Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ravenous / Les Affam├ęs (2017)

Ravenous is a zombie movie that somehow manages to feel unlike any other I've seen. I was drawn to this one even before I saw some favourable chatter about it, because I live relatively close to Quebec, and if anything adds a little frisson to a horror movie, it's that sense of familiarity.

This little Netflix Original was written and directed by a Canadian actor, screenwriter and film director by the name of Robin Aubert, and it won the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) Award for Best Canadian Film in 2017. I can see why :)

We join this world in the aftermath of an outbreak; long enough ago that everyone seems to know what the situation is, but not so long that they aren't still thinking about their lives before.

There's not much story to speak of, now that I actually think about it. The viewer is really just following the lives of several individuals whose paths intersect and overlap, as they try to survive in a rural town.

One of my favourite things about this film is the characters. The skill with which they are drawn for us, with such speed too - and without resorting to tired old tropes. These people feel fully developed and real, and like real people there aren't any black and white heroes and villains. Everyone is a little soft, a little hard; a lot scared about what's going to happen. These people are written so well it made me realise how we're forced to put up with poorly constructed characters so frequently.

Ravenous is nearly 2hrs long, and I am not going to say that it goes by quickly. This film is incredibly slow and considered, and yet nothing feels like padding. The moments of misty stillness over the fields and forests are important, because being quiet is important in this new world.

When the silence is shattered, it is with the sounds of bullets, bludgeoning, and inhuman screaming. In fact Ravenous uses sound to great effect, with the suffocating/protective forests deadening the noises of approach or altercation, or the empty farmhouses and hideaways; all hard surfaces and outdated decor. This movie feels incredibly... acoustic.

So with the aural taken care of, let's move on to the visual. This film is stunningly atmospheric in places.

Again, Aubert makes some simple but highly effective choices, subtle camera movements, angles, and framing choices add a visual flair that really excited me. Mist is used often but not overdone, to cloak the surroundings in a blanket that simultaneously softens and masks the threats. A world of zombie carnage is rarely shown as beautiful as this (if ever? Correct me if I'm wrong!).

In its third act, things become mysterious, bordering on the supernatural. The zombies are shown congregating and possibly even building structures. These scenes are so unsettling and they raise way more questions than they answer. To see these monsters so still and silent is baffling, almost sad?  

Opening with a short string of cheap-ish jump scares, I advise you to hold on, to be rewarded with an affecting and thoughtful tale of humans caught up in chaos, and all the bleakness and the hope that such a tale must embody. Highly recommended! 

(And being one of its Originals, hopefully destined to be streaming on Netflix for a good while ­čĹŹ­čĆ╝).

  • Just gonna say it, I'm absolutely delighted when a zombie film has the zeds leaving animals alone. We have cows, horses, kittens(!) and dogs in this. Yes, in a post-apocalyptic world their lives aren't going to be great, but at least we don't see them ripped apart by zombies!
  • These ghouls seem more cognizant and that's so fascinating to me. The scene in the field with the young woman looking and looking away was so good!
  • Stay and watch the credits. For the director's first thank you/dedication (below) and the post-credit scene that might make you happy, if you're weird like I am.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Better Watch Out (2013)

I feel angry and gross after watching this. 

While Better Watch Out may scratch the seasonal itch of nasty home invasion for some, I don't ever see myself wanting to watch this again. 

Male director and male writer (check out this fucking charmer) bring us a toxic male lead you're gonna want to punch repeatedly in the face.

Streaming on Shudder now, if you want to put yourself through it.

The Borderlands / Final Prayer (2013)

2018 has been the year I don't quite understand what the fuss is about. See: Revenge, Hereditary (though that wasn't helped by a shitty viewing experience) and now that I've finally seen The Borderlands, this is the latest.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate or even dislike any of these movies. I just didn't seem to get from them what the vocal majority did. I know we're all allowed to have our own opinions, but it's pretty frustrating to be aware of a tidal wave of excitement over a movie that personally left you feeling more like "...that's it?".

So here we are at The Borderlands, or Final Prayer as it's been renamed for the US market. An English found footage flick and feature film directorial debut of Elliot Goldner (who also wrote it).

It follows a team of Vatican investigators as they set up camp in a small town to try and disprove a "miracle" that took place in the local church. The core group is made up of Deacon (Gordon Kennedy - always a pleasure to watch), Gray the tech guy (Robin Hill) and Mark, an uptight priest (Aidan McArdle).

They set up cameras all over the place and wear head-cams, so all of the footage we see is supposedly from these sources.

Which is fine... but the found footage aspect of this film seems more technique than theme, to be honest. There's no narrative book-ending or explanation as to how these cameras were found (a big question, given the denouement) or who edited it all together and/or what the purpose is of us watching it. I guess there doesn't always have to be a Blair Witch Project intro screen for these types of movies, but something to explain some context would be nice?

Nevertheless, we follow the investigations of these men as they scrutinise the church and hang out at their rented cottage. During the day there are weird happenings that Deacon and Mark, the most explicitly religious members of the group, are cynical of and try to explain away. Gray - who took this job purely for the money, and told a white lie about his faith - is way more spooked.

At night, more unsettling things happen, until ultimately the group find themselves performing a ceremony which doesn't exactly go to plan... culminating in a deeply uncomfortable final sequence. 

The main problem I had with this movie was that the gradual climb of the first two acts was too repetitive and slow. Despite definite moments of creepiness, the building of suspense just didn't hit the mark. The payoff here literally comes within the final few moments - rather than the entire film working as a whole in laying the groundwork, with an alarming finale as the cherry on top.

Perhaps on a re-watch I might feel differently?

Something The Borderlands did do successfully was make me miss the English countryside. We are shown a fair amount of it as the team drive around and traipse through fields. It gave me pangs!

I rented this one on Google Play, and I think it's available on Amazon, also. Give it a watch and tell me what I'm missing.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Slightly late October debrief!

So how are we all doing after October? I've been on a horror hiatus myself, as a month solid of the genre + election fever took its toll a bit. I'm feeling almost ready to get back into things though; I watched The Killing of a Sacred Deer last night (twice, actually) and loved it. More of a thriller, technically, but definitely on the darker side of things!

In any case, I just wanted to check in with a roundup of my October viewing. This was the first year that I went almost entirely off-road with what I ultimately decided to watch, so not a great deal of my list got much love, but I still had a lot of fun. If you want to see what my eyeballs looked at last month (and my thoughts, where applicable), I listed them on my Letterboxd here


Favourite new discovery: The Devil's Candy (reviewed here).

Other highlights: Saw the new Halloween at a drive-in, fresh from watching the original - a special moment!; Hounds of Love (reviewed here) was as good as I'd hoped; Hell House LLC had its moments and The Witch In The Window did a lot with little.

Least favourite: Sorority Row (reviewed here) was boring and gross (not in a good way) and Willow Creek was disappointing and boring until the final sequence.

I know a lot of people dived into Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House, so I'm looking forward to starting that soon. Did you discover anything good from your October watchlist? Do you have any recommendations or movies to avoid? Let me know! :)