A married couple grieving their daughter is visited by an alien life form
Gloria takes a trip to California & finds out more about Ennis' former life as sci-fi author Thaddeus Mobley.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 12: “Continuum”
Directed by Craig Zisk (Weeds, Nip/Tuck)
Written by Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the previous episode, “Spilt Milk” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Madness Ends” – click here
Starting off back at the Walker house, Kit (Evan Peters) finds himself bloody, axe in hand, being called for by his child. Has he gone and actually murdered someone this time?
Who knows. Was it a dream?
Cut back to Grace (Lizzie Brocheré) stuck at her drawings, trying to recreate the aliens who took them, alongside Alma (Britne Oldford) who seems to be doing all the cooking/et cetera. Kit is obviously involved with protests of some sort, marching, “fighting the good fight.” While it’s not exactly an unhappy home, at all, there’s still an aspect about it that isn’t quite right. Particularly, Alma is worried about Grace’s fixation on the aliens; Kit passes it off, but Alma wants him to spend more time with her, to try and placate those worries of her own. Either way the entire situation is strange, two wives, one husband, two babies.
Then comes an attack on the house. At first, Alma believes it’s the aliens coming back for them. However, it’s only Billy Marshall (Joe Egender) and the rest of the local redneck idiots. Sadly there’s no real big help from police, as they’re more worried about Kit’s apparent polygamy than anything that might happen to him or his family.
I thought there was a great Amityville Horror vibe going at times here in the opening 10 minutes or so, from the beginning sequence with Kit appearing to have killed somebody in the living room by axe, to the quick cuts while Alma and Grace argue together back and forth with shots of Kit chopping wood. There’s definitely a bit of that film’s influence in these moments, I have no doubt.
Must say, I was surprised: Kit tries to do his best after Alma chops Grace to death with the axe. Incredible how the script loops things back around in that sense, playing with our expectations. Great stuff from Murphy and director Craig Zisk.
Back at Briarcliff, Jude (Jessica Lange) plays cards with Pepper (Naomi Grossman) and others at one of the tables. In strolls cock of the walk Monsignor Howard (Joseph Fiennes) to talk with Jude; he’s leaving the asylum for an appointment as Cardinal in New York. What a crock of shit, hey? The typical religious way: failure or outright incompetency, in massive and fatal ways, often means a promotion in the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchical, bureaucratic farce of an organization.
Though, he wants Jude to be released, she starts to have trouble when a woman looking much like the Angel of Death (Frances Conroy) shows up as a new inmate; Briarcliff is now an overflow facility. This begins to threaten her pending release. Thrown in a cell with this woman, things get tense and Jude starts to slightly unravel once again.
She starts to lose time. Suddenly there are two years or so gone, Howard has been Cardinal for that time. Even poor Pepper is dead. There’s no end to Jude’s madness now, unfortunately. Honestly, this whole bit is slightly muddled and while I like it, the writing is surprisingly sloppy for Murphy, of whom I’m usually a fan in terms of this series. He is a good writer, I just find this section of this episode a bit lazy. Still, I love the tragedy of Jude anyways.
Cue up some Lana Winters, 1969, as her book is on the bestseller list for ten weeks – Maniac; One Woman’s Story of Survival. She proudly gives a reading at a bookstore for a group listening intently to every word, each syllable. Lana laps it up. She also puts things in the book which never happened, even Ms. Winters herself sees Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) chastise her from the crowd, as well as her lover Wendy (Clea Duvall) who she passes off in the book as merely a friend and roommate.
While Lana is clearly an admirable character, she survived so much and fought so viciously well, there’s a dislikable quality to her in these scenes at the bookstore. Worst of all, not everything Lana promised to Kit happened, she didn’t fully take Briarcliff down but merely stained its reputation and turned it into a snake pit.
Things change slightly once Kit reveals to Lana that Jude is still alive within the depths of the horror that is Briarcliff, but Lana is hardened. Ultimately she doesn’t care much about what happens to Jude, Kit, or anyone else, not anymore.
With a great natural edit we switch back to Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermott) whose quest has led him into a bookstore, searching out a copy of Maniac by his long lost mother Ms. Lana Winters. This scene is extraordinarily creepy. He faces off against an old woman – her mother owned a copy of it – and there’s some real nasty exchange of dialogue, getting creepier by the second. I love how it ended, as Johnny doesn’t even get violent, he lays out what he’s going to do concerning his mother. Then he asks, semi-angrily/politely, for her to hand over the book, which she does quickly, trembling all over. Nice finish.Good episode in some respect, though, again I think part of it was a bit sloppy on the writing. I did love the bit with Johnny Morgan at the end and I loved the whole opening 10-15 minutes, that was real masterful television.
The next episode and finale of Season 2 Asylum, “Madness Ends”, is up next. The episode is directed by series regular Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Stay tuned and I’ll be finishing up this second season before moving onto the next!
Area 51. 2015. Directed by Oren Peli. Screenplay by Christopher Denham & Oren Peli.
Starring Reid Warner, Darrin Bragg, Ben Rovner, Jelena Nik, Roy Abramsohn, Frank Novak, and Glenn Campbell. Aramid Entertainment Fund/Blumhouse Productions/IM Global/Incentive Filmed Entertainment/Room 101.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
Right back to the supposed McPherson Tape, later given a bigger budget and made as Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, there have been plenty of found footage films dealing with alien encounters. We’ve also got Jason Eisner’s segment from V/H/S 2, the 2014 film Alien Abduction, then there’s Apollo 18 with a bit of pseudo-revisionist history. There are more, but I won’t ramble on into the night about every last one.
Area 51 is not necessarily the same as the others. Right from the beginning, not many films involve the actual infiltration, or attempted infiltration, of Area 51. There are some, but not a great many. Plenty of mentions, though, in film and television about Roswell, New Mexico, Area 51, and areas around Nevada. In some respects, Oren Peli’s latest film is much different than anything else. At other times there’s nothing different at all. Mixed bag mostly.
Peli is someone I’ve enjoyed far more as a producer than director. His two films as director, Area 51 and Paranormal Activity, aren’t that much different than one another except for the fact they’re completely different settings. Mostly I like that he produced the three Insidious movies, The Lords of Salem, as well as both Chernobyl Diaries and The Bay of which I’m a fan despite what others might think of them. With this film – originally completed around 2009 or so and unreleased until 2015 – Peli doesn’t do much else other than try to show new ways of incorporating found footage, techniques which aren’t necessarily fresh or innovative but above all else just fun to look at.
Three friends – Reid (Reid Warner), Darren (Darrin Bragg), and Ben (Ben Rovner) – head to a huge a party. There, Darren and Ben lose track of Reid briefly. They see him staring into the sky. Later, they find him again in the road – quiet, but fine.
Three months later, Reid has planned a trip for them: to Vegas. Or, more so Area 51.
Once on their journey, they meet with Jelena (Jelena Nik) whose father worked in the base for a time before getting fired for prodding into things too far; he later committed suicide. The four head out to try and make it onto the legendary base.
However, once they arrive and start to move further and further inside, they come to understand perhaps it’s better off the American Government keeps their findings under wraps.
An aspect of Area 51 I really did enjoy was the plot of how they managed to snag the old guy’s ID and the bottle of his cologne in case they required any fingerprints. That was pretty slick! While I think once inside there’s a lot of lapse of judgement on the part of the writing, in turn affecting the characters, much of what I liked about the movie was its build-up and the first half where it’s almost more like a thriller than anything. We’ve seen plenty of this type of stuff in other movies, I dig that Peli injects the found footage into something with which we’re familiar.
Another extremely fun part were the effects. I think, despite of how mediocre I found its scares, Peli’s Paranormal Activity at the least introduced the movie industry to new aspects found footage could carry: such as special effects. In this film, Peli takes that on to different levels. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Once Darren, Jelena, and Reid enter the Area 51 facility, there are a host of interesting effects the movie introduces. The alien technology this trio comes across is impressive. I totally loved the small, smooth craft Reid gets into; from the outside it’s almost a big oval, an egg-like structure, inside Reid is soundproofed yet the whole ship is transparent. Honestly, regardless whether you like the movie overall or not, I can’t see how you wouldn’t enjoy these moments. Seeing special effects with the found footage done well, such as they are in this case, is a treat for me because it isn’t often we get to see that in other movies.
There’s a genuine creepshow of a sequence after Jelena and Reid end up in a tunnel system underneath the Area 51 facility itself. In these few scenes, Peli brings us back to straight horror filmmaking. Not in a bad sense. There’s the obligatory slow shots of the camera, light shining, moving through the darkness, but a sense of real tension is happening. I’d honestly expected, after Darren has a quick run-in with the facility security, the finale of the film was going to be an extremely big, loud chase sequence, and the effects would come fast, barely noticeable, and the film would go out on a bang. Instead, the screenplay slows things down in pace for awhile. We get these very quiet bits before the REAL chase gets on. Then we switch back to see how Darren is doing, there we get the big chase, the loud sound design, alarms, and so on. Not a bad thing, however, I thought Peli might’ve done well to keep with the subtlety through to the end and create a more effective scare for the audience. Sadly, what was built up loses its steam with a big shift between Darren/Jelena and Reid. Peli should’ve left Darren and his situation unknown, it’d be more unsettling that way instead of spelling ever last thing out visually for us. Keeping with Jelena and Reid could have created an insanely tight tension that would not let up until the finish. It still has suspense and it keeps you on edge, no doubt there, but I don’t think it reached what it could have been with more focus.
That being said, I found the final ten minutes – in regards to scenes involving Jelena and Reid – pretty damn spectacular at times. SPOILERS AHEAD! When the two of them appear to abducted there’s an amazing scene/series of shots, as they’re sort of lifted up inside this white space, no gravity, and the camera gets sucked out of a tube only to fall down to the ground. BONUS – if you watch until after the credits, which you should as respect to all the various artists who work on a film (not to be a dick but I have many friends in the industry + I’m an aspiring screenwriter so it’s always nice to spend an extra couple minutes watching them), there is a POST-CREDITS SCENE. Pretty nice little add-on.
Only for the fact that this scene may negate the found footage aspect. An old man – the same one poking around the group’s vehicle earlier in the film – finds the camera Reid dropped in his abduction, or whatever you’d like to officially call it. So my only beef is: how did the footage get “found” then? It seemed to me like this old guy was a part of the conspiracy, in some way. Perhaps I’m wrong and he was another intrigued mind, maybe the reality is he came across the tape while trying to find his own evidence of some sort. Then it’s VERY clear how the footage made it out. So I can’t knock Peli for this last bit, as I’m not sure how exactly it was intended to play off. I’d like to believe the old man was another person prodding around for tangible proof of Area 51 and its contents, just as Reid and his friends; the knocking on their door in that one scene would then be seen as him probably warning them, attempting to steer them off a course of danger.
I don’t think Area 51 is anything special, but it’s also not as terrible as some seem to be making it out to be, as if there aren’t worse instances of both aliens/Area 51 and found footage out there (which there most certainly are).
Overall, it’s about a 2 out of 5 star film. The build-up is marred by too much jumping back and forth in the finale. Oren Peli instead tries to lean hard on the exposition, spelling out the fate of each and every character perfectly without leaving any sort of room for imagination. This isn’t always bad – you don’t have to NOT answer questions to be a good film. But Peli is too heavy handed, and any of the mystery he’d cultivated throughout the first three quarters of Area 51 disappears over the closing fifteen minutes. There are a few great scenes, honestly, from scares to interesting uses of the found footage sub-genre. The acting isn’t awful, but it’s by no means anything to write home about. Especially in the finale of the film, all the emotions and intensity of those scenes could’ve come off WAY BETTER if the actors pulled their weight, or in turn if the actors were replaced with better actors.
I’m not even that big on Paranormal Activity, other than the fact it was slightly innovative for found footage, but I’d absolutely recommend seeing that one over this directorial effort from Peli. See this if you’re looking to burn off an hour and a half. Plus, you might enjoy a few of the special effects the way I did. Who knows; stranger things have happened.
Almost Human. 2013. Directed & Written by Joe Begos.
Starring Graham Skipper, Josh Ethier, Vanessa Leigh, Susan T. Travers, and Anthony Amaral III. IFC Midnight.
Not Rated. 80 minutes.
While this was made in 2013 and released in certain areas, this didn’t make its way to Canada until 2014, so it’s one of my favourite films of the past year. Though, I’m sure many will have their own issues with this film directed by Joe Begos (his first feature), this is one of the best alien abduction films in the past decade. It’s a lower budget independent film, but it packs all the solid punch of a really great big budget sci-fi thriller.
Almost Human tells us of the disappearance of Mark Fisher, who is sucked into the sky by a mysterious blue light, as he leaves behind a helpless lover and his best friend Seth (Graham Skipper). Almost two years later, lights in the sky appear just as they did that fateful night. All of a sudden, Seth’s small town suffers a rash of brutal killings possibly perpetrated by one man. It turns out Mark has come home. While he may be almost human, he is still far from it. He came back to take what’s his, and to help his abductors begin a reign of terror on planet earth.
Yes, there are a few instances where the acting in Almost Human is not perfect. I don’t always need an indie film to have stellar acting. I can’t handle bad acting, and there wasn’t any here, but certainly a few scenes could have been played better with more experienced actors. That being said, none of these small moments ruin anything in the long run. They do nothing to subvert the tension or the horror in any way. There’s just a couple “oops” moments where you’ll probably think to yourself they should have done another take or two – unfortunately, that’s not always hot things work, especially when it comes to indie film. Whereas some may think these bits detract from the overall film, they don’t. Just a few minor bumps in the road. Begos put together a really awesome little cast. The lead actors had chemistry together, and that’s one of the most important things. The opening scenes were really great suspenseful, tense moments and this really shows how well the cast work together, at their best.
I admire any film that tries to go for something less typical. While there are a few shots in this movie that will no doubt remind you of other alien abduction films, mostly it is some really fresh material. For instance, I know people will think of Fire in the Sky particularly, as that’s probably one of the greatest alien abduction films out there. Period. But this really takes on a much different angle, where the aliens aren’t merely abducting humans – they’re beaming them up and essentially arming them to go back to earth and either destroy or reproduce. Not only that, there are a few incredible effects that were very effective in making this a different film than the norm. One of the craziest moments is when Mark finally gets hold of his former girlfriend Jen – alien Mark latches onto her between the legs in order to fertilize her with the some more little alien babies. This was just wild and disturbing. The men are given similar treatment, but not anally, just through the mouth. I don’t know what that says about Begos or the aliens, but either way I thought it was a really unsettling and scary way to play out. It was bad enough watching Mark suction his alien mouth onto some of the men he implanted – this moment is just WHOA. I love it though, as sick as it is, because the whole thing works. This is a horrorshow for alien fanatics.
I’ve got no problems giving Almost Human a 3.5 out of 5 stars. Sometimes it frustrates me when people respond the way they do to new, fresh ideas. While this is a tale we’ve sort of seen before, it’s still different. We have a few movies dealing with aliens taking human form and hunting down actual humans, or just aliens preying on humans in general (everything from Predator to The Hidden), but this plot is really spectacular and original, as opposed to so many formulaic alien films. There are some incredible effects, which really drives things along in an alien-themed horror film. A lot of the ways people envision aliens are extremely played out, but Begos opts to mostly show the aliens in terms of them commandeering human bodies; we get their sounds, their bodies (the suction cup mouth-thing), all that sort of stuff, while the aliens are still inside human forms. So in that way, Begos doesn’t have to go ahead and give us any full-fledged looks at one of the aliens. This way, the budget isn’t overblown, and playing into the title, makes things much more human.
I’d recommend any fans of alien abduction films check this out. There are some fresh bits in here you don’t want to miss out on, and I think there are also a lot of great horror elements to make this a must-see. This is a great throwback to older horror movies, as well. It has a retro feel without really trying to pursue it – the whole mood and atmosphere sort of falls into place with everything else, all on its own. Begos is a talented young filmmaker. I hope he’ll continue to try and bring innovative ideas into horror – whether they be totally original, or interesting twists on familiar stories. Regardless, this shows a lot of potential. It also deserves a much higher rating than it has online, as well as deserves more praise in general. Great alien horror fun! Plus, the end was pretty savage. Some may call it typical, but it was pulled off better than most who go for the same sort of finale.
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.