Everyone works. Everyone contributes. If not? Well, you'll pay the price one way or another in the Wrong Turn reboot.
A young man stuck in a bad neighbourhood gets lost in a fantasy of vampirism, leading to unexpected consequences.
Area 51. 2015. Directed by Oren Peli. Screenplay by Christopher Denham & Oren Peli.
Starring Reid Warner, Darrin Bragg, Ben Rovner, Jelena Nik, Roy Abramsohn, Frank Novak, and Glenn Campbell. Aramid Entertainment Fund/Blumhouse Productions/IM Global/Incentive Filmed Entertainment/Room 101.
Rated R. 91 minutes.
Right back to the supposed McPherson Tape, later given a bigger budget and made as Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County, there have been plenty of found footage films dealing with alien encounters. We’ve also got Jason Eisner’s segment from V/H/S 2, the 2014 film Alien Abduction, then there’s Apollo 18 with a bit of pseudo-revisionist history. There are more, but I won’t ramble on into the night about every last one.
Area 51 is not necessarily the same as the others. Right from the beginning, not many films involve the actual infiltration, or attempted infiltration, of Area 51. There are some, but not a great many. Plenty of mentions, though, in film and television about Roswell, New Mexico, Area 51, and areas around Nevada. In some respects, Oren Peli’s latest film is much different than anything else. At other times there’s nothing different at all. Mixed bag mostly.
Peli is someone I’ve enjoyed far more as a producer than director. His two films as director, Area 51 and Paranormal Activity, aren’t that much different than one another except for the fact they’re completely different settings. Mostly I like that he produced the three Insidious movies, The Lords of Salem, as well as both Chernobyl Diaries and The Bay of which I’m a fan despite what others might think of them. With this film – originally completed around 2009 or so and unreleased until 2015 – Peli doesn’t do much else other than try to show new ways of incorporating found footage, techniques which aren’t necessarily fresh or innovative but above all else just fun to look at.
Three friends – Reid (Reid Warner), Darren (Darrin Bragg), and Ben (Ben Rovner) – head to a huge a party. There, Darren and Ben lose track of Reid briefly. They see him staring into the sky. Later, they find him again in the road – quiet, but fine.
Three months later, Reid has planned a trip for them: to Vegas. Or, more so Area 51.
Once on their journey, they meet with Jelena (Jelena Nik) whose father worked in the base for a time before getting fired for prodding into things too far; he later committed suicide. The four head out to try and make it onto the legendary base.
However, once they arrive and start to move further and further inside, they come to understand perhaps it’s better off the American Government keeps their findings under wraps.
An aspect of Area 51 I really did enjoy was the plot of how they managed to snag the old guy’s ID and the bottle of his cologne in case they required any fingerprints. That was pretty slick! While I think once inside there’s a lot of lapse of judgement on the part of the writing, in turn affecting the characters, much of what I liked about the movie was its build-up and the first half where it’s almost more like a thriller than anything. We’ve seen plenty of this type of stuff in other movies, I dig that Peli injects the found footage into something with which we’re familiar.
Another extremely fun part were the effects. I think, despite of how mediocre I found its scares, Peli’s Paranormal Activity at the least introduced the movie industry to new aspects found footage could carry: such as special effects. In this film, Peli takes that on to different levels. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Once Darren, Jelena, and Reid enter the Area 51 facility, there are a host of interesting effects the movie introduces. The alien technology this trio comes across is impressive. I totally loved the small, smooth craft Reid gets into; from the outside it’s almost a big oval, an egg-like structure, inside Reid is soundproofed yet the whole ship is transparent. Honestly, regardless whether you like the movie overall or not, I can’t see how you wouldn’t enjoy these moments. Seeing special effects with the found footage done well, such as they are in this case, is a treat for me because it isn’t often we get to see that in other movies.
There’s a genuine creepshow of a sequence after Jelena and Reid end up in a tunnel system underneath the Area 51 facility itself. In these few scenes, Peli brings us back to straight horror filmmaking. Not in a bad sense. There’s the obligatory slow shots of the camera, light shining, moving through the darkness, but a sense of real tension is happening. I’d honestly expected, after Darren has a quick run-in with the facility security, the finale of the film was going to be an extremely big, loud chase sequence, and the effects would come fast, barely noticeable, and the film would go out on a bang. Instead, the screenplay slows things down in pace for awhile. We get these very quiet bits before the REAL chase gets on. Then we switch back to see how Darren is doing, there we get the big chase, the loud sound design, alarms, and so on. Not a bad thing, however, I thought Peli might’ve done well to keep with the subtlety through to the end and create a more effective scare for the audience. Sadly, what was built up loses its steam with a big shift between Darren/Jelena and Reid. Peli should’ve left Darren and his situation unknown, it’d be more unsettling that way instead of spelling ever last thing out visually for us. Keeping with Jelena and Reid could have created an insanely tight tension that would not let up until the finish. It still has suspense and it keeps you on edge, no doubt there, but I don’t think it reached what it could have been with more focus.
That being said, I found the final ten minutes – in regards to scenes involving Jelena and Reid – pretty damn spectacular at times. SPOILERS AHEAD! When the two of them appear to abducted there’s an amazing scene/series of shots, as they’re sort of lifted up inside this white space, no gravity, and the camera gets sucked out of a tube only to fall down to the ground. BONUS – if you watch until after the credits, which you should as respect to all the various artists who work on a film (not to be a dick but I have many friends in the industry + I’m an aspiring screenwriter so it’s always nice to spend an extra couple minutes watching them), there is a POST-CREDITS SCENE. Pretty nice little add-on.
Only for the fact that this scene may negate the found footage aspect. An old man – the same one poking around the group’s vehicle earlier in the film – finds the camera Reid dropped in his abduction, or whatever you’d like to officially call it. So my only beef is: how did the footage get “found” then? It seemed to me like this old guy was a part of the conspiracy, in some way. Perhaps I’m wrong and he was another intrigued mind, maybe the reality is he came across the tape while trying to find his own evidence of some sort. Then it’s VERY clear how the footage made it out. So I can’t knock Peli for this last bit, as I’m not sure how exactly it was intended to play off. I’d like to believe the old man was another person prodding around for tangible proof of Area 51 and its contents, just as Reid and his friends; the knocking on their door in that one scene would then be seen as him probably warning them, attempting to steer them off a course of danger.
I don’t think Area 51 is anything special, but it’s also not as terrible as some seem to be making it out to be, as if there aren’t worse instances of both aliens/Area 51 and found footage out there (which there most certainly are).
Overall, it’s about a 2 out of 5 star film. The build-up is marred by too much jumping back and forth in the finale. Oren Peli instead tries to lean hard on the exposition, spelling out the fate of each and every character perfectly without leaving any sort of room for imagination. This isn’t always bad – you don’t have to NOT answer questions to be a good film. But Peli is too heavy handed, and any of the mystery he’d cultivated throughout the first three quarters of Area 51 disappears over the closing fifteen minutes. There are a few great scenes, honestly, from scares to interesting uses of the found footage sub-genre. The acting isn’t awful, but it’s by no means anything to write home about. Especially in the finale of the film, all the emotions and intensity of those scenes could’ve come off WAY BETTER if the actors pulled their weight, or in turn if the actors were replaced with better actors.
I’m not even that big on Paranormal Activity, other than the fact it was slightly innovative for found footage, but I’d absolutely recommend seeing that one over this directorial effort from Peli. See this if you’re looking to burn off an hour and a half. Plus, you might enjoy a few of the special effects the way I did. Who knows; stranger things have happened.
The Last Broadcast. 1998. Directed & Written by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler.
Starring David Beard, Jim Seward, Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler, Rein Clabbers, Michele Pulaski, and Tom Brunt.
Unrated. 86 minutes.
Ever since I’d first seen The Last Broadcast a little over ten years ago, I’ve been conflicted by the film. Unlike so many failed fake documentary styled found footage horror movies these days, I find that The Last Broadcast genuinely culls the air of being real for a lot of the time. Long before stuff like Grave Encounters, Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler came up with an interesting little faux doc about a paranormal style show. What I find so good in this sense about this movie is that their show really feels real, it has that old school internet show feel to it; the acting is slightly stale, but in a way that they make the Fact or Fiction show feel like it’s these two dudes just filming things out on their own, beyond low budget. So that’s one of the things I do truly enjoy about this movie.
However, in the finale, the last act, Avalos and Weiler completely let this movie go off the rails. Personally, I was so into what was happening and I’d hoped that ultimately the explanation of what was being attributed to the Jersey Devil might end up being either unexplainable or just straight up supernatural. Instead, the creepiness and suspense, all the tension Avalas and Weiler built up for the first half to three-quarters of the film is squandered by a flimsy and awful climax, which does nothing but frustrate me.
While there are some excellent bits to The Last Broadcast, it’s hard to ignore how terribly fumbled the ending came out and it leaves a stain on everything else the filmmakers had tried to do up until that tipping point. At least this movie has something to boast about – it’s the first film to be filmed, edited, and screened entirely digital; no film was involved. While I’m a huge fan of film, I do enjoy digital in certain ways, so if anything this movie can say it pioneered new ways to make extremely low budget horror. Even if the movie shits the bed just as it could’ve turned into something spectacular.
The Last Broadcast tells the story of two local access cable filmmakers – Steven (Stefan Avalos) and Locus (Lance Weiler) – whose Fact or Fiction television show leads them around to various places in search of supernatural and ghostly entities. In a hunt for the legend of the Jersey Devil, Steve and Locus hire an assistant to help them – Jim Suerd (Jim Seward) is a self-styled psychic of sorts. They also plan to stream things on the internet through IRC, over radio, all sorts of things, and they’re armed with tons upon tons of equipment.
After heading into the woods, things begin to get more and more intense until finally only Suerd emerges from the woods, the other two disappeared. Suerd becomes the number one suspect. At the same time, a filmmaker named David Leigh (David Beard) starts to pour over the piles of tapes from Fact or Fiction’s filming in the Pine Barrens, and he seems to believe it was possibly not Suerd who was responsible for the disappearance of Steven and Locus after all. It may have been someone, or something, entirely different.
First of all, I find this film holds a pretty decent tone throughout its runtime. Starting early on there’s this great feel of tension, and I think at least until the terrible ending it holds up entirely. My favourite part about any horror film, or even any film in general, is when there’s a genuine atmosphere cultivated through music, direction, and the script.
There’s some interesting music in the movie, courtesy of director/writer Stefan Avalos (who apparently was a child prodigy with classical violin) and A.D. Roso. At certain times, the music is so damn creepy. It has this haunting quality which helps to make the tension hold in a lot of scenes. Great stuff. There’s just a ton of ominous sounds in the score, so often sitting right beneath the surface of the scenes and slowly seeping under the skin. If only the finale’s payoff were worth it, the music would’ve helped to make this incredible. Unfortunately, the script fails every other aspect of the film by simply petering out into nonsensicality.
Before I get to the writing, and then the terrible ending, I’d like to mention that I do think some of the acting was pretty well done. For instance, I found Jim Seward – who plays Jim Suerd – to be fairly unsettling most of the time. Especially when he early on, after meeting the Fact or Fiction hosts, has a psychic fit then ashy words appear on in his arm; putting these guys on or not, this scene was extremely creepy. His whole demeanour in general is spooky and I thought this helped the film immensely. Not all the acting was particularly stellar, but I do think Seward did a fine job with the material for his character. There’s a craziness and sadness all around about this character, which I found intriguing.
Concerning the found footage sub-genre, I think The Last Broadcast, while highly low-fi, doesn’t employ too much shakiness in the camerawork. There’s a lot of it, but there isn’t a string of scenes where they’re running through the woods and you can’t see anything whatsoever. While I love The Blair Witch Project wholeheartedly, the few real shaky scenes in that nauseated me; they didn’t take away from that movie, but it’s my only single complaint. At least, for all its faults, The Last Broadcast doesn’t go for much of that. The video quality – being an ultra almost non-existent budget film in 1998 – is pretty rough almost all of the time, yet there’s not scene after scene of rattling camera shots, bouncing up and down as someone holds onto it and runs for their life. So, in that manner, I do find the low-fi video plays well into everything because the whole Fact or Fiction show, their journey into the woods, it all feels quite natural and real. Essentially, I really feel like I’m watching some documentary slapped together by a bunch of amateur filmmakers, but it doesn’t make me not like this movie – that’s something I found genuine and enjoyable about the whole thing.
Now, I’ve got to get into the writing and the script. There’s an awesome story in here, and up until the finale’s ruination there is solid plot. For the first three quarters, maybe a little less, I think the story of The Last Broadcast holds up. While they’re going through all the motions – getting ready to go into the woods, Jim Suerd gets a little stranger than normal, then they finally get into the woods – I think the writing is well done. Something again regarding the found footage sub-genre is that we don’t have to go through a bunch of moments where someone is yelling “Turn off the camera”. While it works in some films, such as the aforementioned Blair Witch Project, I think it gets forced into too many other movies. This is because a lot of found footage movies go too formulaic, trying to add all the elements they feel need to be in there in order to make it correctly. Luckily for this film, it came before The Blair Witch Project and its success caused an absolute avalanche, still raging to this day, of found footage sub-genre efforts. So it avoids some of the pitfalls which are now associated with so many bad found footage movies today. In the process, I find The Last Broadcast more interesting than others because it’s not as typical. As I’ve mentioned several times already, the real feeling of the tapes and the characters/situations makes it work well.
Finally, we come to the ending to ruin all endings. I’ve got nothing against a seemingly supernatural horror turning out to be something more down to earth and real in the end. Not at all. For instance, though I love Stephen King’s book The Shining I find Stanley Kubrick brought a touch of family dynamics and real horror to an otherwise supernatural story. But here, there’s none of that. The ending works against everything else interesting happening throughout the film.
WARNING: To discuss fully, I have to spoil the ending. If you’ve not seen this yet, don’t go forward. If you do and you haven’t seen it, do not complain about spoilers. I shouldn’t have to warn people about this: I review films, this is a film review blog. I’m not giving previews, I’m reviewing after the fact. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
By having the finale basically take aim at the media and how we relate to/are affected by media, by making the David Leigh (Beard) character responsible for everything – murder and all – Avalos and Wiler take everything else tense and suspenseful and eerie about the script and obliterate it. The Last Broadcast could’ve ended in a much better fashion – even an open ended finish would’ve been incredible, to me! I would’ve walked away from this, had it closed with a more ambiguous finish, and thought this was one of the better early found footage films to have come out. Instead, I constantly bemoan anybody who says this is an excellent movie. It is not. The possible greatness is torn apart with the last 20 minutes or so, I just can’t even describe how ill handled the script becomes in the last quarter. Sad this hadn’t turned out better. So much potential.
Much like a recent film I enjoyed until the final 15 minutes The Canal, I was devastated to have invested so much in the story/plot of The Last Broadcast only to be fooled with the ending. Certainly I enjoyed a lot of what came before the finale – plenty of creepy scenes full of mysterious writing, ominous music, and low-fi terror tiptoeing around so many scenes. I’ve just had it, fed up, with movies that ruin their potential by copping out on an ending. It’s as if they either couldn’t think of anything else, or they were too afraid to leave the film on an open end, so rather than contemplate the best possible ending they could’ve drummed up the filmmakers find the path of least resistance. Instead of being shocking or unnerving, the end makes me roll my eyes into the back of my skull until it hurts.
I can only give this movie 2&1/2 stars. If the ending was better, this could’ve easily been a 4 out of 5 star horror. With the mashed in finale, The Last Broadcast is only a mediocre, if that, found footage horror effort. If ever a movie needed a good remake, it’s this one. Someone should pick up the rights and fix the ending; this could be one killer film if the writing were handled better.
HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 8: “Omega Station”
Directed by John Crowley (Boy A; previously directed the episode “Other Lives” this season)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto
* For a review of the previous episode, “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” – click here
DISCLAIMER: DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN IT – FILLED WITH SPOILERS! WHY WOULD YOU BE READING THIS ANYWAYS? EITHER WAY, BE PREPARED.
This final episode of Season 2 starts in bed with Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) after their steamy night together. Ani recounts what happened to her back in childhood, the abuse she suffered at the hands of the man from her visions in Episode 6 at the weird sex party. It’s clear the two of them bonded; it wasn’t simply two people having sex together, they were trying to forget, at least for awhile, together.
There’s no doubt Ani is a damaged woman. She blames herself for the abuse, saying “I got into a van with a stranger“. She doesn’t understand that feeling proud her abuser thought she was pretty is a symptom of abuse, a symptom of mistreatment at the hands of men. Unfortunately, this didn’t only cloud her when it comes to judging herself, it clouded Ani completely in terms of men; from her father, to her boyfriends, to her partner and all the men in the Vinci P.D.
What’s great about this opening is that Ray also talks, he opens up to her. So it’s not simply Ani pouring her guts out. Ray confesses to her that he killed a man he thought to be his wife’s rapist, and that it made nothing better; it made everything worse. Ani says she doesn’t blame him for any of it, even saying other cultures would understand, it’s a human thing to want revenge. But Ray reveals that it was not him, that he found out who the real rapist was, so we’re seeing this beautiful opening up between the two damaged characters of Ani and Ray. The way it all comes off is wonderful. There’s this peace about the two of them together.
Ani: “Trees. A little place in the rock, in the trees. A cave, is how I remember it. It was like a fairytale.”
Sadly, as they rolled around in bed together, Detective Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) got shot from behind, then had his brain blasted out all over the pavement. Seeing such an incredibly powerful, emotional, beautiful scene, knowing what lays beyond those motel doors – it’s tragic really.
Back to Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) trying to tell his wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) she doesn’t have any choice but to get out of town. Frank’s trying to drive Jordan away, but it is not because he doesn’t love her. Jordan knows the difference. A great bit of the scene is when they throw their wedding rings away – Jordan is a strong lady, she takes off her big diamond, to Frank’s dismay, and tosses it into the street like he did with his, too. I thought this was excellent. Shows how badass Jordan is because she does not care about the money; she clearly loves Frank. She doesn’t abandon him, no matter what, even after seeing the damage Frank inflicted in the last episode. Some critics have said the relationship between Frank and Jordan has been stale, or whatever; I completely disagree. They’re a trouble couple, and I think each of them plays it well. The chemistry between Reilly and Vaughn works, in my opinion. Vaughn does a good job playing the businessman trying to shake his ‘gangster’ roots while she does a great job portraying a torn woman who loves her husband, wants to get away from the crime, but won’t let him go no matter the price.
Frank: “Wear a white dress”
Jordan: “You wear a white suit with a red rose in your jacket”
Frank: “I’ll wear a red rose in my jacket”
Jordan: “I’ll see you coming out of the crowd, head higher than everyone else.”
Frank: “At first I worry, I can’t see you.”
Jordan: “But then you do.”
Frank: “I see the white dress.”
Ray Velcoro gets the news about Woodrugh straight from the killer’s mouth – Lieutenant Kevin Burris (James Frain). Everything is coming down on Ray’s head, on Ani, on their little investigation. Even worse, there’s the fact the P.D and their players know about Paul and Miguel, so the higher-ups see Woodrugh as an outsider. Naturally, Ray and Ani are devastated about Paul’s death and plan on trying their hardest to expose whatever is left to bring out into the light, and hopefully salvage their careers, or at the very least their lives. Ray says, worst comes to worst, he knows a way for them to get out of the country.
Big things are at play now.
Lt. Burris: “Why do you care? You know the guy was a fag, right?”
Following up on some further leads, Ani and Ray finally come across the lair of the Raven-headed man. The mask, the shotgun and blast rounds, as well as a woman cuffed to a pipe in the living room. We get more revelations about the people involved with Ben Caspere from the handcuffed girl – Laura Osterman. This has to do with her brother, Leonard. They’re the reason Caspere ended up in such a state, because apparently Lenny lost a little control, went extreme. The whole acid bit was meant to scare him. I guess Leonard went further than scaring Caspere.
We met Laura back in Episode 3, very briefly. She was known as Erica – Caspere’s assistant. And so the plot thickens.
Nice poster for Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia in the background of one scene. Good stuff!
For those who aren’t following much of the plot this season one major thing to remember ultimately is: corruption due to the impending build of the new railway.
The company Catalyst are intricately involved with high-ranking members of the Vinci Police Department. This is why Woodrugh was killed, this is why the Caspere murder is being covered up. The murder is being covered because all those high-ranking members of the PD had a hand in the robbery-murder which set off the entire Caspere situation – the murder of Laura and Leonard Osterman’s parents. Plus there’s all the land and everything entailed with the railway deal, yadda yadda. You get the picture.
So Ray, with the information he now has, ends up meeting Police Chief Holloway (Afemo Omilami), hard drive in tow from the care of the Osterman kids. There are only so many plays left for Bezzerides and Velcoro, they’re trying to get as much traction as possible before everything hits the fan.
Then it does hit the fan once Holloway reveals the Osterman girl was illegitimately the child of Caspere. Lenny, who is nearby, hears this and attacks Holloway, prompting Lt. Burris out of his hole to open fire. Luckily, Bezzerides and Velcoro make it out alive.
There’s a TON of tension and suspense in this finale. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Basically the two of the remaining detectives are greenlit, by Vinci P.D, Catalyst, and everyone else who is locked up with them in all the god damn corrupt madness.
What I enjoyed most was how this season of True Detective has brought the detectives together with the criminals.
Amazing scene between Frank Semyon and Ani Bezzerides, the first introduction. Frank is now helping the two of them try and escape with their lives still in tact. They’re all heading down south somewhere.
Also, Ray finally discovers that Blake (Christopher James Baker) was the one who actually set him up, not Frank. In a way there’s honour in Frank, even though things don’t always come out the way they should. Either way, he made up for it by just really brutalizing Blake.
Frank: “We met? You’re a cop, right? Lady cop.”
Ani: “What gave me away – the tits?”
Frank: “I meant you’re a lady, you have dignity. You like Ray? I like Ray.”
Frank (to Ray): “I did not live my life to go out like this… you?”
Ray: “I owe these filth. I owe Woodrugh.”
Ani: “Would you run? Now, if I asked, would you?”
Ray: “I might. I just might.”
One thing I couldn’t get enough of in this episode was the music. I mean, it was just ominous! Really great electronic sounding, deep, dark score. Drove things along with the subtle, quiet action that was happening. I honestly think they pulled out all the stops on this finale. “Omega Station” fired on all cylinders.
There’s more of that under the cover of darkness stuff. Ani is in Dr. Pitlor’s (Rick Springfield) office, looking for whatever information she can, while the doctor is found with his wrists slit. Meanwhile, Ray and Frank are sneaking around in the woods and they make their way in, descending upon Osip Agronov (Timothy V. Murphy).
I loved this bit. Frank and Ray together is like the Dream Team. Each of them with all the right gear, the weapons. Frank is merciless, too. He goes in there probably expecting to death, maybe half hoping to, and he just blows away whoever is in his destructive path.
Osip: “I saved you. You’re like my son.”
A sweet line right before Frank shoots him in the face a couple times.
Incredible. The tension mounted a nice bit up to this point, which felt great, as the action was swift, it wasn’t a massive scene, and it came off so slick. I think True Detective as a series overall has done some great work with action scenes.
Now that everyone is cutting ties and taking off to some southern dreamland, Ray decides to head back and try reaching out one last time to his son, Chad (Trevor Larcom). Seeing that the boy has still held onto the present – Ray’s father’s P.D bage – Velcoro leaves to head on and get going. Back at his car, he notices a leak underneath, so of course he is being followed everywhere, closely. Someone is still watching; there’s a tracking device on his car.
He calls Ani, tells her to go without him, and that he’ll follow along behind.
Again I can’t say this enough times concerning Season 2, Colin Farrell has done a spectacular job. It has been worth the time just watching Ray Velcoro’s character arc play out through the episodes. The way he internalizes everything, making the gestures of Velcoro mean so much, one after the other, building this tension about him and canning it in, until things are ready to explode. Love the performance. It is a television character I hope that will go on to be a classic. I’ve loved Farrell’s acting every step of the way.
Ani: “I’m gonna talk to you again, right? We’re gonna see each other again.”
Ray: “You kidding? You’re gonna need a restraining order.”
Ani: “No. No, I won’t.”
When Ani hands the phone over to Felicia (Yara Martinez), Ray immediately tells her: “I’m not going to make it”
I thought this was so incredibly tense, it blew my mind. I did not expect it, honestly. Even though it looked as if Ray was in hot water, I still did not expect this and it hit my chest with a thud. Excellently suspenseful few minutes in that scene between Ani, Ray, and Felicia.
Ray: “You turn here, you turn there and then it goes on for years.. becomes something else. I’m sorry – for the man I became, for the father I was. I hope you got the strength to learn from that, and I hope you got no doubts how much I love you, son. And you’re better than me. If I’d been stronger, I woulda been more like you. Hell, son.. if everyone was stronger, they’d be more like you.”
The last 20 minutes of this extra long finale, I could not let go of my grip on the couch. Great, tense stuff. I know I keep saying that, but it’s true – this entire episode has ratcheted up the tension. Everything is coming to bear at the end of Season 2, here at the fittingly titled “Omega Station”.
Frank is brought out into the desert and there, things get terribly rough for him. Though, I’ve got to say, Frank Semyon does not go out like any punk. He takes an awful stab in the guts, then his former ‘colleagues’ leave him there next to an open grave dug into the sand. Instead of laying down to die, Frank walks on, bleeding, towards an uncertain future against the vast, open desert in front of him.
At the same time, Ray Velcoro is running for his life through the woods, Lt. Burris and a bunch of armed men on their way after him. It’s so amazingly suspenseful. I couldn’t stop leaning in towards the screen, wanting to just jump right inside the television. Ray is like a scared dog, but he keeps his wits about him, taking down who he can through the trees, running, running. Burris is constantly calling out “Where is Bezzerides?” and before jumping out, only to be cut down viciously, Velcoro mutters to himself: “In a better place”. Just wow. I expected at some point Ray might meet a terrible fate at the hands of his own kind, but this was rough. So close to getting away and making it to that better place with Ani. He just couldn’t go the whole length.
Even worse, his last speech for Chad didn’t go through before he was killed – the final nail in the existential coffin of Ray Velcoro.
A lot of great tension, but also there are great bits such as Frank’s hallucinations in the desert. He’s seeing his father, blaming him for all their problems, calling him everything from faggot to the reason your mother left. Then he has more hallucinations of a bunch of black guys harassing him; no doubt another early memory of his days living in a bad neighbourhood, one of the only white boys around. It’s a wild little moment thrown in there, which I thought worked well. You can see Semyon pushing and pushing, willing himself to move, every inch of his being wanting to go on and keep living another day.
Powerful imagery when Frank sees Jordan out in the desert, white dress on, standing radiant in the middle of nowhere. I loved this, yet at the same time it’s a sad image.
Jordan: “What’s a guy like you doin’ in a place like this?”
Frank: “Just makin’ my way baby.”
Personally, I don’t think there is any way this season could’ve ended better. There’s a totally pessimistic ending where Velcoro turns out to be the actual father of his child Chad, but then the P.D pins everything on him. There was plenty of action, suspense, and tension going on. The final few minutes show all the corruption still going on, further and further, becoming worse with every step.
I really love how Ani has kept on with everything, she is showing the evidence off now after the fact to someone whom I would assume to be a journalist of sorts. This is a great, real life-feeling situation. In the time of Edward Snowden, such a piece of crime fiction is welcome, as we see Bezzerides dealing with the aftermath of a huge scandal. Of course, Pizzolatto did model parts of Season 2 after the real story of corruption in a city called Vernon, which I believe is actually in California. Maybe I’m mistaken on that last part. Either way, this has such true to life tones that I think that’s one of the reasons I ultimately loved the storyline this season, all the subplots and everything.
Ani: “We deserve a better world”
People will hate me, but I do like Season 2 the best of the two. You can read my review of Season 1 – I have nothing bad to say. Simply, it’s a case of enjoying the characters more, their arcs, and how real the investigation felt. I have nothing but love for Season 1, and I will always say it’s one of the best seasons of any show, ever. There’s a special place in my heart for this season. The end was true tragedy, in the best sense of the word.
It’s my belief Nic Pizzolatto made a great, grounded crime drama with this second season and proved that it didn’t have to be all whimsical conversation at the hands of Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle. These characters were incredible and I could not get enough. This season went out beautifully and I hope to the stars Pizzolatto will do another season, at least one more, and give us another few detectives onto which we can latch.
Mirrors. 2008. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur; based on the film Into the Mirror by Sung-ho Kim.
Starring Keifer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Peil, John Shrapnel, Jason Flemyng, Julian Glover, and Ezra Buzzington. New Regency Pictures.
Rated 18A. 110 minutes.
For starters, I’ve been an Alexandre Aja fan for a long while now. Ever since I first saw Haute Tension (English titles: High Tension & Switchblade Romance) I thought that Aja had a sense of old school horror in him.
I continue to feel that way. While some people really might not agree, I think even his lesser films have things worth enjoying, worth taking away – sometimes that may just be the effects, parts of the script, or the story. Regardless I think that Aja carries with him some old school horror movie sensibilities in terms of his use of practical effects (though at times he does opt for some shitty CGI I must admit), as well as the stories he chooses to film.
Mirrors is the most supernatural horror that Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur have written together. It still has a bit of a realistic feel because of where the story goes eventually, however, there’s always that strong supernatural vibe going on from start to finish. In this way, it’s a little different from almost anything else that Aja himself has directed (of course since then he’s also done the fantastic Horns).
While it is not particularly great, I think the movie has merit mostly because of a creepy and weird story, and at times amongst some bad CGI effects we’re treated to a handful of really awesome practical make-up effects shots courtesy of Howard Berger, Gregory Nicotero, and some other wizards from KNB.
Ben Carson (Keifer Sutherland) is a former NYPD detective. He killed a man in a shooting some time ago after falling into a downward spiral of alcoholism; disgraced, he retired from the force. He’s cut off from his children most of the time, as his ex-wife Wife (Paula Patton) has custody of them both.
To try and make ends meet, Ben works as a security guard. Now he has a new job as the nightwatchman for the Mayflower Department Store which had been partly wrecked with fire years before. There, he begins to experience strange phenomena. Worse is the fact the last nightwatchman cut his own throat with a piece of glass from a mirror in a subway station bathroom.
Eventually Ben starts to feel as if the mirrors aren’t being looked into – they are looking out. And he does not like what they’ve started to project, as it slowly begins working its way out of the Mayflower Department Store, into him, into his life. Things get worse, until soon enough the things in the mirrors are following Ben home, to the home of his ex-wife and children. Unfortunately for Ben, at first nobody believes him because of the medication he takes while trying to stay off the booze. That all changes once the things in the mirrors reveal themselves to everyone else around him. Then, nobody is safe.
I really do love the opening sequence. An unwritten horror movie rule is that you need one of those opening scenes that POPS, usually a murder – maybe even the murder that begins the whole story. Doesn’t have to be that, but you know what I mean. There are many variants, yet a ton of horror movies all start out that way with a scene that’s meant to get our adrenaline going, getting the terror started. Mirrors does a fine and bloody job of starting things out. A worthy opening scene to the many that have come before it.
Throughout the movie there are definitely a few instances of terrible looking CGI shots. I think that’s overall one of my biggest problems. When you’re doing a supernatural film, especially, you really need to either do practical effects the whole way through, or you’ve got to be able to put up some quality CGI that doesn’t make things feel so fake and awkward.
One of the worst, to me, is when Ben Carson (Sutherland) thinks he’s on fire, looking in the mirror; he drops and rolls around, the fire consuming him all over the length of his body. Though, he is not on fire it’s meant to look and seem very real. In opposition to that, it doesn’t look any bit real. I’m not saying you’ve got to put someone in danger by lighting them on fire to get the shot, but does the alternative have to be awful effects? Either do it right or forego doing it at all. It was like watching Keifer Sutherland wriggle around in a green-screen blanket or something. Really rough to watch.
I don’t want to lay any blame for this scene on Grégory Levasseur especially. Unfortunately for him, Aja had to leave set to be with his wife who’d prematurely gone into labour, so Levasseur took over duties on this scene. I guess ultimately he didn’t have either control or say over the special effects in that scene, but either way he could’ve been part of the problem. He only recently directed The Pyramid, which I enjoyed yet was not great, so at this point in 2008 he probably didn’t have too much experience behind the camera as a director.
With that being said, I’ve got to commend the really well-executed make-up effects on the part of Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, as well as other artists from the KNB EFX shop. These guys have done so many films and shows, everything from The Walking Dead to Day of the Dead, Misery, Evil Dead II, Phantasm II, and so many more between them all.
A great and classic horror movie death happens in this film. BRIEF SPOILERS AHEAD!
Angela Carson (Amy Smart) dies while in the bathtub: her reflection grabs the top and bottom of her own jaw, starts ripping, tearing it open, upward until the whole thing just starts hanging loose, tongue out, bloody and gore everywhere. The water is full of blood. One of those real gory horror scenes that is enough to satisfy a lot of gorehounds out there! The effects in the beginning as she starts tearing involve a slight drop of CGI, however, the after effects and midway through the process are all practical; looks amazing. I thought so, anyways. Some true gore.
Not a huge fan of the acting, I must say. Mostly it’s only Sutherland who impresses me, and even he doesn’t exactly swing for the fences in a full-fledged, honest effort. I’m not saying he’s bad, at all, I just think that at times he’s a bit too flat. He plays that broken down guy well, there’s no doubt. But it feels like he doesn’t go from one place to another, there’s always this stagnant feeling to the Ben Carson character. Neither is he meant to go and turn into some new person, I just feel like there’s not much range here in Sutherland. Maybe that isn’t his fault, either. Could just be the script from Aja and Levasseur didn’t give Carson enough life on the page. Because I certainly think Sutherland is a good actor – not a fan of his Jack Bauer turn but I love him in Stand by Me, Freeway, A Time to Kill, and more. So he’s capable of range, I just don’t see much of it in the character itself, therefore we don’t see much out of Sutherland. Though, what he is given he plays well. As I said, I buy him as that sort of broken down, washed up/disgraced former cop figure. With that bit, he does what he can.
Otherwise, as I said, no one else truly grabbed me other than a couple of the supporting actors with creepy parts to play. Paula Patton certainly did not do anything for me; I find her bland and could take her or leave her, preferably she’d be left.
By far, my favourite part about Mirrors is the backstory of what’s going on inside the Mayflower Department Store. Once the film gets to the 1 hour 20 minute mark and Ben Carson is starting to unravel the Esseker mystery, this is where things get fairly creepy and unsettling. Not that it’s like blow your socks off scary, I just enjoy the mystery, the creepy moments when Carson goes to see the nun, tracking down information, it’s all pretty disturbing. I dig that whole final half hour. It’s by no means perfect, but it has that macabre backwoods element which I really love. To tell you the truth, I could’ve gone for a prequel where Aja explored the origin story in fuller detail, showing the Esseker girl and the lead-up to everything, her ‘possession’ or what not and that whole angle. The execution leaves something to be desired, all the same I thought Aja and Levasseur did a decent job with the story as opposed to the lacklustre work they did with dialogue and character development.
In the end, I’ll give Mirrors a 3 out of 5 stars. It’s not the worst of what Alexandre Aja has to offer, however, I also can’t say it’s one of his best. A mid-range effort on his part. Mostly, it’s the CGI and nonsense in the plot that throws me off, coupled with not a whole lot of stellar acting. The writing could’ve been done much better. There’s not only bad dialogue, there is a major lack of character development, as well as just some parts that didn’t feel to make a whole lot of sense even when it comes to the movie’s own internal logic. The finale was my favourite part, yet even some points there I said to myself “Hmm what?” and didn’t exactly feel like things went where they needed to go ultimately.
Also the ending sets things up for a sequel. I hate that. You can go for a downbeat, horrific ending that doesn’t have to be a lead-in to a sequel, which it feels like here. This would’ve worked with a haunting, open end but instead it’s like Aja just wanted to set it up so that someone else could spin this into another film.
Aside from those points that I thought were lacking, or were downright bad, I do enjoy the backstory of the film. There’s a lot of creepy things going on in that story and even if they were not represented as accurately and effectively as possible to maximize the horror/terror in the final product, I still think Aja did a decent job at trying to draw out some of the creepiness that was there. All in all, this is not something I’ll probably watch again, though, I did enjoy it enough to seek it out to review it and then watch it for a second time. This will be my last. I much prefer Aja’s remake of the Wes Craven classic The Hills Have Eyes, his French gore horror masterpiece High Tension and his film adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel Horns, and still there are a good deal who think the latter of those two is garbage; maybe some even don’t like the first. But me, I love Aja, and even though this is far from a great horror, I still give him credit for trying to instil a bit of old school-ness into his films, whether it be classic style supernatural ghost story stuff or the presence of some wild practical make-up effects.
Just search elsewhere to find his best work, you aren’t going to find it in this film.
The Purge: Anarchy. 2014. Directed & Written by James DeMonaco.
Starring Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Jack Conley, Noel Gugliemi, Castulo Guerra, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Edwin Hodge. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 103 minutes.
★★★★My favourite thing about the fact The Purge: Anarchy exists is that there is room for exploration within the speculative universe that the film/its predecessor inhabits.
There are a lot of social issues in both these films, especially the sequel. Because what we’re seeing in Anarchy here is a group of stories which represent the wide reach of social consequences that enacting an event such as The Purge might cause. It would mean so many different things to so many different people, of all kinds, of all mindsets and sensibilities, of all mental states.
People want to continually try and say that The Purge as a concept would never happen, a government would not allow it. THESE FILMS TAKE PLACE IN A WORLD WHERE AMERICA HAS BECOME A FULL-FLEDGED TOTALITARIAN REGIME! If you don’t understand that and you can’t recognize what that means, then you probably shouldn’t be judging the film because you think “This would never happen”, and you might not want to keep talking about it. Because this is not meant to happen in our reality, this is speculative fiction, it’s a horror-thriller within a fictional near future in America.
So strap in, have some fun. Stop being so serious all the time….
RELEASE. THE. BEAST.The Purge: Anarchy takes place on the verge of the annual Purge event, March 21st in 2023.
Several stories are happening at once. Everyone counts down to Purge time.
On one end of town, Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Cali Sanchez (Zoë Soul) lived with Eva’s sick father, Rico (John Beasley).
Then there are Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a couple who’ve clearly hit rough times, and they end up stranded with car trouble just as the event begins to come down upon the city.
All the while, Leo “Sarge” Barnes (Frank Grillo) has a personal tragedy which drives him. He has all kinds of weaponry, a car made to sustain damage throughout The Purge, and there’s obviously someone, or some people, that he seems to be looking for; his bedroom wall has pictures plastered over it.
Once the murder on the streets begins, including the viciously callous Big Daddy (Jack Conley), Sarge and the others end up coming together as the violence escalates to epic proportions, and they’re all forced to trust one another. At least for a little while.SPOILERS AHEAD.
The part of the plot that scares me most is the angle with Papa Rico (John Beasley) because it speaks to social consequences of a different kind than just simply racially motivated, and now sanctioned one night a year in March, murder. Here, we have a man selling himself to a bunch of sick white folk who want to have their Purge in a perceived civilized, more quaint and special manner, and above SAFELY because they’re true cowards who want the thrill without the risk; a celebratory bit of Purging, if you will, dressed to the nines with champagne on-hand.
It’s sick, and it is also something you can imagine happening – brave, brave people sacrificing themselves in such a manner in order to afford better lives for their family members, offering themselves up on the one night a year murder is legal just to help out with the bills and the rent, all because they’re old, or they’re sick, or they just simply don’t want to live in a sick America that has descended into madness.
Great, effective part to the plot that I find highly disturbing in its own right.Then you’ve got Sarge (Frank Grillo) whose motivation to Purge is not like so many of the other maniacs out looking for a sick thrill every March 21st. No, Sarge heads out in the dark of night for the Purge because he has a vendetta, he needs revenge. He isn’t looking for innocents to kill, or perceived ‘scum of society’ (as the fresh young whites in the first film were out doing). He’s got a score to settle. Plus, he’s got the gear and the firepower to make sure the job gets done, and gets done damn well.
I think Grillo is a talented actor. He might not have the extreme range of some others, but he has a lot of heart. I really do think he’s good in this role. Also, the character itself I dig because it shows a whole other angle to the entire Purge that we didn’t get to see in the first film. So to have a guy like Grillo play Sarge worked; he didn’t need to act to any Shakespearean level, he just had to give it some guts, which panned out perfectly. Grillo is a physical dude and that helped for this performance.There’s a genuinely good level of action in this one that the first doesn’t reach. Not to say that’s a problem for the original, but I like that there’s some more excitement here. The premise of The Purge here is bigger in scope, involving more of the city, more people, instead of the more confined location in the first film.
Not only that, I found things truly terrifying. I mean, in The Purge there’s a degree of safety for awhile until things get going and people start to break into James Sandin’s home. Here, there’s just chaos and madness in the streets. Seeing some of the masked people in the streets wandering about with machetes, guns, all sorts of weapons – it’s chilling at times. Imagine getting caught trying to get home and then The Purge comes down on you; what would you do? Run like fucking hell. I like the tension involved in trying to imagine what it would be like on that one night out in those streets. It’d be like a nightmare come to life.There’s some appropriately twisted stuff in this movie.
One part that disturbed me was while Sarge (Frank Grillo) leads his rag-tag group around, they come across that woman with a megaphone just screaming absolute nonsense and firing off an assault rifle; corpses are littered across the street down below. Cracking scene that shows little glimpses into the world of others in this world of The Purge and the New Founding Fathers.
There are some excellent scenes like this, which take us further into the universe started in the first film, a creepily crazed vision of America from writer/director James DeMonaco.
A great bit is where a Wall Street banker type is strung up with a sign on him, bloodied, chains around his wrists and ankles – he robbed someone’s pensions, put some people in the poorhouse. You can see how so many would eventually start using The Purge to exact their brand of social justice, whatever flavour it might come in.
It’s funny – I see some complains about how Sarge was being prompted to reveal more about himself. What’s the problem there? Even while these people are willing to follow the man because he obviously can handle himself, don’t you think you’d want to know why this guy was out on the night of The Purge? I would. Might not keep pressing too much, yet still, he could’ve been leading them anywhere. I think it’s only natural someone would push to try and figure out who the hell this guy is, or was – because clearly he’s a changed man from who he’d been.
Plus, I mean… character development? I’m not saying The Purge: Anarchy is a perfect film, by any definition of the term. I just think people want to give it too hard of a time when it’s got a lot to offer.I love what this sequel brings to the table; it ups the ante, it makes things more wide and completes The Purge universe where the New Founding Fathers have taken control of society, wiping out the poor essentially. There are some not-so-great things here – usually I’m a fan of Michael K. Williams, but I don’t like this role. I thought the film could’ve done without that part. Perhaps it could’ve waited for the third film, round out a trilogy with a story centred on groups trying to eliminate The Purge and the totalitarian regime headed by the New Founding Fathers. Here, this was a plot that sort of gets lost in the mix. Good stuff, just didn’t work fully here.
There are great scenes here, some of action, some of horror with viciousness and that thriller element. Fits in with some good modern horror movies. I can’t say everything works the way it should, but I feel there’s enough here to make The Purge: Anarchy a worthy sequel to a nice little surprisingly fun film. Judge on your own. I do think there are social issues this movie explores, along with its predecessor. People will continue to pass these off as silly movies, though, they are much more than that. Even better, they’re fun, they’re entertainment, and if you let yourself you can enjoy them a good deal.
The Collection. 2012. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Josh Stewart, Emma Fitzpatrick, Christopher McDonald, Lee Tergesen, Tim Griffin, Andre Royo, Randall Archer, Shannon Kane, Brandon Molale, Erin Way, Johanna Braddy, and Michael Nardelli.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
My love for The Collector is strong, but I’m not so much a fan of The Collection. This sequel, though a good deal of fun, is not a great one in terms of doing anything smart.
What this sequel does is give us more of the evil Collector and his disturbing traps/kills, and it gives us more horror. All the while sacrificing good characters for amping up the scope of The Collector’s murder spree and his prolific status.
There were instances of characters lacking development in the first film, which I think carry over, even worse, to its sequel. Even further, The Collection is intent on adding more characters than are necessary to fill up the movie instead of maybe focusing on less characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more – a lot more, if I had it my way.
Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton essentially tried to go bigger with the scope of their villain, but instead of making things more interesting and intense, it mostly just made me roll my eyes.
There are a few things I did enjoy, they made the movie a decent bit of fun, but in the end Dunstan wasted the potential of The Collector as a new iconic horror villain in the sea of horror movies out there. While this movie absolutely makes The Collector into an even scarier sort, the creepiness in this sequel doesn’t come close to that of the original, trying to rely more on gore and increasingly intricate traps/set-ups within the villain’s hideout. Instead, there needed to be less reliance on new characters and stories and more focus on Arkin; he’s the whole reason things seemed to continue, he’s in the movie as a lead actor, I don’t know why they couldn’t have honed in more on him to make the whole story stay interesting.
The Collection begins after Arkin O’Brien (Josh Stewart) has been taken by The Collector, following the events of the previous film.
We see a young girl and her father, Mr. Peters (Christopher McDonald) sitting in the back of a car as they drive. The father promises to always be there for his daughter – right before they’re t-boned and the camera cuts away.
We also see some newsreel footage of different television stations reporting on the murder spree of The Collector, even brief descriptions of his M.O, et cetera.
Skip ahead to the young girl from before, she is now grown: Elena Peters (Emma Fitzpatrick).
One night Elena goes to one of those real hip parties where it’s in a seemingly abandoned warehouse, or some other equally dubious place (I don’t know why any real people actually do this sort of thing but in reality – they do). There, everyone dances and parties and has a great time.
Then, once Elena goes to the bathroom, there it is: the antique trunk. Inside, of course, is Arkin – the newest addition to The Collector’s collection. On release of Arkin, this triggers a foolishly elaborate trap killing just about every last person inside the building, shredding flesh and bone to bits as it works through a drunk and ecstasy’d crowd (no doubt) dancing their hearts out.
Arkin manages to make it out of the building alive, but unfortunately Elena gets taken by The Collector.
Once in the hospital, Arkin realizes his family is still in danger. He tells them to stay away awhile. Then, a man named Lucello (Lee Tergesen) comes looking for Arkin, asking for help to track down the man who took Elena; her father, Mr. Peters, is wealthy and has a team assembled to find where the man brought her.
Reluctantly Arkin goes along, and once they find The Collector’s lair, he is forced to head inside with Lucello and a team of mercenaries. Within those walls, they have no idea what to expect, and things devolve into nothing except chaos, blood, and death.
My problem with The Collection, as opposed to the first film, is that there’s too much going on. Already in The Collector, Dunstan and Melton focused too little on developing the characters of the family; while Arkin got proper treatment as a character, they did not. It’s a little worse in this one, sadly. Dunstan and Melton opt to include the new characters of Mr. Peters and his daughter Elena, even with a heavy backstory as they have, yet they’re not given as much depth as Arkin was in the first film.
The part that makes this such a downfall is the fact that Arkin is still a huge part of this film; he is the basic reason for the sequel, as the first movie ends with an excellent scene after the credits that pointed all signals go for a potential sequel. And it wasn’t like a cheesy, post-credits plea to say “we really want to do another movie”, it was just a great, disturbing finale to a movie. It came off unsettling.
But Dunstan and Melton passed up a great opportunity here. They clogged up the sequel with too many characters and Arkin suffered for it. Ahem, SPOILERS AHEAD! TURN BACK NOW OR FOREVER BE SPOILED: at the end of this movie, again, we get a great finale – again, setting up the possibility of another film to make this a trilogy – and it once more involves Arkin. So I just can’t help feeling the writers wasted an opportunity to let Arkin’s story grow. Sure, he is featured in a ton of the film’s runtime, however, it isn’t as if there’s much to him in this one. He’s residual here, when they should have amped Arkin up further; it’s probably Josh Stewart’s best role, to me, and they could’ve let him run more and more with it here. I’m not saying I know what would have been best/correct to do with the character here, I just know that what they did hasn’t done any justice for the character. It might’ve been just as interesting to have Arkin stuck in The Collector’s hideout, then somehow include his wife’s debt predicament in the whole matter.
That brings up another problem I have – his wife was in serious debt with loan sharks, the money was due at midnight the same night Arkin went to rob the Chase house, and yet there she is on the television giving interviews, hoping her husband will be spared by the murderer out there with him taken hostage. I mean, maybe the sharks didn’t come because of all the cop activity around Arkin and his family after he’s been taken by The Collector – I don’t know. It bothered me, though. Just feel like there was a good foundation for Arkin as a character built up in the first film and The Collection blew the potential it could have had.
This one feels as if it’s really a Saw rip-off, whereas I felt The Collector was distanced enough from its influences to be something on its own. Even just the opening sequence made me go “oh brrrrrother” and roll my eyes into the back of my head a-la-Liz Lemon. Things got more and more silly. At least in the first one the scope wasn’t as wide; the house was big, but it wasn’t massive like an old abandoned warehouse. It reeked to much of a Jigsaw-like situation. Other than the fact The Collector set traps in the first movie, I didn’t get that Jigsaw knock-off vibe. Here, I really do. Not in the character, in the way his lair is setup. I mean, he basically had homemade Dahmer-style zombies running around in there, and that was way over-the-top, I couldn’t handle it. The part with that one girl who he’d essentially Stockholm Syndrome’d I didn’t find so far fetched, especially when it comes to serial killer territory. But the wild drugged up people he had going on, the massive pile of bodies in the basement – it got increasingly desperate and derivative of Saw to the point where I realized Dunstan and Melton obviously ran out of ideas for this movie and fell back into their Saw formula (I guess that’s the danger when you’re involved with two or three of the movies in that series – maybe it stuck to them like the stink of shit).
Some of the traps here really bugged me – there’s one part where these cylindrical, spiked tubes come down and impale one of the mercenaries whom Lucello brought, and it just feels so god damn nonsensical. Even in the first movie there were a couple moments I thought “Man this is a bit much”, but none of them blew me away to the point I almost laughed. The Collection ends up with too many little bits that made me feel like laughing, or just made me want to shake my head. Too bad.
A part of The Collection I thoroughly did enjoy was the score. Again, Dunstan works with a Trent Reznor collaborator: Charlie Clouser. What a choice. The style of these movies really goes well with that industrial sound. Clouser opts for a more synthesized sound than Jerome Dillon did with the score for the first film, all the while still adding some real heavy riffs into his compositions. There are excellently ominous moments where Clouser goes for the synthesizer – bellowing, low tones almost shiver in our ears while The Collector stalks the halls of his hideout, looking for his prey – and then there are a few awesome guitar tracks.
There’s one part of the score from Clouser which starts with just short of 20 minutes left to the film that blows me away. It’s a great little guitar part with pounding drums, the foggy voices “ahhh” “ohhh” overtop, not too loud, and it sort of drones on in the background, making things feel epic. Leads up to some badassery on the part of Elena (Fitzpatrick) and Arkin (Stewart). Makes the big climactic moments feel all that much more intense. Amazing instance of Clouser’s power as a composer.
I can only give this sequel a 2.5 out of 5 stars. That’s honestly being generous.
A lot of my problem has to do with the lack of Arkin’s development into a more significant character. I mean, by all rights they could do a third film. Perhaps it could be a prequel, I don’t know, (SPOILER AHEAD RE: ENDING) but it might be interesting to see a movie that starts off with Arkin after the events of The Collection. We could pick up with Arkin surveying all the things in The Collector’s actual home, where he’d tracked the killer down and taken him hostage in the same antique trunk where Arkin had once been locked up. Even if the movie got part of the way through and The Collector turned the tables on Arkin, getting loose – we could then have an almost action-thriller mixed with horror, as Arkin takes off after The Collector, intent on finding him before the killer either finds him, or begins to take more victims, or worse – vanishes into thin air. Whatever happens, another film or not, I think Arkin was downgraded in this movie, even with all the screen time he gets; he could have been turned into something better.
You’ll have a bit of fun watching this, but it’s nowhere near as good as its predecessor. I hope to see another movie in the series, though. I love The Collector as a villain. I didn’t find him as creepy here as in the first either, however, I did think there were some interesting bits going on. Mostly, Dunstan and Melton tried to take their near-iconic villain to a level he wasn’t meant go. I liked The Collector as a villain who did elaborate things, yet on a small scale, not only ensuring better invisibility to law enforcement but also in terms of the film world – it made things more plausible, and easy, for the filmmakers while things stayed on a limited scale. Bringing this sequel to a bigger, wider arena in terms of The Collector’s hideout and the innovation of new traps for him to use, did the movie no favours. I can’t recommend it, other than for the completist, or fans of The Collector who just want to see a bit more of the villain in action; even if it’s lacklustre.
The Guest. 2014. Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett. Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, and Lance Reddick. Picturehouse.
Rated 14A. 99 minutes.
To begin, I’ve been a fan of Adam Wingard a long while. I think the first time I actually saw one of his films it was A Horrible Way to Die, which I recently got on Blu ray and enjoyed again to the fullest. After that I got the chance to see both Home Sick and Pop Skull within a couple days. Though I enjoy his later work more, I still really dug those films. Wingard really has a different sensibility about the way he makes movies than a lot of new, young horror directors. Not to mention, Simon Barrett, who has been writing films for Wingard since, I believe, A Horrible Way to Die. Barrett is a really interesting writer; another of his works I enjoyed before his partnership with Wingard is the creepy Confederate gold horror Dead Birds. Together, the two of these guys are a great pair as writer-director partnerships go. Especially in the horror genre. I think these guys continually prove they’re the next big thing (hell – I think they’re the big thing right now) in horror.
That being said, after You’re Next, Barrett and Wingard have moved onto a slight change of pace with The Guest.
This story follows a young soldier named David (Stevens). The film begins as we follow behind him, jogging. Soon, he reaches the home of a soldier he knew, Caleb, who recently died. David tells the family Caleb wanted him to find them and give them his love. David also says he promised Caleb he’d do anything possible to help them. Anna (Monroe), Caleb’s sister, seems suspicious. However, the rest of the family, especially the mother (Sheila Kelley) and younger brother (Brendan Meyer), take a liking to David. Even some of Anna’s friends, including a sleazy sort of dude named Craig (a nice small role played by Joel David Moore), think David is the best. Eventually, David’s past comes back to haunt him. People start dying.
And soon enough, Anna starts finding things out about David; dangerous things.
The movie plays out like something we’ve seen before, and yet The Guest feels different. A lot of people focus on it seemingly being a throwback to 1980s action-thrillers, and also some of John Carpenter’s works specifically, which I agree; a lot of this film seems very much inspired by the look of Carpenter, as well as the feel of certain action movies from the 80s, most specifically probably The Terminator. Regardless, The Guest is not some 80s rehash. It’s a smart little thriller with the entertainment of thrillers we’ve known before. Yes, there are influences here. Yes, the soundtrack is most certainly a heavy lean towards the 80s.
But Barrett and Wingard both are too clever to make this just a throwback piece.
For anyone who has not actually seen The Guest yet, what I’m about to say in the next little bit has a huge SPOILER in it. So, if you’d rather not have the film spoiled, and I’d rather you not because I don’t want anyone complaining when I’ve clearly forewarned them (even though I think the whole concept of ‘spoiler alert’ is ridiculous – if you don’t want anything spoiled, stay away from the fucking internet), PLEASE TURN BACK.
So, one of my favourite pieces in the entire movie is nearing the finale. Just as things start going haywire for David, he and Mrs. Peterson (Kelley) are in the kitchen, taking cover from gunfire and such. I honestly believed David was going to protect the family. I figured we’d be treated to a massive shootout, as well as maybe a few hand-to-hand combat scenes. Instead, Barrett subverts those expectations, and David instead stabs Mrs. Peterson just before she yells to the men outside the house as she figures out his intentions. I really didn’t see that coming. Also, I think this is really clever because even earlier when David kills two other people, we don’t necessarily switch him to the bad guy. We’re still wondering what exactly is going on with him; maybe the government has done his head in, maybe they turned him into a killing machine without the off switch – who knows?
But once David kills the mother, all bets are off. We now see him as an unstoppable force. He strategically snuffs out any single person who may, or possibly may not, it doesn’t matter, become a trail leading back to him. Then from this point on things get even wilder.
This is one of the many reasons I really enjoy The Guest. Another thing – Wingard avoids going for some extended, unnecessary sex scene during a party in the film. Whereas a lot of other filmmakers might make it into a whole scene, Wingard keeps it at a very brief few shots, which gives us enough information to deduce that, yes, the two characters indeed have sex.
It’s not that I’m against sex scenes. In fact, I’m not at all. I think if the plot provides a moment where a sex scene is organic and natural, then why not? But on the contrary, if there is no need for it, if it doesn’t serve the plot or characters in any way, then why include it? Only makes for a bit of fast forward. You can either have sex or watch it on the internet whenever you want – it doesn’t need to be filler in a movie. Not for me anyways. Kudos to Wingard for not falling into the same old traps other filmmakers do. Instead, he uses every scene, every shot, because they’re all meant to be in there. Signs of a good filmmaker, in my opinion.
I really enjoyed Dan Stevens as David. I’ve never personally seen him in anything else, though I know what he’s done. His portrayal of this character was incredible. He swung between charming and handsome, to dark (still handsome) and brooding. There were times he genuinely chilled me with a few of the looks on his face; not even his words, just expressions. I think I’ll definitely have to see some of his other work. Great casting.
Though there are a few small performances I enjoyed (Ethan Embry as a small-time arms dealer, Joel David Moore as the burnt out Craig, Lance Reddick as Major Carver, the always unique Leland Orser as Mr. Peterson), the one other performance aside from Stevens I enjoyed most was Maika Monroe. She did a wonderful job as Anna. Again, I don’t ever really recall seeing her in anything else, but she was great here. This could’ve easily been played badly had they cast someone else, however, Monroe turns the character of Anna into someone less-angsty and a bit more intelligent than most young characters we see in horrors, action-thrillers, and the lot. Also, she gets to utter the final line – I absolutely love it. The way she says it, the three words themselves; it all puts things perfectly in perspective. Another great instance of casting. She and Stevens played well off one another, as well. Some really great scenes between the two.
The Guest is a fun and weird ride through what could have been a typical action-thriller, but instead comes off as the next legitimate step on the path towards greatness for Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. I think this is not only better than most action coming out post-2000, it’s also just one of the better action-thrillers I’ve seen. I recently rewatched The Terminator on Blu ray (and I probably consider that to be the best action-thriller ever), and I can honestly say, for me, The Guest ranks up there with that film.
I love the dialogue, as I usually do in movies scripted by Barrett; I never find myself stopping and wondering why someone had to say that, why the screenwriter left this in there, et cetera. The plot is a lot of fun, and Wingard really executes things well. He is great with a lot of the handheld work in his previous films, but I think with the bigger budgets his and Barrett’s talents have started bringing in his films will start to see more and more stabilized framing. Not to say handheld isn’t good, or that Wingard isn’t good at it (the opposite – as I said he is great), I just think with The Guest, Wingard proves he is capable of true beauty with more steady framing and shot composition. There are just absolutely magnificent shots here; one such action-style shot is when Craig (Moore) is running away from David, who lets him go, and eventually picks him off with a headshot from long range. Just really great and twisted stuff.
The Guest will be on Blu ray January 6th, but is also going to be available for purchase as a Digital HD release on December 16th through VOD services. As soon as you can, check this out. I’m looking forward to the Blu ray because this is a gorgeous looking film with great camerawork, a killer soundtrack, and some top notch performances.