Tuesday, March 27, 2018

1922 (2017)

Written by Stephen King as a novella, and directed and adapted for the screen by Zak Hilditch, 1922 is slow and simple. It's an age old tale of how easy it is to plot cold-blooded murder - and how impossible it becomes to live with the guilt.

Thomas Jane (another of my "He's in it? Okay, I'll watch it" actors) is Wilfred James, a farmer in Nebraska, in 1922. Wilfred is a proud man, and when he and wife Arlette (Molly Parker) disagree on what should happen to a recent inheritance of land, the consequence of their differing opinions leads to the first violent episode in a year-long run of bloodshed and bad news.

He turns their son Henry (Dylan Schmid) against his mother during secret talks amongst the corn,  and plots Arlette's murder, little suspecting what nightmares - real and imaginary - this is going to bring down upon himself and anyone close to the family.

1922 is an uncomplicated, tragic tale. While I wouldn't say I was scared, necessarily, it definitely has its moments both of eerie dread and the jarringly gruesome. 

Rats play a large, symbolic part, seeming to burrow into and "infect" the world around Wilfred, mirroring the guilt and madness pulsing and growing within his soul. 

Serving this purpose the rodents are obviously vilified throughout the film, and while that makes sense, it also made me a bit sad, as a rat fan... To this day rats get a bad rap, and this movie certainly doesn't do anything to help that! 🐭

A warning: There are a number of grisly animal scenes in this movie. I looked away more during this than I can remember doing in a while, Even if I'm 99% certain the animals are fine on film sets now, I still don't need to see the impressive CGI of a crushed rat or a cow with a broken back :(. So just know those are coming and be ready, if you are sensitive to that kind of stuff like I am.

King fans will enjoy some recurring motifs too, such as the well (reminiscent of Dolores Claiborne) and the inherently sinister towering cornfields (Children of the Corn, The Stand) plus, according to IMDb trivia, connections to The Mist and The Dark Tower.

You certainly don't need a shelf of Stephen King books to appreciate this, however. Give it a try if you're looking for something gloomy to fall asleep thinking about.

This is another Netflix original, so it's streaming there right now.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Collection (2012)

If you thought The Collector was a nasty, blood-soaked exercise in suspension of disbelief, then hold on tight for The Collection: its far less subtle brother!

I literally said "this is insane" about four times within the first half hour of this.

We rejoin The Collector and Arkin (once again played by Josh Stewart) not long after the end of the original film, and this time Arkin and spunky teen Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) have to escape an entire hotel - "Hotel Argento"...! - filled with booby traps, dissected bodies and insane fellow prisoners. 

Fans of The Wire will also be happy to see Andre Royo, who played "Bubbles", as a member of a team of mercenaries sent to retrieve Elena!

This is dialed up to the point of absurdity, with the "Saw" mindsets of writers/director Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan on full display - even more so than before. There are brutal, batshit devices executing victims via (including but not limited to) meathooks, ceiling spikes, and giant fucking lawnmower blades.

A simple film requires a simple review. So leave your need for any semblance of plot believability at the door and just sit back and enjoy the grisly madness.

Streaming on Netflix at time of writing!

Friday, March 09, 2018

The Children (2008)

I'd seen this before but mind-bogglingly never reviewed it. I really enjoy The Children so was excited to see it pop up on (you guessed it) Shudder recently. Definitely getting my money's worth from that service so far!

This is written and directed by Tom Shankland, and is a gutsy little horror story of two families together for the Christmas and the new year holiday. Two sets of parents, four small children and one surly teen all together in a huge house in the English countryside when one by one the kids fall ill to a mysterious virus and become distant, (even more) badly behaved... and homicidal!

This film works well for three reasons:
  1. It keeps things simple
  2. The violent set-pieces chug along nicely once things turn sour
  3. It isn't afraid to boldly cross the line of basing a story on killer kids

The writing is solid - even if no one is shown as especially sympathetic! In fact one set of parents are particularly self-satisfied, boho-bullshit white middle class arseholes; with the obligatory passive-aggressive contest about whose kids are better/smarter, plus quiet competition over who is doing the better job at parenting. This all establishes a restrained tension in the house, even before things go seriously wrong.

The first act also perfectly captures (from my limited experience) the chaotic nature of children of a certain age. How, as adults, it's almost impossible to carry on a conversation without an interruption or scream/whine/cry for attention. The Children takes this very ordinary, real fact and plays with it: the natural naughtiness of kids takes on a sinister turn. Their normal boundary pushing involves more than just refusing to go to bed at a decent hour, it also has them picking up knives and slicing at the adults.

And let's not forget that the dynamic of kiddie killers is scary on a few levels. For one thing, the parents are going to take ages, if ever, to come around to the fact that they need to stop trying to protect, defend or reason with their offspring. They need to strike back against them, and that's often too little too late.

Then there's the repercussions of these horrors in the greater scheme of things: if this condition isn't widespread - which to be fair, in this film we're led to believe it is - anyone who manages to survive murderous children has probably had to take out a few in self defense. This is literally like a zombie movie, but the zombies are adorable little four-year-olds. So to make it out alive you must become one of the ultimate "evil" taboos yourself: a killer of children. It casts an interesting unpleasantness over the entire film, I think.

Shankland uses the young actors wisely, never making them do too much in the way of unnatural, "scary" acting (which can so easily come off as amusingly cheesy) instead choosing close-ups and quick, jarring cuts to make all the gruesome action make sense.

On top of all this, it looks stunning. Blood-splattered snow is rarely a miss, and like Last House On The Left (2009) there are some gorgeous tableau-like establishing shots in there.

It's streaming on Shudder at time of writing, but wherever or however you get your hands on it, I highly recommend that you do.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Kristy (2014)

I feel like sometimes the access to a location for a horror film has more weight to it than the actual plot. Like, they found out they could shoot on a college campus and then came up with an idea to suit the cool setting?

Kristy, directed by Olly Blackburn (who also did Donkey Punch) is similar to the vibe of You're Next or The Strangers, but it's not as well written. Instead of having the attacks be random acts of violence, there's an attempt, in an already pretty dated opening sequence involving the internet, passwords and messageboards (lol) to explain that this is some kind of cult where the members stalk and kill pretty young privileged girls in an effort to... symbolically kill God...?! Uh-huh. That face you are probably making right now is the face I made, too, and this was only about 4 mins into the movie, so I was braced for the worst.

The film takes place at a college over Thanksgiving weekend, where Justine (played with sleepy determination by Haley Bennett) is the only student spending the break on campus. While on a snack run to a local store, she's chosen as the next target by a masked, murderous gang. They keep calling her "Kristy", a code name for all of the cult's intended victims.

I'm going to put some of the blame on my being unable to fully concentrate on Kristy down to the fact I was watching it at midday. Watching horror films in broad, sunny daylight always feels out of place, right? But it wasn't all my poor timing; it was also that, aside from the climatic scene, this film just isn't all that good.

For one, a dog fucking dies, so that's a strike against it. How about we have a horror movie renaissance where that particular lazy, horrible narrative shortcut isn't used any more? Secondly, Justine as our lead and final girl survivor is tough to like, even if she is resourceful and strong. She's kind of one-note and dull as the back that carries the film.

The leader/controller of the gang (Ashley Greene) was a much more interesting character, and I would've been all over a film about her. Why she does this, what in her life brought her to a place of being in a killer cult? There are details about her that were deliberate choices, such as her painfully dry lips, multiple facial piercings and bad teeth. I want to know about her! That would be more interesting and original than another spin on a home invasion, where the victim grows from the experience and turns the tables. How many of those do we need, really??

IMDb recommends Bound To Vengeance at the bottom of its page for Kristy. Which kind of makes sense because I found that unremarkable, too. It also suggests The Den, which I never even made it through. So at least IMDb's algorithms are nailing it.

Steaming on Netflix now if you want to give it a whirl and prove me wrong!

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Open House (2018)

As I'm sure you've noticed, Netflix are going hell for leather on their Originals lately, but the past couple of horror movies I've watched from this collection have been a hit and a miss. The Ritual - which I hope to get around to reviewing soon! - was a great "friends lost in the forest" occult tale. The Open House... didn't seem to have a clear enough idea what it was.

The plot isn't the worst... Recently bereaved mother (Piercey Dalton) and son (Dylan Minnette, who you'll recognise* from Don't Breathe and 13 Reasons Why) temporarily relocate to a beautiful mountain cabin after their husband/father's tragic death. The only catch for staying there for free, is to make themselves scarce every Sunday for an open house.

Logan Wallace: Have you ever thought about how, like, weird open houses are?
Naomi Wallace: What?
Logan Wallace: I mean, you give your keys to someone you hardly know, they stand in one room and welcome in a bunch of complete strangers, and those people just roam around the house. And the realtor doesn't check the house when it's done, right? They just... turn the lights off and go?

I feel like this was basically the pitch for this film.

And it looks great. There's pretty, atmospheric woods and streams close by. Inside the house and despite its huge size, there's still a sense of claustrophobia and tension, where shots are often made teasingly wide with room for someone or something else to appear. There are tense, slow pans toward doorways, as if it's us creeping around the house, either being stalked or doing the stalking.

It sounds good too, with a suitably sting-filled and moody score. From a visuals and "general vibe" point of view, The Open House works.

But here comes the "but"... for what amounts to a home invasion movie, there's so much thrown at us (the big deal made about Logan wearing glasses! A friendly/over friendly local! The neighbour who may or may not have Alzheimer's! The plumber! The estate agents! The mysterious death of the father!) so many details and red herrings that when the reveal finally does come, it feels too small to be satisfying.

This is streaming on Netflix now (obviously. Though I'd recommend The Ritual more).

*Does anyone else have that thing where you can't rest until you remember where you recognise an actor from? I have it SO bad and it's a curse!