One of the best intertextual horror films out there: a deconstructionist look at the slasher sub-genre.
Nothing out of the ordinary here. Yet ROVDYR (a.k.a MANHUNT) packs a visceral, brutish punch all the same.
Scarce. 2008. Directed & Written by Jesse Thomas Cook and John Geddes.
Starring Steve Warren, Gary Fischer, Chris Warrilow, Thomas Webb, John Geddes, Jesse Thomas Cook, Stephanie Banting, Gavin Peacock, Matt Griffin, Jaclyn Pampalone, Jackie Eddolls, & Jason Derushie.
Bloodlife Films/Two Door Four Door Pictures.
Rated 18A. 93 minutes.
Some movies are so bad they’re good. Others are just downright bad, to the point you’re unable to enjoy anything about them other than fleeting moments. Often times you can find enjoyment in a bad film because it’s fun to laugh, poke fun, point out all the bad effects, performances, and whatever else makes you chuckle a little. In certain situations depending on the film, this can make for a so-bad-it’s-good cinema experience.
Then there are horror flicks like Scarce, which cross over into the so-bad-it’s-embarrassing category. This little Canadian horror is never quite able to find its footing. A few scenes are creepy, a bunch are gory and nasty. Other than that it’s poor acting, uninspired directing, and a general mash of ill conceived attempts at tackling the backwoods cannibal horror it so clearly reveres.
Funny. I had a better time watching the Making Of documentary included on the DVD than I did watching the film. That’s only half a lie. I always try to find the good in each movie I watch, no matter how bad it gets. Problem being that there just is not good in every movie. Not all art is art – some of it’s pop, some of it’s art, some of it’s trash. Those are the odds. And odds are, you’ll also agree with me on this one.
One of the immediately awful parts about Scarce is the fact it’s a Canadian production, clearly filmed in Canada and with Canadian actors, yet they’ve insisted on making it out as an American setting. First off, the accents of a couple actors give away this whole fact. Secondly, I’m not entirely sure why they would bother doing this when there are plenty of backwoods locations across Canada where you can set an isolated film such as this one. Often it’s to appear more commercial, though I’m still not sold on that being of any use.
Later, it isn’t just the performances that are weak. Even little moments that are meant to be scary or dramatic come off as weakened thuds, rather than landing with any impact. For instance, at one point Ivan (Steve Warren) whacks Dustin (Thomas Webb) as he exits the outhouse, and this not at all any type of large stunt, it’s not expensive or intricate, but it looks like absolute dog shit. Small moments like this come off as poorly conceived and executed, which does nothing for the film overall. Only makes the amateur, low budget feel of the movie more evident – this doesn’t always detract from independent cinema, only when it’s painfully obvious, almost pathetically so like here.
The acting is what really does Scarce no justice. While certain elements of the plot and a couple nasty bits of blood are intriguing enough, there’s no good acting to be found. And I don’t care how interesting of a story, or how creepy any of the scenes can get, without solid acting there’s no way any movie can rise above its flaws and feel enjoyable. Although, I have to give it to Steve Warren. Sometimes he can be the worst of them, in terms of performance. All the same, in comparison with his murderous counterpart played by Gary Fischer, his work is decent. In a couple scenes he’s terribly cheesy and forced, but every now and then he’s eerie beyond belief. So even if his acting isn’t close to great, he’s certainly one of the better parts about the performances even if he shits the bed in his role from time to time.
The backwoods cannibal sub-genre in horror has been done time and time again. Many of us horror fans love a good dose of cannibalism, especially if it’s going down in the isolation of secluded, wooded areas. Right back to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a personal favourite of mine (and so many others), and all the way up to the mostly yawn inducing Wrong Turn franchise. Most of Scarce just feels lazy. As if the writer-director pair opted to take many of the cliched elements in the sub-genre and jam them into the single plot. A lot of the writing itself is lame. There are absolutely unsettling qualities. However, dialogue such as when Ivan talks about how they’ll soon be “nothing but [his] shit” and other of his/Wade’s ramblings make the story and the its characters more laughable.
Visually, there are some moments I enjoy quite a bit. The biggest is when Ivan and Wade take the guys out in the morning to let them free in the woods, before hunting them with a rifle, and there’s this excellently eerie piece of music from the score along with a stylized, brief sequence of Wade hauling the two victims by their chains, them bloody and worn down. This was a solid, if not too short scene. A little while later once the guys are running through the forest, there are some nice shots. It’s too bad this couldn’t have extended to the rest of the sequences where everything felt overwhelmingly bland. These couple minutes actually look great and then we quickly return to the film’s laziness.
Finally, it’s the hole blown in Ivan that takes the cake for best effect. They probably blew a large portion of budget on this one gag alone, as it’s a combination of CGI and practical work. Nevertheless, it definitely works, and the hole in his torso looks genuine. A nice dose of gore in the the final ten minutes to really try and impress us. Too little too late, but a noble effort indeed.
I can’t give this any more than 1&1/2 stars. Even then I’m not totally sure it deserves that much. Still, there are little elements in Scarce that give you enough to hold onto, if only for a little while. You certainly won’t be blown away, by anything. Not once.
At the same time, give it a chance and at least see the effects. There’s a bit of sloppy gore, some wild blood. I own it simply because I bought it on a whim for $10 somewhere. Definitely not something I’d seek out to buy otherwise. At least there’s partly some spirit of horror alive in this flick. Underneath so much less than mediocre fare.
The Hills Run Red. 2009. Directed by Dave Parker. Screenplay by John Dombrow & David J. Schow.
Starring Sophie Monk, Tad Hilgenbrink, William Sadler, Janet Montgomery, Alex Wyndham, Ewan Bailey, & Danko Jordanov. Fever Dreams/Warner Premiere/Dark Castle Entertainment.
Rated R. 81 minutes.
I’m a lover of the slasher sub-genre. When I was young, renting a slasher flick was like the ultimate rebellion in terms of what I could rent at the video store. I’d seek out any little film if it had an interesting mask, a creepy villain, anything that felt ready made to chill. Sometimes that led me to terrible efforts that didn’t simply show their budget, but also contained nothing in the way of good acting or decent writing. Other times I stumbled across hidden gold, movies to this day I still watch on occasion. Back in the day this wound up introducing me to classics like The Burning and the wonderfully unique Candyman.
In 2010, I got the chance to see The Hills Run Red. There are times the acting isn’t completely amazing, though never is it pitiful like some slashers at the bottom of the barrel. But what this sub-genre picture does right is it brings an interesting and unique story, also offering up a nasty slasher villain with an eerie mask.
So for all its fault, this film tries hard. Boasting a premise centred around a fabled slasher movie made by reclusive auteur horror director named Wilson Wyler Concannon, The Hills Run Red takes on the DNA of a backwoods thriller that takes city folk into the deep, dark woods. What lies beneath is a twisted and vicious slasher that has such bloody sights to show us.
The mask is creepy enough on its own. Sadly this one won’t turn into a franchise, though it would make for one hell of a series in my mind. But that mask, the baby face, it has the potential to be iconic. Babyface himself is a terrifying figure. The way we slowly find out more about him throughout the screenplay is excellent. And the writing also serves him well. Instead of seeing some of the more gruesome moments, such as him assaulting Serina (Janet Montgomery) which clearly happens as evidenced by the post-credits scene, the writers opt to let the lead-up speak for itself. The blood and gore is there for Babyface, however, as opposed to some other movies with similar events this one decides not to go too hard for the jugular on unnecessary sexual violence. And that makes the villain scarier to me. Sure, he still does awful things. Not seeing some of them increases the fear, as what we don’t see then becomes heavier than what we do. There’s one moment where Babyface becomes infinitely more unnerving: when he captures Serina she tries pleading with him as if he’s this absolute maniac, then he speaks to her in plain words, so matter-of-fact and – dare I say it – sane. His brief line or two here sends chills down my spine.
We got solid doses of blood here. Even the movie within a movie shot where the blood literally runs down the hills actually used a massive amount of fake blood, which in turn looks awesome. The cult slasher they track down is fun, as we get to see actual clips ourselves. Between the kills there and those in the actual movie itself, there is plenty to indulge.
A few particularly solid slasher kills. One is the two trees scene from the lost movie by Concannon where Babyface essentially tears a woman apart with barbed wire. This one is outrageous, but so much horrific fun. Its implausibility be damned; I love a weird, wild murder like that amongst some of the others. This is a trope of the sub-genre, and director Dave Parker uses it well, among others. Then there’s some of the more realistic stuff like later when Lalo (Alex Wyndham) is being tortured and killed. Finally, we return to the excellently ridiculous stuff such as when Babyface has his mask ripped off, then is forced to wrap it back on with barbed wire. Gnarly stuff, which I dig. The entire final 15 minutes has got some proper horror work, from the kills and the blood to the face underneath Babyface’s mask. All of it is the epitome of macabre and wonderfully grim.
The performances are decent. However, it’s William Sadler and Sophie Monk that are worth watching. Sadler is always enjoyable – I’ll always remember him most as the stuttering, hard ass convict in The Shawshank Redemption. Here, he gets very dark. Concannon is a mystery, an enigma, and he seems pretentious like an arthouse horror director full of himself to the point of nausea. Later on we discover there are highly hideous layers to the skin he wears for the outside world, and Sadler brings out the mania of the character so well in the last half hour (or less) once we see him more. Then there’s Monk, someone I’ve personally never watched in anything. She doesn’t do anything overly amazing, but she does in fact fool me. Part of that’s the writing. Yet she is able to subtly play a part that could easily telegraph its development miles ahead. Rather, Monk gives us a view of this complex woman, and then when her character is fully fleshed out near the end it’s genuinely surprising. Nothing awards calibre, though this film doesn’t need anything like that. Monk plays it coy and sexy early on as the junkie stripper, then becomes much more sinister as the time goes on.
Also, I cannot do a review without mentioning the man playing our unnerving slasher villain, Danko Jordanov. He is silent the entire time except for grunts mostly, then the one or two lines which absolutely crush my soul, so to keep a certain presence onscreen with only a costume and a mask and his physical intimidation is an impressive feat. Yes, the mask is a scary piece in itself. Aside from that just how Babyface moves inspires fear. To me, this killer is iconic. I don’t care if this movie is way under watched and unloved. Babyface belongs up there with a lot of the big baddies in the slasher sub-genre.
No, The Hills Run Red is nowhere near a great slasher picture. Although I’ve got to say, it’s a sort of favourite of mine ever since first seeing it. It suffers from some less than stellar acting from a few of those involved. Monk and Sadler save the film on that front just by giving it their all with an enticing energy. What this movie lacks in certain areas it makes up for greatly in its fun. There are wild kills, raw and honest ones. The central aspects, its killer and the lost film, are interesting. On the whole, the elements which need to work are well executed. Every time I throw on the DVD now I still have a ton of horror fun, no matter if a few bits and pieces don’t match up with its best parts.
And no, this isn’t going on to become a series, spawning an entire franchise.
But let me tell you this, none of that means Babyface isn’t a great slasher killer. He is a villain commanding attention, fear, respect. Okay, maybe not the last one.
Just don’t expect to live if you hear his rattle. Respect that.
Don’t Go In The House. 1979. Directed by Joseph Ellison. Screenplay by Ellison, Ellen Hammill, & Joe Masefield.
Starring Dan Grimaldi, Charles Bonet, Bill Ricci, Robert Osth, Dennis M. Hunter, John Hedberg, Ruth Dardick, Johanna Brushay, Darcy Shean, Mary Ann Chinn, & Lois Verkruepse. Turbine Films Inc.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Still banned in certain countries to this day, Don’t Go In The House was filmed in 1979 then released the following year to become one of the infamous Video Nasties. It ended up on the original list, though managed to avoid prosecution after certain cuts were made and the film saw a release in ’87. And while there’s a certain part of me which understands why some might find themselves horrified by this movie, it isn’t all shock and awe. Of course, for a movie about a man who burns women to death in his basement with a flame thrower it’s natural there are gruesome scenes. The entire concept and the plot is truly horrifying, a reason why this film has endured in the hearts of genre fans for years. Quentin Tarantino for one is a huge fan of the film having played it at his film festival several times, as well as mentioning the movie had an impact on him when he first saw it. Because for a slasher horror with a gimmick this doesn’t back down. It both delivers the goods any slasher demands, serving up lots of the sub-genre killing we’d expect, and also provides a decent enough view into the lead character, whose complex psychology brings about a series of destructive consequences that eventually lead to a violent catharsis. Underneath its meager
slashburn-and-kill premise, Don’t Go In The House looks at a man damaged by the psychopathy of his mother, and also encapsulates the end of a decade into the beginning of another with the ’70s fading in the rear-view while 1980 reared its head.
Working at an incinerator, Donny Kohler (Dan Grimaldi) witnesses a man almost burn to death in front of him. Freezing, unable to help, he’s ostracized by his boss. A co-worker named Bobby (Robert Osth) befriends him to try and make sure Donny doesn’t blame himself for anything. But while Bobby tries to be Donny’s buddy, the latter is busy out doing other things. Or well, he stays at home a lot. Because down in his basement Danny decided to build a special room. It’s lined with steel sheeting. In the middle hangs a chain. And at night Danny brings women home, chains them in his little room, then sets them on fire with a flamethrower.
See Danny has issues with his mother – the one sitting dead and dried up in his house, the one he still talks to casually, every day. The more women he takes home and burns to death, the crazier he gets. And going to the disco with Bobby just can’t seem to get him out of the habit.
For a time without the elaborate special effects of today, Ellison does a good job in ’79 making directorial choices so as to not have to focus on anything that might look less than stellar. Sure, it still looks like a film out of the late ’70s, in both good and bad ways. But the burnings especially are carried out with precision to make the scenes more effective, rather than having them come off as disingenuous, making things look terrible and campy, in the wrong sense.
There’s an interesting change in the film where we go from disco music to rock. This is ultimately the shift from the ’70s to the ’80s. Granted, there was plenty electronic music and other New Wave stuff to come from the 1980s, but what it means is the death of disco, a shift – even if only part of the way – back towards rock n’ roll again. A new era begins, the disco inferno burning out with Donny’s flamethrower. Finally, it is also the burning in effigy of his mother. Naturally those are what his victims stand in for, the memory of her, the things she did to him as a boy. Yet further than that the shift from disco music Donny played earlier to the rock n’ roll he falls asleep to, before having hallucinations of his mother and burned corpses, is another symbolic gesture of his departure from dear old mom. Similar to Norman Bates, this psycho has himself a mommy problem. Obvious enough, but the script and the direction together make this an impressive character study of a man driven to sick compulsions all due to the relationship he had with an abusive, domineering mother.
The film’s brutality is astounding. And yet there’s only truly graphic scene throughout the entirety, which is the first time Donny tries out his little fire room, a.k.a the oven, as I call it. We get what would come after this as the obligatory 1980s slasher horror nudity, but then comes the savagery when he burns the woman in his room alive. Even while it’s graphic, the editing and Ellison’s choices as director make the whole burning sequence disturbingly memorable without any gore. And like I mentioned the effects come off well because of this effort. Even though there’s plenty more to creep us out the movie’s violent horror elements hinge on this kill. Upon revisiting this one, a major reason why it left an impression on me is because for what’s technically a slasher sub-genre flick, Ellison’s movie drums up tons of terror with only one actual graphic murder. Usually these types of horrors are based on a body count. Instead of going with what would become a major trend in the ’80s, Ellison kicks off an important decade for the genre with one of the most atypical and enjoyable slasher movies out there.
For me, this is one of those movies that only gets better every time I see it. Almost every time I forget about how eerie the dream sequences are, then they hit me like a ton of bricks. Don’t Go In The House has more to it than meets the eye. It presents as another Don’t-titled generic horror that’s ready to offer up all the same trappings of most every film in the sub-genre. Director-writer Joseph Ellison went another way, studying the character of a fragile young man that turned into an adult killer while also ushering one decade out and saying hello to the next one.
This little flick has the goods and is all too often passed over as a lesser offering in horror. I say that is nonsense. Give this a chance, look at it closer. But mostly, let it wash over you, from the disco to the dark subject matter and the fire – oh, the fire! It’s all glorious.
Man Vs. 2015. Directed by Adam Massey. Screenplay by Thomas Michael.
Starring Chris Diamantopoulos, Chloe Bradt, Michael Cram, Kelly Fanson, Sam Kalilieh, Alex Karzis, Constantine Meglis, Drew Nelson, & Kate Ziegler.
Unrated. 87 minutes.
When it comes to found footage, a film can often help itself by using a gimmick. Now, that does not always help. Although, sometimes the sub-genre is at its best when a film not only has a good story but also an interesting gimmick. The Poughkeepsie Tapes used found footage to explore the decades long trail of a demented serial killer. Afflicted tackles the vampire sub-genre within found footage framed by the world globetrotting trip of two lifelong buddies after one is diagnosed with a likely terminal illness. And the good ole Blair Witch Project had pretty much the first big, successful internet campaign mixed with a richly fleshed out fake mythology to propel it forward big time.
Man Vs. uses a premise I’ve long said would make for an interesting ride. With a main character whose job is very Les Stroud-like, and whose television series is quite the direct parallel to Survivorman, Adam Massey’s film is a creepy little flick. Some of the effects, specifically later in the film when we see what is in the woods with the main character, leave a lot to be desired. In fact, part of it is terrible CGI, the other parts equally terrible riff on Predator. But the suspense, the emotional journey of the protagonist, all the tension which builds up towards the conclusion, is every bit worth it. The pay off doesn’t fully cash the cheque this screenplay wrote for us. Still, Man Vs. does an interesting job with its premise, Chris Diamantopoulos carries the dramatic portion of the movie on his shoulders, as well as the fact there is a quiet atmosphere which will certainly give you a creep or two. Don’t expect the conclusion to offer much for what it stacks up going in, but enjoy what there is to find because it’s not all a waste. Though it borders on it.
Doug Woods (Chris Diamantopoulos) hosts a big television series called ‘Man Vs.’ that takes him to remote locations in the forest, where he’s left alone with only a few bare provisions, forced to encounter the wilderness and whatever it brings on his own. He is a TV celebrity, so part of him is bit of a show already. Though, it’s clear he knows his way around. After his brother Terry (Drew Nelson), Bill (Michael Cram), and Angie (Kelly Fanson) leave him at the latest location for the start of their newest season, Doug digs in. He finds food, a couple rabbits running around. He sleeps under the stars, he builds himself a little shelter. Everything is nearly idyllic. At least until something or someone starts messing with Doug.
When he finds his camp in disarray, a strange substance under his makeshift traps, even discovers his one and only Amp energy drink drained, the fact Doug’s not alone really hits home. Even worse when dead animals turn up all over his camp area and a big man-sized trap is left for him.
Can Doug survive this, too? Or is this one episode that’s likely never to air?
What’s interesting start off is how, usually, Doug has a bit of control. Because there’s the satellite phone lifeline. Introducing an eerie science fiction angle effectively puts him out there completely alone. So part of the plot really puts this guy, this survivalist, to an actual test. Also, like Les Stroud and his thoughts on the possibility of a sasquatch existing, Doug is a rational guy who spends a lot of time out in the wilderness, he sees a lot, hears so much, and that brings a degree of common sense-style knowledge – when he begins to question what exactly’s happening in those woods, there is an element of pure fear and doubt that works its way into the viewer, similar to how it does Doug himself. When people who are normally so grounded and rational minded find themselves questioning the presence of something ‘other’, it is much more of a shock than someone whose beliefs are fluid.
Actor Chris Diamantopoulos has a massive job to do with shouldering the weight of this film’s drama. If he weren’t as charismatic, the whole thing would’ve suffered much more. Instead, he gives us a very likeable Stroud-type guy. He is real, he’s got a family at home, his friends and the relationships with those who do the show, and so on. The writing helps, obviously, but it’s Diamantopoulos whose got to face the camera head on and be the only one onscreen for the better part of its entire 87-minute runtime. I’ve seen him in a number of things, most notably his delightfully unsettling turn on Hannibal, though, he is at his best here. Watching his Doug switch from pissed off and upset to putting a face on for the camera and his TV show, it is impressive at times. He gives us a view into what the life of a famous survivalist might be like, of course alongside a sci-fi situation that no survivalist would ever want to be in. His likeability and natural, relaxed attitude as the only person on camera really does well to help the screenplay feel organic.
I really feel the last 15 minutes or so does the entire film a terrible injustice. If they’d decided on another way out, Man Vs. could easily have come out on top as a great little found footage effort. Instead we’re given half baked nonsense, too many additions to know what to do with, and more of the brutally CGI’d creature in the woods. I’m convinced had they went without including direct looks at their creature, or maybe completely went with it unseen, the whole story would’ve came off better. Without ruining anything, Doug ends up at a camp and sees something there on a television set which shocks him to the core. It should come off as a moment of impact. Rather, it’s more of an eye roll scene that made me want to fast forward completely through the remaining few minutes.
This is a 2-star film. A lot of wasted potential. Diamantopoulos is the best part about this found footage sci-fi-like thriller. If not for him, there’d be very little to enjoy. The suspenseful scenes and all the tense plot development is interesting. To a point. With nothing to justify all its slow meandering towards a lackluster conclusion, Man Vs. is barely mediocre, and ultimately mostly a huge disappointment.
Afflicted. 2013. Directed/Written by Derek Lee & Clif Prowse.
Starring Derek Lee, Clif Prowse, Michael Gill, Baya Rehaz, Benjamin Zeitoun, Zach Gray, Jason Lee, Edo Van Breeman, Gary Redekop, Lily Py Lee, & Ellen Ferguson. Automatki Entertainment/IM Global/Téléfilm Canada.
Rated 14A. 85 minutes.
When I start reviews of films which use the found footage format, often I try to defend the sub-genre. Because while some don’t care for it there are certainly enough people out there, such as myself, who can still enjoy these movies. Particularly those that use the technique well. Afflicted doesn’t revolutionize the sub-genre, nor does it give us a plot and story that turn things on its head. What we do get is an interesting, well-filmed found footage horror that is full of mystery and has plenty of thrills. With two actual lifelong friends writing and directing, as well as starring in the picture, a dark and twisty path takes us along for the ride. Even with its flaws Derek Lee and Clif Prowse make Afflicted into an exciting little flick with solid pacing and tons of energy. This is a movie with the ability to impress via makeup effects, the lead performances, and its story also reels you in with a charmingly emotional beginning that slowly descends into the stuff of nightmarish terror.
Derek Lee (playing a version of himself) is diagnosed with a brain illness that can and will either paralyze him, or possibly kill him. So Derek and his closest friend Clif Prowse (also playing a version of himself) set out to travel the world. They plan on documenting every last second of their trip for a video blog, “Ends of the Earth”, and Clif takes all his video equipment, from body-mounted cameras to small Go Pro-styled units.
When they start to hop from one place to the next, Clif is determined to hook Derek up with a lady. But Derek beats his friend to the punch and runs into a beautiful woman at a club; they dance, they go home together. When Clif goes back to the room he finds Derek knocked out, bleeding from his head profusely, as well as a cut on his shoulder. Derek refuses to go to the hospital, even after vomiting everywhere and then later punching a hole right through concrete. As things get progressively more strange, Clif tries to convince Derek he needs to seek medical help.
Something takes over Derek’s senses. He starts to become something else. At first it seems beneficial in most ways, as Derek can run over 60km/hr and can jump over a story high. But the virus infecting him proves to be far from beneficial – Derek can’t eat anything without throwing it up, his body starts deteriorating, and his powers start to become more powerful than he thought possible.
The makeup effects are incredible. One of the first truly impressive moments is when Derek tries to take out a contact and pulls off part of his eye; such a simple effect, but how they shoot it works so well. All the effects get better as the film progresses, even the simple little things are done right, which adds a good dose of reality to things alongside the use of found footage. There’s a head that gets blown out the back with a gun at one point, and it is unreal how awesome it looks (plus you’ll be blown away similarly by the twist of it); such nasty effects work, dig it.
Also, not sure if it’s done digitally, but regardless – the Sun Test that Derek does on his hand is so gnarly, in the best sense. Added to that sequence is good sound design. As Derek runs through the streets, his skin sizzles and you can hear it underneath the plethora of other sounds, and is it ever well done. The body-mounted camera works like a first-person shooter video game here, which I enjoy. Though it’s shaky cam for a couple minutes, the found footage takes on a more action oriented perspective than simply people running through the dark, in the woods, screaming. So points for that whole segment, it is super neat.
All stunts involved are excellent, so perfectly executed. The car-punch scene was great, as are the scenes were Derek tries jumping up some buildings. Other than Chronicle, most found footage films don’t go for such big scenes. There are others that have tried, but none other than that film which succeeded like this one. Again, the body cam chase scenes do it for me. They made it look like a whole lot of fun, in the most dangerous way. Plus, the plot gets more frantic and wild, so the frenetic bits there play into that whole element.
The performances of both Derek Lee and Clif Prowse were good. It helps they are actually close friends and have made short films together, because their natural relationship comes across, sort of anchoring us to the characters almost immediately. Working from there, the screenplay is pretty solid. A few points could’ve been tightened, though, on the whole it is mostly intriguing. The movie’s exciting and certainly deserves 4 stars. With found footage it can be a really mixed bag more often than not. It’s still a sub-genre in which I’m very interested. It does have a lot to offer when used appropriately, which Lee and Prowse do here. Everything works towards a proper mix of horror, mystery, and thriller. We’re lucky to get a different type of vampire flick in the midst of so many sub-par films trying to do different things with the vampire lore. The last 20 minutes or so give the real goodies.
Another a.k.a Mark of the Witch. 2014. Directed & Written by Jason Bognacki.
Starring Paulie Redding, David Landry, Lillian Pennypacker, Maria Olsen, Michael St. Michaels, & Nancy Wolfe. Full Frame Features.
Not Rated. 80 minutes.
Generally, I’m an internet critic whose standards aren’t overly picky. If you’ve ready more than a handful of my reviews you’ll probably notice I’ve given out more 5-star reviews than others might in their own. But I don’t necessarily mean a 5-star film is always perfect; part of my judgement, as any of our judgement is, comes from a subjective place. You can never get rid of subjectivity. However, even while I try to give certain films a break for little nitpicky things there is a limit to my understanding. I’m not going to give a shit film a great rating. I just try to cut filmmakers some slack; it isn’t easy to make a great movie.
When it comes to movies like Another, there’s only so far my sympathies extend. I’m a sucker for possession movies, or anything to do with Satan (mainly because I don’t believe in any deities or any of that stuff and I can just enjoy the darkness for what it is). There are plenty movies out there tackling demonic possession. A good many retread the same trodden area as the last, too many doing home to or straight copying from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. The great horrors about supposed possessed people, and the entities possessing them, are few and far between. Another simply tries to mash too many things together, including too many changes in style, changes in tone, and the massive overuse of particular techniques that drive home the message that everything in this film tries too damn hard, paying off with nothing more than a couple fleeting moments worth watching.
A baby is carried by figures in black hoods and robes. A dark ceremony commences.
Cut to 18 years later. Jordyn (Paulie Redding) is celebrating her birthday with friends. Although, her Aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe) is being creepy. She brings up the fact Jordyn’s mother was at the same age as the daughter when she passed. Then Ruth goes ahead and stabs herself, screaming that “it‘s time.”
From that moment on, Jordyn finds her life changing. She spirals into a terrifying word of demonic possession, strange desire, and so much. Soon, Jordyn becomes aware that she may just be a relation of the devil himself.
The most grating thing about this movie is the fact half of it, at least, is filmed in slow-motion. Honestly, it is crazy. Never have I seen a technique so brutally beaten over the head of the viewer. At first before the slo-motion kicked in, I actually enjoyed the dark, sort of washed out look. But then it starts, and scene after scene is slowed down ridiculously, offering no sort of evidence it’s even used for a particular reason. Simply put, writer-director Jason Bognacki obviously couldn’t figure out a way to make it look unique, so he piled on the slow-motion. I hate to rag on a director so badly for something. It’s a really poor choice, though. The entire film drags on because of its overuse, and the repetition will just dull you to tears.
Even worse, there’s no practical work (re: effects) worth talking about. And I’m sorry to the filmmakers out there who may feel otherwise, but if you do a horror film especially and you have no practical makeup effects, instead opting to CGI things to death, then there’s no way I’m going to enjoy it. At least not to the point I’ll want to watch it again. Even if it’s half-and-half, I can dig that. In opposition to all that, Another goes for about 90% CGI and maybe, MAYBE, 10% practical. And those practical bits are so minute, I’m probably overselling it by saying there’s ten percent worth. Either way, even the CGI’d stuff looks bogus, including a terrible little showdown between two old women that could’ve been great yet comes off like some of the worst stuff from the 1980’s.
With a bunch of awful performances, a ton of terrible effects, as well as a story that meanders from one place to another trying to cram several sub-genres into one, Another a.k.a Mark of the Witch is one of the most unforgettable movies I’ve seen in ages. There was nothing I could find here worth the time it took to watch this dud. I’ve given it 1 single star, simply because I liked the beginning, the very end, and there’s a tiny scene after the credits which looks good. Other than that this is truly dreadful horror cinema. I never like to shit all over a film, but this one isn’t worth talking up in any sort of sense. Jason Bognacki tries his best, however, it’s almost as if he tried too hard, in too many different directions. Never does the film come together properly, which is a shame. As I said, I do love a good possession horror, or anything with the devil, witches, et cetera. This simply comes with nothing much for me to be impressed by, so I can’t push myself to try praising Bognacki, or anyone involved with the film. Want a better Mark of the Witch? Try the Mark of the Devil. Not at all the same, but whatever – better than wasting your time trying to slog through this unpolished bit of horror rubbish.
Hangman. 2015. Directed by Adam Mason. Screenplay by Simon Boyes & Adam Mason.
Starring Jeremy Sisto, Kate Ashfield, Ryan Simpkins, Ty Simpkins, Eric Michael Cole, Amy Smart, Ross Partridge, Ethan Harris-Riggs, Vincent Ventresca, Bruno Alexander, Erika Burke Rossa, and Jamie Lee. Produced by Hiding in the Attic.
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Adam Mason’s filmography, to me, is not exactly amazing. All the same, his work as a director proves he is at the very least still an artist whose main goal in horror is to be daring.
The first film of his I saw was The Devil’s Chair and I actually enjoyed it a good deal. It’s not perfect, but swings for the fences on almost every occasion. Then I ended up seeing Blood River, which focused heavily on characters, their development, and of course a nice dose of terror. However, his earlier film Broken did not impress me, at all. It was brutish, not in any good horror sense, and just downright bad.
When I first heard of Hangman the initial draw was Mason, as I do think he has a proper horror mind. It just doesn’t always translate perfectly to his films and their stories. Then I noticed Jeremy Sisto and Kate Ashfield were cast, and those names brought me into interest a little more. Sisto in particular is someone I’ve always enjoyed as an actor, no matter if the movies he’s in are good or not he is an actor whose performances are often stellar. Once I actually saw Hangman I actually couldn’t believe how badly it was being received. Not that I expected another found footage film to be received with open arms, but really this is nowhere near the shit quality of many other similarly styled releases. With a low-key atmosphere, handheld camerawork, and a very creepy villain in Hangman, this is a decent ride through familiar territory – with a gritty and horrifying focus on a madman who terrorizes families… all in the name of love.
I won’t draw this review out with an explanation of the plot. It’s easy. You’ll pick up quickly.
One of the most disturbing parts of the entire film is when the Hangman watches the married couple have sex, all the while masturbating himself. But it’s afterwards when they’re finished, sleeping, and the Hangman cries alone, hunched over his own body, shaking with the tears; this is the truly disturbed moment. Obviously the man is a loner. We could’ve figured that out on our own. However, this brief moment is not in here to shock, or to gross us out, or simply to be crass. It’s in this scene where you can almost tell the deep seated issues in the Hangman are clearly family related; the lack of love is staggering. Maybe I’m drawing out too much on that one. But to me, it works. Further than that, awhile later he waits until the family heads out for a big day of fun, then sits on the couch while looking through family albums. He proceeds to scream into a pillow, punching himself, flailing his arms, and again it is even more clear at this point – he is either unable to have a family, to find someone to love; he came from a terribly broken and fractured family himself; or, nobody could ever love him because maybe he’s a monster in real life, too.
Aside from the creepy quality of the Hangman character, he is extremely violent. The stabbings we witness are savage, bloody. At the same time, they aren’t overly long. They come fast and vicious, just like a real life stabbing does (I’ve seen one, unfortunately). So even with the low budget style of the film we’re treated to a couple nasty bits of slasher-styled horror.
The music from Antoni Maiovvi here was something I enjoyed quite a bit. Because part of why the found footage format works here is due to Mason’s having the killer using lots of gear. So likely, he edits his footage. This provides Mason with a sort of way out, to escape the trappings of the sub-genre. Back to Maiovvi’s music – the killer often listens to songs, whether in the attic or in his car, wherever. And even if it weren’t the case, Mason uses the found footage style, along with his plot and killer to give us the possibility that this sickening creep of a man also adds in music to his little homemade terrors. There’s a fun 80’s feel to the music, but it has such a dark sound. Really fitting. In particular, I love the first scene where Hangman follows Marley (Ryan Simpkins) with her boyfriend, and when the boyfriend catches Hangman watching them, confronting him, the killer only turns up his music; takes on an even more ominous tone.
A moment many people will point out is when the killer stabs a character to death, then texts on said character’s cell, his glove ripped. He’s clearly putting his fingerprints all over the place. Can’t be a slip up, it’s too obvious. Perhaps he is falling apart. This is evidenced by the following scene, as an empty house is filled with the spooky wails of his sadness. Honestly, this part got to me. The intensity and depravity only spirals downward from there. A disgusting act of the Hangman comes back now and really starts to haunt the family he’s tormenting. This is the pay-off. The greater portion of the film is a quiet slow burn thriller, also including plenty psychological horror.
A lot of people aren’t going to find much to love about Hangman. The cinematography is non-existent because this film truly takes on the found footage aesthetic through low-fi video shot on handheld cameras, as well as security-type units, all handled by the Hangman. So there’s a few terribly shaky scenes. Some moments are awful angles, as the Hangman films himself doing various things. For me, there’s an terrifying emotional element to Hangman that gets under the skin, it seeps inside you throughout the quick 85-minute runtime, and once you get to the finale the movie really takes you for a harsh ride. I expected something similar to what happened, in terms of violence. But I didn’t expect the way in which it was executed. Above anything else, the visceral aspect of the entire movie is what will get you. Try and work past any problems you have with the low-fi feel because I found there were excellently horrific things inside the story.
Everyone else be damned: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
I’ve watched a ton of films; over 4,100 and counting, as of this writing. Not trying to say that gives me authority. It does not. But I’d like to hope I know a decent film when I see one. This is quite a slow burning thriller with horror elements, however, it isn’t so slow that there’s anything bad about it. If that’s not your thing, fine. Just don’t knock it because the pace is slow. Maybe the pay-off isn’t what you wanted. I found it an emotionally tense movie with a massively disturbing villain at its core. Give it a try. Blame me if you really feel 85 minutes is a waste of life; get over yourself while you’re at it. I’ve seen far worse found footage entries, this one had some teeth and didn’t flinch.
FOX’s Scream Queen
Season 1, Episode 7: “Beware of Young Girls”
Directed by Barbara Brown
Written by Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the previous episode, “Seven Minutes in Hell” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Mommie Dearest” – click here
And we’re back at Kappa House for another night of horrors, plus a good few laughs.
Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) is consistently hilarious. She’s beyond oblivious, but to the point it’s comical. They all are really. Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande) is being laid to rest. Instead of a nice eulogy, Chanel #1 rants and raves about the “dumb dead whore” in the casket. It’s such a grim crack-up to me. Others will say it’s overkill. Not me. Totally in line with who Chanel #1 is and her personality is meant to be awful.
The others aren’t particularly upset. Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin) is more concerned with stirring shit; between suggesting a seance to mend things with #2 from beyond the grave, to bringing up how #2 banged Chad (Glen Powell).
Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd) leads their little Ouija board ceremony, alongside #1, #5, and Hester (Lea Michele). Things start to get a bit spooky once neither of them can admit to moving the Ouija. It spells out the unfaithfulness of Chad. Oh, I get it… obviously the girls are trying to mess with their fearless leader’s head.
More and more, the true character of Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad) comes out. She makes clear their game – her and the Red Devil(s) – is not kidnapping: it is murder. This is wild. Not just that, she and Wes Gardner (Oliver Hudson) are moving along quickly. They’ve got a serious relationship going now. Might spell trouble for Wes, as well as his sweet daughter Grace (Skyler Samuels).
Speaking of Grace, she is trying her hardest to get close with Gigi. Though, the more Grace tackles Gigi’s terrible fashion sense, the closer they’re becoming… the more Gigi digs her nose into things. She’s attempting to push Grace, and reporter Pete (Diego Boneta), towards Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Then we get a nice little Rosemary’s Baby visual homage with Feather McCarthy (Tavi Gevinson) looking so similar to Mia Farrow. Gigi suggests going to talk to her, a former Kappa Sister. Pete and Grace meet with her. She opens up a new little subplot involving Dean Munsch – turns out Feather slept with Munsch’s husband, creating an incredibly tense situation. Apparently, Cathy would then show up everywhere dressed like Feather, terrifying the young girl and everyone else. Lots and lots of stuff pointing towards Munsch as being involved with the Red Devils. But can we believe this? I feel there’s something more devious, more dark at play. But who can tell.
Back at Feather’s house, she discovers an ominous bloody arrow on the floor, a severed arm and motions to go THIS WAY. Further and further she heads upstairs, only to find more chopped body parts, more bloodily written directions on the wall. Inside one of the rooms, there is Steven Munsch (Philip Casnoff) – former husband of the Dean – his head cut off and in a fish tank.
Cut to Chanel #1, who walks in on Chad… in his boxers, lying in bed with a pink-collared goat. I honestly can’t get enough of Chad Radwell. He is a piece of shit, a misogynistic, terribly dumb man. But Chad’s so funny, he is the evisceration of brodom, of the dudebro code and all it represents. Then there’s Chanel – she represents the equally stupid and vicious type of girl who often, too often, falls for a guy like Chad. Together they’re downright ridiculous, which makes me laugh, over and over.
Let’s get back with Munsch, though. Cathy has a bad knee, complaining she fell down drunk last night. But Detective Chisolm (Jim Klock) and all the other cops are determined she killed her ex-husband. In turn, they speculate her to be the Red Devil Killer. I still don’t buy it. She obviously did something stupid a couple decades ago by covering up what happened to that poor pregnant girl in the bloody bathtub. I just do not think she’s part of the killings, moreover I’m convinced she’s a target.
Grace and Pete are already jerking each other off over their supposed victory. Everyone is settled: Dean Cathy Munsch is the killer. Case closed.
Oh, really? Well Munsch wants to see both Grace and Pete in the morning.
At the asylum ward, where Cathy’s now setup painting and relaxing with other patients, the place is rough. It’s part church, part snake pit. Seems like “therapy twice a day, plenty of time to rest and dream again” has started making a difference for the Dean. A bit of a revelation, really. Lots of creepy goodness here slash a few laughs.
Cathy breaks it down for the “crackerjack reporters“, letting them know nothing has been solved. Typical to the slasher sub-genre the police are being lazy, everybody is looking elsewhere than towards the proper directions. Either way, Pete and Grace are playing along for now. Munsch is way too smug to be the real killer, it’s as if she has no fear about any true conviction in the murders, so I’m inclined to keep believing she’s more a target of the Red Devil(s) than anything.
More good tackling of the slasher horror tropes – Pete ends up getting access to a ton of police files, pictures, et cetera, because of the detective’s utter laziness. I find Ryan Murphy & Co. do a great job lampooning so many aspects of the slasher movies we know and love (or hate).
More Ouija board for the Chanels. It only makes them go a little crazy. I’m not sure now if any of them were moving the board because they’re freaked out. Then Hester drops a bomb, saying they have to kill Chanel #1. A couple awesome suggestions from a Sugar Party to poisoning her through the nipples. They’re wasting no time, though. After #1 falls asleep, the ladies plan on murdering her.
Then we get a trippy little sequence where Chanel #1 sees #2 come back. ALSO HILARIOUS! Carl Sagan sits at the front desk of Hell. #2 has to spend eternity picking food out of the Husseins beards with her teeth. SO MANY great lines of dialogue with Ariana Grande delivering them: “She was probably just mad ’cause Adolf Hitler was motorboating my boobs.” Best of all – #2 advises #1 about the upcoming murder plot the girls are planning, apparently off getting a bowling ball to smash her head in. Tricky, tricky! I love that there are supernatural-like aspects coming into play, makes things into even more classic slasher style.
Hmm. We get a scene where Grace and Pete try to find more evidence. He mentions to her a feeling of faintness around blood. Is this purposeful on his part? Or is it a real clue to the fact he can’t be a Red Devil?
Doesn’t matter right now. Munsch is exonerated, back on campus. Little Feather doesn’t appear to be who she seems. Could she be the one who was on the phone with Gigi earlier? Is Feather a Red Devil in league with Gigi? There’s certainly something wild happening around the events at Kappa House.
Chanel #1: “See this is why you turdlets need me. You’re not even competent enough to kill one lousy sorority president.”
Lots of speculation on different parts. The Chanels start to believe Grace and Zayday (Keke Palmer) are the killers. Meanwhile, there’s Munsch and the cops/Grace and Pete who are believing Feather is the one responsible.
The finale of the episode has Dory Previn’s song “Beware of Young Girls” playing, as Munsch prances around back at home. SHOCKER: She did kill her husband! Holy christ, I did not see that coming. What a saucy minx Munsch is, she spun Feather around her finger almost from day one, and then she used the Red Devil(s) killings in order to kill her husband. On top of that, Feather is thrown into a glass jar at the asylum.
Dean Munsch: “Here’s to young girls getting what they had coming to them. Yuu know what they say: nothing tastes as good as revenge feels. Actually they don’t say it, I just sort of made that up, but here’s something they do say: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Such an awesome finale. This is one of my favourite episodes yet in this first season. Excited to see how things start expanding on the new developments in the next episode, “Mommie Dearest”, which I hope will bring more revelation.
Stay tuned with me, friends!
Dawn of the Dead. 1978. Directed & Written by George A. Romero.
Starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, David Crawford, David Early, Richard France, Howard Smith, Daniel Dietrich, Fred Baker, and James A. Baffico. A Laurel Group Production. Rated R. 127 minutes.
George A. Romero started the modern zombie craze with his 1968 horror movie Night of the Living Dead. Ten years later, he came back swinging with Dawn of the Dead. Full of iconic moments, even iconic zombies themselves (see: Hare Krishna zombie), Romero gives us an even more nuanced, darker, and at times funny, bit of horror cinema.
A lot of people nowadays are hugely into the zombie sub-genre. For good reason, as these Dead films from Romero, including the ones after it, are a whole lot of horror fun. The reason why Dawn of the Dead is so celebrated and loved after all these years is because not only does it do a fine job creeping you the hell out, like Romero’s 1968 film, even more than that it again explores social issues. Soon as the characters in this movie make their way to a mall, hordes of zombies trying to get inside, you can tell there will be some kind of commentary on Romero’s part. Dawn of the Dead is written incredibly well, with good characters, dialogue and action, as well as the fact Goblin does the soundtrack, Dario Argento worked on the music/editing, and master of special effects Tom Savini supplied all the zombie nasty work. This is one damn good piece of zombie horror and it’s no wonder we’re still talking about it today as much as we do.
After the dead reanimate and start to feast on the flesh of the living, a group of people hoping to survive make their way via helicopter to a large mall: Stephen “Flyboy” Andrews (David Emge) and Francine Parker (Gaylen Ross), along with two SWAT team members Peter Washington (Ken Foree) and Roger DeMarco (Scott Reiniger). Upon arrival, they try and set up camp finding a safe room to spend their nights, food for sustenance and any other various items they can manage to whisk away from the stores in the mall. Only problem is the zombies have filled up a nice majority of the shopping complex, so they’ve got to maneuver their way around the huge building efficiently, and quietly, as humanly possible.
But when Roger gets infected by the zombie virus, their situation changes. With the situation inside the mall getting worse with every passing day, the group is forced to confront other options; that is, if there are any left.
One of the most intriguing things about this movie is how Romero expands on the idea of a post-apocalyptic United States of America. During Night of the Living Dead, we do see a microcosm of the aftermath with all the sheriff’s boys out hunting ghouls and seeming to have a grand ole time, plus there are the news reports and all those aspects. However, with Dawn of the Dead this plot allows Romero to give us a bit bigger of a look at the post-zombie society. Big part of that is the mall itself.
When they first arrive, Francine questions why the reanimated corpses would be at the mall, to which Stephen replies “Memory of what they used to do; this was an important place in their lives“. Later on, as the group listens to a radio, a commentator talks about remembering past lives and how the actions of the zombies are merely them working out what they once used to do. The thing I find interesting, the social aspect of Romero’s screenplay, is how he chose the mall/shopping complex itself. It speaks volumes about human society just in the number of living dead wandering around the building and outside; it’s evident how involved we as humans are in consumerism already, but Romero – back in 1978 – was already on to the fact we’re creatures of habit, as well as creatures of leisure wanting to shamble our way into the mall, mindlessly picking away at the things inside (a.k.a “shopping”). So I think, again like his first zombie movie, this one can be considered relevant today, if not even more so than it was on its original release. The way we consume things as a society of people has gotten out of hand, especially now in the post-2000 world. Say what you want about Dawn of the Dead, or the films which follow it/the one preceding it, Romero infuses his horror with a ton of commentary. Not every last shot is done like this. Overall, though, you cannot deny Romero’s zombie films encapsulate social products of their time and even then they go on with their strength for years. I won’t be forgetting these films any time soon, if ever.
I have to talk about Tom Savini. As someone whose love for horror grew out of older films intent on using practical makeup effects, before CGI ruled the industry, Savini is one of my personal gods. Honestly, even the first three films he worked on show off his immense talent – from his uncredited work on Bob Clark’s Dead of Night and putting his hands into the loose Ed Gein inspired Deranged, to doing fun stuff on Romero’s 1977 unusual yet awesome vampire flick Martin, to the stellar makeup/special effects he did in this film. I won’t go through the man’s entire filmography, but I’m just trying to show you how immediately Savini made an impression on the horror movie industry. In fact, Romero wanted him to work on the original ’68 Dead film. Unfortunately at the time Savini was called off to war; he actually applied some of the nastiness he saw during the Vietnam war as a combat photographer to the special effects/makeup he did in films. Luckily, they got together for this movie and did a ton of bloody, fun horror work.
The look of the zombies alone is great. There’s a satirical part in how they look, as they’re all zombies yet representative of our own zombie-like qualities as humans. So while I’ve seen some horror fans wonder why the zombies are blue-ish coloured, I think there’s a wickedly dark comedic edge to their look. At the same time, they’re still fucking terrifying! Not just that, the head shots and the flesh eating and all that rotten business works well. Most of all, it’s the blood itself I find so wonderful. There’s nothing like a good looking bit of blood on camera and something about the blood in Dawn of the Dead is at once cartoon-ish and simultaneously nauseating: its rich red makes it appear almost like paint, like comic book blood, and the thick texture of it seeping out of chests/heads/et cetera has a visceral, raw essence which is kind of gross. Needless to say, without boring you too much to death on my thoughts about the effects overall, without Tom Savini this would not at all be the same type of horror film. Furthermore, I’d venture to say the zombie sub-genre wouldn’t be as rich and magical in terms of effects if Savini hadn’t done such good work with Romero here. This movie has influenced so many filmmakers and endlessly captivated the minds of legions of horror fanatics, and will continue to until the end of time.
It’s hard to say anything that’s not been said before concerning Dawn of the Dead. One thing is for sure, though, George A. Romero is the man who gave us modern zombies and this film is an intense piece of horror cinema which dives further into the zombie lore he created in 1968, as well as touches on aspects of human nature from friendship in close quarters to a reflection of our inherent consumerism as people in the 20th century. 5 stars, right through the roof and to the sky!
As I said in my review of Romero’s first zombie feature, Day of the Dead is actually my personal favourite. All the same, each of the three first films in his Dead series are perfect in my mind and neither are technically better than the others, at least that’s how I see it; I just prefer Day over the others, something more apocalyptic and foreboding about its plot.
Regardless, Dawn of the Dead constantly affects me, it always entertains and I love the two-disc DVD set this came in, which I ordered a few years back now. Lots of fun features on the release, as well. If you’re a fan it’s worth the cash. If you’ve not seen this: smarten up and watch it for Halloween.
The Visit. 2015. Directed & Written by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, and Kathryn Hahn. Blinding Edge Pictures/Blumhouse Productions. Rated 14A. 94 minutes.
Any time M. Night Shyamalan puts out a film these days, it’s met with all sorts of opinions from those who can’t stand him, as if he’s let them down personally in some way by making a few subpar films, to others who await his return to form since films like Signs and Unbreakable (I don’t even need to mention the Sixth Sense, do I? Great spooky flick). I fall into the latter camp, I’m someone who actually hasn’t bothered to see a couple of his movies (the one based on the manga or whatever it was & After Earth with Will Smith if that’s even the title) simply because they weren’t my cup of tea to start. However, I don’t discredit him for the bad stuff I have seen, like The Happening which wasn’t so much horrible as it was ultra boring – okay, it wasn’t good either, boring and bad. Yet what filmmaker has made all perfect films? Sorry, you can’t tell me one of them, and I don’t care who it is; even the directors I hold in highest regard are some times capable of making a misstep.
With The Visit – a found-footage horror-thriller – Shyamalan recaptures some of his earlier essence with lots of mystery, subtle creeps and moments where you’ll question what exactly it is you’re seeing. Above all else, though, is the fact I found the screenplay Shyamalan wrote really tight, and once the ending came around I was absolutely sold. This is a solid, lower budget styled movie compared to so much of his other work, where Shyamalan gets back to what he does best – scare us. Because I feel that’s the place he works best, with a story made of mystery, fear, paranoia and suspense. All you’ll find delivered here.
A single mother, Paula Jamison (Kathryn Hahn), needs a nice getaway with her latest boyfriend – her husband having run out awhile ago. So she sends both her kids Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) out to the quaint little town where she grew up in order to spend some quality time with their grandparents, Doris and John Jamison (Deanna Dunagan/Peter McRobbie).
When the kids arrive, everything is grand. The first time they’ve met their grandparents, both Rebecca and Tyler find it interesting getting to know them. Even better, Rebecca is making a documentary film about her mother, her hometown, her life, et cetera, and so meeting the grandparents provides Rebecca with more information.
A day or two in, though, the kids start to feel as if something is not quite right. First, Tyler comes across a pile of dirty diapers in the shed – where he was warned not to look. Grandma explains it away by telling the young boy his grandfather sometimes has ‘accidents’, and so he cleans it up in private, stowing the diapers in the shed until he can burn them. Sort of a sad thing. After that Tyler walks away feeling sorry for his grandfather. However, once dear ole grandma is discovered naked in the dark hallway outside the kids’ room, savagely clawing at the walls, Rebecca and Tyler start to investigate what’s really been going on around the old house. While Rebecca seems naive enough to believe her grandfather’s explanation of sundowning, the younger Tyler tries to make her see something sinister is beginning to happen with their grandparents.
Going into this I was sceptical, only because I wasn’t sure why Shyamalan, a guy with a definitive, distinctive style of his own as a filmmaker, would choose to go with the found footage sub-genre. Then a little ways into the movie, I found myself caring less and less about why and focusing more on how it worked for the film.
There’s a moment a little while after the kids arrive at their grandparents’ place, when Rebecca and Tyler are playing hide and seek. They go out under the porch outside, the big deck, and crawl through underneath. After a minute, out of nowhere, grandma Doris appears behind them, very eerily, and becomes part of the game. She chases them outside, gets up and brushes the dirt off her knees, straightening up. Then Doris laughs and tells them there are treats baked inside. Such an odd and unsettling moment, I knew there was something not at all right with grandma at this point.
Most of all, I liked how the found footage was used in scenes like these. There weren’t many of the jump scare type shots, but definitely a few of these spooky moments where the style of camerawork absolutely lent itself to making things feel off-balance. Plus, I really enjoyed the two young actors and how they incorporated the camera into their lives/the trip. Especially Olivia DeJonge – I thought the bits where she interviewed her grandparents were key in making the plot come out, tiny bits slipping in through those scenes, and DeJonge does great with her part holding her own with the older Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie (who are both fucking fantastic here and part of why the movie works so well).
Again, though, the best part of The Visit for me is the screenplay. I found the writing really tight and the characters were excellent. The two young actors matched the acting talent of the older actors perfectly, there were no moments I found myself taken out of the film by the acting, which is often a drawback of the found footage sub-genre (too much worry about camerawork and a meandering plot and not enough attention to character or acting). Particularly in low budget movies, the acting isn’t always solid, at all. Here, Shyamalan has all the right people in place for the characters needed.
On top of that, his script just keeps you guessing. People always want to say they knew what would happen, this or that. But to be truthful, I thought this was going to be a supernatural or possibly alien type movie. I figured grandma and grandpa were maybe harvesting little baby aliens, or who knows what the fuck else, I don’t know. Did not see this ending coming. When it finally hit, everything said and done – the twist played out – and the music plays (which is worked in perfectly at the end harkening back to an earlier moment), it was glorious! Really fun ending. Not the typical found footage horror style finish, and still it worked. The writing subverted my expectations throughout the entire film, so kudos to Shyamalan. I was constantly trying to figure out what might happen. Instead, this one took me along for a heavy ride and I lapped up every second.
This is one of the better found footage horror movies I’ve seen in awhile. Not only that, M. Night Shyamalan gets his groove back here with a movie that contains good writing, solid scares, and a bunch of great central performances out of the four main characters. 4.5 out of 5 star film, for me anyways. I know others have said completely the opposite, that it’s formulaic, or that it’s this, that, the other thing. Agree to disagree. Some of the most fun I’ve had in the theatre when it comes to horror movies over the past couple years. It was frightening yet exciting and there was a ton of mystery to boot, which kept me glued. Check this out as soon as you can if it’s still playing in your local theatre, worth seeing this proper rather than wait for Blu ray, DVD or VOD. Can’t wait to see what Shyamalan will cook up next.