Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dead Silence (2007).

Let's just get this out of the way: I ♥ Leigh Whannell. I caught Saw - his and collaborator and friend James Wan's debut movie, released in 2004 - just about as soon as I could. I came out of the cinema crushing on him and then learnt that he'd co-written it, as well as starred. 'Kabooom' went my female horror-loving geek heart.

In any case, my crush aside I love Saw and will always try to defend it to the best of my ability. Yes, the franchise is huuuge now and questionable... Whannell and Wan have shuffled back into executive producer roles since the third installment, yadda yadda. I very much doubt any other number will entertain me the way the first one did, but I'll watch them all because I am a completest and a fool.

But anyway, I digress...!

Dead Silence is Whannell and Wan together again, working on their own project. I remember reading about this film when it was in post production and not being too excited by the idea, because it sounded to me like a Buffy episode. This ended up being something of a prophetic first impression for me to have.

Okay so it's no Saw... it didn't leave me shaken; however it is entertaining tale, told straight and relatively old-school with an enjoyably twisty ending. Also, Donnie Wahlberg looks good with a 'tache. Why don't more men have moustaches?

I won't lie to you though: the best thing about this film, is the look of it. It's a feast for the eyes, 92mins of constantly arresting red accented shots.

Here for your viewing pleasure, I am going to show you some of them...

Pretty tasty, eh?

The look of the thing aside, it may not be wholly to my taste but it's a fine effort with which to follow Saw. I like that Wan had a very different, thematically strong little monster in mind with this one and still wanted to test himself creatively.

Give the film a rent, on the strength of the visuals alone. If you find puppets scary then it's also guaranteed to give a few chills. Personally, I find doll-horror to be an odd bird and one more suited to a shorter running time (so, Buffy got it right). Yes, the things creep me out, but after an hour they kind of lose their eeriness. They're just dolls...!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Last House On The Left (2009).

--This review has a cap from one of the more sexually unsavoury scenes of the film. Just a warning--

First, let's get the frivolity out of the way. People I recognised in this version of The Last House On The Left and where I found out they were from:
Okay now that's done, we can get serious.

To be honest, I wasn't even going to bother with this film until my LOVEFiLM list was a wee bit lighter. Nothing against remakes per se; I've come out the other side of the seething hatred for them and into numb acceptance, with the realisation that they can be good, on occasion. They rarely make it to the top of my films to-do list though.

Then a friend offered me his DVD on loan and ultimately, I liked it a lot more than I anticipated doing. Well, "liked" is perhaps an inappropriate word... "respected" is possibly better. Just so long as I never have to see the end sequence again - but more on that later.

This is a stunningly shot "re imagining" if you will, of Wes Craven's 1972 film. I've not watched the original in a while so this isn't going to be a comparison-based review, unless I can't help but draw parallels. The director this time around is Dennis Iliadis and yes, it was a new name to me, too. But if there's any justice in the world, this won't be the last we hear of him.

We know the plot, but in a nutshell this is a tale of three parts: Establishing the Collingwood family as a happy, supportive unit of three; following the daughter, Mari, as she meets with a friend but then falls into the hands of some truly fucked up villains; the final acts of vengeance committed by Mari's parents as they learn of her earlier ordeal.

The scene-setting shots of "normality" and family life reminded me very much of Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides. Such beauty, exquisitely framed and lit. They are almost otherworldly in their feel but also unnerving, somehow. Even if this were a film we didn't already know the outcome of, there is a distinct sense of foreboding hanging over every minute of this opening act.

Together with the outstanding score by John Murphy - an Englishman! - we are very aware that this lovely family, in this lovely house, is not gonna be so for very much longer.

Before Mari heads out to meet her friend Paige, there is a long sequence following her getting out of the shower and getting dressed. To start with, I found the inclusion of this confusing. If this were a slasher film or anything of that ilk, then the ubiquitous shower scene (and tit shot - although we don't get one of those here) is a given; but this film isn't like that and I wondered why we were being made to watch this girl being blatantly fetishised?

In the context of the whole film, all becomes clear. When the gang later attempt to force the youngest member and Krug's son, Justin, into sex with Mari, again we have close-ups of hands on her skin and clothes - but this time they aren't her own.

Justin succeeds in refusing to force himself onto her and so his father then steps up. The images that follow shed new light on the earlier collection of post-shower shots. We see them to be a direct reference and a forbear to when we are forced to watch Mari's clothes being ripped from her, first for Justin's benefit, then for Krug's.

It's really very clever and makes what is a harrowing scene of sexual assault all the more disturbing. We are a part of it, we become complicit, because we remember her underwear, for christ's sake, from earlier on. We regarded her dewy skin as she pulled on her clothes not minutes (our time, not hers) before - now we watch as she has those same items pulled from her. It's a brilliant and horrifying way of entangling the audience with the act.

This whole section of the film is difficult to watch, obviously. It is genuinely uncomfortable stuff. When Justin is being pushed towards Mari, screaming, when Paige gets stabbed before we, or indeed even she knows what's happening... and then Krug rapes Mari.

It's not graphic in the slightest, but it's one of the most prolonged rape scenes I think I've ever seen. Like Mari herself, we are given no get-out from this nightmare. We are forced (unless we turn off the DVD of course) to sit and endure every intensely awful moment. My god, IMDb trivia says that the rape scene took seventeen hours to film, I can't even imagine.

After this attack is when - what I took to be at least - an homage to the original takes place. Remember the post rape moment in Wes Craven's film? The villains survey one another sheepishly and wipe the blood from their hands, bringing to mind naughty children?

The equivalent here is when Krug stands up from raping Mari, Sadie (who had participated, in that she'd held the girl down and removed her clothes) slowly raises her eyes to meet his. She then smiles, awkwardly. It's a tiny thing but pretty much shattering in its inclusion.

Mari being shot at in the lake brings about more stunning shots that I have to include here:

The final act of this story always takes me by surprise, somehow. It's perverse really, as the whole weight of the movie is really behind the "middle class gone feral in vengeance" idea; and yet it always slips my mind for a second that there is more to see after we have witnessed the girls being tortured.

It is interesting to note that the earlier technique of laying civilised, wholesome groundwork is repeated here. When Krug and his gang take shelter in the Collingwood house, before either party know exactly how they are related, we are once again treated to scene-setting static shots of a cosy family home. Drink it in chaps, drink it in before the blood starts splashing the walls.

The tension resulting from the coming together of these six individuals is handled perfectly. It's an exercise in baby-step sized increments of suspense.

The gang initially remain just the right side of weird, provoking thoughtful looks and the odd comment between the Collingwood's, but not much else. The actors nail it to be honest. They are less histrionic than their 1972 equivalents - but that is what's needed here. Alternatively, they are quiet, menacing and most frightening of all: strange. Something about them is off. For instance, when Mrs Collingwood is showing them to the guesthouse, they cram into the bathroom behind her.

It's not psychopathic behaviour by any means, it just doesn't seem quite right. Nothing too out of the ordinary to set the alarm bells ringing but enough to wake the spidey senses.

And then comes the climatic bloodbath.

If Sadie's tight-lipped smile to her beloved is my first favourite moment of the film, then the glance exchanged between Mr and Mrs Collingwood, as they both realise they are about to commit murder, is my second.

No words are exchanged, because none are needed. We also know by their grim determination that neither want to, nor will, back down from this. This is the step they must take to avenge their daughter. "We have to be ready to do... anything."

It's a simple but powerful moment - which is quite something, coming from someone who can't usually look at Monica Potter without getting LeAnn Rimes stuck in her head.

The final dispatching of the gang is again, right on the money. Until Krug. Oh god, why. Heed my advice and turn this film off once you hit the 1:40:04 mark, because something ridiculous and uncalled for happens that just undermines all the great work before it. I get angry just thinking about it!

I'm not going to tell you what it is. All I am going to say is that it pissed me off this was allowed to be included and I hope that Iliadis' hand was forced into doing so. He cannot have made a movie this good, then thought that ending was a suitable way to finish it.

This movie comes highly recommended, however I repeat: turn off at 1:40:04 and save yourself from the jarring, superfluous final scene and the use of 'Dirge' by Death In Vegas (one of my favourite songs) directly afterwards. Putting a silly hat on a great flick is one thing... but don't soundtrack it with a song I adore as well, argh!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wasting Away (2008).

The term "feel good" is something that has only recently become associated with the zombie genre, am I right? Off the top of my head, we've Shaun of the Dead, Dance of the Dead and Zombieland... all films that, despite being about corpses and their attempts to eat a bunch of survivors we rather like, nonetheless leave the viewer feeling chipper as the credits roll.

Wasting Away is another one of these films. It'll make you all warm and fuzzy inside, I guaran-godamn-tee it. It's the sweetest zomb flick ever.

With the tagline "zombies are people too!" it comes at the genre from a different angle to usual, by telling the story almost exclusively from the point of view of likeable undead. The film Colin also does this I know, but the extra twist here is that for most of the film these kids don't even realise that they are zombies. Also, this is a hell of a lot more lighthearted.

Following a perfect, tone-setting animation sequence showing the all-new evolution of man:

The main characters are then introduced. They are four friends, made up of two girls and two guys - one of whom ('Mike'/Matthew Davis, top) consistently reminded me of the delicious Joey Comeau (bottom).


A dull evening spent hanging out together is livened up when the group accidentally consume some strange liquid, developed by the military and with the power to kill and then reanimate those who drink it. Yeah, okay, this idea isn't all that new... but there are only so many ways to skin a plot device cat. Plus, it allows the film-makers some fun with the visuals.

After some impressive death-throes, they wake. Realising something is amiss after finding all phone lines down, they go to investigate the town. It soon comes to light that because zombie brains run a lot slower than normal ones, when the quartet observe humans they appear to be doing everything at double speed. It also means that drunk people and their booze-addled noggins do not register the undead, instead seeing them as normal people - something that comes in handy later on.

The drunk's view and how the group assume people see them...

...the reality!

We follow the unsuspecting ghouls as they make their way around town, under the impression that everyone else is infected rather than themselves; they check in on family and go to job interviews, with sweetly farcical results. Eventually they learn the truth of their situation and have to decide what to to do about it.

The main source of the film's charm comes from the central couple, Cindy and Tim. In life they were in love but were too shy to ever vocalise it. In death they finally find the words (groans) to do so. There are a few classic moments relating to the zombie lovebirds: one involving them describing to their respective friends about the consummation of their affections ("It fell off...?!") and another where we witness that a romantic kiss to them, is something else entirely to mortal onlookers.

As you may have noticed, Wasting Away has a very distinctive look to it, this is one of its many strong points. When we are with the friends the film is in colour, when we see them as others do, ie: lurching, groaning corpses, it is black and white. It's a simple enough technique, but it works brilliantly and easily defines the movie's two perspectives.

Something I wasn't expecting, was that this film contains some of the best zombie movement work I have seem in a long time! I don't know who trained these actors - if anyone - but the gait they all adopt is fantastic. It's back to the old school here: the lolling head, the stiffness of the legs... none of that running, screaming and leaping from a second storey window shit.

What is beautiful is that it's not even the same lurch for all of them. They each translate their zombification differently. I know it's a small detail, but it is one that can really raise a zombie film up if done well. This, combined with the imaginative visuals and pitch-perfect level of humour on show all adds up to hoist this film into my top five favourites of the genre!

This movie has done the following:
  • Renewed my interest in wanting to make my own zombie flick.
  • Made me want to "act" in zombie films so that I can indulge in some death spasms and practice my stiff legged walk.
  • Furnished me with the term "voodoo meatbags" to try and get into as many conversations as I can.
  • Given me food and drink ideas for my next spooky party.

Brain margaritas.

Brain tacos.

The festive season is nearly upon us my friends, I urge you to ask Father Christmas for this DVD. I highly recommend it!