Pieces (2016) Short Films Review

piecesshort1Pieces (UK, 2016)
Dir: Dan Sunley
Starring: Kristy Guest, Kate Sandison, Louise Willoughby,

Website – http://www.piecesfilm.com

Plot: When grandmother, Theresa (Sandison) dies, it’s up to granddaughter, Isabella (Guest), to put her house in order. Going through her grandmother’s things, she discovers a journal and a jigsaw puzzle. Strange occurrences around the house stir up old memories and compels Isabella to complete the puzzle in hopes that it might reveal secrets about her grandmother.

The first short film by writer/director Dan Sunley and his production company Cappuccino Studio, following up from the feature film You’re Fired!! While the previous production was a crime comedy, Pieces is a stark contrast, an emotional ghost story. Focusing on the relationship between a dead grandmother and grieving granddaughter, Pieces captures the moment where are mortality feels the most fragile. On first impressions I feared that this might just be another low budget ghost short, continuing the sub-genre’s popularity in contemporary horror.

Thankfully Pieces has it’s own strengths, in it’s location and it’s actors. It’s claustrophobic little house setting mimics the traditional haunted house well with it’s tight corridors and slamming doors. The cast is tiny at just four actors and even then it’s really only about the two main characters. Guest as Isabella is easy to sympathise with as the responsible member of the family having to do the hard work of respectfully dealing with her dead grandmother’s belongings, a task most of us dread ever having to do.

piecesshort2Sandison’s role as Theresa is more about bringing the mystery and the scares. Her spirit is responsible for the occasional jump scare. The short doesn’t rely to heavily on jump scares but what little they have work well.

Although no filmmaker likes hearing comparisons to other works, especially if they are attempting to make something new and unique, I find myself comparing Pieces to The Babadook rather than any other ghost film. It’s due to the allegorical nature of the short, that the putting the puzzle together feels like a metaphor for grief, the process of dealing with the loss of her grandmother before getting back to her normal life. It doesn’t entirely commit to this idea though, a last minute plot twist brings it back to a less serious tone and more scary fun.

piecesshort3Pieces is a good short, it’s well made, well acted and does it’s own thing, mostly. It’s not entirely original, only for being a ghost story in a time when ghost stories are overly abundant. When you’ve seen so many ghost stories it’s a little easy to see where the plot is going but it’s a good tale none the less.

7/10

Ghost Story (1981) Blu-Ray Review

ghoststory1Ghost Story (1981)

Running time: 88 minutes

Director: John Irvin

Cast: Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, Craig Wasson, Alice Krige

UK Blu-Ray Release December 7th from Second Sight

Ghost Story is an enticing proposition from the off; who doesn’t want to see a horror film boasting the collective acting royalty of Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Houseman and Melvyn Douglas? Originally released in 1981, the film is an old fashioned tale, sliced with 80’s horror and old school special effects. On December 7th it will be available on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, with a plethora of special features including the director’s audio commentary, Alice Krige’s exploration of her character and the genesis of Ghost story with original author Peter Straub.

ghoststory2So, picture the scene; our four elderly characters (Ricky, Edward, Sears and John) reside in a small New England town where they regularly meet as members of The Chowder Society. On dark atmospheric evenings they regale each other with ghostly, frightening tales, subsequently scaring the hell out of one another. Juxtapose this opening scene with an upscale New York apartment, where we witness Edward’s son, David, fall to his death after he sees his fiancé transform in to a decaying corpse. After the low key and tense opening, this comes as something of a shock and definitely not what you might be expecting. The story then weaves its way back to New England as David’s twin brother, Don (both parts played by Craig Wasson) heads home for his brother’s funeral and to see his starchy and difficult father.

This is where things begin to really take shape. The Chowder Society are haunted by vivid, terrifying nightmares and Edward (Douglas Fairbanks Jnr) falls to his death from a nearby bridge. Suspicious of both his father and brother’s death, Don begins to scratch the surface of what is really going on, linking events to his recent relationship with mysterious English woman Alma Mobley (Star Trek’s Alice Krige). Don’s questioning slowly unearths secrets long buried and it becomes clear that there is more to the Chowder Society than meets the eye.

ghoststory3Loosely based upon a book of the same name by veteran horror writer Peter Straub, the screenplay for Ghost Story is written by Lawrence D. Cohen, who also penned the glorious Carrie. Although not in the Carrie stakes, the story here is accomplished and knows how to build upon itself, finding its way to a great climax. The one thing to be said is that there are a couple of characters (The Bates) who are never fully explained and appear to exist merely to progress the plot forward. It’s a shame as they create some great sinister moments and actually end up feeling woefully underused.

Having said that, John Irvin directs his stars expertly, there is a definite classic feel to the storytelling and the numerous flashbacks are a treat, filling in the blanks and unravelling the story before us, as if we were sitting at the fire with The Chowder Society themselves. The joy of a good flashback can be a hard thing to beat and here we get two crackers; one relaying Don’s brief relationship with the haunting Alma, and two; the Chowder Society as young men, a past that perhaps holds all the answers.

Fred Astaire and John Houseman in particular are fantastic throughout the film, Astaire providing a softer edge and a sense of conscience to the dominant Houseman, who manages to be imposing and unnerving even without speaking.

ghoststory4Ghost Story definitely feels like an 80’s film (possibly even late 70’s) so it is fairly dated, but in all honesty it’s all the more charming for it. The effects may not terrify modern audiences but there is a shock value and who doesn’t love some old fashioned horror? It feels like a hark back to the sort of film you might have seen as a kid, managing to sneak downstairs late at night and turn the TV back on. I found it all genuinely unsettling, from the nightmarish terrors of the Chowder Society’s dreams to the unearthly Alma; the whole tone left me a little nervous to turn the light off.

6 out of 10

Signature Entertainment Presents The Vatican Tapes at Cinemas and On Demand October 30th, 2015

Signature Entertainment Presents The Vatican Tapes at Cinemas and On Demand October 30th, 2015

“A demon’s greatest threat is not to your body, but your soul.” – Cardinal Bruun

vattapesquad

After a young woman (Olivia Taylor Dudley) begins to express increasingly erratic and strange behaviours, her father (Dougray Scott) and boyfriend (John Patrick Amedori), along with a priest Father Lozano (Michael Peña) and two Vatican exorcists (Djimon Hounsou and Peter Andersson as Cardinal Bruun), come to realize that she’s been taken over by an ancient satanic force. It’s all up to Father Lozano to wage war for more than just Angela’s soul, but for the world as we know it…

THE VATICAN TAPES is directed by Mark Neveldine.

The story is brought to life by a cast that includes Olivia Taylor Dudley, Michael Peña, Dougray Scott, Djimon Hounsou, Peter Andersson, Kathleen Robertson and John Patrick Amedori.

CERT: 15 | RUNNING TIME: 87 MINS

Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2014) Review

wib2-1Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2014)

Directed by: Tom Harper

Written by: Jon Croker and Susan Hill (Writer and Story)

Starring: Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Oaklee Pendergast

UK Release: Out July 13th 2015 from Entertainment One

Runtime: 98mins

After the success of the 2012 adaptation of Susan Hill’s best-selling horror story, it was clear that a sequel would be in the works. Many had high expectations for the film as the stage adaptation is very highly spoken of, and if it can do that well on a stage the possibilities for the big screen are endless. Seeing “The Woman in Black” at the cinema with friends, I am definitely one of the many who is guilty of intending to view it purely because I wished to see what Daniel Radcliffe would be like in a role other than Harry Potter. Having said that I was not disappointed with the film and when hearing about the release of a sequel I knew it was one that I must see.

40 years after the Arthur Kipps’ (Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter, Horns) haunting experience at Eel Marsh House, with the hate-fuelled Jennet (the Woman in Black herself!) and we are in the midst of World War II. London is in chaos with people seeking shelter in the underground tunnels during bombings and all that can be heard it the crashing of buildings falling and the air raid siren screaming away.

wib2-3Many city children were evacuated to the countryside during this time and so we see teacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox – Switch, A Poet in New York) and her Head Mistress Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory – Penny Dreadful, Skyfall) accompanying a group of children onto the train in an attempt to get them to safety. Of course, the perfect place to evacuate young children is El Marsh House, the kind of place that gives you the chills just looking at it from afar never mind stepping inside it and anyone watching who has seen the first film knows that “safe” is certainly not a word to describe this house.

As the horrors of the house seem to unfold one after the other, Eve enlists the help of the dashing war pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine – War Horse, Now Is Good) to help her figure out what is happening. Edward (Oaklee Pendergast – Wer, The Impossible) seems to be the one at the centre of everything, which effects Eve for reasons that you discover throughout the feature. His appearance within the film reminded me very much of Damien from The Omen (2006), which added to the overall dark feel. Jennet most definitely takes the rhyme from the first movie almost as gospel, ‘Wherever she’s seen, and whoever by / One thing’s for certain, a child shall die.’

The scares are similar to its predecessor, noisy and full of melancholy; but effective, I was taken aback a few times, jumping noisily in my chair, which my partner found amusing. Yet I feel this film, as a whole, seems more elegant and flows a lot more effortlessly than the first. Of the two I definitely preferred the latter, feeling that it focuses more within the actual house and marsh rather than, as in the first one, moving backwards and forwards between the village and the house again and again.

The Woman In Black: The Angel of DeathWe are still left with things to learn about the demented Woman in Black, meaning that the whole film isn’t all just about scaring it’s viewer, and still isn’t just relaying the same information that we received in “The Woman in Black”. It ends with the possibility of a sequel, but personally I hope they don’t keep churning them out, as is happening with so many franchises now.

Don’t forget “She never forgives. She never forgets. She never left.”

7/10

Housebound (2014) Review

HouseboundHousebound (2014) – Review

UK Cinema Release Date: 3rd July 2015

UK DVD Release: July 20th from Metrodome Distribution

Writer & Director: Gerard Johnstone

Producer: Luke Sharpe

Starring: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper, Ryan Lampp

Runtime: 1 hour 46 mins

UK Certificate: 18

Life’s not gone so well thus far for young Kylie Bucknell (O’Reilly) – a youth blighted by addiction and crime which has led her to being nicked for rather expertly blowing up a cash machine, a misdemeanour that’s landed her a sentence of house arrest for eight months, electronic tag and all, in her childhood home occupied by her chipper, relentless chatterbox mother Miriam (played brilliantly by Te Wiata). During her reluctant return to the fold, Kylie discovers that Mum still believes, as she has always done, that their creaky, dingy old house is haunted by an unhappy presence – and bumps in the night that Kylie herself remembers from her childhood are still very much a regular occurrence. With so much time on her hands, Kylie begins to wonder if the place really is haunted and sets out to discover the truth, assisted by well-meaning yet slightly bumbling security officer Amos (Waru)…

housebound-1‘Housebound’ is the directorial début for New Zealand television writer Gerard Johnstone, and his first film offering has a bit of everything; it’s in almost equal parts frightener, slasher, comedy, melodrama and mystery, brought to life within the confines of an excellent location – the house itself is drably decorated in vaguely 1940’s chic and is labyrinthine in size and structure, adding to the claustrophobic tension Kylie is experiencing and making the viewer often unsure whereabouts in the place they are at any one time.

The cast is excellent across the board and Morgana O’Reilly shines as the miserable, selfish and at times aggressive Kylie, a highly unsympathetic character who nevertheless wins the audience over and compels them to root for her in her quest to uncover the mystery, whilst at all times providing lashings of humour from well-written dialogue involving constant sniping between herself and Miriam, who together make an excellent mother-daughter dysfunctional double act (“We live on the Twin Coast Highway, Kylie – lots of tourists drive through here!” “Yeah, at warp fuckin’ speed!”).

I won’t beat about the bush – I absolutely loved ‘Housebound’. I would call it easily one of the best horrors of the 2010s so far and it will definitely become a firm favourite in my collection. The snappy script, characteristic deadpan Kiwi humour and cleverly constructed storyline make for a fantastic romp of a time for the viewer and despite a not-talking-zillions budget, the special effects (showcasing a good dose of gore without overkill) are really impressive, as is the set design and the slightly campy, memorable soundtrack.

housebound2There are twists and turns within the plot, leading to shocks and no small amount of unexpected pathos as Kylie is confronted with the truth about the house’s past and indeed her own mistakes. There are genuine, fairly subtle and commendably creative scares but the film joyously embraces out-and-out silliness too in its bloodier and more menacing moments which are just hilarious! Basically, I just described all the hallmarks of everything I personally ask for in an excellent horror film – ‘Housebound’ certainly delivered for me and if you look for the same in your horror, YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!

9/10

The Possession of Michael King (2014) DVD Review

tpomk1THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING (2014)

Dir- David Jung

Starring- Shane Johnson, Ella Anderson, Cara Pifko

Runtime – 83 Minutes

UK DVD Release July 6th 2015 from High Fliers Films

With a strong pretty much self descriptive title, THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING arrives offering a new genre flick focusing on the invasion of poor souls by old Beelzebub or one of his many demon helpers, but with the slant of found footage/mockumentary angle, it joins films that have already have experimented with the demonic possession genre in the form of previous releases DEVILS DUE, which was not bad overall, and DEVIL INSIDE, which was awful. So how does MICHAEL KING fair up against previous found footage demonic horror flicks?

Opening with home video footage we see our titular character Michael King (Johnson), who isn’t camera shy as he is a documentary filmmaker, with his family having a picnic in the park. He is being filmed by his wife Sam (Pifko) and his young daughter Ellie (Anderson). The footage cuts abruptly when Sam says that she will go and put money in the parking meter, and this is most likely the point where a normal routine led to Sam’s sudden death. We soon find out about this change in circumstance when we see Michael announcing in to the camera that he wants to make a documentary to denounce supernatural forces and the whole idea of good and evil and of the spirit world. Basically Michael, who is an atheist, wants to undertake all manner of black magic rituals, conjuring and various ceremonies to prove that it’s all a charade and a fugazi or a fake to be precise.

Yet two separate rituals involving a demonologist and a necromancer, seemingly allow an evil spirit to enter his body, and as this is a horror film after all, our protagonist is seemingly, and stupidly, to arrogant to believe that evil demonic forces can be out there.

tpomk2His one cameraman leaves the project seemingly too freaked out by what he has witnessed, leaving only Michael with his cctv style mounted cameras around his house (ala PARANORMAL ACTIVITY), and mini cameras that he carry’s around with him or body mounted cameras attached to him (allowing some seemingly convenient camera angles to be captured) and we bear witness to the gradual mental and physical destruction of Michael through the demonic spirit intent, on destroying this non-believer and forcing him to eventually set his thoughts on harming his own daughter.

In the initial viewing of MICHAEL KING, it’s interesting to say and most understandable for many, that the found footage angle is the most distracting aspect of the film and an unnecessary one at that. Found footage works in many respects but in this aspect, it doesn’t seem to be needed and also carry’s with it scenes that are shot from camera angles that seem impossible, and like previous found footage possession horror DEVIL INSIDE, some of the filmed documentary scenes come off as almost shot in a natural linear narrative structure, and the use of impossible camera angles or certain shots lessen the impact of and seem out of touch with the mockumentary aspect of the picture. Though admittedly the film is helped along by a strong central performance from Johnson, who does well to portray King’s gradual decline both mentally and physically.

Being on screen for the majority of the picture Johnson portrays King at first as someone who is slightly arrogant and very knowing in his opinion on the occult, even go so far as to interview a fortune teller and to pin point blame on her for his wife’s death, yet his character ends up earning our sympathy and dread as he slowly becomes over taken by the demonic spirit. It’s a decent central performance that is one of the stand out aspects of the film. THE POSSESSION OF MICHAEL KING will not break new ground and as mentioned before seems to not need the found footage styles and makes you want to see this played out as a normal straightforward narrative film, which would have probably yielded a much stronger picture, and it does suffer from the shaky hard-to-watch-whats-going- on aspect of found footage.

tpomk3Though despite these setbacks, the film is overall helped along by a strong central performance from Johnson that kicks into full gear once the demonic spirit is unleashed and carry’s the film along, and at least MICHAEL KING is overall an entertaining possession film that may not bring anything new to the genre but at least marks itself as a decent watch that will no doubt find favour with genre fans.

6/10

Poltergeist (2015) Review

polt1Poltergeist (2015)

Dir: Gil Kenan

Written By: David Lindsay-Abaire

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Saxon Sharbino and Jane Adams

MGM/Ghosthouse

Running Time- 93 Mins

Having moved into their new home, the Bowens soon find themselves the target of a malevolent supernatural force that seems to be targeting their youngest daughter.

Let’s not sugar-coat things, 2015 has, thus far, been an absolutely terrible year for horror. After riding the seemingly endless roller-coaster of thrills and chills of the past two years, it was sadly inevitable that the good times would have to end at some point. The severity of the impact of the headache-inducing comedown has still been a shock, to put it mildly. An endless barrage of needless sequels to already tired and lazy franchises is still to come, It Follows was monumentally over-hyped and quite frankly, the less said about the odious Unfriended, the better.

Things certainly didn’t look to get any better with the promise of yet another pointless remake in Poltergeist. It should be noted that it does have had horror legend, Sam Raimi, as producer, who has much highlighted the notion that this film was to breathe new life and scares to the foundation of the original. This little caveat of promotion, however, should be remembered as being the same one he used when describing the Evil Dead ‘update’. Need any more be said?

polt2Films must be judged to rise and fall entirely on their own merits however. If Poltergeist 2015 is therefore to be assessed as its own individual creation, it is very very little more than a lowest common denominator haunted house horror. The film’s bag of tricks that it attempts to use in order to shock and spook is empty, a void of imagination or originality. To be brutally frank, were it not for the prestige of the film’s name, or the star power of Sam Rockwell, this is Tesco bargain bin-fodder at its most mediocre.

To begin with, the Bowens are a remarkably unlikeable family. What little attempts to give them any more depth than being average, white and middle class solely comes in the form of the fact that they are apparently ‘broke’. This set-up is dropped repeatedly like a particularly slippery bar of soap, by the woefully clunky script with exposition and ‘scare set-ups’ rammed in with the grace of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. For a family with no money, the luxuries of a flat-screen TV and various other flashy mod-cons seem to be ever-present. The height of this ridiculousness is found in the obnoxiously blunt piece of product placement, where a drone is used to capture what the ‘other world’ looks like on camera. Yes, really.

More sympathy or a stronger sense of connection might have been evoked from an audience if any of the family could actually do that little thing required usually of actors…and that is to actually be able to act. It beggars belief that of the presumably thousands of auditions, the production team settled on a boy who delivers every line in the same monotone drone with a blank face to match, a surly teenager devoid of any defining character and an annoying little brat who should have been left in the other world and never seen again. With a surly mother figure in Rosemarie DeWitt and a very much ‘for the money’ phoned in performance from Jared Harris (hilariously creaky Oirish accent in tow), the adults fare absolutely no better.

polt3Mercifully, there is one figure who prevents the film from being an outright disaster. Sam Rockwell, the man who consistently has had to come to the aid of some pretty poor films in the past is forced to do so here yet again. Rockwell easily pulls of the cool dad figure, cracking wise and horsing around with his kids but it’s the fact that he’s the only actor here who shows emotion and vulnerability that barely lifts up the film from being nothing but a tedious headache. Even Rockwell, however, can’t completely save the film from being such a mediocre slog, indeed, as the film progresses, it becomes more and more evident that he is bored and no longer enjoying the responsibility of having to hold everything else up. Perhaps the film’s greatest mistake is that in casting an actor with such natural charisma as with no-one to bounce it off with, all the other actors pale greatly and detrimentally in comparison.

It would be wrong to claim that the original Poltergeist is an untouchable solid gold masterpiece. The primary element of the original that still holds up to this day, however, is its undeniable sense of charm and indeed, warmth. The entire piece has a surprisingly winsome attitude, much like the films of producer, Steven Spielberg (the debate still continues as to whether or not he really directed it). Crucially, the scares in the original are built up very gradually and to start with, the family treat the supernatural occurrences as a bit of fun. Where the remake dramatically falls down is in its desperate attempt to keep up the current ‘quiet quiet quiet BANG!” craze. There are moments in which it does try admirably to build up tension, the clever use of cutting off a soundtrack is most effective but then it gets bored and resorts to a load of crash-bang-wallop CGI that looks horrifically creaky and laughable.

Without going into too great detail, there are several allusions the film makes that could have dramatically changed its direction and really could have made it stand out from the pack of copy/pastewithabitmoreCGI remakes and be its own beast. Sadly, the film eschews the opportunity to travel down the murky waters of ‘originality’ and instead favours the woeful misappropriation of the creepy clown doll scare from the first film. Clearly the lesson from Annabelle of “for god’s sake that doll is obviously evil, just look at it and throw it in the bin’ was not heeded and what was such a masterfully patient build up fright from the original, becomes a completely dispensable piece of fan-service in 2015.

polt4Poltergeist 2015 is a film that looks and feels tired and is extremely tiresome. Whilst we horror fans can cry blue murder when the classics are tinkered in ways we find abhorrent (ie Rob Zombie’s Halloween to name the most obvious example), at least a little bit of passion was put into such projects. There is no passion, no desire to make people scared or even thrilled here, Poltergeist is nothing more than a studio machine, designed to extract your money by reeling you in using the name and then convincing you that you want more of this rubbish by the film’s sure fire box-office success.

Here’s hoping The Gallows and The Hallow can breathe life back into horror in 2015.

Verdict: Dull, entirely forgettable and beyond even the power of Sam Rockwell to be saved by.

2/10

Selfie (2015) Review

selfie posterSelfie (2015)

Director: Geoff Harmer

Starring: Stacy Hart

Running time: 7 minutes

“I might be a girl but I can mess you up.”

I can’t give any better a synopsis than the one from the website, so to quote “A woman is haunted by a mysterious figure in her selfie photos.” And that figure is right out of a J-Horror, with black hair hanging over her face and a tattered nightgown on. But there is a reason those sort of ghosts work so well, they are implacable and undefined. The imagination can imprint far more menace on them than any make-up job.

Selfie is a great mood piece with dark stairs and a creeping figure that grows closer with every snap the unnamed protagonist takes. Photography and horror have gone hand in hand since the technology was created and the idea of the camera seeing more than we can is an intriguing one that never seems to grow old.

The film begins with most mundane of set-ups, and quickly takes a turn for the creepy. A woman at home watching TV and texting with her boyfriend. The texts appear as little pop up bubbles on screen so the viewer can read them. She sends her boyfriend a few selfies and he keeps complaining she’s not alone. My one small quibble is with the boyfriend who texts her that he’s worried she’s seeing someone else when he sees the figure behind her. Which is ridiculous? Who is she is supposed to cheating on him with? The Grudge?

selfie prod shotStacy Hart does an admirable job of carrying the short all on her own. As the only actor she had to make it work. While there is nothing wholly original about Selfie, it is great fun to watch. Show it to any J-Horror fans you know.

Kudos For: The Ring homage (intentional or not).

Final lesson: Stop taking selfies!

6/10

The Haunting Of Radcliffe House (aka Altar) (2014) DVD Review

radcliffe1The Haunting Of Radcliffe House (aka Altar) (2014)

Writer & Director: Nick Willing

Cast: Matthew Modine, Olivia Williams, Antonia Clarke, Adam Thomas Clarke

Running Time: 89 minutes

UK DVD Release date: 11th May 2015

UK Certificate: 15

A decent premise with some good performances, but it just falls short of the mark.

The Haunting of Radcliffe House (originally entitled Altar) starts promisingly, establishing our expectations and tantalising us with memories of classics such as The Shining and The Innocents. Unfortunately however, it just can’t live up to such lofty heights and you may be left wondering if the original intention was somewhat watered down.

The story begins when Meg Hamilton (Olivia Williams, Sixth Sense) takes her family to an empty old countryside house that she is renovating for a wealthy client and which the family will make their home for the next few months. Naturally however, the house has a rather dark past and we swiftly learn that the previous owner (an artist) dabbled in the occult, murdered his wife and subsequently committed suicide. Local people are wary of the house and not overly willing to help Meg with her renovation work, then strange images appear in photographs and ghostly figures stalk the grounds. Whilst this might send most of us screaming for the door, the family’s resources are tight, so they have little choice but to make the best of what we all know will turn in to a very bad situation.

radcliffe2Meg’s husband, Alec, a struggling artist looking for his next flash of inspiration finds it’s not long before he feels the dark force of the house and its history spreading over him. Matthew Modine does a good job of portraying the slowly possessed Alec, particularly in the early part of the film, where the gradual obsession and introspective attitude of the character works well. As he begins to make an artistic breakthrough, his relationship with his wife becomes unsettling and you find yourself drawn in psychologically; a scene where Alec massages his wife particularly disturbs. Olivia Williams plays well against Modine’s Alec, as she becomes equally confused and disgusted by his behaviour. It is these intimate moments spent together that engage and leave you wanting more, however it tends to feel as if the surface is merely scratched before the scalpel is put away.

When daughter Penny (Antonia Clarke) finally encounters the ghostly apparition of the murdered wife (Isabella) it doesn’t quite have the effect it should, relying perhaps too much on jump cuts and camera technique rather than the actors themselves. Having said that, Clarke does a great job of portraying the terrified Penny, and it will be interesting to see what roles she will take on next.

With the growing presence of the ghostly Isabella and the possession of Alec, the setting should rise to the occasion. Yet I found myself looking for shadows and straining for figures, waiting for the terror to unfurl and disappointed that it never really did. When one creeping figure does cause a jump, I wasn’t quite clear who or what it was meant to be. Equally, the back story of the original owners never feels fully explored and what we do learn just doesn’t quite add up. Craving further depths to the psychological nature of the story, the film doesn’t sit together well as a whole.

The Haunting of Radcliffe HallWriter and Director Nick Willing has a good body of work behind him and he does create some nice moments; the walls breathing, long corridor shots, the sense of the house being in control and changing at will. Yet, unfortunately, the story doesn’t convince and you’re left feeling that the boundaries could have been pushed further. On the whole, The Haunting of Radcliffe House should have been so much more than the sum of its parts.

5 out of 10

American Ghost Story (aka Devil’s Mile) (2014) DVD Review

americanghostAmerican Ghost Story (a.k.a. Devil’s Mile) (2014)

Written & Directed by: Joseph O’Brien

Starring: David Hayter, Maria Del Mar, Casey Hudecki

Out Now from Metrodome

Joseph O’Brien’s feature directing début, this is a low-budget affair that turns a fairly standard gangster/revenge set-up into a genre-bending supernatural nightmare. Three kidnappers are transporting their latest victims; two Japanese girls; intending to deliver them to their boss, the mysterious and much feared Mr. Arkadi. The three of them all seem to be at varying points in the process of a nervous breakdown, and have the sort of group chemistry that could easily see them kill each other over a game of charades. The freeway is taking too long, so one of them suggests taking a shortcut down an unmarked, desolate side road. After a cryptically foreboding warning from a shopkeeper is ignored & the troupe continue on the road it’s unsurprising that everything soon starts to go horribly wrong for all involved.

Many issues are evident from the beginning of this film – jilted scripts & uneven acting make the hardened criminals’ squabbling feel more like siblings fighting over Pokemon cards on a road trip, and daytime scenes are treated with the most appalling grading that makes everything painfully overexposed & bleached out. Thankfully, however, after stumbling through the first act more and more promise starts to creep through, and night time scenes are completely the opposite: giallo-style imagery with high contrast with coloured lights gives the film a stylish appearance; it’s surely no coincidence that the majority of the second and third acts take place at night.

devilsmile1One particular set-piece sets the main events into motion, and despite what is clearly a shoestring budget, O’Brien has created an action-packed & dramatic sequence skilfully. This flair for set-pieces carries throughout the film, albeit visibly restrained by the lack of resources. The main ‘villain’ is lifted directly from every single Asian horror movie you’ve seen, but is put to unique use in this type of storyline and occasionally takes on a far more terrifying form that is only let down by brief glimpses of generally adequately-disguised sub-par effects.

After the awkward first act sets up the characters, the issues with acting and script do subside, leaving room for some unexpectedly deep moments exploring the motivations and histories of the characters. The quality remains patchy however, with the script sometimes becoming a bit of a slog, and the performances sometimes appearing wooden, but there are more than a few moments where it all somehow manages to click into place, and once again in these points it’s clear that O’Brien has potential. The final moments tie up the story in an admittedly unexpected twist, but not one that particularly makes much sense. Containing the level of logic that would be acceptable in a short film, where the sole presentation of an interesting concept is enough, the ‘final reveal’ does not stand up to the scrutiny that a 90 minute feature warrants.

devilsmile3This is not a great movie. Not even a great low-budget movie. But to watch it with a critical eye there are more than enough moments that O’Brien displays great potential with the visuals, the writing, and the whole style of his filmmaking to stop them feeling like happy accidents. Even if this film misses the mark at least as often as it hits, displaying a strong, unique vision (even if it is comprised almost entirely of borrowed concepts like a scrapbook of horror) and no end of ambition I am still very interested to see what he is capable of with a bigger budget.

4/10.

American Ghost Story is available to order from Amazon UK here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/American-Ghost-Story-David-Hayter/dp/B00PY6PD0C/