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It Comes at Night (2017)
It is drama, it is horror, it is generic across all genres it touches
It Comes at Night is so competent in almost every way. The dialogue is actually pretty great (loved the first interaction between Will and Paul, captured in a fantastic single take), the acting equal to that (can reference the same scene here, and many more displaying each actor's chops), the shots stunning when needed, hand-held and hazy when needed. I even loved the simple set.
But the parts here are MUCH larger than the sum of the whole. This is one of those rare movies that lacks a single idea of its own, which is a feat even much worse films can scarcely achieve. Think Refuge to end of society movies, think Mutants to zombie films, think the Amityville Remake to ghost films. Thank kind of deal.
The drama is fine, but what is typically an expected subplot of any apocalyptic, house-fortress film (as far back as the original Night of Living Dead), resolved in twenty minutes flat in approximately the exact same way, is here an entire film. And it is not for exploration in depth, it is not for a new eye that examines in new ways and warrants the run-time. It is a rehash of everything I have ever seen, the standard conflict of trust vs survival, as surface as you can get. Wish a movie exactly like this existed, except diving much, much deeper into the emotional and moral.
Silver plate, bronze medal
Daguerreotype (The Woman in the Silver Plate) is a French-language film by a Japanese moviemaster, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. A young man takes a job as an assistant to an old-fashioned photographer. The photographer has fully abandoned all media beyond daguerrotypes, an 1800s technique of capturing images on silver plates. He keeps taking life-sized still photographs of his daughter, increasing the exposure time more and more, to the point where she has to stand still for hours on end for his camera to capture her. His obsession is inexplicable, and soon the daughter and assistant try to get away from the father's warped world and pursue their less deranged futures.
The atmosphere of the film is enticing, to say the least. It has a breath of old fashion, beyond just the primitive photographic techniques around which the plot revolves. The settings, the shots used, the manner of acting, somehow both subdued and overdone, all channeled old cinema in a pleasant, tranquil way. It helped transport me to a different world, where I almost forgot I was watching a movie.
But the atmosphere is the only constant in this movie. The rest of it is confused, and meanders between several different plot directions without rearing any of them to the point of interesting. Not to mention that it doesn't manage to make them consistent with each other. It seems that the beings captured in the plates of the daguerrotypes exist with no purpose, and the movie just plays out melodrama around them. The plot points are sadly soap opera-like, basic (trying to force someone to sell their valuable property for a big project when they don't want to, a daughter that wants to pursue her dreams outside of home while her father doesn't want her to leave, etc). I wish the interesting concept of saving living beings into metallic photographs was part of a more engaging, more inventive script.
I do like the duality between the two men, assistant and photographer, all the similarities and differences between them and how they pan out in terms of the ghostly photographs. An interesting mirror. But neither character was particularly likable, so their fates did not feel as impactful as they should have.
With all its 'negatives', Daguerreotype is still a stunning piece of cinema by a director that treats film as art. It just fails to entertain or to leave a lasting imprint.
God doesn't give with both hands.
Wow, is this movie ever pretty. Aptly named.
I was captured by the very first scene of the girl in the dress. Like a painting from the futurism style, it blends movement and motion into a final still, out of focus, and it looks stunning on the mostly black big screen. All of this is overlayed with narration that is simply perfectly spoken (which is consistent for the film, a beautiful read), but more importantly beautifully written. The narration, which comprises most of the spoken lines of the film, is more a poem than a movie script, and I appreciated it for it. The image was a painting, the words were literature, as a whole the film was successful as an art piece.
It revolves around a live-in nurse moving into a house to care for an old author who used to write horror books. The nurse starts experiencing subtle signs of a haunting, and finds a strange connection between what is happening to her and one of the author's most famous books.
As an idea, it was the kind of quiet horror I love, channeling fear through the uncanny, like old written weird fiction (my mind took me back to reading the Yellow Wallpaper by Gilman). Fear is not even the right word, as nothing about the film is scary, really. More like a feeling of wrongness with the world, an existential dread of sorts.
Not to detract from the beauty of the art on display, which was anything but shallow, but the plot itself unfortunately was. Pretty, but surface. Only unfinished hints of a story, that relies a bit too heavily on the viewer to fill in the gaps. I am always a fan of ambiguity, and it is almost necessary for me in a horror film (definites tend to disappoint), but there is still a balance to be struck with some concrete details. Osgood Perkins' last film, February, struck the perfect balance between ambiguity and detail, and for that was my favourite horror of 2015. Here, unfortunately, the scale has moved too much in one direction, to the point of feeling unfinished and not entirely satisfying. I also did not love the ending, which is much too close to that of another stunningly subtle recent horror, by one of the most famous current horror directors. Actually, I loved the ending (as a part of the story on display), it fit very well, I just didn't love that I had already seen it so recently. A sad problem of timing.
All in all, I can't possibly not recommend The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, because it is a soul-satisfying kind of pretty, from sound to visuals to acting. But if what you're after is horror (or even a particularly engaging drama), it won't quench that kind of thirst. Only one for beauty.
The Belko Experiment (2016)
A movie that's been done 100 times, but passes the time adequately.
Eighty American workers in Bogota get locked inside their office building and an announcement over the intercom gives them half an hour to kill any two of the employees. When they don't comply, the rules are amped up, and an American Battle Royale (down to the 'collars') ensues.
The Belko Experiment managed to accomplish the difficult feat of never being boring, not even for a minute. It takes almost no time getting going, and at any given moment it is either action packed, or taking a break from action and descending into dark humour. Both of these were well-executed, with one particularly memorable action piece (the end of round 2, so pretty), and a spattering of interesting side characters, a lot of them hilarious in either attitude or demeanor. With that, it managed to entertain throughout, making it worth seeing.
However, where it fails is originality. The Battle Royale formula has been done time and time again, and here we get the straightest form of it, with zero deviation from the norm and zero unique perspective. Where a movie like Circle tries to infuse some kind of basic examinations of social themes, here there is no higher level to the killings. And for this, the movie never once surprises with a thought or an event. The characters are just shells of people; the bad guys are caricatures of evil, the protagonists of good. There is never ambiguity of character, in a movie where so much moral ambiguity should be present due to the situation. So from minute one you know exactly who will be a villain and who will be a hero, and the end game is obvious from the start. It's a waiting game for the movie to arrive where you know it is going, which makes it very unsatisfying once the action is over.
The Hallow (2015)
A film that tries to speak up but discovers it has no voice of its own.
On the surface, The Hallow seemed like it would offer me something I always look for in horror - a unique experience. It has made a villain out of Irish folklore creatures, like Fairies and Banshees, which is not exactly a common subgenre. The film follows a man who looks for diseases on trees. He relocates to a small Irish village with his wife and baby in order to track a fungus growing in the surrounding forest. As soon as he does, his neighbor starts pestering him about staying out of the forest, because if you trespass on Fairy territory, they will come inside your house and steal your baby.
This movie attempts to give us a spin on monster movies by trying to weave science and fairytale together. Unfortunately, not enough attention was paid to how these two things are supposed to intertwine, and the result simply does not work - the science aspect of the film makes zero sense in the context of the fairytale one, and vice versa. So, instead of sticking to one of these two approaches, and developing it to a point where it works well, they half-assed both and we get nonsense that simply does not fit together into one whole. Not to mention that one of these two conflicting sides was lifted straight out of another UK horror film which is less than 10 years old, which executed it a million times better to boot.
I could have forgiven the ill-fitting (and, to be honest, way too basic) plot if the individual scenes took good advantage of the world the movie was trying to create. This leads me to the "mortal wound" of the film, the one that renders it creatively mute - its individual scenes. While the movie is not about a haunting, it follows every single "family moves into isolated haunted house" trope and then some. It was almost overwhelming. Seemingly crazy neighbor trying to warn family? Check. Exploring damp and dirty attic? Check. Baby monitor making weird noises? Check. Dog whimpering while chained outside? Check. Item dropped in the car by a driver who then crashes while looking for it on the floor instead of stopping the car or just waiting til they get home? Check. Creatures afraid of light, so you have to go outside and restart the generator cause there's no electricity? Check. Little blonde girl who looks like a zombie? Check. Every ounce of the movie was "horror 101", think Haunting in Connecticut or Amityville Remake or any other generic horror.
Even minor details which could have coloured an otherwise gray outing were foregone. The movie sets up fun "lore" as to what hurts the forest creatures and then just abandons it completely. So their skin burn if they touch iron metal? Well then this renders the ENTIRE last act of the film pointless, as the "conundrum" that the characters find themselves in would have been instantly solvable. But for the sake of having a third act at all, they just pretend that the characters forget what they learn instantly and never utilize the knowledge. Not a smart script here. The beginning also made me hopeful for the approach to the villainous creatures - they were never shown, with only shadows and silhouettes and body parts popping up here and there. This was successful in keeping them mysterious and should have been propagated to the second half. Instead, like some other recent horrors (Mama for example), the secretive tension is fully abandoned and by the end we get low- budget cartoonish CGI creatures in full glorious view every few seconds. Tension is simply incompatible with poorly animated fairies. The human characters were empty shells as well. The father shows personality exactly once in the very beginning and then abandons it. The mother displays none, and just does what the husband asks of her subserviently most of the time.
Overall, The Hallow is hollow of entertainment and creativity. I appreciate the initial idea of what the writer and director were trying to do, but the final product is a regression for the horror genre and is near the bottom as far as 2015 horror.
Tales of Halloween (2015)
Like a standard Halloween candy haul.
Tales of Halloween perfectly emulates a trick-or-treater's haul in their Halloween candy bag. There are a few pieces of chocolate and candy which you want to scarf down right away, more which you eat hesitantly when you run out of the better stuff, and some which you flat out throw into the trash. The quality of the assortment of shorts follows that general pattern.
On the delicious side, I enjoyed the opening short (Sweet Tooth), because it presented a funny and entertaining Halloween legend, with some pretty excellent gore. It was funny and over the top but it still remembered to throw some actual horror in there (like a very effective jump scare that pays homage to Exorcist III). Another good one is Lucky Mckee's entry "Ding Dong", which stars the most active current horror queen (Pollyanna Mcintosh) who does a fantastic, hilarious job acting out her insane character. It is over the top and ridiculous while exposing sad, deep-rooted feelings.
In the middle of the pack (the hard candy and stale gumballs) are most of the entries. There are some that are almost successful - The Night Billy Raised Hell was hilarious but mostly due to the amazing performance of the devil neighbor, he was great; Trick had a very fun concept which was unpredictable compared to the rest of the film, but very poor execution (rushed, convoluted, self- inconsistent, and poorly acted); Grimm Grinning Ghost had exceptional acting with some familiar horror faces (the girl from Starry Eyes, the psychic from Insidious) but it felt like a creepypasta come to life (had shades of The Smiling Man) and existed mostly for the purpose of a very effective jump scare at its culmination. There are others in the middle of the pack which aren't even close to successful but are not unwatchable either - The Ransom of Rusty Rex is "cute" at best and very generic (I saw an identical short film just a year ago); Bad Seed has two or three funny lines but is a MAJOR letdown from a director like Neil Marshall (a CSI parody where the killer is a pumpkin, which would make a good low budget you-tube or Key & Peele sketch but feels unfit for a feature and for the running time it got).
Then there are the dental floss, apples, and raisins of the pack. To me personally they had no redeeming value and I did not enjoy any part of them, from acting to script to visuals. The Weak and the Wicked is an emotionally uninvolving tale with poor storytelling and severely miscast actors (the "street thugs" looked like Hot Topic employees). Friday the 31st, about a Jason-like killer having the tables turn on him, is the kind of cheesy one-joke short that someone new to After Effects would make as practice. And finally, the worst of the bunch, the razorblade inside a piece of candy, is "This Means War", about two neighbors competing over their Halloween decorations. Both the concept and execution were amateurish and I don't know how it wasn't axed at any point.
Tales of Halloween is not a great film but at least it is temporarily entertaining while it lasts (most of it anyway) and is much, much better than other recent attempts at anthology films (ABCs of Death 1/2, V/H/S 1/2/3, etc). I don't think it is worth seeing in theaters but I can see it being fun as a Halloween night movie with friends and beers (for those who are bored of the better holiday offerings, like Trick'r'Treat).
The Girl in the Photographs (2015)
I want a slasher revival to happen so bad. This is not helping the cause.
After having just seen the other Oz Perkins-written 2015 horror film February, and adoring it, I was hoping for a similarly well-crafted film here, with a nuanced screenplay which dares to contribute to the horror genre in new ways. Got the opposite - an extremely low-concept, poor execution slasher. I hope he follows the path of that other film in the future.
A grocery store checkout clerk keeps having mysterious photographs of murdered and mutilated women left for her to find around her workplace and other locations. Seven of them so far. The cops think it is "art" so they don't bother doing absolutely anything about it (what?) at any point, even after the girl is stalked (what?). Then some famous photographer and his posse of models comes to town because he's "inspired" by these photographs, and wants to recreate them. Then slasher.
I'll just get the biggest problem out of the way - this slasher has absolutely zero tension. I feel like it tries to heavily borrow from better films, but achieves only lifeless recreations which fail to understand how to create tension. Most obviously this was clearly inspired by the Strangers, down to the masks. So expect a LOT of scenes that make zero sense if examined from a "why would anyone do this other than for the camera" perspective. Like the villains just lurking randomly in the background and appearing and disappearing and so on and so forth. On top of that, the setups are SO common that the viewer is always five seconds ahead of the characters in peril - you will be able to, with 100% accuracy, predict every single time a villain will appear and disappear in the background. Every, single, time.
The characters were supposed to be funny (I think), but weren't my cup of tea. The secondary cast were decent actors, just not given much to work with. The main actress just looked annoyed throughout the entire film. Her range was "very angry" to "only moderately angry". The villains were just awful. Were they going for farcical? They seemed to do random creepy things for the sake of it. It was just an amalgamation of one dimensional "gross" ideas to try to convince us of how deranged the characters are, which just made them comical and a parody.
The nail in the coffin was the final scene."Horror 101", obvious from the beginning, standard "last chill". This movie did not take itself seriously at all and it did not bode well for the concept. It wouldn't be a bad concept if developed further, but should have tried for a serious and tense tone, because it could have been far more interesting.
Upsides? Decent gore, and two or three funny lines hanging on for dear life in an otherwise mostly-witless sea of dialogue.
A mostly successful feature horror debut from Turkey
Baskin comes from a country for which horror genre outings are quite atypical to see. Despite not having much to compare with locally, it is clearly a passionate and well-made horror even when examined against countries that contribute to the genre much more frequently. Not terrific, but a great start to a young filmmaker's career.
The film is about a set of five cops who are patrolling their neighbourhood at night. They receive a call for backup coming from a part of town associated with many fantastic and far-fetched story. Upon entering it, they find themselves in a place none other than Hell.
I was quite entranced by Can Evrenol's direction, it was surprisingly confident for a first feature, daring to aim for difficult scenes and set-ups right off the bat. The opening 15 minutes in the restaurant were my favourites. They use numerous very long, very slow takes, which captured a sense of slow building dread despite the hilarious conversation going on between the cops. His flair for beauty and the abstract persists later on as well, especially in scenes where he combines multiple perceptions of reality (loved the room filling up with water). I am definitely a fan of his after seeing this movie.
I do think that the first third of the film is its strongest, because oh the sense of undefined dread. Once the cops enter "hell", the movie is still entertaining but becomes more of a torture-porn outing, without that much story. I like the reference to the mythological hellish trials and tribulations from Greek mythology, but I would have preferred a stronger plot. The circular reference of the film kind of bothered me, because it is an extremely common trope of "characters in limbo/hell" movies (like House Hunting, Haunter, etc), and I would have liked to see something more original.
The acting was quite fantastic for the budget. All of the cops did a great job, the likable ones managed to be truly likable, the hateable ones easily made themselves repulsive to the viewer. The physically "unique" actor who played the master of the hell domain was very creepy and good in his role, with zero prosthetics to boot! Great casting choice.
Overall, Baskin could have used improvements in terms of storytelling, but it is absolutely worth seeing as a piece of horrific art, morbidly beautiful to watch. 7/10
Green Room (2015)
The Green Room may not be the best movie I've seen this year (although it also may be). It is the most entertaining and thrilling one by far though, that's for certain.
A punk band made up of poor friends tours in a broken van, playing their songs at hole-in-the-wall places. They unknowingly are sent to play a gig at a neo-nazi commune. It goes "OK" until they accidentally enter a room where a girl has just been murdered, and are locked inside by the neo-Nazis. A mostly-enclosed game of cat- and-mouse ensues between the band members and the skinheads.
I liked so many things about this film, I will probably forget to mention half of them. The slow beginning which really lets you get a feel for the characters, the progression into an enclosed-location movie for a lot of its running time (I love one-location movies), the "opening a can of worms" moment that just makes everything descend into chaos, and the very funny one-liners which are fortunately very infrequent so they don't hinder the serious mood one bit (quality over quantity). It tried to circumvent some genre conventions and expectations, while still staying true to itself, with thrill scene after thrill scene. It was just flat out entertaining but also very well-made, with unconventional editing between scenes, very interesting sound design, and amazing acting by every cast member. They were all so likable!
I can't really complain about anything on display here, just see this film, it deserves it.
The Devil's Candy (2015)
Which will be the anomaly - Devil's Candy or The Loved Ones
As a HUGE fan of the Loved Ones, I was beyond excited to see Sean Byrne's follow-up, The Devil's Candy. After watching it, I've deduced that either the Loved Ones was a fluke fantastic film by a poor director, or The Devil's Candy is a fluke terrible film by a great director. Only time (and more movies by Byrne) will tell.
The film opens with a mentally challenged fat man who is troubled by a persistent satanic voice echoing all around him. He tries to drown it out with his electric guitar, but when his mother asks him to stop (given that it is 3 am), the voice makes him kill her and his father. Cue an artist, his wife and their metalhead daughter moving into the same house, where the artist starts hearing the same demonic voice and painting disturbing paintings under its trance. The mentally challenged man also returns, trying to infiltrate his old house and harm the family. And I don't want to spoil anything so I will stop here.
I think the main issue with the film is that it couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a B-movie parody of house haunting / possession films, or a more serious and disturbing film. It settles on neither and flip flops every few minutes, which really doesn't work. One of those two options should have been pushed to "entertaining" levels, instead of including both to an underwhelming degree.
On the B-movie side of things, the family interactions were all made as cheesy as possible, with weak dialogue and containing "family moving into a new house" tropes at every step of the way. The bizarre choice of pitting a "Jesus" lookalike (the painter) vs a demonic voice is too over-the-top. Not to mention that this Jesus figure has way too many scenes of being an "intense artist", aka looking like the girl from Not Another Teen Movie who paints stick figures. They're all gratuitously nude to boot - him in his underwear stabbing a canvas, flailing his brush like a madman, intensely slathering paints on a palette - a total parody. The whole "art world" is presented as a parody in general, the movie even contains evil gallery managers/owners trying to "make the poor artist fail", cause THAT's how the art world works. All they were missing was a moustache to twirl in the process.
Coupled with this, we get what comes off as an attempt at a serious "plot" which was of about the same quality as a Tales from the Crypt or Medium episode, and not one of the good ones. The twists and turns are neither smart nor interesting, the final "reveal", if I can call it that, again comes off as a parody of horror (despite obviously being shot in a way attempting to be serious). The movie lacks any kind of scares, really. The paintings which the artists paints under the voice's trance are so laughable in their quality and supposed creepiness. If you're scared of common 1970s album covers, then you might find them creepy, otherwise not. Not to mention that the director forgot to show us what the artist's style ACTUALLY was like before the demon voice, so we have no basis for comparison of how his art has changed now. The movie even has regulation idiot cops which can't do anything right...why even feature them, they had no other purpose (they weren't comic relief or anything).
The only upside I can name (and it was a struggle to come up with one) is that a few of the scenes have somewhat creative setups and camera angles (such as the "closet scene", I liked the way it was shot).
I would strongly recommend skipping this one, it is not a good example of what the horror genre can provide its audience.