Heavy Metal Possession in THE DEVIL’S CANDY

The Devil’s Candy. 2017. Directed & Written by Sean Byrne.
Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, & Kiara Glasco.
Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 79 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 8.56.09 AMSean Byrne’s debut feature The Loved Ones rocked me in 2009. It was unique and horrifying. I knew he’d give us more terror eventually. Although I didn’t think it would take another 6 years. When you wait that long and the product ends up being something altogether eerie, you thank a writer-director who so obviously digs the genre.
The Devil’s Candy gives us equal parts beauty and horror. There’s heavy metal, there’s painting, there’s a troubled father-daughter relationship and a fun family at the centre of the plot. There’s also three excellent performances from Ethan Embry, Kiara Glasco, and one of the great unsung character actors possibly every, Pruitt Taylor Vince.
What’s most exciting about Byrne’s follow-up feature is the take on possession. So many horrors out there try to do the sub-genre justice by giving their own take on the concept of demonic possession, but many of those slip into the pitfalls of a typical Exorcist rip-off. Byrne avoids that by going a whole other route, bringing the supernatural straight into collision with utterly human, family drama with an innovative twist.
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I always love when demonic possession is more than some poor, helpless young person is seized by the devil, flopping around on the floor or speaking another language or contorting into a weird human-limbed spider. A possession story becomes something else entirely when the demonic influence helps the possessed acquire wealth (fame/anything similar). This makes the character of Jesse’s (Embry) paintings like an unwitting, unspoken pact with the devil.
On the other side is Ray (Vince), whose encounter with Satan is entirely different. He’s a man with mental difficulties to begin, then he has to contend with the voice of the devil whispering in his ear. Whereas Jesse sort of takes it like a voice of inspiration, if not a sinister one, for Ray it’s like torture.
Heavy metal is the link. While Jesse listens to metal, as he paints and driving with his daughter Zooey (Glasco), Ray uses it as a means of drowning out the voice of Satan in his head. He plays the guitar, a flying V in fact, strumming deep, droning, distorted chords, which doesn’t just make his house unpleasant, it eventually draws the police. Just a whole mess of things going on, all of which add to the atmosphere of terror.
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Embry and I follow one another on Twitter. I asked him if he was wearing a Sunn O))) shirt, which he confirmed, and he also told me that, he believes, the voice of Satan here is likewise provided by the band.
Brings me to one of the things I find so unsettling about the film – the sound design. At certain moments we hear the low, rumbling voice of Satan speaking to his pawns. It’s the absolute perfect voice. Sort of rattles your bones listening to it. Along with Ray’s power chords, the heavy metal soundtrack, the sound design and the voice itself are part of the dreadful feeling the film evokes at every turn.
The storytelling is a large part of The Devil’s Candy‘s success as a horror that works hard to unnerve its audience, frame by frame, building to a roar. In parallel, we watch the stories of Ray and Jesse, like opposite ends of a spectrum. Then the paintings Jesse creates in a fugue of possession reflect the actions and events in Ray’s life, giving the parallel plots a whole new level of meaning.
A favourite scene of mine is the montage sequence of the painting Jesse works on. The paint, the brushes, the sloppy wet sounds of them together – these are, again, paralleled with the sounds of Ray with his wet mop sloshing around, soaking up blood. The whole sequence is amazingly edited. On top of that the score and the sound design make it chilling.
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 9.56.06 AMByrne does a fantastic job providing us with an alternative story about possession and occult horror. Not saying he’s reinvented the wheel. But god damn me to hell if he doesn’t offer up a horror that doesn’t take the same old beaten path. Peppered with equally fantastic performances, The Devil’s Candy is a personal favourite of mine since 2000.
A huge selling point is the chemistry between Embry and Glasco. Their relationship as father and daughter is strained, though not past the point of no return. There’s a breaking point, yes. And that plays its own part in their relationship. What I dig is that they’re so natural. Embry’s not that old, so his character comes off as this hip guy who hasn’t exactly reconciled his hipness with also being a father; he’s a good dad, not perfect, and tries his best. For her part, Glasco plays the daughter well and her emotional range as an actress stacks up well against her adult counterparts.
From Sunn O))) in all forms – t-shirt, voice of Satan, soundtrack – to Embry and Glasco, as well as Pruitt Taylor Vince doing a bang up job as a seasoned character actor, to Sean Byrne and his atmospheric directing, The Devil’s Candy does what it sets out to do: unsettle and terrify. You don’t have to piss your pants to find something scary. What I find most unsettling about the film is the presentation of the devil’s influence, as something that simply cannot be stopped – won’t be stopped. And for once heavy metal isn’t the bringer of horror, it is a way for the horror to be evaded, a positive force between father and daughter. Underneath the possession stuff there’s a lot going on, too.

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Patty Jenkins’ Monster: Forced to Kill, One Way or Another

Monster. 2003. Directed & Written by Patty Jenkins.
Starring Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay, Scott Wilson, Rus Blackwell, Tim Ware, Stephan Jones, Brett Rice, Kaitlin Riley, & Cree Ivey. Media 8 Entertainment/Newmarket Films/DEJ Productions.
Rated 18A. 109 minutes.
Biography/Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTER For those that don’t know the entire story, Aileen Wuornos was indeed a serial killer. She murdered men. She was a prostitute, one that had been abused, supposedly raped, tortured, and one who took emancipation from a life of sex as business into her own hands when there was nowhere else to turn. And that was the ultimate problem concerning Aileen’s long, tumultuous life. Starting from an early age she was frequently beaten, while naked, by her adoptive father. At the age of fourteen she got pregnant, later putting the boy up for adoption in 1971. She was actually married to a multimillionaire by age twenty, which later ended in a restraining order against her and an annulment. This was also around the time Lee started getting arrested, charged with assault and battery, among other things. When she finally wound up in Daytona, drinking in a gay bar, she met Tyria Moore who’d become the one big love of her life. It was in Daytona the trail of bodies behind Aileen – affectionately known as Lee to those close to her – started piling up.
And this is where director-writer Patty Jenkins’ Monster comes in.
Wuornos, by all accounts, had trouble with the truth. Most of all after her arrest in 1991. What Jenkins does is examine Wuornos in those days after meeting Moore – here named Selby – and the steady decline of her mental state from the time of her first murder onward. In a realistic style alongside a great script, Jenkins uses the fascinatingly honest, brutally true-to-life performance of Charlize Theron as the centerpiece of a discussion about everything from murder to prostitution, to how we judge prostitutes when they say they’ve been sexually assaulted, love, as well as so many other themes in between. This movie is a great film from the early 2000s containing one of the single best performances ever seen in the history of cinema.
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There’s some great editing in this film. When Selby and Aileen first stay together in the hotel, after she’s murdered her first victim, things are so light and lovely, which then switches quickly into the stone cold realities of this woman’s life: we cut fast to Aileen in her stolen car, spraying down the windshield and wiping off any of the last bloody remnants inside to make sure it’s not a rolling DNA lab. This is one of the most evident points where we see the division in Aileen’s life, between the woman she wants to be and the woman she is/has become. An instance of when good editing and writing come together to create a sorrowful look into the inner life of a character, especially heart wrenching due to the fact Aileen is a serial killer, as well as partly a very tragic case.
What is part serial killer picture is also part indictment of our general society, which chews people like Aileen Wuornos up and spits them out. Aside from her alleged rape (I only say alleged because Aileen was the only person left on Earth who knew the truth for sure about that particular event), one of the first truly sad scenes is the montage sequence where Aileen heads out looking for a job. First just seeing her dressed in a nice little outfit while looking terrifyingly rough is semi-comical, which might explain Jenkins once telling an interviewer the film was meant to be played as a lighthearted comedy with bits of the murders tossed in amongst everything else. Secondly, when Aileen then goes on to a law office where she hopes to get a secretarial job, the treatment she receives is downright appalling. Then when she freaks out, it’s as if she is being the unreasonable one, but the man provoked her into that behaviour, and furthermore we continue to see how the system is not designed for people like Aileen. One poignantly tragic moment is when Selby is being chastised about Aileen by her aunt, who basically says
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Basically, a long and ruined life led Aileen to where she ended up. Having been used and abused most of her lifetime she wound up doing all she was ever conditioned to do: prostitute herself and sell her body. The saddest part to me is that one way or another, Aileen was likely to become a killer. Because if she didn’t willingly start killing men that she felt were assaulting or raping her then there’s still a high probability she would’ve likely, at some point in life, contracted HIV and spread it. Aileen wasn’t some high class escort, she lived on the street going from one situation to the next in desperation, so there’s a huge chance HIV would’ve come along. But the biggest, saddest irony lies in the fact that if Aileen was telling the truth about the original john she killed in the beginning, it’s likely this rape and assault which pushed her into killing the others, even if they never assaulted her themselves. Not to excuse her crimes, they are horrific and inexcusable. It just begs attention paid to the systemic abuse of low class prostitutes that are living dangerous lives on the fringe of society, no protection, barely any mind paid to their situations and their struggles. Eventually the levee has to break, somehow, somewhere down the line. Aileen represents one of the most perfect cases of a woman pushed too far. People want to act like a prostitute gets what she deserves, whatever that means, as if selling her body to survive and get through life effectively relegates her to a life of rape, torture, and all around terror. As if she asked for that. But Aileen asked for none of the life she was given. The title of this film accurately describes Wuornos, yet it has more than just the surface meaning that she is a monstrous person. This title refers further to the monster which society made her, the serial killing creature into which society molded her.
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Obviously the most impressive piece of Monster is Theron. Not just the physical transformation, though that is perfect. She not only takes on the physical appearance of Wuornos, she also gets the mannerisms and the phrasing, everything, so dead on correct. If you’ve ever watched any of the documentary material on Aileen, specifically the films made by Nick Broomfield, you’ll find it undeniable how accurate Theron portrays this woman, from top the bottom. Emotionally, this role is heavy, and all the various traumas of Aileen are not easy to illustrate onscreen. Theron proves that empathy reigns supreme, as she crawls inside the skin of this woman, whose story is sad but still altogether scary to relate to. We do, though. We relate in the most unnerving of ways, and that isn’t solely on the writing by Jenkins, fleshing out many important moments in the later stages of Aileen’s days. Theron opens the door to that empathetic viewing, which ultimately makes Monster one of the more compelling films to look at a true story about a serial killer. Yes, there are graphic moments. Even those are tactfully written and handled with solid directorial choices on Jenkins’ part.
With Theron’s powerhouse acting talent this movie doesn’t have to linger totally on the murder, the blood, the rape, none of that. Instead those lie on the peripherals of the film, adding their touches lightly, as Jenkins chooses to focus on the emotional, sentimental aspects of Aileen’s life. In doing so, Theron is able to show off her skills, and the movie reaches a height many other biographical films concerning the hideous legacy of serial murderers often can’t manage to attain. This is a 5-star masterpiece of a crime film. Even better, it’s based in real life, the melodrama is almost non-existent. Not only is Monster one of the best films in the past 16 years, it is an excellent movie period. And Theron’s performance as Wuornos will forever go down in history as one of the greatest. She deserved and still deserves all the accolades heaped upon her for this role because it is tremendous. To make people care about someone who has killed, a bunch of people, is truly remarkable, and to bring forward some of the issues in this film is brave on both the part of Theron and writer-director Jenkins. Truly a phenomenal work of cinema.

The Walking Dead – Season 2, Episode 3: “Save the Last One”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 2, Episode 3: “Save the Last One”
Directed by Phil Abraham
Written by Scott M. Gimple

* For a review of the previous episode, “Bloodletting” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Cherokee Rose” – click here
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We start on Shane (Jon Bernthal), shirtless in front of the mirror, shaving his head in the sink. He looks dead on the inside. Cut to him and Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) trying to escape the building where last we saw them in “Bloodletting”. Over the top in voice-over, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) tells his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) about the time Shane stole their principal’s car in high school, as they sit with their comatose son Carl (Chandler Riggs). The parents are obviously stressing, worried Carl won’t make it through. But most of all, Loris wants Rick to eat and stay strong for him. For all of them. Also, she doesn’t want to hear him talk about Shane and make her guilt any worse than it already is at the present moment in time.
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In the R.V. out on the highway, Daryl (Norman Reedus) can’t sleep. Between Carol (Melissa McBride) crying in bed and Andrea (Laurie Holden) loading bullet clips, there is no rest. Nobody is exactly tired. With Sophia out there and in who knows what sort of condition everybody is on edge and not quite right. Andrea and Daryl go to look for the girl. Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) isn’t too pleased with their plan, but that’s no matter.
Glenn (Steven Yeun) and T-Dog (Irone Singleton) arrive back at the ranch. They meet Maggie (Lauren Cohan) properly on the porch. She brings them inside and Glenn greets with “painkillers and antibiotics“. Things are fairly grim inside with Hershel (Scott Wilson) tending on Carl, as Rick and Lori still sit close with their son. Everybody is aimed at getting the boy better. “Whatever you need,” T-Dog tells them all. Things are tense waiting to see whether or not Shane and Otis get back, and with the proper equipment. Tough decisions may be on the horizon.
Bits of Daryl comes out. His rough childhood and such, through a conversation with Andrea as they search for Sophia. We can tell that Daryl grew up in a typically hillbilly fashion, absentee parents, almost dangerously. It’s nice to get things like that out of characters without a ton of exposition. Just little stories along the way rather than crowding each and every episode with too much character development. The characters grow organically, at the right pace, which is something I’ve enjoyed greatly up to this point now at Season 2’s first beginnings.


Lori and Rick are at odds. She seems to think death may be better than living in a terrible world with the zombies. Rick is never a quitter, under any circumstances. It’s discouraging for Rick, as a father, a parent. She talks about Jacqui, how she “doesnt feel it anymore” and it’s clear that Rick doesn’t “accept that“. More talk of what Jenner told Rick, though, it is subtle and brief. What was it? I know already, but still it intrigues me to see how Rick deals with knowing it the whole time and nobody else does.
Shane is still trying to make his way out of the high school, flooded with the living dead. His ankle in a bad way, backed up against a fence. There’s a feeling of everything falling down on top of him. Groans and grows on every side. Then Otis appears, shooting off a few walkers. Reunited they start making their way to safety. At the ranch, Carl wakes up and things are stable for only a few seconds before he fades off again, seizing savagely.
Maggie and Glenn have a talk together. This is the beginning of a relationship between the two, which starts with him trying to pray, and her interrupting. It’s a nice little talk between the two involving God and the human need to keep on surviving, “no matter what happens“.
Shane does whatever it takes to survive. But in the worst kind of sense.


Hershel decides they have to make a choice on Carl. Shane and Otis don’t arrive on-time, so things have to start going. The I.V is setup, Carl is moved onto a surgical table, and Hershel begins preparations for the surgery. Then Shane appears. He has everything required, all the equipment. No Otis; he died.
Maggie is upset by the death of Otis, as Glenn comforts her. They bond slightly over who they’ve lost and what has happened to each of them since the fall of mankind and society. Her mother is gone, step-brother. Everybody has lost someone and they take comfort in the fact so many of them are going through the same situation. Good news comes as Hershel announces Carl is stable, though, he feels at a loss as to how to break the news to Patricia about Otis. A tragic thing for anyone to have to do.


Shane is getting dark and scary, his eyes showing all the guilt and hate he feels inside; this brings us back to the scene from the opening where Shane shaves his head in the sink. Fitting enough, he is given clothes to wear: they belonged to Otis. I worry about where Shane is headed as a character and exactly what he’s fixing to do, where he is going to go, down which path. He flashes back to the moment where he left Otis, seeing it again. Otis is left behind for the zombies to chew on while Shane takes his opportunity to get away, letting them eat after putting a bullet in Otis’ leg. It is a vicious, cold-blooded moment where the true nature of Shane’s existence shows. He is a bad man who will do whatever serves him best, in that moment. There is nothing he won’t do, as evidenced already by his behaviour with Rick, Lori, and now with what he’s done to Otis. He shaved his head because part of his hair got ripped in the struggle between him and Otis. A disgusting act of cowardice by a twisted man. This is going places.


More and more, the second season of The Walking Dead gets intense. Stay with me and I’ll review the next episode, too: “Cherokee Rose”.

The Walking Dead – Season 2, Episode 2: “Bloodletting”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 2, Episode 2: “Bloodletting”
Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by Glen Mazzara

* For a review of the previous Season 2 premiere, “What Lies Ahead” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Save the Last One” – click here
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This episode takes a step back from Carl (Chandler Riggs) being shot in the woods, right in front of both his father Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Shane (Jon Bernthal).
Starting out, we’re flashed back to before the fall of humanity. Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) is at the playground, talking about Rick to her friend. They talk about the troubles of their relationship. Lori says they were “married so young” and perhaps that’s part of their issue. This scene is actually the moment where Shane tells Lori about the shooting; the one which puts Rick in the hospital bed where he’ll lay until the zombie apocalypse comes. Shane tries to takethe blame for the situation, as they look at Carl coming towards them with a smiling face.
Now, we’re back in the present with Rick – this time it’s Carl who took a bullet. Such a tragic parallel. Father runs with his dying son in his arms. The man who accidentally shot him is Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who runs almost dragged by Shane, telling them to “talk to Hershel“. Up at a big ranch house, Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan) calls out to her father Hershel (Scott Wilson). He has a bunch of supplies and takes Carl into a bed where he begins trying to treat the boy. Others are working around Hershel – his daughter Maggie, his other daughter Beth (Emily Kinney), Patricia (Jane McNeill). It’s a frantic, bloody scene. But now there’s a new influx of characters for the series. The Walking Dead just got stronger.


Rick is rightfully devastated, worrying for his son. Otis feels terrible for what happened. He’d been out hunting and then the worst happened all of a sudden. Meanwhile, the other group is still in the woods. Lori heard the gunshot and worries. Daryl (Norman Reedus) says to keep moving looking for Sophia, which Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) agree with, as well as Carol (Melissa McBride). On they go, sadly. Now there’s two children at terrible risk, possibly on the verge of death. Poor Carl and Sophia. Not a world made for the children, or the weak, the sick. Not for anybody, I suppose.
Back out on the highway, Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) is fiddling with car parts while T-Dog (Irone Singleton) seems restless, worrying about everyone still being gone. Likewise, Dale worries about T-Dog; the cut on his arm is pretty rough and giving him trouble. An infection is on the loose, which makes Dale even more concerned.
Bits of gruesome imagery. The highway is just like one long extensive cemetery. Creepy as all hell.
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Dale: “Listen, your veins are very discoloured. You got a hell of an infection there. You could die from blood poisoning.”
TDog: “Oh, man. Wouldnt that be the way? World gone to hell, the dead risen up to eat the living and Theodore Douglas is done in by a cut on his arm.”
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Little Carl soldiers on as Hershel extracts the bullet fragments from his wounded side. Amazing to have someone like Hershel there. The wasteland could be even worse without someone having medical knowledge. Rick donates blood for Carl and also worries that Lori is out there, not knowing a thing about Carl.
But things are bad. Carl needs actual surgery for Hershel to figure everything out. They need a respirator, its equipment, sutures and so on. Otis suggests the high school, where a FEMA shelter had been setup, which probably has supplies. Shane agrees to go out, and Otis wants to tag along; he feels responsible for everything. Otis was a volunteer EMT, so he knows what they’re looking for and Shane takes him out on the road. A dangerous journey, but necessary.
Out of nowhere, Lori and the group are found in the woods. By Maggie. On horseback. Daryl is sceptical, although Maggie takes Lori and rides back to the ranch after telling her what’s happened to her son. Things are tense. Up on the road, Glenn tells Dale about Carl being shot. The group are split up, but only temporarily.
Hershel and Rick have a chat on the porch. The former is a family man just trying to make sure his own survives. Hershel relates the zombie virus to AIDS, but Rick tries to tell him: “This is a whole other thing.” He doesn’t yet realize what’s happening, saying that’s it is simply “nature correcting itself” and that eventually things will set themselves right. So terribly misguided, it seems. But a good man.


Out headed towards the high school, Otis and Shane try to keep from drawing attention to themselves. A massive horde of zombies is crowded around the building. A medical trailer sits on the opposite side from where they hide. At the same time, Daryl, Dale and the others on the highway try to decide whether or not they should stay or go, in regards to Sophia. They send Glenn with T-Dog, out to the farm. My favourite part of the episode? Daryl has his brother Merle’s stash of drugs, a massive Ziploc with a ton of bottles in it. Appears “Merle got the clap on occasion“, as well as other things. Amazing little moment in a ton of bad, dark times.
The most interesting part of the episode, though, is definitely when Shane and Otis find themselves in a tough spot. Trying their hardest to get the medicinal supplies Hershel needs to operate on Carl, they’ve put their lives on the line. Tons of zombies are diverted for a little while after they fire off a couple flares from a police cruiser. This gives them time. And they need time, as Carl’s condition gets worse with too much of it passing.
Otis and Shane find the items they need. But going back is a lot more difficult than it was getting in. Trapped in a building’s entrance they both try to figure out some way forward through their insurmountable predicament, facing row after row of zombies.


Next episode, after this exciting cliffhanger, is “Save the Last One”. Can’t wait to review and recap that one, after seeing it again. Stay tuned.

The Cell Examines a Rotting Mind

The Cell. 2000. Directed by Tarsem Singh. Screenplay by Mark Protosevich.
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Colton James, Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Gerry Becker, Musetta Vander, Patrick Bauchau, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jake Weber, Dean Norris, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Peter Sarsgaard, Catherine Sutherland, and Vince Vaughn. New Line Cinema.
Rated R. 107 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★1/2
The_Cell-190951656-largeTarsem Singh doesn’t always hit the nail on the head – apparently his latest Self/less is a bit derivative and uninspired if I’m to believe some of the criticism – either way, I feel he has an incredibly distinct vision when it comes to the way he makes films. I remember seeing this the year it came out and ever since I’ve been highly enamoured with Singh’s visual style. His work is all slick looking; not in the big budget Hollywood sense, but in a way that’s often highly reminiscent of painted art.
The way in which Singh visualizes the script for The Cell plays perfectly into the story. If Singh had gone a different route, or another director entirely did this film, the emotions and the sensory experience, all the wonder of the script would not come across as perfectly as it does. Aided by the incredibly moving and disturbing performance from Vincent D’Onofrio, as well as probably the most solid work Jennifer Lopez has ever done in my opinion, The Cell has an air of science fiction, but most importantly becomes a dramatic and tense story about a terrifying serial killer, and a brief look at the minds of the people who catch them.
The-Cell-091Using a new technology allowing her to literally enter the mind of a patient, psychotherapist Catharine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) first explores the brain of a young boy in a coma named Edward (Colton James). Though not many believe in her methods aside from Dr. Miriam Kent (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and Henry West (Dylan Baker) who work alongside her at the hospital, Catherine pursues this innovative technology in order to help actually fix the mental illnesses some people suffer under.
When a serial killer named Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) goes into a coma from a sort of epileptic episode and still has a woman in an unknown location, slowly drowning, Catherine is called in to enter his mind and try to figure out where the latest victim is being held.
Once inside the dangerous mind of Stargher, it becomes more dangerous in real life for Catherine. Her own mind becomes susceptible to the influence of the dark world Stargher inhabits within his dream world. In the end, it’s up to FBI Agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) to enter Stargher’s world so he might try and save Catherine; moreover, hopefully the last drowning victim Julia Hickson (Tara Subkoff).

Want some milk?
The-Cell-073A huge part of why I love Singh’s work has to do with his films and their overall aesthetic. As is with a lot of very visual movies, editing is always an important aspect.
The edit here at the ‘milk moment’ is perfect starting with Catherine about to feed her cat. Next shot cuts to a dead woman’s open-eyed face emerging out of a pool of milky white liquid; this is in fact, what we later learn to be, bleach. Very creepy and effective.
Right afterwards, more of Singh’s visual identity as an auteur director comes through, as Catherine falls asleep after smoking a joint, and as the camera slowly pans to the sheets on her bed they merge with the sandy dunes of the desert which she’d seen earlier in Edward’s mind. Excellent shot, again with some wonderful editing.
These moments, they are only the start to the visual feast which Singh serves us.
The-Cell-486The-Cell-104It’s the plot of Carl Stargher which truly horrifies me in The Cell. The writing for his character is pretty great, I must say. I’m not a fan of much else Mark Protosevich has written personally (one of the only Marvel films I do like coincidentally was written by him – Thor). However, his script for this movie impressed me. I like how there’s a sci-fi element to it with the technology Catherine Deane uses. At the same time, Stargher provides a disturbing and intriguing look at a real life type killer.
What’s interesting, though, is how we get the look at Stargher in reality then we’re quickly swept off into his mind – a dream world. This is the most disturbing when it comes to The Cell‘s killer – even after we’ve seen him suspend himself from rings hooked into the skin all down his back and legs then masturbate over a dead woman. The dream world Stargher inhabits is something out of horror and fantasy; perhaps you could almost classify this film as part dark fantasy, as well as a thriller. Not only is the imagery of the world inside Stargher’s head itself scary, but when we see Carl as the king of this world he is an awful, mortifying creature that you couldn’t even come up with in your worst of nightmares.
Vincent D’Onofrio is a wonderful actor and here he gives a truly wild performance. Those moments inside his head, when Catherine (Lopez) is looking for him and following the younger Carl (Jake Thomas), are so perfect and effective. D’Onofrio keeps the essence of the real life killer in Stargher and also imbues the character with an essence of monstrosity; even in his insane makeup and speaking strangely, D’Onofrio makes this literal monster still feel real. I think a lot of people jump to Full Metal Jacket – and rightfully so – when they say it’s his best work, but honestly, for me this is his crowning achievement as an actor. Plenty of actors have played serial killers over the course of their career; it’s Vincent D’Onofrio who does something completely different and changes the role from a familiar character into an altogether new beast.
fhd002TCL_Vincent_D_Onofrio_012 660c9f696b494bdfc0edc9766928d8d5It’s strange how cinematographer Paul Laufer does such an amazing job here, and yet everything else he’s done is a couple TV movies and music video stuff for Rihanna and Katy Perry. I mean, what? So strange because this movie is viciously dark and horrifying, yet nothing else he’s done as a cinematographer has been anything like that. Although, Laufer did work as an assist camera on 1988’s Lady in White and also as an addition photographer in the second unit for cult classic Miracle Mile.
Regardless of his previous experience, or anything after, the camerawork he does on The Cell is just downright gorgeous. There are definitely moments people will chalk up as MTV style music video moments, but it’s not the fast editing style or anything similar to the fast pace of Tony Scott films (ironically one of the editors who worked on this also edited Scott’s final movie Unstoppable. Laufer uses these highly stylized techniques in order to make it visually evident how strange and dreamy a world we’re inhabiting while in the mind of Carl Stargher. The way the scenes look match perfectly the atmosphere and tone the script goes for, which is why I say this movie has such an incredible, undeniable aesthetic. It brings together so much talent on all ends, from the performances of the actors to all the technical angles involved in the film.
That brings me to the score, which is – to my surprise – from Howard Shore. Lately I’ve written reviews for other films including the masterful compositions of Shore, now I come across this one; a movie I know well, apparently just not well enough. I think when it comes to music that has a lot of horns involved, Shore is one of the greatest in the movie industry. He does such impressive work with the foreboding sounds trumpets, tubas, trombones (and so on) can produce, which I recently discussed in both The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en; each having their own unique and dark qualities. Furthermore, in The Cell there is plenty of equally amazing string work and percussion. I find especially his score rocks me in those first scenes after Catherine has entered the mind of Stargher: as she walks down the trophy cased room of victims and the bodybuilder grabs Catherine, presenting her for Stargher’s dream world alter ego, the score just ramps the tension up until we’re hit with a ton of bricks. That moment could’ve easily played well almost on its own. However, Shore adds the extra oompf a proper film score ought to. There are plenty instances of his music and its effectiveness throughout, which each bring more of that tension and it drives the thriller elements of the plot.
fhd002TCL_Vincent_D_Onofrio_011 eiko fhd002TCL_Vincent_D_Onofrio_014This is yet another film that strays into horror, dipping its toes at the appropriate times, yet does not fully become a horror movie. And as a horror fan, I find that great when genres can cross together and mix as one. I like when a thriller can incorporate horror while not fully becoming a scary film; if it’s done right.
The Cell absolutely uses horror, some times it is quite raw and ugly, but it’s mainly a thriller with dramatic and sci-fi elements. We get a lot here, a nice bang for your buck, because there’s something for everybody. Even while it can be terrifying at times, it’s so rooted in reality – even with the innovative technology used in the plot – that the drama of the story draws an audience in, the performances stay buoyed around human situations, and we’re able to feel all the appropriate emotions without getting lost in too many aspects of horror.
With all that being said, the horror is still my favourite part. It’s a scary story and at the same time exciting, as well as dramatic. But the disturbing elements concerning Carl Stargher make things all the more interesting for me. Examining his mind/head LITERALLY is something that hadn’t been explored really at the time of The Cell‘s release. They took a cool and familiar idea from science fiction and then crafted a highly intense serial killer drama-thriller out of it.
dd093c8396ebAll in all, Tarsem Singh does spectacular work with The Cell. It isn’t perfect, however, I’d argue that it’s close to being so. Maybe there are little things Singh could have tweaked, who knows. Some people say they’ve got a problem with both Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn. Me, I think they’re both pretty decent here, certainly Vaughn who rarely gets to show off his serious side; his character felt very real and I thought his backstory came out just enough, briefly, in order to give us a sense of how intensely he feels about his job. Lopez does a good job and I don’t think you can fault her for anything here, she’s not a particularly awesome actress overall but here her character goes over well.
I’m giving this movie a 4.5 star rating. There’s a disturbing script which keeps you incredibly involved with its drama and psychological horror, while it also contains overt elements of horror – a serial killer with a nasty penchant for drowning women and turning them into bleached dolls – and a dose of science fiction. Add to that Singh and his visual flair, which I’m always pleased to watch (this and Immortals both blew my mind; The Fall is pretty neat, too). Then there’s the costume and set design and makeup effects which each cement this is an excellent bit of technical work. Together all the elements of the film work so well in unison, they create a lingering aesthetic that I’m never fully able to get out of my mind.
I’ll never forget this movie because it is so beautiful looking and simultaneously so unsettling, plus Vincent D’Onofrio brings out one of the most nuanced and terrifying visions of a fictional serial killer I’ve ever witnessed.
Haven’t seen it? Don’t let J-Lo turn you away. She is as good as she needs to be for this film. Come for the bits of horror, the interesting premise, and a script/plot that’s bound to stick to you a little after you’ve finished watching.
Enjoy. Or be disturbed. Not sure which I’m supposed to say to normal people.

13 Sins: Economy & Morality

13 Sins. 2014. Dir. Daniel Stamm. Screenplay by David Birke & Stamm; based on the original source material 13: Game of Death by Chookiat Sakveerakul & Eakasit Thairatana.
Starring Mark Webber, Devon Graye, Tom Bower, Rutina Wesley, Ron Perlman, and Pruitt Taylor Vince. Entertainment One.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★

The beginning of 13 Sins signifies an entertaining, at times shocking, and wild rollercoaster is about to kick in gear. I love when, right from the get go, a film tells you it’s both appropriate to laugh your guts out, and also be creeped out or horrified – whatever the moment calls for.

We open with an older man who is being introduced at some sort of reception. He proceeds to tell some filthy jokes, and then cuts a woman’s finger off in front of the entire crowd. Everyone panics. People flee to the doors, screaming and trampling like cattle. As he reaches into his pocket while a police officer holds him at gunpoint, he’s shot. However, what he reached for was a cellphone. It promptly goes off with a ringtone of Julius Fučík’s “Thunder and Blazes – Entry of the Gladiators”.640px-13_Sins_poster
Cut to Elliot (Webber) whose life is in shambles. He is about to get married, he already takes care of his disabled brother Michael (Graye), and his elderly, hateful father (Bower) is on the verge of needing to move in with him. Not to mention he is suddenly fired from his job for “lacking balls”, essentially. Then, out of the cold blue, Elliot receives a phone call; his phone goes off with Fučík’s orchestral arrangement, which confuses him. This sets off a contest, starting with the harmless killing and eating of a fly for thousands of dollars, leading him into the dark heart of man. The tasks, 13 to be exact, of the contest go from making a child cry, to dragging a dead corpse into a diner for a cup of coffee, and worse.
Love the plot. Although this is based on 13 Beloved, I like this one better. The horror in this one gets pretty wild. I’ve seen a lot of gore and the like, but there’s something about the thrills in this movie that really work well. Elliot is basically a man in the worst position of life; he faces a grim future of looking after a father he doesn’t exactly get along with, as well as watching his younger disabled brother get sent back to a snake-pit institution where he’ll likely never get any real help or understanding. There’s something about Elliot, as a character, which speaks to a lot of people. Especially today – the economy isn’t exactly perfect. There’s something about Elliot and his desperate need for money, the need making him do all sorts of crazy things, that makes the things he does even more horrifying. Really great adaptation from the original film.

Webber does a pretty good job with the character of Elliot. He doesn’t immediately just jump into everything; there’s a hesitation to him that feels natural. Though he does dive in after awhile. Around 45 minutes into the film comes a moment where there’s really no turning back whatsoever for Elliot. He is hesitant, however, it doesn’t take a lot at this point. He’s got everything bearing down on him. A meeting with some people from earlier in his life, high school, basically tips him over the edge – that last push. From there, he’s more into the game, and willing to really let go of himself. Webber gave a good performance here, I can’t deny that.
Ron Perlman isn’t in there a whole lot, but fills out that role nicely. As does Tom Bower, who plays the crust old dad to Elliot; I always love this guy, honestly. Devon Graye, as a supporting character, was really awesome. He didn’t make the character of Michael seem ridiculous, as some actors tend to do with portrayals of disabled people; he kept it realistic, and there were times I just really loved his dialogue (especially when he was talking about “making eyes” at some girl from the same institution – great lines and well-delivered!). Everyone in smaller roles, even Pruitt Taylor Vince with his very brief parts, did excellently in rounding out the cast.
13-sinsWhat really drives this are the tasks themselves, though. There is a disturbing quality to it all because, as I said, Elliot is sort of hesitant in the beginning, but soon he just immerses himself in this bad ass side of his personality discovered through the sick gameshow. At first it’s sort of just fun and weird. Eventually, it gets a lot darker, and a lot more intensely personal for Elliot. I mean, as time goes by you sort of expect things to get crazier, yes, but it continually surprised me from moment to moment. I don’t often find myself surprised. Particularly when it comes to horror – there are lots of good films, certainly, just not a lot of surprising ones, I find. This was one of those genuinely surprising films at times. Not always, but when it mattered.
Another aspect of the tasks is the social commentary: the people playing this game do increasingly terrible things all for the sake of money. As the tasks get wilder, more dangerous and sadistic, you think of all the things people in our real world do for money.  This remake really works because it comes at a relevant time when people in North America still struggle with the shit economy we’ve had on our hands for the past 8 or 9 years (not saying it’s anywhere near being the worst situation – clearly there are worse – but this film is definitely specific to North America & arguably mostly America specifically).
Anyways, it’s a really good bit of commentary for a horror-thriller. Also, once you understand the game has been happening for years and years, it goes wider than a specific point in time – it speaks to those who are economically and financially challenged, for whatever reason, who are often pushed into a position where they’ll do anything at all just to get out of the hole in which they’ve found themselves. This movie definitely has some good stuff to say, aside from being a twisted little horror.

The whole backstory of the game itself was pretty interesting. Pruitt Taylor Vince’s character gives us a bit of exposition on the whole process of the game, how far it reaches, how long it’s been going on, and so on. This, I really enjoyed. You could almost have a bunch of these films if they really wanted; you could move backward in time, back to when the game first originated, et cetera. I found that part really awesome, and unsettling. Very cool addition.
13 sins kritika1This film, for me, was a definite 4 out of 5 stars. There were pieces I think they could have edited differently, or altogether cut out, which would have fixed the pacing. There are times it teeters too closely to comedy when it should stain within the horror vein; it could still be horror-comedy, but sometimes there is just a bit too much levity than expected. This doesn’t ruin the film. It’s a really great little horror-thriller, which certainly does the job. The finale impressed me hugely. I did expect there would be some sort of twist – I did not, however, expect the twist we were given. Maybe some suspected it – I’m always suspicious of people who say they always guess endings and such – but me, I was taken aback. It didn’t throw me on the floor or anything, but I was shocked for a minute. Real good suspense near the end. Thoroughly enjoyed how the film closed out.
I’d highly suggest this film for anyone looking to watch a nice little horror-thriller. There are some really great moments of horror, lots of tension and suspense, and a couple nice performances. Specifically, Webber does a really nice job with his character.
You won’t be disappointed if you give it a chance. A lot of fun with a few gasps and shocks thrown in for good form.