Has to be said, I’m becoming quite a fan of relatively unknown horror director Ti West, following the double hits of the unsettling House of the Devil and the gentler The Inkeepers. This latest offering sees him turning to the found-footage / religious cult sub genres to deliver another gradual build up experience. A film crew working for an underground TV channel travel to a remote island to report on a religious cult, following the revelation that their photographer’s sister has started living there.
This well acted, slow burning thriller has plenty of shaky hand-held cameras, tense interviews with the locals, and a stand-out performance from Gene Jones as the worshipped cult leader referred to as ‘father’. Although the material is very familiar if you’ve seen the likes of Red State or Martha Marcy May Marlene, this was still done well and offers the viewer both sides of the coin; a very attractive existence as well as something much more sinister. The closing moments were tough viewing and pretty disturbing (…the baby) and left me shaken but also impressed with what Ti West had delivered, managing to pull the rug out from under me yet again.
I’d have liked it to have gone a bit deeper into the inner-workings of the cult and their motivations, but to say any more would spoil it, so basically – this is another decent offering from one of the more interesting voices in horror.
Some movies it’s good to go into totally blind. No viewing of trailers, no reading of reviews. Although I had heard this was meant to be pretty good as far as the glut of supernatural horrors of late, ala Insidious and The Conjuring. This tells the tale of a young twenty something guy (James Van Der Beek look-a-like Brenton Thwaites) freshly released from a psychiatric hospital following an incident in his childhood. Reunited with his sister, she reminds him of a promise they made when they were younger, and following an auction, sets up a night of observing what happens in the company of an antique mirror, that may or may not hold within a dormant, malevolent entity.
The movie skilfully and cleverly jumps back and forth from the present and to that fateful night when the siblings were just children, and the events that lead up to the guy’s incarceration. This is spooky, has some great ideas and two very strong performances, especially from the gorgeous Karen Gillan (yes, former Doctor Who assistant) as the guy’s elder sister. It plays on your perceptions, twists your head into wondering if what you see is happening or just in the character’s heads, and throughout various red herrings and freaky encounters really got me questioning what was going on. It’s certainly a horror that keeps you on your toes, and some hallucinations, including a memorable light bulb / apple mix up as well as some Ring-like creepy woman moments all made for a genuinely unsettling experience.
It doesn’t get as nasty or as disturbing as some horrors can be (probably a good thing), and could be seen as more an exploration of the adverse affects of a childhood trauma and the transition into adulthood. Yet the always scary concept of a possessed mirror and along with the time jumps … meant this horror fanboy came away rather impressed.
It’s difficult to really say what we as movie lovers actually want from a remake. In my opinion they have usually only worked when the source material is ropey or lacking in the first place, with some exceptions of course. So now we come to what was possibly one of my most dreaded rehashes. First mistake – remake a bonafide classic of the genre, Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel. Second mistake – the casting of pretty starlet Chloe Grace Moretz, something I have ranted about here on this very blog.
But brushing such fears aside, what is it actually like? Well let’s back track a little and tell you what we have here. Moretz plays lonely, bullied high school kid Carrie White, who lives in the shadow of her god-fearing, domineering mother (Julianne Moore) and pretty much tries to go unnoticed … until that is she gets her period in the school showers and becomes a cruel laughing stock to everyone who witnesses it. But hey, Prom Night is on the horizon, so things can only get better … right?
Let’s just say straight away, I was wrong about Chloe Grace Moretz. She is actually surprisingly convincing as the outcast Carrie, something I didn’t see coming and hey I’ll admit when I am wrong. She portrays the iconic role previously played by Sissy Spacek very well indeed, and even seems to have grown somewhat as an actress in the process. The second slam dunk is Julianne Moore – absolutely perfect as Carrie’s demented bible-quoting mother, and does the impossible by equalling the performance of the excellent Piper Laurie – possibly the true highlight of the original. The rest of the cast aren’t quite so interesting; we get the token popular girl who grows a conscience, the bully who basically is like every other bitch in such movies, and the do-gooder gym teacher … all not adding much. Director Kimberly Pierce however is clearly well-traversed in De Palma’s movie and this is basically a very close never-really-daring-to-try-anything-new sort of remake – although when the original pretty much hit all the right notes, that can be (mostly) forgiven.
Some bits are drawn out (the car sequence…), there’s too much CGI and the final prom bit fails to go for the jugular … oh and sorry Chloe you don’t look scary covered in blood. Overall though this is a hell of a lot better than I could have expected. Recommended.
What a suitable way to start off this little (or should that be major?) challenge of watching a movie from Netflix for every letter of the alphabet. This anthology horror epic pits 26 directors with a task of creating a short film showcasing a death for a different letter. A rather intriguing concept I’ll admit, and it got me wanting to see just what these collective minds might come up with.
So what you get here are basically a series of films from various countries, mostly horror themed, but not all, exploring such things as mutilation, murder, vampires, Nazis, lesbians, rituals and sex … with a bucket-load (no sorry, swimming pool full…) of blood and guts, an ample dose of nudity, some pretty sick ideas (the one segment featuring two men strapped to chairs and forced to masturbate) as well as some fairly clever direction, animation and special effects. It’s an assault on not just your senses, but on your stomach, your taste and decency and your limits as a movie lover. Directors such as Xavier Genz (Frontiers), Ti West (House Of The Devil) and Ben Wheatley a (Sightseers) are the only names I personally recognised, and this does have the power to disturb as well as offend and puzzle. It’s generally a pretty f***ed as a whole and only has very limited appeal outside of extreme cinema enthusiasts … but for every bafflingly odd entry (death by farting?), there’s a pretty cool or twisted one right after it.
One horror I had heard good things about and wasn’t a supernatural fright fest (shudder) or a remake. This has a wealthy family gathering together in their secluded mansion(!) for some occasion; three brothers, a sister and various girlfriends and boyfriends. Now as shown in the opening scene, some masked killers like to break into houses and slaughter the inhabitants, leaving the eerie message ‘you’re next’ written in blood for the next intended victim to see. Not a bad set up and fairly familiar territory if you’ve seen movies like The Strangers.
A cast of unknowns (except for an ageing Barbara ‘Re-Animator’ Crampton and horror director Ti West) are the fodder for the intruders, who are seen wearing weird animal masks and slaying people in increasingly gory but not all that inventive ways (bar a fun wire trick). The acting is amateurish, and most of the characters fairly unlikable even if a gutsy heroic female quickly proves the most interesting (with good ‘Nancy out of A Nightmare On Elm Street’ DIY survival skills).
Director Adam Wingard (V/H/S) delivers some effective shocks and has put together a competent if unsurprising horror with lashings of gore, a touch of nudity and lots and lots of screaming. A little more personality thrown around would have been a bonus and sometimes characters acted with alarming stupidity (lets go and have a lie down whilst house is being attacked by psychopaths??) … but if you’re after a slasher that doesn’t hold back and with a couple of fun twists … this still does the job.