Monday, April 30, 2018

Creep 2 (2017)

A strong sequel from Brice and Duplass featuring our favourite unpredictable, slightly goofy killer. This was a DELIGHT.

Formally "Josef" but now going by "Aaron" (so he's adopted the name of the victim in the first film), Duplass's anti-hero teams up with a female videographer called Sara (the amazinggg Desiree Akhavan) for another 24 hour video-making project.

Don't be fooled into thinking this is a re-treading of the original concept, because it surpasses it. Aaron tells Sara exactly what he is: that he's killed 39 people to date, that he prefers the term "murderer" to "serial killer". He says since hitting middle age he's feeling like he's losing his edge and passion for the kill. In an effort to document his story and maybe evolve his approach, he wants Sara's help. 

Sara herself is looking for the perfect final episode for a video series she's been producing. Watching back over her previous work, she confesses to her camera how lame it all seems, and really she just wanted to connect with other weirdos. The next day, her interest is piqued by Aaron's ad. Ignoring internal alarm bells during their initial contact, and not wholly believing the one thing the audience actually knows to be true - that he's a serial killer - she continues to stick around, possibly even growing fond of him, and wondering if she's just met the ultimate weirdo.

I think I might be deeply untalented...

Akhavan is instantly likeable as Sara. Self-deprecating, intelligent and fearless, she's shown as someone who knows this is a fucking stupid idea, but can't help but get pulled deeper into the strange existence of this oddball.

As in Creep, the "horror" really comes from the moments of extreme tension and unease we're made to feel as the story develops. We KNOW that Aaron/Josef is a gold-plated psychopath, and his abilities to charm and disarm are even more powerful in this sequel (confession: I fell for him a little bit watching this. Sorry not sorry?!). He tells a lie as easy as breathing, and everything he says seems genuine and delivered with such conviction, but we know from the first film that anything and everything he's feeding Sara could be false. This is now the second movie we've spent in his company and even we know barely anything about the guy. 

*swoon*... er, I mean "eeek!"

Working off of some solid writing, it's the chemistry between the two leads that really elevates this to something special. These characters really appear to be connecting, and it's super suspenseful watching them interact, wondering what exactly this relationship between them could mean. Will this be a twisted love story? Or just that both are willing to play along for the sake of what they have to gain? ...Or something else entirely?

Creep 2 is sitting at 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and I completely understand why. This is found footage done with such ease that you forget it's found footage. It leads you down a path in the dark, not even asking you to trust it, but you can't help but follow. I urge you to follow!

Streaming on Netflix right now - and there's a third installment in development, according to IMDb! If you enjoyed the first, you must see this. Bonus points for normalising female body hair and full frontal male nudity, too!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tourist Trap (1979)

I think I'm having a bit of a "WTF did I just watch?" moment with this one.

The irresistible artwork of this lured me in, but I'm not sure I was completely won over by this quirky debut from from director David "Puppetmaster" Schmoeller.

The promises made by the poster (and that tagline!) sadly aren't kept by the actual reality of Tourist Trap.

The set-up: a group of nubile young things are on a trip when one of their cars breaks down, forcing the guy to take a walk to look for help. In the film's first horror sequence, we're treated to a bizarre scene of laughing mannequins and inanimate objects dancing around a locked room as he screams for help.

The fate of the poor motorist (Keith McDermott) is handled surprisingly well at the end of this chaos. After hammering on the door he suddenly stops dead from being speared through the back by a length of pipe. There's silence, and then a strange sound, revealed with a slow expansion of the shot to be his blood running through the pipe and hitting a metal container on the floor. This was one of my favourite death scenes in this film. Bit of a pity that it happens so soon after the opening credits.

The dead man's friends continue down the road, as yet unaware of what happened - and passing a vulture, always a great omen! - where their car also breaks down, so they seek help inside a nearby down-on-its-luck wax museum.

Everything is going to be FINE...

The place is weird, the owner Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors) is weird, and the house they are expressly told NOT to enter is... extremely weird. Mannequins fill the rooms and line the walls, some of them frighteningly lifelike. If that wasn't creepy enough, their eyes follow intruders, and occasionally they can be heard to talk.

There's something funny about that man...

Connors goes full-tilt with his scenery chewing as Mr. Slausen, swinging between innocently eccentric and bug-eyed bonkers. Slausen claims to be a widower (and has a mannequin/waxwork of his wife to prove it) with a talented brother who made all of the dolls on display, and then left him for a job in the city. But, of course, this man is much more than he claims to be. 

So, one by one the friends wander off alone, sometimes meeting a House of Wax-type fate, revealing the true origin of some, if not all, of the dolls in the house.

The killer, "Davy". Happy nightmares!

Molly (Jocelyn Jones), who could not be more symbolically virginal, with her dainty features, blonde hair and modest white summer dress (compared to the other females who are sexy, fun brunettes) is a classic final girl. She's less daring than the others, and initially trusting of everything she's told. Her character arc follows a pretty standard pattern as she gains the courage and strength needed to escape this unreal place.

Tanya Roberts (❤) as Becky and Jocelyn Jones as Molly.

I feel like pacing is such a common gripe for me with horror movies, and this one does suffer from extended periods of pretty uninteresting action in between the creepy mannequin scenes.

There's also the fact that the killer randomly and inexplicably appears to have telekinesis. No idea how, or why, but to be fair it does make for some of the most bizarre and enjoyable set pieces in the entire movie!

Mannequins are inherently scary, and they are used to mostly great effect here. 

Apparently the executive producer hated the score for Tourist Trap, and wanted something more like the atmospheric synth of Halloween. I can see his point; coupled with the largely hokey acting, the music, reaching pure melodrama on more than one occasion, makes the whole film seem a lot more quirky/weird and a lot less weird/scary.

This is streaming on Shudder at time of writing. I'm not going to fall over myself recommending this, but it might be fun in a cool double bill with Puppet Master or Maniac!

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Horrible Way To Die (2010)

Gorgeous poster alert!

Coming before the big hitters for which they've become known (You're Next, The Guest, Blair Witch) A Horrible Way To Die is a sombre - apparently the term "mumblegore" is a thing now? - effort from director and writer team Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett.

We meet our two leads: Sarah (Amy Seimetz) a recovering alcoholic haunted by guilt because of her past, and Garrick (AJ Bowen), an escaped prisoner who can't stop killing. He's also Sarah's ex boyfriend.

Unfolding in a non-linear fashion, we slowly learn the details of their relationship and their lives in the present day. Sarah is extremely fragile, she's managing to hold down a job, attending group therapy and very tentatively embarking on a new relationship. Garrick is travelling, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake - the blurb for the movie states that he's on his way to find Sarah, but I don't recall that being made explicitly clear in the film itself - nevertheless, there's a sense of build up. Garrick is in motion and Sarah appears to be healing... so it's only natural that these two damaged individuals are going to cross paths again by the end of runtime.

The whys and the hows would be giving too much away though ;)

The power of A Horrible Way To Die lies in how intimate it feels. Seimetz and Bowen are shot in close-up a lot of the time, and we feel like we're sitting right there with them in hotel rooms, at work, or in diners. Everything is slow and considered, with scenes lingering a couple of beats before fading out. The scene transitions themselves were something that struck me as contemplative: fading to black, going out of focus or panning away from the actors, letting the prior action really sink in.

Both leads give restrained, impressive performances of anguished vulnerability, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more of their work in the future. (AJ Bowen seems to be a Wingard/Barret regular to some degree, having starred in You're Next and The Guest).

As the "mumblegore" label may suggest, this is a carefully constructed slow burn of a horror. This is the story of people stuck in a reality that is painful to them - one of whom happens to be a serial killer. The chills and unease come from witnessing them negotiating a life that is a constant struggle to exist in. I found this tale to be dark and sad, but completely engrossing and unpredictable.

This is streaming on Shudder right now, and whether you are a Wingard die-hard or not, I highly recommend it. However, there's a lot of "shaky-cam" on display, so if you're prone to movie-induced seasickness, you have been warned!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Prevenge (2016)

is a beautifully British, blackly comic entry into the pregnancy horror subgenre (of which I am a fan, if you hadn't already guessed).

Written, directed and starring Alice Lowe, shot in just 11 days and all while 8 months pregnant. Can we all just take a moment to say "badass"? 

This title has been on my radar for a little while, but upon learning the above I had to promote it to top of my watchlist. However much I did or didn't end up liking the film, its own conception and birth story was phenomenally impressive!

Lowe stars as Ruth, a recently widowed and heavily pregnant woman who, when we meet her is making her way through a list of people to murder. 

The reason for their deaths is made clearer as the story unfolds, but the main drive behind Ruth's homicidal behaviour is the fact she can hear her unborn baby commanding her to do it.

And I loved that the drama wasn't really in Ruth's grappling with this task - in fact, she doesn't really seem to mind this wet work. This woman is lost in the world after losing her husband; the only thing she has is the baby. So she does as she's told.

Baby knows what to do. Baby will tell you what to do.
− Ruth's midwife, unknowingly endorsing the deaths of others.

When see Ruth briefly fail to execute these internal instructions, she experiences a violent physical reaction (taking place in an empty subway/underpass, this may well be an homage to Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, a film I'm desperate to see but haven't yet managed to, although I've read a lot about it!). In another scene, she carries on a deadpan, darkly funny conversation with "Baby", bemoaning the demands children place on parents.

How Ruth is able to continue these murders without being caught is never really discussed, but ultimately she's forced to question the true origins of the voice she's been hearing, with a climax that makes you wonder if she indeed actually cares.

There's a quote that's stayed with me that I think speaks volumes for the character of Ruth. Widowed, adrift and alone in a world full of creeps, arseholes and overly chirpy midwives, she has no connection to anyone now, apart from the baby inside her. 

I'm not grieving, I'm gestating... Fucking rage.

In a break from her normally dry, disdainful demeanor, she spits these words at a softly-spoken potential victim as he tries to calm her down, in a moment of pure emotion and vulnerability. A "force of nature", like the midwife claimed in one of several scenes with her that are loaded with double meaning.

The fact that most other characters are painted so broadly (pervert, idiot, bitch, etc) was not a problem for me, as I associated with Ruth more than I probably should have. I, too, am eternally annoyed and irritated by the decisions other people make. I really understood her scorn and the way she moved through the world carrying it along with her child.

Prevenge is streaming on Shudder right now, and well worth checking out. Watch that title screen and tell me it didn't make you excited, at least!