Tagged Music

Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man: Fever Dream Memories of Christianity and Paganism

The Wicker Man. 1973. Directed by Robin Hardy. Screenplay by Anthony Shaffer; based on the novel Ritual by David Pinner.
Starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Russell Water, Aubrey Morris, Irene Sunters, Walter Carr, Ian Campbell, & Roy Boyd. British Lion Film Corporation.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
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DISCLAIMER: as of this writing it’s been 43 years since the release of this classic, so if you haven’t see it I really don’t even need to tell you about any possible SPOILERS! Yet I do so anyway. This review is going to talk about the ending later. If you head on through expect for that to get talked of openly. This is your final warning.

Upon hearing Robin Hardy passed today, I was torn up. Honestly there’s nothing else he’s done that I’ve particularly been interested in. It’s the influence of his mysterious folk horror The Wicker Man that endeared me to him permanently. When I was young I remember catching this movie on some channel, whether it was Show Case here in Canada I can’t be sure; likely, but not positive. I remember how strange and dreamy the whole thing was, and the way in which its songs mixed into the creepy story to make something altogether different from anything else I’d ever seen at the time. So as an early teen Hardy influenced me greatly with a single hour and a half of film.
There are a few reasons for Hardy’s influential touch. First, it wasn’t until about age thirteen that I finally shed the influence of my Roman Catholic upbringing, after my parents were smart enough to give me a choice – church or not. I saw this movie around age eleven, maybe twelve at most. It was before that choice of mine to stop going to church and taking communion, all that. The religious elements at play in this film were incredibly interesting to me. Second off all, Hardy’s finale is one of the single most horrific sequences of all time. To me it is the epitome of folk horror, including the gradual build up to those moments. This is a successful horror movie that does not rely on an entirely physical element to make things scary. Rather, The Wicker Man pries up your skin and slithers beneath it, both disturbing you and even making you smile (or laugh) from time to time.
One thing’s for sure: imitators be damned, there is NOTHING like this one.
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Shaffer has done some good work other than this film, mainly FrenzySleuthMurder on the Orient Express come to mind. This is his crowning achievement. There’s of course the inclusion of David Pinner’s novel Ritual, but his work together with Hardy made for some terribly interesting story and characters. Forget the simple fact all that folk music thrown in is so unique and fun, Shaffer makes this paganism-styled religion out on the fictional Scottish island Summerisle partly unnerving and also an equal part intriguing. You want to know more, and as Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) discovers more then you sort of want to know less – in the best, mystery-horror hybrid kind of way. I love that there’s a great deal of attention paid to the Celtic traditions, paganism, as well as drops of history here and there. Shaffer uses all kinds of things, such as the Middle English folk tune “Sumer Is Icumen In” (you can find a proper copy of this in A Middle English Anthology edited by Ann S. Haskell) that you’ll find comes at a crucial moment. The song is a terrifying sound to hear when it’s sung. It is also very poignant for that scene, too. If you know a book called The Golden Bough by James Frazer then you can see how much Shaffer drew from when writing this script. What I love is that he creates a purely organic way for us to discover this Summerisle religion alongside Howie. Instead of feeling like a terrible load of exposition, while still being completely expository, the journey on which Howie goes to figure out what’s happening allows us to sift through the pagan island religion with interest. Other screenplays might make that feel boring. Shaffer manages to keep the pacing steady. Then you can also count the interesting musical pieces as a way to make everything feel compelling. Between the unique atmosphere, the songs and the dancing and the pagan-like rituals we witness, all the odd visuals (those first animal masks are horrifying), there’s enough to make this more than weird for weird’s sake.
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Some of the more enjoyable aspects stem from the theme of religion v. paganism, the centrepiece of the screenplay. Howie is a direct parallel to Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), whose hippy-like vision of religion appals the lawman, a staunch Christian. There are some genuine looks of horror courtesy of Woodward’s talented acting which really make you see how devastating the idea of pagan worship is to the straight laced, God fearing Christian worshipper. The awful irony is that Woodward’s Christianity leads him into curiousness and duty that is his downfall. That apprehension and judgement becomes a gateway into paranoia. In the end, this Christian paranoia re: heathenism alongside Howie’s dutiful police sensibilities combine in a lethal cocktail of curiosity. Something that’s worth noting is that on his way toward the finale, and his doom, Howie momentarily loses himself in the heathen pagan traditions: whilst wearing the disguise to follow Summerisle and his people, Howie sheds his Christian repression and slaps a few women on the ass gleefully. If only for a second he forgot his devout Christianity and let loose with the heathens. Probably all for the best, as the poor Scottish policeman isn’t long for this world, anyway.
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As I’ve mentioned, The Wicker Man is successfully filled with horror not because of any blood or gore, nor any jump scares. It isn’t due to anything typical. All the fun elements like the songs eventually transform into something treacherous and evil. By the final scene, singing is nothing but a vortex into madness. The masks and the pagan symbols are appealing early on, like the marks of island/small town charm. Later, as Howie discovers himself the ultimate fool – perfectly dressed just like Punch, eternal fool himself – those animal masks and all the nature imagery, it’s positively chilling. Christopher Lee gives a charismatic performance that set him so far apart from the typical Hammer Horror roles it’s amazing, and his determined attitude as Lord Summerisle is nothing if not psychopathic. Likewise, Woodward plays Howie perfectly, and for all his foolishness you truly pity him, especially once he sees the eponymous structure from which the film takes its name. Robin Hardy will always be remembered, fondly, for his weird and wild The Wicker Man. It is not merely a load of hype. It is a fantastic piece of folk horror and an unforgettably unique moment in cinematic history. Relish that. I do, every so often, and as damned often as I can.
We’ll miss you, Mr. Hardy. Thank you for your strange vision; it is forever a fever dream in my memory.

The Demolisher Lulls You in for Nothing

The Demolisher. 2015. Directed & Written by Gabriel Carrer.
Starring Ry Barrett, Tianna Nori, Jessica Vano, Duncan McLellan, Gerrit Sepers, Bruce Turner, Duane Frey, Andrew Bussey, Owen Fawcett, Rich Piatkowski, & Reese Eveneshen. Latefox Pictures.
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Action/Horror/Thriller

★1/2
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Sometimes the hype of a film precedes it with way too much intensity. The Demolisher is absolutely one of those types. One of the posters is loaded down with so many quotes there’s barely enough room for the poster itself; already utilizing a minimalist style having the main character stand in a meaningful pose by himself, as if representing everything about the film. Yet these quotes, and from reputable sources (mostly), confuse me. After watching this I couldn’t figure out exactly how any of these reviewers managed to come up with those words to describe it. Granted, there are aspects here of which I’m a fan. The atmosphere and overall tone, including the score and some of the cinematography, makes for an audio-visual treat you don’t usually get out of small indie films, except for the excellent ones floating around out there. So director-writer Gabriel Carrer milks some of what he can out of The Demolisher. Only, after viewing it a couple times just to make sure I felt solid on my verdict, I can’t help feeling there are missed opportunities for storytelling inside this loaded story, as if the plot never truly kick starts itself and gets going proper. Instead we’re left with 85 minutes loaded down with intense, booming music in the score from Glen Nicholls, and some good cinematography out of Martin Buzora – too often marred by the use of slow motion at times – rather than a supposedly John Carpenter-esque, low budget Michael Mann flick, as the poster touts. The influences are there, no doubt. But the quality is far from that hallowed territory.
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A cable/internet repairman named Bruce (Ry Barrett) takes care of his disabled wife Samantha (Tianna Nori), a former police officer whose injuries came as a result of a gang-related shooting. Slowly, Bruce devolves into his own world where he takes to the streets at night, donning riot gear and a vicious appetite for violence. More and more the nights bleed into his daytime life. He becomes a vigilante of sorts. Except soon enough, his mental health falls apart. And in the daytime, his violence comes out. After killing a man during a house-call repair, Bruce begins to truly go mad.
When he focuses his disturbing, violent psyche on a young girl named Marie (Jessica Vano), his world crumbles into a frenzy of chaotic madness.
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I’m just not sure, above all else, what Carrer is trying to say or do with this movie. What I enjoy is that we get an indie film action flick, as there are several great chase and fight sequences. Added to that is the level of brutality and outright horror inflicted by Bruce, a.k.a the titular Demolisher. So what I do get is that Carrer perhaps wanted to do some action-styled sequences on a lower budget, and they turn out insanely awesome at times; when the slow motion doesn’t rear its head too often.
But aside from action, what’s the point of it all? The Demolisher sets itself up as an emotionally charged character study focused on Bruce and his descent towards madness. However, along the way his journey becomes unclear. At first I imagined there was something to his vigilantism. Or is that merely a gateway into this action-oriented horror? Still not sure. If it’s simply a way to make Bruce into this hulking, always stalking killer like a Death Wish Bronson crossed with Carpenter’s Michael Myers, then it works. Sort of, not always. If there’s something more profound to the journey of Bruce, I’ve yet to figure that out. Not saying the elements are all there to make this anything profound, but it feels like there’s something more this film wants to do or wants to be. Somehow, Carrer loses it along the way and The Demolisher transforms into a lazy bit of horror trying to masquerade as partly arthouse. Never is a mark hit either way. And the finale downright makes no sense to me, so at every corner I’m at a loss for compliments.
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All style over substance here. Except, even when the filmmakers are trying for style, there are moments this does not work well for them. As I said, the slow motion bits were a tad too prevalent, and they did nothing to enhance things. Other than give us some more time to watch the scenery and the nice-looking cinematography. Outside of that, this technique only makes things look boring, as if we’re watching any other wannabe action-thriller; over and over, the action is slowed down, to the point these brief bits are painful to watch.
I do love some of the filter work, such as a quick couple shots of Bruce in his riot gear, bathed in a reddish wave of light. Definitely Mann-inspired. But these few types of scenes are limited, and they don’t add anything overly special to anything. With the amazing, nerve-wracking score from Nicholls pulsing constantly, it’s a shame the visuals never amount to much in the end. There could’ve been so much more accomplished with the film’s aesthetics. Unfortunately, it’s all for nought.
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This movie gets a 1&1/2-star rating. I can’t give it any more without hating myself. Obviously the visuals and the audio make things exciting to hear, and to look at. But none of that is enough to lift this film out of the muck and mire. At first, you expect The Demolisher will rock you with an amazing style. It does nothing except lull you into hoping at some point the plot will break out and do big things. Never happens. Don’t walk into this relying on any of the outrageous quotes put on the poster. In fact, I chose to track down a totally different one to use on this review because I will not let those totally unrealistic expectations poison you. See it, judge for yourself. But this one’s a real rough watch. And not in an awesome horror-like fashion; just rough and forgettable.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston Highlights the Line Between Genius & Madness

The Devil and Daniel Johnston. 2005. Directed & Written by Jeff Feuerzeig.
Starring Daniel Johnston, Laurie Allen, Brian Beattie, Louis Black, David Fair, Jad Fair, Don Goede, Matt Groening, Gibby Haynes, Sally Johnston Reid, Bill Johnston, Dick Johnston, Mabel Johnston, Margie Johnston, and Ken Lieck. Complex Corporation/This Is That Productions.
Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.
Documentary/Biography/Music

★★★★★
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Documentaries are everywhere, on every sort of subject. Anything in the world you can think of, there’s probably a documentary on the subject. Certain documentary films interest me because of how I connect with them personally, others are just intriguing and interesting topics that will draw me in.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston is one of the former types. I’d never actually heard of Daniel Johnston before this movie. Other people I know had heard of him, but not me. Either way, I dove into this documentary because I knew that Johnston suffered from mental illness; that’s the single thing I knew of him. Identifying with him, as both a hopeful artist and a man trying to negotiate life with a severe form of depression, this film spoke to me. While I’m not a fan of all his songs, there are pieces of music here and there which really reach out to me. More than that, to see Johnston struggle through being an artist, growing up, living life, all the while battling manic depression desperately. There are moments you might find yourself grinding your teeth sitting there almost feeling the pain. Certain scenes are funny, lighthearted. A huge mixed bag here that collides into making one of the most personal, wrenching, devastatingly awesome documentaries about a musician you’re likely to ever see.
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The most fascinating part about Daniel Johnston is the fact of his own rawness, his real and unabashed open qualities concerning his personality. At one point, on MTV no less during 1985, he tells the camera: “This is my album Hi, How Are You? and I was having a nervous breakdown when I recorded it.” He says it in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s hard not admire, or laugh, or smile. In just about every last scene where he’s talking, you find him divulging the most personal, inner secrets about the darkest corner of his life. And coupled with that, the way Daniel performs is different than anyone else I’ve ever seen. You can witness both the intensity of his musical ability, as well as his wildly nervous personality. He is visibly nervous each time a performance comes up, from his younger days to his later shows. Always there’s this fear inside him, which is actually endearing a lot of the time.
So it’s no surprise when, later, Daniel ends up having an actual serious breakdown. He becomes violent and crazy after experimenting with acid/LSD, which first began at a Butthole Surfers show. Slowly things deteriorate, as Daniel starts to get arrested, the police have altercations with him, he even causes disturbances in his family. Then there are various struggles. There were people who worked for him/with him, re: his career, who all tried their best to help him, whether that was committing him to a mental institution or getting him shows to play or whatever else could’ve been done. All the while throughout the history of Johnston, we’re seeing edits of him talking in various recordings (from dubbed tapes he did himself to video shot of him by others). It’s a strange conglomeration of things coming together to present his life to us. Best of all, even in the most intense, scariest moments of discussing Daniel and his condition, director Jeff Feuerzeig preserves a sense of respect and delicacy that shelters us from looking at Johnston like a freak. He isn’t, especially considering how mental illness is becoming less and less stigmatized today; this is a raw and honest look at someone’s struggle. But again, it doesn’t come off as “Look at how fucked up Daniel is“. There is a tenderness about the way Feuerzeig offers up glimpses of Daniel and his difficult life.
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You’ll find it hard to deny the power of this documentary. No matter if you hate Johnston’s music, or if you think he’s a genius (I don’t think; I do find him an incredibly unique talent), if you have a heart beating in your chest and a soul deep down inside, this film will absolutely shake you. In the last 45 minutes or so, the devastating details come out. Such as the time Daniel thought he actually was Casper the Friendly Ghost, took the keys out of his father’s small plane in which they flying and tossed them out into the air, prompting his dad to make a crash landing. Luckily, they made it out of the situation with only minor injuries, but to think of what could’ve happened. It is a really frightening thought. That’s one of the turning points in the documentary, as not only do we realize the extent and depth of his illness, we also see a slight change in Daniel. Shortly afterwards, he starts to come down out of his religious fervor, his hallucinations and other similar delusions. He probably didn’t lose his faith. He just understood the gravity of his own condition. Today, he still struggles with issues of manic depression, but I feel after some of the more insane moments in his journey, there’s a part of him which accepts all of the ups and downs, in one big package. We go along that journey. Maybe in the end, the documentary’s biggest aspiration is to show people the mania inside music. Often people want the crazy, unstable musicians out there doing their thing and entertaining, but forget the human people inside these celebrities, inside the fame, deep down at the core. The humanity can’t ever be forgotten; this, if anything, is what Daniel Johnston and the film of his life has to teach.
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This is a 5 star, flawless documentary. One of my favourites ever made. Because despite what you may feel concerning Daniel Johnston’s music, you cannot watch this without feeling something. To understand the mania and depression of others it’s necessary for people to be open, honest, willing to expose themselves to the world. It just so happens Johnston is one of the people willing to open himself up, like a living cadaver, and through this film he allows us a window into the damaged soul inside him. There are so many depressed and mentally ill people who could benefit from people coming out, talking of their own illnesses, their own struggles. We see so much of the devastation of unchecked mental illness in The Devil and Daniel Johnston, but in a roundabout way Daniel lets us understand how severe depression (or other similar mental afflictions) can be conquered: through love, honesty, openness, understanding, and yes, a dose of medication. There’s nothing ever glorious about this documentary, perhaps something which sets it apart from a lot of other biographical movies about musicians. Just remember – it isn’t all about the music, it is about the man. That is a point this film makes, over and over again. You may want all the madness that goes into the music, but don’t forget the men and women behind the music, their lives, what brings them to their talent and what gives us the unforgettable songs they’ve made.

The Knick – Season 2, Episode 1: “Ten Knots”

Cinemax’s The Knick
Season 2, Episode 1:
 “Ten Knots”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler

* For a review of the next episode, “You’re No Rose” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.30.53 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.30.58 PMI’ve only just now decided to start reviews for The Knick‘s second season. Being a huge fan of the first, I thought it’d be fun to get in on the action.
So, after the wild events of the first season in New York – in particular the gutpunch of the final episode as Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) finds himself being weened off one drug, only to be weened onto the dreaded heroin – Season 2’s opener “Ten Knots” begins with a nice fade in on ole Thack’s eyes; fitting shot to start. But first it’s a blurry image turning into a little girl… then the watery eyes of Thackery emerge.
Then we’re back with Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson). She’s dictating a letter in narration to Thackery. Apparently Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) is “bearing up” according to her while Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) is still kicking about, naturally, as well as young Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano) and the steadfast Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland). They’re all getting by best they can. Though, Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) hasn’t returned as of yet, even with his suspension lifted.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.32.15 PMMost interesting, as usual, is Dr. Thackery. In a tiny room he works on a woman’s nose. Very gruesome little bit, not to mention Thack looks like something ragged and worn out. Worse, it appears he’s working for vials of drugs. Sad state of affairs.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.32.27 PMAnother suffering soul, Sister Harriet gets a visit in jail from her Mother Superior (Maryann Plunkett). Mother asks Harriet if the charges against her are true, to which the latter does admit clearly. It’s a sad scene once again, as even the non-religious (like myself) will feel bad for Harriet; she only wanted to do the right thing and help women in need, but this of course turned her against her faith in confrontation. Mother Superior pretty much rubs salt in the wound.
Another actually gruesome scene – at the home of Dr. Gallinger, his wife Eleanor (Maya Kazan) is helping to size up her sister Dorothy (Annabelle Attanasio) for some new teeth… teeth which came out of her own face. Eleanor has a grim smile now with sharp and stumpy gums in her mouth. What an image.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.33.11 PMDr. Edwards has a problem with the retina in his left eye. This is obviously troubling regarding Algernon’s abilities as a surgeon, difficulties with his vision would mean even worse things for his career. At the same time, Edwards hopes to become the permanent chief surgeon at The Knickerbocker Hospital while Thack is not around. What I love is that Edwards works well with those who wish to give him a chance. For instance, his relationship with the youthful Dr. Chickering seems pretty great; he gives Bertie the chance to have a hand at doing a surgery, encouraging him not to simply watch and rather get his hands on the work himself.
Only problem is, as always, Edwards is constantly the underdog to everyone at the top – simply because he’s African-American. Foolish nonsense, though, we are at the dawn of the 20th century in this series. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.
But the scene where Dr. Edwards is being completely dismissed by the hospital’s board was downright brutish! Wonderfully acted and written scene. Still nasty, though. He’s clearly an amazing doctor, we as more modern men and women can see this, yet those racist old white men just can’t get it through their heads.
One of my favourite moments in this Season 2 opener is near the end when Dr. Edwards is let in on the photo-op for The Knickerbocker, to the dismay of a few old white men. Such a classic moment! Loved the look on all the faces of the others involved in the photo, actually made me laugh aloud. Also fist pumped a little for Algie, he’s fucking classy.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.33.25 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.33.32 PMWe watch Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) still continually trying to do good in the world – she carts a load of green vegetables into an obviously poor neighbourhood, Chinatown, and finds herself overrun with people trying to get their hands on a bit of food; pretty dire, no?
Inspecter Jacob Speight (David Fierro) is still kicking around the hospital, up in Barrow’s office, investigating patients records. Certainly we’ll see more about the outbreak of plague, the dirty Black Death, more and more as the episodes get going this season.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.34.23 PMDr. Gallinger heads over to Cromartie Hospital where Thack, under the name Dr. Crutchfield, is wasting away. Turns out Thackery doesn’t want to leave, he’d rather not go back to The Knick. The drugs have taken hold and I doubt they’ll ever let go. He actually tries to convince Everett to infiltrate one of the doctors offices in order to get some cocaine and other drugs for him – a true addict, through and through. Naturally, Gallinger is only there to try and bring Thackery back to the hospital so Dr. Edwards can’t become chief of surgery; therefore Everett could gladly go back and work under him. It’s amazing Everett is willing to work under a drug-adled headcase like Thackery and not Edwards, all because of race. This whole hypocrisy really shows off the idiocy of racists.
Then in a scene later, Thack wakes tied at the wrists. He’s in the belly of a small sailboat, which is headed out on the ocean. Is Dr. Gallinger going to try detoxing Thack?
Way out on the Atlantic, Gallinger tells Thackery about his plans saying he’s going to “fix the mess” Thack drummed up. Only two options Everett says: “Either get well, or jump off.” Everett also gives Thack some rope to tie, saying he’ll know the naughty doctor is back in control if he can tie the ten knots on a wall chart nearby. I thought this was a great touch.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.34.36 PMTom Cleary (Chris Sullivan) shows up down at the jail where he sits with Sister Harriet. He gives a sort-of-apology. Funny, though, how Harriet shows off her sense of humour in the face of so-called justice. She jokes around with Cleary quite a bit here, and even Cleary acts the serious part of the pair. He’s worried about her, clearly. Even with the weak apology (that wasn’t even really an apology), you can tell Tom wants to help Harriet and plans on doing just that. Can’t wait to see how their subplot plays out because I like these two characters, ever since the beginning of the first season. Even further, both Sullivan and Seymour are great actors playing off one another.
Over in Chinatown, Barrow is meeting with Ping Wu (Perry Yung). Wu is negotiating terms with ole Herman – he needs his women, the prostitutes, to be clean. Barrow’s hoping to whittle down his debt from Season 1 by providing discount services for Wu’s stable of ladies; $2 reduction with each service. The money man at The Knickerbocker is no better than a gangster when it comes down to it.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.34.56 PMSo happy the continuity of the aesthetic in The Knick overall is being preserved. With Soderbergh as D.P and Cliff Martinez still rocking out his unique, beautiful score in every episode, there’s no way to deny the power of so many scenes. There’s one sequence which begins with an old school boxing match – in a padded ring with no ropes and a big Masonic-like eye/pyramid on it (similar to the American dollar bill) –  then leads back out to the boat with Thack/Gallinger… such an amazing piece of filmmaking. Soderbergh gives the grim plot such a distinctive look and feel with his camerawork, on top of that there’s a relentlessly percussive score happening which almost keeps you in a frenzy for the two or three solid minutes of the entire sequence. It does not get any better. More and more of this as the episode heads to a close in the last 20 minutes, proving why this Cinemax series is one of the best to ever grace television. Period.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.35.20 PMWhen the episode’s finale comes, Thack has managed to tie the ten knots for Gallinger. However, at the edge of the boat he sees a sickly looking girl – the one from the beginning of the episode – and starts at her with his wide, bloodshot eyes. It’s clear he is not at all back in full control, nor should we have ever thought so – Everett may be too gullible compared to the addiction that rages inside Thack.
Could the girl be Thack’s daughter, one who may have died? There’s a pain inside him he tries to drown in drugs. Take a look at the girl’s eyes – they look very much similar to those bulging out of Thack. Either way, we’ll figure out more about the force driving him towards drugging himself into a stupor, this season will bring us more characterization. Owen does a fantastic job with the role and I’m always itching for more after an episode finishes.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.23 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.30 PMCan’t wait for the second episode. This is one of my favourite series’ ever, plus it’s one of the best on television right now. Stay tuned for my review of the next episode, “You’re No Rose”, coming again this Friday, October 23rd. Cheers!

Let Us Prey: An Atmospheric Religious Discussion

Let Us Prey. 2014. Directed by Brian O’Malley. Screenplay by David Cairns & Fiona Watson.
Starring Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge, Douglas Russell, Niall Greig Fulton, and Jonathan Watson. Creative Scotland/Fantastic Films/Greenhouse Media Investment/Irish Film Board/Makar Productions.
Rated 18A. 92 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
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And if the devil is six, then god is seven; this monkey’s gone to heaven.
– Frank Black

In my review for the recent Last Shift, I talked about how it built a sort of supernatural twist out of the simple premise John Carpenter used in his incredible action-thriller Assault on Precinct 13. There’s a certain amount of the small, claustrophobic feel and location in Let Us Prey which owes very much to Carpenter’s film. Otherwise this is its own beast.
Lots of people no doubt came to this film simply because they’re like me and keep up on all sorts of horror films, whether British, American, German, French, or out of any other country. Others probably saw that Liam Cunningham was on the cast list; many recent fans of his come from his role as Sir Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, on HBO’s Game of Thrones, others of us recognize him also from things like The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Dog Soldiers. Then, even further, are those who came because they’re big fans of Pollyanna McIntosh from films like Offspring/The Woman, and more recently White Settlers.
Regardless of what draws a viewer to Let Us Prey, it ultimately delivers as both a tense and savage indie horror movie. This one has teeth. Not afraid to use them, either.
3_zpsk4iwpafo.jpg~originalPC. Rachel Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh) is starting on her first shift, overnight, at a tiny police station out in the backwaters of Scotland. As a few prisoners sit in their cells, PC. Heggie and Sergeant MacReady (Douglas Russell – A Lonely Place to DieValhalla Rising) keep an eye on things. There’s also PC. Jack Warnock (Bryan Larkin) and PC. Jennifer Mundie (Hanna Stanbridge) who’ve got their own thing going on.
But it’s when a man named Six (Liam Cunningham) shows up at the police station, brought in after seemingly being hit by a car, that everything begins to change. Rachel, her Sergeant, and the other officers have no idea exactly who or what they are dealing with, and over the course of the night Six intends to show them.
let-us-prey-2014-720p-ganool-copy-2I think this review is as good a time to say it as any, given that I find this movie is pretty solid horror.
With any genre really, but in this case horror, my view is that you don’t have to be original in order to be good, great even. As long as you can bring something fresh to even the oldest of concepts, something exciting and interesting, then there’s at least SOMETHING to be mined out of that effort. For instance, like I mentioned about the Carpenter film almost being a prototype for this movie and Last Shift, there’s a way to incorporate that and still be unique on its own. Let Us Prey goes even a much different route than Last Shift, in my opinion, apart from the obvious plot/story differences. What I enjoy here is that there’s horror, yet behind it all there seems to be bits of symbolism. That is to say, other than the heavy handedness in the screenplay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to enjoy it too long. There could have been much more done with all this, instead it ends up mostly as gimmickry for the characters. The barbed wire crown of thorns-style headdress? Obviously a gritty nod to the crucifixion, just fell flat more than anything because it was begging to be used for more than fodder. I’m not even religious, it’s only the fact I feel the imagery/symbolism was there to use and it ended up like discarded pieces of fat trimmed off the meat; good fat, not the useless kind. Anyways, I’m not the one who had the good fortune to come up with this whole plot and story, so kudos to the screenwriters on all the wonderful stuff they DID jam into Let Us Prey.
There are still problems.
I really don’t know exactly why Sergeant MacReady (Russell) turned into the wild religious maniac he did. I guess I do; it doesn’t work for me, though. Totally dig the confrontation between MacReady and Six (Cunningham) where the entire idea of Christianity v. Atheism came out. However, this simply doesn’t account for him going off the way he does. There was some amazingly disturbing subject matter happening in the subplot of MacReady, but it simply wasn’t thought out well enough. All the same, I did enjoy Russell’s performance because he got to go crazy and, though tempting surely, he stopped short of hamming it up.
44501891Part of what I did love here is that this movie is a modern horror with great aesthetic things going on all around; from the visual look to the pounding, unrelenting score.
First off, the cinematography by Piers McGrail, who also shot the excellent looking (though ultimately disappointing) The Canal, is a part of what sets the overall sombre mood and tense tone of the film. Aside from an amazingly shadowy, rich textured look to many of the scenes, the composition of certain shots is absolutely marvellous. Old school style framing with these incredibly proportional shots which can, at times, box you in the way proper horror ought to, anyways.
Second, and just as important, there comes a lusciously composed score out of the mind and hands of Steve Lynch. I’ve never honestly heard anything he’s done, not that I know of, but this score is WOW – downright homage-like, harkening once more back to John Carpenter, and all at once there’s also a totally different quality to the different pieces, a heavier, more terrifying feel. Some moments really gut punch you, in the right sort of sense. Other scenes have this dreadful foreboding skin laying thick over every beautiful shot where the atmosphere seeps into your skin and really entrenches you in the world Let Us Prey presents. Hallmark of a solid horror is always nice atmosphere, in part due to cinematography and score working in conjunction as one creepy unit; this film bears those marks, more than plentifully.
imageWhile I don’t agree with certain reviews stating the police station here is a type of Limbo, or anything similar, I think there’s absolutely some Hell-ish stuff which transpires. That leads us into the greatest part about the film: the horror. Pollyanna McIntosh and Liam Cunningham are equally wonderful in their respective roles, but what gets me going about Let Us Prey is good old fashioned horror fun. From the savage antics of Sergeant MacReady, to one of the officers slamming a chair leg through a guy’s head with gory pleasure, there are more than enough moments to satisfy the gorehound horror fans amongst the pack.
The finale is somewhat lacking. Not that I’m a person who needs ALL things wrapped up in the end. However, there’s a bunch of things happening thematically and I don’t feel as if the finale and ending do enough for me in terms of closing off those themes, ones they started in on initially, so there’s a copout in that sense. I didn’t want a bow on top and a neat little present of an ending – there’s something missing. I can’t say what, but the Cairns/Watson script needed a more suitable finish, which left me walking away lacking.
1280x720-LNGLet Us Prey is a 3.5 star film, for me. The script leaves me a bit lukewarm by the end, but the performances are really great all around – even from the smaller roles – and the horror is downright nasty, as well as relentless for a good deal near the end. The problems I do have with the script are relatively minor. There’s enough tension and excitement throughout this awesome Scottish indie to keep anyone interested. If not, well there are nice frilly little action movies with bright shapes and colours for you to look at: over here we’re watching brutal horror movies!

Kristy: Lower V. Upper Class Horror

Kristy. 2014. Directed by Oliver Blackburn. Screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski.
Starring Haley Bennett, Ashley Greene, Lucas Till, Chris Coy, Mike Seal, Lucius Falick, Erica Ash, James Ransone, Mathew St. Patrick, and Al Vicente. David Kirschner Productions/La Sienega Productions/Electric City Entertainment.
Rated R. 86 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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There’s nothing absolutely unique to Kristy. I can’t say there’s anything I’d call overly innovative, honestly. Yet something about the film draws me in. I’ve seen it three times in total now. There’s nothing to dissect, nothing to unpack and pick apart, nothing to examine. But each time I viewed Kristy, something lingered in me about this horror movie I could never fully shake. At least not for a couple days.
People look at the movie and see it as cliche-ridden, predictable horror with situations we’ve seen a million times before. I’m not saying director Oliver Blackburn reinvented the wheel on the genre. Nor am I trying to claim Anthony Jaswinski’s script is revolutionary, it doesn’t take horror and turn a mirror in on itself or bring new light to the tropes of the genre, anything in that sense. Simply put, I find Kristy just a good old fashioned horror movie. The difference which makes me think it’s better than the rest? A kick ass lead character, who is female and who doesn’t merely survive on instinct, she wills her survival into existence. Then takes some more.

At college trying to live her own life, Justine (Haley Bennett) works scrubbing dishes while studying her ass off to get good grades. During Thanksgiving, her boyfriend Aaron (Lucas Till) heads off to spend time with his obviously rich family, as does her roommate Nicole (Erica Ash) at the very last minute when her father suddenly gets time off from a political campaign.
Virtually alone – except for the groundskeeper, a young man named Scott (James Ransone), and sparse security including the friendly Wayne (Mathew St. Patrick) – Justine finds herself walking the halls, listening to music, studying, and generally passing away time. Though, Nicole left behind her BMW offering it to Justine in case she needs to get away from campus.
When Justine takes the car out for a drive and stops at a convenience store, one nice gesture towards a girl named Violet (Ashley Greene), who rudely declines, turns into a night of absolute terror and a horrifyingly tense struggle for survival.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.46.40 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.41.59 AMAn immediate thing I noticed, then saw again more the next two times I saw the film, is how at the beginning of Kristy, the college campus has this beautiful, bright visual sense about it. Even while Justine finds herself alone across the entire college, there’s still this brightness everywhere she goes. Blackburn chooses to film much of everything in the first 15-20 minutes in this way, making the college and Justine’s life seem pretty relaxed. Along with that, there’s a pretty good little montage sequence where Justine goes through the motions, passing time swimming and bouncing around the lonely, empty halls with her headphones playing “Pumpin’ Blood” by NONONO as it bleeds out into the film’s soundtrack itself.
Then once Blackburn moves further into the screenplay, we start to get a mood shifter in terms of visuals. We see Justine go out at night, then things figuratively and literally get foggy. She drives through fog, almost like a barrier as she leaves the enclosed safety of the college campus gates into the real, terrifying world. You can almost look at it in the metaphorical sense: once you leave college/university, real life is there, real will fucking get you.
Because this is where Justine’s life changes, at the convenience store. This is also where the tone of Kristy links back to its grim opening sequence. Real life outside of the college campus clashes hard with Justine. Worst of all is the fact Justine herself is not the “Kristy” the antagonists are searching out to taunt, torture, and kill. She is not the rich type girl, but only drives her friend’s car (most likely a car her friend got from her parents). Funny enough, Nicole, the roommate with the BMW, is more the type Violet (Greene) and her crew are trying to find. There’s a tragic and scary irony in that. Especially considering the fact Justine even tries to befriend Violet by paying for the latter’s items at the store.
Passing through this point, the land of no return. Things get legitimately suspenseful, tense, and downright frightening at times moving forward. I love the interaction at the convenience store/gas station with Justine and Violet, then the clerk is thrown into the mix, as well. There’s great tension in that scene, which I found thick enough to bite. Great stuff and a well-written scene. This is the setup leading into the film’s real meaty bits.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.42.16 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.42.45 AMA notably unsettling scene happens when Justine goes back to the dorm rooms at one point; as she goes by the wall of one room, unbeknownst to her, has all the pictures scratched up, specifically the eyes. I thought it was a brief and real eerie shot. This slowly ratcheted up the tension, adding to Justine’s fear without her even knowing.
In conjunction with creepy scenes like this one, I love the score composed by François-Eudes Chanfrault; his excellent work has included Alexandre Aja’s High TensionInside, and Vinyan. The amazing music goes along SO WELL in certain scenes that it’s hard to deny its effects. Moments when Justine finds her life threatened, when the danger is most real, the music swells and sort of throbs at you. In quieter moments the score lulls you in and captures you, the emotions onscreen jump into your head and into your chest. Chanfrault has a knack for incredible music and I think he is a definite asset here.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.43.41 AMWhat really does it for me throughout Kristy‘s meagre 86 minute runtime (including the credits/post-credits scene) is the central performance of Haley Bennett as Justine. Not only her performance, I think Anthony Jaswinski’s screenplay has a great character in Justine. She’s a vulnerable, scared young woman in the beginning whose lonely Thanksgiving on campus turns into a nightmare. By the end of this psychologically daunting horror movie, I found myself almost fist pumping because of how kick-ass this woman had become; she had inside her, just like the intellectual side of herself coming out through class and study, this venomous and visceral side which was required in order to cast out these predators. They hunt her down, thinking she’s someone she is not, and she also becomes – in a sense – someone she is not in order to overcome their savagery. I think an important part of Kristy – not just why I like it – is the fact Justine starts off in a position of weakness, but really takes charge and becomes a tougher, stronger person after coming out the other side of a bloody, haunting situation. Justine reminds me of the Erin character from Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett’s You’re Next, yet without the same background, and in a sense a bit cooler.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.44.07 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.44.55 AMThis leads me to the fact I love the finale of the film, so incredibly much. Again, nothing innovative or absolutely fresh, I simply find it hits all the right notes and really becomes this visceral experience. With Justine, we walk through this hell-like evening, or more like run and fight, until she essentially snaps and becomes the hunter instead of prey. She takes on these murderous masked psychopaths and there’s this awesome quality to her redemptive scenes I find really powerful, in terms of horror. I think some might fin the first 40 minutes a little slow pace, which I personally don’t mind. To those viewers I say: hold in there. The next 44 minutes are pretty spectacular, in my opinion. This portion of Kristy truly grips me, as the action and horror get more and more intense, barreling towards a nice finish.
And make sure you check out the scene after the credits.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.43.18 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.46.28 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.46.54 AMWith some real amazing horror moments and a strong female lead in Haley Bennett, Kristy is a 4 out of 5 star film in my books. Tons of modern horror aims to be scary yet doesn’t hit the mark, as well as the fact we don’t often see a lot of horror movies where the lead female characters are anything but simple survivors, based on the merit/lost lives of others or a lot of lucky; Kristy is at times terrifying and always sees the character of Justine as someone who is willing to fight, to work, to really strive towards conquering the fear and obstacles surrounding her.
Check this out. Honestly, I think it’s worth the time, even if only for the final half hour. Plus I find the ending/post-credits scene intriguing with the idea from the beginning – of an online type of cult, people killing these “Kristy” substitutes in order to “kill god” as they put it. Very wild and weird and horror-ish fun.
There’s some great character in the screenplay, as well as genuine moments of horror and terror, in equal amounts. Maybe this is not for everyone. For me, it’s a movie I can watch over and over again obviously. Hopefully it might strike others in a similar way, chilling and thrilling to the end.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.47.02 AM

Insidious: Chapter 3 is a Welcomed Creepy Surprise

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.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
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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.
0c37e0c2ef44b7f252477c7f3e71111f3b898ec7.jpg__0x1500_q85I 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.
Insidious3-4A 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.
insidious33The 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.
maxresdefaultAll 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.

The Bleeding Religion of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs

Martyrs. 2008. Directed & Written by Pascal Laugier.
Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan, Louise Boisvert, and Jean-Marie Moncelet. Canal+.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★★
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Martyrs is most definitely a bloody, gory, savage film from beginning to end. Of course those bits alternate, as well as the fact Pascal Laugier builds up tension very nicely at so many points. But there’s no doubt about the savagery contained within this horror movie.
There have been many gory movies in the history of horror film. From Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore, among others, to stuff like Saw, then classic horror such as many of Fulci’s films and Dead Alive from Peter Jackson. So there are many ways in which gore can play a part in a horror movie. It can either be so-called “torture porn” (those who’ve read my reviews before know my stance on this dumb label; I only use it for ease), or it can serve a purpose of some sort. What I’m saying is that gore need not be useless, just some element thrown in to make a horror more scary, more effective. It can be used as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself.

To me, Martyrs is one of those films with all the blood and gore to satisfy even the most desensitized horror hounds, but even further it has heart, character, and a ton of interesting, complex story to boot. Laugier has a masterpiece of horror here and I think that the writing helps to elevate this from simply another gore picture, to a profound horror which leaves its visceral, bloody mark on the viewer long after the credits stop rolling.
vlcsnap-2013-06-10-04h02m56s84The movie starts with a quick scene of a young Lucie running in a tanktop and underwear down the street, screaming for help. She’s brought to an orphanage where she comes to bond with a girl named Anna.
Years later, grown up Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) goes back to the little house from which she’d escaped years earlier, running away bloodied and in a frenzy, then kills the mother, father, and the kids inside. Calling Anna (Morjana Alaoui), the two women then begin to try and pick up the pieces. Only Lucie seems to be having trouble with something inside the house. After the unthinkable happens, Anna is left to try and figure out how to proceed from then on. Only, the house hides more secrets, things Anna couldn’t possibly anticipate. As she goes down into the basement, discovering what amounts to a whole complex underneath its foundation, things are revealed which will shake her world and her beliefs forever.

Watching this again for the dozenth time or so now, I forgot how awesome the music was during the moments with the ‘thing’, as it first encounters Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï). It has this almost heavy metal, ominous, pounding rhythm. Very intense. Then the rest of the film there’s also more nicely composed score. Alex & Willie Cortés do the music in this film. They also did music for an interesting independent film called Eden Log, also worth checking out. This was the first time I’d noticed any of their work, and other than the aforementioned film I haven’t seen anything else with which they’ve been involved. Doesn’t matter; their work here speaks for itself. I thought it worked well with so many of the tense scenes. A good bit of music helps to increase the mood, which Laugier helps set through dreary atmosphere and even a bit of the unexpected in there, too.
947476557For the first half an hour when I saw Martyrs initially, I had no real clue what was going on. While I knew roughly that something obviously happened between Lucie and the family she slaughters, when the ‘thing’, the terrifying and hideous woman first showed up I couldn’t figure out what the hell was beginning to come out.
We get bits and pieces, slowly, then finally the plot starts to filter out. This is ultimately the greatest part about the film. Laugier puts the gore together with an innovative, refreshing story, and this makes the entire gorefest so much more worth it for the thoughtfulness on Laugier’s part.
And in the meantime, the gore and the effects are incredible! The first woman, the ‘thing’, looks out of this world. As if her outer layer of skin had literally been peeled off. I mean, kudos for that. Then comes the woman whom Anna later finds in the basement; when she’s trying to take the metal blinder thing off the woman’s skull, it actually made me cringe once or twice. I’ve seen a ton and that still got to me. Gnarly!
Perfect work in terms of special makeup effects. I have to mention Benoît Lestang – other work includes: The City of Lost ChildrenBrotherhood of the Wolf, and Amen. Then there’s also Adrien Morot whose credits range from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film The Revenant, to NoahX-Men: Days of Future Past, to smaller work on indies like Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Canadian television series Durham County starring Hugh Dillon. In Martyrs, these two artists come together to make some truly effective, disturbing, and nasty work. Wonderfully macabre business!
martyrs-pascal-laugier-francia-canada-2008I don’t think there’s any possible way two actresses other than Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï who could’ve done a better job with these two characters. There’s a true, evident connection between the two women. Even though there’s not a particularly massive amount of character development, nor do we get to know either of the women overly well, the deepened relationship between Anna and Lucie is clear, as they’re both there for one another. Particularly the fact Anna obviously loves Lucie, maybe more than just a friend. Yet either way, she did so much for Lucie, to try and help her get past whatever it was that happened to her as a young girl in that awful house. So with a small amount of time, Laugier is able to setup a perfectly believable and emotional relationship between the two women while not having to focus too directly on any expository dialogue, or even flashbacks of any sort.
Martyrs2008720pBluRayx264-CiNEFiLEmkv_20140712_234042243.png~originalThis leads to another aspect I loved – the backstory for what is going on in the house. There’s so much more going on than I’d ever imagined from the start of the story. Once things kick in, as Anna is left behind following Lucie’s tragic death, they really take hold of the jugular.
After a while, the story comes out that these people were a part of some larger, obviously heavily funded, operation in which people were essentially being groomed into martyrdom. This is martyr in the sense of being “witness”, or bearing witness; in this film, it is bearing witness to what lies beyond death in the afterlife. Like a sick type of experiment – well, not like, that’s exactly what it is: an experiment. They take humans – especially girls apparently because they’re even more resistant to the pain overall; tougher and built for martyrdom – then they subject the human body to everything, to and beyond the limits of what a person can handle. I think I found all the pictures of the previous martyrs especially chilling! First, we see them almost meaninglessly as Anna walks through the newly discovered, sterile-like environment in the basement. Then later on, it’s all explained, and the gorefest which preceded everything begins to truly mean something.
Now, whether or not you think that something is a load of crap or not, that’s another story. I thought it was twisted and depraved and perfectly suitable. In a way, it subverts our expectations of horror films that get labelled stupidly as “torture porn”. We expect this is all just sick pleasures and people getting off by torturing others. Yet the deeper Anna takes us into the house and its catacombs beneath, the chambers and labs and rooms below, there seems to be more and more to this supposed torture. I thought the script was an excellently refreshing horror on Laugier’s part and it’s nice to see something with all the earmarks of a typical gory horror, which ends up being more than a sum of bleeding and dripping parts.
martyrs-05There are a bunch of ways you can look at the film, if you want to dig deep into as a metaphor or analogy of some sort. Whatever way you cut it, I think there’s a lot to offer in the story of Martyrs. You can look at it as ultimately the story of what lengths some people, under the guise of “faith” will go to figure out if there is anything beyond the pale of death. You can also look at this as how society, many groups in particular, heap all the weight and harshness of the world onto women; as the villainous lady in the film says herself, women are better at taking the pain, they have a higher threshold and tolerance for it, therefore they make the perfect candidates for this imposed and supposed martyrdom. We’re able to digest Laugier’s work in any number of ways, but regardless it’s stellar. I think you can take from it what you will – at face value, or something with a little more value under the skin.

This a masterpiece of horror, as I’ve said before. Absolutely 5 stars. Pascal Laugier has an incredibly twisted eye for horror and I think he brought all this forward in Martyrs. Truly great horror movie. It has everything from an interesting backstory, well-written characters, great performances, and on top of all that there is a near non-stop gore machine pumping out the wonderfully macabre and nasty makeup effects.
If you’re a horror fan, you need to see this honestly. I think if you take the time to let the plot sink in, take the ride for the first 20 minutes to half an hour, this will really get under your skin. Plus, if you watch it on Blu ray the sound and visual quality is extraordinary. Couldn’t get enough.
There’s a good deal of interesting work here that doesn’t often come along in horror anymore. One of the best modern horrors I’ve seen. Period.

The Redemption Song of Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Anvil: The Story of Anvil. 2008.  Dir. Sacha Gervasi.
Starring Anvil. Abramorama.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Documentary – Biography/Music.

★★★★★

Before this film, I had only briefly heard of Anvil by thumbing through old metal records in my search for bands that had escaped mainstream eyes. I never much gave them a listen, and it wasn’t until a few years ago when I saw Anvil: The Story of Anvil that I went back after viewing the documentary, so I could listen to their tunes. Have I been sleeping! As a metal fan, it’s a shame I had never discovered Lips and the crew before because they are true, old school, tongue licking, brain rocking heavy metal.
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Since the late 1970s, Anvil have influenced many other great metal bands, some who reminisce on the band’s early performances, their edgy sound, and the dirty, saucy songs they wrote throughout this documentary. For whatever the final reason, Anvil never became commercially successful the way people like Slash, or bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, and Twisted Sister did; they spiraled into years of making monetarily unsuccessful albums on their own, and playing whatever gigs they could manage to get. All the while, many of the bands they influenced with their stage performances and gritty tunes were out touring all over the globe and back again.

However, Lips (real name- Steve Kudlow) and Robb (Reiner) never ever gave up on their dream, and continued to rock on as the only solid members of Anvil to stay the entire course.

1239226371_1This documentary picks up as the boys get contacted by a European fan who basically offers to be their manager, and wants to help arrange a tour of shows in Europe for somewhere around 1500 Euros a night (or so she says). What follows is a very disheartening tour where they are late for gigs, delayed here and there, and generally followed by an air of discontent; at one point, Reiner even refuses to play and says he will quit the band, but Lips convinces his oldest best friend to stick it out. These guys have taken time off work for five weeks, and make little-to-no money whatsoever.

It almost feels like Anvil is doomed. Lips, though, still feels the passion, and so does Reiner. Lips sends Chris “CT” Tsangarides (a producer they had previously worked with many years ago) a demo tape of their new album called This is Thirteen; CT calls Lips back, and says it has potential, but they still need funds to make it all happen.
Lips tries to do telemarketing with the help of a very enthusiastic lifetime fan of Anvil, but cannot even produce one sale; this part was especially sad, as even though Lips holds another job, we get a glimpse at how rockers feel when not on the stage, and forced to go to work just like the rest of us (Lips is a man who knows only music; it feels to me he is compromising himself by working a regular job, and that’s why this scene is particularly depressing). An emotional visit with his sister yields a great opportunity for Lips and his band: she gives him what I understood to be around $10,000 to help him make the album.
This is where we see the true spirit of Anvil begin to shine, and even though there are still arguments, fights, scraps- the band pushes to achieve their dream.
AnvilIn the end, Lips and Reiner travel with Anvil back to Japan where the film began in 1984 at the Super Rock Festival. Now, they find they are booked for 11:30am to play, and Lips immediately begins wondering how they came so far to simply be booked for a morning show. With all routes looking to lead towards more disaster for Anvil, they take the stage in front of a massive crowd of people DYING to see them, and proceed to rock their fans from beginning to end of their set. You can almost see the fire return to Lips and Reiner, as they finally have made it back to the huge stage in Japan where they once played with the Scorpions, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, and many other big names.

I give this film a full and fat, rocking 5 out of 5 stars because not only is it a well-documented film about the trials and tribulations of Anvil as a band, but also it showcases what the human spirit is all about: never giving in. The ability to get knocked down before getting back up each and every time they fall is something Lips and Reiner are both masters at; they falter, but never do they fall flat on their face. Every moment is just another moment for redemption. Highly recommended.

Just a note- whenever I feel down, or like life isn’t giving me a fair shake, I throw on The Story of Anvil, and I’m reminded just who the real heroes are. Those are the times I’m reminded that determination really is everything; it’s not just some tired cliché. It’s truth.

Music Heals All in Metalhead

Málmhaus (English title: Metalhead). 2013. Directed & Written by Ragnar Bragason.
Starring Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Thora Bjorg Helga, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, and Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson.
Unrated. 97 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2

Hera, as a young girl on her family’s farm, witnesses her older brother Baldur die in a freak accident while riding a tractor. Later, as a teenager, Hera gets into the heavy metal lifestyle and music Baldur enjoyed. She lives in a tiny community where her newfound choices don’t exactly go over well. Her father and mother struggle with the motions she goes through. They attend church, while she only rebels against it. Hera not only picks up heavy metal, both listening to it and playing it, she also takes to more violent, destructive behaviour; this all culminates in a very serious act of vandalism and arson. She is at odds with the people and place where she lives. Everything feels too ordinary and small for Hera, and so her rebellion grows large.
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The whole film is essentially about Hera’s struggle, however, we also get an eye of what her parents go through in their own struggle to deal with death. Aside from the family there is also the great character of Janus, a new priest in the town. He is secretly a very cool guy underneath the black clothes and the collar; in a very suggestive scene, or at least it is at the start, Janus takes off his shirt to reveal to Hera a tattoo. He then proceeds to tell her he loves Iron Maiden, Venom, Celtic Frost, among others. His taste in music transcends the priestly garb, and he even gives a line similar to “don’t judge a book by its cover” (or maybe it was exactly that – I can’t remember now).

I really like that the film included Janus as a character because this shows the multiple lives a person can live; they are not defined by their occupation, nor are they defined by the music they listen to. However, Janus gives off signals Hera misinterprets. Their relationship isn’t what she thought, and it sets her off further against God; this being one of the threads running through Metalhead.
MetalheadAny drama truly thrives on its performances. Above story, above mood or setting or plot, the actors and actresses of a film (or any performance truly whether it’s onscreen or onstage) really carry things; if they do a bad job, the film can fall flat. On the other hand, if they do even a mediocre job a film that might not have been any good without them becomes really worthwhile. In Metalhead, the performances give even more punch to a great story. Thora Bjorg Helga, as Hera, really does a spectacular job portraying a young woman trying to find herself while also mourning the loss of someone whom she loved very much.
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The film does a good job of illustrating, to those who don’t already know, how music can both destroy as well as heal; it has both of these capabilities, whether people like it or not. Hera clings to music as a means of identifying herself. She also immerses herself into music because it helps her still keep Baldur with her in spirit. There are beautiful scenes where we get to watch Hera go through intense emotion while she puts the dark soul in her inside the music she plays.

There are some other solid performances in Metalhead to round the film out. Such as Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson as Janus, the heavy metal rocker priest, and also Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson who portrays Hera’s equally trouble father Karl. Although Helga herself is the main focus of the film, and a strong female lead, these two male leads also provide great non-typical characterizations of familiar characters.
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Later in the film, after Hera has almost fully abandoned music in her life; it has gone away, and she resigns herself to a life that is simply available to her instead of one she actively seeks out and wants. Then when three men show up looking for Hera, having heard some of the demo tapes she made while deeply mourning her brother, music comes back into her life. What follows in the finale of the film is absolutely beautiful.
There is a final moment of catharsis in the moments before credits roll on Metalhead which almost made me cry. I couldn’t believe it. The whole time you watch the film there are moments where you actually hope for a good end to everything. Most times, even while watching a terrifying film like a horror or maybe a thriller, I find myself looking for a grim ending because honestly, in my opinion, those are more interesting film-wise. Happy endings don’t usually jive with me because they are too heavy handed, too smug. On the contrary, the moments closing out this film are absolutely perfect, not only for the plot, but also tonally. It just, simply put, works; damn well. The tragic and heavy tone throughout much of Metalhead, including what I feel are some excellent moments of dark comedy, all play well with the end. Some endings can take the tone and throw it out, however, this one hits its mark, and strikes a fair balance where everything comes out slick.
metalhead_01-thumb-630xauto-41451I have to give the movie a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. I have one small problem with Metalhead. I felt they could have used a little more time on female relationships. They explored the mother slightly because there were some fascinating shots and bits of scenes where we really got to see her almost in the same light as Hera.  But they didn’t get enough of it in there. With the inclusion of Janus and Hera’s father Karl, it felt as if there was a lack of more female presence in movie. It isn’t necessarily something that detracts from how beautiful or successful in its goal Metalhead is in the end. Personally, it’s just something that would’ve made this a little stronger overall. There is a lot of ground left to be covered concerning Hera’s mother that I wish they could have, or would have, covered. I recommend anyone who loves a good drama to check out Metalhead once they can.

I believe Raven Banner is handling the Canadian distribution across all media. This is really great film. Not only for those who are fans of metal (there are some musical treats within, no doubt!), but those who enjoy heavy, personal dramas. There are some big, great aspirations here concerning faith, music, forgiveness, and other themes. I think Metalhead delivers on most levels. It is worth the money and time to see something not typical of most dramas: a middle-ground view of ideas about death, love, heavy metal, and religion.