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Lights Out (2016)
Often Startling But Never Compelling, Lights Out Is An Orgy Of Horror Clichés
Over-reliant on jump scares and thin on character development, Lights Out does make terrific use of all the usual horror clichés to deliver the chills but its lack of both a sturdy plot & interesting set of characters results in a cinematic experience that's often startling but never compelling.
Based on the short film of the same name, the story of Lights Out follows a young woman who attempts to find the root of the evil after her brother is terrorised by similar events that tested her sanity back when she was a kid and eventually uncovers a disturbing truth that concerns their own mother.
Directed by David F. Sandberg in what's his feature film debut, Lights Out is actually his short film stretched to 81 minutes but it is swiftly paced. The concept is commendable and Sandberg does a fine job behind the camera to deliver the scares but it is so dependent on those loud, frightening sound effects that it eventually gets tiring.
The characters are dull & weakly scripted, the dialogues are cringeworthy at times, and the performances aren't that good either, for the actors fail to make their renditions believable. Camera-work is smooth, its 81 minutes runtime is a plus, Sound is overbearing at times and that shadowy figure is effectively handled as many moments involving her are genuinely chilling.
On an overall scale, Lights Out accomplishes what it set out to do with surprising effectiveness but it is highly deficient in other storytelling aspects which ultimately prevents it from attaining a better status. Majority of viewers will be more or less satisfied with what it has in store for them but if you are looking for something more, then it would be wise to steer in a different direction.
Le locataire (1976)
An Intricately Plotted & Skilfully Layered Study Of Urban Paranoia & Mental Disintegration
An intricately plotted & skilfully layered study of urban paranoia & mental disintegration, the third & final entry in Roman Polanski's Apartment Trilogy is a highly ambiguous & utterly mystifying psychological thriller that utilises all the elements prevalent in the previous entries of this unofficial trilogy but may also polarise its viewers due to its drowsy pace & lack of transparency.
The Tenant (also known as Le Locataire) tells the story of a quiet, timid & inconspicuous man who moves into a Parisian apartment after its previous occupant commits suicide but soon finds himself being unreasonably reprimanded by his landlord & neighbours and begins suspecting that they are all plotting a scheme to transform him into the last tenant so that he too will follow her fate.
Directed by Roman Polanski, The Tenant finds the notable filmmaker carrying the entire film on his shoulders not just from behind the camera but also from the front as he plays the lead character here & delivers a deftly-measured performance. The mental instability of the new tenant is hinted numerous times throughout the story plus his eventual descent into madness is expertly illustrated.
Cinematography makes sure that the protagonist is always the focal point of camera, resulting in him being present in every sequence. Almost all the unfolding events are shown from his perspective, which in turn explains the surreal imagery that, just like his mental state, only gets more brooding & disturbing as plot progresses while the pale, colourless Parisian streets exemplify how he views the world around him.
Editing is methodically carried out, making sure that the film stays intriguing despite its perplexing structure, but the pace is really sluggish at times, especially in the first half. The story does come full circle over the course of its runtime but still leaves much to ponder about by concluding on an ambiguous note. The supporting cast doesn't have enough material to base their renditions upon but they still do a fine job in their given roles.
On an overall scale, The Tenant is competently crafted & masterly composed plus there is a lot to admire about Polanski's attention to details but it is also tedious & overdone, not to mention that its slow-burn narration, enigmatic arrangement & lethargic pace turns it into one of those movies that viewers either embrace tightly or reject outright. Covering all the themes that were addressed in both Repulsion & Rosemary's Baby, in addition to a few more, The Tenant is divisive but it's also stimulating in its own wicked ways. Multiple viewings advised.
Don't Look Now (1973)
A Subdued, Subliminal & Subversive Account Of Grief That's As Elusive As It Is Enigmatic
A subdued, subliminal & subversive account of grief that's as elusive as it is enigmatic, Don't Look Now is an intricately plotted, deftly structured & expertly narrated thriller that demands more than one viewing. And although it isn't scary in the conventional sense, it is definitely disquieting, not to mention that it paints an incredibly authentic portrait of grief on the film celluloid.
The story of Don't Look Now concerns a married couple who take a trip to Venice after the recent death of their young daughter. While there, they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom claims to be a clairvoyant and has a warning for them, sent by their deceased daughter from the beyond. The husband dismisses her claims at first but begins to experience mysterious sightings himself.
Directed by Nicolas Roeg, the film is permeated with themes & motifs from its opening moments while a sense of foreboding pervades through the air at all times. The film opens with a prologue that allows the audience to connect with the couple on an emotional level and their predicament comes across as genuine. The plot is rich in themes & dense in emotions, and remains intriguing till the very end.
Venice is wonderfully photographed although the cold colour palette & overcast weather instil an aura of uncertainty & menace to all its locations. The images are interlaced with elements that dig deeper than what's visible on the surface while the earthy colour tones further contribute to its ominous ambiance. Editing is another highlight that plays with the viewers' perception by cleverly bringing the events of past, present & future on the same timeframe.
Coming to the performances, the cast comprises of Julie Christie & Donald Sutherland, and both of them deliver fab performances in their given roles. Their characters are firmly rooted in reality, and the two do well to make them appear believable on the screen. Their chemistry is even better than individual inputs, which makes their relationship come across as genuine. And also admirable is the fact that the effect of the loss of a loved one is evident in their rendition all the time.
On an overall scale, Don't Look Now may seem confusing & convoluted at first but by the time it is finished, most of the inexplicable events do align in order and it all makes sense when all the dots are connected. There are times when it is baffling and there are time when it is boring but the film redeems itself amazingly well with a final act that ties up all the loose ends and brings everything together to form a uniform whole and ultimately compels the viewers to perceive everything that unfolded before their eyes from a different paradigm. Don't miss it.
Dario Argento Returns To Giallo Horror With A Thriller That's As Riveting As It Is Barbaric.
From the writer-director of Deep Red & Suspiria, Tenebre (also known as Tenebrae) marks Dario Argento's return to the very subgenre of horror he does better than anyone else and presents the filmmaker at the top of his game. Stylishly directed, dipped in blood-soaked violence and keeping its mystery alive until the very end, it remains one of the finest works of his filmmaking career.
The story of Tenebre follows an American author who arrives in Rome to promote his latest murder mystery novel, only to find that his book may have inspired a serial killer to go on a killing spree. As the body count start going up with no suspect in sight, he provides full cooperation to the police to apprehend the killer at large but becomes far more embroiled in the case than he anticipated.
Written & directed by Dario Argento, Tenebre is riveting from its opening moments and makes fab use of all his trademarks & visual flair. Goblin's score once again drives majority of the events that transpire in the film and expertly sets the mood as per the requirements of the scene. Argento's direction also exudes a high level of comfort, for giallo horrors have always been his playground.
The overcast conditions & cold surroundings encapsulate the film with an eerie ambiance which is then all the more amplified by its vibrant camera-work, stark colour palette & Goblin's sinister score. Cinematography is a definite highlight, for the vivid manner in which its camera is utilised in many segments not only heightens the viewers' senses but also intensifies the desired impact of those moments.
Rome has never looked as desolate as it looks in this picture, for all the city landmarks & crowded locations are stripped away from the final print. Editing is brilliantly carried out, the twists n turns keep surfacing at regular intervals, plus the plot manages to stay ahead of its viewers at all times. And despite its over-the-top violence & ketchup-laden make-up, it remains one of Argento's most violence flicks to date.
Coming to the performances, the cast comprises of Anthony Franciosa, Daria Nicolodi, John Saxon & Giuliano Gemma, with Franciosa impressing the most. Carrying the entire film on his shoulders, Franciosa does enough to make his character likable, Nicolodi does well for the most part but she goes absolutely bonkers in the final moments, Gemma does well with what he's given while Saxon is the weak link here, surprisingly.
On an overall scale, Tenebre is a skilfully crafted, cleverly narrated & unabashedly violent example of giallo horror that not only finishes as one of Dario Argento's best films to date but also ranks as one of the greatest works of giallo horror. Brimming with multitudes of themes, riddled with twists on every corner & jam-packed with brutal killings, each more savage than the last one, Tenebre is as thrilling as it is barbaric and features a finale that no one saw coming. Definitely worth a shot.
La maschera del demonio (1960)
A Masterwork Of Expressionist Horror
A tad too graphic for its time, Mario Bava's Black Sunday is an incessantly Gothic, chilling & eerie example of horror filmmaking that is now counted amongst the greatest examples of its genre, and although it was deemed too extreme for the filmgoing audience during its time of release, its lasting influence on horror cinema cannot be downplayed.
The story of Black Sunday concerns a witch who was condemned to death for sorcery by her very own brother but, in her final words, vows revenge and puts a curse on him & his descendants. Her resurrection is triggered when two doctors inadvertently awaken her two centuries later, following which she attempts to possess the body of a lookalike descendant.
Directed by Mario Bava in what's his directional debut, Black Sunday remains his most revered film to date and despite being over half a century older, it is still capable of startling a few viewers. The prologue alone contains imagery that's gonna evoke visceral reaction from its audience, and Bava's direction is commendable, for this Gothic chiller is crafted with passion.
Shot in black-n-white, the images are sharp, crisp & finely detailed. Camera-work is expertly carried out with Bava making use of different styles & techniques to amplify the effect of a given segment. The Gothic vibe is consistently maintained and its 87 minutes runtime is splendidly paced but there were a few moments that felt unnecessary plus its background score isn't seamless either.
Coming to the performances, the cast comprises of Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Ivo Garrani & Arturo Dominici, with Steele impressing the most. Playing both the witch & the descendant, Steele pretty much nails it in the role of the former while as latter, there are few instances when she goes overboard, possibly because her character is written that way. Nevertheless, she is well supported by the rest of the cast.
On an overall scale, Black Sunday is a masterwork of expressionist horror that's not just notable for launching the careers of Bava & Steele but is also notorious for pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable on the film screen. Technically accomplished & narratively engaging, Mario Bava's labour of love retains much of its potency after all these years, and the aura of its meticulously constructed sets are so rich & dense that it will keep the viewers hexed throughout its runtime. Highly recommended.
An Adventure With Thrills & A Horror With Chills
A guilty pleasure that's still fun & amusing, Anaconda was one of those famous B-movies that used to air a lot on TV when I was a kid and whenever I caught a glimpse of it while switching channels, I'd usually end up staying till the end. Creature feature was my go-to genre while growing up and this, along with Jurassic Park & Godzilla, were amongst my favorites.
Looking back today, it is difficult to ignore the multitudes of issues that plague this flick but back then, things like direction, screenplay, acting, plot structure, character arcs or themes etc didn't mean a thing to me. The only stuff that mattered was whether I'll be entertained or not. It was the only factor that decided the fate of any movie in my book. And in many ways, it still does.
Set in the Amazon jungles, the story of Anaconda follows a documentary film crew that comes across a stranded snake hunter and allow him to get on board. The atmosphere changes soon as the crew finds itself uncomfortable around the new guy who, after a series of tragedies, takes command of the boat & the crew and makes them help him in his quest to capture the world's largest & deadliest snake.
Directed by Luis Llosa, the first act is dull and it is only after the titular serpent surfaces that things get interesting. The script serves the bare serviceable minimum for a horror flick, dialogues are corny, characters are bland but its skillful camera-work & clever angles, in addition to its isolated setting, help in retaining an aura of suspense and is effective in bits n pieces.
The visual effects appear dated but it's still impressive in a few places. Everything about the anaconda is exaggerated to ridiculous proportions yet it adds to the fun & its campy tone. The film features a number of people who later went on to make a name for themselves in the Hollywood industry but it's Jon Voight who steals the show with his crazy, sinister & over-the-top rendition of the snake hunter.
On an overall scale, Anaconda exhibits all the ingredients that are responsible for bringing a film down yet it manages to stay afloat for the majority of its runtime. There are a few hiccups along the way but the ride is enjoyable for the most part and in the end, it is more satisfying & entertaining than other similar examples. An adventure that's not devoid of thrills & a horror that packs some good chills, Anaconda is well-deserving of its cult status. Worth a shot.
An Underrated Gem That's Delightful, Delicious & Devilish In Equal Doses
From the director of Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown & The Pianist, Carnage is a simple, small scale & lighthearted black comedy that stacks four interesting characters inside a single location and, with the help of its sharp wit & committed cast, demonstrates the entire futility of the situation where parents try to settle their children's fight by themselves.
The story of Carnage follows two pairs of parents who, following an incident involving their sons, decide to meet each other and discuss the matter in a civilized manner. Friendly & cordial at first, their discussion soon dives into endless snarks, squabbles & disagreements and as the day progresses, the issues of their personal lives eventually make it to the surface.
Co-written & directed by Roman Polanski, the film is in perpetual motion throughout its 80 minutes runtime even when it is taking a breather, for the jibes just keep coming from one end or another. It does help to have well-rounded characters that are dysfunctional in their own ways and it certainly makes for one compelling drama when the whole charade comes crashing down.
Except for the bookended scenes, the entire plot unfolds inside a single apartment, and this minimal setting compels the viewers to keep their attention on its characters. Its sardonic wit & piercing dialogues never run out of fuel. Camera is employed like a silent observer that's solely focused on the biting conversations between two parties, and Editing provides a tightly-knitted structure to its 80 minutes narrative.
Coming to the performances, Carnage features an outstanding cast in Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz & John C. Reilly, and all four of them are absolutely fantastic in their given roles. The tirade between Winslet & Foster, in particular, is a highlight to watch while the two men really try to keep their distance from the pointless argument until dragged into the mess by their respective missus.
On an overall scale, Carnage is a delightful, delicious & devilish little comedy that's skilfully crafted & splendidly performed and delivers an extravaganza that's funny, smart & engaging from start to finish. Most may not rank it amongst the best films of Polanski's decades-spanning career but in my opinion, it is an underrated gem that deserves a higher place in his filmography. Wild, hilarious & entertaining, this comedy of no manners is absolutely worth a shot.
District 9 (2009)
A Solidly Crafted, Intricately Layered & Thought-Provoking Study Of Humanity.
A masterwork of originality, creativity & imagination, District 9 is a solidly crafted, intricately layered & thought-provoking study of humanity that's rich in themes, dense in emotions & accomplished in all storytelling aspects, and remains one of the most riveting & refreshing works of sci-fi filmmaking to surface on the silver screen in recent years.
The title refers to the government camp where inhabitants of the alien ship that's been hovering over Johannesburg for the past three decades are confined to. The plot follows a bureaucrat who's tasked with the operation of relocating the extraterrestrials to another location, after conflicts between the aliens & locals worsens, but finds himself in a wholly different scenario when he gets exposed to their biotechnology.
Co-written & directed by Neill Blomkamp in what is his feature film debut, District 9 is an outstanding start to his directional career and finds the up-n-coming filmmaker in total control as he utilizes all the available resources in an efficient manner to bring his tale to life. It's a sensational debut, not because Blomkamp has a clear idea of the story he wants to tell but also because he knows how to create just the right kind of curiosity to get the viewers on board.
The screenplay features a relatively simple plot on the surface but is brimming with multitudes of themes on the inside. The story is compelling & character-driven, the character arcs are well-defined & exhibit welcome depth, the journey that our protagonist undergoes is emotionally stimulating and allows the audience to invest in it, for which they are handsomely rewarded in the end, and its commentary on xenophobia & segregation is only getting more relevant with time.
Within its opening moments, the film is able to establish an aura of tension & conflict by concisely going through the events of the past to pave the groundwork for what's about to unfold in the present. The animosity between the two species isn't far from the xenophobic attitudes that's still rampant around the world. The ghetto & forced eviction elements are a glimpse into South Africa's own history. But not everything is depressing here, for there is a hint of hope to be found in our protagonist's transitional journey.
The technical aspects work in tandem to highly enrich the overall experience. Cinematography employs the quasi-documentary shooting style and its grainy, hand-held camera-work & degrading color palette further amplify its bleak tone & desolate setting. Despite its seemingly high-concept sci-fi premise, the story has a very grounded feel to it, for it is more concerned with the human condition even when dealing with the extraterrestrials, whose repulsive, insect- like design doesn't hold the audience back from empathizing with their situation.
Coming to the performances, the cast comprises of Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James & more relatively unknown actors who add a layer of authenticity to the film's documentary-like format. Copley plays his part with stunning flair & professionalism and paints a compelling & gut-wrenching portrait of a man who faces overwhelming odds when he's forced to confront his identity and eventually learns what it means to be human, and his performance only gets better as the plot progresses. The supporting actors are no slouch in their given roles and play their part accordingly.
On an overall scale, District 9 has all the hallmarks of an instant classic and it launches the careers of both Blomkamp & Copley on a very promising note. It does run into few genre tropes, turns into an action bonanza in its final act, and lacks a proper closure but it still is endlessly fascinating, thoroughly engaging & highly entertaining, and packs more flesh than the majority of sci-fi extravaganzas that surface on the big screen every year. One of the best films of its year, one of the strongest debuts around, and definitely a worthy addition to its genre, District 9 is a stellar work of science-fiction. Strongly recommended.
The Thing (2011)
A Redundant Remake Masquerading As A Prequel.
Taking a leaflet out of one of the segments that John Carpenter's 1982 horror classic of the same name only glanced through and creating an entire feature-length narrative around it by reverse engineering the aforementioned event, The Thing is presented to its audience as a prequel to its source material yet bears more characteristics of a remake.
Set in 1982, the story of The Thing unfolds at the Norwegian research site in Antarctica and concerns a team of different nationalities who are investigating the discovery of an alien spaceship that was found buried beneath the ice along with the remains of one of its occupants frozen nearby, which they bring back to their base. But as the ice melts, the creature reanimates.
Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., the new storyline follows the same path that the 1982 original did but without any of the elements that made it such a nerve-wracking exercise in suspense & paranoia. The atmosphere never reeks of dread, the characters are bland, most of the plot twists are predictable, the creature itself is ruined by excess CGI, and even the performances are forgettable for the most part.
It does offer an account of what transpired at the Norwegian base but those scenes only serve as checkmarks to how everything eventually came to look the way it did in Carpenter's film instead of creating an origin story first and then bridging the gap between the two movies. There was an opportunity to do something different here, to follow a different route before connecting the dots, but the filmmakers don't even attempt to approach it in that manner.
On an overall scale, The Thing may work for those who have never experienced the nail-biting terror of Carpenter's '82 masterpiece but for others, it's like watching the same story but without the ingredients that made the earlier version function so flawlessly. Neither effective as a prequel nor good enough as a remake, the only reason it doesn't hurt the legacy of its inspiration is because it's too insignificant to put a dent on it. Skip it if you have already seen the infinitely better film by John Carpenter or watch the infinitely better John Carpenter film instead of this redundant piece if you haven't!
A Wild, Rambunctious & Endlessly Fun Extravaganza That's Not To Be Missed
A thrilling, amusing & refreshing delight, Kick-Ass is an exuberantly violent, unabashedly profane & genuinely hilarious extravaganza that's cleverly crafted, furiously paced & brilliantly performed and isn't just one of the best films of its year but also ranks amongst the better examples of its genre.
Kick-Ass tells the story of a high-school loner who aspires to be a real-life superhero and, one day, decides to go ahead with his dream despite having no power, no training & no meaningful reason behind it, and finds unlikely allies in a "father-daughter duo with an agenda" while fighting crime on his own.
Co-written & directed by Matthew Vaughn, Kick-Ass is a wild ride from start to finish. Its premise is ridiculous, its blood-filled action is over-the-top, its profanity level is off the charts, and yet it is difficult to look away from it because it pretty much nails the basic aspects of storytelling & packs an interesting set of characters.
The script is no slouch either. The story is compelling from start to finish and sufficient depth is provided to relevant characters, thus allowing the viewers to get on board with their journey. Technical aspects are expertly executed too and play a vital role in uplifting the overall experience by extensively refining its visual design.
Coming to the performances, the cast comprises of Aaron Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nicholas Cage, Mark Strong & Christopher Mintz Plasse, and all of them deliver fab performances in their respective roles and bring their colorful characters to life with rigor but, in the end, it's Grace Moretz who steals the show, that too with effortless ease.
On an overall scale, Kick-Ass is a stylishly directed, deftly written, richly photographed, tightly edited, viciously paced & smartly witted action comedy that's filled with so many pleasant surprises that it ends up delivering much more than what was expected from it. Offering quality entertainment & scoring high on satisfaction meter, it is a thoroughly rambunctious & endlessly fun ride that's worth your time & money. In short, Kick-Ass kicks ass!