The group take shelter in a high school, where they find more danger; zombies or otherwise.
The Craft. 1996. Directed by Andrew Fleming. Screenplay by Peter Filardi & Fleming.
Starring Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Christine Taylor, Breckin Meyer, Nathaniel Marston, Cliff De Young, Assumpta Serna, Helen Shaver, Jeanine Jackson, & Brenda Strong. Columbia Pictures Corporation.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
The 1990s were an underrated time for horror. Certainly not the best decade, but most certainly not appreciated enough. An era that gave us Scream, Braindead, Hardware, It, Nightbreed, The Blair Witch Project and other lesser loved bits of horror cinema such as Lucio Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain, Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, and John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, among many other titles. Particularly with Craven’s Scream there was a new renewal in the studios’ interests to cater towards the youth market. Not that they ever stopped. Yet The Craft is a coming-of-age tale, wrapped up in the fantasy of witchcraft and packaged in a neatly bowed horror romp. And while this definitely comes off as a movie marketed towards teenagers, looking back on it 20 years later it’s more than just a teen horror flick. Inside the story of four witches who come together during high school there are themes of good, evil, innocence, guilt, and plenty of other interesting subjects. With a solid cast in the four main women this horror goes further than being relegated to being a horror ‘chick flick’ or a movie better left back in adolescence. Director Andrew Fleming’s first film was the trippy 1988 horror Bad Dreams, but after The Craft he really abandoned horror for comedy and television mostly. Too bad. Because between those two horrors he has a talent for the macabre. This story of four young witches is better than a casual movie to give you a little creep, it has lots of terror to offer, making high school appear even more violent, volatile and nerve wracking than it has been since Carrie.
Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney) and her family move to a new city. She’s had plenty of tragedy in life, as her mother is dead and her father tries his best to raise a teenage girl. Things get intense once Sarah meets three girls rumoured to be witches – Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True), and their fiesty little leader Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk). Slowly, the young women come together in a quartet and finally realize all their collective powers, summoned from the deep darkness.
What follows begins as a group of friends exploring their natural talents, an antiquated power in a modern world.
However, soon enough the ugly head of competition appears, and Nancy doesn’t like that Sarah’s powers are stronger than the other girls. And this sets off a deadly series of events which Sarah must either stop, or be swept up in. Is her power truly the strongest? Or does Nancy hold the full power of the occult and Hell at her fingertips?
The theme of outsiders is clearly central here. And it’s all amped up even more. First, you’ve got a group of teenage girls; from boys to interpersonal relationships to the general race of high school to win popularity and acceptance. Then they’re also witches, sitting on the fringe of society, both as a whole and in the microcosm of grade school. Plus, there’s periods, and mean boys, and mean girls. Added to all of that, each of the main girls has their own issue. Nancy (Balk) is poor, dealing with a stepfather whose interests lie a little too close to his wife’s daughter. Rochelle (True) is black and has to face the ignorant racism of a lily white girl that says she doesn’t “like negroids.” Bonnie (Campbell) has scar tissue all over her body, it makes her self-conscious and the treatments to try curing her are extremely painful. Finally, Sarah (Tunney) laments the death of her mother, and it’s obvious she’s filled with dark, sometimes suicidal thoughts. So part of why The Craft touched me deeply, as a drama mixed with horror, is because we’re essentially watching four young women who want to escape from their dreary reality. They want something better, something bigger, and they get it. How many of us didn’t want to make the bullies at school pay? Well here we live vicariously through Rochelle, whose spell makes the popular blonde girl’s hair start falling out, and through Sarah who puts a heavy love spell on a guy that spread dirty rumours about her, and so on. Each of their experiences brings to light the experience of many as young people, as students, as growing men and women in the world. I saw this movie when I was about 11 and it spoke to me because I was a weird kid, one that stood as part of a group that didn’t play hockey or weren’t the cool kids, so seeing these four witches go through their own experiences, it simultaneously spoke to my own feelings as a loser or an outcast. This is a major reason why The Craft‘s fans are hardcore, loving ones, because this isn’t only a fantastical horror flick about young witches, it has a heart and like many awesome horror movies there is more than meets the eye.
Let’s face it – the cast would’ve never been so iconic and exciting if these four ladies weren’t in the film. As an antagonist, Balk’s Nancy Downs is perfect. She is beautiful and weird, then also terrifying at the same time. She can switch on a dime from being sort of cute in an oddball way to becoming overwhelmingly horrific. Part of why her charater works is because Balk has a unique look. So with all her charisma and energy, she brings a wildness to the cast. In addition, Balk is an actual Wiccan, so she provided insight during the filming when possible. Our protagonist is equally wonderful. Tunney’s Sarah is a calm, quiet type, and after she becomes involved with the other girls develops a more outgoing personality. Tunney provides a relateable personality to which we can anchor ourselves going forward, and she allows us a type of center. We latch onto her because of her problems. Then once the witchcraft stuff spirals out of control at the hands of Nancy, there’s a very good v. evil vibe because of Sarah portraying the near polar opposite character. With these two actresses at the helm, alongside Campbell and True as sidekicks, as well as 90s staple Skeet Ulrich in a decent little supporting role that adds fire to the plot, The Craft is a step above many of the other youth-marketed movies during the decade because of its stellar acting.
The finale of the film is perhaps my favourite. Because everything devolves so quickly, then a real horrorshow takes place. Like a fever dream filled to the brim by witchcraft and jealousy and youthful rage.
With a nice finish, and plenty of eeriness along the way, The Craft is most definitely, in my books, a 4-star flick. It has dark fantasy, moody teen issues, heavy themes, a knockout cast, and ends with an unsettling ride. In a decade that has many underappreciated works of horror cinema, the 1990s provided us with one of the better movies on witchcraft out there. Too many will try and discredit the film, saying it’s a ‘safe’ teen horror. There’s nothing safe about this one, though. Tackling everything from suicide to race to rape to teen angst, The Craft stands its ground as a contemporary piece of horror with a razor sharp set of teeth.
We Need to Talk About Kevin. 2011. Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Screenplay by Rory Stewart Kinnear & Lynne Ramsay; based on the novel of the same name by Lion Shriver.
Starring Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, John C. Reilly, Jasper Newell, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Alex Manette, James Chen and Lauren Fox. BBC Films/UK Film Council/Independent.
Rated R. 112 minutes.
Director Lynne Ramsay has done a couple very interesting films thus far. Her debut feature Ratcatcher is a bleak but important bit of cinema. Her follow-up feature, Morvern Callar, is a beautiful, elegant and atmospheric film with a solid performance from Samantha Norton. Ramsay’s style is at times gritty and realistic, which lends itself excellently to We Need to Talk About Kevin, and others it can take on the quality of dreams, again giving power to her latest work.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is not just powerful filmmaking. It is also incredibly powerful storytelling and writing in general. The novel tackled a viciously sensitive subject in the United States. Five years later, we still hear of school shootings, or mass shootings in general every few weeks, if that. The specter of Columbine will always loom over the U.S. no matter if there was never another shooting at a school again. But the fact it’s become too commonplace in the States is just another sensitive point in this dark tale. However, it isn’t simply the violence which Ramsay focuses on in her film, it is the lead up to the violent act which Kevin commits that takes center stage. Watching this film is a way of understanding the other side, the families of those who commit atrocious acts, and Ramsay dives to the heart of doubt, guilt, and self-hatred with the help of one of the greatest actors of our time, Tilda Swinton, as well as the enormous talent of young Ezra Miller.
Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) has seen better days. Long after the incident which marred her life for eternity, she struggles to find work. She used to be a great travel writer, a cushy job and lots of security. But after her troubled son Kevin (Ezra Miller) murdered and permanently injured many people at his high school, life is a bit rough. Her and former husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) no longer love one another, which really started to happen even before the killing, but ever since Kevin’s hideous acts their relationship is worse.
As Eva struggles to try and make it through her immediate future, we watch the flashbacks of her life, including even the ones she might not want us to witness. We see how Kevin grew into what he became, the monster which walked into that high school and killed people, but more than that we discover why Eva is almost determined to take the abuse thrown at her by strangers, grieving fathers and mothers in the streets. The guilt she feels is due to her relationship with Kevin.
But can we really blame Eva, no matter what she did, for Kevin’s actions?
This film presents us with a moral dilemma. Now, there’s never a point where I once thought Eva should be held responsible for her son’s murderous nature. At the same time, though, we still find ourselves questioning her parenting skills. One of the most interesting scenes, or more so a set of scenes which parallel one another, is when Eva gives birth. The two scenes are juxtaposed at different points in time, but if we remember them together it’s intriguing. First, when Eva has Kevin not only do we witness the pain and struggle she went through during labour, we further see the distant and detached look on her face afterwards, as if Eva knew she were giving birth to a child that would cause her more torment over the years. Later on, after Eva gives birth to her little girl when Kevin is about six-years-old, the mother is happy, holding her child and showering the newborn baby with affection. I find these two scenes amazing in what they suggest. Not that you’ll find it hard to understand all those sentiments in other portions of the film. Almost every scene is weighted down with significance.
A theme I loved here is that of washing blood off of one’s hands, which we see physically represented at various points throughout the film. Such as in the first scene where we’re introduced to the present day Eva; her house and car are covered in red paint, obviously thrown by angry people either connected to the shooting by relation to victims or just people from town who scapegoat her as the mother of a killer. Afterwards, Eva tries to sandblast the paint off her siding, effectively washing the blood off her entire home. Another scene later sees Eva washing a blood-like substance of her hands into the sink, an even better image of her in the vein of Lady Macbeth, only she had no part in Kevin’s murders. She only thinks she did, as a supposedly bad mother. Yet what the whole angle of Eva’s being a good or bad mother presents is this: can we sometimes, in rare cases, actually blame the child for a mother, or father, being hard, uncaring, et cetera? It’s almost as if Kevin pushed her into being the mother she was, bringing on all her anger and loathing. We see both sides, and in the end are left to judge exactly what we feel. Near the end there’s a moment when Eva hugs her son close, perhaps the first time since he was a tiny infant unable to push her away, and you can feel that she does love him. It’s simply that Kevin, from day one as a screeching baby, has made it a tough thing to do.
Both Miller and Swinton give terrific, out-of-the-park performances as troubled son and withered mother. On top of the atmosphere Ramsay conjures up with gorgeous, darkly framed scenes and plenty of intensely raw close-ups, these two actors propel We Need to Talk About Kevin towards near masterpiece. A definite 4.5 out of 5 star film. Each time I see it there is a new disturbing feeling with which I walk away, every time there is something else to catch my eye, and catch the words in my throat to describe how I feel. Swinton is the centerpiece of this wonderful movie and carries much of it on her shoulders alone, even in those silent moments where all we get is her face, her eyes. Although, you can’t forget about Miller either, whose star only rises further and further with each film he takes on. All the elements of Ramsay’s film come together to leave a stone in your gut, in your heart. If you can handle the morbidity, I definitely suggest this as a movie for a rainy afternoon, a dark night, or any time you can handle its at times tough to digest themes.
Chronicle. 2012. Directed by Josh Trank. Screenplay by Max Landis.
Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, and Anna Wood. Twentieth Century Fox.
Rated 14A. 84 minutes.
I’m always a defender of found footage. There are plenty of instances of bad found footage films, but who cares? Why does it bother people SO MUCH? For every few bad ones, there’s a really good one waiting to be found. Honestly, if you dig through a lot of the indie found footage efforts you’ll find more than just a few good movies. Any genre or sub-genre can be used well if it’s done appropriately, in a way which helps the story a film is telling or a mood that’s trying to be attained.
I’m not a huge fan of Max Landis, solely because of some of his interviews and his incessant Twitter ranting/whining – who am I, though, to have an opinion on his personality really? That’s merely how he comes across on social media, and IN the media. Either way, I don’t particularly like how he bashes other films while some of his own don’t do so hot. It’s as if every movie that comes out he’s got his own version, his own ideas, a fan-fiction script built around his conception of how the plot and story should’ve went. Or, he simply has negative opinions instead of being constructive. This doesn’t get in the way of me enjoying any work he does that’s actually good. But honestly? To me, Chronicle is the only decent output of his. Only one man’s opinion.
The fun really begins once the guys are documenting themselves a little while after their encounter with the glowing meteor. First, they throw baseballs at one another and hit each other in the faces, until Andrew (Dane DeHaan) steps up and stops one of them right before it hits his face – the look in his eyes and the reaction they all have is excellent. One of the things I love most about this part is how natural they all feel together. Of course they each have their own separate personalities within the group, the three do feel like friends and the relationship seems natural on camera. Part of why some found footage does not work is because everything feels so forced and inorganic. Here in Chronicle I feel that how the actors make the relationships between their characters feel so organic is a huge part of the film’s overall charm. When you’ve got actors like Michael B. Jordan and Dane DeHaan holding up this type of movie, the relationships and the characters themselves all feel tangible. As opposed to other movies where young actors don’t pull their weight, the main trio including Alex Russell have tons of charisma. Plus, their energy and their commitment to the respective roles is evident. I often say certain roles couldn’t be played by anyone other than who was cast; that’s not always true. Although, here it’s pretty damn true.
DeHaan is a solid actor. As of late, he’s been banging out good performances. From his work as Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings to The Place Beyond the Pines and his short part in The Devil’s Knot. Almost everything he touches, whether his role is big or small, has been very interesting; sometimes if only for his efforts.
The other person whom I love is Jordan. He’s a charismatic man who brings an immediate likability to the character. And it goes well with the others. They each have distinct and different personalities, but Jordan’s character has the personality which anchors them all. All three of the main characters are representative of people we all knew in high school, certainly, and Jordan is that funny, nice, inclusive sort of dude who bridges the gaps. At the same time, he’s almost a perfect parallel for the character DeHaan plays, so that’s another reason why I loved him in the film. Mostly, the actors are able to bring us into the human dramatics at the center of the action, the root of why the movie and its screenplay are so damn interesting in the first place.
A big aspect of the movie and why it succeeds in being so innovative as a found footage film is the incorporation of a good deal of special effects. And awesome ones, too. The best part of this is the fact the video camera has a plausible way of staying around, no matter how wild it may seem in its placement. Because with the powers, the camera can go anywhere, be anywhere, simply by DeHaan’s character levitating it and taking it wherever he goes. A reason why I hate reading reviews on found footage movies sometimes is because so many people are too concerned with the footage itself – and yes, I understand that’s part of it, but why nitpick SO HARD? Sometimes, it’s deserved. Others it doesn’t need to be a relevant factor, you can just enjoy the found footage premise. At least Landis wrote his screenplay in a way that takes this into account, and jumps that hurdle in a fairly excellent manner. So then when you add in all the special effects on top of that, there’s an impressive feeling to many of the film’s scenes.
One favourite part of mine is when they go flying, tossing a football, and the danger of the powers slowly starts to become more and more evident. The fact these high school kids are blessed with such intense superpowers, and they’re so immaturely interested in testing them out, makes the stakes of the film higher. We work up to that, too. First, the special effects start with the baseball throwing, then as above, the Lego building (which I love love loved). Then, it moves onto bigger things, taking us further and further with these high school guys until the scary aspects of their newly gained powers emerge, becoming dangerous for them personally and later violent for anyone and everyone around them.
Even more than that, the special effects and the powers are on display in a vastly different sense than any regular superhero film.
I’ve always been amazed by Chronicle, from the first time I saw it when it was released a few years ago now. 4.5 stars all the way. There were a few minor nitpicks I have, but they’re not worth discussing. Overall, this is a solid piece of cinema with plenty of drama and science fiction to go around. Furthermore, despite anything else Max Landis was able to flip the superhero genre on its head with this one, at least slightly. We’re so used to seeing superpowers used for good, other than the villains we see in the good guys’ movies – because let’s face it, the heroes are always the focus anyways. But here, we almost see the birth of a villain, and it gives us a sort of prequel to life of a supervillain; also with the same care and tact superheroes are given, showing us the inner life, the workings of his mind and how he comes to be who he is in the end.
If you’ve been dragging your feet on this one, give that shit up. Check this one out and hopefully it might prove to be a nice counter-balance to all the superhero movies now inundating our senses, of which I’m not a fan. This is a different twist on an old story, so there’s plenty of fresh, fun stuff to keep your mind aflutter.
The Gallows. 2015. Directed & Written by Travis Cluff/Chris Lofing.
Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff, Price T. Morgan, Theo Burkhardt, David Herrera, Gannon Del Fierro, Mackie Burt, and Adrian Salas. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 81 minutes.
Found footage is a sub-genre I do enjoy, honestly. That being said, there is still a fine line between what I enjoy and what I find crap. Some people say it’s all crap; that’s just dismissive, to me. I’m a fan of Cannibal Holocaust, unapologetically I love The Blair Witch Project, and then there’s newer stuff I’ve enjoyed like the V/H/S trilogy (I got a ton of online shit on an IMDB message board for my love of all three especially the third), Lovely Molly, and the terrifyingly unsettling Home Movie. There are other titles, I just don’t want to go on. You get the picture: if something is done right using found footage, I believe there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyable. Certain people seem to think the whole sub-genre is useless, but again, I say that’s nonsense. Found footage needs to be used effectively, otherwise it’s simply another gimmick. To say there’s no good found footage is ignorant.
The Gallows has a fun premise and I haven’t seen any found footage so far to use this setting. The majority of what I enjoyed about this movie is the atmosphere, most of which came from the location of the school’s auditorium/theatre. Otherwise, I found almost all the characters to be stiff; the high school dramatics felt real, I did think Reese Mishler and Cassidy Gifford were pretty decent throughout the movie, but overall the cast wasn’t very solid. With only a little to enjoy, The Gallows feels more like a wasted opportunity than an absolutely useless horror.
Starting with a recorded home video from 1993, we see a boy named Charlie Grimille accidentally hang to death during a high school play. Worst of all, it happens in front of an audience who watch on in absolute fear and horror.
The present day in The Gallows sees a new production of the play being put off. In one of the main roles, a jock named Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) tries his best to play his part opposite a girl he has a crush on named Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown). At the same time, Reese’s jock budy Ryan Shoos (that’s also his real name) films everything behind the scenes, supposedly helping but doing nothing except make a mockery of the production while others work hard and passionately to make it the best they can.
In an effort to supposedly save his buddy Reese the shame and failure of going onstage, Ryan suggests breaking into the school’s theatre at night and trashing the set. That way the production would be halted and Reese could ‘comfort’ Pfeifer. Misguided and foolish, Ryan, Reese, and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) head into the school through a door said to never be locked, due to it being broken for years.
However, once they run into Pfeifer inside – who wonders why they’re even there in the first place, as they wonder the same about her – they discover the door is now locked, out of the blue. What follows is a horrifying night for the group of friends while they begin to figure out all about what happened 20 years ago to Charlie Grimille, and why he’s still lurking in the shadows of the school.
There’s certainly an innovative aspect to The Gallows in its premise. I think beyond that, there’s not much to distinguish it from other found footage horror movies. However, the whole concept is pretty fun. Theatres in general all have their own spooky nature; there’s something eerie about a theatre, all the history and the many people who’ve graced both the stage and the seats. Add in a school and it’s even creepier, as old schools all have their own history, many lives passing through its halls and corridors, as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the filmmakers used this premise enough to their advantage. As I said, most of The Gallows sticks to the bargain basement techniques of Found Footage 101. For instance, there’s an early and needless jump scare – that you can’t even fully call a proper jump scare – which involves Ryan (Shoos) just popping up in front of his camera in his bedroom; not even horror, simply him trying to pull a gag. Stupid, and also gets your heart pumping for no good reason. A jump scare is effective if there’s a reason, if there is purpose to it, however, if you simply make people jump without any substance whatsoever then it’s a piss off. For me, anyways. There’s always the “trick jump scare” in horror movies, but this is not one of those at all. It’s just a dumb addition; in fact, the scene in which it’s involved serves no purpose itself, so the whole 1 minute or so could’ve easily been trimmed out of the film.
Even though the movie uses so much of the shaky cam style, there’s still a decent atmosphere all the same. As someone who acted a great deal from a young age up until my early twenties, I spent a massive amount of time in theatres; specifically the big one at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts back in my hometown, which partly resembles the auditorium of the school in this film. There’s something inherently spooky about the cold, sterile like hallways in the basement, the darkness of the theatre behind the stage, which immediately makes things unsettling.
If this were done in straight style, using some more steady handheld work even, I think it would’ve benefited greatly. Now I know, Blumhouse most likely wanted to try another lower budget found footage effort and try to make big bucks; the estimated budget is only$100K, which by industry standards in Hollywood is a minuscule production. But still, this is where the concept of the entire film becomes wasted. I’m confident had the filmmakers chosen to do this without found footage, a ton more emotion would’ve come through, the backstory might’ve benefitted – as well as the ghostly presence of Charlie – and the scares could’ve been ten times more effective.
Sadly, The Gallows comes out much like so many of the low budget indie efforts in the found footage genre – the ones unable to rise up to the weight of their premise.
One particular scene I did find effectively creepy, regardless of the found footage style (mostly because the phone camera being stationary for the shots), was when SPOILER ALERT Cassidy (Gifford) is in the red lighted hallway; behind her in the dark creeps the figure, hooded like the Hangman from the play. What I find most scary here is how there’s a moment where you don’t see anything, then all of a sudden – as if magic – the noose is around her neck. An unseen force drags her away through a door in the background of the shot, and it slams shut behind her. Very good and creepy scene, I found it wasn’t jumpy it was simply a nice shock to the system. A solid scare.
Furthermore, there’s a scene where Reese (Houser) and Pfeifer (Brown) are running from the ghostly presence of Charlie, clad in the suit of the Hangman, and they’re climbing up a ladder – we get an excellent, terrifying look at the Hangman mask/suit up-close. It’s again not a jump scare, so much as it’s one brief look that gives you enough to make you go WHOA. I’d almost love to see a slasher now set in medieval times, or before, with a hangman as the slasher – it’s just the first thing that popped in my mind when I saw the mask. Awesome little shot, not too long and not too short.
A part of the plot I did like was when everything returned in a circular fashion to the stage, as Reese and Pfeifer act out their scene together, and the camera turns on. The lights go up as well and the stage is set.
However, after that sequence I found things started to fall off. What I don’t like is how Blumhouse is basically setting things up right at the end for another movie. That’s essentially what happens, can anyone disagree? It’s like a mash of things happening right at the end. There’s simply too many reaching connections. So SPOILER ALERT AGAIN we’re meant to believe that Charlie’s girlfriend – the woman who continued to sit in the same seat and watch the practices, waiting for another performance of the play which killed her boyfriend 20 years ago – is also Pfeifer’s mom? I’m pretty slick most of the time, so I apologize if I’ve misunderstood. But the finale is pretty much tell us all that. I found it very mixed and matched, like puzzle pieces not intended to fit together which were simply mashed into a pile for the sake of trying to turn The Gallows – and Charlie – into an iconic style horror movie.
But this is another problem I have, I feel like Charlie is made out to be this slasher type killer. Instead he’s a ghost with a noose. That’s fine. At the same time, the movie is being marketed in a sense that Charlie’s supposed to be aimed toward becoming the next Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I think not. First of all, the movie itself is nowhere near good enough to become anything like either John Carpenter’s Halloween or Friday the 13th. Second, Charlie just doesn’t come across in that way. There are most certainly a couple creepy scenes, there’s not enough viciousness for me to say Charlie is a bonafide slasher. Maybe had he really done a psychotic job on one of the high school kids, I could give in and say there are elements about the character which fit the bill. I can’t say that at all because most of what happens is ghostly creeping in the background, supernatural deaths, and nothing in the way of any blood. It’ all about the noose. Certainly no gore anywhere to be found. Is there really any way we can call Charlie a SLASHER if he did no slashing? Something to think about. I guess that’s partly the marketing’s problem. Still, I feel as if the filmmakers were also pushing towards that, particularly with the ending. There’s just no way I can get with that.
I can give The Gallows a 2 out of 5 star rating and feel okay with that. Some people say this is utterly trash. That’s fine, I respect anyone’s opinion as long as they’re not trying to force it on me as if I should feel the same way. However, I don’t think every last piece of this movie is bad. There are spots I thought were incredibly unsettling – one scene where Ryan slowly discovers there’s a body hanging up in between the walls in this tight crawlspace-like room I found to be VERY CREEPY. Ultimately though what makes The Gallows fall short is a reliance on horror cliches and tropes to the point of retreading too deeply through the footsteps of so many other found footage horror efforts, as well as the fact I found much of the acting (aside from Cassidy Gifford and Reese Mishler) extremely wooden. Not to mention I found the ending poor, beyond rushed, and it felt as they were forcing everything down our throats. While I did find parts of it scary, that finale did nothing for film overall and only served to make me actually say aloud once the lights came up: “Oh wow – that end was rough”.
Like I’d mentioned before, I think The Gallows would’ve made a better film if it went without found footage. Alas, Blumhouse – while doing exciting things on other ends – loves to go for the low budget shots in the dark like this after their huge success with bleeding dry the premise of Paranormal Activity. So it’s no wonder they went for a found footage style here instead of filming it regularly. Maybe more money would’ve been pumped in, but it still could’ve told the story more effectively, creeped people out in a much more visceral way than they accomplished here, and perhaps the performances might’ve also benefited from having a solid style. I can’t recommend this much, however, it isn’t as terrible as some critics and people online are making it out to be.
See it if you want to judge for yourself, and I urge you to do so – I’m no one to be listening to, really. Just don’t believe all the trashing, while at the same time you need to remember you won’t find anything more than a generic found footage horror. There are tons of better found footage movies out there to get you creeped out.
Insidious: Chapter 3. 2014. Directed & Written by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Lin Shaye, Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Tate Berney, Michael Reid MacKay, Steve Coulter, Hayley Kiyoko, Corbett Tuck, and Tom Fitzpatrick. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
I’m a fan of the two previous Insidious films. Reason being, I think James Wan did a pretty damn good job, together with the script from Leigh Whannell, in conjuring up a tense, suspenseful, and eerie atmosphere. Above all, I love when a horror film can carry that sort of atmosphere and tone throughout its runtime. While they’re not perfect, the first two movies were scary; to me anyways. I dig a good haunted house story and Wan/Whannell provided that with Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2.
There was no surprise Blumhouse would try and pump out another one. I waited with baited breath to see exactly what might come out of it and I didn’t exactly expect that the third in the trilogy would live up to what the first two created. However, I was slightly surprised. It isn’t great, but Insidious: Chapter 3 has a good bit of that atmosphere and tone from the first two, as well as the fact Lin Shaye returns in another stellar performance as embattled demon seeker Elise Rainier. One thing I think that helps most is the fact Leigh Whannell not only writes this entry in the series, he makes his directorial debut with the third part, which extends much of the creepiness created by himself and Wan throughout the first two movies.
Taking place a long time after Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) helped a young Josh Lambert with his problems, and just before Josh’s own son Dalton went through the same trouble, Insidious: Chapter 3 begins with Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) going to see Elise Rainier unannounced. Her mother passed away and Quinn wants to contact her. Unfortunately, while trying to help Elise is clearly troubled; she advises Quinn find someone else who does the same thing and get them to help.
At home, Quinn’s single father Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney) tries to wrangle everything by himself. Between Quinn and her little brother Alex (Tate Berney), things are hectic.
An aspiring actress, Quinn heads to an audition. She’s looking to get into a good acting school for her post-secondary studies. Instead, out of nowhere, Quinn is hit by a car. This propels her, for the briefest of time, into The Further. After she comes back quickly, out of the darkness and back to reality, Quinn has clearly seen something inexplainable, something in another world. This sets off all the mysterious events which follow.
I thought the writing – especially the characters themselves – was fairly solid. Once again, the family is a centrepiece for all of what unfolds in terms of The Further (see my other reviews for Part 1/Part 2 if for some reason you’ve not watched the previous movies) coming into play. For instance, the teenage characters don’t come off as too forcibly written on Whannell’s part. What I mean is that they’re smart, obviously, but they don’t say these ridiculously eloquent, elaborate things NO highschooler would ever say; I can’t think of great examples off the top of my head, but you know the types, you’ve seen them before. So that’s one thing I thought Whannell did great with because too many screenwriters – especially male screenwriters trying to write female characters –
Some people say Insidious: Chapter 3 is not as scary as the others. Me, I say there’s definitely some nice, creepy stuff happening in this instalment. Even quickly off the bat, Quinn starts seeing a shadowy figure in the distance waving to her, almost calling out for Quinn to follow. First, the figure appears in the catwalk at the theatre where she’s auditioning. Then in the streets, right before she’s hit by a car, the figure – a man – waves at her from far off once more. These little bits help to make a similar dreadful atmosphere as Wan culled in the first two films. Although here it’s different, which isn’t a bad thing. Everything is still eerie, though, Whannell brings his own style to the mix.
I also liked the little quick jump-scare of the man’s face in close-up – when Quinn slips into The Further briefly while surgeons are working away on her after the car accident, the terrifying face flashes quickly. What I love most about this is how it reminds me of the quick flashes of the demon in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist; not sure if this was intentional, but it does bring that shot to my mind specifically. Also, this didn’t make me want to have a heart attack like certain jumps do. It was brief and very effective at the same time.
A huge aspect of why I enjoyed this third film is because we’re getting more out of the character Elise Rainier. Even in the slightest ways – she lays down in bed and says “Goodnight Jack” and hugs tight to what looks like a man’s sweater. So there’s depth to Elise, she isn’t merely a one-note psychic sort fo woman. And I love that, not just simply due to the fact Lin Shaye is a total badass and wonderful actress (even in her slovenly role as Landlady in Kingpin which still haunts me to this very day). Elise is a big part of why I loved both movies; I’m not huge on her sidekicks, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), but I think her alone is enough to keep anyone interested. Particularly, after we’re treated to the flashbacks showing a young Josh Lambert being plagued by demons in The Further and Elise coming to their aid, doesn’t it make you just want to know everything about her? Then there’s her relationship with Carl (Steve Coulter), who showed up in the last film, which I thought was an excellent inclusion. In this movie, we see a little more of Carl and so his character/story gets a little more broad than before.
Most of all, though, it’s Elise. She is what draws me to the franchise overall, as it’s her who has dealt most closely with demons and The Further, she knows all about it and she has all the senses. I love the scene here where she’s lying in bed, hugging her obviously late husband’s cardigan (we discover later for sure he committed suicide only a year before), and then out of nowhere she feels something, a presence, she scrambles for the light – nothing’s there, yet the air feels terrifying. Good stuff showing how sensitive Elise is to the other side opposite that of the living.
The overall aesthetic of Insidious as a franchise is something which keeps me interested. It’s the whole reason – aside from Lin Shaye – I ever bothered to go see this one.
I’m a huge fan of the score in these films. I’d not – to my shame – checked on who was the composer for the music in either of the films. So doing this review I wanted to see if it was the same person. Naturally, it was: Joseph Bishara. The reason I had to check is because, while there are plenty of similarities, Bishara does bring us some new work in the score for Chapter 3. A lot of those heavy, dreaded string bursts are still present, however, he also gives us some bright and beautiful sounding stuff such as in a few scenes with Elise. Either way, he is one part of why that finely tuned aesthetic from the series keeps going.
While the look in this film was handled by a different cinematographer, Brian Pearson, I do think he is up to snuff with how he crafts the scenes visually. Just to note, Pearson did some work as D.P on the fairly excellent series Masters of Horror, as well as a recent film I’m a big fan of – the savage and excellent American Mary. He does good stuff keeping many scenes draped in darkness, as the previous films looked. So even though it isn’t exactly the same carbon copy of style, there is a ton of similar atmosphere built up through how Pearson shoots each scene in a tone down, darkened manner.
Furthermore, the art director Jason Garner worked on the previous Chapter 2, so I think his clearly excellent work there extended to this film. For those who aren’t big on the job descriptions for film work, an art director helps to create the film’s vision in terms of locations, sets, and that in turn brings about a visual aesthetic for the film. The houses and everything which are new in this movie, they really fit in with the entire Insidious franchise world. If you watched these all simultaneously, I think they’d match up unbelievably well.
In regards to the plot, I like the character of Quinn and how she ended up in contact with The Further. Plus it plays into the whole subplot of her mother’s death, trying to reach her in the afterlife and such. It’s a great way to have spun things off from the central story of the first two Insidious films. A lot of these spin-offs can end up really spinning out of control, or just being nonsensical additions to a franchise simply for the sake of raking in money. With this movie, I don’t see it being that way. Sure – profit is the major concern of studios. However, I think especially with Leigh Whannell writing this instead of it being farmed out to writers/directors not already a part of the franchise, Insidious: Chapter 3 is able to hold up in quality near to its predecessors. It’s not as good, but I feel as if it’s pretty damn close.
Also thought it was great the way Whannell setup The Bride in Black as being an entity who actively wanted to kill Elise. This sort of explains their history, as well as why the Bride purposely got into Josh and then strangled Elise at the end of the first Insidious. Not as if there was a massive need to explain anything in detail there, I just find this movie’s script capitalized and added more depth to the other films.
All in all, I think this was a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It wasn’t perfect. My biggest complaint about Insidious: Chapter 3 is that there’s more unfunny comedy with Specs/Tucker – something I didn’t like about the others but here it’s even more unbearable with such forced comedy on behalf of the Tucker character. Very lame. Then, I also thought there was something missing about the possession angle involving Quinn. While I found Josh Lambert’s possession in the others excellent, plus Patrick Wilson played him well, I didn’t like the way they did Quinn’s possessed state. It was too similar to the rip-offs of Japanese horror in American movies. I liked lots of the stuff involving Josh being possessed, it just didn’t seem to carry over here.
The finale of the film was decent. Honestly, though, I prefer the first half to three-quarters of the film because I like the build up, the character development and a view into the already established character of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Mostly the last quarter of the movie I found wasn’t as effective as the scariness of the previous two Insidious entries. It isn’t bad, just doesn’t pack the punch you’d expect. If there was a stronger final 25 minutes I’d be more impressed.
Still, this is not bad at all. There’s room for improvement, yet I think Leigh Whannell did a decent enough job keeping up with the other films to make this a pretty good trilogy. I recommend seeing this, though, I’ll still always enjoy the first two more.
My personal favourite is Insidious: Chapter 2. How about you? Let me know in the comments.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 1, Episode 5: “Halloween – Part 2”
Directed by David Semel (Hannibal, The Strain)
Written by Tim Minear
* For a review of the previous episode, “Halloween: Part 1” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Piggy Piggy” – click here
This episode starts off as the last one ended, with Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivien (Connie Britton) returning from the hospital. While they can’t seem to find Violet (Taissa Farmiga) – who is out on her date with Tate (Evan Peters), finally letting himself be seen outside of the Murder House – all of a sudden the living dead Hayden (Kate Mara) shows up again, bleeding, dirty on the front porch.
So I love how Ben is being driven completely mad. He’s spiralling further down a dark and dreary rabbit hole. While Hayden has risen from the dead, Vivien mentions they need to talk about Ben moving out of the house. He doesn’t want to, of course, but Vivien seems as if she’s fed up completely with his shit. Rightfully so, I mean, the man is messed up beyond repair, as far as I can tell. Either way, that damaged family dynamic pushes farther in “Halloween: Part 2”, putting more intense pressure on Ben as his issues literally rise up from the grave.Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) is back pestering Ben Harmon. He obviously knows tons more about the house than he lets on. He’s alive, but still in league with the ghosts and demons in the Murder House, at least in some manner. What I enjoy so much about Larry’s character, and the subplot involving him, is that we’re not able to tell exactly what his deal is early on. There are some aspects I can get a grasp on, slightly anyways. In opposition, I feel as if Larry’s angle keeps me on my toes. I love seeing how the suspense between Ben and Larry plays out with each passing episode.
With the newly secure premises of Murder House, the Harmons have a guard keeping close watch on them – Luke (Morris Chestnut). The house seems to be inviting further trouble, the misguided jealousy of Ben, as an alarm goes off drawing Luke to the Harmon door. Already we can see this will become a sticking point for Ben.
The relationship between Violet (Farmiga) and Tate (Peters) deepens now with their date on Halloween night – the night we’ve been told already when spirits can walk freely. As they relax on the beach, a bunch of kids with bloody bits all over them, gory-looking supposed costumes accost Tate. They say they’ve been looking for him, that he has finally shown his face.
So it’s all but confirmed in this episode: Tate is a ghost. He never leaves the house because he’s stuck there, a part of its fabric like the very wood and paint and carpet inside. Except on Halloween, he can go out. You can just tell even seeing him jump around, prancing, enjoying himself, Tate is SO HAPPY to be outside of the Murder House. Harkening back to Tate’s dream from the Pilot, we’re seeing his story come out now; the high school kids confronting Tate are all shot to pieces, much like what he imagined himself doing in the dream he described to Harmon. It’s pretty much obvious what is happening in this episode, however, I like that the writing doesn’t spell every last bit of information out excruciatingly with expository dialogue that aches the brain; as so many other shows often do. Instead, the info comes to us but mostly through slight remarks, the characters, and how we as the audience piece together all those puzzle pieces scattering around, episode after episode.
The Ben-Hayden subplot keeps on coming hard. Vivien receives a phone call from apparently dead Hayden; a call of pure sass. Then, Ben meets dead Hayden in the basement where she chastises him, spits up blood and bits of teeth, as she’s rotting from the inside; being dead and all. It’s such a sickly intense scene.
Even further, we’re getting more of an idea about Larry’s connection to the ghosts. He pleads with a dead Hayden to let him help her take care of things, more specifically of Vivien. Larry says it’s been too long since he used his lighter. Naughty, naughty.
Ghosts are just pouring down onto Murder House. Chad (Zachary Quinto) shows up again – he trashes the decorations and pumpkins on the porch. He screams at Vivien to get out of the house, that it isn’t hers. Simultaneously, in the bathtub upstairs Hayden seems to be having a nice, steamy bath. It’s like Vivien is wedged between ghosts, unable to escape them both inside and outside.
Which leads us to fully understand that it’s the property itself, not just the physical house, holding all the supernatural entities swarming around the Harmons.
But on Halloween, it does not matter. Everywhere is fair game for spirits. This leads all those highschoolers who taunted Tate on the beach earlier up to the doors of Murder House, calling for Tate to come outside and confront them further.
Now, as everything else is tumbling down, Vivien finally discovers Hayden’s pregnancy, Ben lying even more. Not to mention that Hayden find out about Vivien and her pregnancy. What an awfully twisted moment. Such nasty business! I love how it’s part supernatural horror and part real/dark family drama. There’s a hundred things going on, yet it isn’t clogging up the story with too many subplots. Because everything comes back into play, one way or another. This show goes for the long game, it doesn’t try and throw everything together at once. Some of the ghosts play a part in making things worse, others play different roles. It’s fun to watch everything weave into a bloody, savage, and eerie tapestry of ghosts, murder, infidelity, and horror movie homage.
At the end of the episode, Constance reveals Tate is her son, to Violet; she also asks Violet to promise not to tell Tate his sister Addie has now died. He is clearly a trouble boy who cannot handle the harshness of the world, as we’re slowly seeing by discovering he most certainly committed a high school shooting. It’s incredible, we’re getting more amazing depth to the character of Constance, as well as Tate. Mostly I’m drawn to Constance who is riddled with tons and tons of emotion, so much nuance.
AGAIN THE HORROR MOVIE MUSIC REIGNS!
Bernard Herrmann’s work is back on deck again. This time, it’s a piece from 1968 and the cult film Twisted Nerve. What a classic bit! Excellent movie to reference. Again, proving Ryan Murphy is a horror fan, as well as the others involved in working on the show. Most people will probably recognize the tune from being hummed by Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill, but that’s another testament to the cinephilia of Quentin Tarantino, that awesome bastard. It actually comes from this cult horror, an unsettling little film; if you’ve not seen Twisted Nerve, do so as soon as possible.
This comes as Tate is being confronted by the high school kids, the obviously DEAD ones, and we’re finally, officially, figuring out what Tate has done while alive. Tough and tense scene, very dark. Dig it!
Final few minutes or so are perfect. The ghosts all wander back, after a successful night allowed out on Halloween, towards the Murder House. Each of them lamenting their lives as spirits, made to stick to the house like honey. Solid scenes to end off the two-parter “Halloween.” Also, it plays into how Ben sort of drags himself back home; he’s like the walking dead himself, slowly moving back there to Vivien, as if the both of them stick to their marriage in the exact way the ghosts stick to the Murder House. Nice juxtaposition to finish this off.
Next episode is “Piggy Piggy”, an excellent part to the first season. It’s directed by Michael Uppendahl, whose other work includes Ray Donovan, Shameless, Mad Men, and many other shows.
White Rabbit. 2013. Dir. Tim McCann. Written by Anthony Di Pietro.
Starring Nick Krause, Sam Trammell, Britt Robertson, and Ryan Lee. Breaking Glass Pictures.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
White Rabbit is the story of Harlon (Krause) – a normal, awkward young man who is trying, like a flower stuck in a walk of pavement, to grow up through being constantly bullied at school and even at home by his forceful father and family. The beginning of the film show us his encounter with the titular rabbit, which is a moment that also closes out the film. This is something which reoccurs throughout; Harlon sees the white rabbit, over and over again.
His life really gets complicated once he meets a girl, much unlike the other people he knows at school, named Julie (Robertson). She is sort of like Harlon; jaded, broken, and though she tries to look tough underneath it all, very sad. They bond. His only other friend is another bullied young boy named Steve (Lee), who aside from being deemed an outcast looks pretty small and young for his age. Unfortunately Steve has a lot of problems, though Harlon tries to help as best he can.
Eventually, Julie goes away. Harlon is left by himself mostly, as Steve has his own problems and his own family with which to deal. Then suddenly Julie reappears, but now she is a whole new person; she had problems, went away, and come home new. Harlon can’t deal with this, especially after he sees Julie is with his high school nemesis, the one who bullied him most growing up. From here, things spiral out of control, as Harlon finally starts to fight back against his bullies, and darker, more rage-filled fantasies start to rise up in him.
A lot of other reviews I came across seemed to file White Rabbit away with a lot of lesser, similar films. Yes, the scenario here seems fairly close to other dramas. Yes, the way it plays out could remind you of other films. However, this finishes in a very unpredictable manner. I honestly didn’t expect the finale of White Rabbit. Though I had some idea where this might be headed, the finale of the film really did catch me off guard. Because you resign yourself to a particular ending and then just before the credits roll it does a switch on you, finishing instead with an ambiguous note. Well, not so much ambiguous, as we can guess what Harlon will do, or rather what we hope he will do, but still the director opts not to show us any decision; only the option for decision. Of course, you’ll understand more once you see it. I’m being deliberately vague, so as not to ruin anything. Just know that you don’t necessarily have all the answers. Wait until the very last moment.
The acting here was spot on. Nick Krause did a fine job as Harlon. We basically watch him transform from a little boy, pushed around and abused by everyone near him, to a teenager, to a young man, and still abused just as much as when we first saw him. The real transformation comes after he’s all but lost every last thing in his life worth being sane for, and snaps while on the verge of becoming something far worse than anyone could ever imagine. Some say his acting here was wooden; I disagree. He played things subtly. He acted quite well, making Harlon out to be a little boy still trapped in the body of a young and burgeoning man. Because of the people around him, he was never able to really become a man, stunted by constantly being told (by bullies and his own despicable father) he’s a pussy or a faggot, or some other just as hurtful and terrible insult. I’ve personally never seen Krause in anything else. After this, I’ll be sure to at least check out another film he’s been in, or will be in.
Britt Robertson is pretty energetic and pulls off the character of Julie well; she reminded me a lot of a few girls I knew in high school, really fit the part.
Particularly, though, I enjoyed Sam Trammell as Harlon’s father, Darrell. He was easy to hate because Trammell did a bang-up job. I really didn’t like him as a person, but as a character loved him. There was always a feeling just below his surface suggesting so much more about him than we actually get to see. I got the feeling Darrell was the typical sort of man who never became much, whether because of extenuating circumstances or his own doing who knows, but that’s the way he portrayed the character. Maybe Darrell was one of those hometown all-stars who played hockey or football growing up, everyone knew him, yadda yadda, and then never amounted to anything out in the real world. Regardless of what his actual story is, Trammell was great, and I really enjoyed watching his scenes with Krause; their troubled father and son dynamic truly worked.
For a small, relatively unknown film, White Rabbit really delivers. Although there are a few points which could have been edited out to save the film’s pacing, overall it is really wonderful. There are a ton of similar films, as I mentioned before, which might seem just as good. But if you stick with White Rabbit through until the end you’ll really get a treat.
I don’t often try to jump ahead of the plot in a film because for one it ruins things for me if I start guessing, and two I’d rather try to stay in the moment when I can, but I figured this one out early on. Not that it ruined things for me – on the other hand, I then sat back and enjoyed the performances, as well as some of the scenery which was beautiful at times. But I thought I knew how this would go. I didn’t. Not many films truly surprise me in that sense, so for that White Rabbit really should be highly recommended. It plays on our fears, relating the story of Harlon to other similar stories, but without the end provided here. This will suck you in. It’s not a controversial film. Essentially, I believe this is a hopeful film. The end provides a glimmer of it. Though it doesn’t actually go ahead and serve up hope by the slice or anything, the very final moment gives us a tiny glimmer we can hold onto and walk away with. That’s the final message of everything. It shows as a bright spot in the darkness. Sort of how Harlon dies one spot of his hair a pink-ish colour; one bright patch in a sea of black. I loved it. Anthony Di Pietro hasn’t written anything else I know of, though after this I really hope to see more, as the story of White Rabbit is impressive.
This has been shown at a few festivals, et cetera, since its release in 2013, but recently Breaking Glass Pictures apparently picked up the distribution end, so hopefully this will soon make a wider debut for people to enjoy it as much as I did when I was lucky enough to catch this.