• Please click on the ad below and support our sponsor!!

Shut In (2016) Review

rsz_shut1Shut In (2016)

Running time: 91 minutes

Director: Farren Blackburn

Cast: Naomi Watts, Oliver Platt, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay

Out NOW on UK DVD from Arrow Films

A strong cast head up this psychological thriller whose script was plucked from the 2012 Blacklist; a list of the best unproduced screenplays of the year. So, in some respects, Shut In has a lot to live up to from the very outset.

Naomi Watts plays Mary Portman, a clinical psychologist who has reluctantly agreed to send her eighteen year old son, Stephen, away from home due to his increasingly out of control behaviour. Her husband re-assures her it is for the best but after he and Stephen leave, an argument results in a horrific car accident, killing father and leaving Stephen (Charlie Heaton, fresh from the Netflix hit Stranger Things) unresponsive and wheelchair bound.

rsz_shut2Skipping six months forward, Mary struggles to cope alone with her severely disabled son whilst still running her practice. They live remotely and Mary has little outside help, bar her assistant, Lucy and her therapist, Dr Wilson (a reliable Oliver Platt), who converses with Mary over Skype.

When a patient of Mary’s; nine year old Tom (an underused Jacob Tremblay) runs away from his care home, she finds him having broken in to her car and hiding in the back seat. Wanting to help she takes the child in to her home but he soon disappears in to the night and the hunt for the missing boy begins. Due to the extreme weather and impending storm, it is swiftly believed the boy has died and Mary begins to to be tormented by visions of the child.

As the strain of caring for her son bears heavily down on her, her nightmares escalate. She hears noises throughout the house, believes she sees Tom at her bedroom door and then disturbingly finds scratches on the side of her son’s face. Seeking help from Dr Wilson, he re-assures her that this all just a vivid dream. That stress and the difficult situation is taking it’s toll. Obviously, we realise there is more here than meets the eye and the truth slowly starts to present itself.

Shut In takes the single setting premise and crafts an interesting story around its limitations. Stephen finds himself ‘shut in’ his own body post-accident, whilst Mary has become ‘shut in’ her own home and possibly her own mind.

The film starts promisingly, the story is established quickly and it drip feeds information as it progresses. We learn that Stephen is in fact Mary’s stepson and it was ultimately her decision to send him away. As her guilt eats away at her, the boundaries between reality and Mary’s dreams become blurred and you are pulled further in to seeing things from her perspective. It is in these scenes that the strength of the film lies; the image of Mary bathing Stephen, discovering him alone outside and the ghostly appearances of Tom. Director Farren Blackburn, teases you with the anticipation of the shock and then delivers on that promise, providing some genuine jumpscares. Having directed such UK television staples as Casualty and Silent Witness, it’s clear that Blackburn can create a polished thriller.

rsz_shut3However, is it all rather too polished, if indeed that can be levelled as a criticism? It feels that there could be more beneath the surface of the story that is left untapped. As the film moves in to its final act, it starts to lose some of it’s atmosphere; heading towards a more predictable conclusion than you might have hoped for. You start to question certain characters actions and moments begins to feel plotted. With the limited setting and relatively small cast there is nowhere to hide and although the performances are good, there are no iconic characters or moments that linger with you once the film has ended. By taking very few risks, you are left feeling like you have seen this all before.

Whilst not hugely innovative, Shut In is still a solid piece of filmmaking, albeit probably not one that will resonate in your memory in years to come.

6 out of 10

Devil In The Dark (2017) Review

rsz_ditd1Devil In The Dark (2017)

Running time: 82 minutes
Director: Tim Brown
Cast: Dan Payne, Robin Dunne, Briana Buckmaster, Daniel Cudmore

Available on VOD nationwide in the U.S. from Momentum Pictures on Tuesday, March 7th

Devil in the Dark is the second directorial offering from Tim Brown. It is a film teetering somewhere in between thriller and horror and interestingly, was originally entitled (the more thriller sounding) “The Plateau’.

Opening with a short but atmospheric prologue, the start of the film is pure horror. Night has fallen and a young boy is lost in the middle of the woods. His father and older brother frantically search for him, finally finding him in the midst of a clearing (in a striking red jacket reminiscent of ‘Don’t Look Now’). He is frozen to the spot and transfixed on something out in the darkness.

Cut forward thirty years and the film weaves down a more psychological thriller route. We meet the brothers again, they are now grown men and lead very different lives. Adam (the lost child in red) has moved away from home and lives a successful city life, whilst older both Clint has remained at home, settled down and cared for their now deceased father. The two are chalk and cheese, so when Adam returns to see his brother and take a hunting trip with him, it’s clear it’s not going to be an easy few days.

rsz_ditd2The awkward tension between the brothers is palpable from the outset and is further demonstrated by well placed flashbacks to their childhood. It becomes clear that Adam thinks their father favoured Clint and their relationship suffered accordingly. Before the men set off on their hunting trip, we also realise that Adam suffers from disturbing nightmares, reminiscent of the opening childhood scene. Whilst these visions are hauntingly presented, they are all too brief, leaving you wish they had been explored further.

It is only once the brothers set out on their trip that the true horror of the film finally sets in. As the pair struggle with their inner demons, they discover a bone infested lair inhabited by a dark being that threatens their lives. Their terror and the anticipation of the danger they face is well presented and you are drawn inside their fear. The vision of the demon itself is wisely kept to a minimum, but is strikingly created and impressive when it briefly does reveal itself.

There is no doubting the production value of Devil in the Dark, both the Director (Brown) and Writer (Carey Dickson) have a host of production credits behind them and it shows. The film looks slick and there are some magnificent shots that make the most of the great locations used for filming. The performances are also universally strong, with Dunne (as Adam) and Payne (as Clint) particularly scoring on the edgy sibling relationship front.

However, given all these positives, it still feels like there is something uneven about the film. The horror pay off doesn’t arrive until about three quarters of the way through and the wait seems far too long. Adam’s dreams aren’t enough to tide you over and the film hovers in this psychological drama territory, with no real fear or anticipation to tease you.

rsz_ditd3With the most entertaining and memorable moments happening in the latter stages, you’re left feeling that the end of the film would have made a great start to the third act. Frustratingly it felt like the film had hits its stride just as it was ending. Although it is an accomplished film with many good qualities, it never quite flies in the way that it should. When the horror hits, it is truly engaging, it just all feels rather too little, too late.

5 out of 10

Counter Clockwise (2016) Review

cc1Counter Clockwise (2016)

Running time: 91 minutes

Director: George Moise

Cast: Michael Kopelow, Alice Rietveld, Kerry Knupe, Devon Ogden, Joy Rinaldi, Frank Simms

Films in which characters travel through time often involve high budgets and technology riddled future worlds, so it’s exciting to find a film that tries to step away from these clichés. Enter Counter Clockwise, a film about a scientist named Ethan who inadvertently creates a time machine whilst trying to perfect a teleportation device. After accidentally sending his dog through the machine, Ethan sends himself six months in to the future, where he finds himself accused of murdering his wife and sister, then finds his mother in a coma. All in all, not a great day. On the run from the police and some mysterious tough guys who want to know who he works for, Ethan must send himself back in time to save both his wife, sister and ultimately himself. And that’s when things get really complicated.

Pitched as a sci-fi thriller/dark comedy, Counter Clockwise has some great ideas but it seems to suffer from trying to fulfil this hybrid of genres. It’s a shame, as things get off to a good start with an opening scene establishing Ethan in his lab, but with little back story before he starts to time travel it is hard to engage or build up feelings towards his character. Michael Kopelow gives a good performance as Ethan, but ultimately we know little about him, bar a fleeting scene of him ‘getting it on’ with his wife.

cc2As Ethan stumbles his way through the future, the scenes are short and some are edited in a way that makes them feel spliced. In itself this is a nice touch, given the whole time travel aspect, but in terms of becoming engrossed in the story, it jars and makes you acutely aware you are in a constructed world.

As the plot becomes more convoluted (in fairness, that’s something of a given in time travel movies), things start to get weirder and events feel a little plotted. Characters appear and disappear as needed and Ethan does a lot of running (initially amusingly) from scene to scene.
Having said that, Director George Moise ties the multiple timelines together nicely, creating the sensation of different events ostensibly all happening at once. This gives rise to some nice moments where two Ethan’s appear together, in particular a moment where he knocks his other self out cold.

The main issue with the film for me, is that many of the characters feel rather two dimensional, especially the raft of bad guys headed up by Roman (Frank Simms), as the boss of a large corporation. He feels overly comedic, breaking through into panto villain when black comedy would have sufficed. If I’m honest it feels like he belongs in another film entirely. His henchman fair slightly better, although one particular scene near the end of the film between a henchman and Ethan’s sister, simply left me baffled. It felt crowbarred in merely to advance the plot in a particular direction.

cc3On the plus side, Writer / Director Moise and Writer / Producer / Actor Michael Kopelow have visually created a decent looking low budget film, using simple techniques to great effect. A scene where Ethan is interrogated by the police over the murders is essentially two men either side of a table in a black room but its oddity works and feels deliberately stylised.

Overall, whilst Counter Clockwise takes a twisted concept and delivers some nice moments, the overarching tone feels muddled, creating a rather uneven film which ultimately I was a little apathetic towards by the end.

4 out of 10

River (2015) DVD Review

river1River (2015)

Running Time: 95 minutes

Writer & Director: Jamie M. Dagg

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

Out now on UK DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 out of 10

Hank Boyd Is Dead (2015) Review

hankboyd1Hank Boyd Is Dead (2015)

Running Time: 76 minutes

Writer & Director: Sean Melia

Cast: Stefanie E. Frame, David Christopher Wells, Liv Rooth, Michael Hogan, Carole Monferdini, Arthur Aulisi

Hank Boyd is dead. There you have it. The title of this darkly comic horror film leaves you in little doubt as to what to expect when you sit down to watch the story unfold. The question is, can Director Sean Melia deliver on what feels like a promise to entertain, amuse and horrify in equal measure?

We begin by meeting Sarah, who is making her way to the Boyd house to cater for the funeral of Hank (he’s dead remember). We discover, alongside Sarah, that Hank has killed himself in custody after being found guilty of the murder of a young woman. In time, Sarah will realise that this is not entirely the whole truth. From the very outset of the film, the story is interspersed with old home footage (presumably depicting the Boyd family as children) and whilst the old footage is a nice touch, it unfortunately becomes woefully over used, flashing back continually throughout the story without adding much value. The film also cuts away to an interview being conducted with two as yet unseen characters who have more to reveal about the Boyd family’s past.

hankboyd2The interview seems out of sync with the action taking place in the house and ends up feeling included merely to fill in the gaps of the back story. It’s a shame, as both concepts could have enhanced the film, had they ever actually hit their stride.

Back inside the house, Sarah, alone and uneasy, hears strange noises from upstairs and goes to investigate. Before she can discover anything, she is stopped by David, Hank’s brother, who also happens to be a cop; a particularly shifty and sinister one. His colleague Ray, sits outside guarding the house and it is clear the two are partners in crime. The rest of the family then fall in to place, with confused and forgetful mother Beverley and childlike sister Aubrey. There are one or two nice moments; Aubrey’s dramatic winks towards a dolls cabinet (and subsequently towards the audience) and Beverley’s over the top demands are amusing. However, the humour sits oddly and never fully takes flight.

hankboyd3After Sarah overhears David and Ray speaking she realises that maybe Hank wasn’t guilty of murder at all. She is now in grave danger, as David knows they have been overheard and will stop at nothing to protect his totally dysfunctional family. At this point of the film, our interest peaks, it feels like everything has been established, and that the dark and amusing tale should now let rip. However, as the story lurches from extreme to distasteful extreme, it’s a shame that by this point, you don’t feel more invested in the story, but the characters aren’t appealing enough or clever enough in their insanity to really engage.

From here on out, events turn rather more horrific and to be honest, somewhat farcical. When a reporter arrives on the doorstep, he seems to be there merely to serve the role of yet more story exposition and subsequent victim. There is also a weird revelation of incest, complete with make out moment and romantic music, plus the revelation of what Sarah heard upstairs earlier and a bloody rising body count. It’s a shame but you are left feeling that literally everything has been thrown at the screen in an effort to see what sticks. To be fair, there are a couple of wryly humorous moments that made me titter; murderous carnage in the basement whilst the neighbours sit upstairs and David’s blatant disregard for anyone or anything by the end of the film. Unfortunately it all just felt a little too late.

hankboyd4Veering between thriller, horror and black comedy, it feels like the film never really hits its mark. Not funny enough for a black comedy and feeling a little too bright and glossy for a disturbed horror, it seemed to fall in to an odd middle ground. The concept is a decent one and undoubtedly there will be some that enjoy, but ultimately it feels like it hasn’t quite decided what sort of film it wants to be.

4 out of 10

Adonis and Aphrodite (2016) Short Film Review

adonisaphroditeAdonis and Aphrodite (2016)

Running time: 12 minutes

Director: David Chaudoir

Cast: Madeleine Bowyer

When horror presents itself in a comfortable familiar setting, it often feels at its most disturbing. The idea that pure evil can creep in to suburbia and infiltrate our rather mundane, ordinary lives is both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. The pain pleasure balance we all straddle when we sit down to watch a good horror flick is a delicate one to achieve, yet this short film from Director David Chaudoir, manages to lure us in with a wry smile and satisfies our suspicions that things are never really as they seem.

Adonis and Aphrodite has a simple premise, one female character delivers a monologue directly to camera in the surrounds of her greenhouse whilst she tends to her plants. Alan Bennett springs immediately to mind and it was nice to see a nod in that direction at the end of the film with a final ‘dedication’ issuing apologies to the man himself. Apologies however, are not needed as both the script and Madeleine Bowyer’s performance are intriguing and entertaining in equal measure. Full marks go to Bowyer for drawing you inside her world and so eloquently painting the picture of the avant garde neighbours next door that lure her and her husband down new paths, from swinging to some very questionable paganism.

ADONIS-AND-APHRODITEThe simplicity of the film allows the monologue to stand for itself, no tricks or titillating flashbacks are needed. Bowyer does all the work for us, allowing us to conjure up mental images that are often far worse than what could be depicted on screen. Laced with dry wit and all the middle class undertones of what may or may not be going on behind closed doors, this is pure storytelling. You’ll find yourself swept along with the narrative all the way to the dark and satisfying climax. The one issue with first person narration is that we never know how reliable our narrator is. Is everything really as it seems? Perhaps not, but whilst this thought may occur to you as you watch, it’s a small gripe to have.

This is not a short bursting at the seams with guts and gore and nor does it try to be. By sticking to storytelling first and foremost (and presumably helping the budget enormously), what you end up with is a film that feels respectful of its predecessors. It evokes the sense of a scary story told around the campfire or a disturbing Dahl-esque look behind the closed door of polite British society. It manages to be contemporary whilst retaining a comforting connection to the past.

Having both written and directed Adonis and Aphrodite, it’s clear that Chaudoir has a love of the dark side of life and an understanding of the humour that lies alongside it. He deftly manages to strike the balance, coaxing the viewer with a smile before revealing the truth that may (or may not) lie beneath. The monologue nature of the short means that you feel somewhat complicit in the story being told which, for me at least, makes it all the more entertaining. Based on this, I’m intrigued to see what Chaudoir’s second short, Bad Acid, will bring; more great storytelling and strong performances I hope. No pressure then.

7 out of 10

Refuge aka The Mansion (2013) Review

refuge1Refuge aka The Mansion (2013)

Director: Andrew Robertson

Cast: Carter Roy, Amy Rutberg, Chris Kies, Sebastian Beacon, Eva Grace Kellner, Travis Grant

Running time: 74 minutes

What better way to put a spring in your step on a wet afternoon, than to sit down to watch a post apocalyptic thriller? If nothing else, it changes your perspective on how bad the weather makes things seem.

Refuge (originally titled The Mansion) takes a premise that has been re-worked many times; a plague has spread throughout the population, killing nearly everyone in sight thus leading to a chaotic, dark and uncivilised world. The immediate assumption when approaching a film like this, is that you will witness zombies (in their droves) tearing people limb from limb. That however, is not the journey that Refuge takes and and it’s all the stronger for it.

refuge4In a gripping opening scene we witness a band of men approaching an isolated and vulnerable home. Immediately an unsettling tension hovers over the screen which is solidified when, despite the protestation of one of the party, the men advance on the house to pillage and kill who ever gets in their way. It is a startling and arresting opening which sets the tone of the film and establishes the characters quickly. We then learn, through news footage and desolate city shots, that there has been an outbreak of a deadly virus which is untreatable by antibiotics and spreading quickly. It’s succinctly and subtly presented, feeling eerily real and more than a terrifying possibility in this modern world. Having understood what has happened up to this point, we meet four survivors who are struggling to exist; parents with a young child and a single man, all trying to survive in one house together.

Considering this is Director Andrew Robertson’s début feature, it’s an extremely confident film that manages to steer clear of horrendous back story and laboured expository scenes. The muted, almost bleached colour adds to the theme and despair of the world the film depicts. The colours are so subdued that at times you’d be forgiven for thinking it was shot in back and white. In all aspects it is a slickly produced film, with arresting scenes and a real understanding of emotion and tension. This level of expertise for a first time feature is understandable when you realise that Refuge is produced by Passerby Films, an accomplished production company who clearly understand the power of storytelling.

refuge2Back to the film itself and as we watch our four survivors try to stay alive, we flit back to the initial band of men from the opening scene. Russell (Sebastian Beacon) the lone voice of reason, does not want to be involved with the killings and vigilante violence carried out by Rez (a terrifically disturbing Travis Grant) and the rest of the men. However, opting out is not an option and Rez makes it clear that if Russell runs, he will find him. This is exactly where Refuge elevates itself above other post-apocalypse films.

The threat here is not from lumbering zombies, or even a new strain of souped-up ones. The threat and fear comes from people themselves. Refuge is about the breakdown of humanity; people kill not because they know no better or even for survival of the fittest, there is a sadistic pleasure in every killing that this uncivilised world brings. However, whilst the killings are brutal, they don’t feel revelled in. One particular attack with a baseball bat spiked with nails is particularly disturbing, partly due to a cut away at exactly the moment of impact.

refuge3Needless to say, Russell makes his escape and is found and taken in by the other survivors. Oblivious to the danger they are opening themselves up to, Russell promises them he knows of a safe haven that they can all make their way too. But does it really exist? In a film where it is every man for himself and the worst of humanity is on display, it is virtually impossible to know who to trust. This is not a fun world to be living in, but from the comfort of the world we inhabit, it’s an entertaining one to watch.

8 out of 10

OMG… We’re In A Horror Movie (2014) Review

omgOMG… We’re In A Horror Movie (2014)

Running Time: 107 minutes

Director: Ajala Bandele

Cast: Ajala Bandele, Chris Hampton, Liz Fenning, Nils Jansson, Shanna Malcolm, Sharon Mae, Brendan McGowan

An ensemble, low budget film, OMG opens with six friends playing a board game and hanging out. After Tom’s (McGowan) psycho-ex Amy (Fenning) arrives, bringing the total to seven, a booming voice over is heard, informing the group that they are all in a horror movie. This fact is clarified by oddball of the group Kyle (Jansson), who tells them they’re probably all going to die and the killer will be the one they least suspect. Cue everyone’s panic, need to save themselves and immediate categorisation of the role they play and their likelihood of survival.

omg1With films such as Scream having kicked of the self-referential horror movie so successfully, it is no surprise that others haven taken up the mantle and chosen to teasingly play with conventions. This is the camp OMG firmly sits in, but it most definitely has it’s heart in comedy rather than horror. Sure, the premise is that the characters are trapped in a horror movie, but here, the laughs definitely overtake the screams. I imagine the concept of the film will provoke one of two reactions in people; either send them running for the hills or peak their interest enough to say, come on then, are you clever enough to pull this off? The end result doesn’t completely satisfy, but there are enough fun moments to indulge in and the entire film is actually cleverer than you might imagine.

omg2After a strong start, It’s fair to say that the film sags towards the middle and the running time of 107 minutes does feel a little over stretched. As the characters try to find different ways to survive the movie, we are treated to the obligatory fight scenes, sex scene and the not so obvious guys dressing up as women to act out an entirely different scene. Mad, but kind of fun at the same time. Not all of the laughs land quite as you might want and it seems a shame that more isn’t made of the weird and frankly disturbed Kyle. However, AJ (Ajala Bandele) and his friend Chris (Chris Hampton) steal the show. These guys could definitely have their own sequel. (No real stretch on the names though right)?

omg3Independently driven and mainly personally funded, OMG is clearly a project of passion and the enthusiasm of everyone involved seeps off the screen. Director, Writer, Producer and Actor Ajala Bandele is definitely one to watch, as alongside his co writer / co-producer Tom Hatfield, the pair have clearly shown that they can handle the reigns of a feature.Their knowledge of genres and horror references are playfully flaunted throughout the film, even down to the music and lighting. Add a script littered with good gags (even if some linger a little too long on screen) and you can see the pair are also clearly adept at comic film.

It would have been nice to have had a bit more gore (don’t expect Wes Craven style killings), but do expect everything to be thrown in to the mix, including zombies. If you want a film that terrifies, OMG is not for you. However, if you fancy seeing something low budget and fun, then stick around and press play.

5 out of 10

The UKHS Writers Christmas Horrors – ‘The Children’ (2008)

The UKHS Writers Christmas Horrors

The Children (2008)

Running Time: 84 minutes

Director: Tom Shankland

Cast: Eva Birthistle, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield, Rachel Shelley, Hannah Tointon

Often we hear adults say that Christmas is really for the kids, but after watching The Children, I’m pretty sure you’ll be wanting a child free festive period. In the most entertaining and cheesiest way possible, the tagline says it all; ‘You brought them into this world. Now … They will take you out’. Bring it on. Holiday festivities, disturbed children, horror, snow and a big house in the middle of nowhere. Happy Christmas people.

The film opens as Elaine and her husband Jonah arrive at sister’s Chloe’s house for Christmas, along with their three kids. So far, so normal. Chloe and her husband Robbie, also have two children, so the cousins are excited and annoyingly screechy on seeing one another. Only Elaine’s older child, teenager Casey, is uninterested in this family Christmas and would rather be elsewhere.

As the two families settle in to their festive routine, it quickly becomes apparent that Paulie, Elaine and Jonah’s son, is a little unwell. After being physically sick he becomes withdrawn and turns a tad aggressive. Gradually each child in turn begins to be sick or cough blood; never a good sign. Their behaviour also starts to deteriorate, from slapping, to scratching, to deafening screaming at the dinner table. Suddenly, this is turning in to the Christmas from hell.

Kids are often a tricky proposition to get right in a horror film, get it wrong and the story risks its credibility, get it right and these little mini-me’s can scare the hell out of us. With this film, we hit a middle ground. Whilst the kids don’t deliver overtly stunning performances, Director Tom Shankland shoots around them in a way that convinces and unsettles. Couple this with a strong adult cast, including an impressive, if young, Hannah Tointon, (as Casey) and you’re on solid ground.

With the children’s unacceptable behaviour building, the relationships between the adults uncovers signs of underlying tensions and differences. Chloe and Robbie clearly see themselves as the superior couple and set of parents, despite Robbie’s inappropriate attention towards his niece Casey. In turn, Casey dislikes her stepdad and delivers angst ridden anger towards her mother. Perhaps if they paid less attention to themselves they might realise the escalating danger their kids are about to pose.

After a dinner table outburst, events suddenly escalate in to full blown terror and Robbie is the first person to fall victim to these demonic little people, in a rather gruesome manner involving a sledge and a hook. When the adults find his body in the snow, there is a fantastic shot pulling back to frame them surrounding him, frozen in shock.

Everything has built steadily towards this part of the film; the children have made their first move and now all hell breaks loose. Nobody knows what has happened (except us) and the kids have disappeared in to the woods. Once the adults start losing their grip, things move quickly and the story remains tight and concise. Shankland doesn’t lose the intensity or pacing of the situation and as the kids strike again, the parental attacks come thick and fast. To be fair, they are fairly brutal and don’t pull any punches which is impressive, as I’m sure it might have been tempting to err on the side of caution. The attacks play on our fears; being trapped, the delicacy of eyes and the double edged sword of your child as innocent and attacker which is a fun concept to explore. Ultimately it is Casey who first realises that these kids are just plain evil, but will she be listened to?

There is nothing more frustrating than a film that tries to explain everything or wrap it up in neat little bows and thankfully, The Children doesn’t attempt to do that. Why do the children start to attack their parents? You decide. Is there a way of stopping them? Well, you’ll need to watch to find out. A little like the present you haven’t yet unwrapped but are fairly sure you know what’s inside, The Children doesn’t disappoint. It delivers the solid enjoyment you’d expect and might have you eyeing your kids suspiciously over that steaming Christmas turkey.

8 out of 10

Ghost Story (1981) Blu-Ray Review

ghoststory1Ghost Story (1981)

Running time: 88 minutes

Director: John Irvin

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

UK Blu-Ray Release December 7th from Second Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 out of 10