Saturday, March 22, 2014

Horror Film Review

Children of Sorrow (2012):  Ever wonder what you'd get if you stuck the DNA from Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and David Koresh into a genetic blender and then created a person from the resulting psycho smoothie?  Probably not.  That kind of thinking would give Stephen King bed-wetting nightmares.  Nevertheless, someone did, and this unnerving if not outright disturbing film is the result. 

The opening sequences with Simon Leach (Bill Oberst, Jr.) and his...associate Mary (Whitney Nielsen) paint a picture of bald-faced insanity.  They discuss the finer points of filmmaking, shoot some folks (with shotguns, not cameras), and soon thereafter, set up a cult compound near the U.S.-Mexico border.  Leach is not a religious fanatic.  He's an imaginative serial killer with a flair for the dramatic; to whit, he covers the compound with security cameras and has Mary tote a handheld at all times.  Serial killers do love their trophies.  For Leach, it's the footage.

The lost and disenfranchised find the compound via Leach's website.  One of them, however, is on a mission.  Ellen (Hannah Levien) is investigating the death of her sister Janet who died mysteriously while in Leach's previous cult incarnation.  Halfway through the film, she confronts Leach but the ever-eloquent "Father Simon" convinces her the police raid of his former compound was to blame.  This, by the way, is how he explains all the cameras to his disciples - to protect himself against any potential accusations of wrongdoing.  Yeah, right.  Anyway, Leach spends the first few weeks brainwashing these poor bastards so when the "transitioning" begins, instead of fleeing in terror, they're pleased as punch for the victim.  Going to a better place and all that.  One guy drinks drain cleaner while another is stabbed Caesar-style by his fellow disciples.  A drill, a rock, a shotgun, I said, flair for the dramatic.  The weirdest by far is the lid off a giant can of peaches.  One guy does manage to escape, which prompts Leach to "transition" the rest of his flock and, as they say, get the flock out of there. 

I'm not sure if revealing how evil and bat-shit crazy Leach is at the outset instead of allowing a ratcheting of tension that would naturally occur as the story unfolds was the way to go.  Is it more horrifying to know ahead of time that a group of folks will be killed or to go in oblivious and be horrified because it's so unexpected?  I prefer the latter, but that's just me.  What else...oh, right.  The desk drawer.  A stark naked Leach appears to dangle his privates over an open drawer and then slam it shut.  Repeatedly.  Why?  Well, he's nuts (pardon the pun).  Beyond that, no clue.  You should know the "graphic nudity" disclaimer is solely for Oberst and his full Monty.

I first saw Oberst play the title character in Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.  That performance was so well rounded and sincere that to this day I believe it to be if not on par with Daniel Day-Lewis' Lincoln, damn close.  To then go 180 degrees and deliver an equally impressive performance as a blood-thirsty nutter only goes to reinforce my belief that this Emmy-winning actor is as versatile as he is talented.  Stay tuned...he has over 20 more films coming out over the next few years.  I guess I should have also said prolific. 

The Skinny

Acting:  If I'm honest, I was expecting much less from the supporting cast.  In my own vernacular, no one sucked.  Stand outs are Levien as Ellen, Galen Howard as Alan, and Liesel Hanson as Robin. 
Story:  It's a sound premise for psychological horror and, for the most part, succeeds.  I wouldn't have minded fewer plot holes but since when does a script ever make it onto to film intact?  I'd have liked a bit more background on Leach to explain why he's so fucking crazy.
Direction:  Much has been made of the near glacial pacing of the action.  Some complain of boredom.  It's like this...the pace is appropriate for setting up the denouement.  If you're bored, you're not paying attention to the acting.  I will admit, though, that the editing was uneven. 
Production Values:  No budget information but it was no doubt of a shoestring variety.  Filmed documentary style in the Mojave Desert.  The interiors are just shy of pathetic but then again, they're supposed to look that way. 
Gore/FX:  Lots of blood, only hints of gore when Leach is disposing of corpses with what I believe is a reciprocating saw.  No apparent CGI.
Scares:  There is a jump scare when Alan is "transitioned."  Otherwise, they were going more for tension and disgust than anything else.
Ending:  Walt Disney would not approve.
Verdict:  Should you see Children of Sorrow?  It's worth a look if you're more into subtle, psychological horror than in-your-face, Hostel-style torture porn.  Like me.

Rating:  3 out of 5

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