Monday, 22 May 2017

The Last Witch Hunter

"The Last Witch Hunter" (2015, Breck Eisner, Atmosphere Productions, One Race Films, Goldmann Pictures, Summit Entertainment) is a horror-fantasy action thriller set in New York City.

Kaulder (Vin Diesel) vanquished the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) over 800 years ago when her Black Plague took his family, friends and countrymen. Before her demise, however, the creepy queen bestowed upon Kaulder the curse of eternal life.

In modern day we find Kaulder is still hunting and stopping witches from causing havoc under the orders of the Axe and Cross organisation. Often, however, he does not kill the witches, finding that they are sometimes young and unable to control their powers. In some instances, however, offending witch criminals are arrested or executed at his hand. He is helped in his task by a priest known as "Dolan". His current Dolan is number 36 (Michael Caine), although a new, younger Dolan is prepped ready to take over as number 37 (Elijah Wood).

When Dolan the 36th is harmed, Kaulder goes on the hunt for the perpetrator with the help of a young witch called Chloe (Rose Leslie). However, the deeper Kaulder gets in on the mystery, the more he fears that the dark, forgotten powers of the Queen are rising...

A silly, hokey, dark action fantasy film that plays through almost like a film version of someone's D&D campaign read-through. Whilst it's entertaining enough, it does suffer from some slow scenes and a few side plots that don't add much to the overall story. The effects are fun, though, and our Witch Queen is a much better realised character than, but somewhat similar to the concept of Enchantress from "Suicide Squad".


Monday, 15 May 2017

A Dark Song

"A Dark Song" (2016, Liam Gavin, IFC Midnight) is an indy horror from Ireland centred around the Occult.

Sophia (Catherine Walker) is a grieving mother who goes to an isolated house in the Welsh countryside with occultist, Joseph (Steve Oram), in order to perform a series of rituals to summon her guardian angel and speak with her deceased, 7-year old child. However, any slip can lead to the ritual going awry, with possible deadly results.

A slow, quiet movie with a really effective soundtrack and a stylistic storytelling method that doesn't particularly grab you by the shoulders, but does build up ominously. The black magic rituals have an element of realism to them that make the scenes effective. The magic is hard, and dirty and gross. The pretty stuff is simple and limited and the things on the other side are not friendly.

The gritty realism of the occult elements really play well with the disharmonious relationship between the determined, desperate woman and her reluctant, angry, world-weary spiritual guide. Sophie's inexperience and desperate resolution goes up against Joseph's seen-it-all-and-sick-of-it attitude, and his brash rudeness towards her drives her to fight against him, making the already gruelling process worse.

The quiet, desolate story telling style is effective, but it does make the experience of the film quite slow-going. While there were parts where I was on the edge of my seat, there were certainly sparse areas where I was just waiting on something moving the plot forward.

An altogether gloomy piece with a haunting impact. Innovative, if a little slow to get started.

[Image: IFC Midnight]

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Belko Experiment

"The Belko Experiment" (2016, Greg McLean, Metro Goldwyn-Mayer, The Safran Company, Troll Court Entertainment, Orion Pictures, BH Tilt) is a horror movie along the lines of "Battle Royale".

Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) works at Belko Industries; a non-profit of no explained purpose based in Columbia. He and his colleagues (including girlfriend, Leandra (Adria Arjona) and boss, Barry (Tony Goldwyn)) come in to work to find new, heightened security. This isn't the only strange thing to happen that day... With shifty security, a limited, non-local skeleton staff only being allowed entry and a strange voice over the loudspeaker giving terrifying orders, it looks like things might get violent. And, spoiler alert: they do. Really violent.

An intense, savage romp that remains entertaining, but doesn't cover any new ground. The story is not the most innovative, but the action keeps moving and the characters remain three dimensional. The casting is good; especially Wendell (John C. McGinley) who makes an excellent creep and an equally effective office-politics Goebbels.

While I think the creators intended the film to have some deep meaning about office life, human survival and faceless corporations it kind of gets lost in the gory, gory, gorefest that is most of this film. A slimy, bloody, B-movie massacre, but not as cerebral as I had anticipated.

[Image: Metro Goldwyn-Mayer, et al]


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Get Out

"Get Out" (2017, Jordan Peele, Blumhouse Productions, QC Entertainment, Monkeypaw Productions, Universal Pictures) is a horror that explores themes of racism through the context of an interracial couple hitting the 'meet the parents' milestone of their relationship.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) head out to Rose's family home to introduce Chris to her parents. Chris is apprehensive about meeting Rose's parents because she has told him he is her first African-American boyfriend and he's not sure how her Caucasian family will react to him. Rose assures him that her folks are not racist and that they'll just be glad to meet him.

Upon arriving this does seem to be the case, although as the day goes on her parents make some awkward 'well intended' remarks that begin to make Chris uncomfortable. However, it is the black people he encounters that strike him as 'wrong' somehow, but he can't quite place why. As the visit becomes overlong, the couple are dragged into an odd family gathering and Rose's mother also offers to cure Chris' smoking addiction with hypnosis...

Things become slowly more and more unsettling and Chris becomes aware that this friendly, suburban setting may not be as safe as it first appeared...

A fantastically paced film that balances its social statement with good scripting, humour and character development. The acting is spot on with a strong lead from Kauuya who's both confused, but strong and an excellent antagonist in Rose's father (Bradley Whitford). The unsettling build up really makes the twists and turns effective and keep them from being hokey or too obvious. The film isn't just about blatant racism; it explores that smiling-cat, quasi-jealous, self-congratulatory kind of racism that is prevalent all over.

A really striking film that's definitely worth a try. The horror elements are more tailored to a chilling thriller than a straight up fright fest, but the true horror is in the message being portrayed.

[Image: Universal Pictures, et al]


Friday, 21 April 2017

The Institute

"The Institute" (2017, James Franco, Pamela Romanowsky, Jeff Rice Films, Redwire Pictures, Campbell Grobman Films, Dark Rabbit Productions) is a period horror set in The Rosewood Institute; a real life place in Baltimore which was closed in the 90s.

A grief stricken well-to-do girl called Isobel (Allie Galerani) checks herself into the institute in order to get over her parents' death. She is subjected to torturous "treatments" at the hands of Dr. Cairn (James Franco) and his staff.

A dull and arduous movie that takes a long time to get going and then doesn't deliver anything worthwhile. The acting is tedious and the plot is over-trodden tropes that have been done better elsewhere. The story waivers between wanting to be psychological and wanting to be supernatural and the draw for our leading lady to wish to stay at the institute is very weak.The horror elements fall straight into the sexploitation category and don't manage to make much more of it than re-tread ground already done rather effectively in the 60s and 70s.

All in all the only thing I enjoyed about this film was the slide at the end of the credits where I learned that Rosewood was a real place and that led me down a short rabbit hole about the place's history. And guess what, it was nowhere near as interesting as the film hinted at.

[Image: Dark Rabbit Productions, et al]


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Bye Bye Man

"The Bye Bye Man" (2017, Stacy Title, Huayi Brothers Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, Log Angeles Media Fund, STX Entertainment) is a supernatural horror set in a house rented by some American college students.

The film enjoys an exciting and brutal opening where a man toting a shotgun goes around slaughtering his neighbours whilst repeating "Don't think it. Don't say it" and demanding to know if his victims have said "his name". We then shift to present day where three students, Elliot (Douglas Smith), John (Lucien Laviscount) and Sasha (Cressida Bonas), are moving into the house where most of the murders took place 40-odd years ago. The group find all the furniture in the basement (this scene felt like it was going to take a "Cabin in the Woods" turn) including a bedside table with writing scratched into it saying "Bye Bye Man". The table also keeps producing weird old coins.

The group have a party which results in a seance where they basically blurt out the boogeyman's name, releasing him upon themselves. We then spend the rest of the movie watching the group try not to murder each other, while being pursued by the dark, mysterious figure.

There's a whole lot of hate in internet-land for this movie, and I don't feel it deserves it completely. The acting is fine, the characters are developed enough and the setting is spot on.

There's a somewhat weak cop plot line involving Carrie-Anne Moss which could have been more effective, but all in all the movie is just your average, unimaginative teen horror fodder. And that's OK! Movies age, and as an ex-teen horror fiend myself, having more up to date teen horror movies helped introduce me to the genre and then the classics (where I learned that there is much more to horror than a Scream mask). The genre needs these light, silly horrors as much as it needs challenging, mind bending ground-breakers. And, in comparison to some other horrors I've sat through recently, "The Bye Bye Man" is far from the worst. There are a few effective scenes with tiny doors, shadows and dressing gowns (although that last one gets seriously overused). I'd say the effects are familiar and tropey, but have a kind of safe, fun jump-scare charm. Like a horror film with training wheels.

Now, that's not to say it's not got some glaringly obvious flaws. The first, of course, is the title. It's awful. I'm sure they were going for "nursery rhyme horror chic", but what we ended up with is just a crap title for a bad guy. Which leads me on to the Bye Bye Man himself; this character is portrayed by the great Doug Jones. Jones is someone you'll recognise from Hellboy, Buffy, Pan's Labyrinth, Hocus Pocus (to name but a few) and he's a talented, respected character and creature actor. The real tragedy is that he was not utilised nearly enough in "The Bye Bye Man". The character design is dull and tropey and we barely get to see Jones actually do anything in this film. So many missed opportunities!

All in all, this movie does not deserve the ribbing it's getting. It's a bit of a cheesy, throwaway modern horror film that will end up in the 'sleepover horror' box, but it's certainly not the worst attempt I've seen even this year.

[Image: Intrepid Pictures, et al]

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Eyes of my Mother

"The Eyes of my Mother" (2016, Nicolas Pesce, Borderline Presents, Tandem Pictures, Magnet Releasing) is a black and white horror drama about trauma.

Francisca's mother (Diana Agostini), an ex-surgeon from Portugal, teaches the young girl (Olivia Bond) about anatomy. One day, a creepy stranger (Will Brill) asks to use the family's bathroom. Against her instincts, Francisca's mother lets the man into the house, where he brutally murders her. Francisca's father (Paul Nazak) comes home and beats the murderer bloody before dumping him in the barn - An event that the murderous intruder will live to deeply regret. Francisca (Kika Magalhães) grows into a disturbed young woman, with an unusual fascination with death...

A slow burning film punctuated with disturbing scenes of suggested  mutilation and gruesome ideas. Francisca is a lonely girl, who's young experiences with horror have left her broken and unfeeling. There's a lot of unsettling content in this film.

Despite this and despite Magalhães' engaging performance as the main role, the film does suffer from being so slow and quiet, however, its bat-shit, mental content makes up for this in abundance. A truly awful vision.

[Image: Magnet Releasing, et al}