I had been looking forward to this gothic horror / romance for a while and it was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Director Guillermo Del Toro had become one of my go-to directors in recent years, especially for his two Hellboy movies and the seminal masterpiece that is Pan’s Labyrinth. So anything with him at the helm seemed guaranteed for success. However my expectations were set a little lower after the stunning looking but disappointing Pacific Rim.
This follows the period-set story of Edith (Mia Wasikowska) whose father is a big shot and attracts the attention of mysterious clay miner (?) Thomas (Tom Hiddelston) out to raise money for an invention but needs Edith’s father’s backing. Yet Edith’s father doesn’t like the look of him or Thomas’s creepy sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Yet intent on swaying the man, Thomas sets out to win the heart of Edith after muscling his way into a ball put on for the local dignitaries. Very Pride and Prejudice so far you may think. However following a turn of events I won’t spoil, Edith is whisked off by Thomas & Lucille, to an ancient creepy old house with more than it’s share of ghouls and ghosts, and so Edith must unravell a mystery surrounding the house and the brother and sister who have come into her life.
For a start, this is one of the most breath-taking visual treats I’ve had at the cinema in a long time. Every shot and camera angle and corridor, room and costume is a work of art – it really is a gothic visual masterpiece. How then, you might ask can the movie be so uninvolving and lacking in depth or personality? The performances are decent (especially Hiddleston) but with a plodding script, zero chemistry between Thomas and Edith despite their insistence on being in love and scenes I’m sure were meant to be scary or disturbing, much of this just came off as ‘meh’. It goes as far as how the characters react to stuff, like Edith witnessing some grotesque legless creature coming out of the floor and crawling after her down a corridor – only for Edith to look puzzled and run away. Yeah, I see that sort of thing every day! What doesn’t help either is that the ghosts seem overly CGI – Del Toro is known for pioneering some amazing creature designs over the years and has used prosthetic make up to brilliant effect (Pan’s Labyrinth’s awesome Pale Man). These sequences just didn’t have the same impact. Add to this the eventual reveal and point of the whole story coming off as ‘…is that it?’ – and I just came away feeling deflated. From early word I’d read I hadn’t expected a full on horror, but did hope for characters I would care about and a story that pulled me in – but beyond the obvious artistry of the visuals, this did anything but. I have a feeling a second viewing may fair better, but as it stands this was disappointing.
Dru Struzan is an artist for Hollywood movie posters who lives in a small American town. One morning he wakes up to the aftermath of what appears to have been a hurricane and subsequently heads off to the local supermarket for supplies. Once there with his young son, he meets up with various locales, just as a strange mist descends on the town.
Now I jest, as it’s actually Thomas Jane and not the famed movie poster genius whose work is curiously portrayed in the opening scene. Jane leads a d-list cast who you’ll most likely recognize from various TV shows. Some will also be familiar to fans of The Walking Dead, no big shock as the movie is directed by Frank Darabont (The Green Mile) who helped launch that popular show. This is a similar group who we get to know as they get to know one another, whilst holed up in a supermarket; a setting not that far removed from famed zombie classic Dawn Of The Dead. However, this isn’t about zombies but ‘things’ lurking in the mist. So we get stupid people going outside and meeting a grizzly end, whilst everyone squabbles, a religious loon gets people worked up, and generally they’ve all got to figure out a way to survive. An always fun concept no doubt, but let down by only passable acting and fairly limp characterization. Thomas Jane as the lead is rather wooden, especially when he has to deliver earnest and emotional lines, where he just fails to convince. Some of the other cast fair better – but this clearly wasn’t the focus here (but should have been). Thankfully we do get some nail biting and freaky encounters that although horror-lite, still pack a punch. Darabont’s direction, working from a fairly run-of-the-mill Stephen King story is well done thankfully, and he brings what feels like a hand-held camera style that helped crank up the claustrophobic tension.
With a reliance on clichés and stereotypes (yes, there’s a hill-billy whose a bit of a dick), however and some instances of very ropey CGI, the potential here mostly fell short. The ending also felt like a last ditch attempt to throw a curve ball – but fails. That being said, for typical monster movie thrills, I still managed to have some fun with this regardless of shortcomings.
I had wanted to watch this a while back, but for one reason or another never got around to it. Horror movies of late it seems have a funny effect on me. I have grown up loving the genre but the more recent obsession with supernatural subjects has never been to my liking – what can I say, ghost stuff scares me. That being said it has been a while since one has had such an effect, and the last was probably Insidious. Funnily enough by the same director as this supposedly based on true events movie.
James Wan has made a bit of a name for himself; a relatively young director who has gained quite a reputation, starting out with the Saw movies and then the aforementioned Insidious (and it’s sequel) and now this. A family move into an old farm house in the early 70s, a man and woman and their four daughters. However its not long before they realise they are not alone and strange stuff starts to occur. Step in demonologists Lorraine & Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) who specialising in investigating the paranormal – and boy, have the family got a very unpleasant spirit for them. Wan knows how to direct a horror movie, no doubt. This is filled with tension, solid performances (with a stand out Lili Taylor) and slow burning atmosphere complete with quality camera work and a creepy setting. I’m easily put on edge by movies like this, but this drew me into the characters and story, building up to the scares with genuine style and class. We get an eerie sleep-walking girl, stuff going on in mirrors, glimpses of ghosts and a decidedly unsettling backstory. As a subplot, we are also introduced to the possessed doll ‘Annabelle’ and the freaky looking thing gets to play it’s part … even if it seems under-utilised.
The movie is not without it’s clichés and there are riffs on The Ring, The Exorcist and Amityville – but the influences here are worn with pride and when the scares come – oh boy. This was one of the most frightening horror movies I have seen in quite some time – it goes for the jugular where many recent horrors have chosen to play it safe (The Babadook). A movie best watched with the lights down and the sound cranked up – as long as you don’t mind a sleepless night afterwards.
David Cronenberg has easily cemented himself as one of the most challenging and daring directors to have ever gained mainstream popularity. Perhaps still most famous for the Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly, this Canadian born visionary film maker has for me, made some of the most powerfully bold and disturbing interpretations of horror I have seen. This 1982 effort saw him break out from obscure fair like The Brood and Shivers and finally deliver his own distinct voice.
Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry (of Blondie) this follows the story of Max Ren, a sleazy cable TV executive on the look out for new material for his network. One day he stumbles upon Videodrome, a broadcast that appears to be purely torture and violence – the exact kind of material he thinks his viewers will want. Only thing is, Videodrome comes with a deadly signal that causes horrific and freakish hallucinations in anyone who watches it.
Despite a meagre budget and fairly basic production values, Cronenberg lavishes the whole movie in a visual style that presents television as a strange new villain in a way that the internet could be perceived the same today. This movie was ahead of it’s time in it’s themes of living through another medium, and even one character refers to us all having different names that we’ll one day take on, sort of like avatars in a chat room. It’s very cleverly observed. Cronenberg tried to lesser extent to bring such ideas into the modern age in his sort-of sequel Existenz which explored videogames instead of television, but it’s here that his concept is at it’s boldest. Deborah Harry is provocative, sexy and daring, not afraid to shed some clothing and portray herself as a self-harming adrenalin junkie, and Woods is perfect as the guy who takes a bite out of the forbidden fruit. Acting isn’t exactly stellar though and supporting cast are amateurish at best. It also get’s a little lost in it’s own hallucinatory world towards the end. But with still impressive make-up work from An American Werewolf In London’s Rick Baker (bar the dodgy gun-hand-thing) and some creative gore along with a few ingenious effects (the breathing TV) – this still had the power to shock and creep this viewer out, even all these year’s later.
This Arrow Video release comes in a limited edition collector’s packaging that has a detailed hardback book exploring the film and Cronenberg’s career with fresh interviews and archival text. The movie has always been in great shape and the same can be said here in a very vivid and clear image with equally crisp sound even if it’s only in mono. Arrow, swiftly becoming my go-to company for great treatment of genre classics, has once again pulled no punches with this release and the extras are simply exhaustive. A commentary by critic Tim Lucas, a number of detailed featurettes and documentaries, behind the scenes footage, a deleted scene and in this limited edition set a few of the director’s early short films. In a word: impressive.
The vampire myth has been explored in a myriad of ways throughout cinema’s history, from Max Shrek’s Nosferatu and Christopher Lee’s Dracula to The Lost Boys and Twilight. So we come to this critically acclaimed Iranian offering.
Shot in noir-ish black & white, this follows day to day goings on in Bad City where a young James Dean-like guy (Arash Marandi) lives with his drug-addicted father who owes a hefty debt to the local drug dealer. At the same time a young woman (Sheela Vand) prowls the streets at night in search of her next feeding … because she happens to be a vampire. These two lonely people seem destined to cross paths in what soon turns into a rather unconventional love story.
This has had a lot of good word of mouth, and on a purely aesthetic level impresses. The black & white photography is lush, very artistic and atmospheric, whilst the soundtrack mixes jazz, opera and contemporary music effectively to convey emotion in a movie that only uses dialogue sparingly. This is very moody stuff and the vampire girl is instantly iconic with her cloaked persona reminding me of Kaonashi (no face) in Spirited Away. Yet these characters are not really explored. We learn next to nothing about any of them and therefore its hard to care all that much. Creative photography, lighting and mood can make up for a lot, and this does so in spades, but a lack of depth to anything going on meant I came away knowing as much as I did going in. There are some stand out moments, including the vampire girl’s first kill and a decidedly effective ear-piercing scene, but overall this was largely (wonderful) style over substance.
I’d say there is a lot of potential here from debut director Ana Lily Amirpour who certainly knows how to frame a shot and create an effective mood, so I’ll keep my eye out for whatever she does next.