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

STARRY EYES UK DVD release date 16th March 2015

starryeyes1STARRY EYES UK DVD release date 16th March 2015

“A knockout performance by Alex Essoe”
VARIETY

“Horror fans should keep their eyes on the filmmakers and Essoe, who gives a star-making performance”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

 

“A mumblegore Mulholland Drive”
GROLSCH FILM WORKS

A FILM BY KEVIN KOLSCH & DENNIS WIDMYER

STARRING ALEX ESSOE, AMANDA FULLER & NOAH SEGAN

Determined to make it as an actress in Hollywood, Sarah Walker spends her days working a dead-end job, enduring petty friendships and going on countless casting calls in hopes of catching her big break.

After a series of strange auditions, Sarah lands the leading role in a new film from a mysterious production company. But with this opportunity comes bizarre ramifications that will transform her both mentally and physically into something beautiful… and all together terrifying.

From the producer of Cheap Thrills and Jodorowsky’s Dune, Dennis Widmyer & Kevin Kolsch’s STARRY EYES is an occult tale of ambition, possession, and the true cost of fame.

Release date 16th March 2015
Certificate TBC & Running time 98 Minutes
DVD RRP / £14.99

And if you missed the UKHS review of Starry Eyes by the great Oli Ryder then click HERE and read what all the fuss is about !!

The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death (2014)

wib1The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death (2014)

Dir: Tom Harper

Written by: Jon Croker and Susan Hill (story)

Starring: Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine, Helen McCrory, Oaklee Pendergast and Adrian Rawlins

Running Time –98 mins

During WWII, a group of children and their two teachers are evacuated to the run down and dilapidated Eel Marsh House in Crythin Gifford. It soon becomes apparent that the house is still home to a previous resident with designs on one of the children, the ghostly Woman in Black.

With the first WIB film doing a mostly admirable job of recapturing the essence of what made Hammer Horror so great and staying faithful (until the silly ending) to the original novel, it was hard to really see the need for a follow-up. With the novel’s author, Susan Hill, on hand for the story, this lessened the feel of a cash-grabbing franchise and it is true to say that there certainly was scope to bring back the icon of spookiness that is the Woman in Black herself.

WIB4It comes as somewhat of a surprise that the film does have a fairly decent stab at trying to keep the classic spirit of Hammer alive from the first film. Despite the fact that it has already had the perfect setting laid out on a plate, director, Tom Harper, clearly understands just how crucial it is to create the perfect atmosphere. The over-bearing, impenetrably thick fog still lies heavily over the gloriously Gothic architecture, setting imaginations alight as to what terrors are lurking inside it. It is also fascinating to see how beautifully the film captures the oppressively vast Nine Lives causeway and is able to deftly counter balance this with the narrow and shadowed claustrophobic corridors of Eel Marsh House itself.

The decision to keep the WIB as almost a piece of the scenery is also a master-stroke. Over-exposure to anything will lessen the fear-factor and it is an astute trick that for much of the film, she merely glimpsed out of the corner of the screen or blended into the shadows. This adds the extra fear that she could be literally anywhere, watching and supplements the air of tension and dread whenever there is a night-time scene. To those who have seen the first film and the stage play, the most terrifying element in the rocking chair is still present and still just as capable at causing an eruption of goosebumps. It says a great deal to the credit of the film that even the sickeningly endless noise that signifies that it is going to appear soon still makes it just as terrifying, even when you know what is coming.

It has to be noted that a key area in which the film falls short is in not having a strong enough lead for the audience to identify with. It is true that actress, Phoebe Fox, is not given an easy task to make us care, due to incredibly clunky and dull dialogue. Her performance, much like the rest of the cast, is entirely forgettable and more akin to the stiff upper lip-ness for a particularly spooky episode of Downton Abbey.

WIB3Conviction is, perhaps, the key thing that’s lacking, few of the cast seem to be properly terrified of the events happening around them and the budding romance between Fox and an on auto-pilot, Jeremy Irvine, is about as scintillating as two slices of bread lying on top one another.

One of the scariest elements of the first film was the total sense of isolation that we as an audience experienced with Radcliffe. Alone and cut off from the mainland with only a horrific supernatural presence for company, this feeling is lost completely when there are so many characters on the island and in the house. The film also makes a huge mistake in moving some of the action to an airfield and its underground bunker. This completely dispenses of the gloriously creepy setting of Eel Marsh House in favour of a bland setting that does not match up to the film’s primary focus of being a classic and contained ghost story.

The fact that we as an audience are now aware of the Woman in Black’s motivation from the first film also diminishes the wonderful sense of mystery that was slowly unravelled as the terror mounted. With what little distinctly uninteresting back story that is given to the two leads, it is fairly simple to figure out in precisely which direction the film is going and ultimately, their fates. The tremendously Gothic sense of loss of grievance so well conveyed by Radcliffe is all but non-existent here as the two lifeless performances, combined with the wooden dialogue does little to win over any sympathy.

WIB2The sequel certainly did not learn from the mistakes of its predecessor. The final act of the film takes a huge nose dive after it had done such an admirable job at replicating the original’s superbly chilling atmosphere. With a load of expensive-looking pyrotechnics being set off in the airfield and a splurge of CGI nonsense come the final confrontation, there is a tremendous sense of frustration at the fact that the film almost couldn’t seem to resist the urge to show off its budget. With a pathetic repeated use of a stinger ending, both WIB films unfortunately seem to have lacked the courage to do something different and daring, when there was ample opportunity, and instead go for the easy, modern option and as a result, end up feeling quite pedestrian.

Certainly much better than could have been anticipated, however, a lack of properly defined characters and over-reliance on cheap jump scares sadly prohibits the film from matching the Gothic grace of the first film.

Verdict: 6/10

Oli Ryder’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2014

Oli Ryder’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2014

theden10) The Den: The initial idea of a constant filming through the POV of a webcam on a Chat Roulette-type website, seemed a tad gimmicky. Surprisingly, however this film was masterful in how it maintained both credibility and a tight pace. There was a great and unnerving sense of voyeurism that made the film a decidedly uncomfortable watch and with than the odd well crafted jump scare. A watch through your fingers denouement and the lingering worry of being watched through your laptop for weeks afterwards.

9) Wolfcop: It’s been far too long since there was a genuinely great werewolf film and Wolfcop ended such a drought in spectacular fashion. A real labour of love that worshiped all the ridiculous tropes of the genre and celebrated them in delightfully gruey style. The special effects and transformation sequences were fantastic as well as liberal lashings of OTT gore. With a wickedly sharp script and an incredibly game cast, Wolfcop is destined for cult status, a perfect party horror film.

olla8) Only Lovers Left Alive: Naval-gazing pretentious rubbish to some, intoxicating gothic romance to others. The endless loving bond between the impossibly attractive Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton is the key hook to a film in which, admittedly, very little happens but it serves as an immaculately presented character piece. They both cannot bear to live forever without one another and director, Jim Jarmusch makes you feel like a part of their romance. Typical vampiric behaviour is restricted and set in a world where they are very much the norm, Hiddlestone’s Adam is even an elusive rock star. Full of incredibly dry moments of humour, such as blood popsicles and set to a gorgeously brooding soundtrack, it’s a classic vampire film.

7) We Are What We Are: Decent English-language remakes are becoming much less of a rare beast these days and WAWWA is the prime example of how a remake can be its own beast. A sublime piece of understatement, where the word ‘Cannibal’ doesn’t even appear until half-way into the film and the atmosphere of looming dread is allowed to permeate deeply into your consciousness. When the violence hits, it hits hard and it made that much more intense for lulling you into a false sense of security beforehand. With a superb turn from Bill Sage as the Father and a subtle hint of an anti-organised religion message, it can be argued to be even better than its predecessor.

dersamurai6) Der Samurai: A Lynch-ian, erotic thrill-ride quite unlike anything else released this year. The image of a man with lipstick, in a dress and a samurai sword sounds ridiculous but thanks to the intimidating performance of Pit Bukowski, it becomes an icon of fear. With the small European town where everyone knows everyone bathed in a hazy blood red, there is a haunting fable-like quality that adds an extra layer to what is a profoundly intriguing film. Dealing both with the beast that dwells within us all and small town fear of the strange and unknown, the film’s strongly sexual charge combines extreme violence with horrifying beauty. The two-hander of Michel Diercks and Bukowski essentially playing two sides of the same person is incredible to watch and you don’t dare take your attention off it for a second. Pure cinematic marmite.

5) Starry Eyes: A pitch-black exploration of the vicious film studio system and the perilous desire for fame are mixed together with cults and body horror to create a deliciously dark cocktail of fear. Alex Essoe delivers a stunningly assured performance that sees her squeezed painfully through an emotional wringer. The unflinchingly stark and cruel audition scenes show her being humiliated, throwing frighteningly intense fits and yanking out huge clumps of her hair with some truly wince-inducing sound effects. It is a brave choice to not have her be a completely sympathetic lead and yet it is impossible not to be horrified as one scene shows her undergoing a sickening metamorphosis. With a gorgeously hazy soundtrack and filmed in a classic almost VHS style, Starry Eyes does a brilliant job of getting well and truly under your skin.

oculusp4) Oculus: An unexpected hit that delivered intelligent scares with a real knack for putting ice down your back. Karren Gillan’s performance is a total knock-out, presenting a wonderfully bold, brash and independent female character in the vein of a Nancy, Laurie or Sydney. Gillan is determined to fight the evil head on and wouldn’t be caught dead running away in skimpy clothing. Ingeniously, much of the violence is only hinted at, which makes a particularly nasty scene involving a light bulb, a genuine shock. It is both wonderful and unnerving that, much like the characters, you often forget about the mirror being the antagonist and as with the constant twisting time-shifts, you too become victim to the Lasser Glass cruelly twisting your perception of reality. A true breath of fresh air, a fun frightener that stands head and shoulders above its mainstream contemporaries.

3) The Guest: More of a thriller than director, Adam Winguard’s previously brilliant effort in You’re Next but certainly no less fun or inventive. Making more than the odd homage to classic 80s films (Halloween III in particular), The Guest is a gleeful romp with its tongue at times very firmly in cheek and at others, a surprising level of menace. A star-making performance from Dan Stevens sees him combining an effortless charm with a cold blooded, steely and dangerous veneer. From the word go, it is clear there is something not quite right about him as he prays on an emotionally vulnerable small town family, mourning the death of their military son. An equally brilliant and feisty performance comes from newcomer, Maika Monroe, who, much like Sarah Conner, has the responsibility of taking down a lethal killing machine in Steven’s seemingly nice guy, David. With its painfully funny gallows humour and some intense action sequences, especially in the film’s last act, ‘The Guest’ is a gleefully demented delight.

babadookp2) The Babadook: Mercifully, the hype this film managed to rapidly accumulate was more than justified. The Babadook is a classic horror film in the making, that should be held up as the bench-mark as to what horror filmmakers should be aspiring to create. The cold and almost German expressionism film style is sharpened like a deadly weapon by director, Jennifer Kent, to ramp up the fear factor to white-knuckle armrest gripping heights. An organically fraught relationship between single mother and son is pitch perfectly portrayed by Essie Davis and the young Noah Wiseman.

We see both characters in an intense struggle with a supernatural force and yet, like so many classic stories, the real meaning to the film is a mother learning how to love her son Crucially, we care about the characters and do not want to see them come to harm and this is what makes the scares here truly blood chilling. The world’s freakiest pop-up book is matched only by the wise decision to obscure the Babadook as much as possible. Kent hits the nail directly on the head that making the audience use their imagination is infinitely more frightening than just showing them. A beautifully dark and twisted fairytale, the monster’s onomatopoeic croak is a call that is sure to haunt audiences for many years to come.

dmarrow1) Digging Up The Marrow: With almost every possible detail shrouded in mystery, Adam Green’s latest effort was able to achieve almost the impossible in presenting something genuinely unseen before. Almost indefinable in its style and thusly, very difficult to talk about without spoiling too many juicy surprises. Whenever you think you get a grasp on where the film is going, it violently turns your expectations inside out and creates a perfect capture of the pure essence of fear of the unknown.

To give as broad a picture as possible, the film concerns the real life existence of monsters and the attempt to find and document them where they live, in The Marrow. Shot in documentary style and with all cast members, including Green himself playing themselves, the first deftly clever trick Green plays is to have the incredible Ray Wise as the only actor playing a part. To say anymore about the plot would sadly ruin what is a film full of dark secrets and layers, like a twisted Russian doll. It is a film that demands to be experienced rather than read about as this would lessen the effect of what can be called one of the scariest films of the past two decades.

Whilst there is still a tremendous sense of fun about the film, Green and his friends make for a loveable bunch with much goofy behaviour, there are several moments of pure, undiluted terror. The scariest part of all, however, is the film’s insidious ability to get inside your head. It may sound laughable, but this film makes you believe by constantly blurring the lines of reality with such finesse you don’t realise it’s happening. Maybe there really are monsters out there and maybe this film will make you a believer too…A masterpiece that will hopefully one day get the recognition it truly deserves.

Der Samurai (2014) Review

DS1 (1)Der Samurai (2014)

Dir: Till Kleinert

Written by: Till Kleinert

Starring: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss, Kaja Blanchnik, Christopher Kane

Running Time – 80 mins.

UK Première: Frightfest 2014

Small town policeman, Jakob (Diercks), is dealing with a wolf terrorising the town when he receives a mysterious package. When he goes to deliver it, he discovers a man wearing a white dress and lipstick, hiding in an abandoned house. The package contains a samurai sword and Jakob soon finds himself in a disturbing battle of wits against The Samurai (Bukowski).

With the striking image of a man dressed in a wedding dress and brandishing a samurai sword on its poster, Der Samurai instantly has your attention as to just what on earth such a film could be like or even about. To go into any great detail regarding the plot would be equivalent to revealing the method of a magic trick, director, Till Kleinert, has created something truly unique and very special here. If ever there was a film that needs to be experienced rather than just seen, it’s Der Samurai.

The action all takes place of the course of one night in real time and it is astounding just how much ground is covered of varying subjects and ideas throughout. Embracing a Brothers Grimm style, this twisted fairytale can be said to embody a perfect representation of discipline fighting against chaos as well as the Cherokee legend of the two warring wolves that lie inside every man. To be blunt, the film is evocative of David Lynch if he had directed The Dark Knight.

DS2Kleinert has stated that he took experience from passing sleepy European towns on the train and wondering what mysteries they concealed. The sense of a compact small town creates a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere, everyone seems to know everyone and their business and anything that breaks away from the normality of their existence is regarded with deep suspicion and disdain. This is where the homoerotic subtext to the film really comes to the fore in terms of getting a better understanding of the lead character in Jakob and how he is regarded by the townspeople.

Diercks plays Jakob fantastically as a mild-mannered and fundamentally good guy, caring for his dementia-suffering grandmother, who finds himself repressed, isolated and frustrated at the small town rigid mindset shared by seemingly all except him. From his interactions with the other townspeople, it is evident that he is marginalised for being different and not fitting in with their behaviour. This is slowly revealed to be as a result of his unsure sexuality which is only truly brought out of him come the arrival of the Samurai, his polar opposite of character. It is fascinating and so well captured in his performance that the audience sees Jakob desperately attempting to upholding the law and order but is constantly dropping his guard to the Samurai’s magnetism. He is so enticed by the excitement of the danger of the unknown and the break from convention that the Samurai represents to him. He is given so many chances to stop the Samurai and yet he doesn’t. The film is almost capturing his proper awakening into deciding on what sort of person he really is which is both haunting and unshakably engaging.

DS3Kleinert is so expert at showing and not telling with his characters. A great deal of character development and history is done solely through allusion and subtext. Certain tweaks in the character’s behaviour or even simple surrounding objects are given huge significance to delving a little deeper into a film that has so much rich intrigue beneath the surface.

To perfectly counter-balance Diercks more restrained performance, Bukowski’s nameless Samurai is a limitless battery of danger and unpredictability. He is never once given any back story and no logic is ever really given to his actions, he is pure and simply a bold agent of chaos set to shake the foundations of the sleepy town to its core. When the camera zooms in on his menacing features, it is often difficult to not look away in simple intimidation at how powerful and threatening a force of nature his character is. Not once do the audience ever feel safe in his presence and yet, much like Jakob, it is impossible to not be drawn into his frightening erotic dynamism. Perhaps the greatest facet of Bukowski’s performance, is the fact that is able to make the initially risible image of a man in a wedding dress and makeup holding a samurai sword so terrifying with his wolf-like predatory instinct.

The visual presentation of the film is nothing short of breathtaking. The camera has a beautiful haze-like quality and liberally uses harsh red lighting that further presses the idea home that this is all somehow magical and possibly, isn’t real. Amongst the film’s many stand-out sequences include a brutal bloodshed viewed from a fascinatingly bizarre upside-down angle, a hugely Twin Peaks-eqsue club scene and a gorgeous shot of the police car headlights. The lights are barely visible through an impenetrable mist and surrounded by the dense forest that hides so many secrets and mysteries.

DS4There are images that are forever burnt onto the retinas of those who see the film and the impact endures. The iconic image of the Samurai himself is matched with a beautiful near final shot of blood splattering combined with fireworks, the twisted grin of the Samurai as a post-credits extra and the hypnotic and surreal dance the leads perform by a bonfire surrounded by corpses. The violence is often highly extreme and yet pulled off with astounding grace and flair without ever showing off.

An intoxicating, darkly erotic nightmare with two incredible lead performances that balance out as a perfect ying/yang partnership. Pure European Marmite cinema that’s certain to leave many completely cold whilst others are utterly enraptured and haunted by it.

Rating: 10/10

31 Days of Horror: #25 – Sleepy Hollow

31 Days of Horror: #25 – Sleepy Hollow

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

SHSleepy Hollow (1999)

Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker, story Andrew Kevin Walker & Kevin Yagher, based upon The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Starring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Walken

It’s unclear why this deliciously dark slice of campy fun is so overlooked in Tim Burton’s back catalogue. Converting the classic tale of terror by Washington Irving into a playful whodoneit romp results in the perfect blend of the downright over the top and silly mixed with several choice scary moments.

The plethora of acting talent adds a great sheen of class and it is clear they are having the time of their lives with tongues very firmly in cheek. Depp’s detective, Ichabod Crane, is a fantastic fish out water performance. His cynical cowardliness and stiff-upper lip are violently stripped from him when confronted with bucket loads of blood and the genuine threat of the supernatural Headless Horseman. His numerous awkward reactions to the horrors he faces are nothing short of hilarious.

Along with superb acting, the gorgeous art style is distinctly none more gothic. The barren black forest trees, muted clothing, austere buildings and thick mists are combined with the film’s pleasantly self-aware nature that creates a wonderful ghost train. Indeed, it is evocative of a Hammer Horror. Guaranteed to inspire shrieks of both laughter and fear, Sleepy Hollow is a perfect fit for a fun Halloween viewing.

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The Babadook (2014) Review

B1The Babadook (2014)

Dir: Jennifer Kent

Written by: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinny, Benjamin Winspear

Running Time – 92 mins.

UK Premiere: Frightfest 2014

After losing her husband to an accident on her way to give birth to her son, Amelia (Davis), struggles to cope with her demanding and difficult child, Samuel (Wiseman). Upon discovering a disturbing children’s pop-up book called ‘Mister Babadook’, strange occurrences plague their home and Samuel becomes convinced that the Babadook monster is real.

It’s an all too familiar set-up, a weird child who claims to see monsters and the doubting adults who don’t believe them until it’s too late. So how does The Babadook distinguish itself from the multitude of similar horror films? Thanks to the stunningly assured debut directorial vision of Jennifer Kent, The Babadook doesn’t so much as distinguish itself, rather, it towers above all the competition of films of the same ilk.

With a beautifully dark yet stark colour palate of greys, dull blues and of course, blacks, The Babadook takes place in an austere and bleak Australian town. This excellent establishment of a morbid reality is key to heightening the haunting blurring and ambiguity that is to come later. This flawless art style is matched by the ominous and deceptively sweet-sounding chimes of the soundtrack that add an extra spine-tingling chill to the nightmare fairytale feel of the film.

B4It terms of scares, The Babadook is a proud disciple of the less is more discipline. There is a constant, genuinely terrifying sense of dread from start to finish. This atmosphere is the embodiment of the feeling of being all alone in a house and yet with the sense of being watched. With nearly all the horror contained within the house, aside from a shocking sequence set in a car, the brilliant containment of the action adds to a sense of claustrophobia and no escape.

The monster itself, is a marvellous creation and made all the better for almost always being completely obscured. What the audience does see is almost solely shapes in the shadows, wonderfully evocative of early German expressionism. Just what it is or how it got there remains superbly shrouded in mystery. It could easily just be seen as an average ghoul but there’s several other ways it could be interpreted, just one of them being if it’s actually real and not a manifestation in one of the character’s minds. Certainly what is undeniable is the terrifying onomatopoeic croak it makes.

By far the scariest part of the film is the pop up book. A gross, horrifying perversion of a childhood bedtime story that is seen to almost come to life and simply cannot be gotten rid of. Much like the entire film, it is so simple and yet immaculately presented and hits home in chill-factor with deadly precision.

Strong horror performances are so often ignored in the mainstream awards, making it a pre-determined criminal act that the powerhouse of a performance of Essie Davis as the mother, Amelia, could easily be passed over. Going through a severe emotional wringer, the audience sees Davis enduring a crippling depression that consumes her completely. Kent starkly captures her feeling of total isolation by having her been visibly alienated from both her sister and work colleagues.

B3The cold attitude she has to her son is equally fascinating and particularly dark, certain to lose any sense of sympathy from some watchers. It can only be described as a stunning masterstroke to see her gradual character development as she goes from being a repressed waif like figure to an unhinged and forceful brute. The film wisely leaves the question of possession or madness up in the air as the real focus is on a guilt-ridden mother learning to finally come to love her son. Hauntingly moving in the best possible way.

Young newcomer, Noah Wiseman also delivers a fantastic performance that encapsulates an incredibly believable depiction of a so called ‘problem child’. What frustrates so much about most children in horror is that they’re either disgustingly adorable or just plain creepy. Wiseman is able to balance both displays of obnoxious, selfish and over-protective behaviour that are tempered by some startlingly tender moments. Fundamentally, he is a sweet boy, both smothered and shunned by his mother and who has no friends and therefore it would take a harsh soul not to feel an incredible amount of sympathy towards him. His temper tantrums and shrieking cries of “Don’t Let Him In!” are fantastically piercing and full of raw acting emotion well beyond his years. The completely authentic reactions and dynamic he has with Davis are both integral not only to the development and believability of the characters but also to making the scares and dramatic moments hit with a terribly awesome impact.

With an unexpected but refreshing ending, aside from the fantastic acting turns, the real strength of The Babadook lies in its engaging layers of substantial subtext. Packing the thrills and chills of The Others but with the heavy raw emotion of We Need To Talk About Kevin. The film is a challenging exploration of the social standard that all parents must love their children. Such a focus is certain to spark debate amongst audiences and even, it has to be said, enjoyment of the film could hinge entirely on whether or not the two main characters can be seen to be sympathetic.

B5A genuinely chilling thrill-fest that perfectly taps into the childhood fear of a monster in the closet. With stellar performances from the mother and son leads, this is so much more than your average bogeyman horror. Packed full of intriguing subtext and many covering your face with your hands moments, The Babadook serves as a reminder as to everything a horror film should be.

Rating: 10/10

Creep (2014) Review

C1Creep (2014)

Dir: Patrick Brice

Written by: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Starring: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Running Time – 81 mins.

European Premiere: Frightfest 2014

After answering an advert for $1000 for one day’s filming, Aaron (Brice) meets up with the eccentric Josef (Duplass). At first, Josef appears to be kooky but harmless but as the evening goes on, his behaviour becomes progressively strange before turning outright dangerous.

Craigslist certainly never seems to carry a great reputation when it comes to various films that have used it as a starting point. Whilst many go for the more sordid sexual route, Creep uses a deceptively sweet and innocent angle in order to craft something infinitely more effectively sinister. With a cast of only two, Creep is a distinct cut above most found footage horror in that they are both likeable, interesting and do not spend their time running around, bathed in the green and black of night vision.

Aaron (Brice) is, crucially, not a profoundly unlikeable jerk like so many other found footage protagonists. He is relatable, polite and good hearted. When most would have been incredibly awkward and desperate to get away from, Josef, he stays and makes the effort to befriend him. His naivety is, of course, his downfall and it is incredibly refreshing to convincingly feel the same terror as the character with the camera after Josef (Brice) is exposed.

C2Josef himself, is a wonderfully complex character. Whilst there is the initial sympathy towards him when his reason for wanting to be filmed is revealed, there is the constant sense that there is far more to him than meets the eye. His off the wall nature is, at first, charming and this adds further to the blood-chilling revelation of what sort of man he really is later in the film. It must be remembered that he is human, not a monster and whilst he does and has done horrible things in the film, it is to the immense credit of Brice’s performance that he is still, shockingly, sympathetic.

The interaction between the two is essential and adds an extra layer of effectiveness to the film. With largely improvised dialogue, the flow of conversation and gradual development of both their relationship and characters feels brilliantly natural and believable. This, ultimately, helps and audience to invest in them more as people, not characters, which is hugely beneficial as the film slowly reveals what it’s been hiding, there’s the extra danger of human unpredictability.

One ever present staple of the found footage horror rears its ugly head in the form of the jump scare. Within the first 20 or so minutes, Josef jumps out at the camera from a hidden spot far too many times and it becomes instantly tiresome, before the film has even properly started to get going. When your best hand at scares is having someone jump out and scream “Boo!”, there is a serious problem. The incredibly deliberate weapon foreshadowing feels very contrived also.

C4That being said, the first half of the film has a wonderfully uneasy feel about it. Gradually, the conversations between the men get more uncomfortable and in doing very little, there is a palpable atmosphere of dread that is created out of minimal effort. The peak of this comes in the form of an “off-camera” conversation where Josef tells an incredibly dark story, concerning his wife. It is an incredibly uncomfortable listen as it leaves the audience unsure as to whether or not it is ok to laugh. The story itself is both bizarre and horrifying and does a great job of conjuring up a sense of being very ill at ease.

Sadly, the superb air of tension gets thrown off balance in the second half of the film. The isolated setting of the cabin is replaced by Aaron’s urban apartment and the film becomes a stalker based set-up. Whilst Aaron still receives bizarre gifts and videos from Josef, there is a notable lack of pace or anything dramatic, the attempted jokes end up falling flat and the night in which Josef prowls around the apartment is overdone and un-engaging. Whilst proceedings take a dark turn come the finale, there is the unshakable feel that the film would have been infinitely better served cutting the length and restricting the action to the cabin and the very clear end point it could have used.

Despite the notable slump, there are two enormously impressive moments that proved to be genuinely terrifying. The iconic image of Josef’s silhouette, backlit by a bright light is masterfully put together and is visually striking. Not only does is look incredible, but it is literally the point of no return in the film, as he invites Aaron back inside his home for a drink as the audience scream internally for him to get away. The second moment is sadly at the end of the film and to spoil it would ruin its huge impact. Suffice to say, it is a stunningly long drawn out piece of nail-biting tension that is brilliantly almost unwatchable.

C3It has to be said, as well, that the film did a fantastic job at making the cheap and silly ‘Mr Peachfuzz’ wolf mask scary in one heart-stopping scene. Whilst the film hardly has endless re-watch potential, it would be interesting to see it again, just to pick up on the clues of the larger and incredibly chilling picture throughout.
Creep is certainly one of a very select number of found footage films to actually feel authentic. With two superb performances and two remarkably well shot scenes of enormous tension, it was so close to being a classic of the subgenre.

An over-reliance on cheap jump scares and a dramatic drop in the pacing in the film’s second act, however, results in the film letting itself down. There is great potential here from the writing partners and future found footage horror could definitely learn lessons from it.

Rating: 6/10

The Sleeping Room (2014) Review

sleeping1The Sleeping Room (2014)

Dir: John Shackleton

Written by: Alex Chandon, Ross Jameson, John Shackelton

Starring: Leila Mimmack, Joseph Beattie, David Sibley, Julie Graham, Christopher Adamson

Running Time – 75 mins.

World Premiere: Frightfest 2014

When visiting a reclusive client, call girl Blue (Mimmack), becomes fascinated with the disturbing mysteries contained within his flat in a decaying Regency terraced house. The more she uncovers, the more her life becomes at risk from both human and supernatural forces.

Brighton is certainly not the first location that springs to mind when thinking of a setting for a horror film. With a reputation for being a fun day out on the pier with the family, there was a brilliant opportunity for the gloss to be stripped back and for a film to focus on a terrifying, ghostly hidden world along the seafront.

Sadly, however, ‘The Sleeping Room’ is a film with almost no distinguishing qualities that simply has no real idea of what it wants to be. With the narrative’s central focus on a small call girl operation, it could have been a gritty kitchen-sink thriller in the vein of the marvellous London to Brighton but the choice to add an undercooked supernatural element both confuses and confounds.

sleeping2It is only natural that when dealing with the seedy sex trade, there would be some unsavoury characters, however, the scowling pimp and boozy matron are but two of the painfully stereotypical characters that infest the film’s limited cast. The interaction between these terribly cookie cutter rough types is paper thin and there is no sense of development of any of their characters. Any notion of sympathy or intimidation is totally non-existent as no effort has been made to give them any discernible life or heft.

With a completely uneven pace that jumps from a murmur to full on screaming at the flick of a switch, very often it is a mystery as to what is even going on onscreen and why should audiences care. There is a highly questionable use of a false ending, shown at the start of the film that serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Perhaps the filmmakers were labouring under the delusion that it would trick audiences into thinking that they could tell what was going to happen. This fails spectacularly in this endeavour and it is not impressive, just resulting in much head-scratching confusion.

The film’s plot is a violently tangled series of knots of various narrative strands and half touched-upon dull tangents. Several different stories are haphazardly crammed together in an attempt to flesh out the film’s ghostly link to the past but the whole operation is a failure. When it comes to trying to juggle elements of both a supernatural chiller and gritty thriller, the film ends up dropping them all, resulting in something that is ultimately dull, lifeless and un-engaging.

sleeping3The film’s strongest acquisition is in the leading role of Blue, played with incredible confidence and shining understated talent by Leila Mimmack. The key to the effectiveness of her performance that she completely breaks down the stereotypical walls that surround the character of a call girl. She is not vapid, slutty or even remotely fragile, on several occasions when facing both abuse and fear of death, she more than stands up for herself.

Although her performance is, arguably, the only truly effective thing in the film, it is still very difficult to have any sympathy or investment in her character. In spite of the fact that she is the only one who has any semblance of development, the audience still do not get enough time to get to get a real feel for her or have any significant sense of threat when she is in danger.

When the film occasionally portends to be a horror film, it at least appears to be about a malevolent spirit of the cultist who previously lived in the house. That’s what it seems to be but the film is at times, indecipherable as to what its actual focus is on. Whilst there is some semblance of a disturbing past that could have spring boarded the possession angle, it is just not explained properly. As a result of having no clear idea how or why Bill (Beattie) gets possessed, his violent outbursts and murderous grin just come across as lazy and daft.

The use of a Poundland-eqsue scarecrow mask as the icon of fear is embarrassing and feels incredibly tired and beyond hackneyed. Even as a last resort for creating any sort of terror, what very few attempts at jump scares there are, almost every single one fails to raise even a twitch. The film’s final act crams in the slasher element as a great deal of plasma is spilt, but it is far too late in the day to be effective. Even for its brief running time, it completely outstays its welcome.

sleeping4There is certainly one element of the film that does show a sign of creativity. This can be found in the incredibly creepy footage contained within the classic seaside stable of a mutoscope. The film itself is of a perverse, satanic ritual persuasion and the jittery movements caused by the grainy picture create a genuine sense of unease that is, sadly, completely absent from the rest of the film.

Whilst Mimmack’s performance is superb, sadly, it is drowned in a sea of mediocrity and almost laughable confusion. The Sleeping Room completely lacks anything remotely gripping or anything that makes it stand out in the slightest.

A befuddling mess.

Rating: 2/10

Starry Eyes (2014) Review

S1Starry Eyes (2014)

Dir: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Written by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Starring: Alex Essoe, Noah Segan, Pat Healy, Amanda Fuller, Shane Coffey, Louis Dezseran

Running Time – 96 mins.

UK Premiere: Frightfest 2014

When struggling actress, Sarah (Essoe), successfully auditioning for the mysterious Astraeus Pictures’ film ‘The Silver Scream’, it seems to be a dream come true. As her body starts to undergo strange changes and she witnesses disturbing visions, Sarah discovers that her fame must come at a terrible price.

The all true tale of the vicious Hollywood system chewing up and spitting out the unfortunate souls yearning for their big break is certainly nothing new. Through Kolsch and Widmyer’s collective twisted imagination, however, Starry Eyes is a terrifyingly grim depiction of the lengths to which people will go to achieve their dreams.

The entire film hinges on the stellar performance from Alex Essoe. Appearing at the centre of almost every scene, she is deftly able to convey an enormous spectrum of various states of emotion. Sarah initially appears to be a typical vulnerable and naive girl with sky high dreams but is constantly beaten down by her minimum wage job and her incredibly bitchy and equally desperate faceless LA friends.

S2The real hook to her brilliant character development, is the fact that whilst she is able to win over the audience’s sympathy, there are moments where her selfish desire for fame flares up violently, counterbalancing her weak demeanour. Intriguingly, the film sets up the idea that despite all the madness she undergoes, she has always been disturbed and the ‘audition process’ is the final thing to push her over the edge.

This is represented through some intensely physical scenes, in one she re-enacts a horrifyingly convincing fit and is seen throughout the film to be constantly pulling out large chunks of her hair. The film’s immaculate sound design makes every wince-inducing rip become deafening and stomach-bothering. The very literal change the audience see her go through is a fantastic example of a truly twisted fairytale character, as she blossoms from being meek and shy to something entrancing and deadly.

The fact that the film is able to conjure up so much dread and tension with mere suggestion and dark shadows is hugely commendable. Whilst the film transforms to be more physical, it is predominantly a mental horror that insidiously gets inside of the heads of the audience so frighteningly discreetly. There is such a painstaking effort made to create a gradual terrifying escalation of raw horror, so that the ultimate payoff of the gloriously grand finale hits home with a far greater impact. The recurring use of incredibly contained and drawn out corridor shots are fantastically evocative of early Roman Polanski. The sense of impending doom with every echoing step taken adds further to the constant underlying, armrest-ripping tension that grabs the entire film in a suffocating stranglehold.

S3It is rare when the influence of two directors mixes so well but the very distinct Cronenberg body horror adds another disgustingly delicious element to the film. Having literally sold her soul, Sarah disintegrates onscreen, coughing up maggots as her teeth and nails fall out. It is easy to see that the film’s message concerns the price of fame and the metamorphosis so many actors must endure to be appealing and relevant. In Starry Eyes, it is at the actual cost of Sarah’s humanity as her desire for fame has utterly consumed her.

The film holds absolutely nothing back when it comes to a blunt and horrifying exploration of the exploitation that particularly budding actresses endure in the Hollywood system. Capturing the truly terrifying spirit of auditions, Sarah is forced to strip and abuse herself before a panel of two monstrously cold and unfeeling judges. The sickening process is exasperated by a profoundly skin-crawling performance from Louis Dezseran as the Producer. With a hauntingly false smile, the aging Producer’s sexual advances belie the terrifying plan he has for Sarah, where the film spectacularly descends into madness.

Towards the end of the film, the subtler approach is brutally offset by an incredibly violent scene that features, amongst other items, the novel use of a dumbbell. It would be fair to say that for some, this ruins the film’s more psychological set-up. Conversely, however, this scene, when combined with the body horror can be seen as being so much more effective and shocking because the majority of the film takes the more mental approach.

One of the most important elements of the film is how the city of Los Angeles almost becomes a character itself. Bathed in a constant fuzzy haze, the dense mist that lies heavily over the city permeates into the story itself as everything is superbly shrouded in mystery. The grey and almost apocalyptic aesthetic perfectly depicts the dirty and unpalatable LA that is so often covered up. The film’s dark focus on the notion that beneath the glamour, lays the monster, serves as a perfect allegory for the plot.

S4Frightfest 2014 was a year notable for its soundtracks and Jonathan Snipes’ eerie composition fits Starry Eyes like a glove. The combination of synthesisers with nursery school chimes produces a truly haunting and chilling effect, like icy nails down the spine. Matching the film’s disquieting ability to get under the audience’s skin, the soundtrack is also a vital part of Starry Eye’s wonderful constant blurring between reality and fiction. Jumping from a calm false sense of security to knife’s edge tension in a heartbeat, it is a piece of genius and its importance to the film’s ability to disturb cannot be understated.

A truly spectacular performance from Essoe, combined with a killer soundtrack and a constant underlying terror made Starry Eyes one of the highlights of the festival. Such a masterful grasp of tension and the creation of genuine fear of the unexpected also sees directors Kolsch and Widmyer as very exciting prospects for the future. Intense, uncomfortable and bloody brilliant.

Rating: 10/10