Usually each year there’s one horror movie that gets hyped up by the media as being the scariest movie of the year or words to that effect. This is one such movie, although I usually take such hype with a pinch of salt. After all I’ve been stung in the past (cough … The Blair Witch Project … cough).
Set in New England sometime in the 17th century, a deeply religious family are banished from their plantation after the father’s belief’s don’t concur with that of the town elders, and so they set up home on a small farm complete with a horse, a couple of lambs and a black goat called Phillip. However one day their baby boy vanishes mysteriously following eldest daughter Thomasin playing with him, and superstition and paranoia creep in.
This slow burning, decidedly creepy movie boasts several excellent performances especially from Anya Taylor-Joy as pubescent daughter Thomasin and Ralph Ineson as struggling father William. As crops fail and fears of what lurks in the woods build, I was thoroughly drawn in. It’s a simple tale told with gradual intensity and authenticity. Even the dialogue is accurate, old-English which some viewers (myself included) may take a bit of getting used to (think a less poetic Shakespeare). However as the plot develops it’s clear this is exploring some very dark stuff … freaky religious imagery that seriously disturbs and evil that may or may not be all in the family’s heads. The ending especially is one of the most unnerving conclusions to a movie I’ve seen in a long time and left me shaken.
Writer & Director Robert Eggers has crafted a unique experience of a movie, not really like anything else around right now and fills it with gorgeous photography and foreboding atmosphere. It won’t be for everyone however; it’s dialogue is tough, it’s slow and it’s not really about gore or jump-scares (although there’s a stunning one towards the end). Yet for me, somewhat burnt out on the usual horror subjects like masked killers and haunted houses … this was refreshing and incredibly effective.
I know why it has taken so long for me to get around to watching this. Firstly for the most part much of the movies on Netflix are either seen it or pretty lame, bargain bin fair that I quickly regret clicking on. However starring Harry Potter himself Daniel Radcliffe in an against type role (does he really have a type though?) and with thoughts of his above average turn in Woman In Black … this has always been on my ‘to watch’ list. The bizarre concept made me hesitant also.
Radcliffe stars as Iggy who we learn early on has been suspected of his long time girlfriend’s murder and whilst the cops try to build a case against him, he tries to prove his innocence. One morning however he awakes to find a set of horns have sprouted devil-like from his head and suddenly the towns folks are confessing their deepest darkest secrets to him, whether he wants to hear them or not.
This rather unusual idea took a little bit of getting into but once I caught onto the somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone, I was thoroughly along for the ride. It plays out like an extended Twilight Zone episode and certainly proves highly entertaining as we watch some outrageous behaviour from people drawn to Iggy as he gathers clues about the murder, interspersed with flashbacks that piece things together for the viewer at the same time. It has a decidedly Stephen King vibe too, which is never a bad thing. The whodunit may be a bit easy to guess, but with strong performances, especially from Radcliffe, some decent effects work, and stylish direction by Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D) … I found this original, freaky and darkly funny which is often a great combination. Recommended.
Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games) plays Sarah, a young woman whose twin sister has gone missing following a trip to Japan. She was last heard of heading to a famed forest where it is said people go to commit suicide. Fearing for her sister’s safety, Natalie quickly gets on the next flight.
A simple concept given some far eastern horror atmosphere due to the setting and plenty of Japanese superstition and ghost stories. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a horror like this which clearly borrows from the Jap-horror scene that has mostly been abandoned in recent years. Memories of the American remakes to The Grudge and One Missed Call came to mind so I was starting to fear for another by the numbers horror … which this is to an extent but with a strong turn from Dormer who is increasingly becoming one of my go-to actresses, and plenty of tension in a strange and unfamiliar setting … I was suitably unnerved. A couple of decent scares help and the plight of Sarah’s sister, a friendly guy who may or may not be on the level and some creepy ‘what’s that in the forest’ moments made this good fun. The ending let’s things down a bit despite offering up an interesting turn of events … but I was left bewildered by some set ups that didn’t go anywhere (were the photos on the guy’s phone real or in Sarah’s head?). We’re also left knowing as much about the forest by the end as we did at the beginning. Frustrating considering the actual forest exists in real-life.
I’d still say give this a go however. It relies a bit on clichéd horror tropes to get by and fails to develop some of it’s more interesting ideas … but for 90+ minutes it’s fun, scary and creepy and sometimes that’s enough.
I approached this fairly open minded despite my general dislike of remakes to classic horrors. However my memory of the original Steven Spielberg penned / Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist is cloudy at best. A family move into a house in a nice neighbourhood and soon find themselves troubled by weird goings on. Yes, it’s nothing at all new and is pretty much following the blue-print of a wealth of other horror movies such as The Conjuring or anything with restless spirits in it.
However with a likeable cast headed by Sam Rockwell (Moon, The Green Mile) and decent production values I still found myself entertained. In an attempt to bring the idea into the modern era we get ghostly apparitions tinkering with cell phones and flat screen TVs as well as electricity and lighting to interesting effect. There’s even a sequence with a drone robot going into a portal that proves pretty creepy. Yet the movie’s key failing is not having any genuine scares (sorry, but clown dolls…again?) and apart from an alarming scene with a drill…it stays decidedly family-friendly throughout. Good use of CGI and a fun if clichéd appearance by Jared Harris (Mad Men) kept me intrigued and some fun ghost pranks like kids being dragged up a staircase or a muddy puddle with a hand coming out of it made this a fun if uninspired evening’s viewing. Characterisation was particularly lacking however (the parents are unemployed…but can still afford a swanky house!!?), the little girl as the focus of the movie just basically said her lines (with the blandest ‘they’re here’ ever delivered) and some better atmosphere wouldn’t have gone amiss instead of a reliance on effects and action.
I’m an old-school horror devotee and yes this left me wanting, but if you’re not as fussy as me or that keen on more hard-core frights … this was a competent if unimaginative remake that may still be worth your time.
(Updated 22/06/2016). The first movie in what appears to be growing into a horror franchise really impressed. I was quite late to watching it but so glad I did even though supernatural ghost-story fair usually freaks me out. But director James Wan nailed an old fashioned concept and delivered a truly unnerving and frightening experience. So sitting down to the sequel I was both excited and a bit on edge. Early word had it that this was going to be even scarier … and once again explored a based-on-fact true story this time set in Enfield, England in the late seventies. Paranormal investigators Ed & Lorrain Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) are called into investigate a series of strange happenings at a family home where the youngest daughter seems to be the focus of a restless entity.
As a UK resident this was an immediately relatable and authentic setting for a horror movie. With recognisable east-end cockney accents, along with a street not unlike one I grew up on, I was transported back to my childhood, at least spiritually. However this is a James Wan movie and soon the tension builds and the scares are brought on so we get freaky things going bump in the night, eerie corridors, moving furniture and a ghostly, malevolent old man. It’s effectively creepy and unnerving but not quite as under-your-skin as Conjuring #1, relying a bit too much on jump-scares. A prologue detailing the Warren’s involvement in the infamous Amityville house sets the tone and the involvement of a ghostly, demonic nun definitely disturbs. However with a 2hr+ run time, the encounters do get a bit repetitive, and a boogie-man sequence that plays on childhood fears threatens to turn the movie into something else entirely.
Performances however are decent across the board especially the young actress playing tormented child ‘Janet’ (Madison Wolfe), as well as her struggling mother. Yet this is also Wilson & Farmiga’s movie and they again add plenty of emotional weight to proceedings. Wan cranks up the thrills especially towards the end but a bit like the last movie things wrap themselves up too easily. However throughout I was nervously gripped and with the backdrop of a true story in mind this still made for an above average experience. Recommended.