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.
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 competently 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 really 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.
When most people think of the name Kevin Smith, they immediately conjure up images of slacker comedies like Mallrats and Clerks and characters like Silent Bob. Yet he has also turned his hand to somewhat deeper themes in the likes of Dogma and Chasing Amy. With that being said, he has never really been known for horror or thrillers – until now.
This follows the story of three friends who answer an add-on website to hook up with a woman for sex. These hormonal guys think it’s their ticket to getting laid, and are soon setting off to meet the woman at her current residence – a trailer. Yet all is not as it seems, and before long the guys have been drugged and become the hostages of a local, notorious religious cult, lead by unhinged preacher Abin Cooper (the brilliant Michael Parks). At the same time, a Sheriff being blackmailed by the preacher due to some questionable nocturnal activities, calls in a local special agent (John Goodman) to lay siege to the cult.
This movie borrows heavily from real life cult situations like that of The Manson Family and Waco, and for me was totally gripping. The three teens may not have a personality between them, and their plight is somewhat self-inflicted, but the cult and their beliefs was believably scary and unpredictable – meaning I was always wondering what was going to happen next. Several times the movie surprised me, and some deaths really knocked me back in my seat. For the subject, I don’t think Kevin Smith offered any new insights, and just why the cult did what they did wasn’t very clear. Smith has previously explored controversial subject matter, and like his earlier Dogma, this touches on subjects that some may find questionable. Sadly there isn’t the depth to really get to the point on any of it, turning more into an action movie half way through, despite a promising opening. Yet with a powerful, creepy performance from Michael Parks, who also stood out in movies like From Dusk Till Dawn and Kill Bill, and a great turn from Goodman, who is always a joy – this was still entertaining. Also, with some interesting nods to 9/11 and how America has changed in the wake of terrorism, I was also left with plenty to think about.
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