Dead Awake (2016) Review

rsz_deadawake1DEAD AWAKE (2016)

Starring Jocelin Donahue, Lori Petty, Jesse Bradford, Brea Grant and Jesse Borrego

Directed by Phillip Guzman

Written by Jeffrey Reddick

Out NOW from Matchbox Films

“A young woman must save herself and her friends from an ancient evil that stalks its victims through the real-life phenomenon known as sleep-paralysis”.

Jeffrey Reddick struck gold when he created the original Final Destination. A smart, original and genuinely scary horror film, helped along greatly by the team of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Final Destination was a huge critical and commercial success that launched a pretty enjoyable franchise. But none of them involving Reddick. So what’s he been up to? Well, he wrote that really bizarre Day of the Dead remake, and a teen horror called Tamara that nobody remembers…And now he’s back again with Dead Awake. Is it as forgettable as those two?

Kate (Jocelin Donahue) is a social worker who begins to investigate the mysterious death of her twin sister Beth (also Donahue), who died in her sleep. Teaming with Beth’s partner Evan (Jesse Bradford), Kate delves into the dark world of sleep paralysis, and quickly discovers a mythical creature which is hell bent on using the horrifying condition to kill her friends.

rsz_deadawake2Imagine for a moment, if you will, if the villain in A Nightmare on Elm Street wasn’t the amazing Robert Englund as the horrifying Freddy Krueger, but a rickety crawling Samara from the Ring remake. Not only that, but the heroes weren’t teens who used their smarts to beat the villain, but a few thirty something mates who can’t move and just let the thing get them.

Well that’s Dead Awake in a nutshell. Sleep paralysis can be used to creepy effect, but not here. It robs the characters of any fight when the demonic entity known as “The Hag” comes crawling up in their faces. Reddick and director Guzman manage to make the sequence quite creepy the first few times it happens, but it becomes quite clear that’s the only trick up their sleeves.

The cast try hard, with Scream queen Donahue squeezing as much life and personality into her underwritten role, and Jesse’s Bradford and Borrego do great, auditions for Charles Manson, the former chilled and morose, the latter bug-eyed and edgy. But more often than not they appear bored when playing exhausted, and like the pace of the film, it can do the same to the viewer. Dead Awake takes itself very seriously, but the lack of fun is a real problem.

rsz_deadawake3Reddick had a great concept on his hands but the execution has no imagination. Every scene that showed the hazards of sleep deprivation just made me hope the Channel Zero crew get around to “The Russian Sleep Experiment”. Now that could be terrifying.

For now, we have this. A shuffling Elm Street retread without the wit and imagination of even it’s remake. If you’re looking for a visually pretty film with nice performances and one or two effective jump scares, check it out. If not, go with the awes Craven one.

5/10

Top 10 Horror Films of 2016 by Elliott Maguire

Top 10 Horror Films of 2016 by Elliott Maguire

swmb110. SHE WHO MUST BURN

Something that has and will always fascinate me is religion, and what those devoted to their God will do in their name. She Who Must Burn examines this in such a realistic way it’s almost a docu-drama. A horrifying look at religious extremism in a small town with a sense of inevitability and dread that is palpable.

9. CREEPY

Another title that completely caught me off guard, this dense, slow-burning psychological thriller was all about the characters and the performances, and oh boy did they do a good job of getting right under your skin, especially Teruyuki Kagawa as the last person you would want living next door. Truly the work of a master filmmaker, like the characters in the final frames, Creepy will leave you scarred.

tank8. TANK 432

Coming from Ben Wheatley’s frequent collaborator Nick Gillespie, I had high expectations for Tank 432 until I saw the trailer. Then I thought I had all the twists figured out. So happy I was wrong. This was a much smarter film than its surface would suggest, a hallucinogenic trip to to into the belly of the bull. War is hell indeed.

7. THE CONJURING 2

This was the most purely entertaining cinema going experience of the year for me. An epic horror crowd pleaser, every inch of the screen was used to smartly construct some of the biggest jump scares of 2016. Emotional, terrifying and full of wonder, this was just so much fun.

invitaqtion6. THE INVITATION

From the writers of Night At The Museum and the director of Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body…I didn’t see this going well. But imagine my surprise when this turned out to be one of the smartest and most  disturbing paranoid thrillers I’d seen in years. An absolute must-see.

5. TABLOID VIVANT

I had never heard of Tabloid Vivant until I watched it for a review, and I still don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. This is an art house film, literally about art, but don’t let that put you off. It’s also accessible, transgressive, imaginative, stylish, unique, funny and in the end quite tragic. It’s also available on Amazon Prime now, so I say open your mind and give it a go.

mindseyeeeee4. THE MIND’S EYE

Our fearless leader Andy Deen recommended this to me and all I can say is fuck me gently with a chainsaw, this is just the shot in the arm jaded horror fans are looking for. Lovingly retro without being cutesy, this is too drawer indie filmmaking. Complex characters, in a simple story told with passion, vigour and ingenuity. It’s stunning. For fans of Cronenberg, Verhoeven and Eric Red, it has to be seen. Bravo Joe Begos. Bravo.

3. GREEN ROOM

I think this was the film I was anticipating the most this year, and it exceeded my expectations. After this and Blue Ruin, Saulnier has the directorial and storytelling vision that I can relate to the most. This is old school genre filmmaking, the Walter Hill or John Carpenter kind. Every shot is thoughtful, every line important, and every scene of violence painful. Led by the late, great Anton Yelchin as an unconventional hero, this really is one of the most visceral and uncompromising horror films of the year.

2. HIGH RISE

Ben Wheatley can do no wrong in my book. He’s a true visionary whose films are always distinctive and High Rise was no different. Disturbing, hilarious, anarchic and horrifyingly relevant right now, this one will is going to stand the test of time.

wailing1. THE WAILING

I still can’t stop thinking about The Wailing. It’s such a layered and literate story, that takes its time burrowing into your consciousness. This is the ultimate kind of horror. It ticks all the boxes, but it all feels natural. Psychologically devastating, horrifyingly violent, and emotionally engaging, there truly hasn’t been a film like this in years. Steeped in folklore and character, this feels like an adaptation of an amazing Stephen King novel. It’s not, but it’s seriously that rich and imaginative. If anything comes close to it in 2017 it will be a very good year for horror.

Honourable Mention: THE NEIGHBOUR

The Neighbour is bound to be one of those films that flies under the radar, but, even though it’s technically more of a thriller than horror, it’s well worth checking out. A tight, smart, brutal crime thriller with standout turns from Josh Stewart and Alex Essoe.

Biggest Letdown: LIGHTS OUT

I’m a big fan of David F. Sandberg’s short films and an even bigger fan of James Wan’s. It should be a match made in horror heaven, but I found this a poorly developed effort. Dumb characters, an uninvolving plot and unimaginative scares made this extremely forgettable unfortunately.

Biggest Surprise: THE INVITATION

5 Most Anticipated for 2017:

a-cure-for-wellness-uk-movie-posterA CURE FOR WELLNESS

Gore Verbinski returns to the horror genre with what looks like a visually stunning mind-fuck. I don’t want to know anything about this going in but I can’t wait to watch it and find out.

GET OUT

A racially-fuelled Wicker Man from Jordan Peele and Jason Blum? Hell yes. I don’t think this could’ve been made at a better time and can’t wait to see what’s surprises it has in store.

PREVENGE

Everything about this, from the story behind it’s making to the concept, excites me. Everything I’ve heard so far tells me Alice Lowe has made a defining British cult classic.

leatherface_2016_posterLEATHERFACE

The directors of INSIDE. Directing a TEXAS CHAINSAW film. As a horror road trip. With STEPHEN FUCKING DORFF. WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG TO COME OUT!?! There is absolutely no way this can be as bad as the last one, so just put the ultra violence in my eyeballs now!!!

THE DEVIL’S CANDY

I’m a HUGE fan of The Loved Ones, and have been patiently waiting on another Sean Byrne film. Another unique eye with a huge passion for the genre, he’s a fantastic talent and this melding of a metal and the supernatural sounds awesome

Onus (2016) Review

onusONUS (2016)

Starring Robert Render, Anthony Boyle, Caroline Burns Cooke and Vivian Jameson

Directed by George Clarke

Written by George Clarke, Robert Render and Anthony Boyle

Out NOW on UK DVD from LEFT FILMS!

A boy wakes up below a cliff, bloodied, with a gun in his hand, and chained to a man who lies beside him. He stresses hard to remember what happened, and soon the puzzles of the day’s events come back to him. The story begins”.

Made for a budget of £500, Onus reads like a textbook example of how to make a next to no-budget feature. Shot mostly outside in natural daylight, with a minimal cast and very little to nothing in the way of special fx, Onus still manages to beat its minimal budget. While rough around the edges, there is enough promise here to suggest director and co-writer George Clarke is a talent worth watching.

Keiran Flynn (Boyle) and Mr Andrews (Render) wake in the woods, linked by handcuffs and gaffer taped handguns. As they come to terms with their dire situation, the plot thickens and the tension between the two rises. In the aftermath of the events in the woods, Andrews wife Liz (Burns Cooke) and Kieran’s mother Joan (Jameson) come together to try to make sense of it all…

Stripping everything back allows the performances to be the focus, and in the main they work very well. Render and Boyle make for a compellingly conflicted double act, a much more dynamic and tense relationship than the similar one featured in the original Saw. Burns Cooke and Jameson fare a little poorer but not for a lack of talent. Rather, their issues are one of many in the structure of the film.

anthony-boyleI have to highlight the main flaw in Onus and that is the rather ambitious but unsuccessful narrative structure. It’s a film of two halves, with the first half focusing on the chained together scenario, and the second half focusing on the aftermath. You can see Clarke’s intentions, but they don’t translate well. The script is less tight and focused in the second half, and the film falters technically as well, the sound hampering the acting.

All of this is very frustrating as the first half is so visually disciplined, well written and performed, that it could have easily been the focus of the entire feature. As it is, you are left with the aftertaste of a missed opportunity.

But you can’t fault the ambition here. On pennies, Clarke has made a thought-provoking and intriguing movie, that also reads as a textbook for aspiring filmmakers. I’d be very interested in seeing how Clarke pulled all this off, as would other students of the form I think.

6/10

Jack Goes Home (2016) Review

jack_goes_home_onesheetJACK GOES HOME (2016)

Starring Rory Culkin, Britt Robertson and Lin Shaye

Written and Directed by Thomas Dekker

After his father is killed in a car crash, Jack travels home to Colorado to help nurse his mother (who was injured in the crash) back to health. There, he uncovers long buried secrets and lies within his family history, his parents, his friends and his very identity“.

I have to be honest and say my knowledge of Thomas Dekker as an actor is pretty limited. I never watched the acclaimed Terminator TV series of the short-lived The Secret Circle, the only thing I’ve seen him in is the nightmarishly awful Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and nobody could’ve stood out performance wise in that risible shower of shite. So when news broke that he was making a horror film, I was all a bit “meh”.

But then the casting news broke and my attention was gained. Hell, I’ll watch just about anything with the iconic Lin Shaye.

Jack Goes Home is a tricky one to pin down. It’s undeniably ambitious, almost to a fault, and always visually interesting. But the script and the tone throw this one out of loop. Because of the aforementioned ambition, there is just too much going on in the tangled narrative, too many threads that seem at odds with each other. It’s actually reminiscent of American Horror Story, in the way so many balls are being juggled, you just know it’s going to focus on the least interesting one. But it lacks American Horror Story’s sense of camp, gaudy fun to distract you from the shortcomings. No, the tone here is almost unbearably serious.

jgh2Add to that the fact that our titular character is the typical unreliable narrator and there’s very little for an audience to identify with. Also, by shirking away any efforts to be identifiable or even entertaining, the movie can be just as alienating as it’s central character.

Performances do their best with the sombre material and the messy story. Rory Culkin holds the film on his shoulders, I mean he’s in pretty much every single frame. Lin Shaye is on darker and mysterious form compared to her usual quirky self, and Britt Robertson and Nikki Reed lend experience as they round out the cast.

Dekker’s direction is also great. He keeps a consistent visual tone throughout the movie as storylines converge and twist each other into a muddle. He wears his influences on his sleeve, the direction recalling The Machinist and David Lynch.

The issues arise with the script itself. After a little research I found that Dekker had written the entire thing in three weeks. And it does show. I know first-hand that a script doesn’t really begin to show its true potential until about three drafts in! But knowing that Dekker wrote this about his depression following his father’s death puts things into better perspective. No matter what the end result, this is a deeply personal vision. Mental health is something often impossible to understand. The mind can make a mess of things. The film is seen through the unreliable eyes of Jack, and many of this could be his fragile state of mind warping events. In dealing with serious themes such as child abuse, Dekker shows great bravery in even attempting the project.

jgh1With difficult to relate to characters and a downbeat mood, Jack Goes Home can seem a bit like style over substance, a pretentious mind-fuck that Jack himself would praise, then tell you you won’t get it.. But I don’t believe that’s the case. I’d rather have a lot of story than none at all. All in all, this is a very promising horror debut from Dekker. With his skill behind the camera and a fully developed script, he could be capable of something very, very special.

7/10

Swings & Roundabouts (2016) Short Film Review

sr1SWINGS & ROUNDABOUTS (2016)

Starring John Williams

Written & Directed by Peter Mckeirnon

Run Time – 8 minutes

“Eric was always the child nobody liked. He never knew why, it was just the way things were..”

Made for an estimated £300, Swings and Roundabouts is a fun and darkly comic little horror that subverts audience expectations, a macabre little warning not to judge a book by its cover, or indeed a person.

Through his narration, we learn that our lead Eric is a self-proclaimed outcast, a loner, on the outskirts of society since a child. His mother would force him to play with other children, even though they would torment and bully him before pushing him away.

But things have changed now. Eric is an adult, in body if not in mind. He goes to the park, and gets ready to play…

But not in ways you might expect.

sr2Until the very final frames, writer and director Mckeirnon is skilfully playing on audience expectation. With his mentally disabled lead, he lures you down a path you think you have seen before. How many mentally disabled man-child serial killers have we seen in movies and TV? Bloody hundreds, it’s a fairly typical cliché and for a most of its 8 minute runtime it feels like Swings & Roundabouts is going that route, albeit with a darkly comic wit and expertise. And maybe it does! There’s a certain ambiguity behind that innocent smile and the excitable tics of Eric’s.

But then the final shots introduce a completely different genre, and you realise you’ve never seen this genre from this type of characters point of view. It’s great!

Despite some minor sound and editing hiccups, Swings & Roundabouts is a lovely, funny and ingenious chiller, with plenty to think about after the credits roll.

8/10

The Devil’s Woods (2015) Review

devilswoodsdvdTHE DEVIL’S WOODS (2015)

Starring Stephen Cromwell, Caoimhe Cassidy and Richard Mason

Written & Directed by Anthony White

UK DVD release – September 12th from Left Films

A group of friends trying to repair their strained relationships decide to spend the weekend camping at a music festival. En route they stop off at a small town in rural Ireland. However, this seemingly idyllic country town is darkened by a history of strange events. Can a town this inherently evil literally tear them apart? Can they survive…the Devil’s woods?

A great thing about the horror genre is that it can be fantastic training for filmmaking in general. Every film no matter what genre needs shocks, suspense, surprise…and those are never more present than in horror. So many prestige directors cut their teeth with terror to prove this point. But what also makes horror a great training ground for filmmakers is the fans willingness to embrace a film no matter the cast, no matter what the budget. It will get seen. And feedback, good or bad, will be given. It’s the best way to improve. Sam Raimi, James Cameron, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, even Spielberg to an extent all started with a tiny chiller and look where they are now.

The plot to The Devil’s Woods is nothing to write home about. Two couples drive out into the countryside to take drugs, drink and fuck. Little do they know, they are not alone…Add in a dash of folklore and yeah, it’s a bit old hat. But what is refreshing is the amount of time White spends with his characters, building their relationships. While not always entirely successful, he at least tries to make us like them.

devilswoods3His direction too shows great ambition. While wearing it’s homages and inspirations on its sleeve, The Devil’s Woods does replicate that feeling of grindhouse terror and unease felt in seventies horrors like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. An effective score, with some great, thoughtful shots and the rugged, muddy landscape combined with the obviously ultra-low budget give a sense of unpredictability to the piece. Who are these filmmakers? What the hell are they going to do next?

Performances are what you would expect at this level from supporting actors, and better from the leads. Stephen Cromwell is convincing as the Jack the lad and, rarely for this kind of deal, isn’t annoying. He’s actually very likeable! As his other half, Danielle Keaney is a calm and natural presence, even if her character isn’t given too much to do until towards the end. As the other couple, Daniel Mahony and Caoimhe Cassidy have fun with their fractured relationship. The group as a whole are nice to be around, but one flaw hampers their performances. The bloody sound recording. It’s almost as if much of their dialogue was done with ADR, which only points out when it wasn’t. They’re all either too loud and clear or too quiet and vague.

The sound recording isn’t the only issue. The Devil’s Woods is fairly predictable, and some strange dream sequences just feel like filler. The pacing, which I know I just praised, does become an issue too, when you get to 50 minutes into a 73 minute film and the shit has only just hit the fan. I would’ve been happy for at least 10 more minutes of action at the end, more reward for the audience.

Now, I’m not saying Anthony White is showing signs of being the Next Big Thing or anything. But The Devil’s Woods shows enough guerilla smarts and frugal filmmaking spirit to suggest that if he keeps at it, keeps ironing out those wrinkles, works on the writing, the sound recording, then he has a bright future ahead of him. He knows what the horror community wants, and to a large extent knows how to deliver it. I wouldn’t say he even needs the bigger budget, he just needs to work on what niggles are contained here.

devilswoods2Like another cash-strapped passion project I reviewed recently, The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom, this is inventively shot, well performed, with a pretty killer soundtrack and some outlandish gore. The Devil’s Woods is a micro-budget effort to be proud of.

7/10

We Are The Flesh (2016) Fantastia Fest 2016 Review

weare posterWE ARE THE FLESH (2016) (FANTASIA FEST 2016)

Aka – Tenemos la carne

Starring Noe Hernandez, Maria Cid and Diego Gamaliel

Written & Directed by Emiliano Rocha Minter

After wandering a ruined city for years in search of food and shelter, two siblings find their way into one of the last remaining buildings. Inside, they find a man who will make them a dangerous offer to survive the outside world”. Via IMDb.

Since I started reviewing for UK Horror Scene, the greatest horror site in all the land, I’ve had the opportunity to watch the sort of material I probably would never have even heard of, let alone watched. Titles of note include the outlandish Aimy In A Cage, the avant garde Tabloid Vivant, and the ferocious Cruel Summer. All of these titles share something in common: they transcend the horror genre, in fact the transcend all genres. They are each, in their own way a boundary pushing piece of art. Sometimes surreal, sometimes emotionally devastating. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the 79 minutes of We Are The Flesh.

weare the flesh-01The plot, if you can call it that, revolves around a brother and sister who happen across a dilapidated building which hides the strange Mariano. In exchange for food and shelter, he requests they help him turn the building into a paper mache cave system, which begins to resemble a womb. Shut out from a post apocalyptic society, Mariano encourages the siblings to shed away all of their inhibitions, and give in to their most perverse desires and survival instincts.

In a similar way to Ben Wheatley’s High Rise, coherence and motivations are thrown out the window in favour of a montage editing style. Sequence after sequence occurs linked by imagery and sound more than plot points and story. Characters are similarly just ciphers. This is a film more about mood, theme and taboo. And you will see plenty of taboos broken here.

weare the flesh-02It starts with manic, performance art style behaviour as the characters loosen up in the dim light of the womb, and descends into incest, kind of necrophilia, rape, murder and cannibalism. Oh, and all that lovely sexy stuff is shown in graphic detail. This is nothing new of course. Indeed, at times the film does come across as the bastard love child of Gaspar Noe, Lars Von Trier and Tobe Hooper. But the sexual nature has never been presented so viscerally, even violently as here. The cast are incredibly game too, as if they have gone full method and become the characters.

The standout here is Hernandez as a permanently grinning father figure full of vile threats and decadent orders. His theories and monologues are gold, and his pure physical presence must be seen to be believed. Debut director Minter shows an extraordinary bravery. Not once wincing away from his own script, he commands every scene with his whirling camerawork, blistering editing and deafening sound effects. All of this would be for pure shock value if not for the undeniable intelligence in display.

weare the flesh-03Like the other titles mentioned at the beginning of this review, I think every viewer will take something different from this. Is it a meditation on survival at all costs? An analysis of society under a microscope in a world where manners, laws and religions are destroyed? A vision of our growth in the womb, our last chance to do what we want without judgement before we step out into a civilised society? Or is it what people get up to when nobody’s looking? It’s all of those, and none of those. But it truly is a singular transgressive piece of art, a confrontational art house horror the like of which we rarely see. Filthy, sexy, repulsive, hilarious, nihilistic, surreal, outrageous, terrifying and provocative. See it, smell, it hear it, lick it…whatever you do, just make sure you wash your hands afterwards.

8/10

Jonah Lives (2015) Review

jonahlives1JONAH LIVES (2015)

Starring Brinke Stevens, Cesar Pereira and Ryan Boudreau

Written and Directed by Luis Carvalho

A story of revenge from beyond the grave, centring on a group of teenagers who unwittingly supply the catalyst for the murdered Jonah’s return from the grave.”

What do you get when you get a bunch of thirty yet old looking teenagers who like talking about nothing between weird long pauses and just playing poker in a basement, and toss them in a blender with a zombie with a shaky motivation for going on a killing spree?

You get the ridiculous Jonah Lives. Man I really hate hating on a film but this was bad.

The aforementioned group of teenagers who look like adults who speak like aliens probably think we speak get bored of playing poker while their parents get pissed upstairs and start playing a ouija board. As well as kind of being possessed they inexplicably wake up a dead guy who, instead of going after the people who killed him, just kills the dumb kids downstairs.

There are so many things weirdly wrong with this but I kind of got myself lost listing them all.

Characters are completely inconsistent. One minute they’re an asshole jock, then they’re religious and nice, and then they’re suggesting doing a seance. And the actors never rise above it.

jonahlives3Francis is the Skeet Ulrich type who is a jock on the outside but has a heart of gold. Maybe. He flip flops.

Lydia starts as a typical dirty talker Rob Zombie type and then has an existential crisis or something.

And it goes on like this for them all.

Not only are they inconsistent, they’re horribly written and completely unlikeable. I swear to god someone says penetration and another guy chuckles and says “he said penetration!” And then another guy says “fuck you and your peer pressure” and they just sit around in a basement like little children. Carvalho probably does know how human teenagers interact, but he sure as shit can’t write it.

Which is a shame, because Carvalho can compose a shot professionally. This feels like a bigger budget than it probably was visually. But the seizure induced editing makes even the simplest scenes incoherent, as does the laughable sound effects.

The pacing, the structure, the acting, the filmmaking is all just massively uninspired. As is Jonah himself when he eventually turns up.

To wrap this up on a positive note, the score by Russell Estrela is a great 80s synth score that recalls a few Giallo scores. It’s really fun.

But that’s it.

jonahlives2From the cutaways to the party upstairs that leads to nothing, to the random debates about religion that feel cut and pasted from Wikipedia, I just found this a really joyless experience. Could there be a drinking game in here? Maybe a tequila shot every time there is an unnaturally long pause in the dialogue, or a beer bong when someone an attempt at humour goes wildly wrong. Actually, that could be fun! Maybe order a pizza too, and get some friends round.

3/10

Tabloid Vivant (2015) Review

tabloidvivant1TABLOID VIVANT (2015)

Starring Tamzin Brown, Jesse Woodrow and Chris Carlisle

Written and Directed by Kyle Broom

Fame. Celebrity. Wealth. Max, and up and coming artist hungry for fame, meets Sara, a budding young art critic who suffers the same obsessiveness about her work as he does. The two begin a tumultuous relationship based on using each other to get ahead and sequester themselves in a cabin in the woods, set on creating a work of art that they feel will completely revolutionise the art world. They want to make a work of art that is alive; even if it takes their own lives to do it.” Kyle Broom

Tabloid Vivant is an experience. It’s thesis on critique also makes it extremely difficult to fairly critique it too. Which is a real pain in the ass, but I’m going to try my best anyway.

The debate of film vs digital is currently a hot topic at the moment. High profile auteurs like Tarantino and Nolan sing from the rooftops that film is here to stay and digital lacks soul, while equally amazing filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher now exclusively use digital to beautiful effect. Who is right? Neither, really, it completely depends on your own personal opinion. Mine is that digital is allowing for young, talented filmmakers to realise their dreams in ways that film is simple to expensive to do, and Fincher is my idol so that says it all. But any argument descends into outright pretentiousness and that is what I think Tabloid Vivant nails best.

tabloidvivant2To delve into the plot would do the film a disservice as this is much more about themes and symbolism than plot points. But a convention that Vivant executes very well is characters, and as the two leads Brown and Woodrow are absolutely on fire, disappearing into their characters and providing an excellent, zippy chemistry to the very end. Woodrow, an actor I’m not very familiar with, is particularly magnetic. A combination of James Franco zane and Tom Hardy intensity, filtered through Heath Ledger’s Joker, I think we can expect him to be big time any day now.

Kyle Broom also does an absolutely fantastic job with the visuals. Combining various cinematic styles and techniques, often contrasting the films of the 40’s/50’s with the ultra modern (see the film vs digital theme) and constantly keeping the visuals fast and zippy so that even if you are completely lost in the narrative, you can still be enthralled by the surface. Add to that a cool and eclectic soundtrack and you have a wild ride that is quite unlike anything around at the moment.

Excellent performances, technically stunning and with an unpredictable and jarring story, any complaints? Some of the supporting cast don’t quite compare to the leads, and in doing so communicate some of the poetic and artificial dialogue in a less convincing way. But that’s a minor nitpick.

tabloidvivant3I was often reminded of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Haunted when watching. With a similar transgressive, inventive and darkly comic tone, Vivant expertly displays the pain of creating something so personal, and putting it on display for others. How will it be received, and how will you be judged by it? And when is the right time to show it? Artists above all else want to be seen and heard, they want to be filmed and admired, they want to be loved but they want to be unique. In the desperate struggle for perfection and acknowledgement, Max and Sara set out on a path of self-destruction that is actually left quite ambiguous. Their physical symptoms I perceived as their soul leaving their body and being absorbed by their own creation. Or it could have been all the paint, used in the same way gore is used in a body horror, a sign of gradually worsening decay and infection. But much more colourful.

After drafting this review, I couldn’t help but look at others so far, and it seems I’ve come to completely different conclusions than other critics. But looking back, I can’t argue with them. Which is a great thing. This work is so full of layers and motifs and such personal work that it can’t be helped.

Sorry if this comes off as more a ramble than a review, but it’s a very difficult film to write about. In a good way, but still. I suggest going in cold on this, or as cold as possible. How this will be marketed I have no idea, but whichever way it is will probably be wrong, so just heed my advice and watch it.

tabloidvivant4While not the world changing masterpiece that Max creates, Tabloid Vivant is still an ambitious and memorable achievement in a sea of dull and predictable filmmaking.

“This work must be seen to be believed…and maybe not even then”.

9/10

The Forgotten (2014) DVD Review

forgottendvdTHE FORGOTTEN (2014)

Starring Clem Tibber, Shaun Dingwall and Elarica Johnson

Directed by Oliver Frampton

Written by Oliver Frampton and James Hall

UK DVD release May 2nd 2016 from Metrodome

When a father and son are forced to squat in an empty London council estate scheduled for demolition, 14 year old Tommy starts to hear strange noises coming from the boarded up flat next door…” Via IMDb.

Social realism lends itself very well to British horror. From the nihilistic realism of Eden Lake, the mind altering Heartless, and the straight up supernatural thrills of Urban Ghost Story, The Disappeared and When The Lights Went Out. Decaying buildings or streets littered with poor, desperate, lonely souls are perfect settings for terror. After all, you don’t need to be in an isolated cabin in the woods to be stalked and haunted, when you’re in the middle of a city in a country that views you as a second class citizen because you’re skint. It’s the reason I’m working on a script in the setting and it’s the reason The Forgotten works so exceedingly well.

theforgotten-clem (1)Teenager Tommy is a bit of a loner. Quiet and observant, yet highly intelligent underneath, he lacks the social skills to survive around his peers. After being sent to live with his fuck up of a father, Tommy is shocked to find that he is squatting in the Farlow Estate, a concrete jungle of flats die for demolition. It’s a world filled with drugs and crime, already dangerous for a person, especially one like Tommy. But when he begins to hear sounds in the night from the supposedly abandoned flat next door, he is compelled to investigate. That coupled with his dad’s increasingly strange behaviour sends Tommy down a dark, disturbing rabbit hole…

As the awkward Tommy, Clem Tibber excels, completely disappearing in his lead role making you forget he’s even an actor. He makes Tommy such an intriguing and unconventional hero, never stretching the talks of believability. For instance, Tommy sees something scary, he does what any normal, sane person would. He fucking legs it! It makes him really relatable. The supporting cast work well to contrast even more with Tibber. Johnson is great as the ballsy waitress with her own haunting past, and Dingwall is convincingly mysterious as Tommy’s reluctant father.

theforgotten1Shot with the fly-on-the-wall aesthetic made popular by Ken Loach and Shane Meadows, and filled with eerie natural (and unnatural) sound design, The Forgotten is a just as moving as it is unnerving. Director Frampton directs with an assured, natural eye, subtly using colour and lighting to convey themes and emotions. The script by Frampton and James Hall is also spot on, with a slow-burn approach and authentic dialogue.

With a constant whistling wind, the filmmakers really sell the loneliness and isolation. Tommy may be in the city, but he may as well be on the moon. It creates a never ending and all encompassing sense of dread that never slips. Add in some excellent tension and some horrifying jump scares, made all the more shocking by the minimalist but fantastically old-school score by Paul Frith, and The Forgotten is that rare breed. A horror that is actually quite scary.

You can’t help but think of all the talented UK horror filmmakers and smile. Neil Marshall, Elliot Goldner, Sean Hogan, Ciaran Foy…the list is growing every year. And now we can add Oliver Frampton to that list.

theforgotten2Our fearless leader Andy Deen caught The Forgotten at Grimm some time ago and highly recommended, and he was not wrong. The Forgotten is an example of what the UK excels at. Take away the big budget and the mega stars, and tell a real, personal story that just so happens to be absolutely terrifying. I hope this trend continues.

But I have to stop watching these films on bloody night shifts in empty buildings. Don’t think it’s healthy.

8/10