Sunday, March 18, 2018

Horror Film Review

Veronica (2017):  Facebook is all aflutter with memes about this Spanish horror movie that can be found on Netflix.  These memes, no doubt a quasi-clever marketing ploy, report that most viewers found it too scary to finish.  Some even say it shouldn't be watched by those with heart conditions.  Well, I call bullshit.  I watched Veronica all the way through and while occasionally intense, it is not unduly terrifying.  In fact, I could name dozens of movies way more likely to induce involuntary bowel expulsion.  Nevertheless, ouija board/possession flicks affect different people in different ways.  I suppose just as some fled the theater in terror during The Exorcist, there are those who simply cannot handle Veronica.  I refer to these people as weenies.

Madrid, Spain.  1991.  Police receive a frantic call for help from a girl in the middle of the night.  What the police detective in charge of the investigation discovers upon arrival...well, we find out later.  I should mention these events did really happen, maybe not exactly as depicted here, but after a fashion.  So, quickly:  Teenage Veronica looks after her younger siblings as their mom works nearly 24/7 at a bar and their dad is dead.  At school while all others are on the roof observing a solar eclipse, Veronica and two friends play with a ouija board in the basement.  Of course something inexplicable and creepy happens, leaving Veronica unconscious.  Later, she begins suffering from nightmares and hallucinations (the one of her very dead and very naked father being perhaps the most disturbing).  One of her sisters gets choked by an entity only Veronica can see and her brother is scalded in the bathtub.  Frantic, she consults the occult reference manuals that came with the ouija board as well as the blind nun at her school kids call Sister Death and learns she must use the board again to close the portal she and her friends opened.  Her friends refuse so she tries with her twin sisters.  Let's just say it doesn't go quite according to plan.

The twist at the end isn't exactly a The Sixth Sense-caliber twist, but it's groovy enough.  Not so groovy are the typical annoyances like a disbelieving mom and bailing "best" friend.  I also don't understand why Veronica thinks drawing Viking protection symbols will do any good.  It's not as if she summoned Loki or anything.  Also, she entrusted this rather important job to her 3 year-old brother, telling him to draw this particular symbol on all the walls.  The problem is that in the book containing said symbol, there is another symbol not for protecting but for conjuring.  How long do you think it took for the kid to find the conjuring symbol?  Yeah...there's a reason her portal closing doesn't go quite according to plan.

The Skinny

Acting:  The performances were flawed but serviceable.  Sandra Escacena as Veronica is an actor to keep your eye on.  I think she'll be around awhile.
Story:  Possession and supernatural shenanigans born of ouija board usage by morons isn't anything new.  The hook here is that it really happened...sort of. 
Direction:  Draggy in parts and unique in others.  At one hour and 45 minutes, it's too long.
Production Values:  It's got that gritty, foreign film vibe that really helps set the tone and mood.  I have no budget data, but I'd guess it didn't cost more than a million bucks to make.
Gore/FX:  There's blood, not buckets of it, but enough to satisfy me.  The CGI doesn't suck.
Scares:  You'll jump once or twice, but more importantly, there are alarming scenes that will instill in you a frightful sense of dread. 
Ending:  Twisty and appropriate for this flavor of horror flick. 
Verdict:  Should you see Veronica?  Sure.  It's a solid effort and deserves the majority of the accolades being heaped upon it.  Just don't buy into the ridiculous hype that's it's the scariest movie of 2018 or that it's too scary to finish. 

Rating:  4 out of 5

Friday, March 9, 2018

Horror Film Review

Better Watch Out (2016):  Holiday horror homage to Home Alone that tries oh-so hard to be clever but ultimately leaves you glad courts can sentence minors to death.  Lots of folks prattle on about spoilers when discussing this movie.  "Don't spoil it for people who haven't seen it!"  This is not The Sixth Sense, so bite me.  And if you have the brains God gave pond scum, you'll figure out the "twist" in no time at all.

Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) is moving to Pittsburgh after the holidays and decides to babysit 12 year-old Luke (Levi Miller) one last time.  Luke, who's been in love with Ashley for years, decides it's time to make his move.  His plans, which include watching a horror movie in order to scare her into a state of sexual frenzy, are seemingly thwarted by calls and texts from Ashley's boyfriend Ricky (Aleks Mikic).  Annoyed and depressed, Luke breaks out a bottle of champagne and proceeds to chug.  Then strange things begin to go down.  The back door that should be closed is open.  Knocks on the front door but no one is there.  Man-sized shadows crossing in front of the windows.  And then shattering glass from upstairs.  Luke's best friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) appears out of nowhere and they initially think he's just messing with them.  But shit keeps happening and Ashley realizes it's a home invasion or possibly worse.  Garrett freaks and runs out the back door...only to be mowed down by someone with a silenced gun.  Ashley and Luke hide, cry, reassure each other, and hug as a shotgun-toting masked intruder searches the house for them.  However, Ashley eventually notices the man is wearing Luke's ski mask and figures out she's been played.  The man is actually Garrett and the whole evening was staged just to frighten her.  She's pissed, royally pissed, and lays into the two boys, mostly berating them for being so childish and stupid.  Luke slaps her.  She tumbles down the stairs and wakes up duct-taped to a chair.  Now the real movie begins.

I'll be brief.  Luke's nuts.  I'm talking A Clockwork Orange nuts, and he has a psychotic plan to lure Ashley's current boyfriend and ex-boyfriend Jeremy (Dacre Montgomery) to the house in order to exact revenge on them for simply being in love with her.  And since Luke possesses the stereotypical mindset of a psychopathic wacko...if I can't have her, no one can...Ashley is fair game as well.  The wild card in all this is Garrett, who after discovering from Ashley that Luke killed his hamster, begins to waver in his dedication to Luke's plan.  Thanks to this doubt, things don't end well for Garrett.  Or for Ricky and the ex-boyfriend for that matter.  In the end, Luke stabs Ashley in the neck and then stages the scene to make it appear as if Jeremy killed everyone in a jealous rage before hanging himself in the backyard.  The parents come home, totally freak, call the cops, and Luke finally gets what he ultimately desired most - his mother's full and undivided attention.  Yep.  The little brat is basically Norman Bates.  But while reveling in the loving embrace of his mother, Luke suddenly hears someone shout, "This one's still alive!"  From his bedroom window, Luke watches paramedics load Ashley into an ambulance.  She sees him watching...and flips him off.  The look on Luke's face almost made sitting through the previous 89 minutes worth it.  Almost.

I don't know about you, but movies that shamelessly manipulate the audience in order to achieve its goals piss me off.   I also intensely dislike films where kids kill adults and get away with it.  My disbelief can only be suspended so much.  I say get away with it because there's an after-credits scene in Better Watch Out in which Luke asks his mom if they can go to the hospital to check on Ashley.  The idea, I assume, is that once there, this 12 year-old boy will somehow manage to finish the job.  It's just silly.

The Skinny

Acting:  I think Levi Miller tried channeling either Jared Leto's Joker or perhaps Malcolm McDowell's Alex from A Clockwork Orange but it's impossible to convey the required sense of menace when your voice keeps breaking and you have a baby face.  DeJonge as Ashley did well.
Story:  Manipulative and uninspired.  The very first scene, however, where a boy knocks the head off a girl's snowman and is consequently called a "buttfucker" and chased down by said girl is hilarious.
Direction:  Oddly tension-free and dull.
Production Values:  It was filmed in Australia by production companies I've never heard of so I assume the budget wasn't huge.  Low budget notwithstanding, there's no sense of cheapness. 
Gore/FX:  The R-rating is inexplicable.  There a bit of blood but no gore.  There was carnage yet it remained off camera.  Big mistake.
Scares:  I wish.
Ending:  Ruined by the post-credits scene.
Verdict:  Should you see Better Watch Out?  Nope.  Go watch The Babysitter on Netflix instead...or Home Alone

Rating:  2 out of 5

Monday, February 19, 2018

Horror Film Review

Tag (2015):  Japanese weirdness that defies logic but somehow forces you to keep watching.  Probably because you expect the explanation to be forthcoming.  And because there's a shitload of gory deaths along the way.

Schoolgirl Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) is having a bit of a bad day.  A mysterious invisible force slices her school bus in half along with her classmates and then proceeds to chase her.  Sort of like in Evil Dead but with the music from The Walking Dead.  Seriously, I'm surprised there's been no lawsuit.  Anyway, Mitsuko runs through the woods, by a river, finds a change of clothes, and ends up at a school....where everyone wonders why she's freaking out.  Her friends calm her down, they skip class, talk philosophy, and then end up being gunned down by the psycho teaching staff that somehow managed to obtain automatic weapons and grenade launchers.  Mitsuko runs and runs and finds herself in a town in front of a police station...where the policewoman calls her Keiko and asks why she's dressed like a schoolgirl.  Then things get really weird.  Keiko dons a wedding dress, walks up the church aisle toward an upright coffin out of which jumps a pig-headed man with maggots in his mouth.  Her friend, Aki, from the school who'd been shot and killed appears in the church and in secret explains that she needs to fight and keep running.  So they fight and Keiko runs...only to later turn into a marathon runner named Izumi.  Other previously killed friends show up to cheer her on and attempt to explain just what the fuck is going on.  Turns out she's trapped in a video game of sorts.  A guy who had a crush on Mitsuko somehow obtained a sample of her DNA and her friends' DNA and created a bunch of clones.  Sort of.  It's really many years in the future and Mitsuko died long ago.  The only way she can stop the game is to do something utterly spontaneous and unexpected.  So she does. 

This is one of those movies that prefers style over substance.  Focus on cutting schoolgirls in half and all the resulting blood instead of creating tension through character development and coherent plotting.  It's too bad, really.  The potential was practically unlimited.

The Skinny

Acting:  Yuki Sakurai as Aki is fantastic.  Triendl as Mitsuko acts as if she's either stoned or half asleep.  I'll assume she was instructed to pretend to be in shock.  The girls who played Keiko and Izumi did better.
Story:  Bizarre yet interesting.  Could have used a little more interesting and a plotline that doesn't make you say, "WTF is going on?" every five minutes.
Direction:  Can't really complain although I'm sure the director could have inserted a scene or two that would have helped 'splain some things.
Production Values:  Filmed mostly on location...somewhere in Japan, I doesn't look bad at all.  There's a thing with red feathers that's pretty groovy.  No clue what the budget was, but I'd guess not more than a few million.
Gore/FX:  No skimping on blood and gore as you might expect when two school buses full of children are sliced in half lengthwise.  Likewise, no skimping on the CGI when needing to kill kids in new and interesting ways.
Scares:  None, which is a shame.  Not what they were shooting for, so to speak.
Ending:  It did end, thank God.  I was beginning to wonder.  How it ended, though, is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Verdict:  Should you see Tag?  If you enjoy subtitles, a confusing plot, and gratuitous violence, then this is definitely the movie for you. Personally, I'd recommend Sucker Punch instead.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Horror Film Review

Hell House LLC (2015):  One might imagine that by now the found-footage/mockumentary craze would have burned itself out, that every conceivable plot has been shot with the telltale shaky camera.  Ever since The Blair Witch Project, I estimate that 87% of these films are stinky.  I’ve certainly reviewed my share, and now usually avoid them as earnestly as a vampire avoids the sun.  So when my boyfriend wanted to watch Hell House LLC, I fully expected it to fall into the stinky 87%.  It didn’t.  What can I say?  Thirteen is my lucky number.

As her subject, a documentary filmmaker has chosen the unexplained massacre that occurred at a haunted attraction 5 years ago.  No one, not the police, not the survivors seem to know what really happened on that opening night that cost the  lives of 15 people.  Some murky smartphone video shot by a survivor offers no answers and only shows a logjam of panicked customers trying desperately to flee the basement.  Chilling, yes.  Helpful?  Not so much.  The filmmaker lucks out when the only surviving member of the attraction’s staff a comes forward to not only be interviewed but also to hand over video of what really took place. 

And so in that video…

Every Halloween, Alex (Danny Bellini) and his friends find a location in or around New York and create a haunted house attraction to make some dough.  This time it’s a dilapidated hotel, abandoned decades ago, in the small town of Abaddon, NY.  Why was it abandoned?  Bad things happened there.  Very bad things.  Unfortunately, neither Alex nor his friends, Sara (Ryan Jennifer Jones), Paul (Gore Abrams), Tony (Jared Hacker), and Mac (Adam Schneider) bothered to research the history of the site.  Although one would think the pentagram on the basement wall would have been a clue.  Nevertheless, they get the lights working and for a month, live in the creepy place while they work at transforming it into a world-class haunted house.  During that month, weird shit goes down.  Shit that would drive any sensible human away…screaming.  But no, money and some inexplicable loyalty to Alex (who’s kind of a douchebag) prevents such a logical course of action.  And boy do they pay for it.

During the month of preparation, they record everything.  So what’s some of the weird shit that goes down?  A clown mannequin, no…a fucking terrifying clown mannequin moves from the basement to a variety of unexpected places, usually at night.  Sara sleepwalks and speaks in tongues.  Paul encounters what can only be a ghost in his room and vanishes.  He’s later found in the basement, catatonic.  The video of a dress rehearsal reveals more monsters in the shadows than there should be.  And then there’s the unexplained shrieking.  The show, however, must go on.  Apparently.  Morons.  There is a nifty twist toward the end that I did not expect.  It kind of makes the whole 93 minutes worthwhile.

I must rant about one thing.  After one particular bizarre occurrence, Tony, utterly terrified, comes unglued and raves at Alex, shouting that he must call it off.  Of course Alex refuses and Tony quits and storms out.  Mac catches up with him, says there’s something he (Tony) doesn’t know.  Cut to Tony sitting in a field, just staring.  Mac comes over and Tony tells him that yes, of course he’ll stay, how could he not?  What did Mac tell him that could have swayed Tony so quickly and decisively?  That’s my complaint:  We.  Don’t.  Know.   How does keeping this answer from us enhance the story?  It doesn’t.  Do we ever find out?  Hell, no.  Grrr….thinking about now pisses me off all over again.

The Skinny

Acting:  Not exactly theater in the round but they’re all passable as real people.  The documentary filmmaker is annoying.
Story:  About as unique as a man named John Smith eating vanilla ice cream.  That being said, it’s not the script but the execution.
Direction:  This really could have been a mess.  A documentary within a documentary within a documentary.  Fortunately, it was all cobbled together in a manner that squeezed out the maximum amount of thrills and chills.
Production Values:  Ironically, the film was shot in Pennsylvania at a real haunted attraction that had once been a hotel.  So that’s groovy and most definitely adds to the realism.  On the downside, the lighting is muddy on occasion and the sound…well, I recommend turning on the subtitles.
Gore/FX:  There is a itty bitty bit of blood but that’s about it.  No CGI that I could see.  They did their f/x old school. 
Scares:  There are.  Too many to count, if I’m honest.  My boyfriend, also a horror nerd, hid behind a pillow for half the movie if that tells you anything.
Ending:  Expected but in an unexpected way.  There’s this twist, see…
Verdict:  Should you watch Hell House LLC?  You really should.  It's a surprisingly fresh take on an overused sub genre.   

Rating:  4 out of 5

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Horror Film Review

It (2017):  After all the hype, the wait is finally over!  It is here; the remake that's taken the internet by storm and one that impressed Stephen King himself enough to say his fans will love.  I am a Stephen King fan and I will admit the man was not wrong.  I was impressed, although not for the reasons you might expect.

We all know the story.  Kids in Derry, Maine are going missing, including Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), the boy in the yellow rain slicker who just wanted to sail the paper boat made for him by his beloved older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher).  Unfortunately, the boat slipped into a storm drain and into the hands of the evil monster clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgaard).  As this is an R-rated film, we are not spared from witnessing Georgie's fate.  It's disturbing and pretty gross.  Months later, school is out but instead of enjoying summer vacation, Bill and his friends, the neurotic germophobe Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), shy and skittish Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), and comedy relief master Richie (Finn Wolfhard), decide to search the sewers under Derry for some sign of Georgie.  They run into the new kid on the block Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) who's fleeing from psychotic bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) and his goons.  The Loser's Club is rounded out by the tough talking Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) who lives with her creepy abusive father and orphan Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) who very reluctantly works with his grandfather killing sheep with a bolt gun.

Each suffers terrifying encounters with Pennywise which are tailored to their deepest fears.  The Loser's Club disbands after internal fighting, mainly between Bill and Richie but when Beverly disappears, they regroup and decide to fight the monster for her sake as well as for the sake of all of Derry's kids.  Research of Derry's history leads them to the entrance of the clown's lair, which of course is an ancient well in the basement of what is possibly the creepiest and most dangerous haunted house on the planet.  Once down there, they find Beverly and learn what it means to float.  And it's not what you think.  All seven friends overcome their fears and go toe to toe with the clown in an epic final battle.

Everyone will compare this version to the 1990 mini-series.  Don't.  They're simply too different for a viable comparison.  Skarsgaard's Pennywise is more insane than Tim Curry's sarcastic jokester, more flat out malevolent, and it works almost too well.  That is to say he will scare the crap out of you.  As for why I was impressed, it's all about the actors.  These child actors are nothing short of phenomenal.  You'll recognize Wolfhard from Stranger Things but I'd never seen the others before and truthfully feel each one deserves an Academy Award nomination.  Also impressive is the way the theme of empowerment is incorporated.  Beverly stands up to her father in a brutal yet satisfying manner.  Eddie stands up to his suffocating and overprotective mother.  Mike stands up to Henry Bowers and of course they all stand up to Pennywise.  There's also a deep thread of pathos woven into the story that keeps you emotionally invested from beginning to end.  You find yourself rooting for these kids as if they were your own or as if you were a member of the Loser's Club, too.  Perhaps the most surprising thing about It is the humor.  I swear, it's as funny as it is scary.  That they somehow managed to perfectly blend humor and horror is astonishing.  Well done.

The Skinny

Acting:  Excellent bordering on perfection.
Story:  New take on an iconic tale of terror that works on all levels.  Should not have been possible.
Production Values:  The $35 million budget seems like a lot for a horror flick, but the money was put to good use.  The locations, sets, everything looks great.
Gore/FX:  Yeah...there's blood and many of the kids' fears brought to life are totally gross, and therefore groovy.  The CGI is incredible, not to mention terrifying.
Scares:  Oh, one or two...or ten.  I don't scare easy but they got me.  For me, the two biggest scares are in the library with Ben.  They're not jump scares either.  When Ben is leafing through the history book, keep an eye on the librarian in the out of focus background.  I mean, damn.  All in all, you may be best served by wearing extra thick underwear.  There is a real possibility you may pee or poo yourself.
Ending:  They cut their hands and make a blood pact to return if It comes back.  Foreshadowing?  Well, sure.  That and the filmmakers using "Chapter One" for the end screen.  Like we didn't know they battle Pennywise again as adults.  You didn't know?  What, you been living under a rock?
Verdict:  Should you see It?  This is an absolute must see for horror fans as it's one of the best horror films ever made.  I don't make this statement lightly and will defend it till my dying day.  It ranks up there with The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Halloween, and even The Evil Dead.  Yes.  It's that good.

Rating:  5 out of 5