The Wailing


Viewed – 04 March 2017  Blu-ray

The arrival of a mysterious Japanese hermit in a small South Korean village sparks suspicion and escalating stories amongst the townsfolk, which quickly turn to hysteria when a strange virus begins to cause the people to turn violent and kill each other.  A bumbling Police Sergeant becomes involved in the investigation and soon learns his young daughter may have contracted the same virus.

The Wailing

This acclaimed horror / thriller is directed with no-end of visual flair by Na Hong-jin (The Chaser) and is filled with interesting, flawed but very believable characters and not-unlike-Seven atmosphere in a constantly rain-swept village.  It has a very compelling mystery at it’s core and several strong performances that kept me interested.  The inclusion of Korean and Christian beliefs and superstition mixed with the spreading of rumours and prejudice towards the mystery hermit was also a clever approach.  Add to this some gorgeous cinematography as well as several memorable scenes and I was having a great experience with this latest Korean effort.

However as the story neared it’s conclusion, a twist turned events on their head but thankfully impressed me with how well it suddenly made everything fall into place … that was until a second twist turned that revelation on it’s head also, and then I was left confused.  Up until that point I’d been gripped and the very well observed and powerful ‘father trying to save his daughter’ narrative was looking to make this an easy recommendation.  But despite a dark-as-it-gets ending (which did leave it’s mark) I came way feeling rather cheated.  Shame.

Verdict:  3 /5

Dressed to Kill


Viewed – 03 March 2017  Blu-ray

Another entry in my growing collection of Brian De Palma movie reviews, this time the director’s much admired thriller from 1980.  This is probably the movie that borrows most from Italian Giallo, a genre of stalk and slash thrillers made famous by directors like Mario Bava and of course, Dario Argento.  It also borrows heavily from Hitchcock (especially Psycho), another of De Palma’s regular influences.

Dressed To Kill

A house wife (Angie Dickinson) trapped in a sexually unfulfilling marriage, finds herself yearning for an affair and confesses as much to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine).  However following a chance encounter at an art gallery that leads to a one night stand, the housewife is brutally murdered.  A hooker (Nancy Allen) turns out to be the only witness.

A very of-it’s-time experience initially, with some explicit nudity and rather awkwardly handled sex making early scenes resemble a porn film.  However once the killer strikes things shift into gear dramatically and De Palma’s cinematic flair spreads it’s wings.  This is another movie that is visually captivating and often ingenious … a stand out art gallery sequence and a tense subway scene both showcasing a director at the top of his game.  Add to this a murder-mystery plot that twists and turns wonderfully and even when you discover who the killer is, re-watching certain scenes reveal clever little details and clues.  The acting is mostly adequate with even Michael Cain proving limited and at times a bit wooden … although Nancy Allen proves much more enjoyable.  However like the Giallo the movie tips it’s hat to; acting and performances aren’t the big draw, more so tension and style and well, the occasional bloody murder.  The movie lacks the body-count of a fully fledged Italian thriller, and retains it’s own quirks, with the inclusion of a geeky science student (Keith Gordon) and a stereotypical Police chief (Dennis Franz).  As a package though this delivers a gripping narrative with some genuinely impressive sequences, worthy of it’s legacy.

Blu-rayThe Blu-ray from Arrow Video boasts a rather soft-focus but otherwise clean image.  Colours are rather muted and overall it’s simply acceptable with no real ‘wow’ factor.  More note-worthy is the sound, with a dramatic, perfectly implemented orchestral score and crisp dialogue, both in stereo and a punchy 5.1 HD Master Audio.  I should add that the movie is uncut for the first time in the UK.  Extras are plentiful with several featurettes, including a detailed making of as well as a photo gallery.  There’s also a detailed booklet included that covers the director’s influences and an analysis of the movie by critic Maitland McDonagh.  Again no commentary from De Palma which would have been great but as it stands this is decent treatment for a somewhat forgotten classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Train to Busan


Viewed – 28 February 2017  Blu-ray

There’s certainly been a number of quality movies coming out of Korea in recent years … from the acclaimed films of Park-chan Wook (‘Old Boy’, ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’) to quality horror like ‘I Saw The Devil’.  So I thought after enjoying such movies, I’d better seek out some more Korean cinema.  So we come to this much talked about take on the 28 Days Later formula of a virus outbreak and a hoard of ‘infected’.  This time during a routine train journey.

Train to Busan

We’re introduced to a businessman (Yoo Gong) going through a messy divorce and trying to retain some sort of relationship with his daughter.  However on a train journey to take her back to her mother, said business man and a group of interesting characters soon discover that a virus has broken out and is spreading like wildfire.  This is classic stuff, not dissimilar to a disaster movie where the viewer is introduced to a range of personalities each with their own agendas and back stories.  However with the threat of a growing number of infected on the train and not knowing if the destination is safe, a battle for survival quickly ensures with tension cranked up to 11.  I felt this brought back genuine thrills and intensity to horror that seems to have been missing for a while.  It favours heart-in-mouth moments (whenever a window shatters) over gore and has impressive CGI and slick production values throughout.

The setting was claustrophobic and made for some genuinely chilling moments and the range of different characters (all well acted, particularly the young girl) made me care for not just the principle leads but almost everyone (bar a particularly selfish guy who you’ll be booing towards the end).  It’s the sort of movie that keeps you guessing about who will survive and how things will turn out and for me, made for probably the best movie of the year so far.

Verdict:  5 /5

Body Double


Viewed – 23 February 2017  Blu-ray

A struggling actor (Craig Wasson – A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) finds himself looking for somewhere to crash following the discovery of his girlfriend’s affair, but soon descends into an underworld of voyeurism, sex and a who-dunnit murder mystery.

Body Double

I’ve always admired the movies of prolific film-maker Brian De Palma and consider some of his output all time classics (Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables).  He has a distinctive visual eye and can put his skills to a number of genres.  However it’s when his movies attract comparisons to the movies of Alfred Hitchcock and also Italian shock maestro Dario Argento that I become the most interested.  Body Double bares a strong resemblance to both film-maker’s works but also has a perfectly sleazy tone that references a different time and is very much a celebration of 80s excess and exploitation.  The story for what it is isn’t that well done and is fairly obvious and easy to predict especially if you’re at all familiar with any of the cast.  However what is fun is De Palma’s cinematic eye that can make even mundane sounding sequences, like a journey through a shopping mall or a beach front terrace, enthralling due to some clever camera work and genuine tension.  Craig Wasson is likeable if a rather unsympathetic character, and I’d forgotten just how much fun Melanie Griffith used to be and is adept here at delivering some great lines which are probably too explicit to repeat.  Yet the movie is on a whole, especially considering De Palma’s impressive catalogue; a bit of an oddity and takes some alarming shifts in tone and style leaving me wondering what was the grand plan here…it really does feel a little thrown together.  For a piece of 80s genre sleaze however, I’d still say give this a chance.

Body Double Blu-rayThe Blu-ray suffers from a few smudgy scenes, especially towards the end of the movie for some reason … but this 4k restoration is otherwise decent looking with strong colours and some nice detail both in close-up and in De Palma’s grand wide shots.  Dialogue is also crisp and free of lip-sync that I could see, and is delivered in the original stereo as well as a 5.1 soundtrack, which although not really making much use of surrounds is effective, especially in the lengthy ‘Relax’ sequence (spot the cameo by Holly Johnson).  This collector’s edition from Indicator boasts a 40 page booklet that has an in-depth interview taken from 1984 as well as a ‘Brian De Palma’s Guilty Pleasures’ segment exploring the director’s influences.  The Blu-ray itself comes with a series of featurettes with interviews with cast and crew, some archive, others more recent and proves invaluable for those interested in film-making and that of the movie itself and it’s legacy.  Surprisingly no commentary which would have rounded this release off superbly but as it stands this is above average treatment for probably one of De Palma’s lesser efforts that still makes for a worthy purchase.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Nerve


Viewed – 21 July 2016  online rental

A high school senior decides to take part in an online game involving a series of dares, run by a group of anonymous ‘watchers’, after feeling pressured to be more bold and extrovert like her best friend.  However once embroiled into the game, it quickly becomes clear there’s more sinister motives at play.

Nerve

I liked the idea of this from the trailer and have found Emma Roberts more than just the niece of Julia Roberts whenever I’ve seen her in stuff.  Here she’s well cast as a likeable but somewhat shy teen who see’s the game as a way of coming out of her shell.  With the concept of the dares always becoming increasingly risky and dangerous It became quite exciting wondering what would happen next.  James Franco’s younger brother I’m guessing Dave Franco is onboard as another player that teams up with Roberts and the two of them become an unlikely pairing as the stakes grow higher and higher.  With a backdrop of a neon soaked New York by night, a pumping EDM soundtrack and plenty of energy I found this entertaining from beginning to end.  It’s also a scarily believable concept that people might get caught up in such risky online games via their phones, what with the allure of money and popularity and leader boards etc.

The movie comes a little undone in it’s closing moments with a conclusion that for me didn’t entirely make sense; with hacking used to gloss over a bit of a plot hole.  Yet up until that point I’d been having a ball.  It has a strong visual identity and bags of energy and at least kept the whole idea grounded in reality when it could have easily gone nuts.  One to check out.

Verdict:  4 /5