IT (2017) Review

IT (Dir- Andy Muschietti, USA, 2017)

Starring- Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton

It’s ironic in the fact that the central terrifying killer clown of Pennywise comes round every 27 years to terrorise and feed on the souls of the children of Derry, Maine where IT is set, is somehow mirrored by how the last adaptation of Stephen King’s novel was also 27 years ago, in the form of a TV mini series. Whilst the TV adaptation suffered from obvious censorship regulations of the television network, some slightly hammy acting from the adult characters of the cast, it sill had a brilliant central performance from Tim Curry as Pennywise, the shape shifting entity who takes the form of the jovial circus clown to prey on children. The new version, which is also known as IT: CHAPTER ONE, has already gone through a couple of other directors, including TRUE DETECTIVE season one director Cary Fukunaga, and has now landed at the feet of MAMA director Andy Muschietti. So how does he fare in transferring King’s epic, if somewhat bloated (the original novel is over 1000 pages) tome to a new audience.

The film opens with a brilliant sequence where young Georgie Denbrough goes outside in the pouring rain to test out the boat his older brother, Bill (Lieberher), has constructed for him. The boat floats down a drain where Georgie encounters a clown, Pennywise (Skarsgard). Rather than be scared by the sinister figure is instead conversing with it in child like innocent wonder, only to be then viciously attacked and then dragged into the storm drain by the circus performer gone wrong. We then cut to the following summer of 1989 and Bill and his friends, who belong in the losers club which they nickname, are ready for the upcoming season, to try and avoid the towns sociopathic bully (Hamilton) and at the same time try and search for Bill’s younger brother who he still believes is alive. It’s only when they realise that all of them have been having the same unusual visions and terrifying attacks involving Pennywise that they soon start to figure out that the demonic clown has been in the town of Derry for a long time and could be behind the spate of missing children that seem to plague the area every 27 years.

Admittedly the first thing that will pop into your head from watching IT is the relocation of the period of this first part of the story, moving from King 50’s setting in the book and in the mini series, to 80’s with references to New Kids On The Block, LETHAL WEAPON 2 and BATMAN and other nostalgia that puts into mind the recent success of the Duffer Brother brilliant Netflix series STRANGER THINGS. A fact made more relevant as one of the members of the loser club is played by Finn Wolfhard, a star from that same series. Overall its this young cast that handle the roles superbly and bring about engaging characters for the audience to root for, as they experience the first signs of growing up and in a town where as well as the sadistic entity of Pennywise they also have to deal with the uselessness and often abusive tell tale signs of their grown up parents.

Particular example is Beverley (Marsh) the only female member of the group who has had dubious gossip spread about her around town, but in reality is clearly suffering from abuse by her leering father. Even the school bully is also prone to having a relationship forged on subjigation handed to him by his abusive father, who is the town sheriff, exemplified in one particular scene where he humiliates him in front of his fellow bullies. IT portrays a world in which the children are flawed but not by their own actions but rather from the parents, in some cases in the worst way possible and it’s only with them being together that they somehow show maturity and strength that the grown ups, who remain largely in brief supporting roles, will never have. The star of the show is Skarsgard in the role as Pennywise with a performance that is his own creating a terrifying entity that preys on the characters fears and is malevolent in his menace of them and in utilising and exploiting their flaws.

Whilst the performances are strong the film does seem to let itself down a bit in the number of choreographed jump scares that happen throughout. Its telling that the first few jump scares are well done but then you soon start to notice the pattern emerging of when you know the required shock you out of your seat moment comes. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with the use of classic horror jump moments, which is pretty standard in the current mainstream genre frame of mind, this does tend to become a tiresome after a while and in the long run will lessen the longevity of the film in years to come.

The film does have a few moments that expertly generate a sense of shock and unease that doesn’t need the residual boo-scare moment. Such as hypochondriac Eddie’s (Grazer) encounter with a leper made all the more creepier and disturbing as its set in broad daylight. Also the gangs initial viewing of a group of slides on a projector that goes out of control, when a family photo of Bill’s slowly unravels to reveal Pennywise’s gleaming evil smile instead of his mothers face is an expertly handled moment of that works surprisingly well.

Overall Muschetti is confident enough director and handles the proceedings of the film with expert skill managing to balance moments of terror with moments of levity with his portrayal of the group of kids bringing out some great performances from his young cast and also especially from Skarsgard. Whilst it does go over long on the running time (stretching at 135 mins) IT somehow regains enough pace to keep things on a roll throughout and admittedly despite the few flaws, the film still has enough quality in its setting and characters to remain an engaging genre work. One that seems to be a merge of 80’s nostalgia which is certainly popular at the moment and with the films of that period such as GOONIES, STAND BY ME (another King adaptation) along with the recent retro fest STRANGER THINGS which might go to explaining how well its done at the box office.

7/10

It Comes At Night (2017) Review

ican1IT COMES AT NIGHT (Dir- Trey Edward Shults, USA, 2017)

Starring- Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough

Another American indie horror arrives with a wealth of praise and has set out to continue the consistent drive of intelligent and original genre flicks coming out from across the shore. Is it a sign of film-makers responding to the increasing polarised splits in the country through politics and society that has caused this rush of horror films that reflect the current climate? Only time will tell. However, one thing for sure Trey Edward Shults IT COMES AT NIGHT does arrive with a marketing campaign that significantly points to this film being a straightforward horror which in reflection it is to an extent. But those expecting a quiet-quiet-boom shock laden horror story might be disappointed.

The film opens with a family disposing of a relative who has been infected by a fatal disease that has supposedly ravaged most of America. The family in question is husband and father Paul (Edgerton) his wife Sarah (Ejogo) and their son Travis (Harrison Jr). The infected relative in question is Sarah’s dad and Travis’s Granddad. The family are locked up in a house in a secluded woodland area. Boarded up and closed off as if to suggest no one is occupying the place. It’s not long though till an intruder breaks in, Will (Abbott), who after being subdued informs Paul that he has a family desperate for food. After eventually trusting Will, Paul brings the family into the boarded up house and it seems as if everyone is getting along fine and working as a unit. Yet its not long before a couple of incidents involving Travis’s dog and the son of Will and his wife Kim (Keough) sets off a tense and chilling conflict between both family groups.

One noticeable trait of IT COMES AT NIGHT is that setting a post apocalyptic story in a woodland area on the edge of civilization will allow the film-makers to at least not worry about the factors of production design or portraying the ravaged city scape that usually features in bigger budgeted outings that feature the world in devastated form. This is however essential to the story as it’s focus is on it’s characters and it also makes the ongoing threat of contagion ever more disturbing as once our characters don gas masks we know that their paranoia of the plague is real and its their actions that lend the films dramatic edge.

ican2Essentially this is a story of decent people driven to desperate means for survival and breakdown in any decency when it comes to folk wanting to protect their own family unit which makes the films conclusion, and I wont lie its not a pretty one, even more darker and in the long run with the characters actions, essentially futile. There is no denying that Shults film has a certain resonance with the current climate in America and even in our own country with a society split and mistrust felt by all sides against every one be it foreign or domestic. Paul’s protection of his own unit and his own boarded up house seems to fend off any intruders yet even welcoming them in eventually leads to confusion and chaos and acting on own selfish impulse which ultimately can seal ones own fate.

Edgerton (who is always a great character actor see THE GIFT for proof of that), also working as executive producer, is brilliant as Paul presenting him as an ex school teacher who seems to relish the role of protector and commander in chief of his house, yet his obsessive nature of sticking to rules and routine distracts him from the fact that his own son is suffering from the nightmarish reality that is happening around to him. As Travis, Harrison Jr, is also brilliant managing to convey the film from his perspective and its from the eventual fiery disposal of his granddad’s corpse that we see the film through his eyes, from listening to Will and Kim’s intimate conversations in the attic space, to his possible affection for her and his own horrific nightmares which add as some of the films intense shock scenes. It might have been better for Shult’s to flesh out the female characters a bit more as they seem more to be in the background for much of the running time. However Ejogo does have one of the best lines in the film that pretty much foretells the bleakness to come. When Paul states that “everything’s gonna be all right, to which she replies, “You don’t honestly believe that do you?”

However Shults also works brilliantly with his cinematographer Drew Daniels to capture the confined space of the house with its widescreen cinematography giving it an edge and elevating it to be its own character. The murky almost entirely dark spaces occasionally lit by lantern or flash light add an intense visual feel. Even a long tracking shot towards a door is filled with tension as in the viewer is left at the mercy of the camera as it approaches making us expect or anticipate either it to be busted open or a loud knock to unsettle bot the characters and the audience in what awaits beyond it.

ican4Like Robert Eggers THE WITCH, IT COMES AT NIGHT portrays the stark breakdown of the family unit and its unwillingness to cope in desperate situations and just like that film from last year this is another fine example of American horror going through a renaissance in both reflecting troubling times and using genre cinema as a template whilst retaining an original independent feel.

8.5/10

Worm (2013) DVD Review

rsz_worm1WORM (Dir- Doug Malette, USA, 2013)

Starring- John Ferguson, Jes Mercer, Shane O’Brien, Scott Ferguson, Josh Matthews

Out NOW (and cheap) from LEFT FILMS!

Having already been reviewed on this site before almost 3 years ago in fact, WORM has been on the shelf waiting for a UK DVD release and its thankfully arrived via the good folks of LEFT FILMS who have been making a habit of picking up quirky low budget genre fare and putting out on general release. WORM is another example of quirky and unusual and having little to no knowledge of the film I decided to give it a shot and see if it can bring something new to the table or end up falling off it in more ways than one.

Set in a near future where people cannot dream any more, a corporation has got around that little set back by allowing consumers to purchase nicely presented packaging which contains a genetically modified worm. The worm can be placed into the ear and dissolves on the brain allowing the user to dream brilliant fantasies. Our central character Charles (Ferguson) wants the worms, known as fantasites, to escape his mundane life. However he cannot afford the premium brand and has to settle for the economy brand. When this brand is not enough to impress one of his tenants, Reed (O’Brien), who is a premium user and worker at a news channel which is investigating the side effects of fantasites, Charles’s luck soon changes when he finds a box of premium brand left outside his apartment. With his confidence soon improved Charles wants to be friends with Reed more but only for his own desire to start a relationship with his live in girlfriend June (Mercer). However a humiliating dinner date between the three leads to Charles slipping into the fantasites more and more, neglecting real life. Once the fantasites have been found to cause more harm they are banned and our three central worm addled users becoming increasingly desperate to get their fix prompting them to buy and become involved with dubious and violent dealers that start to lead to darker and desperate consequence’s for all involved.

rsz_worm2In its execution WORM is a film that acts almost like a drug in its layout. Starting with a first part that seems colourful, funny, vibrant and at times harmless, then slowly dipping into a more desperate part that sees people becoming more and more closed off, to eventually where things take a darker and more violent tone and the euphoria is replaced by desperation, betrayal and eventually self loathing. This is one of the elements that is most impressive of the film and Malette perfectly embraces you into this world. Admittedly whilst the concept of people not dreaming is an element that could do with a bit more explanation, the story’s drive and ambition is such that the alternate world we are in, is one that we recognise but with the added warped bonus in a TWILIGHT ZONE-esque alternative earth kind of way where worms on our brain are a part of life leading to the films second part where human intuition and scientific as well as journalistic investigation, discover the negative impact of the use of fantasites. Indeed the second part and the conclusion is the films strongest element with the illegalization of the drug leading the characters to source illegal ways of finding the fantasites.

rsz_worm3This leads to an intense scene where Charles discovers thanks to a local drug dealer the nasty and gruesome way the fantasites are harvested and its this turning point where the films earlier charming often fantasy like elements are slowly eroded to stark reality. The first part of the film is slightly weak in parts in that we establish the characters who come across as slightly one dimensional and at times irritating. Particularly Charles who has too many social ticks that make him seem more annoying and awkward and despite some empathy being built towards him, there’s still a tendency to start seeing that he is his own fool and that he does not recognise when he is being mocked or being talked down to or when he is easily led. Though this is evident throughout the darker parts of the film where his affection for June drives him to become increasingly involved and associated with more dodgier and violent characters. Yet despite the irritations Ferguson and the other two main actors, O’Brien and Mercer, do well with what they are given and provide surprisingly decent performances to root for, particularly Charles and June, who are slowly unaware of the dire situation we the audience know they are unwillingly and willingly heading towards.

rsz_worm4Working on a low budget Malette has managed to craft an impressive feature that does have a few rough edges and slightly flawed character portrayals but on the whole WORM is a surprisingly engaging experience and one with the possibility of developing a cult appeal and shows that the director has enough ideas and ambition to confidently handle and command your attention throughout. The only thing the film left me wondering though is why the hell would you put a live worm in your ear in the first place?

7.5/10

Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

rsz_ac1ALIEN: COVENANT (Dir Ridley Scott, USA, 2017)

Starring- Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz

No doubt when a new ALIEN film turns up everyone turns their heads in anticipated glee awaiting the new entry into the franchise which has lasted almost 38 years since Scott turned a spaceship into a terrifying claustrophobic nightmare pitting humans out of their depth, against an unstoppable killing machine. Since that first film the Alien has gone onto a superb sequel in James Cameron’s ALIENS, then followed by the underrated and superb dark misery of ALIEN 3 and the uneven and sub-standard ALIEN: RESURRECTION. Following that there were two heavyweights clashes with it’s rival extraterrestrial bad guy the Predator, ALIEN VS PREDATOR and ALIEN VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM, both as bad as each other. It took until 2012 for Scott to return to the franchise with PROMETHEUS a very flawed but technically stunning picture which has started a series of films to go about explaining the origins of the Xenomorph being and this brings us to ALIEN: COVENANT, the first film in this prequel series of films to feature the word ALIEN in it’s title.

Covenant is the name of the colonisation vessel on a seven year mission route to a new planet. On its journey the ship is hit by a solar flare storm which severally damages the vessel and causes loss of crew life including the main captain and husband to Daniels (Waterston) leaving Oram (Crudup) to reluctantly step up and take charge. The ship receives a distress signal from a nearby planet which Oram decides to send out a re-con mission to investigate and to see whether the new place could be a possible hospitable home for the colonists (you can see where this is going, right?). Naturally when they arrive some nasty spores causes some nasty reactions to their human hosts and the re-con crew find themselves under attack from an earlier version of the Xenomorph only also to find sanctuary from the synthetic David (Fassbender) from PROMETHEUS who has managed to survive on the planet. Yet David who sinister intentions in the previous film seem more apparent and this puts the crew in even more danger.

rsz_ac2It’s safe to say that this latter series of ALIEN films will not reach the tension and terror of Scott’s original, or the bombast and brutal action of Cameron’s sequel and not even the grim beauty of Fincher’s ALIEN 3 but in turn it’s trying to bring a fresh origin story to the franchise. Whilst PROMETHEUS felt uneven and quite overblown in it’s execution it seems to be a necessary forefront in establishing the beginnings of the origin. ALIEN: COVENANT does follow this in many way’s even with the dialogue which at times seems clunky and contrived and retains one of the main characters from that film, David. Though in the process it gets rid of the engineers from the previous film and only offers their absence with a flashback sequence that shows they where exterminated. Yet this is not fully explained or attributed and in its absence you would have liked to have known more of the background to the engineers especially since this is supposedly an origins story. Whilst it does attempt to follow a new path parts of the film almost seem like a greatest hits retread of the first two movies with a bit of ALIEN thrown in there and a bit of ALIENS dropped over here. It also does rely to heavily on the use of CGI effects for the Alien which seems a bit disappointing in retrospect when the original film used the classic man in a monster suit to great effect.

rsz_ac3Admittedly its necessary to use CGI for the Alien’s first beginnings and growth but at the same time the nostalgia and effect of prosthetic effects is greatly missed and the reliance on CGI ends up coming off as more lazy than necessary in parts. Despite the flaws the film is in the end visually and technically stunning. One thing that Scott is great at is world building and visual craft which has been one of the most important aspects of his career and will be a surely a hard act to follow in the forthcoming BLADE RUNNER sequel due out this year for that films particular director Denis Villenuve. Even with a flawed script Scott somehow manages to maintain a stunning visual presence in the film and design a fantastic outer space world which on the IMAX screen is brilliant to watch and thankfully in this films release they have dropped the gimmicky 3D effect which was utilised in PROMETHEUS. Credit should be given to the cast with Fassbender both in dual roles as the synthetic David and the Covenant’s ship own robot Walter and is again superb, Waterston is also confident and reliable in what is essentially the Ripley role as Daniels and also McBride as Tennessee the chief pilot. McBride has mainly been in comic roles but this time round he manages to shrug of the funny guy persona and deliver a decent likeable serious role as the brash Covenant pilot.

rsz_ac4In terms of being a return to the original nightmare of the first series of films COVENANT won’t reach those dizzying heights and whilst I can understand the negative feelings towards the film, I still like to recognise some of the impressive work within this particular outing and on the biggest screen you can see it, makes it all the more stunning. Given a stronger script Scott, who intends to carry on with another film in this series, could benefit even more. Though in the meantime he still manages to stage and orchestrate some fantastic visual and technical skill that at the core is one of the retaining and beneficial factors of COVENANT.

6.5/10

The Void (2016) Review

rsz_void1THE VOID (Dirs- Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski, CANADA, 2016)

Starring- Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Art Hindle

Out now on Demand + DVD & Blu-Ray from Signature Entertainment.

After making an impression at a series of festival screenings, THE VOID arrives on blu ray and digital download after a very (almost non-existent) cinema release, in what will be a format where it can find a more appreciative audience, as the film harks back to memories of VHS horror flicks and those sort of films you found in the local rental store that had garish hand drawn covers and as a kid you immediately wanted to rent out. The memory of the 80’s genre cinema and creature prosthetics and even the looming influence of John Carpenter, is further emphasised since some of the films influences can be found in his classics THE THING and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.

rsz_void2Starting off with a bang the film opens with two people running from a farmhouse in terror one of whom is shot down and killed by two strangers who state that the other person “won’t get very far.” Said fleeing injured person runs out onto a road and encounters Sheriff Carter (Poole) who drives the guy to the nearest available hospital, which in turn is closing down after a fire gutted much of its basement and is surviving on a small skeleton crew of doctors and nurses including Carter’s wife Alison (Munroe) who has separated from him since the death of their child during birth. It’s not long before the hospital is under siege from mysterious hooded figures who are intent on not letting anyone escape from the hospital which comes under attack from all manner of messed up creatures. With tempers fraying between Carter and the two men from the start of the film who know more than the staff and become valuable allies, they soon start to realise that the hospital might be the basis for someone or something with a more darker purpose than they imagined.

rsz_void3Gillespie and Kostanski know how to kick off the film in the right way and they keep this energy up throughout the running time almost not letting go of the full throttle pace of the film. Managing to cram small bits of back story of the hospital and the characters, the film maintains its focus on the situation and is blessed with the perfect setting. PRECINCT 13 springs to mind in this aspect of the closing down hospital, a skeleton crew of mismatched individuals some of whom might be a threat, surrounded by a mostly silent enemy. However the extra level of tension is added in that what ever the hooded figures threatening the characters outside is also manifesting itself inside in a much more horrific way and its this concept that allows the true stars of the film to shine or rather spill its guts onto the screen, which is the effects. Both horrifying in an almost surrealist creation of disgust and innovative, the creature effects are superbly done and its a credit to the directors and the effects team to go along with the use of prosthetics. Its no surprise to know that the two directors have backgrounds in art and practical effects on some big budgeted films and that experience has allowed them to bring it to the full in their own picture.

rsz_void4Whilst there are a few cracks in the story and at times background detail seems to be missed, the film runs at a decent pace to almost allow you to forgive some minor plot holes as it’s main focus is on the action and some impressive set pieces. The cast handle the proceedings well, managing to portray convincing normal small town people trapped in an unbelievable situation, particularly Kenneth Welsh as Dr Powell whose brief part leads to a more significant and deciding character that changes and significantly influences the second half of the story. Cult film fans will also recognise Art Hindle star of the 70’s version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and THE BROOD in a small role.

rsz_void5THE VOID is going to go down well with hardcore horror fans and it’s damn enjoyable. Admittedly you can spot the genre references through and through from Carpenter’s aforementioned classics mentioned before to HELLRAISER, with a splattering of THE BEYOND especially in the films final sequence as well. But as genre films go you cannot fault its ambition and drive and the directors have a love and an appreciation of the horror film. It will have any self respecting genre fan loving it’s use of traditional prosthetic effects and watching it with a huge smile on their face, since it has the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making.

8.5/10

Stake Land 2 (2016) Review

rsz_stake1STAKE LAND 2 (Dirs- Dan Berk, Robert Olsen, USA 2016)

Starring- Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Laura Abramsen, A.C. Peterson, Steven Williams, Kristina Hughes, Bonnie Dennison

Out NOW on UK DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment

Jim Mickle’s STAKE LAND was a surprisingly effective flick back in 2010 as it at least tried to bring back the vampire into a more darker and gritty combination of post apocalyptic western and straight up serious horror. The film carried a bleak almost nihilistic world view in parts backed up with interesting and empathetic characters most notably Nick Damici’s vampire hunter Mister and the young lad he takes under his wing, Martin, played by Connor Paolo as they navigate the ravaged American landscape on their way to find New Eden in Canada, the last hope of a safe refuge.

The film picks up with Martin and the girl he left with at the end of the last film, Peggy (Dennison) now living with a kid of their own. Tragedy rears its ugly head as we learn in flashback that Peggy and Martin’s daughter were slain by a new leader of the religious nutter group, The Brotherhood, who where one of the main human threats from the first film. This new head is called The Mother (Hughes) who has control over the mutant berserker vampires that spread the epidemic in the first place and who The Brotherhood worship as their new god intent on their mission of wiping out the remaining heathens in the world.

rsz_stake2Martin sets out on a quest for vengeance encountering un-trust worthy folk along the way including an elderly couple whose hospitality hides a sinister purpose (seems pretty obvious in the long run) and a band of humans who seem to be trading other unfortunate captive humans and forcing them into fighting. Its this point where Martin meets back up with Mister who has found a feral women he has called Lady (Abramsen) and they soon return back wandering the waste land in search of The Mother, meeting up with two old friends of Mister’s, Bat (Petersen) and Doc Earl (Williams) on a mission that sees them facing persistent struggle and possible doom.

It was surprising to hear that this film originally had its premiere on the SyFy channel in the states, which is more at home to screening first time premieres of films about mutated ghost sharks and the like. The SyFy channel premiere doesn’t really do it justice and despite a few festival screenings this time round unlike its predecessor STAKE LAND 2 goes straight to DVD in the UK. This shouldn’t put anyone off as this is a decent sequel and whilst it doesn’t have the strength of the first one and in some ways less of a budget the film still retains the bleak world view of the original. Naturally in post apocalyptic times we are reminded of the futility of society and its complete breakdown due to collapse in institutions and this sequel keeps up that notion even if I would say borrowing very slightly from THE WALKING DEAD and that series bleak world view, which in turn I felt certainly must have had some of the original STAKE LAND’s inspiration rub off on it in the latter seasons of that show.

rsz_stake3But then post apocalyptic films have always traded on our fears of epidemic, nuclear war and the breakdown of the world and rationale humans turning on other humans an idea which always works well and forever will be present and in current uncertain world climate even more relevant. Paolo and Damici, both excellent in this, reprise their roles as Mister and Martin and its good to see them return since their pairing was one of the first films strengths. A nice connection is played out with the tragic incident at the start that befalls Martin and with one that happened to Mister in the past, who sees Martin change and slowly start to become what he used to be even though he sees a better future and character for the boy. They are backed up with support from Petersen and Williams who lend a pair of bad ass characters also driven numb by the bleakness of the world.

rsz_stake4Directing duo Berk and Olsen handle the film with confidence and pace the story into new territories alongside introducing new past story traits to strengthen the characters even though in some respects it lessens the hidden past mystery of Mister. They also benefit from a great use of the shooting location of Saskatchewan that adds to the vast loneliness of the post apocalyptic landscape and an almost Western-esque feel. Credit should also be given to the make up effects work which manages to be effective adding an ugly look to the vamps as well as making the head vamp, The Mother, look albino in a way and strangely like Tilda Swinton but with long hair and one eye. In the outset this sequel, whilst might not be as sprinkled with the originality of the first film still manages to be an entertaining 81 minutes that delivers some fantastic scenes of mutant vampire action and gore amongst the dramatic human moments.

6.5/10

My Little Sister (2016) DVD Review

rsz_1rsz_mls1MY LITTLE SISTER (Dirs- Maurizio Del Piccolo, Roberto Del Piccolo, ITALY, 2016)

Starring- Holli Dillon, Mattia Rosellini, David White, Astrid Di Bon

Out NOW on UK DVD from Left Films

The woods are always a great setting for a horror film and the natural habit is greatly used in this gritty stalk and slash thriller with elements of a torture porn flick thrown in for good measure. Whilst it’s low budget from the start and the setting pretty much confirms that since what’s the better way than to use a sparse woodland area without having to spend money on difficult locations that can be inevitably hampered by unsanctioned walk on cameos by members of the public and MY LITTLE SISTER uses the woodland to its extent.

The plot is basic in that it starts off with a couple going deep into a forest to meet up with some friends. They bump into the oft used horror character of the scary local, warning them that Little Sister will get them and to not take the non-threatening name lightly. Naturally they ignore this nutter’s warnings and its not long before the couple are having to fight off this vicious killer wearing what looks like a human skin mask and who has a nice line of peeling men’s faces off while making their loved ones watch on in horror, fulfilling the torture porn feel of the film from scene one. Throw into this a suspicious derelict farm house which seems to be the home of the killer and a mad women who wanders around the woods, seemingly harmless but somehow has a link to the house and to the madman.

rsz_mls2Opening with a nicely done scene of brutality with some unfortunate captives being tortured by the aforementioned Little Sister including one man being removed of his face in grizzly and impressive effects fashion MY LITTLE SISTER starts off in impressive attention grabbing kick off. This opening allows the Del Piccolo’s to start off strong and keep the viewer interested and to stay on board for the duration. Whilst there’s no doubt there are some flaws in this film there is also a lot to be impressed about. The central bad guy Little Sister or as he is also known by his really name, Igor, my have one of the most daftest sounding nick names for a bad guy but somehow comes across off as an effective villain with a grim mask made up of faces of previous victims looking pretty grim and unnerving.

rsz_mls3With hunchbacked slouch and stumbling walk as well he is the typical slasher bad guy one with a handicap yet somehow this still doesn’t impead him and he manages to outwit able bodied victims easily, which is also a classic trait of the slasher film. There is no doubt that the directors have been studying their horror homework as there’s the standard reference to slasher flicks and also a nice reference to the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE which plays into the backstory of the little sister and his family abode, a run down and decaying farm house which is a nice backdrop to the film and as a set is an impressive find for the film-makers. Though like any horror film you wonder why a character running from a mad man would take a chance running into a clearly deserted grim farm house knowing clearly well this might not be a place with a welcoming or comforting vibe.

rsz_mls4Clearly the film does have a few flaws. Dialogue wise the decision to go with an Italian cast speaking English seems somewhat unusual and whilst the dialogue is minimal the lines delivered seem stunted and flawed. This is marred by some wooden dialogue and admittedly were not here to witness a master-class in acting but it seems at times unintentionally comic particularly from the doom saying woodsman who is known in the cast as Ben. His delivery of the aforementioned “you’ll all be doomed” speech comes off as more cheesy and it doesn’t really help that he has an axe in his hand which makes him look more like a threatening local hill billy rather than a to be laughed at idiot local. At times less dialogue and maybe even no dialogue would have been a better choice or route to choose that could have added an originality to the piece. The cinematography is impressive for much of the running time though some earlier shots suffer from a slight sense of amateurish filming. As if part of the earlier section of the film is shot on a smartphone as it has that sense of image stability and picture panning which feels as if the screen is being dragged rather than the camera being moved.

rsz_mls5It’s not an overly original piece of film-making we have on hand here and with some flaws there’s still plenty to admire in MY LITTLE SISTER and the Del Piccolo’s have put their heart and time into this. To their credit they pull it off efficiently and with some gritty style, it has an unironic full on traditional slasher film feel, with an intention of trying to possibly set up a titular horror character in the form of Little Sister.

6/10

Ibiza Undead (2016) Review

iu1IBIZA UNDEAD (Dir- Andy Edwards, UK, 2016)

Starring- Jordan Coulson, Cara Theobold, Ed Kear, Homer Todiwala, Emily Atack, Matt King, Marcia Do Vales

Out NOW on UK DVD from Soda Pictures

Zombies go on holiday and the last place you would expect it to end up at would be in the Spanish party capital. Renowned for being a mecca of massive club nights, cheap booze and drunken horny teenagers who are more commonly seen to end up collapsing outside a club spewing up their guts and being filmed for a tawdry late night holiday expose of boozed up Brits abroad, IBIZA UNDEAD attempts to combine that tradition (sort of) with an attack of the living dead kind. Admittedly horror and comedy can be tricky bedfellows but with a decent and eye catching title can Edward’s film make the heads of genre fans tick whilst delivering gut busting belly laughs and gut munching?

Three mates, Alex (Coulson), Big Jim (Kear) and Az (Todiwala) are off to Ibiza for a holiday of “booze” and “bitches.” Lo and behold though Alex being a cheapskate hasn’t changed the name on the fourth plane ticket and his ex-girlfriend, who dumped him, Ellie (Theobold), is still coming along much to the annoyance of his mates. They meet up with Alex’s big sister Liz (Atack) who has rented a villa to stay at. Rather than hang out with his sister and her mates who don’t want him there in the first place, Alex and the boys hit the town, managing to meet an angry club girl street promoter (Do Vales) who recommends the the best club in town which is run by shady owner Karl (King) who has smuggled zombies into an already over run by the living dead England, onto the holiday island to be part of his club’s main dance attraction. However a shipwrecked boat full of zombies that was caused by the actions of a dimwit underling of Karl and Big Jim’s stupid decision to feed the undead dancers booze sets off an attack that causes the island to be overran by the rotten kind of tourist who wants to dine on the all you can eat buffet of booze soaked youngsters.

iu4Pitching itself clearly as a combination of THE INBETWEENERS and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, IBIZA UNDEAD does manage to pull out some likeable elements and set pieces throughout its flawed, often uneven 95 minutes. The entertaining irony that is obvious in the film and is pitched nicely is that as much as Ibiza in real life has had an influx of drunken loutish debauched British youngsters invading the island and bringing down some areas over many years since its rise as a party capital, in IBIZA UNDEAD its the Brits again who cause the zombie epidemic. Partly through Big Jim giving booze to zombies and dodgy Karl importing them illegally to his club. It’s a nice swipe at British attitudes and loutish behaviour abroad that is reckless and clueless to its effects. There’s also an interesting brief side story mentioned at the start that explains how Britain is under a zombie epidemic currently controlled by the military and that a certain political party is blaming it on immigrants. The film does deliver at least a decent bit of zombie carnage though not much gore, aside from a pretty grim amputation scene that is played for dark manic gallows humour and is one of the highlights of the film as it sets out to shock in its over the top gleeful gory-ness.

iu3Though the use of CGI blood is an annoyance and one thing that still perplexes me as to why filmmakers would use it. Added to this the cast are obviously having fun and enjoying it but there performances are pitched between mildly irritating to annoying especially Kear as Big Jim. Playing a type of Nick Frost Ed character from SHAUN OF THE DEAD, Big Jim is the loud mouth of the group but unlike the character from SHAUN who is clueless to his idiocy, Big Jim just comes off as sounding crass and annoying with his constant boasts of sexual prowess and wanting to find all the “sluts” which seem almost demeaning rather than being funny. Even in a moment, which is well delivered, where Jim exposes some vulnerability to Liz, he soon steps back into his annoying one note bullshit artist role and returns to grate your nerves.

Whilst the film does balance humour and gore reasonably well in certain areas of the narrative, other scenes come across entirely forced and almost uneven. Such as one character, who I wont reveal but still MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD, who makes an unusual entirely selfless decision and soon regrets it due to his own lack of knowledge. Yet rather than suggest that the same character could pop up in a later comic reveal towards the end, instead it ends up on a rather sombre note that perceives a grizzly fate that seems entirely out of touch with the films tone.

iu2Admittedly in a sub-genre that is always cramming out more fresh/rotten corpses off the production line, in the zombie film arena its hard not to admire parts of IBIZA UNDEAD with its attempt to combine a drunken Brit twat’s abroad vibe with laddish humour with gut munching undead. And Edwards works well with the limited budget he has and certainly pitching this at an audience who are fans of THE INBETWEENERS and, well fans of zombies. But in the end the proceedings come off as predictable, flawed and whose characters might drive some viewers to actually not care at all what happens to them and whether they get off the Island or not.

5/10

Get Out (2017) Review

rsz_goposterGET OUT (Dir- Jordan Peele, USA, 2017)

Starring- Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel

In Cinemas now

Arriving on a lot of critical acclaim and a hit opening weekend at the US box office Jordan Peele’s GET OUT is one of those horror films that combines both sharp satire and creepy unease to maximum effect. Rather than hit below the belt at an obvious choice of redneck racist southern hillbilly’s he goes for the throat of liberal attitudes towards race and benefits from a sharp underpinning of characters that come off as more patronising and cringe worthy but underneath it all is a sense of danger and nastiness which slowly reveals its true face strengthening the films genre credentials.

Photographer Chris (Kaluuya) is preparing with his girlfriend Rose (Williams) to spend a weekend at her parents. Chris is obviously concerned about the trip since as he says he’s black and his girlfriend is white, though Rose assures him that her parents are very liberal and that her dad would “have voted for Obama for a third term if he could.” Naturally this is one of the first things Dean Armitage (Whitford) points out when he meets Chris along with his wife Missy (Keener) who in the first meeting with their daughter’s new boyfriend seems friendly at first though with moments of cringe worthiness, especially when Dean is making the aforementioned Obama comment and showing Chris the many souvenirs he has picked up on his travels. Dean also apologies to Chris for the presence of black groundskeeper Walter (Henderson) and servant Georgina (Gabriel) as if it seems too much of a cliched throwback to the past even though Dean states that the two where helpers to his parents and didn’t want to see them go.

rsz_go2The same weekend there is a party at the Armitages household where local guests come around and seemingly Chris finds the presence and the patronising comments of liking Tiger Woods and that black is the new black etc too much to take. Though the odd behaviour of the only black guest at the party and the increasingly strange reactions Chris finds from speaking to the Walter and Georgina starts to freak him out to the point. With contact to his best friend Rod (a brilliant laugh out performance from Howery) he starts to pick up on clues that something is not right with whats going on and that maybe he might be better away from “too many white people.”

From the start GET OUT pitches its subversion on its sleeve in a clever skewering of convention. The opening scene features a black man walking through a tree and hedge lined suburb, uncomfortable and out of place with the setting and a car pulling up beside him blaring out “Run Rabbit Run” on the stereo. Peele sets a fantastic switch around of the white suburban middle class fear of ending up in the wrong side of town and feeling misplaced. At the same time this recalls the suburban terror and unease of HALLOWEEN and more recently IT FOLLOWS where the white picket fence hides something more darker and hidden. It’s this opening scene that sets off Peele with both his fulfilment of genre recognition and satire as lets face it even if there is bite in the films humour and portrayal of liberal racism, this is also a horror film and our director doesn’t want you to forget that.

rsz_go3It’s the opening scenes that are brilliantly written, witty and well performed by the cast that keeps us engaged with some of the awkwardness of Chris’s situation, particularly an excellent turn from Whitford as the head of the household who seems eager to please but as Rose states, doesn’t seem to have an off button. Yet throughout these opening scenes there’s a clever build up of unease throughout whether its the odd behaviour of the two servants or Missy’s insistence on placing Chris under hypnosis seemingly to cure him of his habit of smoking, which is a superb, unnerving and stylishly nightmarish sequence.

Even in the presence of the party with the guests and their consistently patronising questioning of the only black man surrounded by white folk, which is both awkward and cringe worthy then devolves into a more darker prospect in one particular moment which when revealed adds a chilling twist to set up the films final section. In the final section of the film there’s a twist that seems pretty predictable but then we are confronted with an even more bizarre and darker turn of events that bends the film into the realms of schlock yet still retains the films twisted subversion.

rsz_go4Much can be made of the films placing at a time when racial tension is still a relevant subject in the States and there’s no denying that Peele’s film picks up on this simmering tension and fears felt by black Americans. Even in the films climax with the arrival of a police car, this sight feels more like a possible threat rather than the usual sign of assurance. GET OUT is superbly written and a brilliant example of horror as social satire delivered with veritable wit and unease that both has a deep genre quality and sharp swipe at liberal attitudes towards race that cuts deep as well as being very funny. It will certainly make you think twice about being put under hypnosis!

9/10

A Cure For Wellness (2016) Review

rsz_cfw1A CURE FOR WELLNESS (Dir- Gore Verbinski, USA, 2016)

Starring- Dane DeHaan, Jason Issacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie, Harry Groener

A CURE FOR WELLNESS arrives with a decent publicity campaign, a trailer espousing its glossy often hallucinating visuals and interesting psychological horror and a chance for a leading man role for Dane DeHaan. With a $40 million budget behind its no surprise that the studios will be wanting the film to score big at the box office yet at the same time with the subject matter at hand and it’s genre credentials can the film summon the appetite for an audience willing to go along with the mystery especially when they see the running time of almost 2 ½ hours, which even for genre films is a lengthy prospect.

The story focuses on Lockhart (DeHaan) an arrogant young executive who has just been promoted into a new position. However his first job that he is pretty much forced to take, since the executive members of the board know about some financial wrong doings he has committed to get to where he is, is to go to a luxury health spa in Switzerland to bring back the CEO, Pembroke (Groener) who has written a letter to the board that suggests he has turned his back on the cut throat nastiness of his profession and rather wants to remain at getting better and proclaim his intentions of not returning. Pembroke has gone all Colonel Kurtz and Lockhart on arrival gets no easy answers and whilst on his way from the institute he is involved in a car crash he wakes up with a plaster cast on his leg and back at the “wellness centre” run by Dr Volmer (Issacs). Whilst at first the centre seems seemingly straightforward and lavishly set out and while Lockhart starts to undergo the centres procedures of the “treatment” that the rich clientele pay good money for, its not long before he and ourselves begin to see odd cracks and sinister goings on occurring that hide an altogether darker form of rejuvenation. Not at least is the presence of mysterious young girl, Hannah (Goth) who may have a more prominent link to the spa.

rsz_cfw3First of all the impressive production value of A CURE FOR WELLNESS shines throughout, with Verbinski and his cinematographer Bojan Bazelli making full use of the buildings historical ambience and its lush setting within the Swiss Alps, with fantastic wide shots of the stunning vista. As well as the impressive production design the film benefits from its 1:85 widescreen frame which emphasises the claustrophobia of the institute and closing in of Lockhart’s consistent sleuthing and sneaking around into the unauthorised areas of the building adding a creepy aesthetic to the films structure and also unveiling what’s hidden in the vaults that contrasts the grand opulence and beauty of the upstairs where the patients are pampered and cared for and offered decadent food for dinner. Verbinski confidently manages to use the building to build up the sense of dread and paranoia that will eventually unleash itself on our central character. As Lockhart, DeHann engages enough credibility into his leading man role and surprisingly looks pretty unwell to begin with and therefore maybe an impromptu stay at the spa might be good for him. Though for me its Issacs as the sinister Volmer who pulls off the best role in the film, both having fun with his Doctor role/torturer and eventually becoming the films villain in remarkable if slightly unconvincing ways.

rsz_cfw4Goth also remains a mysterious presence as Hannah whose innocence and turn into womanhood becomes a significant factor in the final part. Though as much as production values and decent entertaining performances are its saving graces, the film lacks strong pacing throughout, and as mentioned before, running in at 146 minutes this does over run and could do with at least 30 minutes taken out. This lengthy running time also causes unconvincing actions in the characters and plot devices that surely would be followed through in another film such as Lockhart noticing a hospital assistant pushing a stretcher with what looks like a corpse on it covered by a blanket being pushed into one of the only remaining buildings from when the spa was originally a castle and rather than act on this our main protagonist doesn’t end getting to this section of the building until at least an hour later. The factor of predictability also kicks in towards the films final third which will make its audience, if they’re wise enough, realise where the film is heading towards and whilst the atmosphere remains a strong factor in the film there are few scares throughout and where the film does benefit from in a wearing its genre credentials on its sleeve is in certain nasty and icky scenes of torture involving eels and one which involves a nasty use of a dentist drill which will have you wincing in your seat.

rsz_cfw2Part of me probably feels that rather than being a feature A CURE FOR WELLNESS might have worked better as a one off mini series for television or even a one off 8 part series such as the first season of TRUE DETECTIVE which itself had a lot of cinematic quality. This would allow the story to generate more interest, develop the back story and expand on further supporting characters. As a feature overall, whilst displaying a grandiose quality and some superb cinematography and production design, A CURE FOR WELLNESS seems to be stretching its length out to the point that it crams in plenty of back story and certain scenes that hamper the films pace and could have been cut out which would not have affected the overall tone of the finished product.

6/10