Don’t Breathe Review: Dance in the Dark


Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

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Release date: September 1st, 2016

Distributors: Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


4/5

Best part: The cinematography.

Worst part: Daniel Zovatto’s character.

2016 is the year of bottle-film/horror-thrillers. Movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room and Don’t Breathe feature helpless people, trapped in small spaces by complete psychopaths. Of course, the drama relies on their repeated attempts to escape. This peculiar resurgence delivers the goods. Don’t Breathe, although not the best of them, makes for an exhilarating 88 minutes.

Don’t Breathe is more thrilling and fun than most of 2016’s blockbusters. Maybe, the lack of expectations helps smaller-budget/independent features become more fulfilling experiences. This horror-thriller kicks off with three criminals – Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). The trio burgle high-end residences secured by Alex’s father’s security company. Saving up to leave Detroit for Los Angeles, they get word of a one-last-heist opportunity. The three track down a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) said to have $300,000 in his home in an abandoned neighbourhood. The man, whose daughter died in a car accident, was supposedly paid off by the culprit’s family. Obviously, the mission does not go smoothly. Upon entering the house, they discover the blind man’s taste for murder.

Writer/director Fede Alvarez (the Evil Dead remake) delivers a gruelling and tightly wound horror-thriller from frame one. Don’t Breathe subverts every overplayed horror-thriller trope. The blind man’s house, although filled with darkened crevasses, features minimal jump scares. He and cinematographer Pedro Luque veer away from shaking cameras or gratuitous clichés. Its set pieces throw young, spritely protagonists against a formidable villain and a vicious rottweiler. The infra-red sequence provides plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills. Like Panic Room, the situation, characters and plot collide without excessive violence or gore. However, due to the second half’s disturbing plot twists, it turns from David Fincher thriller to Park Chan Wook stomach-churner.

He, alongside screenwriter Rodo Sayagues, focuses on character and story depth. Although similar to many anti-heroes, its three leads are fully developed from the opening scene. In reality, they are purely despicable. Here, their code of ethics and goals make sense. The first heist sequence, with limited dialogue, establishes their rules (not stealing over $10,000, making it look authentic etc.). After entering the blind man’s realm, the movie’s tension and stakes spike drastically. Although depicted in the trailer, Money’s brutal death makes for a crucial scene. The cast throw themselves into ostensibly schlocky material. Levy and Minnette are two of Hollywood’s most dynamic young actors. Lang, known as Avatar‘s scarred-up baddie, is a force of nature. Sadly, Zovatto’s gangbanger stereotype does not work.

Don’t Breathe – beyond creating #turkeybaster – is one of 2016’s most visceral cinematic experiences. Alvarez deserves the leap from indies to blockbusters. His relentless style and screenwriting touches flip genres on their heads.

Verdict: A tight horror-thriller.

The Shallows Review: Shark Bait Ooh Ah Ah


Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Writer: Anthony Jaswinski

Stars: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Sedona Legge, Brett Cullen

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Release date: August 18th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 86 minutes


3/5

Best part: Blake Lively.

Worst part: The CGi shark.

Sharks are fearsome and fascinating members of the animal kingdom. Jaws, since its 1975 release, has scared people from going into the water. The Steven Spielberg classic is essentially an expertly crafted B-movie. It also paved the way for many shark-related thrillers from Deep Blue Sea to Sharknado (sadly). The Shallows is…yet another one.

Although better than most of them, The Shallows is Hollywood’s perfunctory return to the sub-genre. Its marketing campaign relied on two things – the monster in question and Blake Lively’s stunning post-pregnancy body. If that sounds appealing, this survival-thriller is cinematic gold. It follows former medical student turned permanent traveller Nancy (Lively). Nancy’s trip through Mexico includes a secluded beach her mother had once visited. Whilst surfing throughout the afternoon, she meets two beefcake surfers (Angelo José Lozano Corzo and José Manuel Trujillo Salas). Catching that one last wave, she is stranded 200 metres from shore.

Of course, a massive Great White Shark forces her between a rock and a hard place. In shark-thriller fashion, The Shallows balances between genuine moments and silly plot twists. The central premise is simple – placing one person in one dangerous place/situation for 90 thrilling minutes. Like your average survival-thriller (Life of Pi, 127 Hours, Gravity), the drama pinpoints our basic fears. Lively and director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, Run All Night) stick by the simple-yet-effective formula. Collet-Serra handles the loneliness-in-a-large-space set-up expertly. The first third sees Nancy connect with the picturesque setting. It’s easy to lose one’s self in the blue sky and pristine ocean vistas. However, its surfware-commercial style and fetishistic butt-shots extend this sequence several minutes too long.

Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski tries and fails to develop Lively’s character. Her back story – her mother’s death, dropping out of medical school, daddy problems etc. – has been done countless times before.  However, once the mayhem begins, Collet-Serra and Lively elevate the material. The movie devotes time to the lead character’s intelligence. Developing multiple survival strategies, Nancy is a fun and interesting character by the third act. Monitoring the shark’s behaviour, She puts her medical skills and tenacity to the test. The movie’s most exciting moments see her rushing between the reef, nearby whale carcass and buoy. The third act is a schlocky, over-the-top thrill-ride between obstacles. Lively puts her impressive physicality and neat comedic timing to good use. Sadly, her shark co-star never looks convincing. The gleaming CGi aesthetic undercuts opportunities for jump scares.

The Shallows may be one of 2016’s most entertaining blockbusters. Its simple-yet-effective formula overshadows the dumber elements. It lacks the pretentiousness, cynical attitude and haphazard storytelling of most of the year’s bigger-budget efforts.

Verdict: A silly survival-thriller.

The Conjuring 2 Review: London Calling


Director: James Wan

Writers: James Wan, Chad & Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Farmiga and Wilson.

Worst part: The familiar story structure.

The horror genre has gone through some strange and rocky times over the past several decades. The genre was once a cinematic paradise of trend-setters (Jaws,  The Exorcist) foreign treats (Suspiria) and franchises (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th etc.). Nowadays, thanks largely to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes juggernaut, horror has been swallowed up by reboots and remakes. Thankfully, the Conjuring franchise is here to show its fellow Hollywood counterparts how it’s done.

2013’s The Conjuring was the first movie to receive an R18+ rating based entirely on terror rather than nudity, violence, or explicit language. The original has your classic ghost/demon story – a family is terrorised, a young girl becomes possessed, crucifixes are bared, and the power of Christ compels the spirit back to hell. This time around…all of those elements occur. Set in 1977, this sequel follows a family stuck in lower-class Enfield, North London. Single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) Hodgson struggles to keep everything afloat. Making matters worse, The family – youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), in particular – are hampered by spirits wandering their dilapidated council house. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), made famous by their involvement in the Amityville massacre investigation, are assigned to the Hodgons’ concerning case.

Like many of 2016’s sequels, The Conjuring 2, despite closely resembling the original, falls just short of recapturing the magic. Director/co-writer James Wan, coming back to horror after Furious 7 and before Aquaman, delivers his trademark style of graphic supernatural-thriller filmmaking. The Australian-Malaysian director’s vision is fascinating – introduced with the original Saw flick, built upon with projects like Death Sentence and the Insidious franchise, and perfected with the original Conjuring. Here, however, his direction far outshines the screenplay. Developed by Wan, Chad and Carey Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson), the script stretches standard horror-thriller/ghost story/exorcism conventions over a tiresome 134-minute run-time. This installment is a tad predictable; carrying tropes including an overpopulated family, a rundown house, and questions about faith over from the original.

Wan continually establishes himself as a hyperkinetic and intensifying filmmaker. Free from studio constraints, he lathers every frame with his unique and uncompromising vision. Wan is the jumpscare master – toying with our expectations whilst building to moments of unrequited dread. Joseph Bishara’s relentless score flutters in and out at opportune moments. The composer’s screeches and strums ratchet up the tension throughout its many set pieces. Don Burgess’ impressive camerawork floats through hallways and in between rooms with textbook precision. Wan’s eye for period detail, costume and set design balances between bold and subdued. Adding to the movie’s flair, Farmiga and Wilson blend into the narrative and make for a believable married couple.

Featuring demon nuns, possessed children and Elvis Presley sing-a-longs, The Conjuring 2 is equal parts fun and frightening. Wan’s unique and kinetic direction overshadows the familiar screenplay. His latest blood-curdling jaunt is a contender for 2016’s best horror flick and most successful sequel.

Verdict: A chilling horror-sequel.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies Audio Review: Bennet the Vampire Slayer


Director: Burr Steers

Writers: Burr Steers (screenplay), Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austen (novel)

Stars: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth

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Release date: February 25th, 2016

Distributors: Lionsgate, Screen Gems 

Countries: UK, USA 

Running time: 108 minutes


3/5

Review:

Poltergeist (Home Release) Audio Review: Rotting Remake


Director: Gil Kenan

Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire

Stars: Sam Rockwell, Rosmarie DeWitt, Jarred Harris, Jane Adams

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Release date: May 22nd, 2015

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 93 minutes


 

2/5

Review:

Unfriended Audio Review: Memes & Mysteries


Director: Levan Gabriadze

Writer: Kiel Kimsey

Stars: Shelley Hennig, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki

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Release date: April 17th, 2015

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 83 minutes


 

3½/5

Review:

The Babadook Review – Domestic Demons


Director: Jennifer Kent

Writer: Jennifer Kent

Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall


Release date: October 24th, 2014

Distributor: Cinetic Media/eOne Films International

Country: Australia

Running time: 94 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Kent’s direction.

Worst part: The creaky CGI.

Horror and romantic-comedy, the only two genres with long-lasting demographics, keep Hollywood in operation. For generations, adolescents have made a habit of catching (sneaking into) the latest celluloid bloodbath. Thanks to their buying power, the studios don’t need to try. Seriously, why do you think we keep getting Friday the 13th remakes and Paranormal Activity sequels? However, several movements and industries, residing well outside the studio system, still seek to change the game.

Essie Davis.

Australian horror cinema – existing since the industry’s beginnings – revolves around irking grimaces from film-goers and commendations from critics. Connecting with Ozploitation buffs, horror freaks, and each demographic in between, break-out frightener The Babadook loudly asks the question: Why aren’t Australians watching Australian movies? Despite the lack of transforming robots and superheroes, Aussie industry does deliver worthwhile entertainment. In 2014, The Rover, Predestination, and Son of a Gun grasped tightly onto worldwide acclaim. The Babadook, despite the limited budget and small scale, is the David to Hollywood’s Goliath. Blitzing Kevin Smith’s Tusk at this year’s Fantastic Fest, the movie has more supporters than slip-ups. How did this happen? Well, the story makes for gripping and intelligent horror cinema. In the first scene, the movie establishes its tone and never lets up. Amelia (Essie Davis) is pregnant with her first child. En route to the hospital, her husband is killed by an oncoming vehicle. We jump seven years, and Amelia is a single mum struggling to juggle responsibilities. Her precocious son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), makes dangerous contraptions and causes trouble in the school yard. After pulling Samuel out of school, our widowed lead is soon hounded by her employer, her sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney), the next-door neighbour Mrs. Roach (Barbara West), and social services.

Noah Wiseman.

Obviously, calling attention to spoilers would be unnecessary. Despite modern horror’s cash-grabbing, made-by-committee aura, each entry deserves credit. Tackling one of cinema’s most subjective genres, The Babadook enters the underdog and emerges the deserving victor. Void of jump-scares, debauchery, and unlikable teenagers, it dodges almost every horror trope. Despite touching upon The Shining, The Exorcist, The Ring, and Carrie, this Aussie fright-fest holds up to criticism. Its story takes a peculiar turn after Amelia and Sam find a disturbing pop-up book in his room. Reading it together, they unearth a nightmarish, Nosferatu-esque figure dressed in hipster threads. Similarly to Sinister‘s film-reel and The Conjuring‘s Annabelle doll, the titular children’s book causes enough scares to have an asylum named after it. Complete with bleak colour patterns, distressing imagery, and threatening messages, it’s an unholy creation. Set to be released as a collectable, the question must be asked: Who would want this thing?! Writer/director Jennifer Kent, expanding upon her notable 2005 short, enriches each momentous frame. As our mother/son duo flips through the book, Kent stretches the stakes and tension to breaking point. Setting paranoia upon its characters and audience, multiple threads are let loose. Is it a supernatural force or a stalker? And why is this happening to them, specifically? Throughout this gothic freak-out, her directorial flourishes and commendable intentions fit each twist and turn.

“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” (Amelia (Essie Davis), The Babadook).

Aussies vs. ghosts.

Relishing in its smaller moments, The Babadook crafts terror, suspense, and, subtext. Kent’s visuals – turning wholesome settings into labyrinthine deathtraps – elevates conventional material. Utilising a muted colour palette, sweeping cinematography, and haunting shadows, her direction lingers on terrifying imagery without indulging in blood. Holding the scare tactics back for extended periods, this frightener knows when and how to bump in the night. Fuelled by purpose and reason, the story examines many common familial and social issues. The central conflict, kick-starting after Samuel’s excision from school, sinks into the skin. The story, possessing each character with realistic personalities and emotional currents, carries a human touch. Examining lower-middle class issues, the central dynamic overshadows the spooky creatures. Pitting spirits and ghouls against emotional demons, it delves intently into Amelia’s psyche. Tackling grief and loneliness, she’s a fascinating protagonist. Amelia – fighting against Samuel’s troubling condition, the world around her, and household scares – is worth siding with. Tackling the school system, parenthood, and mental instability, its agenda integrates with its blood-curdling scenarios. Davis, known for remarkable TV and theatre appearances, is one of Australia’s most consistent actresses. Switching between innocent mother and psychotic disturbance, her searing turn elevates the material. Wiseman’s wondrous performance, jumping from manic glee to shrieking chaos, elevates the drama.

Sticking to story and character over box-office receipts and target demographics, The Babadook terrorizes the competition. Peering over big-name horror filmmakers’ shoulders, Kent delivers enough game-changing sequences and stylish flourishes to stand out. Beyond the narrative and technical achievements, Davis and Wiseman elevate the material. As 2014’s biggest sleeper hit, this horror-thriller/psychological-drama boots Australia’s film industry. This year, genre cinema was stolen by a nation of convicts.

Verdict: The decade’s best horror flick.

Dracula Untold Review – Toothless Trash


Director: Gary Shore

Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless (screenplay), Bram Stoker (novel)

Stars: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance


Release date: October 3rd, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: USA, UK 

Running time: 92 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: The production values.

Worst part: The overbearing performances.

Since Hollywood’s transition from ‘classic’ to ‘modern’, big-budget entertainment has focused entirely on sex appeal. Defined by awe, devilishness, and attractiveness, Tinseltown promotes aesthetic beauty over substance. Even the idea of ‘style’ itself – distinguishing one’s work from everything else – has been watered down to an extraneous extent. Now that the studio system has exhausted trends like fairytale adaptations, comic book movies, and nostalgic actioners, the world’s biggest media hub is turning cannibalistic. Dracula Untold may be the high point of blockbuster/remake/reboot fatigue. What’s next, a cuddly wolfman? A sensitive mummy? a sexy invisible man? Good luck, Universal!

Luke Evans as Vlad III Tepes/Count Dracula.

Recently, there have been several similar big-budget extravaganzas. Most of them, Twilight included, are directed at teenage girls. While some of them are mindless adaptations of classic  texts. All of them, however, bend vampire mythology to their will. Mixing classic horror with explosive action and sappy romance, Dracula Untold is a horrific experiment in itself. Staggering toward its release date, this action-horror flick means little to either the people involved or those watching it. We begin with a highlight reel of one of history’s most disturbing people. We first meet Vlad III Tepes aka Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) in a rushed opening sequence. Depicting his fearsome fighting skills and determination, Vlad’s reputation is built on the bones of fallen enemies and kingdoms. The movie jumps forward to the central conceit, and Vlad has become a cunning warrior keeping guard of his people. Tracking a battalion of Turkish soldiers, our ‘hero’ and his men head to Broken Tooth Mountain to find answers. Instead, Vlad – the expedition’s sole survivor – unearths the world’s most terrifying secret. Vlad must also keep his home, Castle Dracula, out of the Turkish army’s hands. Led by Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), the army asks for 1000 able-bodied boys in exchange for ever-lasting peace.

Dominic Cooper.

As the land’s most fearless and skilled warrior, Vlad refuses to go down without a fight. Keeping his wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), and child, Ingeras (Art Parkinson), away from the Turkish forces, our lead character takes on the world’s largest army. As the launchpad for Universal’s new Avengers-style franchise, Dracula Untold has been whittled down by the studio, director, screenwriters, and editor. Turning potentially-entertaining material into October-bound schlock, this production wastes several opportunities. The story, spoiled thanks to an egregious marketing campaign, is messier than a corpse in Dracula’s possession. The aforementioned opening, delivering cold-blooded exposition with static images, doesn’t deliver anything original or interesting. Those wary of the original material might stand a chance of following this sequence. However, those without said knowledge might become lost. From there, the movie leaps between concepts without purpose or warning. The first 15 minutes promises a down-and dirty superhero origin story/reboot for the archetypal vampire character. Showing off his powers – turning into a swarm of bats and utilising infra-red vision –  it defines our lead character’s inner conflict with visual effects and tiresome cliches. The movie also throws two more story-lines at us. The love story and medieval warfare sub-plots turn this straight-forward actioner into a convoluted foible. Transforming this alluring villain into a misunderstood anti-hero, the movie delivers nothing for viewers to sink their teeth into.

“Do you think you are alive because you can fight? You are alive because of what I did to save you!” (Vlad/Dracula (Luke Evans), Dracula Untold).

Charles Dance.

I could say Dracula Untold “lacks bite” or “sucks”, but that would be too damn easy. The biggest problem resides within its flesh and blood: it takes itself way too seriously! The performances, drifting between maudlin and over-the-top, are difficult to comprehend. Evans, despite the charisma and immense physicality, never meshes with his fruitful character. Gadon is underused in her plot-device role. While Cooper makes for an unconvincing Middle-Eastern/moustache-twirling villain. However, Game of Thrones actor Charles Dance heartily tackles his make-up-induced role. Quicker than you can say: “Transylvania”, Matt Sazama and Burk Shapless’ screenplay delves into sprawling conflicts, overblown speeches, and Greek tragedy-like drama. Giving the story or characters little development, the alliance switches, noble sacrifices, and revelations become increasingly stupid. Speed-reading the original text, the movie pretends to understand Stoker’s words. Explaining everything with stilted exposition and silly one-liners, its thrills are few and far between. While its comedic moments fall flatter than the lid of Dracula’s coffin. Lacking experience, first-time feature director Gary Shore succumbs to the monsters leering over him. Bullied by producers and studio executives, Shore turns this gothic staple into a transparent actioner. Despite the immense budget (for a British production), his action-direction hammers the stake into the heart. Thanks to quick cuts, shaking cameras, and shoddy camera angles, the action is incomprehensible. Despite the sword-and-sandal vibe, the video-game-like sequences shrink the story’s heart and brains. However, thanks to sterling sets, costume designs, and cinematography, the production values elevate it above I, Frankenstein (but that’s not saying much).

Despite the minor positives, Dracula Untold succumbs to a mystifying and laughable case of prequelitis. Telegraphing specific events ahead of time, the movie tests its audience’s patience. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula suffocating aura lingering overhead, this action-oriented version is a spineless adaptation of Stoker’s masterpiece. Despite the brief run-time, the movie becomes as deadly to cinema as sunlight to a bloodsucker.

Verdict: A stake through Universal’s heart.

The Purge: Anarchy Review – Dial ‘P’ for Purge


Director: James DeMonaco

Writer: James DeMonaco

Stars: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez

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Release date: July 18th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Grillo’s hard-edged performance. 

Worst part: The idiotic supporting characters.

Occasionally, and I’m saying very occasionally, a big-budget franchise will listen to, and take notes from, its eager-to-please fans. They, overcoming their own bloated egos, turn to the average Joe for advice on saving their most precious creations. One such example involves a newly gestating horror series and its invigorating premise. The Purge series, pushing its characters through hell and back, has boosted its shaky reputation on our dime.

Frank Grillo.

Before continuing on, I should explain what I am taking about. Whilst walking out of the original Purge feature, many folks pleaded for this series to start embracing its more outlandish ideas. Ignoring its premise in favour of a generic home-invasion plot, the original bewildered and underwhelmed horror aficionados and common filmgoers everywhere. Creating an opposing side for this blood-stained coin, the sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, takes its arresting ideas and runs with them into the night. Gloriously, this instalment begins by erasing and re-writing its own dodgy rulebook. Within the inter-titles, the premise is whole-heartedly established as a force for good within our dying world. Every year, for one night only, America’s citizens are given the freedom to do whatever they want. Labelled ‘The Purge’ by the New Founding Fathers of America, this 12-hour event allows the public to commit heinous and disgraceful acts without police, fire department, or emergency service interference. Rape, murder, arson, looting etc. are all on the table here, as the nation invests in war instead of peace. Seems farfetched? Oh, you have no idea! This movie chronicles the Purge of 2023, as the world starts to uncover the cracks this event has caused overtime. First off, we meet Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo). Out for revenge over the harrowing hit-and-run death of his son, Barnes is determined to bring the irresponsible driver to justice.

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Kiele Sanchez & Zach Gilford.

I’ll stop right there, because I just described this silly yet entertaining instalment’s most interesting plot-strand. By continuing on, I’ll only be ruining audience expectations. Make no mistake; The Purge: Anarchy is significantly better than the bland and boring original. As a tiresome retread of Panic Room, the original spends too much time alluding to intriguing concepts whilst delivering stupid characters and a stack of horror clichés. This instalment, though not without its flaws, comes out swinging by sticking to its implausible premise. Stranding itself in Downtown Los Angeles, a crime-ridden metropolitan labyrinth in itself, this instalment answers to our suggestions whilst delivering a more interesting narrative. In addition to Barnes’ tale, we’re introduced to a young couple, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), on the verge of separation. Targeted by mask-donning warriors, the couple’s car breaks down, in LA’s business district, shortly before the annual slash-fest begins. Meanwhile, an African-American woman, Eva (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul), are targeted by a Black Ops-like unit tasked with abducting lower class people and delivering them to one-percenters. The narrative, despite getting off on the right foot, throws in far too many contrivances, dumb characters, and plot holes. How do our leads all meet up in the same place at the same time? I don’t know, seeming as how the movie shrugs it off like a bullet wound. Beyond the glowing positives, the predictable twists and turns nullify the final product.

“People like us, we don’t survive tonight!” (Liz (Kiele Sanchez), The Purge: Anarchy).

The ultimate nightmare!

Fit for a late-night run-time on cable TV, this pulpy action-horror flick cheapens itself with laughable dialogue, distracting sub-plots, and a sappy denouement. Despite the issues, which may eventually hinder this series’ continuing existence, the movie earns points back by delivering on everything it promises. Looking past the trite narrative and inconsistent character motivations, writer/director James DeMonaco successfully ups the ante with this $9 million franchise buffer. Aiming for a pulpy Escape From New York vibe, DeMonaco’s fetishistic visual style delivers several thrilling moments and memorable images. One scene, in which our revenge-toting lead straps on Kevlar and guns, closely resembles the Punisher comic-book series. DeMonaco, aware that comic-book flicks and post-apocalyptic actioners are all the rage now, sticks to what he does best. His action, despite the odd shaky-cam disturbance, heightens the thrill-ride factor. Thanks to Barnes’ badass military skills, several shootouts and fistfights deliver on what this wild premise promises. Thankfully, Grillo has enough charisma and physical prowess to boost this generic role. Bolstered by Warrior and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Grillo is certainly an actor to watch out for. However, the supporting characters, and the actors playing them, are nothing but two-dimensional distractions. With attitudes and intensity levels flying, these people all become irritating and unnecessary.

Certainly, if the Purge existed in real life, it wouldn’t have the desired effect. In fact, with The Purge: Anarchy sprouting viewpoints about everything from gun violence to population control, this series comes close to resembling a Republican wet dream. However, despite the premise’s sheer implausibility, it’s worth standing up and cheering whenever a gruesome murder or ‘fu*k yeah!’ moment occurs. Nowadays, considering the state of modern horror, we should be protecting the ambitious movies whilst eradicating the inept ones. Let the games begin, Hollywood!

Verdict: An intriguing yet silly sequel. 

Tom Conyers (Director) Interview – Working-class Cinephile


Australian filmmaker Tom Conyers.

At 2012’s Revelation Perth Film Festival, I got the spectacular chance to chat with Victorian Filmmakers Mark White and Tom Conyers. These two, promoting their new flick The Caretaker, were as approachable and professional as possible. So, a couple of years later, I took it upon myself to get in touch with them to chat about their past, present, and future successes. Conyers, the director, was lauded for using Victoria’s searing landscapes to his advantage. Building an influential bottle film, Conyer’s style brought a tight-knit cast and crew together for this explosive genre event. Recently, I caught up with Conyers to talk about the movie, his career, and the places he’s going next.

How did you begin your career in film-making?

I wouldn’t call where I’m at as having a career in filmmaking, more a residual existence, but I’ve always been interested in the craft, from way back as a kid making super 8 movies.

Where did the idea of the caretaker come from?

I was trying to think of a cheap script. ‘The Caretaker’ is basically four people in a room with a vampire. We were able to make it a lot more cinematic than that with great locations, by shifting much of the action to the outdoors, and putting in a few scenes with extras, though. I also wanted to try to bring up issues that aren’t usually the preserve of genre films. To me ‘The Caretaker’ is about domesticity. Whether the house is always a home. Is marriage something that must be sanctified in a church or whether it can exist as an idea between couples. I wanted to look at less salutatory aspects of Australian culture, particularly to do with masculinity. And to invert the idea of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold into domesticity, as anyone will understand who’s seen how the film ends. Even the vampire is domesticated, being let out like a cat at night. One of my favourite plays is ‘The Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen and I think that fed into the film somehow.

Were your inspirations/ideas by the current popularity of vampires in any way?

I wouldn’t say I’ve religiously followed vampires. My favourite vampire novel would be ‘Carmilla’ by Sheridan Le Fanu. Very subtle, which it had to be for the time. In terms of vampire films, ‘The Hunger’ and ‘Martin’ are my two favourites. And they’re quite old now. So I wasn’t terribly aware of the current trends.

How did your plan for the film come together in the script writing/pre-production stage?

It mostly came together pretty well despite great obstacles. I feel I got about 70% of the film I wanted, and the rest I can live with!

What was it like to work with such a close group of people during the film’s production?

There was good and bad. The depressing thing is that not only does a vast proportion of the public and critics write off Australian films, but so too do many actors and crew working on them. It means that making an independent film is just one long torturous uphill battle. There were a handful of people we worked with both in front of the camera and behind it who were great, and there have been some really supportive champions of the film since. But Australian films are never going to really thrive till there is better support at home. Which is a shame, because there seem to be independent films getting made all the time in this country but most people wouldn’t know it. I don’t know why the ABC doesn’t set up a channel like the Indigenous one they’ve now got, but devoted exclusively to homegrown, independent content. It might just be that Australian film generally fails because no one gets to see it. The problem with this stupid world where protectionism has been deemed a dirty word, where the market is left to decide what lives and dies, is that instead of the greater choice and lower prices this purportedly offers, instead we are left with monopolies dictating the publics’ tastes with increasingly homogenous and overpriced fair. But that’s how this dumb world works. ‘The market, the market.’ Likes it’s this living thing we have no choice but to be in thrall to.

What were the highest and lowest points of the production?

The food, the mice, the skepticism were the low points. The high point was just the thrill of making a feature film finally, and working with those people who were enthused and doing a great job.

How did you create the visual effects and set designs?

In terms of visual effects, we tried to do as much in-camera as possible and then enhanced things later on computer. But the real impressive computer graphics were done in Brazil by a friend of mine, Verginia Grando, and her team. The sets were put up and taken down and redressed in record time by the producer Mark White and set-dressing duo Jane Cherry and Jessica Moran.

How did everything come together in the post-production stage?

We took a year editing the film. We’d probably do it much faster if we had it over again. But because you’re feeling your way in the dark, you make mistakes like having your sound files in the wrong format and discovering you need to recode them and so on. Plus we had one big continuity problem. One of the actors in the film doesn’t have any costume changes. He’s in the same gear from start to finish. No one was really watching his continuity but the actor bizarrely kept rolling his sleeves up and down!

How important are genre films such as yours in the image of Australian independent cinema?

I don’t know. I suppose genre films are appealing to the independent filmmaker because people will still watch them even if marquee names aren’t attached. The genre crowd generally seems less snobbish. I’ve seen some really good independent dramas and comedies that just don’t get a look in at all because no one knows any of the actors in them.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Australian independent film industry?

There are almost no advantages. There are almost an overwhelming number of disadvantages. I’m still trying to think of the advantages.

What is your next project?

I have multiple projects. Whether any come to fruition is another matter. But they are in all sorts of genres and styles. I’m taking to a few people, and there are a few people doing their best to make some of them real, but we’ll see. I won’t believe I’m making another film till the first day on set and it’s too late for investors to pull their money out.

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

I think it’s become a lot cheaper to make a good-looking film these days. I starting out making 16mm shorts and the cost of the film stock, processing and telecine was exorbitant. Our whole budget for ‘The Caretaker’ would probably have gone on those three things if we hadn’t been able to shoot digital. But while digital has been a godsend in one way, it also means people can copy your work without any degradation in quality. Making money out of movies for the independent filmmaker still seems like an uphill battle.

Official website: The Caretaker


 

 

Mark White (Actor/Producer) Interview – Diving In Fang First


Actor/producer Mark White.

Back in 2012, I got the chance to meet, and chat extensively with, actor/producer Mark White. At the Revelation Perth Film Festival, his latest feature The Caretaker was on display for critics and cinema-goers to take in. The movie, dropping a bunch of ordinary people in a vampiric apocalypse, pushes the very best of Australian genre cinema to the edge. With a restrained budget, cast, and crew on offer, the production was lauded as being valuable and intrinsic to the Australian film industry. Calling Victoria home, Mark White graciously agreed to an interview about his motivations, the feature, and everything concerning the industry today.

How did you begin your career in film-making ?

IT WAS A VERY FLUID PROCESS FOR ME. AS A DANCE STUDENT I TOOK ALL THE TELEVISION COMMERCIALS AND BIT PARTS I COULD GET TO HELP KEEP A ROOF OVER MY HEAD. OVERR THE YEARS THE WORK BECAME MORE SOPHISTICATED AND I BEGAN TO GRASP THE VAST DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THEATRE AND RECORDED MEDIA, AND THE VERY DIFFERENT TYPES AND INTENSITY OF PERFORMANCE FROM ONE TO THE OTHER. AS MY DANCE SKILLS DEVELOPED OPPORTUNITIES TO CHOREOGRAPH AROSE, INTRODUCING ME TO PRODUCTION. AT THAT TIME I WORKED ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY WITH SILVER-SCREEN AND JEFF DIXON BEGAN TO ASK ME TO CAST UPCOMING PRODUCTIONS. IVE HAD NO FORMAL TRAINING AT ALL.

As producer, how did you finance The Caretaker?

INDIE FILM IS ABOUT AD TOUGH AS IT GETS. I CAN YELL YOU THAT IT IS EASIER TO RAISE $20 MILLION THAN IT IS TO RAISE $200 THOUSAND. I’M CONSTANTLY STUNNED BY THE PERCENTAGE OF ARTLESS CRAP COMING OUT OF THE BIG MONEY END OF THIS INDUSTRY. EASY COME EASY GO I GUESS. I BEGIN EVRY INDEPENDENT FILM, BY BEGINNING! THERE WAS NO MONEY AT ALL. SO WE PULLED IN A FEW FAVOURS, ASSEMBLED A SKELETON CREW HIT THE ROAD TO MAKE THE TRAILER FOR THE FILM. IN MY OPINION THAT IS THE WAY TO GO. SHOW POTENTIAL BACKERS WHAT IT IS GOING TO BE, THE STYLE AND FEEL, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY….THAT YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU SAY! PEOPLE SAW THE TRAILER AND WROTE US CHECKS. THE FIRST THREE PEOPLE WE SHOWED IT GAVE US $345,000. I DONATED FOUR YEARS TO THE PROJECT AS WELL AS SHAVING COSTS BY ACTING – IN REAL TERMS, THAT REPRESENTS A MINIMUM OF $1 MILLION, AND THE DIRECTOR’S CONTRIBUTION WOULD BE THE SAME. THIS IS WHAT CAM BE SO MISLEADING ABOUT INDIE FILM. THE REAL COST IF YOU INCLUDE THE PRODUCER/STAR/WRITER/DIRECTOR/EDITOR ETC WOULD BE CLOSER TO $3 MILLION.

What are the major challenges with financing a film such as this in the Australian film Industry?

I’LL BE FRANK. THE VAST BULK OF AUSSIE FILMS THIS SIZE NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY, OFTEN SHELVED WITHOUT BEING COMPLETED. THEN IF YOU GET THERE IT’s DAMN TOUGH TO GET AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTORS AND AGENTS TO CONSIDER YOU. THE CARETAKER IS IN THE UK, NORTH AMERICA, CANADA, JAPAN, SPAIN, GERMANY AND MORE…PRETTY MUCH EVERYWHERE, EXCEPT AUSTRALIA. NOT ONE DISTRIBUTOR WAS INTERESTED. WHILE IT’s NOT EXCLUSIVE TO AUSTRALIA, THERE IS A GATEKEEPER MENTALITY IN MOST ARTS COMMUNITIES HERE, SO THAT INSTEAD OF ENTHUSIASTICALLY SUPPORTING THE TENACITY OF DYI NEWCOMERS AND EMERGING TALENT THEY ARE OFTEN IGNORED

You not only produce but play an important character in the film, what is it like to work with such a close group of people during the film’s conception?

EXHAUSTING. I WOULD HAVE BEEN THE MOST EXPERIENCED PERFORMER BY TWENTY YEARS AT LEAST. IN ADDITION OF COURSE ITS MY DUTY AS PRODUCER TO INSURE THAT PRODUCTION ORBITS MY PERSONA IN SUCH A WAY AS TO PROTECT THE DIRECTOR AND HIS VISION. IN ORDER TO ENSURE THAT THE ACTORS NEVER FELT THAT THEY WERE FILMING A SCENE WITH THE BOSS I HAD TO REDESIGN MY PRODUCER ROLE INTO ONE MORE PLIANT…NO DOWN TIME.

How did/do you distribute your films?

AS YOU’D BE AWARE. THE INDUSTRY IS AT THE MERCY OF SUCCESSIVE REVOLUTIONS IN MEDIA TECHNOLOGY AND INTERACTIVITY. ANYONE DISTRIBUTING FILM WITHIN PIRACY BEING FRONT AND CENTRE IN THEIR STRATEGY WILL FAIL. SO GIVING A DISTRIBUTOR NEARLY HALF OF YOUR REVENUE WHEN THE FILM IS ON EVERYONE’s COMPUTER BEFORE THE RELEASE DATE AINT GONNA CUT IT. THIS WAS PROBABLY THE LAST FILM THAT I WOULD DISTRIBUTE TRADITIONALLY. THAT SAID, THERE WAS NOTHING TRADITIONAL ABOUT OUR PROCESS. RANDOMS SUBMITTING UNSOLICITED FILMS TO DISTRIBUTORS IS SIMPLY NOT DONE. BUT YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN EHAT YOU DO, AND CONVEY THAT BELIEF. WE HAD THREE SOLID OFFERS FOR DISTRIBUTION AND A GLOBAL AGENT WITHIN A MONTH OF COMPLETION.

How important to you is the fan base that it now has?

ONE OF THE ADVANTAGES OF STARTING SO YOUNG AND GROWING UP IN THE BUSINESS IS A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ARTIST AND AUDIENCE. A STRONG AND GROWING FAN BASE IS AN INDICATION THAT YOU ARE MOSTLY GETTING YOUR JOB RIGHT. NOT PERFECT, BUT RIGHT. ALSO, NOW MORE THAN EVER WE NEED THE FAN BASE TO VALUE THE FILM, BECAUSE MOST OF THEM TORRENTED IT. THE FUTURE OF THIS RELATIONSHIP WILL RELY ON THE END USER CHOOSING TO GIVE THE PRODUCER MONEY.

How do you see social media outlets aiding the distribution and advertising of independent films such as yours?

DIFFICULT. WITHOUT THE MANPOWER AND CAPITAL FOR A SUSTAINED BLAST TO ALL AVENUES OF SOCIAL MEDIA IT IS DIFFICULT TO REACH CRITICAL MASS. SO, AGAIN WE HAD TO DO WHAT WE COULD AND THEN LEAVE OURSELVES IN THE HANDS OF THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY. FB FANS ARE JOW GROWING OF THEIR OWN ACCORD, MANY OF THEM TORRENTED THE FILM, BUT DECIDED IT WAS WORTH SUPPORTING.

How important are national film festivals to independent film-makers such as yourselves?

HAVING A HANDFUL OF LAUREL LEAVES TO PLASTER OVER THE FRONT OF YOUR MATERIAL IS A GOOD ATTENTION GRABBER iIN TERMS OF BOTH AGENTS/DISTRIBUTORS AND AUDIENCE. I HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT FESTIVALS. ONE NEEDS TO BE AWARE OF HOW MANY COPIES OF THE FILM ARE OUT THERE. IM CERTAIN SOME OF THE SHONKIER ‘FESTIVALS’ ARE NOT MUCH MORE THAN A FRONT FOR PIRATE BAY. WHILE THE A LISTS ARE A QUAGMIRE OF NEPOTISM. AS FOR THE B AND C LIST…IF YOU ARENT CERTAIN YOULL TAKE OUT BEST FEATURE, WHY BOTHER? THE EXPECTED ANIMOSITY BETWEEN MAINSTREAM AND ALTERNATIVE FESTIVALS OFTEN MEANS LIMITED UPWARD NETWORK MOBILITY. IF YOURE NOT GOING TO WIN, DONT PUT IT IN.

What is your next project?

HAHAHA. THAT WOULD BE TELLING! BUT I CAN SAY THAT IT IS CONFIRMED AND FULLY FUNDED AT MANY TIMES THE BUDGET OF THE LAST. AND THAT I WILL BE WORKING WITH THE SAME DIRECTOR ONCE AGAIN. I ANTICIPATE THAT WE WILL HAVE COMPLETED PRODUCTION BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR.

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

EVERYTHING IN THE INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS. TECHNOLOGY….ON ONE SIDE AS RELENTLESS WAVES OF TECHNICAL REVOLUTION CRASH OVER THE INDUSTRY IT GETS EASIER TO DO MORE FOR LESS, WHICH IS GOOD, BECAUSE ON THE OTHER SIDE-THOSE SAME WAVES CRASH OVER THE MARKET AND MAKES IT EASIER TO TAKE EVERYTHING AND PAY NOTHING. TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW CELLPHONE CAMS WILL HAVE THE SCOPE AND CAPACITY FOR FEATURES. WE HAVE ENTERED A PERIOD WHERE ALMOST ALL THE TECHNICAL HARDWARE FROM EVERY DEPARTMENT IS REDUNDANT BY THE END OF EACH PROJECT, WITH BETTER, CHEAPER VERSIONS WAITING FOR THE NEXT.

Official website: The Caretaker


Evil Dead Review – Fright Night!


Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas


Release date: April 5th, 2013

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 95 minutes


3/5

Best part: The ultra-effective gore.

Worst part: The uninteresting characters.

As of late, the world has become obsessed with director Sam Raimi. Geek girls and boys look up to this man due to his startling talent. Last year, The Amazing Spider-man adhered too closely to Raimi’s original Spider-man film. His most recent directorial effort, Oz the Great and Powerful, proved that he can handle popular material. Now, a remake of his 1981 masterpiece, The Evil Dead, is hitting our screens.

Jane Levy.

Evil Dead may be inferior to Raimi’s horror-comedy classic, but it’s still enjoyable. It’s a sprawling, excessive, and occasionally cloying horror flick. However, if you’ve seen the original, you won’t be surprised by this remake. Mia (Jane Levy) is an angsty young woman struggling to kick a nasty drug addiction. She also feels abandoned and angry after her mother’s death and brother’s self-exile. Her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) calls for an intervention at the family cabin. Three of their friends, Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), decide to help. However, this spooky pseudo-rehab clinic soon turns into the perfect setting for the ultimate nightmare. A discovery by Eric awakens something foul in the surrounding woods.

Jessica Lucas.

Back in ‘81, Raimi changed horror cinema with a couple of inventive camera movements and some make up kits. I have to admit, I’m not the biggest horror movie fan. Having seen last year’s stand out horror flick The Cabin in the Woods, I find it difficult to take them seriously. Much like 2011’s The Thing, Evil Dead is a re-imagining that tries too hard to top the original. This version may have its positives, but it spends too much time digging its own grave. I’m still clueless as to whether it’s trying to be its own thing or an homage to the original. There are major story and character elements that have changed, yet it still takes the time to reference the original’s chainsaw, cars, tree rape incidents, and kooky dialogue. Despite my gripes with this version, I had a hell of a time watching it! (to be fair, it may have do with the audience I saw it with). It gripped me from the prologue. It’s a tight, tense, and gruelling first few minutes that also add to this series’ already stellar mythology. This sequence contains the remake’s best ideas. However, the film hurriedly slows down when it switches to the five lead characters. Sub-plots are introduced and dropped without warning and the back-stories are clichéd and forgettable. So why did I like this film as much as I did?

Shiloh Fernandez.

It has to do with the film’s technical elements. Director Fede Alvarez is obviously passionate about both the Evil Dead trilogy and horror genre logistics. Raimi’s version is a visceral and comedic ‘bottle’ film. Whilst lacking Raimi’s imaginative touch, Alvarez’s work here is highly commendable. After the evil book(Naturom Demonto)’s introduction, the tension and violence drastically increases. He makes a great decision in using practical effects instead of CGI. CGI-based horror never works (2011’s The Thing is a prime example). Here, CGI is used only to touch up vital sequences. Startlingly original and inventive; the gore creates a disturbing and sensory experience. Sharp objects, including Stanley knives, syringes, and machetes, all have their destructive and disgusting purposes. Every stab, amputation, gun shot, and slice will leave a lasting impression on you. Blood squirts and splatters cover the screen at nearly every turn. The stand out moments include tongues being sliced in half and arms being severed with electric carving knifes. Somehow, the practical effects make these gratuitous and gruesome events seem tangible. Alvarez emulates Raimi’s inventive cinematography and production design. Here, the camera barely stops moving. It ducks and weaves through every crevasse of the decaying cabin. The stylistic flourishes ascend in quality and quantity; building to the gruelling and wince-inducing final third. The sound design is also top notch. Whilst never becoming over the top, the sound effects elevate many of the film’s best jump scares.

I just don’t want to become the Devil’s bitch.” (Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Evil Dead).

The demons at bay.

Raimi’s original trilogy has one powerful ingredient that elevates it above other influential horror franchises – Bruce Campbell. The expressive and charismatic actor, along with Raimi’s dark sense of humour, brought life to a low-budget trilogy containing simple stories and visceral thrills. This straight-faced remake lacks the original trilogy’s charismatic characters. The five lead characters here lack chemistry and quickly become unlikeable. None of them are anywhere near as intriguing or beguiling as Campbell’s character Ash. Once the blood-curdling theatrics begin, the character development stops. The acting is also hit and miss. Levy gives it her all as the psychologically-damaged lead character. Alvarez makes another compelling choice in telling this story from the drug addict’s perspective. Mia is forced into some uncomfortable and slimy situations; depicting the darkest sides of her physical and mental trauma. Playing both a sweet girl and a writhing demon, Levy’s immense talent shines through in every scene. Pucci also stands out, becoming both a charming comic relief and human knife block. Fernandez is as wooden as the notorious cabin. It doesn’t help that his character makes some painfully stupid decisions.

Despite its flaws, Evil Dead is a fun and exhilarating experience. The gore is startlingly effective and the atmosphere is gripping up until the film’s final frame. Raimi’s original Evil Dead films are difficult to emulate, let alone top. Alvarez smartly focuses on many of the original’s most creative and alluring elements.

Verdict: A fun and ultra-violent horror flick.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Review – Fairytale Foibles


Director: Tommy Wirkola

Writer: Tommy Wirkola 

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Jannsen, Peter Stormare


Release date: January 25th, 2013

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Renner and Arterton.

Worst part: Janssen’s laughable performance.

Sometimes, Hollywood works in mysterious ways. It’s inexplicably both cynical and cyclical. For some reason, Hollywood’s latest craze has been to adapt well known fairy tales. Film (Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood) and TV (Grimm, Once Upon a Time) are sweeping through every classic Grimm Brothers story. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is an example of how this plan can falter.

Renner & Arterton.

If you can’t stand the film’s premise – or even its ridiculous title – than be warned. The film itself is somehow a hell of a lot sillier. Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton), as we all know, survived a terrifying ordeal at the hands of a witch. In this version, their childhood survival tale inspired them to scour the lands for witches and dark magic. Celebrated for their witch hunting abilities, they wonder into a small town with their egos and weapons in hand. The disappearance of 11 children has prompted a state of panic throughout the cursed realm. These kidnappings are the work of terrifying witch Muriel (Famke Janssen). Hansel and Gretel soon realise there is more to this case than they ever could’ve imagined.

Famke Janssen.

Famke Janssen.

Taking this small story and fleshing it out is a brave idea. The story of Hansel & Gretel is one of the world’s most popular fairy tales. What is left, however, is a movie that tries too hard to cater to everyone’s desires. The film was pushed back from January 2012 to February 2013. This is never a good sign. The film, however, is not anywhere near as bad as it could, or possibly should, be. This is definitely a schlocky 21st century action flick. With this type of production, the film-makers have to convince the audience to look beyond the original idea. Last year, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter failed to live up to any kind of low-brow expectations. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, however, has done the best it can with dodgy material. Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola has proven himself to be a passionate film-maker. His surprise smash hit, Dead Snow, mixed two contrasting ideas- Nazis and Zombies. Here, he has swung for the fence. Trying his luck with both Hollywood and a much bigger budget, his latest effort is a mix of enjoyable and disastrous. It’s a hyper-violent and gratuitous 88 minutes. Expletives, nudity and blood splatters cover the screen at every turn. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a darkened twist on the legend, but still not a very inventive one.

Hansel & Gretel in action!

This is a buddy-action flick that should be enjoyed with a $10 mega-bucket of popcorn. Wirkola’s direction shows off a kinetic and glorious sense of style. He has a child-like vision for every setting and costume at his disposal. He was clearly inspired by Spanish master director Guillermo del Toro. The forest and village settings, for example, provide a dark aesthetic for this farcical adventure. Meanwhile, the anachronisms in this fantasy-actioner are laughable. This film is all over the map in multiple ways. The accents oddly range between American, British and ‘European’. Perhaps he was thinking that no one would notice. Even more noticeable is the materialistic touch every leather-clad costume and weapon is given. Their arsenal is light-years ahead of the film’s period setting. Fold-out rifles, chain-guns, stun guns and even defibrillators are all on display. So too is Van Helsing’s notorious crossbow gun. It’s easy to point out the stupidity of the whole thing. Wirkola understands this issue whilst providing an unapologetic and energetic B-movie. In fact, one could argue that this is the new Van Helsing – stupid, schlocky and star-studded. The script, however, has more holes than a severed head. With Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights) producing, you would think the comedic elements would work. Instead, one-liners and comedic moments fall flat. The film lacks a necessary balance between tongue-in-cheek and straight-faced (see del Toro’s Hellboy series for a definitive example of how this should work).

“I hate to break this to you, but this isn’t gonna be an open casket.” (Gretel (Gemma Arterton), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters).

One of many witches here.

Buddy-action flicks rely, to a certain extent, on the charisma of their actors. This is where the film marginally succeeds. In every scene, Renner looks like he doesn’t want to be there. When he delivers his lines, however, he displays why he is one of Hollywood’s most popular actors. Posing and smashing his way through every scene, he is still a likeable and convincing leading man. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Prince of Persia) is an underrated actress. Her ethereal beauty and soft voice light up the screen. She fares better than Renner here, proving she can compete with other female stars at the box office. Renner and Arterton’s chemistry distracts from the thin characterisation. Hansel and Gretel are your typical crime-fighting duo. They pose and fight with style whilst contrasting one another. Renner can play a cynical bad-ass better than most A-list actors. His version of Hansel is a predictably disturbed hero. Complete with an ailment that comes up more than once in the story. Meanwhile, Gretel is the optimistic presence. Her run in with a deluded fan-boy (Thomas Mann) is particularly charming. Mann, Janssen and Stormare become caricatures in this already over-the-top blockbuster.

Films like Shrek and Pans Labyrinth have already conquered this sub-genre. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a senseless yet enjoyable mix of dumb, dumber and dumbest. Even while relishing its opportunities, the film is still excessive and clichéd.

Verdict: Not ‘good’ but still enjoyable.

The Cabin in the Woods Review – Scintilating Slaughter-fest


Director: Drew Goddard

Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard

Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins


Release date: April 13th, 2012

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 95 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The clever references.

Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.

Despite its simple title, The Cabin in the Woods is far from your normal cliché ridden slasher flick, so far in fact that it questions the very genre itself. With a witty sense of humour and a strong thirst for blood and gore, this is one of the most influential horror films of the past decade.

Fran Kranz & Kristen Connolly.

Fran Kranz & Kristen Connolly.

The Cabin in the Woods sounds so simple that it must be a ruse. This trick is, of course, what five teenage friends discover during their stay in a small country shack. The inhabitants are met with various twists and turns as their sanity and loyalty will be tested to a great extent. These friends are (forcefully) based on five well known stereotypes of horror, picked off depending on their moral codes. There’s Curt ‘the jock’ (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth), Jules ‘the slutty dumb blond’ (Anna Hutchinson), Marty ‘the stoner’ (Fran Kranz), Holden ‘the sensitive guy’ (Jesse Williams) and, most importantly, Dana ‘the virgin’ (Kristen Connolly).

Chris Hemsworth & Anna Hutchison.

Chris Hemsworth & Anna Hutchison.

Sadly shelved for four years due to economic problems with MGM, director Drew Goddard (writer of Cloverfield) has created a visually thematic and referential ode to several great horror flicks and elements of decades past. The major secret of the film is based on a Truman Show/Death Race 2000 style discussion of the effect of modern reality TV within the public sphere. With the dialogue cleverly yet valuably speaking up about the dangers of using innocent lives as the subjects of sickening games, run by two charismatic industrial technicians Richard (an always convincing Richard Jenkins) and Steve (Bradley Whitford), both the technicians’ and victims’ points of view are assuredly established. Instead of using the Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson Scream series method of simply pointing out clichés and influences, what makes The Cabin in the Woods the most ‘meta’ horror film in Hollywood existence is that it breaks down each individual horror symbol and trope and explains their true importance in pop. culture.

Richard Jenkins & Bradley Whitford.

Richard Jenkins & Bradley Whitford.

If there’s one problem with this 80s style gory yet unique horror spectacle it’s that, much like the equally stylish and culturally relevant ode to pop culture Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, its straight aim at the narrow hipster/cinephile target demographic may limit the film’s cultural reach. Despite this, this subversion of horror clichés, symbols and ideologies are what makes this modern slasher flick a must see. It’s derivative yet self-aware of its influences which have shaped the very fabric of Hollywood horror. What you expect from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly  creator Joss Whedon (also the writer/director of the recent blockbuster hit The Avengers) is in this deceptive and smart horror film. With a taste for satire and self-referential humour, Whedon’s writing style has once again created a stylish composition of different genre elements after his take on a revered superhero squad. Both Whedon and Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) have proven their value of being inside the fanboy state of mind. The film and TV creations of both directors have proven repeatedly that being popular and relevant can mean cleverly speaking up about the obvious elements of pop culture itself.

“Yeah, uh, I had to dismember that guy with a trowel. What have you been up to?” (Marty (Fran Kranz), The Cabin in the Woods).

Tim De Zarn.

Tim De Zarn.

Much like Whedon’s take on superheroes, vampires and space travelling adventurers, the visual style of Joss Whedon’s vision is second to none. The cabin, designed specifically to represent a visual reference to Sam Raimi’s ground-breaking Evil Dead films, is a simple yet strange labyrinth filled with ornaments and illusions from cults and tribal rituals past. This is a stark contrast to pristine hallways and command centres looking like a cross between J.J. Abram’s Star Trek and Tony Scott’s The Taking Of Pelham 123. Let’s not forget that this film holds the creatures of both historical fables and Hollywood cinema inspiring the film’s creation. All manner of blood thirsty ghosts, ghouls and goblins from the 1930’s Universal Studio’s Classic Monsters era, to George A. Romero zombie flicks, to, most importantly, the spirits risen from The Evil Dead (pun intended) are, literally, on display. This gleefully leads up to the 3rd act bone-chilling and disgustingly nostalgic blood-bath and vital cameo from one of classic sci-fi horror’s most important faces, which no creature that goes bump in the night should ever keep you from witnessing.

Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, bolstering their already sterling reputations, tear the horror/cabin-thriller genre to shreds. Like the movie’s final third, Goddard’s style delivers constant surprises. Deserving of major critical and commercial acclaim, the movie says what we were all thinking.

Verdict: A deceptively simple sounding horror flick with Joss Whedon’s hands all over it.