Cronenberg’s THE FLY Affirms Alexander Pope: A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing

The Fly. 1986. Directed by David Cronenberg. Screenplay by Cronenberg & Charles Edward Pogue; based on the short story by George Langelaan.
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson, George Chuvalo, Michael Copeman, David Cronenberg, Carol Lazare, & Shawn Hewitt.
SLM Production Group/Brooksfilms.
Rated R. 96 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
posterO, David Cronenberg! Thy body horror is strong, gruesome, wild.
You can do a lot worse than this for a Halloween season. Starting off with a couple more ghostly films, The Fly is as nasty as any other horror film you’ll see. Maybe nastier. Yet even as Cronenberg dives deep into a genre of which he is surely master, he always manages to hold onto metaphor, allegory, deeper meaning in general.
Telling us the story of hapless inventor Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), questions of man’s venture into unknown science surface; lust for power sits chiefly in the centre of all the screenplay’s attention. The Fly isn’t a metaphor, it puts us directly in a messy science fiction situation where horror takes the reigns and flies away with them. In the driver’s seat is Cronenberg with all those icky tricks up his sleeve. In the passenger seat, his audience. Goldblum, opposite the fantastic Geena Davis as reporter extraordinaire and his eventual girlfriend Veronica Quaife, is magically weird in the lead role, which does wonders for every last turn of the screenplay.
But if you’ve never seen this, or any of Cronenberg in general, be forewarned: there’s so much great writing, although the yucky transformation Brundle undergoes takes precedence over everything, and not every stomach is as strong as mine.
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The script references Alexander Pope, using one of his lines in a twisted revision, as Seth tells Veronica ominously: “Drink deep, or taste not the plasma spring!” This reworking of Pope comes from the great poet’s An Essay on Criticism. This speech partly, because of this reference, goes to show how lost Seth becomes in his own quest, or lust, for power. He uses the words of one of the greatest English poets to have ever lived as his own, appropriating the words to fit his needs. Just as he bends science to his will. Brundle gets stranded along the way, especially after the transformation. He’s consumed by the will to be ultimately powerful. He has changed life, science, knowledge, all with his own mind and ideas and work ethic. However, as Pope says in that same quote right before his line which is actually about the Pierian spring (see: The Muses), he also cautions that a little learning is a dangerous thing.
Ah, yes – the horror of knowledge. This line is clear in how Seth abuses science. He doesn’t fully know the effects of what he’s about to do, into which dark pool he’s ready to dive. That doesn’t stop him, either. Thinking he knows everything, Seth forges ahead with a little learning instead of ENOUGH learning. Hubris of science is his undoing, believing in himself far too much. There’s also a part of Seth wanting to impress Veronica, finally finding somebody interested in him genuinely, as well as professionally. And so his lust for power, plus the lust for Veronica, drives him down a corridor filled with terrifying revelations.
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Funny how the wound Brundle experiences in bed with Veronica is a computer chip, or a chip of some kind. It sticks into him around the shoulder on his back, right where a wing might be. This first penetration of the body is where Cronenberg sets us on the body horror path. The shot is only brief, but we watch as Veronica pulls the chip and its little pins out of Seth’s skin, the small, bloody scrapes left. Later, this is paralleled by the appearance of wings, fly parts protruding from his skin. Whereas before it was a circuit, a chip, now it is organic. And still, Seth is half-man, half-other. Regardless if it’s a piece of a circuit or the wings of a fly, he has given himself over. No longer does Seth control himself and his body: he has given it to science, wholly and hideously. This, of course, becomes more disgustingly obvious through the furthering change in his physical composition, until he’s less man and all but entirely insect.
I think if you wanted to look at it in a more personal way, The Fly is a metaphor for symbiotic relationships, in the way people fall into relationships and do things they might not otherwise in order to stay together. For instance, Seth doesn’t decide to step into the pod until Veronica heads off to see her old boyfriend; though there’s nothing to suggest she wants the guy back, Seth feels slightly jilted. So he foolishly steps into the pod after rambling about Veronica a bit. By the end of the story, he’s begging her to stay away. He knows that he’s become something monstrous, no fault of hers but all due to the fact he perceived pushing his experiments to the limit as a way to somehow impress her, keep her around. After his transformation becomes grotesque, Seth finally realises he’s become someone else because of their relationship, and not in any way, shape, or form is it a good thing. For all the ruminations on power and its corruption, Cronenberg’s The Fly also works well on the level of a searing personal drama. Just so happens it’d be a personal drama with a heavy helping of sci-fi and horror to boot.
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I love both Goldblum and Davis. They’re great together, and separately they’ve got different strengths. The female part for Davis isn’t necessarily typical, she does have a strength to her which makes Veronica interesting. That’s a large part of why I like the character relationship between Seth and Veronica, because he’s more of a timid, shy, weak sort of person. That is before he meets her. Then this change happens. Previous to the nasty transformation, Seth discovers a power from his experiment, and in part he sort of feels she has something to do with it; she gave him a newfound sense of confidence, this unlocked everything else. But in the early stage, I love how Seth is less powerful, and we get all that from Veronica. Once everything starts changing, Goldblum really gets awesome. He dives headlong into the mad scientist aspect of Brundle, which makes things both darkly funny at times and outright wild once the story breaks down.
Absolutely a 5-star classic in my mind. Yeah, I love the Vincent Price original, too. Cronenberg does numerous horrific things to make the experience all the more eerie. Throughout the film, after Seth’s change commences, there are these nice moments where the transformation is clear, yet still in sly ways. Such as how Seth loads down his coffee cup with sugar, scoop after scoop, unaware he’s even doing it.
The writing is splendid in the right horror way, the acting matches all of that. Cronenberg has made plenty of good work. This is one of his most truly disgusting pieces, which is saying something.
But god damn, look at that Brundlefly!

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The Duality of Appearances: Jaume Collet-Serra’s HOUSE OF WAX

House of Wax. 2005. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Screenplay by Chad & Carey Hayes.
Starring Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Robert Richard, & Damon Herriman.
Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures/Dark Castle Entertainment.
Rated R. 108 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
posterNot sure it’s fair to call this a remake. Yes, it bears the exact same name as the 1953 Andre DeToth picture starring Vincent Price. But the only real connections between this House of Wax directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and DeToth’s film are the title (this was origianlly titled Wax House, Baby; believe it or not) and the setting of the wax museum. Outside of that, these are two vastly different horror movies. Although I absolutely love the Price-starring classical horror, this is a nice piece of slasher horror, and Collet-Serra shows his affinity for the genre with a heaping dose of nastiness.
There’s a relatively eerie quality to the story because of its attention to wax figures, the resemblance between them and real people. Likewise, duality is a prominent theme which can get scary, especially in terms of the slasher(s) the victims deal with in a tiny little ghost town; we see two different pairs of siblings, two dichotomies of good and bad that are violently different and prove there’s a judgement people make against those who look a certain way (or don’t, according to society). Collet-Serra’s directing is solid in a run of the mill slasher, elevating itself with an interesting premise. A few fine kills to compliment a disturbing story, an action-packed finale, a couple decent performances from Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray – House of Wax isn’t great, it just gets shit on unnecessarily for being a slasher movie and for having Paris Hilton in it.
pic1Wax sculptures are scary because of their uncanny likeness to the people they portray. When you see a sculpture of a celebrity it’s often creepy, not so much impressive. I mean, the good ones are damn good. They’re so good that it hits that uncanny valley, where you want to look away instead of continuing to look at something unnerving. The screenplay from Chad and Carey Hayes (The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2) works its claws on the viewer by literally having people embedded into the sculptures. What’s truly disturbing is seeing the tiny redneck tony filled with wax people, wondering exactly how many aren’t wax-filled but wax-covered and filled with people. If they’re all like that, Bo and Vincent are some of the most vicious horror movie slashers in the 2000s on sheer body count alone.
SPOILERS AHEAD
Moreover, the idea of having people inside the wax figures is twofold. Because it further speaks to the brothers, Bo and Vincent, as well as Carly and Nick Jones (Cuthbert & Murray) and the theme of duality. Specifically, the two brothers. When we find out how Bo was actually the deranged one, not the mask-wearing Vincent, the idea of appearance dawns on us. In that Vincent is made to seem like the psychotic, whereas Bo appeared outwardly like the ‘good’ brother. This almost calls the audience out, too. At the start, the first flashback scene doesn’t let us see the faces of the brothers. Many of us come to assume that the masked brother, the deformed one, is the same boy we once saw in that flashback being erratic, getting strapped into his high chair to keep him from throwing a fit. So, if you did assume that, your prejudice is pointed out by the ideas of duality. We see this dichotomous look at good and bad when dealing with the Jones siblings, as well. Nick is the bad boy, acts like he hates his sister Carly. Then we see the good in him come out, as he refuses to let anything happen to her. Through Bo and Vincent, Carly and Nick discover things about themselves, as individuals and as a brother-sister pair.
pic2-2The film’s big draw for me is the suspense. Composer John Ottman (The Usual SuspectsThe Cable GuySnow White: A Tale of TerrorApt Pupil) imbues plenty of the atmosphere with his music alone. A great horror movie score can take things up notches, which Ottman does graciously here. It’s not one of those horror scores trying to jump out and frighten you. Rather, the music works like a rhythmic flow – first lulling the viewer into expecting something around every corner, keeping us at bay and working on the nerves until there IS something around the next corner. The palpably grim atmosphere is also in part due to cinematography by Stephen F. Windon (D.P. on 3 episodes of The Pacific). His lens captures everything in a pale green-ish and brown tint. The dark shadows of many scenes on top of Ottman’s ominous sound make for great material.
In addition to everything else, House of Wax contains that quality bloody murder we horror lovers adore. Even the opener, the flashback to Bo and Vincent’s childhood, is spectacularly filmed. We barely see any characters from the neck up, all shot from the chest and waist on down. A spooky technique to remove us from any identity. There’s a nicely setup air of horror from the start. Later, we see a disquieting moment where Vincent carves a wax woman in neatly edited portions, and it works because of the character’s building mystery; once we find out that there are real people under the wax, that scene gets more powerfully scary. Plenty of awesome moments.
The best horror scene? Hilton’s death. And I don’t enjoy it because Paris dies, that’s a strange, sick way to look at a fictional film. This is a nice slasher sequence, taking the viewer through green-tinted darkness into a dimly lit sugar mill. Vincent stalks her until throwing a sharp metal pole through the middle of her head. The macabre effect gets better (and more gruesome) once Paige (Hilton) slumps forward, kept up only by the pole sticking through her skull. Seeing her leaning, the blood dripping from the middle of her head, almost makes you queasy. Gnarly practical effects work.
pic3This is a 3&1/2 out of 5 star film, it could be better, definitely. But there plenty worse slashers out there, which don’t make sense, or don’t work as hard to creep the viewer out. House of Wax doesn’t rely on the 1953 film from which its title comes, in any way, other than the name and the basic setting. Collet-Serra does his best to bring the film up out of sub-genre mediocrity. The slasher horror comes hard and even, at times, gets a little nasty, real rough. Several scenes are truly frightening and I genuinely enjoy the finale; it offers action and excitement, on top of that a twist right at the end.
While there are tons of slasher movies out there, House of Wax is better than those that copy and don’t try in any way to be original. There’s a great setting, which the Hayes’ exploit to full benefit in their screenplay, so from there Collet-Serra and the rest of the team work at the best of their capabilities in order to instil the film with a deep, sometimes ugly atmosphere. I don’t love the movie, though it’s one I consider a guilty pleasure. And really, it isn’t so guilty when I look at it. There’s more than meets the eye.

THE CRAZIES is A Creepy, Satisfying Remake

The Crazies. 2010. Directed by Breck Eisner. Screenplay by Scott Kosar & Ray Wright; based on the 1973 film of the same name by George A. Romero.
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson, Danielle Panabaker, Christie Lynn Smith, Brett Rickaby, Preston Bailey, John Aylward, Joe Reegan, Glenn Morshower, Larry Cedar, Gregory Sporleder, Mike Hickman, Lisa K. Wyatt, Justin Welborn, Chet Grissom, & Tahmus Rounds. Overture Films/Participant Media/Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ.
Rated 18A. 101 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
PosterPeople talk a good game about horror remakes being no good. Some also seem intent on believing there are no actually scary horror movies anymore. Both of which is nonsense. Now, not all remakes are good; a nice chunk of them are actually, in my mind, a load of garbage. For every 5 bad ones, though, we do get a good one. I won’t go into a list of the ones I feel are actually good (a couple are even – dare I say – great).
What I will do is tell you about why The Crazies is one of the remakes I’ve enjoyed most. A version of 1973’s The Crazies from living legend George A. Romero, an awesome little movie in its own right, this Timothy Olyphant-star vehicle is worth more than being tossed off as just another movie remade by the Hollywood machine. Admittedly, I’m not really a fan of Breck Eisner’s work. Not even what he did on Fear Itself; although, to be fair, that series only had a couple episodes that were actually decent. But I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. He turns this into a nail-biting, tense, 101-minute ride that never ceases to feel eerie and exciting all at once. Of course, having a charming, charismatic male lead such as Olyphant and an equally strong leading female in Radha Mitchell helps immensely. Doesn’t hurt to have a good supporting role played by the likes of Joe Anderson, either.
The horror is all there, the suspense and tension, coupled with a smart adapted screenplay from Romero’s original and the solid acting. If you say you’re not scared, that’s fine. I don’t wet myself when I’m scared or creeped out by a film. However, a good horror lingers with me. Certain scenes stick in my mind and crawl out at times, maybe late at night while I try to fall asleep or during the day when I’m lost in a thought. The Crazies has a lot of those moments. It’s got a heavy dose of terror and some fun horror to boot, for those of us who enjoy the macabre to the fullest.
Pic1 There are plenty of scenes worth mentioning in regards to the ones I still remember vividly. Hell, when they sit out in that boat early on above the sunken plane, it’s damn unsettling. Then the shot moves out, further and further, until we see it on that satellite view. Not only is that little part of the scene sort of creepy, it’s then we start to understand the gravity of the situation about to come. Barely a minute later, Sheriff Dutten (Olyphant) utters the line: “Were in trouble.” An almost surreal moment follows this, as Dutten heads out in the street and sees an older woman, dressed like a little girl, riding on her bicycle through the empty road (trivia: the woman is Lynn Lowry, from the original Romero flick). This is the first deeply chilling shot. By the minute, we understand the town of Ogden Marsh is in more trouble than even Dutten knows.
What separates the infected citizens of Ogden Marsh from Romero’s zombies, or any other incarnations of the undead since, is how they are still capable of using their brain. To a certain extent, anyway. They’re able to use weapons, to attack with more than just they teeth and hands. This makes them more formidable opponents one on one than any zombie we’ve seen, from Romero or otherwise. These infected aren’t faster than normal, they’re simply devoid of any human emotion and eager to kill. Almost scarier than the fast moving infected from Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake.
Pic3 The autopsy tool, the small saw, that Dutten faces down a little before the half hour mark of the movie is an ingenious horror scene, one of its best. We’ve seen plenty different moments such as this one throughout the history of the genre. Something about this scene, the coroner being infected and the frantic scramble of the Sheriff to get away from the saw sprinting across the floor at him, is just spot on. Add to that most men will probably find their butthole puckering while Dutten watches the saw get closer to his genitals with each second. This is only the beginning; a proper way to get the horror adrenaline flowing, which kicks off all the action.
Worth mentioning – when Judy (Mitchell) finds herself strapped to a gurney, left behind by the military, that entire scene is downright frightening. Honestly scary. First, you have the one person laughing and laughing in the dark. Terrible eeriness right away. Secondly there’s the infected man who shows up afterwards dragging a pitchfork the entire time, looking for people to kill. Worse still is how he takes his time, going from one bed to the next and stabbing people in the guts with the big, sharp tool. By the time he gets near Judy, it is unbearable. A well written, edited, and directed sequence all around.
Pic2 Olyphant and Mitchell are perfect for the roles of David and Judy Dutten, the town Sheriff and doctor. They’re the everyperson-types, people you can actually envision living in a small place like Ogden Marsh, where everyone knows one another and everything about them and they all see each other at the local ball games. Mitchell makes us feel for her character, both a loving mother and loving doctor to the various residents of their town. Once we discover she’s pregnant it only makes us empathise more, as the fear of what’s going on gets greater imagining what might affect her unborn child in the process. Alongside her is the sturdy, classic leading man in Olyphant. Whether Seth Bullock, Raylan Givens, or any other character, he always projects an undeniable confidence. Even in Sheriff Dutten’s weakest moments he’s a beacon of solidarity for the others to rally around. But again, you believe him as the Sheriff, just as Mitchell comes across so much like what you’d expect from a doctor in a rural area. They’re a good team and help sell the main plot, as David and Judy try fleeing the horror that’s come down on Ogden Marsh.
Pic4 I’ve got to give this a 4-star review. There are genuine moments of horror mixed with that human drama which makes stories like this work. It’s never perfect, some bits could’ve been tightened to make the pacing better. Those are nitpicks. In the end, The Crazies effectively creeps me out. Not once do you find any true respite from the madness. And even in the scenes where we think the fleeing group are about to catch a break, in true survival horror fashion they only wind up in the midst of more savagery. Any movie that can keep me grounded with the characters while the horrific imagery and exciting pace doesn’t let up is worth a great grade. You won’t be disappointed in this remake. I do enjoy Romero’s original film. I feel like this improved on it in the right ways without changing too much or getting too far from the original point.
What is the point, you ask? That terrifying events can tear a small town of close knit people into shreds within a short amount of time. That nobody’s safe when the government makes a mistake they need to keep buried. That there are worse fates than dying.

Dawn of the Dead’s Remake is Legitimately Frightening Fun

Dawn of the Dead. 2004. Directed by Zack Snyder. Screenplay by James Gunn, based on the original George A. Romero film of the same name.
Starring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, Michael Kelly, Kevin Zegers, Michael Barry, Lindy Booth, Jayne Eastwood, Boyd Banks, Inna Korobkina, & Matt Frewer. Metropolitan Filmexport/New Amsterdam Entertainment/Strike Entertainment.
Rated 18A. 101 minutes (110 minutes – unrated director’s cut)
Action/Horror/Thriller

★★★★

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Remakes are a dime a dozen these days. But when Zack Synder’s Dawn of the Dead released – remade from George A. Romero’s original screenplay, written anew by James Gunn – there weren’t as many as there are today. That’s because this is one of the movies which really got people (a.k.a studios) on the remake bandwagon. Reason being, this is one of those remakes which also does justice to the original. And while Romero’s original film will always be my favourite of the two, as well as one of my favourite zombie horror movies out there, Snyder and Gunn do a fantastic job here crafting something that pays homage to Romero and simultaneously carves out its own niche.
2004’s Dawn of the Dead reignited the public’s love for all things zombie. Afterwards came the avalanche of zombie movies, even another (much lesser) Romero adaptation with 2008’s Day of the Dead, and of course then Frank Darabont got AMC’s The Walking Dead running, now America and the world are captivated weekly by the blood, guts, and societal breakdown of a zombie wasteland.
What Gunn and Snyder manage to do is make zombies terrifying. I’m always going to be a fan of the slow moving zombies, but these guys wring the terror out of zombies that are able to run track and field. On top of everything, they offset all the wonderful undead action with all the various troubles of the humans left in the midst of this new, horrific world. Striking an even balance, Gunn and Snyder cover all the bases, and throw lots of good blood and effects at the viewer to make sure it’s all up to snuff. Again, Romero made the superior film in my mind. Yet this Dawn of the Dead is nonetheless super appealing.
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A big reason for why this works well, as opposed to some of the stuff Snyder pumps out, is due in part to the screenplay by James Gunn. I’m actually not a huge fan of Gunn’s films, but his talent as a writer is fairly solid. He can be funny, very darkly comic. He’s also got the heart and soul that’s necessary to paint out an engaging story. And on top of everything else he does well writing action sequences, or anything that’s suspenseful and filled with tension. Again, not a fan of anything else really that he’s done, other than SlitherGuardians of the Galaxy was popcorn fun but felt tedious, and Super is just all right (maybe if Rainn Wilson weren’t in it I’d have enjoyed the movie more). Dawn of the Dead is definitely his greatest achievement so far in the industry, as far as I’m concerned.
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Gunn took a beloved horror classic then remixed it into a contemporary setting, new characters and an overall expanded cast, yet also kept so much of what makes the original incredible. Even how he opens the story and takes us into the zombie apocalypse breakdown is masterful. He didn’t try to copy everything, and then kept bits and pieces which felt organic to his reworking of the material. And isn’t that what a remake should do? Equal parts paying respect and also innovating his own character/plot inventions.
Also, for any of the uninitiated zombie movie fans, this is not the first appearance of fast moving zombies. This phenomenon really began with Umberto Lenzi’s 1980 cult classic Nightmare City. I’ve genuinely heard so-called horror fanatics tout this as the first of the infected films to feature zombies that run. That just goes to show how some run their mouth off about being film lovers yet have only seen the well-known movies. All the same, Gunn makes things tense with this increase in speed, and of course the flashy style of Snyder also works to make this aspect more terrifying.
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In any zombie film, no matter how much of the human drama and element is present the zombies themselves must always take precedence. Much as I personally do love AMC’s The Walking Dead sometimes their writers forget the main ingredient is the undead. So it’s nice to see that Gunn and Snyder together, along with the talents of the makeup and special effects team (much of the work here is practical which is excellent), made sure to include nice gory zombie action, and a ton of fun, creepy, wild looking zombies.
Some of my favourites follow…
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Obviously the whole pregnant infected mother giving birth to the zombie baby is a highlight. I’m always wondering if shows/films in the post-zombie apocalypse will tackle that particular issue. This one does, in fine, nasty fashion.
Something else I admire overall is their use of blood. For different stages of undead decomposition the crew used varying colours for the blood. So the newer zombies have brighter red blood, the slightly older ooze brown, then the oldest of the undead have black, oily blood. That’s a nice subtle touch many people likely passed over.
The big bloated, infected woman that ends up with the survivors in the mall is pretty gnarly, too. They had a man play the role, which adds an even better element to the features. But it’s the nasty wound, the hideous skin, all those gross bits that make this one zombie something special. She is not just gross looking, she is scary and the moment her reanimated corpse gets ready to boogie you’re just rooting for someone to smash its head in.
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There are a few blemishes overall. Not enough to make this any less than a damn great zombie flick. More than that, as I’ve said the whole production does justice to its roots in George A. Romero’s original 1978 classic. The finale pulses and pounds at the senses, as this group of survivors tries their best to make through a wall of zombies. For the most part, the actors hold this up well, from Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames who both give fantastic performances in their roles, to smaller parts like Ty Burrell with his comic relief and Michael Kelly as the bad guy who eventually becomes slightly likeable. Everyone works together in an ensemble cast to make this more diverse than the original, so that alone changes the dynamic a whole bunch. Also, the diverse cast makes for a variety of characters that are all different, all looking for something of their own desires, and this allows Gunn to have a bit of fun with some of the scenarios. Added to everything, the blood and gore here holds up to any proper zombie movie. This is probably the only Snyder film that I find actually great, as opposed to how great he thinks all his work comes out.

Animal Kingdom – Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”

TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by John Wells
Written by Jonathan Lisco

* For a review of the next episode, “We Don’t Hurt People” – click here
Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 11.20.40 AM
David Michôd’s 2010 film Animal Kingdom was a tour-de-force in acting, tension, and the story of a family’s widening darkness. Of course set in Australia and telling the story of a crime family coming up violently against the police, Michôd did a great job drawing out an impressive drama that was riddled with secrets, power struggles, and so much more.
This new series from TNT begins right where the film did, too. Joshua Cody (Finn Cole) watches his mother overdose, and die. The paramedics come for her. Later, he’s forced to call his grandmother, Smurf (Ellen Barkin), to tell her the bad news. When grandma arrives she goes through her daughter’s things, y’know, in case there’s anything worth taking. Or anything that needs to be taken.
So Josh ends up having to go live with Smurf. They’ve been estranged for a decade. Over at grandma’s the place is like a palace, with nice vehicles outside, all the toys, a pool table inside. On the table next to some strawberries are stacks of cash, bundled. Looks like the Cody family are definitely into some shady shit.


So now we’re introduced to some of Smurf’s boys. Close family friend Barry ‘Baz’ Brown (Scott Speedman), plus two of her sons Craig and Deran Cody (Ben Robson/Jake Weary). They’re ready to party, as it seems is the norm. Grandma is busy getting cupcakes and other grub ready. For the time being, Josh is in the room where his uncle Andrew – a.k.a Pope (Shawn Hatosy) – usually stays.
But outside, the gang are a little at odds. Deran wonders if they can trust their little nephew. The others aren’t so sure, either. They’re wary of him because they don’t know what their now dead junkie sister Julia “put in his head“, but Smurf lays down the law and tasks them with figuring it out. “The kid is in until I say he isn‘t,” explains the matriarch.
Meanwhile, Josh’s mother is still on the hook for money to a local dealer. He knows Josh, he knows where they lived, so what’s stopping him from tracking the kid down? If he really wants that cash. So there’s a lot for the guy to deal with, right after the death of his mother. Lots of feelings delayed. At the same time, Smurf’s house is a veritable party place where her sons frolic. It’s a very free, weird atmosphere. Even more than the original film, which was odd enough re: the relationship between mom and her sons. Smurf wears a revealing gown, showing off her body, as Craig storms out from his room naked. No secrets, though. That’s the strange message that does come across here. There is nothing hiding anything between Smurf and her boys, even if it ventures over the semi-incestuous border.


The uncles take their nephew for some surfing, to try and “suss him out“, as commanded by their mother. And after a confrontation with some other surfers, Craig puts a piece in Josh’s hand. He runs them off and they end up with a couple new boards for themselves.
Life is a general party for Smurf and the boys. A life too good to be true. Baz and his lady Catherine (Daniella Alonso) are usually around, their little girl, too. Big pool parties, all the time. Joints, beers, liquor, women. Lavish lifestyle on the regular. Josh slowly tries to become a part of the clan and get used to this new way of living.
Then, out of nowhere, Pope arrives, almost clandestine. He frightens Josh a little. And now we’re introduced to Pope, his history of bank robbery, jail, so on. There’s a bit of resentment in the air, as he makes clear the time served, out loud, for everybody to hear. His disposition is quiet, subtle. But anyone who knows actor Shawn Hatosy knows he can be volatile, so I look forward to him picking up on the role Ben Mendelsohn played so well in the original.
Josh is on the precipice of becoming part of a dangerous group of individuals. There’s obviously a good person in him. He doesn’t quite fit right in, even holding that gun with his uncle Craig at the beach. But it’s obvious there is a disconnect between him and the things his family are doing.


Speaking of fitting in, Pope isn’t happy with how things are after his jail sentence. Things have changed. Not that they’ve moved on, but naturally a criminal enterprise has to switch things up a little after one of its major players goes to jail. He wants back in, though, Smurf and Baz have to keep him slightly distant.
The worst part is that while Josh is part of the family, by blood, the rest of the family and Baz are not sure about him because he has this total other part of him, a life outside the family. This makes him a liability.
Meanwhile, Baz and the Cody brothers are out preparing for a job. They round up a bunch of junkies, lock them in a vehicle overnight to get it smelling terrible. What are they up to?
Later on with Uncle Pope, Josh talks awkwardly. Well Pope goes on about Josh’s mother, how they were twins, shared a room, all that sort of stuff. He genuinely seems to reach out in their moment together, even if Josh isn’t sure what to think. Either way there’s a budding connection between this uncle and his nephew, maybe that will go somewhere. I wonder how they’re planning on adapting things, so it’ll be interesting to watch the plot and the characters develop in a series.


At the cemetery, Josh finds his family confronted by a neighbour, Dina (Karen Malina White). She knew Josh and his mother, warning him about the family, what Julia did to keep him away from them all. A tense moment. We’ll surely see more of Dina at some point. I only hope nothing bad will happen to her at the hands of the Cody brothers.
Nobody’s all too upset over the death of Julia. The brothers aren’t torn up much. Smurf seems a little thrown of, but not as much as most mothers if their daughter died. Although, it’s obvious Julia pushed away from the family and their ways.
More of Pope trying to get back into the organization. On the side, away from everyone, Baz agrees to let him in on their job a little, without telling Smurf. The arrival of Pope is bound to bring about trouble, in many ways.
Josh gets to hanging out more with the family, his girlfriend Nicky (Molly Gordon) along for the fun. There is a lot of awkwardness which hangs over the crew. At times, Pope eyes Catherine – is there some sort of previous relationship with them? Then there’s Uncle Craig, who plies Nicky for money into catching food in her mouth; this sets up an underlying sexual tension, especially after she tucks the money into her bra afterwards. With all the odd, incestuous behaviour at grandma’s place, this only makes things more tense. A little later Craig is snorting coke in front of everyone, tempting Nicky, though, she opts not to go ahead; in her eye, a sparkle flickers, and there’ll be more to that eventually.


There is a truly eerie presence to Hatosy’s Pope here in this first episode. He even carries Nicky off to bed quietly before Josh finds him standing over her, breathing heavily. Jesus. This doesn’t totally shake Josh, but it obviously gives him an eye into some of the deviousness of his uncles. Next morning, Josh encounters more of his family and their weird behaviour. Pope just walks on in and stands there with his nephew, who is naked in the shower. We constantly see there are no boundaries, no hidden secrets or moments between any of these people. It’s discomforting, unnerving, and yes, downright frightening at times. There’s not even a sexual nature to the semi-incestuousness I’ve mentioned. It’s more like an absolute disregard for any individuality, they’re all just a collective, and nothing is kept secret; not actual secrets, nor the body.
But now we figure out what the junkies and their fluids were for – the boys are pulling a job and want to “keep the crime lab busy“, so aside from being absolutely disgusting for them to endure, it is a rather genius idea forensically.
At home, Smurf is not happy about Pope taking Josh out for some criminal fun. Pope gets very physical, both with Josh and even his own mother. There’s an awful, ugly tension between son and mother here in this scene. Nevertheless, he tells Josh: “You pass.” What a fucked up family, man. Their relationships are incredibly strange, extremely close. Josh doesn’t want much part of it right now. But with the death of his mother there isn’t anywhere else he has to go.


Baz and the Cody brothers pull off their heist. It’s a real smash and grab, which works perfectly with the piss and shit and puke covered SUV they prepared. Only they never expected a run-in with police. This puts a bullet in Craig’s shoulder, too.
Simultaneously, Josh discovers his inner bad ass. When the drug dealer from earlier tries to collect on his dead mother there’s trouble. Josh knocks the gun from his hands, turning the tables, and ends up walking away fine; piece and all. So while there’s a part of his family that can be useful, to teach him not to lay down and take shit, most of it is a dangerous mixture that will prove toxic. Still, he doesn’t see that. All he gets right now is the glamour, the fun, the excitement, all the wild partying.
Then he sees Craig being patched up. Both sides of become more clear. It’s even creepier, too. With Uncle Deran crying in his mother’s lap in the next room. So many angles. When Josh and Pope have a talk later, the uncle tries to make him more at home in the family. Will Josh slide further into their grip? It’s tough to tell.


Excited to see where the series goes from here. The pilot is promising. Not perfect, and nowhere near as amazing as the original film, but it has things to build on. Lots of intriguing plot to mine, great characters to develop. And the acting is stellar to start, especially from Hatosy and Barkin. Stay tuned, we’ll see more again soon enough.

Halloween II: Supernatural Michael Myers

Halloween II. 2009. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie.
Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Octavia Spencer, Danielle Harris, Margot Kidder, Sheri Moon Zombie, Chase Wright Vanek, & Caroline Williams. Dimension Films/Spectacle Entertainment Group/Trancas International Films.
Rated R. 105 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
POSTER Rob Zombie is a take-him-or-leave-him-type director. You either love him, or can’t stand him. Much the same as with his music career. But for me, and I’m sure others, Zombie is one director whose entire film career feels like the last bastion of a time before too much CGI, too many remakes (yes; even though he’s done two Halloween flicks). He works like how many directors did during the late 1960s and the 1970s, focusing on performance, practical effects, instead of loading down his horror films with computer generated blood and watering it all down for public consumption. Even if you don’t like his movies, you have to admire the fact he lays it all out there. Particularly, The Devil’s Rejects and The Lords of Salem are my favourites, and are a great representation of how he goes for it, no matter the subject, themes, or style of the movie. He always leaves everything on the table and gives us to us in his typically Zombie-like fashion.
So then there’s Halloween II. Many people I know didn’t even enjoy the first one, the remake to Carpenter’s classic slasher from 1978. Me, I find this sequel to the remake endearing in its own ways. There are some pieces I don’t enjoy. But overall, there’s enough in this Zombie sequel to enjoy apart from the first Halloween II. It doesn’t come as a faithful remake. It’s a furthering of aspects in the Zombie version of Michael Myers. We dive deeper into the mind of the notorious slasher, and the almost supernatural element of Michael, one which came out later in the original series, is on display full force.
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After the events of Halloween, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is left wounded. Both physically, and especially mentally. She’s living with Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Danielle Harris). They do their best to try and understand her, to try and help. But Laurie is damaged beyond belief.
Meanwhile, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is shopping his book around and making lots of money, getting famous. Although, people are wary of him, as they believe he’s profiting off the death of many.
And then there’s Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). He’s not dead, and the men transporting his dead body discover that. Michael, driven by visions of his dead mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), keeps looking for Laurie.
And he will find her. No matter who gets in the way.
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One thing I do truly love about this sequel to the remake is that, like the original series as it went on, it really pushes the boundaries on Michael’s brutality. Later on in the original series, either in the fourth or fifth installment, Myers pushes his thumb through a person’s head. Even in John Carpenter’s original classic, his power is displayed pretty clearly with him picking up a teenager and pinning him to the wall with his knife. But here in the new Halloween II, Zombie almost goes further. In the opening 20 minute sequence there is some savagery. A nasty decapitation. Lots of raw, brutal force from Myers, as he starts to murder his way back into Haddonfield, one corpse at a time.
Many people, it seems, had a problem with the backstory to Michael with Zombie’s remake to start. I understand that. Some fans of the franchise just like Michael as this faceless entity. My argument is that, had Zombie not changed anything and done the same thing, people would likely have ragged on him for copying Carpenter. Instead, Zombie brings a fresh face, literally, to Myers. He gives him humanity, but takes it away. He makes Michael human to make him a monster, an even more vicious killer than the original (even though I love Carpenter’s film most). We even get him wandering around sans-mask, which some of course cried sacrilege over. I dig it because that sets him apart as Zombie’s own character, as opposed to a simply copy of Carpenter.
There is a further brutal nature to Michael when he’s this person that became a unrelenting killer instead of just The Shape. So an extension of this version is that psychology plays a big part in what Michael becomes, who he is as the unstoppable serial killer. The whole white horse deal I found a bit of fun. And I like how Laurie, in her trauma, starts having the same vision of her mother. Very eerie, and supernatural without quite being supernatural. It’s like a fever dream.
Now, I don’t dig that the same kid didn’t play young Michael. It was really off-putting. Not only because they’re definitely different looking (and yes I understand the real actor likely changed a good deal in between the films), but the original actor Daeg Faerch has a very perfect charisma and style for the character. So that’s one of the aspects of this movie that truly disappointed me. The actor here didn’t fit the role and his intensity is starkly different, so the flow of this film with the remake is a bit shaky.
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I’m back and forth on Laurie as a character in this movie. Her trauma is very real, I don’t doubt she would be a woman torn apart after the events she’d experienced. However, the writing on Zombie’s part makes her so whiny and just too unlikeable. The way she treats her best friend, Annie, who went through lots of trauma herself, is difficult to reconcile. Maybe that was the intention. But still, it actually annoys me, Scout Taylor-Compton makes me hate her and I didn’t during the first one. I can appreciate characters who are despicable, et cetera, this only serves as a way to make me feel like fast forwarding. And I’m already in the minority of people who actually dig this flick.
In the acting department, what saves Halloween II is the fact Brad Dourif, Daniel Harris, and Malcolm McDowell give us pretty good performances in their respective roles.
Dourif is always a treat, especially when given the proper material. His Sheriff Brackett is even better than Charles Cyphers in the first two original Halloween films. I love the way Zombie writes characters, and it shines with Brackett. Performed by Dourif it is a dream. The whole Lee Marvin bit is some of my favourite banter from any recent horror. So funny, even funnier that the girls have no idea about Lee Marvin, nor do they get the barn part of the joke. Just a great sequence. Dourif and Harris are great as a father-daughter combo. Harris herself is a Halloween veteran. Here, as a grown woman, she does a nice job in the tragic role she plays. Her energy is what’s enjoyable, even in films that aren’t so great. But the Annie Brackett she plays is equally as fun as Nancy Kyes (billed as Nancy Loomis). Harris doesn’t get a huge part before the fate she runs into, but what we get is solid.
Finally, it’s McDowell as Dr. Loomis that I enjoy most. I will always love Donald Pleasence and his portrayal above anything in any of the films, truly. He was amazing. What I enjoy here is how Zombie writes Loomis as a fame-whore, a guy who just wants another shot at being well-known, at money and glamour. As opposed to the original, Loomis here is an opportunist, who only after it’s too late realizes the error in his ways. So with McDowell acting his ass off and bringing this new vision of the doctor to life, it’s a ton of fun. Some of the dialogue with his assistant is downright hilarious. But it’s the tragedy of this character, the blind ignorance, which really sells it. McDowell was made for this role, too. He has all the right range to play a man who’s got this saccharine sweetness about him in public and, when pushed, a bitter rage that comes out.
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With warts and all, I give Zombie’s second Halloween a 3&1/2-star rating. There is a great dose of horror and terror within. Not all of Zombie’s writing is on par here with the first, or some of his other work. Nevertheless, he gives us a version of the Michael Myers tale that doesn’t try and straight-up adapt the original sequel (apart from a nice dreamy sequence in the beginning). The brutality of Myers is always evident, as is the trauma that his serial killing rampaging has caused. Although the script could’ve been better, I still thought Zombie did some interesting things, as well as brought the savagery required to make this worthy of a watch.

Rob Zombie Presents Halloween: The Horrific Origins of Michael Myers

Halloween. 2007. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie; based on the original screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Richard Lynch, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, Lew Temple, Tom Towles, Bill Moseley, & Leslie Easterbrook. Dimension Films/Nightfall Productions/Spectacle Entertainment Group/Trancas International Films/The Weinstein Company.
Rated 18A. 109 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
POSTER I never imagined, listening to White Zombie in the ’90s, that Rob Zombie would go on to be one of my favourite horror directors working. He always appeared imaginative, but I couldn’t have guessed his love of the horror genre ran so deep. He’s given the keys to the slasher horror castle here, reinterpreting the original screenplay for Halloween in 1978 from John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Instead of providing lackluster jump scares and unnecessary gore to overcompensate, Zombie crafts a new vision of Michael Myers. No more is Myers so much a force of evil, like some wandering, unkillable spirit. Now, he is a boy with a face, a child not just hidden behind a mask, who eventually grows into his skin and becomes the ugliest, most vicious serial killer in America (well, the fictional one anyways).
Switch the subtle techniques of Carpenter for a throwback aesthetic mixed with gritty realism, and you’ve got Zombie’s film in a nutshell. Although many want to try and pick one over the other, they’re different movies, different stories centered around the same characters. You can say what you want. But for me, Carpenter and Zombie both have their merits. No matter if the original is my favourite, and a perfect piece of horror cinema, Zombie brings savagery to the table, plus an interesting style of directing. This makes it more than worth the watch.
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Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) is a young boy with a fairly awful life day to day. Although his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) loves him, her sleazy boyfriend Ronnie White (William Forsythe) treats him like shit, all the while sizing up Debbie’s daughter Judith (Hanna Hall). At school, Michael gets pushed around and harassed, specifically about his mother being a stripper at a local club. But at home, alone, Michael dissects animals, getting blood all over his hands. Then once a kid at school finally pushes him over the edge, Michael beats him to death in the woods. The transition begins.
On Halloween night, Michael kills Ronnie, then Judith and her boyfriend. This shocks the town of Haddonfield. The law puts Michael in an institution, where Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) picks his brain to try and determine why evil lies in such a young mind. There’s also orderly Ismael Cruz (Danny Trejo) who talks to the boy often, trying to relate with him.
Only after 17 years go by, an older Michael gets a visit from a new, less friendly orderly by the name of Noel Kluggs (Lew Temple). He and his equally disgusting hillbilly cousin take advantage of having keys to the place. They rape a female patient after bringing her into Michael’s room, when Noel underestimates the now 27-year-old man. Michael kills the men and then begins on a path of destruction carrying him back towards Haddonfield, where his reign of terror is about to begin. As if it already hadn’t.
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Love the metafictional quote from Dr. Loomis’ book. Like a post-modern version of Carpenter and Hill’s classic, early slasher. The whole character of Loomis is much different from that of Donald Pleasence’s version, and of course that’s mostly the way it’s written. In the original film(s), Loomis is an underrated psychiatrist whose knowledge of evil, and particularly that of Michael, is unparalleled. Here, McDowell’s Loomis is a good man initially. Then he morphs into a fame-seeking, fame-whoring doctor who made his fame and fortune off the dead corpses of a bunch of people in Haddonfield. He’s treated as such, too. So apart from the other liberties Zombie takes, or should I say aside from the expanded history Zombie creates, there’s this totally new role for Loomis, which I love. Pleasence is a classic, though, Loomis is a completely new beast under McDowell and I dig him, as well.
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I don’t agree with the stance of people saying oh well we don’t want to see Michael Myers as a child, that’s the scary part. But wait a minute? Doesn’t the original Halloween, which I adore, start with that POV from the perspective of a young Michael? We already see that. Far as I’m concerned Zombie doesn’t really leap too far in reimagining Carpenter here. He takes what we’ve already seen, then elaborates largely. So yeah, maybe you don’t want to see the childhood of Michael completely played out, but the seeds were there in the original. So honestly, if Carpenter really wanted to keep his Myers as the almost supernatural, mythical Shape, then there’s no need to even show us the beginning of the child Michael; may as well jump right in. Not a criticism against him – I love that film, and it’s perfect. Period. That’s a criticism against those trying to rationalize their need for a theory on why Zombie shouldn’t have done it this way. For me, the best thing Zombie does here is humanize Michael. Because for all those people saying something is scarier about an unstoppable force of almost supernatural strength, I believe there’s nothing scarier than human evil, it never stops either. And personally, imagining Michael as a human killer, a kid who grew like weed out of hatred, is far more terrifying.
Carpenter wins overall, obviously. The techniques he used directing, some of those shots they achieved, plus the writing from him and Hill; everything in that movie is perfect. While Zombie’s film is not perfect, it wins on horror. There’s a more brutal aspect to this Halloween that hooks me in. It’ll never beat the quality of Carpenter’s original, but Zombie does a fine job crafting a gritty, raw remake. One of the better remakes that’s come out of the big Hollywood machine. Probably because Zombie isn’t exactly a Hollywood director, he just has the popularity to draw the Weinsteins and such. Regardless, this is miles better than the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street remakes, and that glossed over Texas Chainsaw Michael Bay-produced affair.
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As I’ve mentioned, there is a stern brutality to many of the kills in this remake. Part of why I still enjoyed some of the later Halloween sequels is due in large to the fact they started to up the pure strength of Michael. In one, he simply jams his thumb right through a victim’s forehead. After that, he became relentless in power. So even better that he’s a real humanized type killer here, coupled with the way he straight up just beats a few people to death. And I’m talking absolutely demolishing people. When he kills the orderly Noel, he repeatedly slams him against the concrete wall until blood starts to fly. It is a savage death. Then he drowns Danny Trejo’s character Ismael, which goes to show how brutal he is – no longer does Michael even care for people who show him any compassion. His heart is dead: “I was good to you, Mikey,” sputters Ismale while trying not to drown. Then a television gets dropped on the guy’s head. So if you didn’t already know this is a remorseless killer, he does not discriminate. Doesn’t matter who or what is in his way, not anymore. Since his mother died, the last of his humanity left, too. Lots of great kills after this, which Zombie captures in perfectly nasty fashion.
Some of my other favourite moments – the fight with Big Joe Grizzly (legendary Ken Foree) that is just pure unadulterated hypermasculinity, though oh-so-horror-good, and once more showcases that sickly strength in Myers; when Michael makes his way into the neighbourhood and goes mad on the young people it gets bloody and unruly; and when Michael goes to see the Strodes awhile before that, things are pretty rough, as well as creepy, and sad.
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On top of everything there’s Scout Taylor-Compton in the old Jamie Curtis role. She does a solid job, as she’s cute and personable and she plays a nice good-girl, at the same time she’s got attitude and can be funny. Also, proper at showing fear. Danielle Harris is great, too, even if she doesn’t have a massive role; nice to see her back after the performances she gave as a child in a couple of the original movies. Then there’s a bunch of cameos, such as Ken Foree, Zombie alumni Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Leslie Easterbrook, Sheri Moon Zombie (though hers is more than a cameo really), William Forsythe, Micky Dolenz of Monkees fame. Brad Dourif is awesome as the sheriff in all his scenes, too. Love seeing him anywhere, solid character actor.
All in all, I’m giving Zombie’s remake a 4&1/2-star rating. I don’t care, man. Dig it so hard. Lots of brutal violence in slasher tradition. Good, old school style filmmaking that both technique-wise and design-wise throws back to the 1970’s. But it’s the reinvention of Michael Myers and his story that draws me in consistently. I can always watch this, right alongside the original. And while I love Carpenter’s Halloween most, this one is a solid modern remake that gives us blood, thrills, and even some sly laughs.

Elizabeth Olsen Braves the Silent House

Silent House. 2011. Directed by Chris Kentis & Laura Lau. Screenplay by Lau; based on the original screenplay by Oscar Estévez for the film La casa muda.
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross, Adam Barnett, & Haley Murphy. Elle Driver/Tazora Films.
Rated R. 86 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER
Always a sucker for films that attempt to work outside the box, in any degree, the original version of this American remake, La casa muda, was pretty damn good. Seeing a film of this nature with sly editing making everything look like one long shot is ambitious, especially considering it works to great effect. When I heard the remake was coming I didn’t feel too confident it’d turn out near as good. However, with directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (the latter also adapting the screenplay) planning on replicating the real-time feel of the original, there came further hope. It isn’t simply a gimmick. What this technique does is pull the viewer into the perspective of the lead character, Sarah, so that as she turns a corner we’re not exactly sure, like her, if something terrifying lies around it. Further than that, the way this interrupted take technique presents itself lends to the story, as a lot of the time you’re busy following Sarah – too busy to try and suss out what’s really going on. Not to say this is a brilliant twist, nor is it unique or original. But as a smart viewer, I like to believe I’m able to sometimes get ahead of the plot. Here, I felt mostly too concerned with riding next to Sarah in the almost P.O.V style filming. With eerie sound design, a dreamy and almost nightmarish feel, Elizabeth Olsen does her part by nailing the lead role and keeping us fettered to terror, as her character navigates the shadowy, silent house.
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Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) heads out to the lakeside summer house she spent time in as a little girl. She and her father, John (Adam Trese), are packing the place up, as it’s about to be sold. They pack up boxes, throw things together, and try to get all the last minute chores finished up. Soon, they’ve got John’s brother Pete (Eric Sheffer Stevens) there to help, although the two brothers don’t exactly always get along. Later on, Sarah runs into a girl named Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) who says they knew each other once upon a time; at first Sarah doesn’t remember, then says she does but her memory is just a little spotty.
The longer they stay at the house by the lake, Sarah begins to start seeing people lurking in the darkness. When Pete leaves, things get worse. Eventually, John is found bleeding, unconscious, and Sarah sees more people, hears them, including a little girl standing by the road outside. The situation spirals into madness. When Pete comes back he finds Sarah delirious. But as he investigates the house it becomes clear there is something definitely sinister in the making.
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Cinematographer Igor Martinovic (D.P on House of Cards, as well as some great documentaries such as The Tillman Story and Man on Wire) gives us a frenetic style almost akin to the found footage genre, but there are also times where the camerawork creeps along with Sarah, as it puts us directly in her perspective. So the balance between nice steady frames and the more bumpy handheld style is pretty good. Because we get that feel of being right alongside Sarah yet there’s also that chaos together with it, and it works to make things unsettling. The lighting is really spectacular here, too. Seeing as how the film is sort of experimental, in that it’s made to look like an entirely uninterrupted take (edited keenly for that effect), I’m amazed they were able to work the lighting out at all. Let alone make things look so dark and gloomy. At a certain point, it feels as if we’re in a dream and floating along through the darkness in the halls of this house, lost and bewildered just as much as Sarah herself.
Adding to the suspense and tension of the cinematography is the sound design, courtesy of Glenn To. Morgan, whose work spans everything from 9&1/2 Weeks to The Crow to Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Without a score, Silent House manages to wrap itself around you using ambient rumbles, the pulse and swell of noise, combined with all the regular noises of a house amplified due to the near constant silence – doors closing, floorboards underneath the feet, and so on transform into near characters themselves at certain points in time. Whenever a production is able to create such an all around atmosphere of dread by both its use of visuals and also the overall sound design, there’s a good chance I’m at least going to be affected a slight bit. What happens in Silent House completely unnerves me, from the top on down.
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In a film where there’s basically only one performance that matters, Elizabeth Olsen brings a theatrical sort of quality to the character of Sarah. Apparently the directors wanted someone with a stage presence, as the demands of long takes and so much focus on Sarah at all times (she’s in every last scene) required that type of disposition. Honestly, no matter how you ultimately feel about this movie as a whole, you’ve got to admit Olsen gives a quality performance. If a lesser actor were in her place it may not have even held my focus for its sparse 86-minute runtime. With only a couple other people in the film, the central cast itself only consisting of three people, Silent House is totally minimalist, and Olsen carries so much of the film’s weight by immersing us into Sarah’s perspective. Especially once the plot details are revealed and the nasty details come out, Olsen depicts the realization of Sarah, the pieces fitting into place in her mind so perfectly; it’s a mix somewhere between astonishment and confusion. But the best of her performance is that she really does not let on anything to the viewer, so that the first time around when you watch this it’s easy to get blindsided with the truth, just as Sarah ends up. Part of that is the writing, as well. Most of it, though, is Olsen. She deserves better recognition, this could’ve turned out terribly misguided were she not cast.
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Never afraid of being in the realm of unpopular opinion, Silent House is a 4-star affair. While I try not to be too hard on remakes for no reason, often they never reach the excellence of their original versions. La casa muda was great; so is the remake. Olsen gives herself over to the role wholly. Backing her is a bunch of solid camerawork, as well as the fact it’s edited smoothly to feel like one single take throughout the entire film. The movie is quick, dreamy, disturbing. I can’t spoil any of the plot further than what I’ve said because this finale really ought to be seen without knowing anything; like many films. But the impact of the plot’s conclusions here are part of what makes everything worth it, part of why the whole affected me. Moreover, this one deserves a second watch after you’ve seen what happens, as there are plenty of opportunities to pick out foreshadowing moments, brief pieces that lay out the way forward. Give this its chance and perhaps you’ll be unsettled, if that’s what you’re looking for like me.

Down the Social Rabbit Hole with The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment. 2015. Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez. Screenplay by Tim Talbott.
Starring Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Moises Arias, Nicholas Braun, Gaius Charles, Keir Gilchrist, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Mann, Ezra Miller, Logan Miller, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, James Wolk, Nelsan Ellis, and Olivia Thirlby. Coup d’Etat Films/Sandbar Pictures/Abandon Pictures.
Rated 14A. 122 minutes.
Biography/Drama/History

★★★★★
POSTER
There’ve been two other films based on the real Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo, at least that I know of – the German film Das Experiment and the semi-remake of that starring Adrian Brody and Forest Whitaker, The Experiment. Many will tell you the former is the best. Certainly none will say the latter. But I’ll go ahead and give you my opinion: The Stanford Prison Experiment is the best of the trio. It is the most raw, real, honest version compared with true events. It showcases best the real results of the experiment Zimbardo setup. Here, we see the worst of the human condition, what people are capable of given power and the ability to judge as they see fit.
As opposed to the other two films, Kyle Patrick Alvarez doesn’t try to add anything extra to the story. Or better put, screenwriter Tim Talbott sticks mostly to the practical facts of the original experiment. Instead of getting too flowery, attempting to intensify themes, Talbott’s script brings out the moral dilemmas inherent in Zimbardo’s supposed experiment. We are thrown directly in the hot seat, both with the people behind the glass and the inmates on the other side. This film focuses best on the human aspect of what really happened, rather than ratcheting up the violence, the threat of rape, or any number of things. Not saying every last bit of this is completely factual. More that it attempts to stick with reality. And things get very raw. For someone who traffics in a lot of horror, many disturbing pieces of cinema, this can actually be tough to watch; it isn’t even graphic. The psychological torture of the men in this experiment bleeds through the screen.
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Dr. Philip Zombardo (Billy Crudup) conducts an experiment at Stanford University in the early 1970s. Twenty four men were recruited. They were broken into groups of guards and prisoners. This experiment sees how both groups act under the guidelines of a prison environment in the basement of the university.
Except things start to get a little out of hand. The guards aren’t allowed to physically hurt the prisoners. But they do everything else possible. They psychologically torture the young men playing prisoners. Some of them rebel. Others comply completely. Allowed to leave at any time, a couple do, or at least try to. For Zombardo’s part he tries to keep people there, going beyond acceptable limits; certainly beyond ethical scientific limits. As some of the guards go a little wilder than others, the Stanford Prison Experiment gets further out of hand than even Zombardo could have predicted.
They had two weeks allotted to conduct the experiment. It didn’t even last one.
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Many times we see Zombardo lose it. One key moment is when a member of the research/experiment team has to leave, due to a death in the family, and Philip doesn’t lose it, but the lack of care for his colleague’s dead family member is evident. We can see how Zombardo doesn’t care about anything else, anybody else. Nothing other than his precious experiment. So, in subtle scenes like that we see the fabric of his personality wearing away. He meets an older man, either a former mentor or an older colleague, who asks about variables in his experiment; Phil dismisses him in a mix between anger, resentment, and perhaps a small dose of doubt, guilt, too. The character is a loaded one and full of many complexities. We watch as the guy’s mind tears, right alongside many of the inmates and some of the guards in the experiment. Hard to tell sometimes exactly who is slipping most.
Then there’s Michael Angarano. He is a great actor, one I’ve enjoyed plenty on Cinemax’s The Knick. Here he plays the “John Wayne” guard, Christopher Archer. Watching him progress from the first scene where we see him, to the Napoleonic character he becomes later in the film, it truly is impressive. Some may get annoyed by his fake Southern accent – part of the character itself, imitating a character from Cool Hand Luke, and poorly (on purpose). However, I find Angarano excellent here. He plays a young man who is fairly despicable, just as bad as Zombardo, and certainly one of the worst of all the men playing guards. His youthfulness comes in handy because he portrays a guy who, in real life, went too far and thought it was all justifiable, as if being a terrible human being at the drop of a hat, as he was during the experiment, were a situation anybody would find themselves in. His character helps to call into question the individual moral dilemma of such an experiment, and displays exactly the type of behaviour any person in their right mind would be ashamed of if it were them. A few other good performances here, including Ezra Miller and Tye Sheridan plus more. Although, Angarano and Crudup clearly shine. That could also have much to do with their characters’ respective importance to the events in question. Still, they both do an amazing job pulling their share of the weight along the way.
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This a dark and raw 5-star film based on true events. In the final fifteen minutes, The Stanford Prison Experiment devolves to madness and presents us with the regression of humanity, all represented in these men posing as the guards. The moment where Crudup’s Zombardo breaks is quietly intense, but it hits you hard. I do not admire anything about Zombardo. This moment just rocked me – especially with the line by Angarano afterward. There’s a despicable quality to the ending, and it lingered with me, yet above all a sense of relief. This film is a visceral one at times, it will get under your skin. Deep; if you let it. The bare human qualities of this movie made it one of my favourites from 2015.

Martyrs 2.0 – The Little Remake That Shouldn’t

Martyrs. 2016. Directed by Kevin & Michael Goetz. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith; based on the original characters from Pascal Laugier’s film.
Starring Troian Bellisario, Caitlin Carmichael, Kate Burton, Bailey Noble, Toby Huss, Diana Hopper, Lexi DiBenedetto, Taylor John Smith, Peter Michael Goetz, and DaJuan Johnson. Blumhouse Productions/The Safran Company/Temple Hill Entertainment.
Unrated. 81 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★1/2
COVERI always try to give remakes a fair shake. Slightly different story when you have to push through a favourite film being remade, especially if it comes out poorly. Though I love Spike Lee, as a filmmaker, his remake of Oldboy is one of the worst in recent memory. And that’s been a favourite of mine for years. When I heard Pascal Laugier’s frantic, bloody, wild movie Martyrs was being remade, it didn’t exactly excite me. Sure, I love when a fresh take or update can be done on a film, such as Alexandre Aja and his efforts on The Hills Have Eyes. But more often than not, an excellent foreign language film gets turned into nonsense by way of North American directors and writers.
Sadly, this new version of Martyrs is not up to the task of making things fresh, exciting, or even much different. It is definitely not a shot-for-shot remake, but it also doesn’t have a lot of what made the original French film so impressively visceral and continually interesting. This re-imagining, remake, or whatever word you choose to employ, didn’t have to go for big gore and get as graphic as Laugier. What it did need, though, is the emotional resonance, the quality techniques of Laugier and the original team, and generally a better screenplay if it were meant for glory. Not near being one of my favourite remakes. Another great film gets an unjust treatment for North American audiences, many of whom are probably too lazy to read subtitles and watch the original, evident by how many foreign films get remade here in the West. If that weren’t the case, if the demand weren’t so high, I’d assume people were seeking out the original pieces of work. In this case, I certainly suggest you watch Laugier’s movie. It’s leaps and bounds better than this mediocre, run of the mill dishwater.
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Two young girls come together as orphans at a young age, Lucie (Troian Bellisario) and Anna (Bailey Noble). Lucie escaped from a terrifying, abusive situation of captivity, which Anna helped her get past.
Cut to years later. They’re grown young women. Lucie finds the family who supposedly held her captive, then shotguns them all, including the kids, to death. She calls Anna frantically, telling her what happened. Her friend arrives to try and help things go smoother, as far as is possible. But Lucie spirals out of control. Soon, Anna is in the house, bodies everywhere, and a group of armed people take over.
Brought to room and tortured, Anna discovers what Lucie went through. The two girls are pitted against their captors. Although, the past comes back to bear on their present situation. As things are revealed the capture of Lucie as a young girl becomes more clear, the movie behind it all unearthed. Can they survive this? Will Lucie be able to make it out of the horror a second time?
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*SPOILER ALERT: TURN BACK OR THOU SHALT FOREVER BE SPOILED!*
One thing I quickly disliked about this version is that the screenplay from Mark L. Smith (The RevenantVacancy) decides to keep both of the main women alive. Whereas in the Laugier original, the Lucie character dies. What I love about that original screenplay is that the Anna character is then forced to deal with the aftermath of the situation, as well as the group who come to find her, forcing her to also suffer the torture her friend once did years ago. In this film there’s this sense of a bunch of subjects captured at once, while Anna and Lucie then also find themselves captives. Part of why I enjoyed the original French film is that Laugier went for a definitively tragic and truly epic plot. Smith, though he did amazing stuff with The Revenant, makes the mistake of going for something more hopeful. Realistically you have to look at the group doing these experiments; they are obviously massive, a solid organization, so to just do another escape thriller with this setup is wasting a lot of potential. The original capitalized on all its brutality, as well as emotions, and went for a dark ending. Without spoiling anything, this remake cops out. Some say the original was all nihilistic. Except for the fact the people torturing the hopeful martyrs, for all their faults and bloody terror, are seeking a way to discover what makes someone into such a portal to view what’s in their eyes, seeing beyond life and into the chasm of death. So, it’s not really nihilistic, not in true terms. But any of the impact of the film is taken away in this screenplay. Not at all impressed with Smith’s choices.
The execution isn’t a whole lot helpful either. Tons of exposition that the original never needed, as well as so much sanitized horror. It all combines into a real mess. There are, yes, several moments of decent blood, and also several intense sequences. Yet none of this adds up to even half the impact Laugier came off with, which does nothing to make me enjoy this needless remake. There was a grim, moody atmosphere and a gritty tone to the original. Here, most of the movie feels glossy, bright even in the darkness, and overall there is nothing technique-wise that ever grabs me. Kevin and Michael Goetz did 2013’s Scenic Route and I actually enjoyed that a good deal. It was entertaining, gritty at times, funny even. Lots of good stuff. Their follow-up film is nowhere near as good. Hopefully next they’ll go with an original film with a better story because they’ve proved themselves on the previous movie. Martyrs is a step backward.
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I’ll give the film a 1&1/2 star rating, solely because I did enjoy aspects of Bailey Noble’s performance, even if I wasn’t a fan of the plot. Likewise, Troian Bellisario is decent enough to keep your attention particularly later when the torture commences once more. But this is an unnecessary remake. Honestly, I try to give these remade films a chance, however, they more often than not let me down big time. This one is no different. Over the past few years this is one of the worst. Again, I hope the Goetz brothers go forward and make something better. As I hope Mark Smith pushes on and finds better success with another movie. These are better artists than the movie suggests. Martyrs, the original, is worth your time. Despite what others say about a totally boring, gory film, Laugier made an impact with that one, which I will never forget. Skip this, see his original. You’ll thank me.