Archives For 6 – 6.9 (Recommended)

Mama

February 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

1-Mama-PosterTwo young sisters are abandoned in a shack deep in the woods with no way to fend for themselves. After five years later they are found, alive and well, explaining that their survival was down to a guardian they simply refer to as ‘Mama.’ The girls move in with their uncle and his partner in an attempt rehabilitate their development and restore some normality to their lives, However, it seems Mama isn’t quite ready to give up them up.

Mama is brought to us by Guillermo del Toro, the director of modern horror classics such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, but not as a director, or even producer, no Del Toro is the executive producer of Mama.  The title of executive producer has a somewhat ambiguous definition, it could mean having a direct input into the overall production of the movie, but it could just as well mean turning up on the last day to help pick out a nice cover poster. Now… I don’t know to what extent Del Toro was involved,  the sceptic in me suspects he may have been tagged onto this movie as a crafty marketing ploy.  Nevertheless, with his name all over it I expected fantastic visual experience. The first half meets these expectations, playing with the viewers imagination and fears of what might be lurking in the dark or moving in shadows, using a strange palette of  black and browns, accompanied by unsettling sound effects and clever lighting. However, in the third act the visuals take a sudden dive and start looking very glossy and fake. I can’t help but feel that this film would have benefited from more practical effects towards the end, where a few potentially scary scenes become more comical due to shoddy and careless CGI.

There has been some good attention to character development. First time director Andrés Muschietti clearly wants us to care for the characters in the story, and does a successful job of it too. This is helped by Jessica Chastain’s great performance as the female lead.

The story is a bit flaky and riddled with minor plot holes, although this can be largely overlooked as the first half of this film is wonderfully scary. The second half isn’t nearly as good, with the story escalating far too quickly and losing much of the built tension, and of course, the aforementioned plunge in quality of the effects. Still, the core idea of ‘there’s something in the house’ is done brilliantly. They stick to basic scare tactics, which ran the risk of being a very cliché, but they pull it off, producing some genuinely creepy moments.

Our Rating 6.2 / 10

American Mary

January 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

American Mary stars horror favorite Katherine Isobelle as Mary, a struggling medical student. As it becomes increasing difficult to manage her student debt. She soon discovers that her skills can be utilized to make big money in the underworld of body modification.

The film is written and directed by Canadian twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska. It’s refreshing to see women in the creative driving seat of a horror film, which is surprisingly still very uncommon.

American MaryAmerican Mary is a sleek and sexy film that is unpredictable and fairly unique. The story is dark, daring and entertaining, and solid production gives it clean and smooth look. It’s body modification theme is edgy yet tasteful, and at times quite thought provoking. Katherine Isobelle plays the lead brilliantly; cold and brutal, but at the same time, empowering and elegant.

As for Faults, well, American Mary is a great film, but it peaks two-thirds of the way in, and by comparison it’s ending feels a little timid and noncommittal.

Now, this is a bit over critical on my part, and it’s only a minor flaw, but one that stands out as there are so few in the film. It’s the cameo from the Soska sisters, I get it, I do, If I made a horror film, I’d want to be in it too, but this just wasn’t the parts for them. Although I suspect they probably wrote it with themselves in mind. It’s only a short scene but one with so much potential. The Soska sisters play big characters in a scene that could have been wonderfully unsettling, but instead its a bit flat and clumsy. The girls just didn’t have the physical presence or screen confidence required to fill out the roles.

American Mary would have been excellent if it wasn’t hindered by a few minor flaws and a weak ending. Overall, a delicate, but by no means tame, addition to the torture porn sub-genre. This film could easily become a horror cult classic, and deservingly so. I will be interested to see what the Soska sisters do next.

Our rating 6.9 / 10

V/H/S

August 31, 2012 — 4 Comments

V/H/S is a horror anthology that has been themed around the handheld camera / found footage style of filmmaking. It comprises of five independent segments and a framing story.
The framing story called ‘Tape 56’ follows a group of sadistic misfits committing petty crimes and generally causing havoc wherever they can find it; think a poor man’s clockwork orange. The group break into a supposedly empty house where they discover a collection of VHS tapes. Unfortunately it’s this framing story that is the major shortcoming for V/H/S. The characters are unlikable and dull, and some of the production choices are questionable. It’s structure is very loose and makes less sense as it progresses towards it under developed and drab ending. but don’t let this put you off the whole anthology, that’s why we have the fast forward button.

So, how do the individual segments stand? We start with ‘Amateur Night’, directed by David Bruckner who brought us the brilliantly quirky and charming ‘The Signal’ in 2007. Bruckner has done a great job here with a fantastic short following the antics of three guys trying to pick up girls on a night out. Fun, creepy and unsettling, Amateur night is arguably the strongest segment of the collection. Ti West continues the anthology with “Second Honeymoon” which is a well built short, but less than expected after West’s last two successful films The Innkeepers and House of the Devil.
The third segment is a slasher style short called “Tuesday the 17th” which feels a a bit tepid and messy, and poorly performed. It is followed by the curiously titled “The Sick Thing that Happened to Emily when She was Young,” which is a solid addition, with easily  the best camera work and some genuinely scary moments. The story has a surprising twist and leaves the viewer uneasy and wanting to know more.
Finally, the anthology finishes off with “10/31/98″ where 70s occult horror meets classic haunted house. It’s a reasonable segment, if not a little unimaginative, with some good effects.

V/H/S is a bit of a mixed bag. They’ve been quite creative with the found footage theme, applying some interesting ideas and providing authentic scares, but a substandard framing story, some tinny acting and poor execution really drags it down.

Our Rating: 6.4 / 10

 

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Nailbiter

June 28, 2012 — 5 Comments

A woman and her three teenage daughters ignore severe storm warnings and travel cross county to pick up their husband and father who is returning after a long operations stint abroad for the armed services. Soon they are forced to take refuge in a seemingly abandoned house until the storm passes.

Nailbiters returns to old school horror filmmaking, drawing on brief glimpses of monsters lurking in the dark, atmospheric music scores that seamlessly shift the scenes from serene to sinister, and build tightly wound suspense.

Now, bearing in mind that this is a low budget movie, the effects are surprisingly good with passable CGI, largely helped by some slick editing, and some really impressive creature effects.

The only major negative is the story, which feels a little directionless and confused. They’ve tried to squeeze in too many ideas, and included some frankly irrelevant snippets of back-story and side characters. As these are not fully utilized, explored or wrapped up, they just feel messy and cluttered. The acting of the victim family is okay, at times even good but the rest of the supporting actors are a little wooden, although this is easily overlooked due to the films merits.

The ending is unoriginal and, to be honest, a bit cheesy but I loved it. It’s so simple, but somehow exciting, and left me in anticipation for the sequel it will probably never get.

 Overall, Nailbiters has some solid groundwork and first-rate production quality. If the story was more focused and the dialogue sharper Nailbiters could have really been a standout movie. However, I suspect this film will good largely unnoticed, which is a shame because it’s a highly entertaining, independent monster movie.

Our Rating: 6.3 / 10

The Pact

May 31, 2012 — 1 Comment

Nicholas McCathy makes his theatrical directorial debut, The Pact. Annie returns to her childhood home to meet her sister after the death of their estranged mother when an unsettling presence emerges within the house.

The film looks fantastic, especially the lighting, which is all low watt bulbs and dirty yellows, leaving lots of shadows and dark doorways to play on the darker part of our imaginations. I loved the house and all its set pieces; with their dreary colours giving it a wonderful bleak and desolate feel. The film also sports superb sound and acting, with a brief but hair-raising performance from Haley Hudson as a medium.

The film starts out as a typical occult / haunted house story, and it appears to moving along nicely, but then, towards the end of the second act, it has a bit of a change of plan, well, I don’t want to give too much away, but it wasn’t what I expected. It feels like what you’ve got here is the beginning and the ending of two potentially very scary films, unfortunately, two entirely different films.

The story touches on some intriguing back-story, but just as they start to peak your interest, they move on, leaving it largely unexplained. The Pact successfully builds suspense and unease in the first half, but it doesn’t really do much with it, it just kind of, fizzles out.

The Pact would have benefited from more plot development, and a stronger ending. However, story flaws aside, I found myself enjoying this film. The cinematography and production is top-notch, and it has some genuinely creepy moments.

Our Rating: 6.1 / 10

The Whisperer in Darkness

February 10, 2012 — 4 Comments

The Whisperer in Darkness is an independent film based on a short story by H. P Lovecraft. The Lovecraft Historical Society has brought this whole project to life in a black and white, classic horror, 1940s style using a mixture of vintage and modern techniques with a process they have aptly named Mythoscoping. This is their second endeavor into feature films, following their brilliant 2005 silent movie, The Call of Cthulhu.

The story blends science fiction and horror as it follows Albert Wilmarth, a folklorist who initially dismisses old legends that nonhuman creatures inhabit the Vermont hills, but soon the evidence becomes difficult to ignore, and he decides to investigate himself.

The script is quite faithful to Lovecraft’s original story, although it doesn’t follow it quite as closely as they would like you to believe. The last 30 minutes or so detracts considerably, extending lovecraft’s story, and to be honest you can spot where the quality drops off a little, relying less on Lovecraft’s unraveling suspenseful story telling, instead favouring a combination of CGI and action. The production quality truly stands out, the sharp black and white photography gives it slick noir feel which is perfectly complimented by excellent sound design. The Whisperer in Darkness encapsulates the cosmic horror, otherworldly atmosphere of Lovecraft’s stories.

The only flaw in this movie is the ending, it’s easy to understand why the story needed extending for movie purposes; however, it feels a bit awkward and clumsy compared to the rest. The CGI is particularly awful, which should fit the films 40s style if it weren’t so obviously computer generated.

Overall, The Whisperer in Darkness is a love letter of love to H. P. Lovecraft. It has been made by, and for Lovecraft fans. Those dedicated and intimate with Lovecraft’s work will likely love this movie. Not a Lovecraftian? I still think there’s plenty of scope to enjoy this film. Don’t take it too seriously and expect a degree of tongue in cheek-ness, and you may just love it.

Our Rating: 6.7 / 10