Saturday, 31 August 2013

Interview with LC Holt

Continuing with this week’s biggest horror release, we have another interview with someone from You’re Next. This time it’s LC Holt who plays Lamb Mask in the film. Armed to the teeth with weapons and assaulting a manor, he took a break from that to chat with us about You’re Next, a film he really loves, and his other projects. He speaks in the accent that you will hear in the film in a thoughtful way, there are no pauses but his speech is coloured with descriptions. He appreciates his work in the world of film and he wants to continue that path to go onto bigger and better things as well as move into writing and directing his own features. Below is the interview with lovely murdering psychopath. Well, actor, but murderer is catchy.

Interview with Simon Barrett

After sitting on the shelf for almost two years since its première back in September 2011, You’re Next is finally getting a wide theatrical release after Lionsgate acquired Summit meaning they had to reschedule their entire calendar. It was bought right after its première at the Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival. Since then, writer-actor-producer Simon Barett‘s work has appeared in both V/H/S films and The ABCs of Death as well as starting production on The Guest. An ever busy man, Simon gave up his time to talk to us about You’re Next, a film that was made years ago. The interview audio starts off with me asking about the time situation but Simon told me to worry about it. Our conversation went on for so long that we had to rush the ending and rush off the phone unfortunately because neither of us saw this interview becoming this mammoth that it is.

Simon is such an easy guy to talk to that the hour flew by, neither of us really noticing that such an extensive amount of time had passed. Talking about films with people that clearly loves film is an ultimate pleasure and that’s what happened here. In fact, I’d even want this interview to be longer because it contains honesty, an earnestness and a lack of seriousness that made it a joy to even transcribe. All of it. It took hours but it was worth it.

Below is my interview with him with very few of my interjections as it was long enough as it is. Therefore you can read a film writer who’s honest about the entire trade, his career beforehand and his career ahead.

You're Next Review

Home invasion is a subgenre so drowned in tropes that it can be hard to invigorate what is usually so typical. Everyone loved Cabin in the Woods last year for how inventive and self-aware it was but this is a much better invigoration of the genre because it takes it slightly more seriously. That’s not to say that it’s played completely straight, without laughs, there are plenty of laughs, but it respects the horror genre while simultaneously mocking it as well as fixing it. It’s the subversion of the subgenre which is intended, having subtext there if you want it, but not relying on it for you to enjoy the film. You’re Next is intended to be a clever, witty, fun horror film, its intentions aren’t only clear but realised, in one of the most gratifying, enjoyable experiences at the cinema this year.
At a gigantic manor in the middle of nowhere, a family is reuniting for the first time in a while, meaning the evenings will be fraught with tension. They play it nicer for their parents’ 35th wedding anniversary to avoid the tension being noticeable or overwhelming. But, as this is a horror film, not everything is going to go smoothly as they expect while the sinister some watch from the windows before launching an all out attack on the family for an inexplicable reason. Masked invaders fire bolts through the window during the family meal time, leading to the family having to defend themselves against strangers.

Many horror films suffer from a lot of typical tropes that writers feel are necessary to include, to add familiarity to the genre perhaps – perhaps it’s laziness too but let’s not be cynical. You’re Next plans to play on those ideas with writer Simon Barrett taking the direction away from a typical woman screaming as the protagonist. Erin (Sharni Vinson) is our female protagonist but she has strength, resilience and is resourceful, instead of the typical screaming, begging wimp that we’ve come to expect. Erin is not the type of character to pick up a kitchen knife then wave it flimsily as tears stream down her whimpering, whining face. Instead she’ll take that knife – or any weapon – and use it lethally. The bar is so low that the sad thing is that this is a feminist horror film.


All is well executed is by the direction of Adam Wingard who balances all of the elements in the film to never lean too far into self-parody to not be serious but not to be laugh free either. It’s that postmodern hybridisation of genres that’s basically inhabited every single film now. With capable hands helming the horror, there will be plenty of gory moments that will make you wince and a few scares to amp it up too – the one from the trailer still works in the film no matter how many times you’ve seen it. There’s an authentic atmosphere attained by Adam’s crafting and an attributed creepiness because of the blood smothered words “YOU’RE NEXT” sending shivers down your spine. Tingling, tickling, teasing words tell of the direction it’s heading in with a sadistic smirk, a raised eyebrow and a gleaming weapon dripping blood.

One of the best parts about this is the casting because it features a lot of familiar faces for film fans that talk about filmmaking, one as a hipster (Ti West) and the other as if commercials are the best thing ever (Joe Swanberg), which is hilarious to watch and would’ve been even funnier if extended a touch. It’s just the fun of seeing two indie directors talk about filmmaking in a way they obviously don’t agree with. The majority of the cast are filmmakers as well as actors. Sharni Vinson is incredible as the rational, strong-willed Erin, putting in a tough performance that sees her having to hold the entire film together that’s usually underappreciated in films – like Mark Wahlberg‘s performance in The Fighter. Another good casting choice is having writer AJ Bowen play Erin’s boyfriend, Crispian, who tries to rise to be as prepared as Erin.

Lionsgate have kept this on the shelf for almost two years after merging with Summit. Lionsgate bought it after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in the Midnight Madness programme. That shows how much faith they have in the movie because with a sudden doubled output, they had to find a weekend to slot this into without it clashing with their other titles. If they didn’t love it as much as they did then they would have released it straight to DVD or VOD much like other titles they acquired but they really wanted a cinematic audience. Kudos to them for that because the cinema experience will definitely heighten the experience; you’ll laugh together, jump together, wince together.

You’re Next is one of the best horror releases of the year, standing shoulder to shoulder with James Wan‘s The Conjuring - which was a huge success. Everything in this is a refreshing take on the subgenre which has suffered from the influx of another subgenre called “torture porn” – which grossly misinterprets the films and is usually a pejorative term. There’s more to violence than a lot of people give credit to, who seem to get offended by blood, it’s all they see in the film and instantly blank any of its merits. You’re Next may have some violent scenes but it is in no way in that class. It offers up blood, laughs and scares plentifully while never distracting too much from the others. You’re Next is a brilliant horror and a brilliant piece of entertainment that succeeds in everything it tries, never feeling badly familiar nor too anti-cliché to feel grating, a subverting slasher as severe as it is sensational.

Elysium Review

Neill Blomkamp was given $100m for his sci-fi follow up to go play unhappy future with Matt Damon, making Los Angeles a dystopia in 2154 which is heavily populated with mostly Mexicans. Since the rich left Earth to live on Elysium, a space station safe-haven of unparalleled beauty, designed to be a perfect place for the highbrow to live, Los Angeles suffered an invasion of people from people south of the border (is it racist or in favour of immigration?). If you’ve seen District 9 then expect more of the same from the Blomkamp camp of unsubtle allegorical sci-fi in this. That’s not to say that it being unsubtle is a weakness, far from it. Being so blunt about a message can be a deterrent for a lot of people but if it’s one that needs punching home then having it uppercut you with knuckle-dusters is the way for it.

As was said, we’re in Los Angeles in 2154 where we’re following around Max (Matt Damon) in his awful life where he’s another mistreated Earthling – one with a job at least. His past is one of crime where he’d steal in a promise made to Freya (Alice Braga) to get a ticket to Elysium, where they’ll live the perfect lives of the rich. Years after that promise hasn’t materialised, Max is given a death sentence which sees him kit up in the exo-suit you’ve seen in trailers, posters and TV spots. With the get-up on, fittingly suited and booted, he now has to travel to Elysium to try and restore equality between the inverted worlds. This requires the help of the annoyingly overblown Spider (Wagna Moura), hacker extraordinaire. Meanwhile, Jodie Foster‘s cold, space-accented Delacourt is trying to gain more power and control to make sure the space station is never stained with the poor.

Neill Blomkamp has an eye for the future as we’ve seen from his debut feature and the five shorts that got him noticed before it. He has a good vision and grasp on technology to create not excessive creations nor too many crazy fashion adventures to still give a familiarity to promote realism, connecting the audience to these idyllic and destroyed futuristic worlds. Elysiumites all speak French because it’s so classy and adopt a mixture of accents that many have credited as bad acting but it seems more purposeful; they speak in a mixture of posh English, twangs of French, spoken with robotic tones. William Fichtner and Jodie Foster share similar accents although Foster’s is polished more; perhaps because of more time spent on Elysium. 

Visual effects are becoming more and more stunning in recent years, this is no exception to that rule. Sometimes you fall for movie magic, really believing what’s being presented to you as our present since the polished machinery, detailed sets and immaculate imagination make this world corporeal which is added more so by the visceral cinematography of shakicam rather than steadicam. Shaking with the violence of fights, wars and chases is used to help make it feel real but sometimes fall on the wrong side of dizzying and irritating. It can be infuriating when you can’t see the hard work of the stunt co-ordinators because the camera is too dynamic to appreciate the details of the fight. With the future presented as sleek (on Elysium) it feels like the camera should be sleek and steady along with it instead of presenting it with the gritty, dirtiness of Earth’s world – with a $100m budget, you can afford steadicam.

Well presented is a bonus if there’s a story inhabited by real characters to help certify the world. Oblivion suffered from having thin characters inhabiting a thin story in a rich dystopia decorated to be so bleakly picturesque. Aesthetically it was excellent but that wasn’t reflected in the quality of characters nor story but that’s where this separates it to be an even better sci-fi film. There are still some slight character struggles, some questionable motivations and a few holes – especially about the miracle cure machines – involved, it’s, on the whole, a rich sci-fi story in a detailed, well-thought out world. Performances from the cast are all excellent with the special standout for Sharlto Copley that turns the psychopath up to Jack Nicholson levels, really becoming an horrendous, violent presence on screen. Elysium isn’t perfect like its space station, it has flaws like Earth and like humans, it’s not perfectly predicting the future but it’s telling the way it can go if injustice and separation is continually allowed. Packed with action, violence, magnificent technological creations and some overwrought drama, Elysium is a both glistening and gritty; making a good story layered with subtext and gripped with tension. Who knew so much information could be unlocked from Matt Damon’s head and an iPhone cable?

Monday, 26 August 2013

Top 10 Home Invasion Films

My Top 10 Home Invasion Films feature was originally written for Next Projection

With You’re Next finally getting released, it’s best to look at the subgenre that it’s a part of. After two years of sitting on a shelf at Lionsgate during a merge, You’re Next has patiently waited to come out to deconstruct the home invasion horror. Sitting around for two years though has caused some problems. Since then, studios have tried to capitalise on its success at Toronto International Film Festival by hiring people to write a similar film. If you even look at Twitter, there are a few accusatory tweets at it because of The Purge, which has caused (ignorant) people to declare their disdain for You’re Next for copying The Purge, even though it’s two years its senior. There was even a slight script slip where a group of filmmakers may or may not have tried to copy the film identically but failed.

Home invasion is an awkward subgenre because it’s loose and uncomfortable to really define. Obviously it means invading someone’s home but if we go by Wikipedia’s list of home invasion films (which we won’t but kind of are), they call Law Abiding Citizen a home invasion film but there’s only scene which is the motivation for the rest. That means that Memento is a home invasion film too. By that standard there are a lot of revenge films that could be considered home invasion films. Another that could be considered a home invasion franchise is Scream. Ghostface invades the victims’ homes but it’s multiple homes which means it isn’t entirely focused on the act of invading someone’s personal bubble. Our definition and rules for a home invasion film are that they invade one home in the film because then it focuses on the invasion of a sanctuary.

With Memento, Scream and Law Abiding Citizen out of contention then it’s time to whittle down all of the films featuring a home invasion. From thrillers, to dramas to horrors – the reason why we are here. There are a surprising amount of home invasion films and when I took on this task I binged on them and have still been binging on them, catching most. There are many that didn’t make the cut. There are some that may surprise and some that may not but feel free to join in, to pass your thoughts on your favourites onwards. This is my Top 10 Home Invasion Films.

10. Martyrs (2008)
Extremely violent from the beginning, it rarely lets up on the violent front but it seems it’s a film of two halves. The first half is a violent revenge home invasion horror that even has flashes of psychosis but to talk about the second half would ruin the incredible surprise that it has in store for the viewer. It’s a genre switch that will divide people as it slows down to become a much more thought-out horror film with philosophical musings alongside to its non-stop brutality. Intelligence is necessary in a film like this to stop it from slipping into something that you will know as the wrongly termed “torture porn” that’s grotesque to exploit and to be reactionary. Purposefully incendiary works garner a backlash often, which is what is wanted but there’s a calculated thought process behind all the violence depicted in the film. It delves into more themes and more ideas to give an opinion on religion, ideology, fanaticism and martyrdom. Thought-provoking, difficult to watch and scary, it’s a more intelligent horror film which could have explored more if it hadn’t had so much damn screaming in it.

9. The Strangers (2008)
Liv Tyler is less than a reputable actress. Her monotonous wispy voice is usually delicately grating because of its consistency and complete lack of emotion. In The Strangers, there’s something new about her. She plays a pretty typical character in the horror genre – a girl under attack which leads to heavy breathing, crying and screaming – but she does it well. A lot of horror films fall at having a bad actress or actor running around disingenuously trying to sell something they don’t quite believe themselves, but it seems Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman (as her boyfriend) believe that it’s actually happening to them. It’s really interestingly shot and it tries to avoid cheap jump scares although it indulges in a couple – one of which ruins a lot of its good work. As masks come in and out of view as they come in and out to play, there’s a real tingle as you spot something in the background. It may be a little typical but it’s well executed, it accomplishes everything basic brilliantly. A problem it does have is the masked people are given an otherworldly presence which isn’t fitting of its tone nor setting.
8. Fear (1996)
This film has felt heavily ignored but I have no clue why. We’re watching “Marky Mark” Wahlberg play one of his most disturbing, twisted roles to date, one which really shows he has depth, range and an ability to scare the life out of you with a stare. It even has a great eclectic cast of under-appreciated talent like William L. Petersen, Amy Brenneman and Alyssa Milano; they’re the support to the love story of Reese Witherspoon and Wahlberg. It’s no way a typical romance story because it isn’t really romantic. Every smirk that casts itself upon Wahlberg’s face is an ominous foreshadowing of what’s to come in the later stages. This is a cathartic experience played in such menacing fashion that if it were tangible then it would break your arm then twist it to make sure you felt the pain. It may feel similar, it may have a couple of archetypes, and it may be slightly typical but it is one of the more effective horror-thrillers to come out of the ’90s that’s been wrongly ignored since.

7. Manhunter (1986)
Brian Cox is the first person to play Hannibal Lecter (Lecktor in this) on screen which is an adaptation of the Red Dragon book. Michael Mann has William L. Petersen as FBI specialist Will Graham pursuing a serial killer who seems to be selecting his victims at random. This may not be traditional home invasion but it is about a serial killer who invades the victims’ homes to then murder them brutally. Mann’s pulsing ’80s score and interesting cinematographer leads to a much better adaptation of the famous book. It is one of the most ’80s films ever created, with the visual flair and vibe of the decade. Chasing a shadow who watches and eludes is an infuriating task for a family man who is too obsessed with the case to be that husband-dad combo that’s really needed. It’s a nice character story which shows the villain to have the same vulnerability as everyone else, he is a human suffering too. Psychosis is on both sides of this film but Will Graham has a badge and a right to carry a gun as he steps into the killer’s mind to attempt to out-think him.
6. Panic Room (2002)
David Fincher’s work is always fantastic. Alien³ isn’t really his baby but one he looked after briefly for the studio that was dying to make another sequel to the franchise. This is Fincher’s most commercial film to date; it’s more of a conventional thriller set in a house invaded by three unlikely robbers (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto in cornrows, and Dwight Yoakam) while Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart try to hide out in a panic room. That premise seems flimsy and thin but there’s a lot that happens which doesn’t feel phony but authentic. There are arguments between the characters which are interesting, tense moments stretched out to be agonising by using slow-mo effectively. Characters have dimensions which aid it being a really taut thriller even at 112 minutes. Its running time effortlessly passes by and Fincher shoots everything with interesting camerawork and CGI that makes the camera flow through impossible areas. Empty rooms which are sparsely lit, in a house that’s empty and too big, make this a wonder to look at and a maze to live in. It even has self-aware moments which feel like funny nods with its tongue in cheek at potential plot holes to confirm that this is, yes, a piece of entertainment.

5. Funny Games (1997)
Michael Haneke has been all the rage this past year or so because of the heartbreaking Amour that destroyed many filmgoers. His films have always been intelligent, subversive pieces and Funny Games is no different. It almost seems a little condescending at times; it’s perfectly self-aware and there’s a bit towards the end that may be a giant jolt in an otherwise interesting story. It’s a disturbing story that starts with a pursuit of eggs that somehow is unnerving to almost twitching levels. It carries on as such throughout with one of the most psychotically calm atmospheres that drains the performers as well as the audience. Sitting through the uncomfortable ordeal usually leads to moments of violence that we all want to see but Haneke takes great pleasure in not showing these moments but having them happen. He’s willing us to want see something so wrong that it makes you feel deranged for wanting to. Manipulating the audience in a personal manner means that you’ve gone through the ordeal as much as they have. It deconstructs the genre intelligently to give you chills, making everything ordinary have a creepiness. Prepare to have this in your head for days.
4. Inside [À l'intérieur] (2007)
A pregnant woman loses her husband in a car crash and is then left alone in her house with a baby due at any moment. While France is being torn apart by angry rioters, Sarah (Alysson Paradis) has her home invaded and tormented by an unknown assailant. This film is stunning to look at. It’s dark but has a sleek feel to its contemporary setting, the cinematography managing to make everything look interesting, every shadow looking menacing. Everything is graphically violent as well but it manages to capture it in an oddly artistic way. Blood sprays in a seemingly controlled splatter to decorate. Its finale is a clumsy cacophony instead of crescendo to an otherwise well orchestrated concerto. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury really have a handle on the material to push it to its limits in exhilarating fashion; creating an eerie atmosphere early to then drench it in blood, blood and more blood. It’s cynical, twisted, nihilistic, scary, creepy and bone-shudderingly gory. One hell of a twisted film to add to the horror collection.

3. Dial M for Murder (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock was obsessed with the perfect murder. Most of the film is played out in the living room area where there are conversations upon conversations but they’re all intriguing, beguilingly peculiar, bewitchingly transfixing, befittingly malevolent. Playing out unlike any of the other home invasion films on this list is what makes this one of the best of the subgenre. A much more thoughtful, provocative drama than thriller that involves very little violence but a lot of investigation which twists words, phrases and evidence from theory to theory. Constantly intriguing, misdirecting and masterfully crafted, the Master of Suspense always managed to trick and deceive the audience by manipulating them in his hands like putty. There’s no feeling like being taken into a story that’s wonderfully crafted, that thrills you by its manipulation and has you almost applauding the screen at its handiwork. I’m smirking right now at it.
2. You’re Next (2011)
The cause of this list isn’t in vain either because it’s easily one of the best and most refreshing entries to the subgenre, as well as one of the best horror films of the year. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett have unintentionally created a feminist horror by having an unlikely protagonist in the form of Sharni Vinson, quiet and smiling until the bolt comes through the window, transforming her into what’s necessary to survive in the circumstances. Horror usually suffers from women being written to wail, to get hurt, to create certain fantasies. They’re expendable nothings that usually have to be celibate to survive because a stunted sexuality is their only survival. Thankfully that’s not the case with a great horror that’s graphic, scary and filled with genuine laughs, which You’re Next neatly presents. There’s such fun to be had in this violent indie horror. It’s like if Home Alone was an 18, using the resources at hand for protection.

1. Home Alone (1990)
How could we forget the adorable Macaulay Culkin Christmas classic? We couldn’t! Ignoring it would be ignoring a staple part of the home invasion subgenre that managed to make it hilariously violent with slapstick silliness that’s been a part of many families’ Christmas tradition – including my own; we double bill this and its sequel every year. Empowering to children everywhere, it instilled hope in them that if they were ever in a moment of crisis that they would use their Scaletrix to devastating effect. Obviously, they wouldn’t get back up if we did but it taught us to protect ourselves as well as to not wrongly assume someone is a bad person from the way they look. We learn that not everyone is who they seem on the outside, judging people on it is wrong too, as Culkin forges a friendship stronger than any other in his network with an unlikely character. Feeling alienated by your own family is something that many – especially the youngest child – can relate to, one which I did to great effect as a child and still do. Suck-up older brothers suck. Family filmmaking at its best, to show the importance of words, of family, and a way to make anything into a weapon.

Now, you may be thinking of a film that’s not included on this list that’s almost a ghastly omission for most but not for myself. Straw Dogs (1971) is a home invasion classic for the most, woven by the hand of Sam Peckinpah in a delightful fashion and I did enjoy the majority of the film but there’s one glaringly graphic scene that actually ruins the entire film by being grossly and majorly wrong. The scene in question is obviously the rape scene that is portrayed in such an uncomfortable manner that the rest of the film is hard to enjoy after the sour taste of misogynistic rape myths are glamorised. Its editing, direction, writing and performances leave you to believe that it’s a much less traumatising experience at the time. Undoing all of the hard work, the atmosphere, the characters all created beforehand by the clumsy, ignorant, sexist portrayal of a disturbingly violent act being enjoyed. We do see it being portrayed a little more negatively after that scene but the damage is already done which unfortunately for me, leaves me completely uncomfortable condoning a film with an inaccurate scene.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Phantom DVD Review

Writer-director Todd Robinson made a bold move to tackle another submarine film because it’s a claustrophobic subgenre, one which has seen great films like Crimson Tide and The Hunt for Red October come out of it as definitive films. His biggest strength is tackling it from the side of the Soviets, talking about the missing submarine of 1968 that caused much speculation during the time of the Cold War. Telling a story from the other side but placing American actors in it without the accents is a bold and inspired choice for Phantom. At first it’s hard to adjust but once you realise the director’s intentions – which many may disagree with as “white-washing” – there’s an admiration of the choice made. Americans not being jingoistic or patriotic for America is completely refreshing to see and oddly amusing.

As was said beforehand, the story is centred around a submarine captained by Demi (Ed Harris) going missing during high tensions between America and Russia. With a constant threat of nuclear war looming over the entire world, a submarine carrying such a nuclear warhead going missing is the last thing the conflict needed. On the submarine by someone’s authority is Bruni (David Duchovny) who never reveals why he’s there or why he feels that he has a superiority over the captain. As testosterone starts to fuel rivalry inside and outside the submarine, everything becomes more heated, every look one of animosity, every word hissed rather than said.

Most of the writing seems ordinary because of its clichéd nature. Other than being on the other side of the Cold War, it’s still familiar because it is doing the same thing as other submarine films but not as interestingly. It’s as slow as the manoeuvrability of the battleship we’re inside at first, wading the story through custard to create an atmosphere. That atmosphere is typical, it’s an archetype of an atmosphere of feuds. There’s nothing new added to it to make it anything other than dull. Every comment said is expected and nor is it any different from any other military film; all said in the same monotonous tone of military subordination.

Tripping up over its own familiarity makes the first hour of Phantom go by slowly, leaving little to no impression. Once that hour is gone, the groundwork has finally been laid, it becomes something a lot more exciting. Thanks to the performances by Ed Harris, David Duchovny and William Fichtner mainly, this gets an invigorating breath that it has needed throughout to engage the audience into something that reflects the tension of the Cold War. There’s an intriguing ending that somehow makes this experience rewarding but more could have been done before it to excite the audience. Lacking in subplots could be the reason that this film feels dull beforehand as it’s mainly plot driven which requires us to get to the ending before there’s something interesting. Thankfully, it does pay off to a really good ending that doesn’t fit in with a film devoid of anything entertaining for the entire hour before it. Phantom is interesting but with too few delves into the characters for the hour before, it’s losing the war but winning a battle by firing everything it has at the end.

Facing the Apocalypse: Making Phantom, The Real Phantom, Jeff Rona: Scoring Phantom, An Ocean Away and a trailer all feature on the DVD and Blu-ray. A nice haul but a commentary by Todd Robinson or members of the cast would be a nice addition.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Aftershock DVD Review

Eli Roth presents is becoming a common thing with his name being synonymous with horror, gory horror usually. Becoming a name means you can reach back down the ladder and pull someone up with you. This time he reached down and helped the small Chilean director Nicolás López who was famous mainly for his romcoms. It would be hard to guess that his first English feature, Aftershock, wouldn’t follow the same suit that made him popular in Chile but he met Eli Roth, they got to the talking, they realised how similar their tastes were and decided to sit down with Guillermo Amodeo as well to write this Chilean horror flick. There’s talent ready to be engaged to give a bigger scope to the usual intimate genre of horror but instead falls flat, partaking in too many normalities and tropes of the genre to be anything other than ordinary.

Around the luscious Chile which has been heavily westernised in terms of nightclubs. It starts off idyllic, with comedy mannerisms because a group of friends are travelling around Chile, getting drunk, trying to get girls. It’s one of the more different first acts in recent horror outings memory as the country is captured in bright colours that even make dirty favelas look like great place to live. Whimsically painted with these radiant colours it’s all building up the characters up until the first turning point, the earthquake. This firmly sets it straight into the horror genre and that’s where it loses its hard work. Setting itself apart was what made this work more than anything but as it proceeds, it indulges itself in tropes to fulfil horrors predictability. It does this by being the most cynical film in existence.
Cynicism is a common thing but in this it takes it entirely to the extreme when put to a natural disaster, it’s disheartening to have to watch everything go on. Completely lacking in any form of optimism – even for a horror film – leads this to be exhausting because it’s tedious to see such hatred for humanity. It’s hard to believe that this is the real world. Bad things happen outside of film but in this it feels like it’s taken all of these negative stories, thrust them naked front and centre for an uncomfortable experience. That is the intention of it. It’s there for you see the evil that surrounds us, fitted neatly into a building, that will cause unnecessary violent vengeance once let loose.

Where some characters are interesting, with an interesting backstory that is done without being overtly expositional, there are some that archetypes of the horror genre we’ve come to know and hate, really. One character plays the typical standoffish prude (Andrea Osvárt) that seeps boring banality with every bitchy breath. You see that coming from a mile off. Then there’s her counterpart sister (Lorenza Izzo) who is a libertine to have the duality. The more interesting characters are the men written into it who we follow from the beginning. Eli Roth’s Gringo is a traveller who has companions from summering around with Pollo (Nicolás Martinez) and Ariel (Ariel Levy); they’ve been written with a much more purposeful pen than the rest of the ensemble.

Aftershock crumbles down by collapsing with the heavy weight of all the tropes that are simply overdone and aren’t done capably enough to be made engaging again. Hats off to its ambition but the budget isn’t reflective enough of its ambition. Streets crumble in a blurry haze of lack of money to detail the CGI, it even looks a different aspect ratio to the rest of the filming which is distracting. Its use of fire is usually poor CGI, that lends itself to retracting from the film because of the visuals which is a shame. There are a couple of good twists in the story but you know how it’s going, you know what’s going to happen next and it doesn’t try to disguise it or misdirect. It’s an interesting film, it’s not bad, it’s not great but it all falls down to how you view humanity; if you’re pessimistic, this may be the perfect film for you.

There’s a trailer for Aftershock, a Q&A at Frightfest and interviews. Pretty decent and interesting to watch although the beginning of the Q&A at Frightfest could possibly make you a little uncomfortable.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Evil Dead DVD Review

My Evil Dead DVD review originally ran on Cinema Chords

Horror remakes are common but not often wanted. Many see them as a lack of originality or that the original is sacred and that anything that isn’t it is sacrilegious. The truth is remakes can be good, the time of creation could prevent the special effects from being truly affecting and the extra budget probably helps a little bit too. John Carpenter’s The Thing is a remake, so is The Fly by Cronenberg and more have been good like recently with Franck Khalfoun‘s remake of Maniac. All these remakes surpass the original – people forget the first two are remakes. That’s what Evil Dead was aiming for when the studio decided to remake it. With Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell as producers, there was a lot of faith in it and the trailer helped the buzz but it never materialised into something great.

We’re back at an oddly familiar cabin but this time there’s no Ash (Bruce Campbell) here to have the worst night of his life. It instead falls on a group of young-to-mid 20 year-olds who gather together to support their drug addicted friend Mia (Jane Levy) exorcise her drug demon. They’re there make her go cold turkey in the cabin of her and her brother’s – David (Shiloh Fernandez) – childhood. There’s also David’s girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), Olivia the nurse (Jessica Lucas) and the wise-ass Eric (Lou Taylor Pecci) who holds a grudge against David for abandoning them long ago. There’s tension between them all and it only gets worse when you add the Necronomicon (not actually called it in the film for legal reasons) and a release of an evil spirit that is determined to sacrifice the cabin occupants.

It starts with an interesting little prologue for the rest of the film but it’s terribly done once they’re inside. The acting is so atrocious that the simplicity of the dialogue is even too much for an actor of choice with every horrific babble of the word baby. That alone leaves a bitter taste for the rest of the film. Then it gets going and you’re introduced to all of the characters. Introducing characters is usually an enjoyable bit as you get to know the people within the story and, when done well, can be incredibly rewarding and especially memorable. The introduction to the characters in Scream around the water fountain is a fantastic way to know what they’re about in one simple conversation. No such joy is had here as the characters are completely detestable; they’re dull, boring, horrible, not fully formed people. They speak in clunky lulls of affection and infection with almost a clinical precision of exposition in between.

Slasher flicks rely heavily on writing bad people as characters so that you will them to die in the most gruesome way possible. Evil Dead wants to be that. Characters here are as dull as dishwater ready to be massacred in the most brutal way possible. A gore piece is all this ends up being because there’s no connection with the characters that aren’t Mia which is very slight anyway. It seems like one of the characters is borderline invincible too, taking the grunt of the abuse as if Fede and co. didn’t watch last year’s The Cabin in the Woods. It may satiate the need for gore but it’ll satiate nothing else because there’s no connection nor affection for any of the people surrounding Mia and that’s abusing the horror genre. The best characters in horror films have been ones that make the audience care about their wellbeing. Seeing a character you like come inches away from death is tense, it’s gripping and thrilling and exhilarating, involving you with the near death experiences they’re experiencing; when you don’t care about the character, it’s dull and an inevitability because they’ve been writing to die, they’re means to an end but not an end in their own right. That leaves no tension or suspense when you know from the character introductions who will make it and you can predict the order that they will go in.

Playing Evil Dead straight sounds like a great idea on paper because it’s horrifying and lends itself to becoming a terrific piece of cinema. It seems that the team leant on too many tropes to bring a level of authenticity to the massacre. Inevitability isn’t tense, it’s tiring. Much of the scares are not earned because there’s not much atmosphere created but only violent surroundings to project a volatile situation. There barely are any scares within it because there’s no build-up, there’s no tension on a tether being tugged until it finally snaps causing a brilliantly crafted scare. There’s trope after trope, effect after effect, blood after blood but that’s all there really is to it. There’s great technical work from the director Fede Alvarez who looks promising but his writing needs more work. It seems that the complete  avoidance of humour in this remake is less an appendectomy and more a lobotomy, leaving a limp, limbless characterless piece so bashed and bloodied that there’s only wincing and no enjoyment.


Depending on the edition you buy there are a lot of featurettes all running under 10 minutes long. The DVD, Blu-ray and Steelbook extras have these featurettes and they are: Making Life Difficult: The Intense and Physically Exhausting Creation of the Film, Being Mia: The Physical and Psychological Transofmration into “Evil Mia”, Directing The Dead: Director Fede Alvarez re-imagines a cult horror classic, Unleashing the Evil Force: Exploring the Origins and Design of the New “Book of the Dead”, Evil Dead the Rboot: Cast Rehearsals, Bruce Campbell, Deadites and More. There’s also commentary from the cast members Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci and Jessica Lucas as well as writer-director Fede Alvarez and writer Rodo Sayagues. There’s also a special edition available only from Sainsbury’s which has thsoe extras and the addition of an interview with Fede Alvarez, an interview with Jane Levy, a Q&A at The Ritzy Cinema and the brilliant trailer which started it all.


Sunday, 11 August 2013

On Cinema Etiquette

This piece, On Cinema Etiquette, originally ran on Next Projection

There’s currently a purposefully inflammatory article going around saying it’s wrong to shush people at the cinema. So ridiculous is the writer in his argumentative, click-baiting state that he compares cinema goers to being conservative but in a much more incendiary way. The obviously attention-seeking writer says that if you want people to remain silent in a cinema screen, not talk and not use their phones to check their timelines, then you are actually a fascist who is the type of person to be against gay marriage and for slavery. No, he’s serious, honest. So deluded in this state he acts as if the two monumental things are on the same level as people who hate chattering around them in a theater. Not only does he believe that but he believes that anyone who does shush is a bully. That’s right, in this one article about cinema silence he manages to insult everyone. Don’t you dare disagree with him though because you don’t understand the cultural norm of places like India and if you disagree with him and that culture – which many on Twitter are coming forward to say is hogwash – then you are in fact a racist fascist. Heavy words to throw around because you want to check how many retweets you just got.

Comparing people who want silence in a cinema screen to immerse themselves to people who defended slavery is beyond insulting to everyone in that blanket statement but more how lightly he treats the slavery problem that existed. He believes that social media and smart phones are of such cultural significance that those who don’t want that annoying iPhone light in their vision when in a blackened room are the people who are resistant to change – dinosaurs who don’t understand the “new” way that’s being presented. I’m all for people having special social screenings where they sit around texting each other with some background noise, they can do what they like in those screenings, I wouldn’t care at all. To come into a paid room where you go for the quality of the experience of being involved in a story with a giant screen and amazing sound quality and then natter, text and tweet, soiling the experiences for others, is the most inconsiderate thing you can do in the cinema.

Ruining someone’s experience in a cinema where they have paid to be by being loud or distracting others from enjoying is inconsiderate. That’s all there is to it. Say there were 50 people in the room and only 1 of them wanted silence so they could watch the film in peace then it would be inconsiderate of the 49 others to soil someone else’s experience. Like Scott Weinberg said on Twitter: it’s not a social experience, it’s a communal one. It’s where people go to enjoy art or entertainment in a place where the quality of the equipment can maximise that. Why pay to be there if you’re not that bothered about watching the film in the first place? I paid to see The Conjuring like everybody else in a full screening and no one considered others in it. People behind me being “lads” kept saying “lad” things which were about as witty as an exchange between David Beckham and a brick. I had to sit through that for two hours while they constantly exchanged their laddish remarks about manly lad things when really they were idiots. Then the girl next to me turned the strobe light on her phone, texted throughout the entire film and spoke about how she knew what was going to happen next as if she was some sort of psychic when the scene was spelt out. Another inconsiderate idiot. Then a person answered their phone to talk and to say “I’m in the cinema, I told you I was, what do you want?” Was there a need to answer that phonecall? No. She’d already said she was in the cinema so not answering it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

You say it’s a cultural evolution to want to sit in a multiplex and text but is it really? It’s aiding the already dwindling attention spans thanks to the addition of smart phones. They’re almost an infection of ADHD lately and I can’t say I’m not a sufferer, I am. I use my phone way too much but I don’t in a cinema screen because that would be disrespectful. You see, wanting the world to have a shorter attention span as a part of the evolution that’s being described is madness. No one wants a world where you can’t immerse yourself with people, art or anything. Constantly having to have some connection to something somewhere else is borderline dangerous. My phone destroyed my attention span and it’s embarrassing that it did. I’m not going to stop having one because it’s handy but I’d rather have control over myself and not have to give in and grab my phone, turn on an app and crave an update of nonsensical information that my head will throw away. It’s information overload with these things and with that in mind some films are getting simpler because the audience don’t have the patience for something more complicated and that’s something I’ve witnessed. There’s someone I watched a film with that didn’t pay attention at all, didn’t understand it and it was painfully simple, spelled out. Nothing complicated happened. While explaining the person switched off – looking at their phone – because their attention couldn’t be bothered to grasp that information.
Ruining someone’s experience in a cinema where they have paid to be by being loud or distracting others from enjoying is inconsiderate. That’s all there is to it.
Basically it all comes down to inconsideration. You think we’re rude for not accepting your “cultural norms” that you put to us as some sort of gospel truth, that we should accept what you say and not question your normal cinema going experience. In reality you’re throwing your toys out of your pram because you can’t check your mention tabs every five minutes because you’re much more important. Your need to check your phone, your addiction is not our problem and it should not be an affliction we have to suffer through while watching a film in a room that is made to watch a film. You are pushing your idea of correctness onto ours while saying we’re too close-minded to accept the future when the future is inconsiderate and rude. I don’t want to accept a future where people soil experiences for others. I don’t want to accept a future where manners aren’t around. I don’t want to accept a future where we’re all zombies to technology and need to connection worldwide to be receptive to anything. I don’t want to accept a future cinema going experience where I cannot escape into another world for a few hours because people are too busy polishing their online persona or saying that they’re eating popcorn. Everyone thinks they have something interesting to say all the time and it’s all crap. It’s useless. It’s monotonous. It’s dull. It’s boring and I cannot stand the fact that we’re in a reality where everything has to be shared and captured and never lived in. I’m a part of the problem, I’m not complaining to be a saint but I have enough manners to leave my need for a phone at the door of a cinema screen. It’s considerate to the others around me that I let them enjoy what they’ve paid for. The reason I can do that and you find it hard to? I’m not selfish.

Interview with William Fichtner

If you don’t recognise his name – which you probably will – then you’ll absolutely recognise his face. He’s starred in huge films like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Contact, Black Hawk Down and The Dark Knight and smaller projects along the way including a great one-scene turn in Crash. He’s even showed up in the Grand Theft Auto franchise as Ken Rosenberg! Now he’s coming up as the villain in The Lone Ranger but there’s even more of him to see this year alone. He’ll be popping up in Elysium, he’s in Phantom, The Homesman, St. Sebastian and leading his own TV series called Crossing Lines. It’s all about Bill lately but it’s not even remotely going to his head. Our chat had some difficulties at first as he spoke – hands free, calm down people – driving through the mountains where the signal was intermittent to say the least. His battery, low on charge, was also looming, thinking that this interview may be cut short or unusable because of the signal issues.

Instead of giving up on the interview he pulled over at a random gas station where he plugged his phone in and stood next to it just so he could chat to us. Don’t try that at home kids. In this encounter he had two people come up to him – one to ask if he was having car trouble, the other an autograph – and he was completely polite to both. Thanking the guy asking if he had car trouble who was offering assistance and promising the “sweet old lady” who owned the gas station that he would come inside, thanking her a lot for letting him use his phone charger in her business. He stood out in the open at the side of said building just to chat with us and on thanking him for his time and ‘unexpected circumstances’ he just said “it’s no problem, it’s great to get out of the car!” which really shows his personality.

A lot of people can get cynical about celebrities on press tours, believing that it’s all an act and that they all want to do a Bruce Willis really. People feel that they play themselves up to get a good image and are contractually obligated to promote the film in question. That may be true for some people but it certainly isn’t for William Fichtner who is the most genuinely polite and positive person to talk to. He loved the chat, was excited about it and – more importantly – was just so nice about everything. He is incredibly grateful for all of his achievements and remains humble even though he has such a successful, well loved career and remains an incredibly underrated actor. This year may change that though. We got to speak to him about biting into Butch Cavendish, his unusual path into acting and the many things he’s up to next.

My William Fichtner interview is up on Cinema Chords

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Conjuring Review

Returning this year with two movies, The Conjuring is the first of James Wan’s releases which is followed by Insidious: Chapter 2 on September, Friday the 13th. This isn’t written by Wan’s usual writer, Leigh Whannell, but instead by Chad and Cary Hayes. What’s so hateful and spine-chilling about this case is it has apparently been kept secret until now as well as the fervent beliefs of the Warren and Perron family of things not going bump in the night, but bang, crash, clap and with a whisper thrown in for good luck. After Wan’s arrival with Saw, his career remained relatively independent until Insidious – and now this – put him on the map. He’s a director who has perfected his technique, his visuals, since Dead Silence which you can see in this has have reached shit-your-pants good.
Based on the true events of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) of a case that disturbed them so greatly that they never spoke out about it. Until now. It’s about the poor Perron family who suffered at the hands of haunting in their home. Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) are the parents of five daughters who move from the hustling-bustling city to dry leaves bustling around that surround their house in the middle of nowhere. Using its location, its isolation as well its vastness to invoke a sense of claustrophobic ineluctability from the terror that will most certainly get you squirming and screaming. It all starts with a simple game. A game that makes a clap a devastating sound.
The performances here are what work the best in the film because they elevate this to something better than if it was lead by bad or forgettable actors. Having these four mains played by who they are really brings an odd sense of reality to it thanks to the way that they can make a scream, a bump, a turn of the head something to really be terrified of. Everything they do seems genuine which is one of the reasons that the performances matter in this film. It’s reviving all of the tropes, the givens, the norms of the haunted house genre; there’s of course a door banging in the night but it hasn’t been this effective for long time. James Wan has worked hard on his technique to guarantee a fright or at least an unease in your seat. Unfortunately he doesn’t explore some characters enough with five daughters to focus on, some do slip through the cracks – Andrea (Shanley Caswell) seems she could have been a bigger character with subplots started but never finished.
It’s often said that the horror film contained a palpable sense of dread and for this it’s true. With every lingering camera, with every sound cleverly added in, there’s a huge feeling of how wrong it’s going to go. It’s an untuned piano playing a creepy melody that builds and builds in its perfect rhythm to a tautly paced effective haunted house horror without being too homogenised. As the melody becomes more frantic yet sombre, the camerawork makes the Perron house feel overwhelmingly large, giving off the vibe of futile urgency when sprinting around as well as threatening angles and looming, consuming shadows everywhere.  Dreading every turn in the house because at any point the doors can come to life which is rarely as magical as when things like Pinocchio come to life.
It may be a cliché too many in a clunky script that suffers from cheesy sentimentality but it is scary. One of the oddest parts about this is it’s actually funny. It has some genuine giggles to uplift from the evil that will befall soon. Credits to the writers for creating fully formed characters and for writing some genuine scares from the exhausted sub-genre. Somehow they’ve managed to take all the tropes and add a real terror to them because reflections, doors, toys and anything else now have that sense of dread again. Mistrusting objects is back on the agenda. Never will waking up at 3:07am be normal. Wan has taken an enervated genre and given it an elixir to completely rejuvenate it into a breath of foul smelling air. You may not need originality but you need execution. The Conjuring thrives from trying to make the familiarities scary once again. Its relentlessness revels in fear. This combines old and new to make an affecting, long-lasting, panic inducing exhilarating ride that will have you sprinting out of the house at any draft that bangs your door. The haunted house is back.


Interview with Shanley Caswell

James Wan is set to hit the big screen not once but twice this year. In fact twice in two months with The Conjuring releasing itself onto the big screen today followed by Insidious: Chapter 2 back from its astral projection on the 13th of September. In honour of The Conjuring‘s release, we spoke with Shanley Caswell who plays Andrea Perron in the story based on the real events of paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). If you haven’t caught any of her work then as well as The Conjuring you have a low budget comedy-horror with Josh Hutcherson called Detention and an episode of iCarly to cram in to get your Caswell worth. We spoke with the young actress about working on a horror film with James Wan, her directing idols and being locked in a room to watch horror films. That may be less about her and more about me but regardless it’s a good interview with plenty of details about on set pranks, the pleasure of working with the cast and crew and Celebrity Ghost Stories.

My Shanley Caswell interview on Cinema Chords. There's also my review of The Conjuring too.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Interview with Nicolas Winding Refn

Director of 2011′s critically acclaimed Drive is back with cohort Ryan Gosling for his latest, divisive and controversial film Only God Forgives. The two films had opposite reactions at Cannes with the former receiving a standing ovation for 10 minutes while the other was booed and labelled pseudo-intellectual, pretentious and everything in between. One thing that Refn undoubtedly does is handle criticism well, welcoming it because he loves the reaction. Below in a very special interview we ask him about his latest, his greatest and what’s next on the cards for the controversial ultra violent director.

My Nicolas Winding Refn interview on Cinema Chords. Also there's my Only God Forgives review.