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Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark – Review

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark – Review

Aug 29, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Troy Nixey, 2011
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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a 2011 horror film written and produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by comic book artist Troy Nixey.  It is a remake of the 1973 made for television movie of the same name.  The film has a rather eerie 19th century beginning where Emerson Blackwood, a famous artist who owns a beautiful mansion, lures his maid into the basement and promptly knocks her teeth out using a hammer and a flat edged tool of some kind.  We quickly learn that the teeth are for the fairy/goblin like creatures hiding in his furnace who are whispering to him and holding his son as ransom.  They want children’s teeth, not maid’s teeth, and both he and his son ending up perishing.

Fast forward to the present where a father, his girlfriend, and his daughter are moving into the huge house so that he can restore it and hopefully land on the cover of Architectural Digest.  Sally, the daughter, is unhappy about her living conditions as her mother has “shipped” her off to live with her father.  Alex’s girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) tries to befriend the Sally, but finds out that it will take time to earn her trust.  Soon, the goblin creatures lure Sally into the basement and although she initially thinks they might be friends, she learns that they are evil little creatures who want her teeth.   Meanwhile, Kim is becoming more and more sensitive to Sally’s pleas for help while Alex can only concentrate on his career.  The film climaxes with a “final battle” between the creatures and Sally, ultimately taking the life of Kim but failing to kill Sally and Alex.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a beautifully shot film with memorable direction and gobs of atmosphere.  The opening title sequence is gorgeous and the 19th century scene at the beginning of the film sets a creepy and exciting tone for the remainder of the film.  Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up.  This is because of two reasons:

First, the creatures are bland.  Nixey (and perhaps del Toro) reveal a full visual of the creatures fairly early in the film.  Although I applaud them for their willingness to show the antagonist in its full form (something del Toro does all the time), I can’t help but being underwhelmed by the revelation.  The creatures look like a humpback piranha with feet.  After the audience is shown the little monsters, they really no longer create any kind horrific expectation.  In other words, you aren’t hiding your eyes in fear that the creatures might pop back on the screen.

Second, the filmmakers utilize whispers extensively throughout the film.  The creatures use whispers to communicate to Sally and although it seems like the concept might work initially, it soon gives way to cheesiness.  Incredibly predictable things like “we want you down here” and “they always come back” are the whispers we are privy to.

Bailee Madison does give a solid performance as Sally and we find a theme in her suffering that del Toro has shown us before; we see something similar in Pan’s Labyrinth.  The movie is enjoyable and worth the viewing time but does not live up to its potential.

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Quarantine 2 – Review

Quarantine 2 – Review

Aug 26, 2011

reviewed by Danny
directed by John Pogue, 2011
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Quarantine 2 has one of the odder trips to the screen in recent memory and much of that journey turns off hardcore horror fans.  The original Quarantine was a near shot-for-shot remake of the excellent Spanish zombie film REC.  Quarantine shared so much of the original film’s vision and style, and came so closely on the heels of REC, that horror fans were up in arms.  “Why does Hollywood think we are so stupid we can’t appreciate a film with subtitles?”  It didn’t help that there were a number of solid foreign horror films getting the Hollywood makeover about that time.  Quarantine became a lightning rod for the negativity.   Now, Sony Pictures and director John Pogue bring us a sequel, and it isn’t based on the Spanish film REC 2 but is, instead, an original sequel to the US remake.  What a mess.  Expectations for the film dropped even lower when Sony decided to release the film direct-to-video and not even give it a token theatrical run.  I enjoyed the first film, and I thought in some ways it improved on REC, though it wasn’t as good a film overall, and I went into my viewing of Quarantine 2 with as open a mind as possible given the film’s history.  What I discovered was a solid low-budget “zombie” movie with a unique, interesting setting.  It isn’t ground-breaking by any means, but Quarantine 2 is definitely worth the price of a rental.

Quarantine 2’s plot runs in parallel with the events in Quarantine, but that isn’t obvious at the start of the film.  The film opens by introducing us to two flight attendants who are on their way to the airport for a flight.  The two characters are one-hundred percent cliché (one is a bit easy, the other has a father who tried to pressure her into being a pilot), but they are attractive and likeable enough to make for good protagonists (and potential zombie fodder).  Once on the airplane, we are introduced to one cliché character after another: a kid with divorced parents who is flying between them and trying to appear tougher than he is; an elderly woman and her Parkinson’s stricken, wheelchair bound, husband; an aggressive businessman who won’t turn off his cell phone; a portly passenger too fat to fit in the standard seatbelt, another older woman with a cat in her handbag, and a few more not worth mentioning.

The only passenger of any real interest is an elementary school teacher carrying a hamster cage.  Now, anyone who has seen the first film will know that the “hamsters” (and the cats for that matter) are going to be important.  The teacher is quickly revealed to be the male protagonist as the horror elements in the plot are introduced.  Those events are pretty predictable in light of the first film’s plot, but the setting is novel enough to build up tension and suspense.  Hey, it’s a zombie outbreak on a plane.  It would be hard to make that boring.

And Quarantine 2, even after it leaves the nicely claustrophobic plane and moves into an abandoned airline terminal (which is still novel but really could just be any nearly-empty warehouse),  isn’t boring.  There is a good deal of suspense, a little mystery, and a healthy amount of gruesome deaths.  Anyone who is not totally turned off by the film’s ancestry* should find it to be an enjoyable horror film.

* Speaking of the animosity out there in the horror community, I find it interesting that this film has an 83% positive rating from critics on Rottentomatoes.com but only a 4.5/10 average from the users at IMDB.  Considering that it is pretty rare for a low-budget horror film to have a positive critical response, I have to think the regular viewers responses are a little skewed because of the whole REC/Quarantine controversy.

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The Strangers – Review

The Strangers – Review

Aug 16, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Bryan Bertino, 2008
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The Strangers is a 2008 “home invasion” movie starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman.  After turning down a marriage proposal, Kristen (Tyler) accompanies a distressed James (Speedman) back to an isolated house where he had earlier decorated with an abundance of rose petals anticipating a “yes” to the big question.  Why they thought it would be a good idea to follow through with a plan to spend a weekend in the middle of nowhere together after such an alarming denial to marriage is beyond me.  But, they finally arrive at the house.  When James heads back out to pick Kristen up some cigarettes at 4 in the morning (really?), she is visited by three weird strangers and the terror begins.  They torment her, toy with her, and give up endless opportunities to kill just to keep up the fun.  James returns from the store and the rest of the movie is them trying to keep their sanity and their lives.  The movie ends with the couple finally being tied up in a couple of chairs, stabbed a few times, and then killed.

If my above summary of the film lacked any kind of gusto, it is because I found the movie to be dull, slow, and pointless.  The strangers just draw out their torment of the couple for way too long.  About 15 times throughout the film, there will be a “stranger” behind Kristen, easily ready to kill her, tie her up, slap her, poke her in the eye, or anything, but instead they decide to run away, disappear, and then reappear for a similar “scare.”  It just gets repetitive really fast.  The direction was good, but the couple just does too many silly things.  For example, they receive perfect cell phone service in the house (which was refreshing, the writers didn’t opt for the “no service” angle), but their cell phone dies.  Not to worry, Kristen has a charger!  But for some inexplicable reason, when she plugs the charger into the phone and into an outlet, she doesn’t turn it on to make the call!  It is as if she doesn’t realize that cell phones operate just fine while they are plugged in and charging.  Little thing like that add up to a fairly high annoyance level.  The pay off isn’t a pay off at all and the ending leaves us scratching our heads – did we really just watch 1 hour of senseless “teasing” for a lifeless, emotionless finish?  Yes.  Yes we did.

Unless you are just a die-hard home invasion freak, this one is very much avoidable.  Not terrible, but not good.

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Super 8 – Review

Super 8 – Review

Jun 16, 2011

reviewed by Danny
directed by J.J. Abrams, 2011
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When I returned home from seeing Super 8, I had to fight the urge to look through my VHS movie collection to make sure I didn’t already have it on tape.  It is that much of a throwback to the works of Spielberg and his halo of directors in the 70’s and 80’s.  Add some additional hints of Stephen King, and the overall effect is one of almost overpowering nostalgia.  If that was all the film had going for it, it would be ultimately unsatisfying, but Super 8’s real strength is its characters and their stories, which in the end are far more compelling than the sci-fi horror fiction that serves as their backdrop.

Super 8 opens with a wake for protagonist Joe’s mother, who has been killed in an industrial accident.  At the wake, we meet not just Joe, but his group of friends who are in some ways stereotypical adolescent film characters but ones who lean much closer to the underlying truths of the stereotypes than to their flat shadows.  This becomes more and more evident as the film progresses and we get to see the characters behave realistically to a variety of fantastic events.  I was especially glad to see (as weird as this will sound) one of the friends vomit in panic as one particularly frightening event played out.  Unlike so many genre films, we never get the sense that Super 8’s characters are taking the extraordinary situations for granted.

Those extraordinary events start when the kids witness the spectacular wreck of a military train carrying some unusual cargo.  Pre-release publicity makes it pretty clear that there is an alien on board the train, but I’ll avoid any more details since learning about the creature and its motivations is so closely intertwined with the young characters learning about themselves, and that character growth is, refreshingly, the real meat of the story.

At the heart of those stories is the relationship between Joe and his deputy father.  Apparently estranged before the mother’s death, the father and the son are struggling.  Refreshingly, Joe’s father is a good guy, and he is trying to make up for the past.  For his part, Joe can’t get separation from his mother’s memory, a fact symbolized by the fact that he carries his mother’s locket with him at all times.

This is clearly Joe’s film, but, like Goonies and Stand By Me, it is the ensemble of characters around him that truly make the film work.  It is such a success that it seems ridiculous that it has taken this long for a Hollywood to get back around to this model.  Of course, it takes great young actors to make the formula work, and Super 8 has an abundance of them, led by the stand out performance of Elle Fanning as Alice, a the troubled daughter of the man whose failure to show up for his shift put Joe’s mother in harm’s way.

For the first two and a half acts, Super 8 gets everything just about perfect.  It isn’t until the ending that Abrams’s film breaks down a little.  Clinging so closely to Spielberg’s conventions means Abrams is forced to give us a larger-than-life conclusion.  Here, it is not so visually spectacular to truly impress and, worse still, comes at the expense of not allowing the film’s sub-plots to come to a natural conclusion.  There is a hurried reconciliation between the two troubled teens and their estranged parents and then, “Cue the awesomeness.”  For a film that has spent so much time allowing us to learn about and care about its characters, the rush to climax is especially disappointing.

That quibble aside, Super 8 is a remarkable film and a great time at the theater.  In many ways, it is Abrams’s best movie and one that leaves me wondering just how great a director he is capable of being.

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Frozen – Review

Frozen – Review

Apr 14, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Adam Green, 2010
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You know that feeling when something is on the tip of your tongue but you can’t quite remember or put into words what you want to say?  That is how I feel with writer and director Adam Green.  He has talent.  He has a good mind for horror.  He has arguably created a new slasher icon in the horror industry with Victor Crowley from the Hatchet series.  His movies are enjoyable and entertaining.  And yet. . .something is missing.  And I’m not sure what.

Frozen is about as simple of a horror film as you can get.  Three friends bribe a ski lift operator to let them take some rides down the mountain without purchasing those pesky, expensive lift tickets.  After convincing him for one more ride late at night, when the rest of the guests have departed and the resort is shutting down for the week, Parker (the girl), Joe, and Dan are shocked when the ski lift stops in the middle of their accent, leaving them dangling high above the snowy mountain below.  Of course, they initially assume that a simple explanation was the cause for the delay and they would soon be on their way.  But when the lights to the resort all shut off, their worst fears become reality and the weight of their situation comes crashing down.

Dan, Parker’s boyfriend, is the first to take drastic action as he is convinced he can survive the fall down to the mountain without too much injury.  Despite the protests from Parker and Joe, Dan jumps.  Not a great idea as he shatters both of his legs, leaving him sitting stationary in the cold snow with no means of escape.  Unfortunately for the trio, this is one of those ski resorts where mad, flesh-eating wolves roam.  You can imagine what happens to Dan.

The rest of the film portrays Parker and Joe fighting, making up, coming up with various possibilities for escape, and sharing gut-wrenching stories with each other.   Adam Green attempts to add an element of introspective weightiness to the film by giving Parker an extended speech where she panics over the fate of her new puppy who will have no food.  Her concern is not so much about the food, but rather is devastated to imagine her puppy thinking Parker no longer loves her.  In return, Joe describes the first encounter he and Dan had as children in grade school.  Finally, Joe attempts to shimmy across the line to the support tower that has a ladder.  After successfully making it, he climbs down the ladder to the mountain and scares off the mad, flesh-eating wolves with his ski pole.  After jumping on his snow board, he lets Parker know that he will return with help.  As he starts down the hill, several wolves chase after him.

Parker is left all alone.  Joe never returns.  Another night goes by.  Eventually, her chair, due to the weight of Joe standing on it during his climb, gives way and falls halfway to the mountain before being caught by a wire.  This is close enough now where Parker can jump without serious injury.  She crawls on her stomach down the mountain seeking help, where she sees the remains of Joe who did not make it down the hill, but was also eaten by wolves.  Parker is eventually picked up by a car on the highway and is saved.

There are some obvious problems with this film.  First, the wolves are a bit unbelievable.  Perhaps we could argue that the blood from Dan’s broken legs drew them to the resort, but this is probably a place that is well closed off and “wild animal free.”  But who cares, it makes for a tense moment with Dan.  The problem is that Joe’s demise also by the wolves is redundant, boring, and amazingly anti-climatic.  He had just scared them silly after reaching the mountain and was now on a snow board.  I feel like Green should have found a fresh and convincing way to off Joe.  Finally, the conversations between the friends during the night of terror range from believable and effective to annoying and stupid.

One aspect of the film I did enjoy was the process of dying.  Dan was not willing to allow himself to wade in the pools of despair, so he took immediate action.  Parker and Joe were the ones who had to come to grips with their situation and wrestle with their thoughts as they crept closer to death.  For Parker, her thoughts went to disappointing a puppy.  For Joe, it was the years of friendship with Dan.  Who knows how any of us would respond or how we would think if placed in a situation of a slow and near certain death.  It creates a nice platform for suspense and horror.

Overall, I like the movie.  But I didn’t love it.  And that, it seems, is the relationship I have with Adam Green.

Click here to purchase Frozen

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9 Dead – Review

9 Dead – Review

Mar 1, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Chris Shadley, 2010
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Chris Shadley, who has several appearances in Hollywood blockbusters as a video assistant, tackles his first directorial debut with the Saw knock-off 9 Dead.  Nine seemingly random people are kidnapped, locked in a room with no windows, and are forced to discover why they are there.  If they are unable to come up with the answer, one of them will be killed every 10 minutes.  As you would expect, the group has a difficult time getting along with each other and wastes all kinds of time with needless jabber or drawn out storytelling.  They finally manage to figure out the reason, which unfortunately is not as fantastic of a tale as we would have hoped, with three of them still alive.  One of the three survivors, Kelley, is a female prosecutor who is unwilling “at all costs” to let her secrets get out.  So, she ends up killing the kidnapper and remaining survivors.

9 Dead takes place almost entirely in a small room where the group are chained to poles.  Because there is virtually no action or much body language, this film lives or dies by the acting and script.  Neither are exceptionally good.  Melissa Joan Hart, who is most famous for successful “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Clarissa Explains It All” is the female lead and only survivor.  This is certainly not her best performance.  She is accompanied with other mediocre performances leaving the film feeling a bit flat.  Although the dialogue is fast paced and the urgency of the 10 minute recurring deadline is always looming, somehow the movie still feels to slumber its way through the story.

The movie is all about confession, which is fitting since one of the victims is a priest.  If they are willing to dive deep inside their souls and reveal their darkest secrets, there is a chance for survival.  It seems the movie is attempting to say that for some, death is a better option than revelation.  Kelley is willing to murder the father of her son and another “innocent” victim just to keep her secret a secret.

9 Dead tells a decent story with a fair amount of suspense, par-for-course acting, and a horrifically bad ending.  I wouldn’t completely stay away from it, but it should go pretty low on your updated “movies to see” list.

Click Here to purchase 9 Dead

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