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Friday, April 22, 2011

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)



SYNOPSIS

In a space of time starting just a few months before the events shown in the first film, a family return home to an apparent burglary attempt. Nothing seems to have been taken other than a necklace belonging to the mother's sister (Katie, from the first film). Soon afterward, strange things start to happen - their Hispanic nanny starts to talk about evil spirits, they notice things moving around the house and going bump in the night. As the time of the first film approaches, certain similarities start to make themselves known...

REVIEW


For my money, the first Paranormal Activity was a masterpiece of modern horror. There was a certain level of backlash, just as with The Blair Witch Project (another movie I enjoyed a lot), but the film was, in my mind, incredibly effective. This might be partly because - due to the difficulties of getting hold of English language cinema screenings in my area - I "obtained" the original screener version. That is, I saw the film with the original, much more effective, ending, alone in the dark in my apartment. It scared the absolute shit out of me, which is why it takes pride of place in my Blu-Ray collection now.

I tried to recreate those conditions with this film, but sadly the film just isn't as good. Shot on a much higher budget, the film tries to expand out the story of the first film by having multiple characters and multiple cameras around the house. This way, we switch between multiple static security cameras, and also get certain character points of view with handheld cameras when things really ramp up.

The problem with this is that we have too much going on, and it dilutes the razor sharp narrative that made the first so effective. There, we had a simple back-and-forth between two characters and saw the changing dynamic within the couple's relationship during the day. Each night, we returned to the same static shot, and were left with bated breath for each scare, scanning the darkness of the doorway, wondering what might come next.

With this sequel, we have a lot of characters - parents, daughters, housekeepers, a dog, a baby... The film has to spend a little bit too much time setting things up and suffers for this in the opening third. When things do start to happen, the multiple cameras dilute the scares, as the anticipation is lost to some degree. Yeah, we see everything from a levitating baby to the family pet being attacked by an invisible force, but it seems somehow silly without the buildup.

Having said that, it's one of the better "found footage" movies that has come along recently. It's worth a watch, and ultimately ties in with the original in some interesting ways. Starting about an hour in, there are some genuinely creepy moments and a few very effective jump scares. By that point, however, the film had pretty much lost mean and the end is rather convoluted. Here's to the third movie, hoping they get on track...

6 / 10

Back In The Saddle

Well... life and various other things happened to stop me from updating this blog. Well, they stopped me from watching movies, to be honest! Now, I'm back on a more regular schedule so I've decided to get this back up and running. You can see some of my more recent film watching at 80s Fear, where I talk about my trip to Frightfest Glasgow and occasional more in depth reviews of older movies. For everything else, it'll be here, starting with a new review today and then every day following...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pandorum (2009)



Director: Christian Alvart
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Norman Reedus, Niels Bruno Schmidt

SYNOPSIS

A man awakes from hypersleep on board a massive intergalactic spacecraft. He can't remember who he is or why he's there, but he knows there's something wrong - there are no lights, the door to the bridge is stuck closed and all data suggests he's been there a lot longer than he should have been.

Another man wakes up soon after, and they have to work together to work out how to rescue the ship - and what the human-like creature roaming the corridors are. Did they kill the crew, or is the related to a form of space madness known as Pandorum?

REVIEW

Pandorum is one of those strange movies that simultaneously seems both highly original and utterly derivative. The basic plot is nothing particularly original - survivors trapped with a massing force of merciless killers - but here it seems almost fresh.

Testament to this is the opening, where we see a couple of hoary old clich├ęs - the Alien-style waking of the astronauts, combined with amnesia. The latter is a plot device that usually tends to annoy the hell out of me and stinks of lazy writing (I nearly threw large objects at my TV when the amnesia plotline suddenly appeared in the first season of 24, for example!). Here, however, it's well handled and seems organic to the plot.

Similarly, the mutated creatures on board the ship are essentially little more than a variation of Firefly/Serenity's Reapers, themselves fairly derivative, yet here they seem fine. In fact, while virtually every frame of the film can be traced back to a previous sci-fi or horror movie, I enjoyed the hell out of this.

Part of this might be the cast - Quaid is always great, Forster makes a decent hero, and the supporting cast are equally fine. In the same way, Alvart's direction is top notch, making the most of what was clearly a very low budget for this kind of movie. While some of the plot twists are a little convoluted, and some of them visible from a mile away, this is definitely worth your time.

7 / 10

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mortuary (2005)



Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Dan Byrd, Denise Crosby, Rocky Marquette, Stephanie Patton, Adam Gierasch

SYNOPSIS

A divorced mother moves her children to a small town, intending to make a new start running the town's mortuary. The building has been closed for some time

REVIEW

Back in the 1970s, a new master of the horror genre emerged with a blackly comic, masterfully written and subtly directed movie named The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. His name was Tobe Hooper, a man who has gone on to be one of the more unfortunate names in horror history. He has directed one other seminal masterpiece - Poltergeist - but this has been plagued by constant rumours that producer Steven Spielberg and not Hooper himself was actually behind the camera.

Other than that, he has walked a painful line between innovative independent movies and bigger budget studio fare, all of which have had varying degrees of success. Some films - Spontaneous Combusion, Invaders From Mars, Night Terrors - were all-out disasters while others - Death Trap/Eaten Alive, Lifeforce - were noble failures that are decent enough films but just didn't click with audiences.

In the latter category, I'd place Hooper's 2004 slasher remake The Toolbox Murders. It's a decent enough film, though a little uneven and with a rather silly supernatural/witchcraft angle that didn't really belong. But, the direction was solid and it seemed to promise much for the future. Unfortunately, word was that despite this movie being based on a script by Toolbox writers Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson (with a cameo, if highly disguised, acting performance by Gierasch), it was a dismal failure.

So, having just caught up with it, what's the verdict? Not good, I'm afraid. The direction is fairly flat, with a TV movie feel that makes it seem more like an extended episode of Masters Of Horror than anything that belonged on a movie screen. There's a few characters who are inserted for no other reason than the be annoying and/or "quirky", and the central motivation of the characters to be in the mortuary in the first place is pretty unconvincing to me. The movie also dragged so that by the time the inevitable undead action happens, it doesn't really have any effect.

There are a couple of nice touches, however. I liked the way that the central teenaged characters were drawn - though the annoying bullies that the son comes across are exactly that. The image of lines of fungus growning and feeding from human blood is kind of nice, and there's a couple of nice touches when we finally meet the enemy. But, it really is too little too late.

With Hooper's career having basically stalled yet again (only 2 episodes of Masters Of Horror since this, and a long-gestating adaptation of Stephen King's From A Buick 8 that may or may not be completed), this is a sad testament to a great talent who has been too often completely wasted. Let's hope he returns to form before he retires - but I keep saying that about Carpenter, Argento and Romero as well...

4 / 10

Friday, September 10, 2010

Back from a break...

Well, I had expected to keep the daily reports running here but I didn't get a chance - not only was I away at Frightfest in London (full reviews coming shortly at my other blog 80sfear, over 20 movies in 5 days!) but Telefonica have apparently decided that they won't accept my ADSL payment unless I use a standard bill - and they haven't sent me one for months...

Anyway, a few reviews coming up for you shortly and the daily comments are queueing up from me as I speak! Expect revisits to the fall of a former horror icon, verbally transmitted zombies, fantasy acrobatics, amnesiac astronauts, quirky indie families, surrealist animation and Vegas cheaters.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Amusement (2008)



Director: John Simpson
Starring: Keir O'Donnell, Katheryn Winnick, Laura Breckenridge, Jessica Lucas

SYNOPSIS

Three girls, who had all been involved in ridiculing a boy when they were young children, encounter separate but linked fates involving a traffic convoy, a clown and a creep old house.

REVIEW

This was strange one for me in the sense that I was peripherally aware of it for a long time before I'd gotten round to watching it, and it left me with a feeling of both disappointment and pleasant surprise.

First of all, I didn't expect it to be a portmanteau style of movie with intertwining stories. So, like most viewers, the abrupt end & switch after the first story caught me by surprise. That first story was a strong start, effortlessly building tension to a shock twist. The second story is equally strong, though to be fair creepy clowns aren't hard to pull off. But, it all seemed to be a great little gem of a movie.

Unfortunately, things fall apart during the third act. The final story isn't anywhere near as gripping as the previous two and it's also the one where everything ties up and gets explained. The explanation is left wanting, and more than a little silly with characters whose arcs are never truly resolved. it's a shame, especially as director Simpson seems to be a real talent when he gets going (his 2004 effort Freeze Frame was similarly flawed but occasionally brilliant).

As a side note, I don't think I've ever seen any movie get unjustly attacked so much on IMDB for similarities to other movies! The clown features heavily in advertising though only really shows up in one story, leading to claims that it's everything from a remake of Stephen King's IT to a complete rip-off... I certainly wouldn't go that far, it's a great movie for much of its length and short enough so that its flaws never outstay its welcome.

7 / 10

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Public Enemies (2009)



Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard

SYNOPSIS

The true story of the notorious Great Depression bank robber John Dillinger, and the attempts to catch him by FBI agent Melvin Purvis.

REVIEW

Maybe it's because I'm neither a big Michael Mann fan nor opposed to digital filming techniques, but I don't see what the fuss was about with this movie.

On the one hand, people were lauding it as a new masterpiece of crime cinema, ushering in a new level of realism to a stale genre and injecting new life into an era often seen as staid and stale on screen. On the other hand, there were those who attacked Mann's decision to use ultra-crisp HD photography and modern movie-making techniques as being at odds with the action on screen.

All in all, I think both of these opinions are misplaced. The visual style and music generally worked for me (although I have to admit I saw it in standard definition). It's not bad, and it certainly didn't seem to anachronistic to my mind. However, it's no masterpiece. It's a decent enough thriller with many of the same tropes used by Mann in his earlier movies - especially Heat. The cast is fine though unspectacular. the supporting cast is great, but not given a great deal to do. The period detail is fascinating but not noticeable after a while. The whole movie is... well, OK.

7 / 10