Archive for the Horror Category

It Follows

Posted in Horror with tags on March 27, 2015 by Mark Hobin

It Follows photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgSo Jay and her boyfriend, Hugh, have consensual sex. Afterwards everything seems pleasant enough, but suddenly he drugs her and ties her to a chair. His intention is for her to visually acknowledge a presence that is now beholden to pursue her. Seeing is believing. That entity is a shapeshifting creature that can assume the appearance of any person, either a stranger or someone you know. It advances by walking slowly, as a zombie would, with the sole purpose to kill the accursed victim. Hugh explains that in order to get rid of this “boogeyman” she must likewise be intimate with another person. The set-up is sort of a rewrite of The Ring but with STDs instead of a video tape. “Because horror movies were just getting too classy,” I carped when I originally read that description. Despite the tawdry construct, It Follows is far more stylish than the great majority of horror films.

These entitled white teens live in a world seemingly devoid of parents. There’s our lead heroine Jay, a 19 year old college student living in the suburbs of Detroit. Actress Maika Monroe compares favorably with iconic scream queens like Jamie Lee Curtis or Adrienne Barbeau. . She’s perhaps a bit more vulnerable with her doe-eyed looks but captivating nonetheless. It would appear that she hasn’t been seeing her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary) for that long. However he is someone with whom she has formed a connection. Jay hangs out with a tight knit group of friends as well. There’s her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), buddy Yara (Olivia Luccardi) and nerdy lovestruck Paul (Keir Gilchrist). There’s also her neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto), a cool operator with the ladies. Johnny Depp would’ve played this guy in 1984.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has only released two films, but It Follows looks and sounds like the work of an experienced auteur. It’s a throwback to seminal horror of the late 70s and early 80s. The atmosphere invokes old John Carpenter movies you’d watch on VHS tapes. The production is a testament to how important cinematography and music are able to easily evoke a mood. The soft focus gives the proceedings the veneer of music videos from MTV’s infancy. Languid shots of the photogenic faces of young adults who do appear to have a more reflective take on their own predicament than the typical juveniles of this genre. Music is by Disasterpeace, the nom de plum of Rich Vreeland. His elegant synthesizer pieces are so expressive. I fantasize about him throwing some really exclusive dinner party where the guest list includes composers Cliff Martinez and Mica Levi. Oh man I’d love to get an invitation to that get together. His work recalls John Carpenter’s theme from Halloween and Giorgio Moroder’s score for Cat People . I think it’s even set during that era. Check out that ancient black and white TV set with 13 channels and there isn’t a computer in sight.

What defines “it” in It Follows is actually never quite understood either by these characters or correspondingly by the audience. What we do know is that physical intimacy is how you become afflicted. It’s too easy to draw analogies to an STD so I’ll spare you the metaphors. Sex = death in most horror movies but this one actually encourages adolescents to keep doing it in order to alleviate their plight. Once Jay has been brought into the ordeal, she is forever fearful of being pursued. That stalker can take the form of a stranger. It might appear as a loved one. The narrative brilliantly details this fear until the final quarter where it falls apart complete with a hazy conclusion. The screenplay doesn’t hold up in the end but for most of this feature, it’s pretty entertaining. Its artistic aspirations have some critics hailing this as the best horror film in years. So let’s think about that for a minute. Uh survey says (pause) “X” buzzer sound. Sorry The Babadook easily holds that title. That is a modern classic and should keep the distinction for awhile. Even underrated gems like Oculus and Sinister might vie for 2nd place. But It Follows is extremely good. A possible contender for finest horror flick of 2015. The year’s not over yet. Script deficiencies are where it comes up short but in terms of cinematic mood, It Follows is a handsomely made film.

03-26-15

What We Do in the Shadows

Posted in Comedy, Horror with tags on March 6, 2015 by Mark Hobin

What We Do in the Shadows photo starrating-4stars.jpgWhat We Do in the Shadows is a mock documentary about Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr, four vampires who share a flat in New Zealand. Viago (Taika Waititi) is the most affable. He’s a bit of a neat freak as well. Viago laments that the others don’t put down newspaper in the house before a kill. A regular dandy, he is the sophisticate of the clan. At a mere 183 years, Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the baby of the group. A rebel “bad boy” who sleeps upside down in a closet. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) carries himself like a sexy rock star. His explanation as to why vampires prefer virgins is hands down the funniest line I’ve heard in a long time. If there is an odd man out in this clique it would be 8,000-year-old Petyr who recalls Nosferatu. His incongruous presence next to the other 3 is the source of several laughs. The production was written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi who also star. The two have worked together before on Flight of the Conchords, the HBO series which Clement stars with Bret McKenzie.

The routine tribulations of being a vampire in modern New Zealand is profiled. By day they are holed up in the secluded enclave of their apartment. By night the four bachelors prowl the streets looking for people on which to feast. It pokes fun of the clichés of vampire lore and celebrates them in the process. Much of the humor is extracted from their often banal existence and matter-of-fact regard that other people have to their existence. Even after the gang has turned another victim (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire, the guy insists on bringing his best buddy along who still remains a human. Deacon also keeps a human servant named Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), a housewife who bemoans the fact that he has not turned her into a vampire.

What We Do in the Shadows contains horror elements with moments of bloody gore mixed with an overall sense of lighthearted comedy. A surprising amount of warmth surfaces amongst this pseudo family of sorts. It isn’t a movie in the traditional sense. That is, it doesn’t present a self contained story. It’s more of a series of gags strung together. That might irk some. However the account is so brief (86 minutes) that the lack of a strong narrative isn’t a problem. The unique mix is somewhat odd, but it generally works. An apt point of reference would be the documentary This Is Spinal Tap, except well ya know it’s about vampires instead of rock musicians. The script has a very high ratio of jokes that really tickle the funny bone. Although the loosely constructed picture doesn’t immediately feel like a comedic classic, it’s solidly written. Repeat viewings should give this a longevity that will make it an enduring cult movie for many years to come.

03-03-15

The Babadook

Posted in Drama, Horror, Thriller with tags on December 6, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Babadook photo starrating-5stars.jpg“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” That odd sentence launches the scariest children’s picture book I have ever seen. The edition appears rather mysteriously on a shelf in little Sam’s bedroom. He brings the dark red volume to his mom to read one night after she encourages him to pick a bedtime story. It’s about a mysterious man in a top hat that will terrorize you the more you deny his presence. As she turns the pages the images literarily leap from the text. No paranormal trickery here. It’s merely a pop-up, but the black, white and gray illustrations are tactile and thick. Given their rudimentary shapes, the pictures are as if rendered by a youngster. This only heightens their ability to convey dread. They haunted me in a way I’ve never experienced. A book lying on your doorstep isn’t scary in and of itself, but in this film it’s alarming.

The chronicle appropriates standard horror tropes (i.e. the boogeyman, child in peril, dark spaces, flickering lights) but utilizes them to suit a tale that feels fresh. Amelia’s husband died tragically in car accident many years ago. However his death continues to linger on. Amelia is a single mother raising their now 6 year old son Samuel. He seems to have an overactive imagination. He’s constantly plagued by visions of an imaginary monster. His teachers are exasperated by his conduct. He has been a disruptive presence at school but this has also been a problem at home – particularly at night when he has difficulty sleeping. He has even gone so far as to build homemade weapons to protect himself and his mother.

The Babadook doesn’t rely on lazy scares by ratcheting up the soundtrack with loud sounds. Nor does it capitalize on disgusting sights. It intelligently exploits our anxieties and the unknown. I felt physically uneasy by the time we reached the climax. In that style, one influence on the movie might be Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. A lot of themes are addressed. There’s the obvious ghostly terror of the Babadook – this shadowy figure that is terrifying in the manner he‘s depicted. But there’s this mother child relationship as well. They form a strong bond throughout the picture. She is raising a son (Noah Wiseman) that exhibits some behavioral problems. Meanwhile the boy is trying to guard his mother from supernatural forces that threaten her. Their relationship forms an underlying subtext that elevates this drama to something deep and poignant. Both of the principals are exceptional but Australian stage actress Essie Davis is a revelation. Her emotionally powerful portrayal as Amelia, his mother, compares favorably with great horror performances from Mia Farrow and Ellen Burstyn. I didn’t expect to actually be moved by the events of the plot, but that’s exactly what happened. The Babadook is a film that ranks high with the very best of the genre.

12-01-14

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Posted in Horror, Romance, Thriller with tags on November 26, 2014 by Mark Hobin

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgA Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is unlike any Iranian film you‘ve ever seen. At first, you wonder what bizarre cosmic alignment has allowed this artfully constructed, but distinctly subversive picture to be made. I mean it’s not exactly something you’d expect to pass the censors in that country. As a matter of fact, the production did NOT originate in Iran but rather the U.S., specifically California. Yet the dialogue is in Farsi and features a cast and crew made up of the extensive Iranian expatriate community in the Los Angeles area.

The setting is Iran in the fictional town of Bad City. With a name like that, I suppose one can debate the allegorical overtones. With its arid landscape broken up by oil fields, it a desolate place. It is a world populated by pimps and addicts. Ah but it is the romantics that are the heroes.  Arash (Arash Marandi) drives a’57 Thunderbird and lives with his father. With his white t-shirt, jeans, tousled hair and brooding intensity, the guy suggests James Dean. Also living in the town is a woman known simply as The Girl (Sheila Vand). She is a mysterious young lady and only goes out when it gets dark – sort of a vigilante out for justice. At home she listens to new wave music and decorates her bedroom with a mirrored ball suspended from the ceiling. Look closely and you’ll notice posters of Michael Jackson, Madonna and the Bee Gees on the walls. In this environment The Girl looks like any other of her age, but when she slips on her chador and goes out at night, she has a much more eerie presence.

The eclectic indie rock soundtrack is an important part of the mood. It plays throughout the entire story. An Ennio Morricone-like score is courtesy of the Portland band Federale. The group provides selections that wouldn‘t sound out of place in a Sergio Leone movie. Underground Iranian bands like Kiosk and Radio Tehran are included as well alongside White Lies, a UK band.  Their 2008 synthpop song “Death” is used to underscore a tender kiss in one hypnotic scene.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a cinematic blending of influences as disparate as spaghetti westerns, vampire flicks, graphic novels and feminist ideology. At times the production reminded me of an earlier release this year, Only Lovers Left Alive. Indeed Jim Jarmusch is clearly an idol of director Ana Lily Amirpour, but so is David Lynch with his nonsensical narratives. The bare bones plot and black and white cinematography support the comparison. Occasionally the creation comes across as a bit of an appropriation. However Amirpour melds the inspirations in a way that cherishes them while creating something new. The first-generation Iranian grew up in Bakersfield, California where most of this was shot. The formula is equally shaped by her ancestral background as it is by her studies at UCLA film school. Her unique point of view signals the arrival of an exciting new talent to watch. Granted the plot can just seem weird without a clear purpose. It doesn’t always makes sense, but then what feminist Iranian vampire western does anyway?

11-23-14

Oculus

Posted in Horror with tags on April 9, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Oculus  photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe words ‘intelligent’ and ‘horror’ don’t follow one another too often but Oculus is the rare example where they do. Oculus concerns two siblings returning to face the torment of their youth. Kaylie and her younger brother Tim are now adults with a dark past. Their parents were murdered, the mysterious details of which are best left unexplained. They make a vow as children to validate the real reason behind their parent’s death. Kaylie has a theory that involves an antique mirror – an ornate heirloom with a miserable history dating back 4 centuries.  She affirms the mirror houses a supernatural force responsible for 45 deaths affecting the previous owners. Tim, whose recollection has been corrupted over time, is skeptical of Kaylie’s outlook. The narrative documents her endeavor to prove the mirror is evil through an elaborate test to document the power of the malevolent object.

The success of any horror picture is reliant on the believability of the actors. They must behave as if they are genuinely in danger and then we have to actually care that they are in peril. Let me say, Kaylie, as played by Karen Gillan, is the MVP of this story.  She not only registers credibly and resourcefulness, but she is appealing. Early on she explains the history of the mirror to her brother in an expository scene that is obviously meant to bring the audience up to speed at the same time. She commands the screen with her charisma. Her brother (Brenton Thwaites) is also likable. Their younger selves are portrayed by exceptional young actors Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan. Regardless of which timeline we’re in, the characters remain admirable. We presume these siblings like each other because they show respect.  We sympathize with them and worry for their safety. This is rarely the case in horror as of late. Their propriety is such an anomaly that they don’t quite register as American teens, at least not in the way they are usually depicted in this genre. Surprise! Karen Gillan is Scottish. Brenton Thwaites is Australian.  Although you’d never guess. Their accents are flawless.

Oculus is a character driven story shrewdly written and beautifully acted. It’s nice to bask in the sophistication of an intelligently written screenplay that doesn’t depend on jump scares. In fact it’s not really about shocks at all. Rest assured there are some frightful scenes, but the drama is more eerie mystery than horror. That suits this reviewer just fine. As the climax comes to a head, there’s an ambiguous blending between events back when they were growing up and their current identity.  The editing brilliantly parallels past and present. As appearances gets more confusing, we question whether we can actually trust what we are seeing. Is our perception accurate or is it a hallucination? Oculus has technique that aspires to the same rarified cinematic air as films like The Innocents, The Shining and Poltergeist. Perhaps it is more content to sample from those sophisticated influences than create an innovate style of its own. I won’t fault it for the homage. Virtually all horror movies rely on well worn tropes. What makes Oculus something to be admired, is that the presentation has the good sense to appropriate from the best. It’s the most elegantly told supernatural movie of the last few years.

Escape from Tomorrow

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Horror on October 14, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Escape from Tomorrow photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgThe last day of a family’s vacation at Walt Disney World goes from horrible to worse. Things get off to a bad start when the father gets a call from his boss that he has been fired. He keeps the news to himself not wanting to spoil their trip. But while on the rides he begins seeing the animatronic faces frowning at him. Then his son gets sick after he takes him on Space Mountain. This leads to a fight with his wife. His only relief from his misery are the sight of two pretty young French girls that he trails throughout the park.

At the very least, Escape from Tomorrow is a triumph of guerrilla filmmaking. Since The Walt Disney Company is fiercely protective of their “intellectual property” director Randy Moore shot the movie on the sly, clandestine style. That means his crew did not obtain permits or permission to film. He shot with hand-held cameras commonly used by visitors and tiny digital audio recorders to capture sound. Given the restrictive environment, the production is an absolute marvel of inventiveness. Many scenes are clearly shot at the complex in full view with real patrons in the background. Perhaps to get around copyright laws, no official Disney music from the park is used. This actually strengthens the sinister atmosphere. Weird, alternate music is substituted that give the attractions an ominous quality. At times the director uses green screens with venue locations for the backdrop of extended takes. The effect gives the picture an almost surreal, hyperrealistic quality. Black and white cinematography also adds to the simulation.

Escape from Tomorrow sounds like an interesting curiosity and it is. Unfortunately the back-story of how the picture was created is more fascinating than the film itself. The problem is this fantasy really doesn’t go anywhere interesting. The downward spiral of the tale is sort of a hallucinogenic head trip – but it’s incoherent. There’s a buried subtle critique that even Disney World’s sunny happy facade can’t mask true depression. But this has more to do with negativity in this family’s life than a comment on the actual merits of the park itself. For most of the drama I was intrigued where the chronicle would go. Then the movie takes a particularly nasty turn 10 min from the end that dares the audience to keep watching. It devolves into a scatological creepshow. Shame because with some judicious editing and more intellectual mindset, this could’ve been a perceptive commentary on the artificiality of the happiest place on earth. After screening at the Sundance Film Festival, there was some speculation that future audiences would never see Escape from Tomorrow because of legal difficulties. The work most likely falls under the fair-use doctrine as parody and therefore not subject to copyright law. Whatever the reason, Disney has decided to ignore the production so as not to bring more attention to it. You should probably do the same.

Insidious: Chapter 2

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on September 15, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Insidious: Chapter 2 photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgLet me start by saying that Insidious Chapter 2 isn’t debased by the torture-porn muck of graphic gore and violence. It still attempts to scare through an eerie mood. For that, I applaud it. However, that is the last positive thing I will say about this movie.

Insidious Chapter 2 assumes you’ve seen the first entry. The chronicle picks up right where the previous one ended without explanation. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are back as the parents, along with Ty Simpkins as their son who sees dead people. It’s nice to see characters we remember, but the workaday script doesn’t take the time to imbue any of them with a personality. These people are ciphers. They aren’t interesting individuals anymore, just bodies reading lines to advance an impenetrable plot.

From a narrative standpoint, Insidious Chapter 2 makes the mistake of thinking we required additional explication to the first film. Insidious was an effective chiller with a refreshingly simple plot. In contrast, Chapter 2 is unnecessarily complicated. Apparently Josh (Patrick Wilson), the father in the first film had a history with seeing an evil spirit as a child too. In that respect, Insidious Chapter 2 is structured very much like the Paranormal Activity pictures with embellishments that complicate the basic plot. Not unexpected since Oren Peli produced both. Apparently there’s a valid reason why the Lambert family is so connected to the spirit world. Thank goodness. Who needs scares? I wanted gratuitous exposition. (Sarcasm)

The most surprising thing regarding Insidious Chapter 2 is the shocking lack of scares. A musical baby walker goes off by itself, an unknown woman dressed in white walks by in the background. Does that make your blood run cold? If so, you might be the audience for this hokum. As things escalate in their home, Josh’s wife and mother confront him with what they’ve seen, but he continues to suppress that anything is wrong. Later we get a dreary séance where they try to contact a paranormal investigator who has passed on. They roll letter dice and the scene is shot with all the excitement of watching paint dry. LOOK! The letters N and O are next to each other. She’s speaking to us!! This ultimately leads them to a hospital where there’s more turgid back-story concerning a man who committed suicide, whose house they visit, where they find newspaper clippings that point to supplementary details involving a dark dimension that exists parallel to our world. There’s even a twisted mother there who wanted her son to be a girl. Great shades of Psycho! None of this is particularly compelling or scary. It’s merely a needlessly complex subterfuge to hide a thoroughly convoluted story. Chapter 2 frequently invokes the respectable name of part 1 and in the process cheapens the value of the original by over-explaining its mysteries. This actually causes the viewer to re-evaluate its merits. If this is only chapter 2, I shudder to think how many more volumes this poorly written book has.

You’re Next

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on August 27, 2013 by Mark Hobin

You're Next photo starrating-halfstar.jpgThere’s really no point in reviewing You’re Next for fans of this kind of thing. The reasons why I disliked, no HATED it, aren’t going to matter to devotees of slasher films. If you want to satiate your bloodlust, regardless of plot, script, sense, character development or standards, then You’re Next should fit the bill nicely. It’s a contrivance knowingly designed for an audience that wants to see people murdered and voice their approval/disapproval of what’s happening on screen at the top of their lungs in a crowded theater for the entire film. I won’t hold that against it, but that perfectly describes my cinema experience.

You’re Next is a lazily made product that doesn’t hold up to intellectual scrutiny. Our story concerns a wealthy married couple celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in an isolated mansion in the woods with their kids and respective plus ones. Naturally the estate in the woods is in some remote area. Doesn‘t anyone ever vacation in the city anymore? It gets more idiotic. Assassins start shooting people from outside the cabin with crossbows. Was a catapult not available? The killers wear silly animal masks with tiny slits for eyes. They are impossible to see out of and therefore should give all the victims a distinct advantage in a fight. It doesn‘t (with one exception). The body count begins to escalate. Idiots blissfully enter dark rooms even though they know there are psychopaths roaming the house. Mom is taken upstairs and left to lie alone in a bedroom where strange noises were heard. Why continue to stay inside the house when it’s obvious the lunatics are inside? Because this movie is stupid, was the only answer I could come up with.

I’ve never been a fan of torture. I don’t take delight in observing people die and I don’t relish in the physical pain of others. I’m not a sadist so therefore I didn’t enjoy You’re Next. But it’s only a movie! This stuff isn’t real! It’s just make believe! True, but I still question the entertainment value in stomaching pretend carnage that, let’s face it, looks exactly like the real thing. If nothing else, the filmmakers know how to stage a realistic kill. After enduring one graphic murder after another in vivid detail, you’ll swear you’re watching a snuff film. At least this miserable lot are repellent. Their back and forth bickering is irritating. That makes their ultimate demise less painful to endure I suppose. Many cheered in my theater when the matriarch was massacred, her dead body left lying on the bed. Then they laughed with glee as the girlfriend suggests that would be a perfect place and time to indulge in some intimate hanky panky. You’re Next represents the nadir in popcorn entertainment.

Wait Until Dark, The Desperate Hours (1955), Funny Games (1997), Panic Room. The home invasion thriller has been handled before in much more interesting ways. You’re Next debuted at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival then sat around collecting dust for 2 years. Now it has been foisted on the public during the traditional end-of-the-summer dumpage. It feels even more old and outdated. It should’ve just stayed wedged between whatever moldy crevice it had been shelved into. This is an unnecessary film. We’ve made so many strides in horror in the last 5 years, that this just feels like some dated relic from a bygone era. Start with 10 people, then mutilate in gory detail. The instructions are repeated ad nauseum until one is left standing. There is some surprise as to who this is and how it occurs, but after watching 9 nitwits sliced, diced, cut, chopped and shot, do you really even care?

The Conjuring

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on July 21, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Conjuring photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgWhen The Conjuring was slapped with an “R” rating, the producers couldn’t have bought better publicity. Setting out to make a PG-13 film, the picture earned the more restrictive classification, not on account of blood, gore, swearing, or sex – but because it was simply TOO SCARY to get anything less. The decision to leave things as they were worked. It had the highest debut for an original R rated movie ever. Even taking inflation into account, it still ranks up there with record holders like The Sixth Sense and What Lies Beneath. I must profess the strategy worked on me. Anticipation levels were off the charts and I was primed and ready to be scared out of my wits. To be honest, I found PG-13 fare like The Ring and Insidious to be far scarier. Of course such an assertion is highly debatable as it rests entirely on personal tastes. That’s not to say The Conjuring isn’t satisfying. It’s a smartly told, well acted tale that earns its scares legitimately.

What pushes The Conjuring into watchable entertainment is the game cast that gives the proceedings an air of substance and respectability. The screenplay is taken from the true story of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). The Amityville Horror was based on their research. Their portrayals are sound. Vera Farmiga is genuinely good at eliciting our concern. Also superb are the Perron clan—Roger (Ron Livingston), Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and their five daughters—victimized by demonic forces after moving into their new home. Naturally their domicile is dilapidated, old and really eerie. I mean the dog won’t enter the house. Lili Taylor reminds us of how underrated an actress she actually is. She undoubtedly gets the juiciest part, but she makes the most of it.

The Conjuring is set in the 70s and the milieu lends the environment an atmospheric elegance. We’re informed Ed Warren was the only American layman permitted by the Catholic Church to perform exorcisms. That’s a nice bit of information. This is intelligent terror that ironically creates tension with well worn clichés. There’s a music box, a creepy doll, birds behaving abnormally, kids in peril. There are at least a dozen conventional tropes from which this appropriates. Horror aficionados will have a distinct feeling of déjà vu. You can roll your eyes at all the movies this borrows from or just go with the flow. If you’re going to imitate you might as well copy from the best I suppose. There is a refined simplicity to the action that is rather effective. When Vera Farmiga is hanging laundry on a clothesline, a white sheet takes on a human form as it blows away from her grasp. I think it’s telling that the simple image elicited gasps from the audience. Director James Wan is continuing the sophisticated path he started with Insidious. His high regard for the classics of the genre continues as he seems to have abandoned the gross-out style he exploited with the first Saw. This isn’t really a step forward, but it definitely isn’t a step back either.

World War Z

Posted in Action, Horror, Thriller with tags on June 27, 2013 by Mark Hobin

World War Z photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgA family sits in their car waiting out a huge traffic jam in some major metropolitan city. A motorcycle zooms by and knocks off the side-view mirror of Brad Pitt’s car. He gets out to retrieve the fallen ornament, his wife and two girls concerned inside. Suddenly an explosion goes off in the distance. So unfolds the trailer for World War Z. I had no idea what the unforeseen threat was to the population, but it had me curious. It was a powerful tactic that had me wanting to see more. It de-emphasized gore, instead focusing on some unforeseen menace.

Ultimately the smart strategy was a good one because the rest of World War Z is similarly restrained. The danger in this case is a universal zombie outbreak, but it could have been anything really. The drama is about survival of the human race. Brad Pitt is a United Nations inspector adept at problem solving. He’s contacted by the powers that be to help join the fight. Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., South Korea, Israel and Wales: as we follow Brad Pitt across the globe, these various locations heighten the situation. Like Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters or War of the Worlds, it affirms a global scale. This makes the calamity all the more dire and real. The response of the governments of the world is a fascinating detail that the narrative effectively exploits. It’s ambitious in scope.

Turns out World War Z is not perfect. Thanks to 28 Days Later, spastic camera work is practically de rigueur in these types of films. Can we please retire this gimmick? It’s meant to emphasize the speed and intensity of the zombie attack., but it just had me reaching for the Dramamine. The plot occasionally drags. It could’ve benefited from some judicious editing to tighten up certain scenes. However other scenes do captivate. A spectacle aboard an airplane is an absolute knockout that creates tension in a setting that already has people on edge in this day and age. It’s spectacularly ridiculous and fun. We don’t really get a clear look at the zombies until much later, but when we do, it’s unnerving. The bulging eyes of one that pierce through the glass wall of a research facility are hard to forget.

World War Z separates itself from many other zombie variations in that it mines thrills out of skillfully staged action. The chronicle has some very compelling sequences, particularly the opening and closing set pieces, the moments you remember most. Along the way the script favors paranoia and claustrophobia over cheap scares and gore. Special effects are restrained and used only sparingly making their occasional appearance that more striking. It creates a thrilling mood. I also enjoyed the score which makes inspired use of the song “Isolated System” by Muse. Marc Forster directs this very loose adaptation of Max Brooks’ 2006 novel. The screenwriters basically threw out everything but the name. Despite the troubled production, the end result is a memorable saga that finds a way to tie the United Nations, the World Health Organization and world governments in with the zombie apocalypse. Forster has finally created his most enjoyable picture since Finding Neverland – a tale that couldn’t be more thematically different.

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