Devil’s Knot (2013) Cinematic Review

devilsknot1Devil’s Knot (2013) Cinematic Review
114 mins

Dir: Atom Egoyan

Starring: Reece Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Dane DeHaan, Stephen Moyer, Mireille Enos and James Hamrick

In the summer of 1993, three 8 year old boys went to play in the woods of West Memphis, Arkansas and never returned. When their bodies were discovered, the brutality of their deaths was linked by authorities to be as some part of a Satanic ritual. Soon afterwards, three teenagers were arrested and put on trial founded on intense interrogation and highly circumstantial evidence as a result of the ‘Satanic Panic’ that was running amuck in the American Mid-West. The boys all faced extreme charges, the penalties of which included life imprisonment and condemnation to death.

Based on the book of the same name by Mara Leveritt, it is surprising that it has taken such a long time for a theatrical retelling of the chilling and blood-boiling events that surrounded the West Memphis Three. Whilst some may feel that it could be considered to still be ‘too soon’, the far more likely reason is the existence of the immaculate ‘Paradise Lost’ trilogy of documentaries.

At a combined total of nearly 10 hours, it is no surprise that Atom Egoyan felt that the story needed to be kept to a more mainstream running time but this only proves to be one of the film’s key detriments. It was interesting that in the film, Firth has a brief dialogue with a documentary filmmaker, presumably supposed to be Joe Berlinger. I’m sure this was intended to be a wry nod of acknowledgement from Egoyan to what came before him, but sadly only served as another reminder of how better this story had already been captured.

devilsknot2The most noteworthy element of the film is that it was surprisingly enjoyable and refreshing to see Colin Firth not just playing the same bloody character he’s done for seemingly his entire career aka stuffy but secretly hopeless romantic upper-class Brit. Adopting a convincing southern drawl, Firth plays investigator, Ron Lax, one of the very first people to dare to raise a contrary voice to the overwhelming majority belief of the guilt of the three boys. Whilst he is stereotyped with the saddle of being an alcoholic, Firth displays a huge amount of conviction in his character and expertly represents the outrage and indignation many felt at the hideously one-sided case against the WM3.

The three boys themselves, whilst irritatingly not given enough screen time, also provide an almost scary degree of accuracy in their portrayals. James Hamrick as Damien Echols is especially brilliant and crucially, the sole occasion in which the film gets its handling of the story completely spot on. Hamrick’s performance is a perfect medium of both intimidatingly suspect and yet at the same time, vulnerable. Beneath his veneer of being cold and aggressive, we see how much he fears for his mortality and his despair that seemingly no one will believe in his innocence.

It is a shame, however, that both DeHaan and Witherspoon who are both usually so reliable, are very much on auto-pilot here. As the mother of one of the murdered boys, Witherspoon does track the emotional journey the real life Pam Hobbs underwent of initially cursing the accused to being the first to start to believe in their innocence superbly. The problem is, however, that due to Egoyan’s unsettled nature and desire to jump between stories, her performance that could have been packed full of nuance and inner turmoil is muted as a result of the reduced screen time.

DeHaan fares far worse, on the evidence such as this, it is clear that he’s getting all too dangerously close to being stereotyped as ‘the creepy guy’. Don’t get me wrong, he is amazing at what he does, but his almost pantomime villain performance here threatens to tip the film off the rails and into yet further mediocrity.

devilsknot3The recreations of the 90s is faithfully captured through the now humourlessly chunky mobile phones and of course, dress sense but very little effort is made to get a real sense of the community at the time. What caused the almost witch-hunt of the three accused boys was the tightly bound community bonded together by their faith and almost uniform identity of polite small town America. The fact that the accused were the total antithesis to this fuelled the flames of the town’s paranoia and, arguably, the police’s personal prejudices. Egoyan’s limited focus in his three storylines skimps on the Satanic Panic that was sweeping America at the time and as a result, leaves the film feeling a tad limp and without much context.

Admittedly, those who have read a lot into the case or watched the documentaries bring heightened levels of expectation that a theatrical feature, primarily designed to entertain, could never hope to fully satisfy. So does it work on a cinematic level? Well no, the film rushes through interesting and well captured moments, such as the child whose recorded statement was proven to be completely manipulated and then slows down to an excruciating snail’s pace when dealing with Rox Lax’s divorce.

The film’s main stumbling block is its sheer reluctance to really get its hands dirty and expose the truly horrifying nature of the case and the highly dubious actions of the police and justice system. Scenes of a potentially troubling nature are handled with the delicate care of the ‘Hallmark’ channel and it is only come the end of the film with its fact cards that any real feathers are properly rustled, the audience I was in shaking their heads in disbelief at the all too true farcical actions of the police force after the events of the film had concluded. It is of course difficult to render dramatic tension when we already know the outcome but if a film like David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’ can make it look so effortless and resurrect the genuine horror behind a real life case, then such an excuse simply doesn’t hold much water.

devilsknot4‘The Devil’s Knot’ could have been made far stronger if it had simply stuck to one of its three storylines and told that version of ‘what happened’. In attempting to cover all the ground, Egoyan has spread himself far too thin. As a result of trying to focus on all the key footnotes, the director lost out on creating any real intrigue, tension or even and perhaps most crucially, any sense of anger at the injustice the boys suffered. Perhaps, stories as shocking and confounding as this can only be properly expressed through the documentary medium. Real life can be infinitely more terrifying and aggravating than any piece of fiction.

Verdict: A heavily sedated trundle through an incendiary story, only held afloat by the solid performances. 5/10

Zack Parker’s latest film Proxy – watch the first 4 Minutes HERE !!

proxyProxy is the latest film from director Zack Parker and gets it official release in selected US theatres and on VOD on April 18th. This has been causing some major waves in the horror viewing community and here is the first 4 minutes of the film for you viewing pleasure.

Please be warned this is VERY graphic stuff but really gives a taste of what the film is all about.

Synopsis – A very pregnant Esther Woodhouse (Rasmussen) is walking home after her latest OB appointment, when she is brutally attacked and disfigured by a hooded assailant. When Esther seeks consolation in a support group, she finds friendship and empathy in Melanie (Havins), another mother scarred with tragedy. Esther soon begins to believe that the horrific event might be a bittersweet act of fate. However, friendship and empathy can be very dangerous things when accepted by the wrong people. 

Starring Esther Woodhouse, Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins & Kristina Klebe , Proxy certainly looks one to check out . Unfortunately there is no UK DVD release date (as yet) but lets hope!

And I will leave the last words to Scott Weinberg from Fearnet – “And to those who may be skeptical or hesitant after hearing that Proxy runs over 125 minutes, as I certainly was, you can rest easy. Mr. Parker and his team have created a frank and sometimes devastating thriller about the nature of mental illness, the ironic dangers in lying to people who trust you, and the freakish lunacy that may lie beneath the surface of even the mostly normal-looking people. This is a great horror film. ” (you can read the full review here )

Enjoy !!

[youtube=http://youtu.be/mXrYLwxmIkE]

The Long Goodbye (1973) BluRay Review

LONGGOODBYE1The Long Goodbye (1973)

Director – Robert Altman

Starring – Elliot Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden.

UK BluRay Release – Arrow Academy 16th Dec 2013

It’s probably not over-egging the pudding to refer to Robert Altman as a legend. Whether that means anything to you is another matter, but the writer, director and producer of well over a hundred movies was renowned for his bloody mindedness, for sticking to his principles, his “anti-Hollywoodness” and for his unorthodox working practices. All of which, when coupled with the success of movies like MASH, Nashville, The Player and Gosford Park, won him a fearsome reputation, 7 Academy Award nominations and a lot of respect.

It also meant that he rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way. In fact, during the shooting of MASH, stars Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould became so disgruntled that they tried to have him fired. Gould at least, it seems, revised his opinion, because he stars here, in The Long Goodbye as private eye, Philip Marlowe, who gets caught up in a web of intrigue after giving a friend, Terry, a lift to the US / Mexico border. Upon returning from Mexico, Marlowe is confronted by the police, who explain that Terry is wanted for questioning over the murder of his wife. He sets out to find the truth and clear his friend’s name, which proves more difficult when Terry is declared dead by the Mexican police, in an apparent suicide.

longgoodbye3It is just as well that Gould did decide to let bygones be bygones with Altman, because his performance here is mesmerising. He plays Marlowe louche and laid-back. With his crumpled suit and hang dog expression, he is the epitome of 70s cool. He’s so cool that his permanently present Marlborough, hanging from his lip, will make even the most ardent non-smoker crave a crafty fag. And he suits the role; Gould’s face is interesting, giving Marlowe an individuality missing from so many of today’s chisel jawed, dead eyed leading monkeys. It does help that this is Gould before he became the vaguely comical, slightly rotund, bumbling figure from 1979’s The Lady Vanishes, a caricature which seemed to stick with him through to his role playing Courtney Cox and David Schwimmer’s dad in Friends.

The plot boils along, presenting numerous intriguing characters and the film noir atmosphere juxtaposes nicely against the beautiful backdrop of the rugged Californian coastline. Altman handles the story so deftly that you watch Marlowe follow his leads diligently, take in the subplots surrounding other characters and wonder when something important is going to happen, only for the twist to suddenly smack you square in the chops, making you realise that Altman’s been unravelling the mystery in front of your face the whole time and leaving you wondering how you never saw it coming.

longgoodbye2It’s difficult to write anything more about the movie without giving away the denouement, which would be a crime in itself, as watching it in ignorance is a real treat. Mark Rydell gives an unnerving turn as gangster Marty Augustine, his understated detachment making the character seem all the more dangerous.

For Terminator fans out there, there is a brief appearance as a henchman from Arnold Schwarzenegger – and he’s wearing some impressive undies.

Very much recommended. 9/10

 

Peeping Tom (1960) Review

peeping1PEEPING TOM (1960)
Dir. Michael Powell

“How would I look on your camera?”
“Not you. Whatever I photograph, I always lose.”

Each and every night, the whir of the film projector can be heard in Mark’s room. It is a solitary sound for a solitary young man, it is the only sound that matters because it means Mark is where he belongs: watching the women, their faces, their mouths, their eyes, and their terror play out before  him on the silver screen.
Each and every night.

While films about serial killers were not exactly new in 1960, two films made their mark that year as bringing a new level of all-too-human terror to the silver screen, Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and its lesser known U.K. cousin, PEEPING TOM. In horror film criticism, there has been much written about the male gaze. PEEPING TOM is a textbook example, and yet perhaps something more.

Our film opens with a man, whose face is not seen but who has a camera around his neck, approaching a Soho prostitute. The shot then changes so that all we see is what his camera sees, he looks her up and down, and follows the prostitute to her flat, always keeping her in the crosshairs of his lens. As she starts to undress, he adjusts the camera and starts moving in, closer and closer. The prostitute, seeing something we don’t, begins to scream and her terrified face is recorded for posterity as the killer closes in.

peeping2We then cut to a small movie screen, where black and white footage of the crime is being replayed for the viewing pleasure of the killer/cameraman. It soon becomes clear this killer is Mark, a mild-mannered photographer who goes nowhere without his camera. When not practising erotic photography for hire, he is a cameraman for a movie studio.

But his hobby of watching women through a camera lens, and then capturing their expression of sheer terror as they are killed, makes him a wanted man, and as police probe the series of mysterious murders, the best/worse thing that can happen to Mark does—he finds a young woman who loves him. In addition to being a masterfully shot and edited film with compelling acting by the entire cast, what makes PEEPING TOM a work of genius is the way in which it is a rich visual essay on the fetishistic gaze and how it can isolate human beings.

Powell presents scene after scene in which characters are either staring at photos (including those of nude women) and watching film footage, are behind the camera, or in front of the camera. The subject of the gaze is usually female beauty and sex or fear and violence. Watching it, the viewer can’t help but think who’s watching who, why, and who is really in control here—the moviemaker, the subject or the audience?

peeping3A good example of this layered approach to the concept of gaze is an early scene where Mark peers through a window into an apartment where a 21st birthday party for his future love interest, Helen, is taking place. She spots him and invites him into the party, but he declines, presumably because he doesn’t like crowds and Mark retires to his own apartment in the same building and sits in the dark, watching an old movie.

Helen interrupts his viewing with a rap at the door and an offer of birthday cake. He rushes to put away the film as if he had been caught masturbating.  She enters and they chat, but Mark is awkward until he sits her down and starts his projector. He shows Helen a film his father took of Mark as a young boy watching a couple kiss in the park. He then shows her a film his father took of Mark being awakened in his bed and the subsequent fright he feels as his father puts a lizard in his bed.

It gets stranger as Mark attempts to photograph Helen watching the lizard film, a look of fear and disgust on her face. They then watch a film showing Mark at the death bed of his mother, followed by swimsuit footage of his new mother, and finally the moment Mark received his own camera, just before his father and new stepmother left on their honeymoon. Mark’s father was a scientist, a man who who wanted a video record of a child growing up so Mark never knew a moment’s privacy. On top of that his father wanted to learn about how children respond to fear.

peeping4Mark’s “origin story” ends when another person attending the birthday party comes in and beckons Helen back to the fun. She invites Mark, who declines. He is left staring at the piece of birthday cake she brought him earlier, isolated once again in his own mind, layer upon layer.

But PEEPING TOM is also an effective thriller. While it’s no mystery to the viewer as to whom the killer is, there is a question as to exactly how Mark’s victims are being slain (which is explained during the film’s climax), as well as the question as to whether Mark can overcome his compulsion to kill after meeting Helen? Can he be cured? Mark is a compelling psychological study. He has been warped by his upbringing, and yet he knows it and can’t seem to do anything about it.

After a slain actress is found in a trunk at the studio where Mark works, the police investigation intensifies. But Mark doesn’t seem to mind, and even films police interrogations of studio staff, explaining that he is making a documentary. Of what, he won’t say. A co-worker says to him, “Mark, are you crazy?” to which he replies, “Yes, do you think [the police] will notice?”

peeping5Another example is when Mark is confronted by Helen’s mother, a blind woman who spend her evenings on the sofa drinking whiskey. She doesn’t like Mark, a man who walks “too softly” and who peeps in through her window—the latter she knows because she can “feel” Mark’s gaze. It makes the hairs on her neck stand up, and when she shakes his hand, she can feel his pulse and tell when he’s lying.

Every night she hears him turn on his film projector, eager to watch … something. She asks what is it he’s so eager to watch?  The projector plays and she can’t see Mark’s footage of his latest victim playing across the screen, a terror-stricken, beautiful face.  But he can’t bear to kill her and she tells him, that all this filming can’t be healthy and that he needs to get help, quickly. “What’s troubling you, Mark? You’ll have to tell someone. You’ll have to.” Powerful stuff.

The horror of PEEPING TOM comes from the fact the viewer is forced to accompany Mark in his murders, sees what he sees—the masks of fear on his victims’ faces. We can’t look away. After all, we don’t want to miss any of the movie, right?

And there is morbid food for thought in the notion that we can’t look away, isn’t there? It was one thing to make the point—that as cinema-goers, we all are voyeurs—to shocked film audiences in 1960.

peeping6But PEEPING TOM is even more relevant now, when movies have moved out of the cinema and into our streets, our living rooms, our bedrooms, with us as both spectators and actors.

Cameras are ubiquitous, with many people photographing and shooting video of the minutiae of their daily lives. Children are growing up seeking validation from an unblinking lens. There is video content of anything you can imagine, and some real life things you can’t, available at the swipe of a finger.

Everyone is watching everyone else, often alone in the dark. Like Mark.
9/10

ATM (2012) DVD Review

ATM-001ATM (2012)
Dir. David Brooks         86 mins
Lionsgate
UK Release: 14th October 2013

I think there’s some advice in the screenwriting handbook that says something to the degree of “write what you know”. Chris Sparling seems to have listened to that as fresh from scripting the taut claustrophobic thriller Buried which was of course predominantly set in a coffin, he’s back with a taut claustrophobic thriller set predominantly in a walk in ATM – though sadly it’s somewhat less successful.

We begin in the world of financiers where we find our lead character David (Brian Geraghty) being pushed to ask out lovely office lady Emily (Alice Eve) at the Christmas party later that evening. When the party arrives, he seizes his opportunity and finds himself with the chance to steal a ride home with the attractive blonde by offering her a lift. Their moment though seems ruined though by the insistence of brash colleague Corey (Josh Peck) coming for the journey to save himself some cash. Corey needs food, and soon turns the ride home into an endurance test by endlessly whining that he’s hungry. But wait… the takeaway the Corey wants to visit only takes cash so that’ll mean a visit to the ATM.

ATM-003Plot challenge #1 – How to get all three characters into the walk in ATM despite only one of them needing money. Answer? Make Corey such a klutz that his card has a dodgy magnetic strip, which leads David to go in and draw money out for him and Emma follow out of curiosity as to why things are taking so long. Once inside though, they spot a mysterious hooded character standing in the parking lot. Is he intimidating them or just simply waiting to draw out some cash? The answer soon arrives when this shady fellow attacks a passer-by much to the horror of our venerable threesome. Its ok though folks – I’m sure one simple phone call can end this grave situation, but wait… surely not… everyone’s left their mobile phones in the car. Damn you horror films and those pesky things you make people forget.

Plot challenge #2 – If the car is just outside the ATM and they’re free to leave at any point and they’re still in possession of the car keys, then what’s the big deal? Just walk out! Slight issue here is they’ve somehow parked the car 100 yards from the ATM and Mr.Menacing is standing right between their motor and the cash facility. I promised myself I wouldn’t pick too much at contrived situations like this, but WHO in their right mind on an evening with the temperature below freezing would park in an empty car park such a distance from where they’re going.

ATM is guilty of a lot of things like this, and even the most forgiving horror film addict is likely to find a portion of these convenient plot points a little grating. It’s a shame though really as ATM has a lot to like about it. The three leads have good chemistry with Geraghty suiting the lead role and Josh Peck and Alice Eve ably supporting him. It’s well shot, and it does contain a few moments that hint at a good film trying to escape a stinker. As for the villain of the piece, the mysterious stranger, he’s pretty functional yet somewhat unconvincing. The fur lining to his hood presents him more as an anonymous generic male rather than a harbinger of impending doom.

ATM-002Overall though, despite the odd flash of ingenuity and intelligence, ATM is just dumb. I’m not going to be predictable though and finish with Another Terrible Movie – that would be harsh, although given the opportunity I think Another Trite Movie would be more applicable.

4 out of 10

Extras:
•        Behind the scenes featurette.

Wrath (2011) DVD Review

WRATH-001

WRATH (2011)
Dir. Jonathan Neil Dixon        94 mins
OMG
UK Release: 6th May 2013

A recent trend on the sleeves of genre movies of late has been the absence of the traditional quote from a critic, and in its place a rather misleading banner. For example, on a Mafioso film you’ll see “in the tradition of The Godfather”, and on a romance you may find “for fans of The Notebook”. It’s all a bit ridiculous really as it’s plainly a cheap tactic to get people to focus on the name of the iconic movie they name-check and naively presume that the b-movie they’re about to rent or buy will be of similar quality. We’ve a similar scenario here for ‘Wrath’ with OMG Films cannily adorning the top of the sleeve with (small text) “combines all the elements of” (large text) “Wolf Creek and Red Hill”. I guarantee the weekend will see people in my rental store turn to their partner and say “Hey honey – this is like Wolf Creek!”. Well, potential weekend rental customer, I can honestly tell you it’s not fit to touch the hem of Wolf Creek’s garment.

We begin with Callie (Rebecca Ratcliff), holed up in a motel with her boyfriend Matt (Corey Page) about to set off and waiting for their friends in the adjacent room. The film cuts away at this point to a driver stumbling across a crashed Mercedes just off the main road. Stopping to check her wellbeing, he is shot through the head from distance – the Mercedes driver escaping unharmed. Meanwhile, back at the motel, Matt and Callie are arguing about the durability of their relationship when out of nowhere Callie informs Matt she is pregnant.
WRATH-002
Soon after, the group of four meet in a diner before heading off on their journey. As they share breakfast, the small town / backwoods nature of this place becomes increasingly obvious as they receive inquisitive, lingering stares from the other customers. Leaving the diner, they stop at the local gas station to fill up with fuel and notice on their arrival a car with bloody handprints on its exterior. At the same time the local policeman stops by and proceeds to ask the four travellers if they know anything about it, but just as he begins his enquiry he is shot through the head by an unseen assailant with the garage owner soon meeting the same fate.

Quickly getting back into their car, they are joined by the Mercedes driver from earlier on who was in the back of the garage cleaning herself up. Fleeing from the scene at speed, pursued by someone they suspect to be the shooter, they escape to a local farm where upon stopping, the mysterious woman that joined them runs away taking the car keys with her. Stranded, and each with seemingly different intentions, the four friends must plot their next move.
WRATH-003
Despite an intriguing, multi-faceted set-up, ‘Wrath’ was a frustrating viewing experience as it fell very short of realising its full potential. The first thirty minutes of the movie had me intrigued, but as the battle between hunter and prey developed – or not as the case may be, the film really began to drag. The characters were just so under-developed. We got a slight idea of Matt and Callie’s relationship, but who were the guys they were travelling with? There is even a character at the start of the film that looks to have a pivotal role that we never see again. It’s a shame, especially as the Ozploitation genre has certainly has more hits than misses. Wrath however, falls firmly into the latter of those categories.

4 out of 10

Cassadaga (2011) Review

 

 

cassadagaCassadaga (2011)

 

Poiley Wood Entertainment – 108 mins

 

I only heard of this after a recommendation from a friend , and I really didn’t know what to expect .
Now if you were to decide to watch a film purely by the front cover of the DVD then I would not have watched this , as the cover portrays a young woman with hooks screwed into her hands and knees and being operated as a human marionette . It looks like a very low budget gorefest .
Now how wrong would I have been , this is a fantastic little ghost film , with a serial killer , romance and a twist by having a deaf lead character .
The film starts with Lily a deaf teacher (wonderfully played by Kelen Coleman ) who loses her younger sister to a traffic accident . After this event she leaves town and moves to the quiet town of Cassadaga (the psychic capital of America) to take up a scholarship and part-time art teaching role .
While there she falls for a students father (played by Kevin Alejandro) who is a paramedic and local football hero .
After a night out they decide to visit a local psychic and during a séance they try to connect with her dead sister .
Unfortunately for Lily she is connected to the spirit of a dead woman murdered by a serial killer who has a penchant for turning pretty young women into live marionettes (well a man needs a hobby) .
So from then on Lily has various visions and hauntings that could be leading her towards the killer . Plenty of twists and turns keep the film ticking along and enough bumps and scares to keep ghost film fans very happy .
So there we have it , a great film that weaves three different stories together with real accomplishment and by having a deaf main character it has some really good moments of total silence that add to the tension .
This is by no means perfect , there are plenty of flaws but they are easily forgiven and forgotten .
Well directed by Anthony DiBlasi (of Dread fame) and a great story by Bruce Wood , this really is a little gem of a film that offered litle but gave plenty .

Enjoy 7/10 .