The Hours Till Daylight (2015) Review

hourstilldaylight1The Hours Till Daylight (USA, 2015)
Dir: Jon Garcia
Starring: Quinn Allan, Vannessa Vasquez, Carlos Sepulveda

Plot: Marco (Allan) has grown up with a fear of the dark. Despite the best efforts of his parents, he has never been able to shake the fear, or more specifically of what hides in the darkness. About to become a parent himself, Marco takes action to face up to the demon that plagues him, for the sake of his family.

Director Jon Garcia has a number of films under his belt, but The Hours Till Daylight is his first attempt at the horror genre. He’s taking a stab at the haunting sub-genre that has remained in vogue since Paranormal Activity. Can Garcia’s film stand out amongst all the Insidiouses, Ouijas, and Conjurings?

The first thing that stands out for The Hours Till Daylight is the casting. This is not a white Hollywood film. It focuses on a Latin American family, their community, and their beliefs when it comes to the supernatural. A mixture of superstition and Catholic upbringing. Based on Garcia’s previous films, his faith is an important influence on his work. While many films throw in some religious elements to commit to genre tropes, the demons, the exorcist priest, it feels like Garcia is much more aware of the religious significance of the imagery he is using.

hourstilldaylight2Garcia uses childhood fears and religious demons, and builds up the fear slowly. The choice of score keeps the atmosphere tense as he establishes his characters, setting the stakes that Marco is fighting for. The film also uses a lot of flashbacks to Marco’s childhood, and you can feel in these scenes that it’s not just a literal demon that Marco is combating. His fear of the dark as a child is met with the frustration of his parents. They just want him to grow out of it.

With films like The Babadook championing subtext in monsters, The Hours Till Daylight joins the trend. Marco’s battle with his demon seems to be a battle with himself, to become an adult that can raise a child. This demon that is his insecurities, that he isn’t good enough.

With this singular subtextual motivation, the film builds towards it’s final goal. At times this can be painfully slow, however the film makes up for it with a big set piece ending. The banishment ritual. It’s an impressive scene, although some of the demon effects are a little cheap looking but that’s fine for a low budget film. They’re not over-used. There’s some less than subtle religious imagery that made it feel a little preachy but otherwise it promotes positivity, that we can fight our demons.

hourstilldaylight3While there are some moments in the film that I felt were a little dull, it’s something a little different. It feels a lot more personal than the usual blockbuster horror in the cinema. It’s not full of jump scares and there’s no franchise-able monster. It’s just a creepy haunting story. That’s what will make The Hours Till Daylight stand out from the rest.

7/10

Dark Web: Steven Hickey’s Essential Guide To Creepypasta Part 23 – Smile.jpg

creepypastaDARK WEB: STEVEN HICKEY’S ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CREEPYPASTA PART 23 – SMILE.JPG

Welcome once again to another to another exploration of the darker side of the Internet.

In the past I’ve looked at some truly iconic Creepypastas — from the posterboy for CP fandom, Jeff the Killer to the otherworldly inhuman Rake, some stories become so big they practically define the genre. When it comes to Creepypasta’s most popular characters and stories, those adopted by fandom as the best that online horror has to offer, this week’s story is up there with Jeff, Slenderman, the Rake and Ben Drowned. It is the story of the insanity-inducing viral image, Smile.jpg, also known as Smile.dog.

The chilling tale of the Smile Dog and smile.jpg, the computer file purported to portray a visual depiction of the entity, is one of the Internet’s older viral horror stories. It’s difficult to ascertain from where exactly the story originated, as it is so widespread around the Internet. However, previous attempts to locate the original post, such as those by the folks over at know your meme (http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/smilejpg?full=1) or supernatural phenomenon blog Aether Paranormal (http://www.aetherparanormal.com/blog/the-curious-case-of-smilejpg-by-jml/), posit that the story was first circulated on 4chan’s /X/ board some time in 2008.

smile1This is the time at which the image most synonymous with the story first appeared online. It is an image designed to look like an old Polaroid with bloody fingerprints on it, that depicts a dog, possibly a Siberian husky, staring malevolently into the camera withstand wide, human-like grin. Upon closer inspection it is also possible to discern a human hand, reaching out palm-first on the left side of the image.

Plenty of people find this picture unnerving. The malicious expression on the dog’s face is certainly memorable and pretty unpleasant, even if the image composition isn’t exactly the smoothest display of photoshop skills. Cynophobia (the fear of dogs) is actually a pretty common phobia, with as many as 36% of sufferers of animal phobias reporting that their anxieties were focused on cats or dogs. Dog bites are among the most common animal attacks (no doubt due to the sheer number of dogs living in direct proximity to human beings) and the eponymous nature of dogs in society makes the image that little bit creepier — it’s not entirely unlikely that you’ll cross paths with a husky at some point in your life. The moody lighting (or lack thereof) of the image adds to its horrifying effect, using a murky, shadowy quality that taps into Man’s inherent fear of darkness. Combine that with the uncomfortable juxtaposition of human expressions on a beast, suggesting human levels of intelligence and cruelty mixed with the savage unpredictability of an animal, and It’s certainly unpleasant. However, I’d argue that there are plenty of more frightening Creepypasta pictures out there, from Victor Surge’s Slender Man, to the shocking photographs located by IvySir to accompany his stories The Expressionless and Liars, to the ever-popular Jeff the Killer.

However, it is worth remembering that it is one of the first of these and, while Slenderman has never really had much of a coherent backstory and the Jeff image had multiple shoddily written origin tales attached, Smile.jpg came with a fantastic story.

Due to the sketchy nature of Smile Dog’s origin timeline it’s impossible to know which came first, the story or the image, and different researchers have both discovered evidence which they claim supports either position. The story, titled ‘The Curious Case of Smile.jpg’, has been attributed to a writer known only as JML. You can read it in its entirety at the Creepypasta Wikia here: http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/Smile_Dog

The story details a young writer, the aforementioned JML, who hears about the story of smile.jpg as a youngster, then located the only person known to have encountered the image — a woman referred to only as Mary E. It seems that Mary came across the file back in 1992 when she worked for a Chicago-based Bulletin Board System (for those too young to remember the infancy of the web as we know it today, a BBS was a server that allowed multiple users to log-on and exchange messages and files).

smile2When a hyperlink to the file was posted on the BBS, Mary was one of the individuals who opened it. Curiously, she is the only person to have ever spoken about viewing the image. However, when JML makes the trip to interview Mary, she abruptly and hysterically changes her mind, locking herself in her bathroom in tears, rambling on instead about the terrible dreams that haunt her each night. After fruitless efforts to coax Mary out, from both JML and Mary’s husband Terrence, JML eventually leaves without hearing her story.

However, after giving us a brief history of the mysterious file, in which JML also stresses that the original legend spawned plenty of hoax images to appear online and claiming that for some unknown reason, Wikipedia admins have consistently deleted any attempts to post information on smile.jpg. It also claims that the file has appeared online multiple times and each time it has caused mass hysteria, anxiety and epilepsy. Following more attempts to locate the file, JML is thrown a lifeline when Mary E emails him once again. In the message she details her own encounter with Smile.dog, claiming that the creature from the image appears to her in dreams every night. The creature talks to her, tormenting her but offering her a way out — all she has to do is ‘spread the word’. Shortly after first discovering smile.jpg, Mary E received a floppy disk through the post with a single file on it. At the point at which she’d backed out of the interview with JML she had finally decided to acquiesce to the creature’s demands and pass the disk to somebody else. However, at the last moment her conscience had gotten the better of her.

Now she is contacting JML one last time to implore him to give up his search. Shortly afterwards Terrence contacts him to inform JML that Mary has committed suicide. But the story doesn’t end there. A year after JML’s failed attempt to interview Mary, he receives an email. It comes with a single attachment — smile.jpg. The story finishes with JML struggling with his own conscience, wondering if he could ‘spread the word’ to save his own life. As the story finishes with a familiar image, we discover his answer…

It’s a fantastic little Creepypasta, combining clever storytelling with a plotline reminiscent of Koji Suzuki’s smash-hit novel, Ring, which in turn went on to spawn Hideo Nakata’s marvellous film adaptation and it’s extremely successful American remake. For those unfamiliar with the story of Sadako/Samara, Ring is the story of a cursed videotape, one that exposes the viewer to a vengeful spirit who will kill them seven days after watching the tape… unless they copy the video and show it to somebody else before their time is up.

Spoilers for Nakata’s film follow below, but even more horrifying than the much ballyhooed scene in which the spectral Sadako emerges from a well onscreen before crawling out of the television set to dispatch a hapless victim, is the climax, in which the heroine Reiko finally decides to show the video to her own father to spare the life of her son Yoichi. It’s a desperate, yet also heartless and cold act, and JML’s own decision to willingly expose us, the audience, to Smile.dog echoes this.

smile3The story of a curse that spreads like a virus has been seen plenty of times in genre fiction in recent years, as well the various ‘J-Horror’ films that followed Nakata’s lead (most notably Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On AKA The Grudge) it was also the driving plot device in 2014’s critically acclaimed It Follows.

The story also works best at the point at which we realise that, by reading the tale all the way to its chilling conclusion, our morbid curiosity had brought about our own downfall. ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ is one of the most well-known proverbs for good reason, as children we are often told that reckless investigation and exploration comes with risk — that sticking our noses where they don’t belong will end badly for us. As bad as the horror of being stalked and tormented by some otherworldly entity is, somehow it becomes all the more heart wrenching to know that such a fate is your own fault. The fear and helplessness are bad enough, but soak them in regret and they become that little bit more potent.

As I mentioned before, the story cleverly covers its own tracks, claiming that there are multiple fake smile.jpgs and accounts of the story in circulation (meaning that any investigation of your own that fails to drive you insane or summon a demonic entity can merely be written off as due to you finding a fake image) which aids suspension of disbelief, a vital component in successful horror storytelling.

The references to real world websites, such as 4chan, from which the image is genuinely considered to have originated, are excellent touches. The fact these are legitimate internet pages with which the reader are likely to be familiar works to reassure us of the story’s legitimacy — it talks about things that we know to be true, so surely the rest is more likely to be genuine too? It’s touches like this, as well as some technically proficient writing, that make Smile.jpg that rare thing — an early Creepypasta that is genuinely great. This quality undoubtedly played a large role in the rapid and wide spread of the story (and image) throughout the internet.

It popped up in numerous chatrooms and message boards, often prompting users to ponder whether the image it describes is genuine. What’s more, it was during this spread that a new, heavily photoshopped image of the alleged Smile.dog appeared with the story. Resembling a canine Jeff the Killer, this picture is clearly fake but still utterly unnerving, creating a truly horrifying image and monster. More human in appearance than the original husky image, this picture is missing the hand and other extra details described in JML’s story, instead focusing on the horror of the entity itself against a blank, hellish red backdrop.

This has caused some fans, such as those on the always Creepypasta-friendly art community site DeviantArt to differentiate between the two, yet still incorporate both images into the same mythos. To them the Husky is the original image, the gateway for Smile.dog, while the red image has become Nightmare Smile Dog, a visual representation of the beast that appears to victims in their dreams. Both versions have become extremely popular at DeviantArt with thousands of examples of fanart appearing at the site, many of which (like so many of the creations at the site) are quite fantastic and clearly the work of very talented individuals.

By January 2009 the story was so well-known that an Urban Dictionary entry appeared for Smile.jpg (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=smile.jpg). Posted by user smile.dog, it actually takes a surprisingly level-headed approach, not definitively stating the existence of the file as fact, instead claiming that it might be real. Of course, that element of doubt does little to convince those nervous or ghoulishly curious about the story.

There are plenty of examples of anxious web users asking their peers if Smile.dog is genuine, including this Yahoo Answers page (https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20111222222423AAkPa9U) amid many, many more (https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20111222134109AA76of7 and https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110827233501AAopvgy). The story has been clouded even further by some users claiming that they know for a fact that that Smile.jpg is definitely real. In April 2010 a user named AnonymousEthan created a post on The Lounge forums over at MovieCodec.com, titled The Truth of the Real Smile.jpg (https://www.loungeforums.com/arts/the-truth-of-the-real-smilejpg-84899/).

In the post AnoymousEthan posits that the story re: Smile.jpg has become twisted and corrupted over time. He claims that original image wasn’t of a dog, it was of an unnamed and unrecognisable type of creature. He directly describes the story of the husky and accompanying image as fake, as well as referring to the newer, red Nightmare Smile Dog pic as a hoax as well. He claims to have spoken with people who have seen the true image and goes on to issue a warning to all who would seek it out: ‘If you ever get an email entitled Smile.jpg, DO NOT OPEN IT, delete it immediately. I believe that the image is of Satan itself.’

smile4Elsewhere, yet another version of the image appeared as a part of a video released in November of the same year by YouTuber CAFRex123 that he claimed to be the original picture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItcYVgjlB8Q) a user of the Unexplained Mysteries forum by the name of Arkitecht created a post asking about Smile.jpg in March 2011 (http://www.unexplained-mysteries.com/forum/topic/202015-smilejpg/).

The story has gained a great deal of traction because of this blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, and as such it is one of the most widespread and well-known Creepypastas. As such it is very popular, and like any other popular CP, it has been adapted and elaborated upon in multiple ways. From works of fanart, to the now ubiquitous readings on YouTube (including this one by always excellent Mr Creepypasta: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgG9v2HEy5A), to film adaptations (such as these excellent examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZBMK-EYDdw, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxfqToFa5wE and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usAdnmbw_9w), to spin off stories that expand upon or reference the original, such as DementedEmperor’s impressive My Face (http://www.creepypasta.com/face-2/), Smile.jpg is a genuine phenomenon.

I was able to talk to Sabooom about his YouTube shortfilm adaptation of the story:

UK HORROR SCENE: First, what was it that drew you to the story?
SABOOOOM: The first time I heard the story was when I was staying at a hotel with the group of friends that I eventually made the movie with. It was late at night when one of the guys read the story and then passed his phone around with the infamous picture up on the screen. I think it spooked a lot of us and that’s why it stuck.

UKHS: Are you a fan of Creepypasta? If so, which is your favourite?
S: These days I don’t keep up with creepypastas too much, but some favourites that come to mind from back in the day are “suicidemouse.avi”, the “banned” and incredibly depressing Mickey Mouse cartoon. I always thought Pokemon Lost Silver was kinda eerie, too. I can hear the Ruins of Alph radio music play in my head when I read that one.

UKHS: Why do you think so many people are Creepypasta fans?
S: I think it’s easy to get spooked by creepypasta, reading it on your laptop, late at night in total silence. It doesn’t rely on jump scares, which I really appreciate. A quality creepypasta takes its time building its story.

UKHS: Why do you think Smile.jpg resonates so well with readers and viewers?
S: I think the appeal of this creepypasta came from the picture associated with it. Not many creepypastas have something tangible to go with it like that. It really inserts you into the story. The character in the story can see the picture in her nightmares, and I think some of us probably could after reading it, too.

UKHS: What challenges arose during your adaptation of the story?
S: The biggest obstacle was the fact that everyone involved with the production was in high school at the time, myself included.  The whole thing was done on literally zero budget. The most difficult scene to film was the suicide scene. We had to make a convincing brain splatter, which was actually someone sitting in the bathtub throwing a handful of red-dyed oatmeal at the wall!

UKHS: Finally, what can your fans look forward to from you in the days ahead? Will there be any more Creepypasta adaptations?
S: I haven’t made many movies in the last few years. It’s something that I’d like to get back into eventually. I did follow up Smile.jpg the next year with december2010 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUO4sY_QcB8 , a found-footage style movie featuring Slenderman. Keep in mind, this was before Slenderman blew up in the mainstream with The Eight Pages and all that.
Thank you for your interest in Smile.jpg. It’s pretty cool to see that it’s still getting attention all these years later.

Like Saboooom’s film, the story remains popular to this day, for a number of perfectly understandable reasons, and it gains new fans daily. With a fanbase as avid as this, there is no shortage of willing disciples to ‘spread the word’. I just hope that after I’ve introduced each of you to the story that you’ll be able to sleep peacefully tonight.

Come back next time for a look at another story of a terrifying entity that stalks its victim after slumber descends.
Sleep tight.

Downhill (2016) Review

downhill1Downhill (2016)

Director: Patricio Valladares

Writers: Barry Keating (screenplay), Patricio Valladares

Stars: Natalie Burn, Ariel Levy, Ignacia Allamand

On UK DVD October 10th from Matchbox Films

In an era of horror filmmaking that is infamous for exhausting cheap gimmicks at the cost of the meat and bones of quality storytelling, it’s a tad frustrating to find a film that had an outstanding and original set up for “found footage” that ended up being highly underutilized. That said, director Patricio Valladares did give us a beautifully shot and stylized story with some impressively original (albeit at times wasted) ideas and stunning visual FX despite major missteps in the third act.

Downhill follows Joe (Bryce Draper) a talented mountain biker who has hung up his bike due to losing his best friend during a racing accident. Joe’s girlfriend, Stephanie (Natalie Burn) convinces him to bike once again after they both receive an invitation to an exhibition in Chile. On a practice run, Stephanie and Joe come across a man badly injured and seemingly infected with something. This unlikely encounter puts Joe and Stephanie in the cross hairs of some unsavoury locals desperate to keep their secret.

downhill2Right out of the gate our introduction to Joe and Stephanie instils a necessary investment to push the story forward. We care about these characters and their relationship dynamic. Even the short exchange of dialogue between Joe and his best friend, Charlie, before his death establishes their friendship well. This is important for horror; we need to care about our main characters before we throw them into harm’s way to successfully execute the suspense.

The other original element we’re given in the first act is some excellent use of “Go Pro” footage of our bikers. It was never overbearing or too shaky, in fact, the editing was incredibly fluid and worked so well as a visual tool. With the first act opening so strong, establishing our leads, giving us an exciting extreme sport for a back drop and introducing a well implemented visual style, I can’t help but be frustrated that these excellent elements dissipate almost entirely by the second and third act.

What the second and third act did give us was some pretty solid horror that shined the brightest with the visual FX. There was a healthy mix of practical make-up, particularly the mysterious infection spreading across all parts of a victim’s body, and digital FX that gave us some of the best gunfire I’ve ever seen in low budget horror. Scenes with heavy gunfire felt intense and laid out the suspense well. Despite the horror being visually pleasing the story begins to take several turns that raise too many questions that are never answered. Bits about our main characters introduced early on rarely feel resolved or even addressed by the end. It’s unfortunate because I genuinely wanted some type of redemption for our leads because of how excellent my introduction was to them.

downhill3Ultimately, Downhill gave us a strong first act with an amazing amount of potential that at times was frustratingly underutilized. Some odd twists and unanswered questions muddled the third act but where the arcs lacked it made up for with fantastically impressive visual FX’s.

I’m giving it a 5/10

Worry Dolls aka The Devil’s Dolls (2016) Review

Worry-Dolls-Movie-Poster-Padraig-ReynoldsWorry Dolls (2016, USA)
Dir: Padraig Reynolds
Starring: Christopher Wiehl, Samantha Smith, Kennedy Brice

Out now on UK DVD from Studiocanal

Plot: After a serial killer case ends with the death of the killer, Matt (Wiehl) thinks that his job is done but it’s only just beginning. A series of killings start that match the dead killers M.O. The objects that connect the killings are a collection of worry dolls that belonged to the killer. Matt’s daughter is amongst those effected by the dolls and he must solve this mystery to save her and to end this case for good.

Following up his début feature, Rites of Spring, director Padraig Reynolds returns to the horror genre to give us a tale of supernatural violence and personal anxiety. With a title like Worry Dolls (or it’s alternative title, The Devil’s Dolls) horror fans might expect something along the lines of The Puppetmaster or Child’s Play series. Fans of killer dolls will be greatly disappointed. This is more of a cursed artefact film, like the Ring if you switched the cursed video with cursed dolls that possessed you.

What I think is the film’s greatest strength is that the dolls aren’t just a gateway for the dead killer to do some more post-mortem killing. The dolls amplify the fears and worries of those affected to violent ends. They’re not killing based on proximity to potential victims, but based on how that person relates to their worries. Worry Dolls doesn’t subvert many horror tropes, but this is definitely it’s most interesting feature.

WD_Stills01_3.17.1Talking about Worry Dolls lack of trope subversion, it does suffer from quite a few clichés that can be a bit frustrating. If you suffer from screaming fits when horror characters act painfully stupid, the appearance of the police officer at the start of the film might hurt your vocal chords. The main characters are also a little pedestrian and boring, the usual divorced couple who put aside their differences because of the supernatural force affecting their child. This is a little forgiving because it makes for good motivation in the divorced wife’s fiancé.

The film tries to make up for some of it’s clichéd storytelling by killing off certain characters that might be considered bad taste. It’s often considered a bad move for film makers to kill the dog and Reynolds runs that risk here. It has relevance to the story but it’s definitely going to upset certain audience members.

WD_Stills01_1.84.2Worry Dolls does run with an interesting premise but the delivery isn’t perfect. It has a good look, nice cinematography and plenty of gore but that isn’t enough to make it rate any higher than average. It’s just doesn’t stray far enough from the path to be memorable. I felt like I had seen these characters too many times before to really care about them. There was also three different blonde white actresses that at times it was difficult to tell which character was in the scene. Worry Dolls is worth a watch once but I can’t see myself rushing back anytime soon.

6/10

Road Games (2015) DVD Review

Road Games (1)ROAD GAMES (2015)

Director/Writer: Abner Pastoll

Cast: Andrew Simpson, Josephine de La Baume, Frederic Pierrot, Barbara Crampton

Running Time: 95 mins

UK DVD Release: 29th August 2016 from Icon & Frightfest Presents

A killer is on the loose in the French countryside. Jack (Simpson) and Veronique (de La Baume) are two hitchhikers who come across one another after Veronique’s lift goes badly wrong. A friendship is forged as they figure safety in numbers is better than travelling solo and then they meet Grizard (Pierrot). He agrees to give them a lift and provide hospitality at his country mansion but on arrival and after meeting his wife, Mary (Crampton), all is not quite as it appears.

Not to be mistaken as a remake of the Australian 1981 thriller, Road Games is a British-French co-production, executive produced by Crampton and directed by Pastoll who has previously directed short films and the thriller Shooting Shona (2004). The script is a mixture of French and English so subsequently subtitles are frequent and at times Jack’s lack of French vocabulary is used to moderately suspenseful effect. The cinematography by Eben Bolton follows the general rules of the horror genre with dusty, dimly-lit rooms littered with creepy art pieces plus several aerial shots early on in the story help convey just how isolated the characters are from seeking help when events take a darker aspect in the finale.

Road Games (2)Pastoll’s feature is competently made but sadly it suffers from a complete lack of any real tension. We have a lot of scenes of Jack and Veronique wandering around country lanes attempting to hitch lifts early on and very little actually happens until the final half-hour. Once the narrative moves location to the mansion, even then Pastoll fails to ignite any real sense of dread. For example, a mildly unsettling dinner scene where Crampton acts increasingly unhinged is neutered by an extremely odd tone and very sad to report, some rather bad acting.

Also, a scene involving a local farmer, whom may or may not have something to do with the murders, hints at a homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre but the film never runs with it and instead the viewer is left recalling a far scarier film. Daniel Elms’ music direction also needs mentioning as frequently it does not match the tone of the narrative and as such becomes very overbearing during sinister moments when perhaps silence may have better served the scene.

Road Games (3)Pastoll has stated his feature owes much to And Soon The Darkness (1970), another thriller which is similarly set in the French countryside but is about the disappearance of a young female cyclist. It also reminded this reviewer of Haute Tension (2003) but only very briefly and any recollections of that film were instantly quashed by an unintentionally comedic scene involving a hay bale. It is evident why Frightfest have championed this film considering its cast and storyline but after the excellent We Are Still Here (2015), it is sad to report that it is a minor misstep for Crampton and one which might be best forgotten by her legion of fans. Similarly, Pierrot has done better work on TV (Les Revenants) and Simpson fared better in last year’s, The Survivalist.

Road Games is not a film worth thumbing a lift for.

Rated: 4/10

Che Gilson’s Netflix Roulette #13 – Djinn (2013)

Djinn_posterChe Gilson’s Netflix Roulette #13 – Djinn (2013)

Join Che as she plays Netflix Roulette and watches a randomly selected horror film. Will it be awesome? Will it be torture? What horrors await?? Find out every month with Netflix Roulette!

Title: Djinn

Year: 2013

Director: Tobe Hooper

Starring: Razane Jammal, Khalid Laith, Aiysha Hart,

Netflix Rating: 2.1 stars

Seen it before: No

First Impressions: Well the director is promising! Super promising! I feel like I’m in good hands with Tobe Hooper at the helm. Though the plot sounds kind of familiar. But then, a lot of horror movies revolve around the basic plot of “our kid died and I keep hearing voices”. Seriously, that’s practically a genre. I’m wondering why I haven’t seen this on TV or something too, especially with the director it has. Was it so bad even SyFy wouldn’t show it? Let’s find out!

Djinn 2The Verdict: Nope, that was great! So glad I watched it. Now it’s not perfect, but dang, do yourself a favor and check it out! It also seriously blows Wishmaster out of the water! Which is the only other djinn based horror movie I can think of…

The plot: Salama (Razane Jammal)and Khalid (Khalid Laith)lost their infant son a year ago. Their counsellor suggests that they return home to the United Arab Emirates where Khalid also has a job offer. Cut to, three dudes racing cars in the desert. One American guy and two Arab guys discuss the djinn, camp out in a deserted, haunted fishing village, and then predictably die, but not before laying out the entire plot to the audience. So, back to Salama and Khalid. They arrive in… I’m going to guess Abu Dhabi, the film isn’t specific, and head for the apartment Khalid’s new job has set up. Everything is immediately creepy as they drive into a fog bank which surrounds their building the brooding Al Hamra. And really, nothing good happens once they enter building. The building is nearly empty, Sammy the door man is creepy, the neighbors are creepy, the strange voices are creepy. You get the idea.

Djinn 1Which brings me to my biggest issue with Djinn. It’s so creepy and the plot laid out so specifically so early there are no surprises. There’s no room to breathe. There’re no “return to normal”, which I think is very important in a horror movie. Most horror derives its fear from the weird and terrible encroaching on the everyday. But Djinn eschews all that in favor of hitting the ground running and not stopping until the end. But that lack of ‘settling in’ undercuts the tension. There is little room for character development, example, Salama’s parents and sister die immediately after being introduced, but their deaths means nothing and they didn’t occupy enough screen time for the audience to have a stake in their survival. And their deaths weren’t even much of a surprise considering how the movie had been going thus far.

That one complaint aside Djinn has a lot going for it. Good acting. A unique mythos to play off of. One which hasn’t been beaten to death. The Djinn are malevolent and terrible beings and you know nothing good is going to happen. The effects are pretty decent consisting of part practical effects and some restrained CGI. The sets are lovely, the interior design of the apartment is beautiful.

Djinn 3The ending has a nice twist and I wish I could talk about the plot more, but mentioning anything will pretty much ruin the film, and trust me- you don’t want this one ruined. Partly because you’ll guess the entire plot after the dudebros explain the premise of the film then die in the desert, and partly because even if you know everything that’s coming, it’s still a fun ride getting there.

Rating: 7/10

Queen of Earth (2015) DVD Review

qoe1QUEEN OF EARTH (2015)

Dir- Alex Ross Perry

Starring- Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley

Out Now on Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD from Eureka Entertainment as part of the Masters of Cinema Series

A stray into particularly non-horror territory for this review, though at UKHS we have taken on films that have decidedly not been classed as horror but still carry some similar and often strong connections to the genre and QUEEN OF EARTH is just that. A character driven piece of resentment, madness and grief superbly shot on 16mm, Alex Ross Perry’s film follows privileged and not so privileged characters and the inevitable confrontations between these two sets of people, that does not explode into violence but rather emotional violence and turmoil that leads to far darker consequences. Whereas his previous film, LISTEN UP PHILIP was more of a comedy drama, QUEEN OF EARTH is a lot more psychological and can be said, not that comedic in the slightest.

qoe3Opening with a shot of Catherine (Moss) crying with make up smudged across her face. She is being dumped by her boyfriend James (Audley) which is just adding to her woes and making much of her life miserable especially as her father has just passed away. She decides to go for a break to visit her friend, Virginia (Waterston) who is staying at her parents lakeside holiday home. After a break of a year since their meeting, where James co-incidentally tagged along, both friends have drifted apart and have no idea what has been happening in their lives. Catherine keeps being reminded of the previous holiday and along with her fathers recent death almost disconnects herself from Virginia and leads her to focus on the happier past times which is portrayed in flashbacks. This sets Virginia to start carrying a bit of resentment towards her friend part of which is due to her drama queen self resentment and part of which has been carried with Catherine’s previous relationship with James.

Matters are made worse when a neighbour who lives next door to Virginia Rich (Fugit) starts to become increasingly close to Catherine. Rich also displays contempt towards Catherine and her increasingly unhinged behaviour, which Virginia doesn’t really understand even though she still has a strong emphatic connection to her. It seems too late as Catherine’s erratic nature starts to unfold throughout the week and leads her to fall even closer to the demons of depression and madness.

qoe5Like I said before this is not a cheerful watch and however it is a very well made attempt to look into the breakdown of a character and the resentment and contempt that hides underneath people, whether they be long time friends or brief acquaintances, there’s a sharp look into the blunt and often nasty underside of human nature, the ugly side so to speak that hides away from view. It might be said that the breakdown of such horrible characters may not be a nice sounding or appealing idea on paper but thankfully through two brilliant central performances ends up being an interesting and often intense watch. Waterston is excellent as Virginia, a friend who is the only one allowed to be called ‘Ginny’ by Catherine, who leads a subtle performance that veers from contempt to often mournful sympathy towards her friend but at the same time realises she might be too late in finding any semblance of the Catherine she used to know. However, its Moss who is on form as Catherine veering from various scenes of mental and emotional breakdown and convincingly portraying her character without being overly showy or dramatic.

Is her characters breakdown and depression due to losing two men in her life, her father who passed on and her boyfriend who has left her leaving her with nothing when in many respects she already has everything? The best scene, which should become a future piece to use as a showcase of acting, is her bitter and spiteful monologue towards Rich, which starts with her saying “You fucking animal, you un-repentant piece of shit…” and carries on with a vicious spiel on what is wrong with people who make judgements of others.

qoe2Its a brutal and if slightly darkly comic speech of straight forward stark opinion which plays as a centrepiece to the films study of the dynamics of human relationships and silent contempt that people can have for one another. Perry’s film is paced in a well made break up of narrative between past and present which acts as fractured memory’s in Catherine’s psyche. He doesn’t let his film slip into melodrama, rather its played in a neat and even tempo that allows our central characters mind to slowly fall apart. This is enhanced by the intense handheld cinematography by Sean Price Williams, that intimately captures moments between characters as well as framing Catherine’s state of mind.

The scene where she is moving around in a house party encountering strangers is both uncomfortable and one of the films stark moments of visual horror. On watching Perry’s psychodrama there is certainly the influence of and many critics have rightly pointed out the work of Ingmar Bergman’s PERSONA and also Roman Polanski’s REPULSION, in which both films tackled female characters and psychological torment. Certainly added to that list would be Bergman’s HOUR OF THE WOLF, which tackled an artists descent into madness as he lives in isolation. If anything this further emphasises that Perry’s film even if it is set in the present feels like a piece of cinema that would have been made in the 70’s and has an entirely retro feel to it.

qoe4At times its slow burning and yes it does have some open ended moments that will frustrate the viewer and it will probably require another or maybe more viewings to untangle some of the films hidden meaning. Yet in retrospect Perry’s film is a brilliant piece of psychological character drama held by two stunning and convincing central performances that sheer with resentment, envy, sympathy and ultimately madness.

8/10

Chopping Block (2016) Review

choppingb1Chopping Block (2016)

Writer/Director: Joshua Hull

Stars: Jas Sams, Haley Madison, Michael Malone

Chopping Block: A Story with Potential that Doesn’t Quite Make the Cut.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley” – Robert Burns – To a Mouse 1785

Being “terminated”, ”canned”, “sacked”, “laid- off”, “made redundant”, or flat out being “fired” is often very unpleasant, whether one is aware it could possibly happen or not. Many, who have been given the boot, even wax vengefully about what actions they would love to take against those doing the booting. However, when Donnie and four of his co-workers are relieved of their work-a-day duties, they concoct a plan to strike at the very heart of their former employer.

How exactly does somebody exact revenge on a heartless bastard of a former boss? Kidnap his daughter and, hope to hell he loves her more than the money she’s being ransomed for. And after a month of being mired in their miserable lives, these five would likely relish the opportunity for a big payday…despite the risk.

These five would be abductors make a “plan”, if you will, and spring into action. But sometimes plans don’t quite go off without a monkey wrench jamming up the works. Especially a monstrous axe murderer of a monkey wrench, who has already laid claim to the groups intended target.

choppingb2Joshua Hull pulled double duty on Chopping Block, in the roles of writer and director. He created a story with familiar elements from films like 9 to 5, Office Space , and Horrible Bosses 1&2. This revenge against the “big boss” theme is an element that many can identify with and one that will continue on as long as employees despise bosses. But adding the twist, in which this group of misfit kidnappers ends up stepping on an axe murderess’ toes by taking her intended victim, is definitely different.

It would have been nice for there to be a little bit more backstory and development, not only for the main characters but for the daughter and the killer as well. The third act is a bit bare and could have used a bit more, dare I say, torn and bloodied meat on the bone, especially since it is a HORROR comedy.

The performances were a little uneven, at times having the proper subtlety or comedic timing and then being entirely too exaggerated as if intended for a live audience at a sitcom taping or a stage play. Some of the characters also came across as wooden or somewhat contrived.

Michael Malone displays his comedic chops as Donnie, the searing quipster who lends that somewhat cliché “…and a slacker will lead them” character element. Nonetheless, Malone still provided a solid performance. The character of Steve sometimes became more of a caricature, but to Raymond Kester’s credit, it’s what made him a bit of a scene thief at times. He seems goofy and out of touch, but give him some drugs, wind him up, and watch him go.

Hailey Madison as the boss’ daughter, Danielle, was a tad underutilized. The gist is that she may be/probably is a spoiled rich girl. The audience is given a brief and somewhat vague idea of an underlying story about her and her axe wielding tormentor that needs to be told.

Jas Sams, as Books, also gave a solid performance, showing how horribly desperate living can turn a bookishly sweet young woman very quickly into a jaded visage of her former self. Well done, you.

choppingb3Understanding that this is an independent production, there are going to be budget constraints, and sometimes they keep special effects from being as special as they could be. However, having worked on a couple of almost no budget horror films, I also know where there‘s a will there’s a way.

I love horror comedies and watched Chopping Block hoping for something well balanced in both areas, but the focus was heavily swayed toward the comedy aspect and the horror was very rushed. I would love to see how polished this movie could have been with a longer shooting schedule, consistent performances, a stronger and more balanced story and some well-done gore effects.

6/10

Lights Out (2016) Review

lo1Lights Out (2016)

81 minutes

Directed by David F. Sandberg

Written by Eric Heisserer based on Sandberg’s short film.

Starring Theresa Palmer, Maria Bello, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia and Billy Burke.

UK Cinema release – August 19th

What’s it all about? Martin isn’t sleeping and it’s not because he lives on Elm Street. His Mum has a friend called Diana, who isn’t exactly…well, alive. Martin calls on his big sister Rebecca for help and she soon realises the nightmares she had as a kid were real. With her kinda, sorta boyfriend in tow, they start digging into the mystery of the scary woman who lurks in the shadows.

Keep those lights on.

L.O.00185.dngDavid F. Sandberg makes his feature début here, basing it on his own 2013 short of the same name. It’s a basic premise, the fear of the dark and, although it’s not a perfect film, he delivers a solid entry into the genre.

It starts off well, quickly introducing the characters and set up. We are on our way, without pause for thought. Thankfully, it’s not rushed. Sandberg knows how to build tension and hold an audiences attention. Though the film feels padded in places, there are some genuine jumps and real tension where it’s needed. The story gets a bit silly, producing a couple of unintentional giggles with some shaky dialogue, but it’s not enough to spoil the experience.

Production value is high with nice visuals, great use of sound and Diana, our creepy, dark loving, light hating spooky woman, is very well realised. On top of that the films cast really deliver. Gabriel Bateman, as Martin, is a likeable young actor, conveying fear of Diana and love for his going a bit cuckoo Mum, Sophie, played by Bello, who manages her role well, never going too far with the crazy.

LO-01970.dngTheresa Palmer, as Martin’s sister Rebecca, makes for a credible heroine. She takes the biggest emotional journey of all the characters in play going from an emotionally repressed screw up to someone who is ready to give everything to save her little brother. Rebecca leads the fight, taking with her Bret, DiPersia, who is trying hard to win her heart. Bret could have been a messy, annoying chap, but, DIPersia plays his part nicely and has the two best moments in the whole movie. You’ll know them when they come.

Overall, it’s a good, solid film achieving what it sets out to do. Likeable performances, a few jumps and a creepy spook.

You might think twice about looking in your closet.

7/10

River (2015) DVD Review

river1River (2015)

Running Time: 95 minutes

Writer & Director: Jamie M. Dagg

Cast: Rossif Sutherland, Douangmany Soliphanh, Sara Botsford, Ted Atherton

Out now on UK DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment

The classic thriller premise of ‘man on the run’ forms the basis of River, a Canadian film from first time feature Director Jamie M Dagg. The man at the heart of the action is John Lake, a American doctor working at a medical centre in Thailand. Whilst travelling to Laos to contemplate his future, he comes across a young woman being sexually assaulted on the beach. Jumping in to assist her, the woman’s attacker turns on him, with horrific consequences. The next morning a man’s body is discovered and John must literally start to run for his life, with very little option of anywhere to turn for help.

Director Dagg clearly has a handle on the thriller genre, ramping up the tension moment after moment as John tries desperately to save himself. Opening with a fast paced scene of him at work during a medical emergency, the story world is set; this is a good man trying to do everything he can to help people (perhaps with a certain disregard for rules and expectations). We are given scant background information on his character, just the knowledge that there is ‘nothing for him’ back home which adds to the enigmatic mystery of the foreigner abroad.

river2Rossif Sutherland (as John) creates a fully fleshed character who immediately pulls us over to his side of the fence. And yes, he is a brother to Kiefer in case you were wondering (although I couldn’t see that much resemblance myself). Ably supported by the rest of the cast, Vithaya Pansringarm in particular gives a natural and charming performance as a Laos bartender, Sutherland is able to hold our intrigue and belief for the entire 95 minutes.

From the very opening of the film Dagg uses images to tell his story and relies on very little expository dialogue to move the story forward which allows him to maintain the fast pace of the story and consolidate the tense tone. When so many films labour the setup, it was refreshing to see one that confidently throws you in to the action and presses the forward button.

river4When John takes flight, desperate to get back to the mainland without being caught, you’ll find yourself wringing your hands in desperation for him to make it. Each set piece builds upon the previous and sets your heart racing as he flees from police in a market or hides out on a bus. Director Dagg, who also wrote the film, has chosen an interesting story location, bringing that extra level of the unknown that would be absent if John was on the run in his homeland. The setting is unusual and unpredictable to us as viewers, so we can readily imagine and place ourselves in John’s situation. It makes a nice change to watch a thriller film where you genuinely feel like you could be the main character without the need to have the ability to scale walls or possess some highly specialised skill.

As John tries to make his way to Bangkok and then out of the country, he has to turn to old friends for help and it is in this latter part of the film, that some of the thrill gives way to drama and justice. However, this is perhaps understandable as The River is a thriller rooted at the reality end of the spectrum. To an extent the film highlights issues on a slightly more serious note than most ‘follow the dots’ thrillers do and it should be commended for that.

river3The River is a taut and compact thriller that delivers on the promises it makes at the outset. Tense and heart pounding, it drops us quickly in Laos and pulls no punches. Whilst it never fully digs beneath the surface of its characters or the situation, it’s great to find a thriller that tries to use both its heart and mind.

8 out of 10