Bear v. one tough woman in the wilderness. Who'll emerge victorious?
Mike Flanagan's adaptation of Gerald's Game by Stephen King is one of the best films of 2017.
Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 2: “Playtest”
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Written by Charlie Brooker
* For a review of Episode 1, “Nosedive” – click here
* For a review of Episode 3, “Shut Up and Dance” – click here
American traveller Cooper (Wyatt Russell) is off on a solo adventure. He’s sneaked away under cover of the dark, early morning. He takes a plane, arriving in Australia, then Bangkok, Spain, Rome, and all sorts of other destinations. By the seat of his pants Cooper takes on the world, one place at a time. One night he meets Sonja (Hannah John-Kamen) through an online app, they have drinks at a pub and chat about his travels. She wonders if he’s “finding himself” or what the purpose of his trip may be in the end. Of course they wind up spending the night together, it being the tail end of his journey and all. Memories, yay! Aside from that we figure out Cooper took care of his dad at home with his mother – early onset Alzheimer’s – and so now, after his death, the son has gone on a trip for himself. He worries that something like that could happen to him, so seriously: memories!
But travelling, it takes money, right? All of a sudden Cooper finds his credit is lacking after somebody might’ve stolen his card. Things are not looking good. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, poor Cooper.
Well, using an Odd Jobs app he comes across a Playtest job with a huge gaming company. They make horror games and wild things; Sonja clues Cooper in on things, being in the games industry and all. The company is owned by Shou Saito (Ken Yamamura), a visionary developer. She also suggests getting a picture of Saito’s super secretive operations at the company would be worth a ton more than whatever he’ll make at the job. Hmm.
So Cooper is brought out to the massive complex where the games are developed, the lair of Saito and his latest developments. A few good jokes (the “end of level boss” and “Gryffindor” jokes made me laugh out loud). He gets into the contract signing portion of it all. A woman named Katie (Wunmi Mosaku) walks him through everything, including that there’s a medical procedure involved. All has to do with a virtual reality-type experience. Katie implants what’s called a “mushroom” into the back of his neck, protruding from the skin a little. Afterwards, they do a small test, and then he’s initiated into the virtual world which the new game – or experience – is to explore. From 8-bit, the character in front of Cooper changes to become more realistic with every upgrade, only visible to him. As Katie puts it, the experience is more like “layers on top” of reality instead of virtual reality. A totally immersive experience. We get to watch Cooper do real life whack a mole – to Katie it only looks like he’s smacking the table. Love it. Either way, Cooper’s sold on the entire job.
With all that done, Cooper is brought to meet the man himself, Shou Saito. They speak about the experience of gaming, how it makes us feel, the adrenaline involved. “You have faced your greatest fears in a safe environment,” Saito explains, going on to tell Cooper about a survival horror game which uses a gamer’s fears in order to scare the players respectively. An amplified version of what we’re already seeing today in horror games.
Only when Cooper gets hooked up to the game, it isn’t such a “fun” thing as he so wonderfully described the whack a mole. He’s brought to an eerie old house where the game commences, and will continue until he is too scared to go any further. Nothing can hurt the gamer. But what about when the fear is too much? Cooper wanders and his first encounter comes when he picks up a book with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven in it – a huge spider crawls out from beneath the rug nearby. Only a relatively minor apparition, but an apparition nonetheless. The game probably has to slowly ingratiate the user so that the brain doesn’t explode with pure fright right away. Gradually the frightening things start to pile up. The painting on the wall changes, bit by bit. Licks flicker, sounds of footsteps beating around upstairs. When a 19th-century man shows up right behind Cooper, creeping him out, it shows the game is using his prior experiences and fears to scare him – the man looks like an old high school bully. So, for a moment he’s troubled. He goes on about his night after a few laughs, although he is shaken. Very clear.
A little more poking around sees Cooper terrified by an eerie, giant, human-like spider. Again, his subconscious drudging up bits of his previous experiences as a boy to be used by the game. Things start to get quite unsettling when he can’t reach Katie on the earpiece anymore. Is it the game? Yes, I’d bet on that. Plus, someone keeps banging on the door. It’s Sonja: “You‘re in danger,” she tells him. Has the game manifested her? Or is she actually there? Cooper realises she is actually in the room with him. She talks about a “computer–brain interface” that Saito has been working on for a year. Cooper doesn’t believe it, insisting she’s still a part of the whole game even being real. But Sonja goes on about missing people, all who used the Odd Jobs app to apply for the job. She then attacks him with a knife, as the spider-bully shows up once more, as well. Cooper tries to fight Sonja off, she goes mad on him. One of the single most horrific sequences of Black Mirror ensues when Sonja’s face peels off like rubber, revealing a bloody skull beneath. Cooper survives this round, creatively impaling the skull on the knife through his shoulder.
And of course it’s all fake, a figment of the game and his tortured imagination. Yet it leaves Cooper shaken worse than before. He felt the knife, he felt it all. He freaks out, wanting to tear the mushroom from the back of his neck. Although Katie tries to rally him to the access point, so she and Saito can take him out of the game.
Cooper worries about what’s behind the next door upstairs. Just beyond lies the access point. However, he’s scared that the game knows about things with mother. What things, exactly? Inside, the room is empty. And now Katie says “there is no access point.” It’s all a ruse to get the player to obey directions without question. Oh. Fucking. Shit. This is now very scary. Katie’s not so nice anymore, as well as the fact Cooper’s memories are disappearing. The game is pulling them away, replacing them. Putting him into his ultimate nightmare, ending up like his father with his memories gone and nothing left. This sends him over the edge.
Katie actually shows up now with a team of men, trying to help. But the process can’t be stopped. “I don‘t know who I am,” Cooper mutters at them. He’s stuck with the game worming its way into his brain, past his memories, leaving him a broken shell. He gets an apology from Saito, if that’s worth anything. “Put him with the others, please,” says Saito before the men drag him away.
He quickly is brought out of the game. He was in there for such a minuscule amount of time. Is his brain susceptible to an extreme length? Or is the software much too strong? Ah, the true ethics of gaming, as we step into unexplored territory and wildly uncharted waters, mixing human beings with technology in an unprecedented and likely dangerous manner.
Once Cooper goes home he sees his mother (Elizabeth Moynihan) again, in distress. She can’t remember her son, though, even as he stands right in front of her. Cut back to Cooper in that white room, first testing out the equipment with Katie. He convulses. His mother calls – like she tried to do when Cooper walked in at home. Everything loops around in a mindfuck of a sequence. Katie and Saito figure that the signal from the cell interfered with things. Still, Cooper lies motionless on the floor, a corpse, and in 4 small seconds another volunteer for the new Saito game is gone. Just like that.
What an excellent exploration of the gaming industry in a near future sci-fi sense. Wonderful writing from Charlie Brooker, as usual. He is a treasure. Love the macabre way he puts his lens over certain subjects. We’re not really that far off from the point of this game in “Playtest” when there’s already a game coming out – or maybe it’s already out, I only remember reading an article about it recently – which has the antagonist A.I. trying to thwart players by learning from how you actually play the game. These are the best sci-fi stories, in any medium: the prescient, relevant, and close to home tales. Brooker’s Black Mirror is like a Twilight Zone for the technology obsessed 21st-century. So perfectly eerie and moving in one fell swoop.
So many remakes miss the mark. In an uncommon turn, Breck Eisner's remake of THE CRAZIES by George A. Romero actually improves on the original to make for plenty of chills and thrills.
Nothing out of the ordinary here. Yet ROVDYR (a.k.a MANHUNT) packs a visceral, brutish punch all the same.
Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings. 2011. Directed & Written by Declan O’Brien, based on characters by Alan McElroy. Starring Jennifer Pudavick, Tenika DAvis, Kaitlyn Leeb, Terra Vnesa, Ali Tataryn, Samantha Kendrick, Victor Zinck Jr, Dean Armstrong, Sean Skene, Blane Cypurda, Dan Skene, and Scott Johnson. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
★★1/2Declan O’Brien did not impress me with the previous instalment, Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, but I’ve got to say I like this one at least a little better than that.
Bloody Beginnings doesn’t particularly pull out all the stops, it isn’t a masterpiece – not by any stretch of the imagination – but aside from the acting, and some of the dialogue, the blood and gore pleased me for a good slasher, and the kills were vicious. This is by all means a slasher movie; a little different from run-of-the-mill horror. I think slashers need to be judged a little differently than other sub-genres of horror, that’s why this one gets a little better of a rating than the previous Wrong Turn disaster under O’Brien’s care.
The premise of Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is the origin story of the inbred cannibals in the West Virginia Mountains. We start off in 1974, at the Glenville Sanatorium in W.V, where the three cannibal brothers are patients, locked away for their own safety and that of others. They manage to escape, killing anyone and everyone in their path. Cut thirty years later – a group of friends go snowmobiling in the woods, eventually ending up at the now supposedly abandoned Glenville Sanatorium. A storm rages outside. After not too long, the friends discover someone is still checked in at the old asylum, and the brothers emerge from the depths to carve themselves up a bit of fresh meat to throw on the fire: nothing like a bit of lunch on a quiet, stormy winter’s night.
Immediately, I loved the first scene when I saw it. You’ve got some great elements going on: the creepy asylum, the West Virginia deep woods, patients going wild, and then the three brothers. The use of classical music over the end of the opening scene is excellent, I love when filmmakers put classical or old style music over horror, or any intense situations on film; the juxtaposition makes for something interesting, you almost want to smile until you remember what’s going on in front of you. There’s just utter madness throughout the opening bit. When the three brothers kill the doctor it is a great, wild kill, and certainly sets the tone. It looks good, too. I was afraid O’Brien would pull out a kill like the first one in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead, which looked horrible – and not in any sort of good, practical effects type way, it was cheesy and CGI’d to death. This one was gory fun.
I don’t like that O’Brien felt the need to go for nudity again right off the bat. I’m fine with sex scenes, if they serve their purpose; I don’t need to watch a movie for sex. And yeah, it’s a staple of 1980s slashers, but the 80s this ain’t, and the nudity in this was just silly. The first scene with the main characters came off needless, when O’Brien could’ve used that time to really jumpstart our emotions towards the leads – instead, you don’t really care about any of them, not at the start, not much in the end.
Furthermore, the acting in this was not good. A couple people held their own, but much of the acting came off wooden, very stilted. The only real emotions I bought from anyone of these characters was fear; development-wise, they didn’t do much for me. I honestly felt bad a little for the Daniel character [Dean Armstrong] because he was the only sensible, nice guy of the males in the film. Unfortunately Armstrong’s acting is a bit stiff, and he didn’t pull me in far enough with the empathy. The other guys I certainly did not relate to because they were foolish characters. This is the biggest problem for Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, the characters don’t catch us and make us care enough for the kills to pay off in the way they are meant to for a slasher; we should care about them, so when they die it’s either a shock or it makes us emotional. The script isn’t perfect, though, it wasn’t so bad a group of solid actors could’ve have made things work. These actors aren’t the worst, but they’re far from the best. Horror needs good acting, or else so much of the framework of a horror film will fall flat on its face.
The kills are my favourite part of this entry in the series.
When they first killed the doctor I anticipated there might be some better deaths in this movie than in the last one, which relied too much on computer generated-looking junk that ultimately does not sell itself. Here, there are some great practical style effects. Those types of kills in horror always come off more effective because it’s visceral, you can see and almost feel the skin peel off, slice open, bleed, and it makes for a better reaction.
In the auditorium of the asylum, one of the girls is killed (one of the couple pictures above), and it works so well. The blood is plenty, and the reaction of the guy trying to grab onto her feet as she hangs from a barbed wire-like noose is perfect: he screams a wild, high yell, his face getting covered in the blood running faster and faster with every second from her open wound of a neck. You almost want to laugh at the scream this guy lets out, but it is perfect. It struck me as absolute shock and terror. Plus, the blood work is incredible. Great stuff.
I hate the term “torture porn”. So silly. I understand what it means, and the intentions of such a term in trying to describe the types of films that run under that banner, but – aren’t slashers meant to be full of blood and kills and carnage? Yeah, I get that some of it is overkill, what I don’t get is how relevant that is to anything. A slasher is a slasher is a slasher. You can try to spice things up – I loved You’re Next and thought it was a fresh new slasher flick for the modern era – but a slasher will always be made up from some basic elements: one of which is gore. What else do people expect a bunch of cannibals stuck in an asylum out in the deep woods of West Virginia are going to do? You think they’re going to all of a sudden start hunting? No, they’re going to eat people, they’re going to chop them up and make new dishes out of them – stir fry and all kinds of crazy concoctions – and it’s going to be a big, bloody, rotten mess. That’s what I came here for, anyways.
People will say I’m mental, but I’ll give this a 2.5 out of 5 stars. There is effort here, regardless if you can’t seem to notice right away. The horror element of this movie really works, for me at least. All the gore and the kills and the creepiness pays off. Whereas in Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead there’s a lack of both good horror and any decent acting, this entry into the series gives us some worthy terror, packed with savage, bloody murder, and plenty of brutality to make things worthwhile. If that isn’t what you’re looking for, then go watch a ghost story, or a haunted house movie – or anything else than a slasher. Because if you’re looking for a slasher… there will be blood.
Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead. 2009. Directed by Declan O’Brien. Screenplay by Connor James Delaney, based on characters by Alan McElroy. Starring Tom Frederic, Janet Montgomery, Gil Kolirin, Christian Contreras, Jake Curran, Tom McKay, Charles Venn, Tamer Hassan, Jack Gordon, and Borislav Iliev.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Unrated. 92 minutes.
★1/2 I don’t like to specifically rag on a director because directing can be tough, although, that’s what critiquing is all about in the end. Declan O’Brien doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record when it comes to his filmography as a director. He’s done a lot of sequels, including Joy Ride 3, plus Sharktopus, as well as both Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings and Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines. Now, while I do actually enjoy the 4th film of this series, I can’t say I like the 5th, and that brings me to Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead.
What a pile this movie is, if it weren’t for a half decent performance from a couple people and at least a different story than the usual “people wander into the deep woods and get murdered by cannibals”, then this would be completely useless in every single way. Not that it’s good, at all, but at least it has one or two small redeeming qualities amongst the garbage.
The third film in the Wrong Turn series begins with the obligatory opening scene of people being killed, only this time a girl survives and runs off. Meanwhile, a notorious prisoner is being transported by some prison guards, along with several other inmates, and on the way they are thrown off course, their bus crashes, and the guards are then at the mercy of the criminals. Then come the inbred cannibals, raving from the woods, shooting arrows from bows and throwing knives and generally destroying anything and anyone who comes across their path. The surviving girl from the beginning meets up with the guards and the inmates, then they all try to survive the woods together, as the cannibal brothers descend upon them with blood and madness and murder.Right off the bat there’s needless nudity, and I’m not someone who needs to get my daily fill of breasts on film, thank you very much. Sure, if there’s some reason calling for a little bit of nudity, that’s fine, but I’ve got no time for horror movies that try to fill time with naked women. There are some 1980s horrors I don’t mind even though there’s a bit of shameless nudity, because there was a certain charm to slashers from that era that had the whole “don’t have sex or do drugs or drink or you’re dead” thing going on. I just think nowadays it’s a bit tired, and the opening scene here was not called for, no need.
Then there’s an awful bit of CGI for a kill in that beginning scene that was just… whoa. Brutal. Funny because afterwards it looked like practical effects, and yet the kill itself, as a guy literally tears apart, looked to be terrible graphics. It was laughable, I actually cracked up. One of the things I loved about Wrong Turn and Wrong Turn 2: Dead End was the fact they did some great gory stuff with practical effects, you got to see good blood and guts and it looked plausible. This one gag just throws all that out the window. They obviously used some practical stuff in the aftermath of that kill, or at least it looked that way, so it boggles my mind why they couldn’t manage to pull the whole kill off that way. We’ll never know.
There only comes more terribly done kills, for the most part anyways. There’s a horrid face-cutting kill that just blew me away how wretched the effects were and how fake they looked. Very few effects are decent – one knife to the side of a prison guard’s neck is done well, even though it’s not super gory or anything too extreme; it went off well enough to be enjoyed, for a brief instant anyways. The most decent bit of blood was when the cannibals hooked the loudmouth prisoner with all sorts of barbed wire and hauled him off, and even that wasn’t too special.
I can’t recommend this at all. I gave it 1.5 out of 5 stars because there are at least a couple actors who aren’t complete rubbish, even if the dialogue is crap for the most part. Not all the performances were good, and none of them were great. At least the main guards were all right, a few of the prisoners were annoying, but overall it could have been much worse. The acting gets worse and worse as the whole series goes on. Stay away from this one. Most people hate all the rest, I actually enjoy part of the next entry – Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings. That being said, from here on in none of the films measure up to the first two in the series, so proceed with caution; you won’t be too enticed by any of the films that follow this one, even if I do enjoy the next instalment.