the three words themselves; it all puts things perfectly in perspective. Another great instance of casting. She and Stevens played well off one another, as well. Some really great scenes between the two.
GUESTEXCPICSNEWS1The Guest is a fun and weird ride through what could have been a typical action-thriller, but instead comes off as the next legitimate step on the path towards greatness for Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. I think this is not only better than most action coming out post-2000, it’s also just one of the better action-thrillers I’ve seen. I recently rewatched The Terminator on Blu ray (and I probably consider that to be the best action-thriller ever), and I can honestly say, for me, The Guest ranks up there with that film.

I love the dialogue, as I usually do in movies scripted by Barrett; I never find myself stopping and wondering why someone had to say that, why the screenwriter left this in there, et cetera. The plot is a lot of fun, and Wingard really executes things well. He is great with a lot of the handheld work in his previous films, but I think with the bigger budgets his and Barrett’s talents have started bringing in his films will start to see more and more stabilized framing. Not to say handheld isn’t good, or that Wingard isn’t good at it (the opposite – as I said he is great), I just think with The Guest, Wingard proves he is capable of true beauty with more steady framing and shot composition. There are just absolutely magnificent shots here; one such action-style shot is when Craig (Moore) is running away from David, who lets him go, and eventually picks him off with a headshot from long range. Just really great and twisted stuff.

The Guest will be on Blu ray January 6th, but is also going to be available for purchase as a Digital HD release on December 16th through VOD services. As soon as you can, check this out. I’m looking forward to the Blu ray because this is a gorgeous looking film with great camerawork, a killer soundtrack, and some top notch performances.

Mr. Babadook & the Horror of Single Parenthood

The Babadook. 2014. Directed & Written by Jennifer Kent.
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, and Tim Purcell. Entertainment One.
93 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★★

This movie certainly has been hyped up a lot as of late. Several critics who’ve written about it all seemed to enjoy it a great deal. Most recently, William Friedkin (for the uninitiated – the legendary director of classics such as The ExorcistSorcerer, The French Connection, and Cruising just to name a few) said he’s “never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadookit will scare the hell out of you as it did me“. If that isn’t praise of the highest order, I do not know what is – the director of one of the most, arguably the most, scary film of all time basically said this film is going to give you nightmares.593500.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx
While I don’t disagree whatsoever with anyone saying this movie is an absolutely terrifying piece of modern horror, I sometimes wish people wouldn’t hype up a film too early before people are able to see it. Not that a film such as The Babadook can’t handle the hype – on the contrary, this movie can eat your soul if you let it. There are times hype can often dull a person’s opinion going into a viewing. Unfortunately, we live in modern times, and such a life, without hype, really no longer exists.
But like I said, The Babadook delivers what the hype has promised. In piles.

Jennifer Kent wrote and directed this film about a recently widowed mother Amelia (Davis) whose late husband died in a car crash while they were on the way to the hospital for her to give birth to their son, Samuel (Wiseman).
Smash cut to 7 years later. Amelia and Samuel aren’t exactly having an easy time with things. Even auntie Claire doesn’t seem to want to be around Sam; everyone thinks he’s weird. Soon, he has to be taken out of school awhile because of his behaviour. Sam doesn’t sleep much anymore. He also starts building weapons to fight off monsters. One night, Sam asks his mother to read him a book; it’s a strange looking, red velvet-ish covered book called “Mister Babadook”, and is filled with strange, twisted imagery. Try and try as she might, Amelia cannot seem to get rid of the book. Her first inclination is that somebody may be stalking her and Sam. Eventually she realizes there are more sinister forces at work.

579632.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxThe plot of The Babadook is really great because it poses as something we’ve seen before yet when things get down to the nitty gritty, this film stands out on its own.
The story is essentially about the darkness of our own minds; fear, guilt, rage. For instance, you always hear the best things about motherhood – aside from throwaway jokes, you never hear moms, especially a relatively new mom, talking about how terrible it can be sometimes when you’re alone, on your own, just you and a screaming, inconsolable child. Kent explores the frightening territory of such stories.

I don’t mean to say Kent is trying to make it seem like all mothers have homicidal thoughts concerning their children or anything. The Babadook is a story that comes down to the dark side of human nature.
The ending, though I won’t actually give it away, is a perfect example of how Kent uses Mister Babadook as a type of metaphor for the darkness and the ugly parts we hide; the things we stuff down, but eventually can, and will, boil up, and maybe even burn somebody. In the last scene when Amelia comes up from the basement and meets Sam in the backyard, her son asks how it went, to which she replies something along the lines of “not as bad today”. Sam looks brightly at his mother with a smile on his face, looking proud, and says “it’s getting better mum”. Right there, you can see how the ending (the basement, et cetera) is a metaphor concerning the darkness, the grief, all the rage and bad feelings – you can never get rid of it (just like The Babadook), it will always be there, however, you learn to live with it, you lock it away, feed it now and then, and go on with your life.
xAnhFfFFXzWfDLd3um3ufTgGTqwOr maybe it’s just a scary movie about a creepy, supernatural figure like something out of a German Expressionist film from the 1920s or 1930s. Who knows. Jennifer Kent wrote it, not me. Although I like how I interpreted it – works for me.

One of the things I really enjoyed was the acting on behalf of Essie Davis. She knocked out a powerhouse performance here. Without a strong female to play the lead here, the film would not be the same. Had a lesser actress been trusted to hold this up, I’m not sure it would have the same effect. She was spectacular. Previously I’d only seen her in the TV adaptation of The Slap. Here, she really impressed.
And honestly, I have to say the same for little Noah Wiseman who played Samuel. There were times I felt his terror was genuine. His face is very expressive. A lot of people online seem to give the consensus they were annoyed with his character; me, I loved it. He was at times the innocent looking little lad Kent wanted him to be.  Others, he was able to convey pure terror and a lot of emotion. Good job on his part.

Another couple noteworthy aspects of the whole production I love include:

– Jed Kurzel’s score: this guy has fast become one of my favourite composers in film as of late. His often quiet, rhythmic scores are beautiful accompaniment to the movies he works on. Previously I’ve really enjoyed his scores for SnowtownDead Europe, and now of course The Babadook. There’s something about the way he scores which makes the music feel like an undercurrent to the film, carrying it along the way a proper score should, and adding to the intensity of emotional or scary moments. The score in this film was a nice and subdued addition I really thought made some of the frightening scenes work even better than expected.
– The look of Mister Babadook himself. The very first time we get a bit of a glimpse at him, I was jarred. As I said before, there’s certainly an element of German Expressionism from the early 20th century in there (think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), which of course I really dig. Looks a lot different than most anything you’ll see nowadays. Instead of going for some demon-like creature, or a monster, Kent opts for a human-looking being with a sort of top hat, long black coat, and eerily long fingers. The face is what really gets me, and I think that’s the part that really reminds me of Caligari specifically. Even the way Babadook moves (the part where he descends upon Amelia in her bed from the ceiling scared the life out of me) reminds me of an old silent film. Very, very creepy.
xmister-babadook-cauchemars-denfance-retour-L-AX1jhX.jpeg.pagespeed.ic.trSDdhaTQmpaBv0qiDZhOverall, I don’t hesitate in giving Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook a raging 5 out of 5. There’s nothing wrong with this movie. While I could’ve done without one part later in the film (a very brief moment in the basement where Amelia throws up; I felt there wasn’t much need of it really is all – not a dealbreaker by any means), everything is absolutely flawless. I can’t find anything I did not like about this film. The suspense and tension was there – that’s one thing I always love in a great horror. If there isn’t any sort of build, no tense moments leading to a greater fear, there’s just no way I’m going to really be genuinely creeped out, and certainly no chance the film will scare me to death. And that is what I’m looking for – I want to be frightened beyond belief.

The Babadook really scared me. There’s no blood and guts. In fact, there are only very quick shots where any blood or anything similar is shown. With this film, what you’re signing on for is truly psychological terror. This isn’t about death here so much as it’s about fear – it’s about the darkness in our hearts, in our minds. This film succeeds in bringing the darkness. Mister Babadook is a horror legend already, as far as I’m concerned. Kent really did a fascinating and unsettling job with this horror. Cannot recommend it enough to do the film justice.
The Babadook is now available on VOD through Amazon and iTunes, as well as finally on DVD and Blu ray.

As I Lay Dying is Stream of Consciousness on Film

As I Lay Dying. 2013. Dir.  James Franco. Screenplay by Franco & James Rager; based on the novel of the same name by William Faulkner.
Starring James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack, Ahna O’Reilley, Logan Marshall-Green, Brady Permenter, and Danny McBride. Millenium Films.
Rated R. 110 minutes.
Drama

★★★★

It’s not always necessary for someone to read a novel before they see the film version, however, with James Franco’s As I Lay Dying, an adaptation of William Faulkner’s classic novel, I believe it’s very necessary for someone to have read it.

After that, have a look at Franco’s film.

as_i_lay_dying_poster-storyThe reason I say this is because a lot of people don’t really understand, or see the point to, why Franco chose to use a lot of split-screen sequences. First of all, if you’d read As I Lay Dying, you might possibly understand it as how Franco chose to present all the point-of- views within the book. The whole novel is divided into chapters, each one labelled by the name of which character we are hearing the story from- this is why I think Franco wanted to use split-screen a lot.

Sometimes in the novel, you almost have to flip back and say to yourself, “Okay this is Darl’s chapter, this is Addie’s chapter (who in the novel sort of speaks ‘beyond death’ as well)” and so on.
It’s not easy to read William Faulkner in general; I’m a fan, and I still struggle to make it through a novel of his I’m reading. He was one of the first great American writers who was interested in stream-of-consciousness writing. Franco did a great job at trying to recreate that stream-of-consciousness feel.
asilaydying-01Second, I love the acting here. Some may disagree, but each of the main actors in particular brought some great work to the film here. Tim Blake Nelson as Anse is incredible. In the novel, it’s known that Anse is not particularly easy to decipher, nor does he always necessarily make any sense either, and he is not a good man, regardless of him agreeing to bring his wife’s body back to Jefferson. Nelson brings the downhome Southern quality to Anse, and I loved every second of the portrayal.

Franco was also a good here. In the book, it’s not always clear if Darl is mentally unstable, or what his deal is, until you read further and further. Franco did well subtly portraying Darl’s his personal journey.
Logan Marshall-Green did a perfect job with Jewel. There is a raw intensity about Jewel, here and in the novel, so his character was one of the best that came through on film. Marshall-Green is fast becoming a favourite of mine. There are more nice performances here, smaller ones, and they hit some great notes. I dig how most of the characters translated into film. It may not be the perfect adaptation, but it was great in terms of acting.
As-I-Lay-DyingI certainly give this a 4 out of 5 stars.

I don’t feel it’s perfect, but find it close. Franco understands Faulkner, in the way I understand and enjoy him. I’m not saying I’m right about how I view Faulkner’s work, or that Franco is right, or that I’m even correct about feeling the same way as he does about the famous author- I just know what I feel.
There are great moments here, classic moments, in my mind. The split-screen works for me. It really brought to the surface an idea that we were seeing the story through the eyes of the entire Bundren family. That’s how the novel worked, that’s why it was so compelling. Faulkner was a master of the craft. I continue to read his work, and hope one day I’ll have read it all. His novels, short stories (et cetera), are not for everyone. However, they are engaging, and have, for decades, stirred up many debates and critical opinions from one end of the spectrum to the next.
Franco gets what Faulkner was doing in As I Lay Dying. I hope he’ll be able to capture the same understanding with his adaptation of The Sound and the Fury.
asilaydying-04Highly recommended. Even if you don’t enjoy it, don’t be one of those people who turns it off after 20 minutes to half an hour. You can’t judge any movie that way. Sorry- you just can’t. Just like a novel. Sit through until the end, and I suggest reading the novel if you enjoy the story, or want to understand Franco’s intentions here.

Stretch Tries But Stretches Too Thin

Stretch. 2014.  Dir. Joe Carnahan. Screenplay by Carnahan from a story by himself, Jerry Corley & Rob Rose.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Chris Pine, Brooklyn Decker, Ed Helms, Jessica Alba, and James Badge Dale. Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Action/Comedy/Thriller

★★★

When Stretch opens up, you see Patrick Wilson, playing the titular character Stretch (get it? – he drives a limo), come flying out of a car window. He does a bit of a flip and comes skidding down the pavement. When he rolls upright Stretch is still smoking a cigarette. He gets up, has a puff, and walks away. Right off the bat, Joe Carnahan is letting you know this is another adrenaline fest already with a similar feel to his 2006 bad ass action flick Smokin’ Aces. That’s nothing bad because I personally loved that film.

And things only get wilder from that opening moment on.

stretch-posterStretch isn’t having a particularly great day. After he catches us up on life as he knows it, a bad year or two really, we see him try to carry on and get through the day.
See, Stretch gambles. He owes about $6,000 to some fairly tough looking dudes. And he owes it by midnight. Luckily, a friend at the limo agency where he drives for a living, Charlie (Alba), agrees to send big business his way to help him seal off the debt. A big fish lands in his lap: Roger Karos (played hilariously and wildly by Chris Pine). This is where things really get interesting.

Stretch feels similar to Smokin’ Aces mainly in how it has a lot of interesting characters. Not only that, the characters are outrageous. For instance, the first time we meet Karos he lands on top of Stretch’s car. Then he slides down onto the hood. For those who’d like to be prepared, you get a nice view of Pine’s scrotum. I laughed so damn hard. Karos continues to entertain – over and over.
Then, of course, there’s Ed Helms who plays Karl (with a K), another limo driver. He literally haunts Stretch, after previously having taken his own life. He shows up at just the right time, every time. My favourite is at one point when Stretch’s limo gets commandeered for a quick little joyride; Karl shows up just to have a nice hearty laugh at his still-living buddy. Dig it.
stretchThere is a lot to enjoy about Stretch as a film. The action, no surprise as this is a Carnahan joint, is really exciting. A lot of it feels really spontaneous, which I love. And the same thing goes for the comedy. There were times I wasn’t expecting it, then all of a sudden a string of great joke comes out of the woodwork, and I’m killing myself laughing. Even just some great little throwaway lines end up coming off as real comedy gold. Wilson alone has about a baker’s dozen worth of one-off lines that really did me in. Absolutely hilarious writing, and great delivery on the part of several of the actors.

Another little bit about Carnahan’s style in this film I really enjoyed were the onscreen visuals he added in like the timer on the watch, the massive Arab’s (if he isn’t Arab I apologize – I’m only guessing) speech while he screams at Stretch, the text conversation between Stretch and the woman he met trying out online dating. These tiny pieces just add a lot of flavour to Stretch, making it something really fun.
75All in all, I have to say Stretch is a fantastic and thrilling ride of a film. It isn’t often an action comedy-style film really gets me. I’m more a horror-thriller type, though I enjoy all style and genres. But it’s not regularly I see something in the same category as Stretch that really prompts me to get excited, laugh out loud, and enjoy myself thoroughly.
That being said, the ending stinks in this one. I was actually crossing my fingers, praying out loud, that the end wouldn’t finish on the note I’d been predicting. Then the last few minutes played out, it was exactly what I’d predicted, and it automatically took things down a notch. Really, really did not like that ending. Totally shifts gears and breaks the tone of the film. Things go from crazy to feeling like a sappy romantic comedy in the final moments.

For that reason, I’m only giving this 3 out of 5 stars. I really wanted to give it about 4, maybe even 4.5, but the ending plants it firmly at 3. If Carnahan opted for another way to finish it off, I would’ve really been happy. However, this end took the wind out of a truly solid action thriller with tons of comedy and a really unique, adrenaline-filled tone. Regardless, I say check it out! The ending doesn’t totally ruin the film or anything, I’m just not a fan. The rest of the film? Absolutely worth seeing.
Patrick-Wilson-in-STRETCH-e1412723988173Stretch is now available on VOD, as well as through iTunes & Amazon, and now on Blu ray/DVD. Get a copy and have some fun.