Sunday, December 25, 2016

Horror Film Review

Train to Busan (2016):  I've been waiting for this Korean zombie flick for many months.  It matched Marvel's The Avengers' Rotten Tomatoes score and been lauded by many as the best zombie film ever made. it?  Perhaps not, but damn, it's close.

One thing Korean filmmakers are masters at is pathos (the only other zombie movie that remotely comes close is Maggie).  In this case, we have workaholic, hedge-fund manager Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) reluctantly agreeing to accompany his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) from Seoul to Busan via the KTX bullet train.  For geographical clarification, the capital Seoul is the country's largest city and about as far north as you can get.  Busan, the second largest city, is on the southern tip of the peninsula.  The point is that it's a long train ride.  Soo-an desperately wants to see her mom (Seok Woo's ex-wife) in Busan.  So they go.  During these establishing scenes, we are given hints that a bio-chemical company is attempting to contain an incident.  Our clue something is amiss?  Roadkill zombie deeer.  Sounds goofy but the scene is creepy as hell.

Just as the train's doors begin to close, a woman in an obvious state of distress, dives aboard.  The KTX departs.  A train attendant discovers the woman who by now is convulsing and whose veins have turned blue/black.  Her eyes are cataract white.  So, yeah.  A bad day for her.  The attendant gets her throat ripped out for her trouble and within seconds is a zombie as well.  These are not the slow Romero zombies nor is there much of an incubation period.  That is to say, the pacing is not what you'd call sluggish.  Anyway, mayhem ensues.  Folks bolt from one car to another, closing off infected cars as they go.  It's now we meet the rest of the main characters:  a pregnant woman and her buff husband, two elderly sisters, a high school baseball player and his girlfriend, and an asshole CEO.  As these relationships sort themselves out, the train makes an emergency stop at the next station.  The army is supposed to be there, and they are.  Unfortunately, they're now a camouflaged mass of snarling death.  After many minutes of heart-pounding narrow escapes and the requisite deaths of minor characters, they make it back on the train.  From here, we experience betrayals, sacrifices, and serious sadness.  Eventually, the train must stop due to blocked tracks.  Many nail-biting encounters ensue and the survivors escape on an old diesel locomotive engine.  Who lives?  Who dies?  Do they make it to Busan?  And is Busan overrun or safe?  Ain't telling.

One aspect of Train to Busan that I found particularly groovy was the way the zombies acted.  Not their near-superhuman speed but the freaky way they moved.  It reminds me of how possessed folks move in exorcism horror movies.  Jerky and twisty and not at all normal.  They also had a quality reminiscent of the zombies in World War Z.  Sort of a swarming factor that definitely adds to their already terrifying personality quirks.

The Skinny

Acting:  Uniformly excellent.  The two leads stand especially out.  The CEO is a bit of a ham but it's his douchebag character.
Story:  A zombie virus sweeping a nation certainly isn't new.  Confining the main action to a bullet train, however, is.  So many unexplored nuances make for a thrilling ride.
Direction:  Lean and mean.
Production Values:  Like the majority of Korean films, it looks as if produced by a major Hollywood studio.
Gore/FX:  For a balls-to-the-wall zombie flick, it's surprisingly light on the gross.  Blood, sure, but no viscera or exploding heads.  The dearth of gore is my only real complaint.
Scares:  More edge of your seat tension than straight up jump scares, which is always better.
Ending:  Pathos with a side of hope.
Verdict:  Should you see Train to Busan?  Indeed you should.  It's arguably the best zombie film of 2016.

Rating:  5 out of 5

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Haunted House Update

A few minutes ago, my roommate did one of those, "Oh, by the way..." things.  The night before last, he decided to sleep on the couch in the living room (his bed is uncomfortable as hell).  Around 5:00 AM, he went to the kitchen to forage for food.  The kitchen light was on.  No lights in the living room at all.  About to turn off the kitchen light and return to the couch, he casually glanced into the living room...and saw a large black mass close to the couch.  It was blacker than the already dark room.  Then it suddenly moved across the room and vanished.  Accustomed to the strange happenings in this house, this encounter, however, totally freaked him out.  This incident comes on the heels of another bizarre event a week or so earlier.  He emerged from his bedroom one night complaining of a pain on his back, thought maybe something sharp had embedded itself in the mattress or sheet (there was nothing).  I inspected his back and discovered three scratches in the shape of a chicken's foot.  A big ass chicken.  This marks the second time he's been scratched since moving in.  You'll find a pic of the first scratch over on the right side of the blog and down a ways.

The scratches and black mass are concerning.  I honestly don't know what to think or what to do about it.  My roommate isn't overly worried, much less scared.  Well, not now, anyway.  Still, if this is a sign the activity is ramping up and becoming more violent, I may consider another cleansing or at least have a psychic visit again.

I will, as they say, keep you posted.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Horror Film Review

The Conjuring 2 (2016):  The further adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren find the real-life pair of demonologists up to their eyeballs in supernatural mayhem across the pond in England in a case that came to be known as the Enfield Poltergeist.  By all accounts, this "based on a true story" film exaggerates the Warrens' involvement to a staggering degree.  Does this pesky fact take away from the overall quality of director James Wan's version of events?  Nope.

It's 1977 and we start with Ed and Lorraine (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) investigating a certain house in Amityville, New York where Lorraine encounters a powerful demon in the form of a super-duper creepy nun and has a vision of Ed dying.  Afterwards, she decides they're taking a break from their ghostbusting.  Meanwhile in Enfield, England, single mom Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) and her four children begin experiencing all manner of bizarre events in their run down council home.  Daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) is the target of the malevolent entity.  Probably because she used a homemade ouija board by herself.  She's tormented and occasionally possessed which leads mom Peggy to seek help wherever she can.  Neighbors then police (who do witness the activity) and eventually the press and paranormal investigators.  The Hodgson case becomes something of a media sensation (it really did...look it up).  In the end, the church asks the Warrens fly over there and report on whether they feel it's a hoax or the real deal.  They waffle because of Lorraine's disturbing dreams but finally agree.

Their investigation reveals that an elderly man named Bill Wilkins died in the house and is the spirit responsible for the torturous chaos afflicting the Hodgsons.  After a series of terrifying events, the Warrens are convinced it is not a hoax...until a camera captures Janet, not an invisible force, destroying the kitchen.  With everything that occurred before now in question, mom Peggy is pissed that they doubt her and demands they leave.  While on the train waiting to depart, Ed realizes something about the audio recordings they made and using two separate tape players, plays back two different sessions of dead guy Bill speaking simultaneously.  That's when they learn Bill is not responsible but instead he's trapped in the house and being manipulated by a demonic force.  The Warrens race back to the Hodgson home to do battle with the dark entity (yes, it is the same one Lorraine met in the Amityville house).

Ignoring the liberties the filmmakers may have taken regarding what actually took place almost 40 years ago, one cannot help but become emotionally invested in the plight of Janet Hodgson and her family.  My complaints include those liberties I mentioned as well as the running time (134 minutes).  It's simply too long.  And while I understand the need to beef up the action and chills, it is possible to make a horror film based on real events that stays true to that reality without making a bunch of shit up.

The Skinny

Acting:  Wilson and Farmiga as the Warrens alternate between wooden and over the top.  Their performances are strange.  O'Connor and the kids are spot on.
Story:  Based on a true story.  Very loosely based.  Ends up part The Exorcist and part Poltergeist.
Direction:  James Wan knows what he's doing.  Just wish on this occasion it wouldn't have taken him 134 minutes to do it.
Production Values:  Well, since the budget was $40 million, there's really not much to talk about.  If anything, it's a little too slick.  This is supposed to be 1977 so it should have that grainy, 70s look.  The sets, especially the Hodgson house, are amazing.
Gore/FX:  For the life of me, I can't understand why this is rated R.  A tiny bit of blood and no gore.  Considering the budget, the CGI is impressive, of course.
Scares:  I'm sure most folks would say there are loads of them.  For me personally, I can think of two decent ones.
Ending:  God help me, it was too happy.  Hokey Hollywood hokum.
Verdict:  Should you see The Conjuring 2?  Sure.  I don't think it's as good as the first one, but it's certainly not bad.  At least there's no creepy fucking doll in it.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Horror Film Review

The Wailing (2016):  Supernatural mayhem from South Korea that will either utterly freak you out or leave you scratching your head.  Or in my case, both.  I should point out that so far this year, only 13 films have perfect 100% scores on Rotten Tomatoes.  This is one of them.  At the very least, it shouldn't suck.  And it doesn't, but...Lord, a lot goes on in the two and a half hour running time.  I'll do my best to lay it out for you without spoilers (and believe me, it won't be easy given The Wailing is as much mystery as it is horror).

A small Korean village is suddenly beset by a series of bizarre murders at the hands of normal folks who fell ill to a mystery illness.  Boils are involved.  Doctors haven't a clue.  Local cop Jong-Goo (Do Won Kwak), a slightly bumbling family man, investigates and is led to believe a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who recently moved to the area is somehow connected.  His suspicions are based on what you'd call unreliable evidence.  A local store owner said while in the forest, he saw the Japanese stranger chewing on the carcass of a dead dear.  And that his were red.  And he wore nothing but a weird loincloth/diaper thing.  Jong-Goo enlists his partner and his partner's Japanese-speaking, priest in training nephew to accompany him to the stranger's house deep in the woods.  They find all kinds of fucked up things.  One room is full of pictures of the murder victims, some when they were alive and some of their ravaged corpses.  Also in the room are articles of clothing, some from the dead, some from those not dead.  Yet.  One item is the shoe of Jong-Goo's pre-teen daughter.  Another room is an altar complete with a black goat's head.  So it seems they've found the culprit.  Right?  Well...

Prior to her father's visit to the stranger's lair, Jong-Goo's daughter started acting weird.  No longer the sweet-natured daddy's girl, she's cussing like a sailor, eating like a starving linebacker, and just plain creepy.  There are more murders, suicides, and allegations against the Japanese man.  One story comes from a woman Jong-Goo meets while guarding a crime scene.  She's an odd duck.  Tells him she witnessed the murders, that the man sucked the blood and life from the victims.  Of course she disappears.  Jong-Goo's daughter goes downhill fast, nearly stabbing a neighbor lady to death in a fit of...oh, let's just say it:  possession.  A shaman is consulted and tasked with exorcising the demon. He says it's all the stranger's doing.  Jong-Goo, in a fit of paternal rage, gathers a posse and charges back up the mountain to once and for all take care of the Japanese man.  Unfortunately, they encounter a zombie (that's a long story) that simply won't die.  They do discover the stranger and give chase, only to lose him.  While the posse is driving their truck down the mountain, we see the stranger chasing the odd duck woman through the forest.  Next we know, the truck is hit by something big and slews to a stop.  It's the Japanese guy.  Dead.  Jong-Goo and friends dump the body over the guardrail.  Job seemingly done, he heads directly to the hospital and finds his daughter is back to normal.  Yay!  Right?

This is where everything goes sideways and we enter a minefield of potential spoilers.  The shaman tells Jong-Goo he was wrong, that the stranger was not the cause of the possessions but rather it's the woman in white (odd duck woman) who's responsible.  The daughter disappears from the house, Jong-Goo frantically searches the village...only to encounter the woman in white.  At the same time, his daughter returns home and is no longer normal, the shaman is racing to the scene, and the priest in training nephew tracks down the supposedly dead Japanese stranger to a candlelit cave.  What happens next is disturbing and more than a little confusing.  You'll have to decide for yourself what it all means.  I have a hunch, and I'm pretty sure I'm right.

I'm leaving so much out of this review it's damn near criminal.  If you see this movie, you'll understand why it's literally impossible to engineer a full plot summary.  Be easier just to hand over a copy of the script.

The Skinny

Acting:  All performances range from subtle and layered to out and out scenery-chewing.  Appropriate, though, for this kind of film.
Story:  Overly and unnecessarily complicated.
Direction:  The first movie I've seen that plods and wanders yet fully held my attention for the entire 156 minutes.
Production Values:  Filmed on location in the South Korean village of Goksung, it's about as authentic as you can get.  Kudos to the folks in charge of lighting.  That could not have been easy.
Gore/FX:  An impressive amount of blood and related awfulness.  Some serious gross, which is groovy.  The make-up crew deserve awards.  Especially for the zombie.  Eek.
Scares:  There are.  Not as many as I hoped, though.
Ending:  Um...well, you see, it's just...Oh, balls.  I don't know.  It's really fucked up, okay?
Verdict:  Should you see The Wailing?  Indeed you should.  If not for the overwrought plot, this film would be nearly perfect.  Keep in mind, if you're not used to Asian horror, you may wonder if I've been eating magic mushrooms.  (If you see the movie, you'll understand the mushroom reference and see that I'm being quite clever.)

Rating:  4 out of 5

Friday, August 26, 2016

Horror Film Review

The Vatican Tapes (2015):  I was thinking to myself just the other day that what this world needs is more exorcism movies.  Because as you know, there haven't nearly been enough of the damn things.  There hasn't been a decent one since 2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose.  So maybe The Vatican Tapes is decent, you muse.  It certainly had potential, that is until it went off rails, sideways, and became a hot mess in a dumpster fire.

We begin in Vatican City with Cardinal Bruun (John Andersson) and Vicar Imani (Djimon Hounsou) showing us numerous possessions via video while explaining in voices laden with doom how Satan will soon walk the earth.  Unless the Church can stop him.  Bruun, it seems, was possessed when he was 12 years old.  An exorcism saved him.  And so...

It's Angela's (Olivia Dudley) birthday.  Her Army colonel father Roger (Dougray Scott) says he can't make it but he and Angela's boyfriend Pete (John Patrick Amedori) conspire to surprise her.  Roger shows up, everyone's happy, then Angela starts feeling unwell and acting weird.  A big ass raven starts following her around.  Her goofiness lands her in a psych hospital where patients and staff inexplicably start hurting themselves and attacking others.  Family friend and priest Father Lozano (Michael Pena) finally recognizes that Angela isn't really Angela anymore and places a call to Italy.  Back at home with boyfriend Pete, dad Roger, and Father Lozano, Angela confronts the newly arrived Cardinal Bruun.  There's a bizarre deja vu moment when you swear you're watching The Exorcist at the part when Father Merrin and Father Karras first enter the house.  Oh, if only what happens next could have been even a tenth as good as what Merrin and Karras experienced.

I feel the need to spoil, so there's your warning.  Instead of reciting the Rite of Exorcism, Bruun simply screams at Angela and chokes her, demanding the demon show itself.  It says it's Satan and had possessed Bruun when he was 12.  Sure.  Why not.  Bruun fetches a few dozen feet of log chain from the car and they secure her to the bed.  He also fetched a fancy dagger, aiming to kill Angela.  Not much works out for Cardinal Bruun.  He dies, Angela/Satan suddenly becomes a supervillain from a Marvel movie and blasts half the house apart to escape.  Roger and Pete die in the blast. Father Lozano survives and rushes to meet with Vicar Imani at the Vatican.  They watch TV which shows Angela gaining global fame for miraculously healing the sick.  Then the two men of the cloth discuss the inevitable war between the warriors of God and Satan...who now walks the earth.  Pretending to be the messiah.  By doing messiah stuff.  Like it says in the Bible.  Get it?  Do ya?

Talk about putting too fine a point on it.  Beyond the overbaked denouement, nothing that happens after Angela leaves the loony bin makes half a lick of sense.  Up to that point, I was interested, engaged even.  A favorite expression of movie reviewers is that a film collapses under its own weight.  I've never used that particular expression.  I use it now.

The Skinny

Acting:  Michael Pena might have been on ludes when shooting this.  Way too mellow.  Dougray Scott contributes most of the necessary raw emotion as would be expected by a father.  Andersson goes overboard as Bruun.  Amedori as Pete is just right.  As for Dudley's Angela...I don't know.  Doesn't stand out either way.
Story:  Nothing even remotely new here.
Direction:  Pedantic.
Production Values:  The movie looks pretty good.  Budget was $8.5 million.  Nothing too fancy.
Gore/FX:  There could have been but there wasn't.  If only it had been rated R....
Scares:  What are those?
Ending:  Dumb.  Evil dumb.
Verdict:  Should you see The Vatican Tapes?  No.  You should not.  It was a waste of talent and money.  Go watch The Exorcist or The Exorcism of Emily Rose again.

Rating:  2 out of 5