Pete's life is about to become a lot more scary
Megan Is Missing. 2011. Directed & Written by Michael Goi.
Starring Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite, Jael Elizabeth Steinmeyer, Kara Wang, Brittany Hingle, Carolina Sabate, April Stewart, and John K. Frazier. Trio Pictures.
Unrated. 85 minutes.
There are a ton of different found footage horror movies hitting the market in the past 5-10 years. Especially now since Paranormal Activity absolutely ran its premise dry with a bunch of sequels and spin-offs and whatever.
Sometimes it’s hard to wade through the ocean of shit that comes out from independent filmmakers trying to break into the business with a cheap, effective little horror that draws on realism to make things scary.
Problem is, there are certain filmmakers who end up just crossing over from realism into exploitation. They take a subject that could be effective if they were to do it as a normal film, and instead create something that crosses the borders of where it needs to go and where it really ends up going.
Megan Is Missing most definitely is one of the films that becomes exploitative instead of being properly scary. There’s no real suspense or tension here, it feels like everything is just being milked for all its worth – especially the sexualization of these teen characters. Supposedly based on a true story, Michael Goi takes on the guise of trying “warn of the dangers on the internet”, as if that needs to be harped on any more than we’ve already seen before. What bothers me is that part about being based on/inspired by a true story. There is very little here based on the true story; I won’t waste my time explaining, but search out the case of Ward Weaver III who murdered two young girls. They met a similar fate to the girls in this film. Apart from that tiny detail, mostly at the end of the movie, there’s nothing else resembling the two. So much of what Goi does is a desperate attempt to make the story found footage, which is never good because the whole concept is forced in and this whole thing could’ve been much more interesting crime-drama/thriller than a sub-genre horror film.
Most of this movie revolves around a fear of internet predators. Now, don’t get me wrong – they are out there. By the hundreds of thousands, even. Maybe more. I just feel like Goi, as a writer/director, has exploited that whole angle of things. I mean, linking this to a ‘real story’ feels to me a desperate plea in order to involve people in the supposed realism of this found footage film.
There are scenes where girls are at a party, making out, there’s a blowjob performed by Megan (Rachel Quinn). Then in another scene, Megan recounts in great detail how she gave her first one at the age of ten, to a camp counsellor; she and her friend Amy (Amber Perkins) giggle and Amy asks questions. I mean, I’m not saying movies can’t be made about teenage sexual issues. Not at all. I just feel like this is totally making the essence of the film seeing how these girls, mostly the character of Megan, are young, sexual women ahead of their time. It focuses so much on the sexuality of these girls that I’m actually disgusted. Again, not saying these types of people don’t exist. It’s just ridiculous how much of a focus Goi hones in on the aspects of her sexuality.
Worst example: even as Megan is on the news reported missing, one of the photos onscreen is of her, tongue out, licking a butter knife full of peanut butter. I mean – really, Goi? Why even include that one? Constantly painting the character of Megan as “slutty”. It’s like a bit slut shaming the whole time. Then, it’s as if her friend Amy is a victim of her own friend’s perceived “sluttiness”. I couldn’t handle it. I thought the way Goi wrote/handled the material as director was just so bad and shameful.
There’s absolutely a way that Megan Is Missing could have been an effective horror. Or even as I said, this could’ve played out just as well/way better if it were filmed as a normal movie, not found footage, and played as a crime-drama with thriller elements. I mean, it could’ve even had a Gone Girl-esque vibe in terms of the whole disappearance in Fincher’s film – there could be built, with a tweaked script, a solid movie out of what Goi had in mind.
Unfortunately somewhere along the line Goi’s intentions were mixed and the lines crossed. It’s like he wanted to make this as a part of wanting to add commentary to a found footage horror. Instead, he began to focus too much on the overt sexuality of the character Megan, he pushes too much then – especially in the final 20 minutes or so – to make things totally exploitative. There could’ve easily been culled a good deal of tension, lots of suspense and dread, however, there’s none of that.
All we get in terms of horror is a shocking finale. Really, it’s just too much. I’ve seen plenty of disturbing movies. This is not one of those that works in an effective sense. Just a load of flashy shock horror trying to lull us into calling this some sort of good horror movie. It isn’t.
I can only give this movie about 1 star. There are elements to this which I thought worked, but only a couple. For instance, I think Amber Perkins did a swell job acting the part of Megan’s friend Amy Herman. It was a tough role and she did what she could with it; not a great script, or dialogue, yet she pulls off the little part of the film she could. Other than that, nothing worth seeing. The barrel shock sort of got me, it’s disturbing, but ultimately there is no substance at all. No style either.
A forgettable, rotten movie that I’ll never ever watch again.
The Collector. 2009. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Josh Stewart, Andrea Roth, Michael Reilly Burke, and Juan Fernández. Fortress Features. Rated 18A. 90 minutes.
It’s only natural to see why people try to say that this movie is a Saw knock-off.
First of all, anything involving traps now will forever be likened to saw. Reviews like to use the (idiotic) term someone coined, “torture porn”, to try and describe similar films.
Second, The Collector is directed by Marcus Dunstan, as well as the fact that its screenplay was written by Dunstan and Patrick Melton – both of whom did a couple Saw films. In fact, this was intended to be a sort of prequel, or who knows what kinda-quel, but I assume the producers wanted nothing to do with it.
Now, we’ve got The Collector. I don’t think it’s “torture porn”, nor would you ever catch me using that god damn ridiculous made-up term. I know what the people using it are getting at, but I think it’s a) the cheap way of saying what you don’t have the better words to say, and b) nonsense because some horror movies are just more brutal and depraved than others. Yes, some horror just goes either over-the-top or too vicious to the points where you’re thinking to yourself, “Okay let’s get the rest of this over with…”. However, there’s other horror, the real effective stuff, the fun stuff even, that uses it in the right sort of way.
I find The Collector is in the latter section of horror films – it’s brutal, but a hell of a lot of fun. In a twisted way.
The movie opens with Larry and Gena Wharton coming home from a night out. They’re laughing, seemingly they’ve had a few drinks and a bit of fun. Upstairs, the older couple find an antique-looking trunk. Inside… horror. Then from out of nowhere, they are attacked from behind.
Cut to Arkin O’Brien (Josh Stewart): ex-con working as a handyman in the home of the rich Chase family – Michael and Victoria (Michael Reilly Burke/Andrea Roth), along with their daughters Hannah and Jill (Karley Scott Collins/Madeline Zima). Unfortunately for Arkin, his wife Lisa (Daniella Alonso) owes a debt and the sharks are asking for their money – they need it tonight, she says. Arkin’s wage as handyman, even for such a rich family, does not cut it.
Turns out, though, Arkin has been casing the place. There’s a ruby worth a ton of money inside the Chase house. Arkin rushes the job and heads out to the house that night in order to rob them. There, he discovers a masked man – The Collector (Juan Fernández) has rigged the place with traps and other horrors. In the main bedroom, Arkin discovers an antique style trunk, and inside: Larry Wharton. The older man is in bad shape, he warns Arkin that “he always takes one“. The family is all either incapacitated, or eventually killed. Arkin tries to save who he can, but The Collector has so many surprises in store for him.
Immediately, there is a tone to the film I thought worked extremely well in making things creepy. For me, it was a combination of the look and feel of the scenes and the score.
Dunstan uses a great colour scheme that makes it feel like an old school genre picture. There’s this green-ish/yellow v. blue thing going on at times (as you can see in some of the pictures I’ve included), and I liked how it made things look. Not only that, there’s almost a grainy layer over the camera’s lens in a lot, if not all, of the scenes. I like it, Reminds me of the look David Fincher chose to go with for Se7en. Together with the choice of that green/yellow and blue pattern, almost muted and blurry colouring, the grain of the film makes things look dark and gritty. Super fitting for the way things play out.
Now – the score. I would say, for this movie, the score works perfectly. I knew of Jerome Dillon before now, simply because I’m Trent Reznor’s biggest fan (maybe not realistically I just love his music and have for 20 years). Dillon did amazing work with Nine Inch Nails – my favourite being on And All That Could Have Been and With Teeth. Dillon’s use of an industrial sound flows well in combination with Dunstan and his gritty visual style.
One of my favourite moments of the film, in terms of music + directing, is when there’s softer, friendlier sounding music playing while Dunstan gives us a montage of shots showing The Collector’s carnage, the blood, the fury he has unleashed throughout the house; something about the juxtaposition of that sweet sound, soft guitar riff and vocals, against the terror and the bodies – it works horror movie magic!
A lot of good moments work effectively with the music – and not in the way certain horror movies, like the 2012 remake of The Woman in Black, employ the jump-scare with strings to literally jolt you, which I consider a cheap way to do things. Dunstan and Dillon make things unsettling in a great fashion, their collaboration makes this movie come off in the right way on more than enough occasions that it’s a significant part of why the whole film works.
There’s very little in this movie I would say is written poorly. Not even a handful of scenes, in my opinion.
One sequence, though, I found particularly dumb: when older daughter Jill Chase (Madeline Zima) comes home with a boyfriend, they seem to just not notice a thing until The Collector is spotted, creeping in the dark while the young couple starts to get frisky; meanwhile, I thought the entire house was filled with traps and devious devices to really fuck someone’s day up. I guess it was an effort on the part of Dunstan and Melton to try and either add a shot of breasts (Zima gets her chest let loose for a few seconds before Mr. Collector is seen), or maybe it was simply the fact they wanted a way to have another member of the family be killed onscreen instead of just tied/locked up somewhere in the house. Either way, I thought it was a bit dumb.
However, they did save themselves a little. Poor Jill meets an awful end (as seen above), and I thought it was pretty gnarly in the best way possible. Junky lead-up, but a good horror movie kill indeed.
Overall I have to say the characters aren’t developed much, if at all. Outside of Arkin, honestly there’s no real development of any other character. I really do like Arkin, and I’m not even a big fan of Josh Stewart – but he plays it well. We get to see a good bit of him in terms of character, not enough of the family. I cared about Arkin as a character, but when it came to the family I sort of felt apathetic; there wasn’t enough time to get to know these people before they’re locked up in the house and being messed with/tortured/killed. With Arkin, we see bits of his family, the tough time he and his wife are obviously having. There’s also the moments with Arkin where we see him talking to the youngest Chase daughter, even the older one, and he genuinely seems to be a good guy. So I connected with him, whereas the family didn’t get enough screen time for me to be invested in them. Certainly – SPOILER AHEAD – I suppose that’s why Arkin is the character who goes along to the sequel, along with The Collector obviously.
Most people try to pick holes through the story of the film, but me – I know when to suspend disbelief. Sure, something like this would probably never happen in real life. It’s like a reverse Home Alone where Joe Pesci and Danny Stern break into the McCallister house before they could wake up to go to Paris, and they terrorize Kevin along with his family using booby traps.
But it’s scary. For me, anyways. I thought The Collector was a great horror villain. And even though I personally enjoy some of the Saw franchise, I find The Collector more entertaining. In Saw a lot of the people Jigsaw was taking were some messed up people – not all of them deserved that craziness, but some of those “victims” of his were awful sketchy. With The Collector, as opposed to Jigsaw, he’s active in the murder of these people – that’s what makes him a badass horror villain, more so than Jigsaw. He doesn’t let people ultimately decide their fate; he breaks in, kills with his contraptions and traps and gadgets, then The Collector takes someone with him along to the next house of horrors.
Yeah, you have to suspend some disbelief. Certain horror is meant to be realistic, other stuff is not – The Collector is an all-out horror, balls to the wall, but it isn’t meant to be the story of a real serial killer. The main villain, for me, is up there with some of the iconic guys. I wouldn’t put him next to Michael Myers. I would, however, put him next to Jason and Freddy both at times – even though I love those two and they’re ultimate icons of horror. I just think The Collector is interesting. Very interesting. So if suspending disbelief at times has to happen, I’m all for it. Because this isn’t meant to be one of those raw and realistic bits of horror, not like a found footage movie tries to be (notice I did emphasize the verb ‘to try’ because not all of them can achieve that goal) or something like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. This movie is meant to be visceral, gritty, and fun in the most disturbing sense of horror.
For me, I’ve got to say this is a 4 out of 5 star horror film. In my books, there’s not a whole lot more Marcus Dunstan needed to do on his part as director. Although there could’ve been a few tweaks in the script – I thought the parts with the daughter/her boyfriend didn’t make enough sense because the whole house seemed booby trapped and everything yet they were unaware so long, plus Dunstan and Melton could have given the family more depth than they were allowed (I connected with Stewart’s character because he had a decent little backstory while the family felt flat), I think the weakest element is the acting. Again, Stewart was good, but I didn’t particularly think anyone else stood out – other than Juan Fernández, who is beyond creepy as The Collector. They are the main characters, of course, I just did not feel like the supporting cast held up their end.
Either way, it’s a great little film that came out of nowhere. I’d seen a brief synopsis about a year before its release, but nothing much else. Then once it dropped, I was blown away. I also enjoyed The Collection, its sequel, and I’ll be doing a review for that one soon, as well.
Check this out if you haven’t, hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this tense and intense horror-thriller.
The Captive. 2014. Dir. Atom Egoyan. Screenplay by Egoyan & David Fraser.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Alexia Fast, Peyton Kennedy. Ego Film Arts.
112 minutes. Rated PG.
Canadian director Atom Egoyan is no stranger to telling stories in unique ways, often fragmenting plots into non-linear narrative. His style comes through no differently, although never so full of twists and turns, in his latest film The Captive – a dark thriller starring Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds and featuring other homegrown talents such as Scott Speedman and The Strain‘s Kevin Durand. Egoyan’s film treads through uncomfortable and treacherous territory to tell the story of a little girl named Cassandra (Kennedy/Fast) who is kidnapped from a roadside diner right under her father’s nose.
After eight years, traces of the girl surface online in cryptic bits and pieces. By this time, her parents have all but gone crazy and divorced. The father (Reynolds) takes things into his own hands while the police seem focused on treating him as a suspect. However, at the beginning of the film Egoyan clearly gives up the kidnapper’s identity, and for good reason.
Egoyan likes to play with the depiction of past and present in many of his films. In The Captive, he takes the story from one point to another, leaping from the day of the kidnapping to eight years later, all without ever directly communicating a time shift. The film plays with its audience, putting us directly in the shoes of those whose lives have been shaken by the kidnapping of Cassandra; for the people who loved her, each day is the day she was taken, each day it gets tougher to move on because they live in the past.
This is a film concerned with real life exploitation of children as much as it with examining how innovative technology allows predators into people’s homes. Still, there are times the plot requires a little suspension of disbelief.
For instance, in one scene an elaborate “trail” is created to lead the father out onto a deserted road for a surprise meeting. If Egoyan had chosen a different route to reach the same point it may have played out well. Instead it may lead some people to deem it unbelievable.
However, this scene plays out in an almost surreal way. Many of Egoyan’s films take on fairy tale-like qualities, this moment being one of those. He likes to play with things in this way, substituting character types of regular thrillers for those you might often find in folklore. Not everything is done in this manner, but Egoyan absolutely works in this method in almost every one of his films.
I can’t say The Captive is my favourite entry into this great Canadian director’s filmography, preferring his work in Exotica or the devastatingly emotional The Sweet Hereafter. That being said, this is a great watch. Reynolds especially puts in a wonderful performance; the ‘tortured dad in search of his daughter’ is a character often used in film, yet he feels fresh here, balancing calmness and chaos. Enos is also wonderful – she is highly underrated, in my opinion. There’s a way she conveys all the grief and tension inside her without having to always explode or go up a level; her face is extremely expressive in that sense. Furthermore, the mood’s dark tones are set in contrast to the bleak, snowy landscape. Literary and musical allusions crop up everywhere. There are so many things converge here in this film to make it multi-layered and complex, more so than the general thrillers out there dealing with subjects such as this.
Egoyan is more interested by atmosphere and character than his with plot; he is an auteur, there is a style found in his films that is all his own. Here, beautiful Canadian settings combined with a haunting musical score help the story come to life while the characters carry most of this film. Not perfect, but worth the price of admission, and an affirmation Canadian filmmakers can make big, exciting films without crossing the border or catering to the latest box office trends.
Skinwalker Ranch. 2013. Dir. Devin McGinn & Co-directed by Steve Berg. Written by Adam Ohler.
Starring Taylor Bateman, Steve Berg, Michael Black, Erin Cahill, Carol Call, Kyle Davis, Mike Flynn, Jon Gries, Devin McGinn, and Michael Horse. Highland Film Group.
Rated R. 86 minutes.
If you haven’t heard of Skinwalker Ranch before, the actual location, it’s a large property of nearly 500-acres in the southeastern part of Utah. The ranch came to worldwide attention after appearing in the Salt Lake City news, as well as being covered in a series of articles by journalist George Knapp, which claimed a family bought the property and later experienced a various number of strange, unexplainable events ranging from chupacabra-like animals roaming the property to alien/UFO sightings, and much more. Of course, all that can be taken lightly because I certainly haven’t seen anything conclusive about this. I like to scour the internet late at night when I’m bored – topics usually include paranormal stuff and serial killers, et cetera – anything creepy. Even further, the movie Skinwalker Ranch is quite loosely based on the events talked about in reference to the actual location. Let’s just say… this is – inspired by certain supposedly true events.
A man named Hoyt (Jon Gries) buys the infamous ranch with great plans. Unfortunately, Hoyt’s life is soon thrown into disarray when his son suddenly disappears into thin air, right in front of him and his wife’s eyes. A team of researchers come in to investigate the paranormal phenomena happening around the ranch. They discover bumps in the night. Images of a small boy running through the kitchen at the exact same hour of the night, every single night. One evening, a massive wolf-like beast appears in the fields around the ranch, terrorizing everyone. It’s obvious Skinwalker Ranch is plagued by otherworldly things. The real turning point comes when a Native American man comes to bless the property in aid and ends up seemingly almost experiencing a heart attack – he tells them they’ve “got to get the fuck out of here“. From there, everything slowly gets more sinister. As you’d likely expect.
There isn’t a whole lot to love in Skinwalker Ranch honestly, but it’s not terrible. I opted to watch it twice. First time around I really enjoyed it because of the visual effects, which are certainly great. When I decided to review it, as I always do with a movie I haven’t seen too recently, I re-watched the film. Needless to say, I came out the second time realizing I didn’t really enjoy the film. It’s flashy and has a couple decent scares, or more so thrills, but overall nothing special.
The one truly creepy moment was the aforementioned scene involving the Native American gentleman who gathers Hoyt and the crew around a fire to help bless the ranch. Before his heart attack-like affliction, he seems to see something in the distance, as he is chanting a Native American sort of song. His eyes are wide and he stares off while still chanting. Then it strikes him. He gets out of there so quickly afterwards it’s really unsettling, and not to mention he tells them to “get the fuck out of there“. His demeanour goes from one end of the spectrum to another in a heartbeat. The actor really helped by doing a good job.
Most of what I didn’t enjoy about this film is that it uses some really tired and played out cliches. For instance, you get the typical child ghosts. And that would be fine – if you didn’t have them running through rooms in ghostly fashion, the obligatory creepy little girl ghost with her mouth hanging open and strange black vein-like striations going up her face. Those sort of things are really out of place most of the time. In fact, I’d go as far to say that those types of creepy kids are very much a significant trademark of Asian horror – they’ve got that area locked down, and well-done in many of those foreign movies. Here, it feels like they just couldn’t find any other way to make the kids creepy. It had to be the typical, run of the mill scary kid; like an archetype, a stamp they bring out for the crap horror movies.
What I did enjoy were the visual effects. Particularly, there’s a wolf-like creature that terrorizes the ranch on several occasions. Not only were the effects on the creature very good, they also worked to make things scary and tense. I liked one scene where the wolf shows up out of nowhere, and proceeds to push the car around with a few people inside – sort of reminded me of a good creature feature.
Also, there’s a scene with a large alien stalking through the house. The effects here were also nice. I liked the look of the alien. It was imposing and also not the typical ‘grey’ alien design; at least there was something fresh among a lot of the stale garbage in this film.
The only performance in this movie worth talking about is Jon Gries. Even then, there isn’t much to go on about other than he played his part well. If it weren’t for him, and his character as well, I probably would’ve lost interest a lot quicker than I did while re-watching this movie. He is a good character actor who I always enjoy seeing. Gries is good at playing scarred characters; whether it’s a person who has succumbed to their own demons, or one acted upon terribly by outside forces, he has a good range for these types of roles. It’s too bad he didn’t have any other good characters to bounce off – most of the others weren’t particularly unlikeable, they just weren’t exactly charismatic either. Gries was the only one who stood out in any way, shape, or form. And like I pointed out, there isn’t a whole lot for Gries to do other than act distraught; little else.
Overall I can give this a film 2 stars out of 5. Not a complete waste of time because I do like how they used the found footage sub-genre to make this feel like a real look into the actual Skinwalker Ranch location while also combining that style with the use of, often, heavy special effects. Whereas I enjoy something more like what As Above, So Below accomplished this year with their combination of found footage and effects, Skinwalker Ranch falls short because the story is too familiar. All the genre elements they try to force into the plot really only end up leaving the whole thing feeling off-balance. Furthermore, without a strong plot there’s really no room for any truly great characters, and lacking such characters there will always be missing great performances. Gries holds up his small end of the bargain, but other than him this film is pretty much a wash in terms of acting. The special effects are great at times and certainly provide some creepy, as well as thrilling moments. Regardless, the effects can’t hold the movie up for its entirety.
I wouldn’t rush to try and see this movie. If you’ve got time to kill and want to see a little horror movie with some paranormal/supernatural elements, then throw it on. But if you want a found footage movie with something more to offer, there are absolutely better ways to enjoy the sub-genre.