Archive for the Horror Category

The Conjuring 2

Posted in Horror on June 10, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo conjuring_two_zps37p07hq8.jpg photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgAny decent actor worth their weight in salt can do justice to a part that’s inherently outstanding. But it takes an extraordinary talent to give life to a generic part and make it captivating. That’s the power of Vera Farmiga, an American actress active since her Broadway debut in the play Taking Sides in 1996. Perhaps today’s audiences know Farmiga best as Norma Louise Bates in the A&E television series Bates Motel. But her star turn in 2013’s The Conjuring  brought her some much deserved recognition. She, along with the accomplished Patrick Wilson, return as real life paranormal investigators Loraine and Ed Warren. The Warrens received recognition for their involvement in the Amityville Horror case made famous by the 1979 movie.

The Conjuring 2 is actually based on the Enfield poltergeist, some alleged spiritual activity that affected a council house in England from 1977 to 1979. But before we get to the legitimate heart of this tale, the narrative briefly revisits the Amityville Horror events. Ostensibly, this is to just to lay the groundwork for the societal doubt that the Warrens incurred for their work. Then it’s off to London, England, where the Warrens fly out to meet afflicted matriarch, Peggy Hodgson. This is where the proper story finally takes off — nearly an hour into this 134 minute film. Yes it is much too long.  I contend the horror sweet spot is a brisk 90 minutes.  Anyway, Peggy believes that some nasty ghosts are haunting her home. Then her youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) starts showing signs of demonic possession. Ed and Lorraine investigate and pretty soon those pesky spirits have targeted them.

Director James Wan is back. Besides helming the original The Conjuring, he directed Saw and Insidious so he knows a thing or two about horror. Wan focuses on the traumatized family first.  For a while this is a document of how a close knit household, united by a single mother, is torn apart. Then the focus shifts to the Warrens and here’s where the dramatic skills of a couple of superior actors strengthen the account. Wilson and Farmiga are Christian paranormal investigators relying on their faith and working for the Catholic church.  They are portrayed as sensible people with a healthy skepticism. Through it all, director James Wan keeps the shocks coming. The events are fashioned like a roller coaster ride with a rhythmical ebb and flow of tension and calm. Scares are artfully presented in a period atmosphere.  It lends the proceedings the look of quality that gives horror aficionados joy.  Furniture moves by itself.  Unexplained banging noises/voices are heard.  There’s 4 feet of water in the basement. That sets the mood.  The demons are scary too. One unwanted visitor looks like rocker Marilyn Manson dressed up like a nun.  Pasty white fingers reach out from behind a painting.  A spinning zoetrope brings a “crooked man” to life. I jumped a few times, but to be honest, this shtick all feels pretty familiar. Ultimately the movie belongs to Wilson and particularly Farmiga. Their unmitigated sincerity sells this picture. I was invested because of them.

06-09-16

Green Room

Posted in Crime, Horror, Thriller with tags on May 2, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo green_room_ver2_zpsszgyt22s.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe release of writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival heralded an important new talent. Only his second feature, it was the winner of the FIPRESCI award that year. The chronicle was ostensibly about an emotionally damaged, shadow of a man, out for revenge. What made that grisly thriller so much more than just a routine genre exercise, was that we somehow sympathized with the lead character and his plight.

Now Saulnier is back with Green Room, another well constructed, but no less gruesome, labor of malevolence. It concerns The Ain’t Rights, a down and out punk band from the East Coast, desperate for a paying gig. They appear to be in their mid-20s. Despite their youth, the four group members (played by Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Callum Turner and Joe Cole) have a kind of a been-there-seen-it-all world weariness that is rather amusing. They steal gas by siphoning it out of other cars, wake up in a cornfield because the driver fell asleep, and attend a podcast interview that is incredibly awkward. A question about their favorite “desert island band” becomes an amusing running gag throughout the entire picture right up through to the very last line of dialogue. The movie teases with humorous asides initially, but humor is not really the fabric of the film.

The proper tale begins when the foursome is booked to play a gig at a remote club in the woods outside Portland, Oregon. Unbeknownst to them, the bar is actually a popular hangout for neo-Nazi skinheads. The young punk rockers aren’t too keen on white supremacists, but they need the cash, so they play their set for the rowdy patrons and collect their money. As they’re about to leave, an extremely tense situation develops and the band is prevented from leaving by the skinhead bouncers. This is all under the direction of the club’s owner, Darcy, a calm white supremacist leader, portrayed in an inspired bit of casting by Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Patrick Stewart. A less than committed skinhead (Imogen Poots), becomes an unexpected ally of our protagonists.

At first the band tries to calmly talk their way out of a sticky situation, but their negotiations fail. Now it’s punks vs. skinheads in an all out game of cat and mouse. The drama begins intelligently with words but ends morbidly with slaughter.  Ah but what are the stakes? There is an assortment of random human beings, but character development is anemic at best. Without that emotional connection, our desire to even give a care is severely diminished. Director Jeremy Saulnier relies on rising tension and it works for awhile. However after 60 minutes, the dialogue becomes less needed to further developments. Gore emerges as the story in the final third. Le carnage extraordinaire is the ultimate agenda for the day. People are sliced, diced and mutilated with guns, machetes and killer dogs. It’s competently done I suppose, but it’s not as terrifying as the intense standoff that came before it. It’s exactly what I expected would happen and after Blue Ruin, I expect more from Mr. Saulnier.

04-24-16

10 Cloverfield Lane

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller on March 14, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo ten_cloverfield_lane_zpse8bhkrgw.jpg photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgA woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakes from a car accident and finds herself in a concrete room chained to a wall with a saline IV in her arm. A heavy-set man named Howard (John Goodman) tells her that he is her solitary chance for survival. You see, it was he that “rescued” her and is now keeping her alive. Panicked, she tries to escape, but Howard sedates her. When she comes to, Howard explains that some kind of attack has already occurred in the world and the air up on the surface is now unbreathable. He speculates either the Russians, Koreans or maybe even aliens. His bunker is the only sanctuary left.

The title 10 Cloverfield Lane is supposed to recall the sci-fi monster movie Cloverfield from 2008. That picture was directed by Matt Reeves, written by Drew Goddard and produced by JJ Abrams and Bryan Burk. But just forget about any connection to that earlier picture. All of those guys are indeed back, as producers this time, but aside from some mutual personnel and the horror angle, this story has essentially nothing to do with that earlier production. Think of this as a spin-off of the Cloverfield universe. The sooner you let go of finding ties to that prior film, the more you’ll enjoy this one on its own terms.

If 10 Cloverfield Lane has a spiritual ancestor, it would be Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, the 1948 psychological thriller based on the 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton. This debut feature from director Dan Trachtenberg virtually takes place entirely in a single enclosed space underground. The success of this three-character chamber piece rests on the charisma of its principal players as they interact with one another. John Goodman is suitably creepy. He’s memorable in a rare dramatic role. Yet he’s so visually iconic in comedic portrayals that I never forgot that I was still watching John Goodman, the actor. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an appealing presence as a woman in a stressful situation. She radiates a mix of helplessness and moxie that snares our full attention and compassion. A sympathetic cellar-mate named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) appears to be a fellow ally.

The atmosphere of this nail-bitter vacillates between a spirit of unease and relaxed camaraderie. The majority of the action is claustrophobic suspense that creates tension out of the unknown. What happened to the earth? Is life up there actually worse than their existence in the bunker? Can Howard be trusted? Questions of this variety fuel the narrative and warrant serious consideration as the drama plays out. We’ve seen this genre before. M. Night Shyamalan is a director that has built a career on this sort of thing. The fragments designed as a foundation on which to build a denouement that hopefully answers all of these questions and more.  The build-up is bit protracted, but don’t worry. Everything will indeed be explained by the time the credits roll. And let me affirm, I was more than satisfied by the resolution.

03-10-16

The Witch

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Thriller on February 22, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo witch_ver3_zpsv3zoodmn.jpg photo starrating-4stars.jpgBleak supernatural horror about a Calvinist household in 17th-century New England. Faith is an important part of their life as father frequently cites scripture. Right at the start, he dismisses those in the community as false Christians and so he and his family are banished from the village. The specifics of the disagreement over beliefs is never explicitly stated, but given the family’s devout commitment we can only assume they were too strict. Was that even possible in Puritan society? The clan is comprised of Father William (Ralph Ineson) his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and fraternal twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson). After a time they welcome the arrival of a fifth child, baby Samuel.

Initially the narrative suggests that their lack of money and failed crops could be the reason for their downward descent. But as time wears on, more definable tragedies torment the group. These events give rise to the idea that oldest daughter Thomasin could be an evil presence. These allegations, made by family members, have an effect on her psyche. The first sign that things are amiss is the fate of infant Samuel. While under Thomasin’s care, the baby vanishes from sight the moment her eyes are closed during a game of peekaboo. Later her frustration with the unruly twins’ behavior causes her to make an assertion she later regrets. The film’s main protagonist seems to fluctuate at first but Thomasin ultimately emerges as the lead.

The Witch is a beautifully realized period piece. A carefully constructed, deeply researched drama that utilizes the language of the time. A postscript informs the audience that the dialogue was inspired by court transcripts of the 1630s. To the contemporary ear it sounds just like Shakespeare. That would be the vocabulary of the Elizabethan era, but Jacobean is more accurate since this is the early 17th century. The spirit of the prose keenly enhances the atmosphere. Yet the isolation of their existence speaks louder than any words. The eerie hostility of the early American frontier is as nasty as a villain. The gloom of the surrounding forest takes on a malevolent nature. Even the animals like a goat they’ve named Black Phillip, and a beady-eyed rabbit who pops out of the forest, take on demonic overtones.

The Witch is a dark tale of foreboding. The austere, almost grim, daily existence is maintained throughout. Most modern viewers have a mixed understanding of Puritan society. Life in New England was a completely different world over three hundred years ago. It was a harsh reality. The Witch is set some 60 years before the Salem witch trials famously dramatized in The Crucible. Certainly the story recalls those historical events, but there are distinct differences. Arthur Miller’s play revealed how paranoia can spread to create mass hysteria in a community. Writer/director Robert Eggers chooses to depict the growing fear as it affects only one family – a close-knit group, separated from civilization. Another contrast is that the conspicuous rise in bizarre occurances would seem to justify their fears. There is definitely something sinister afoot, although the lies that follow undeniably tear them further apart. Director Eggers doesn’t rely on the traditional tools of the horror genre. This is more of a thought-provoking mood piece rooted in the Jacobean dialect of the times. As such, the deliberate pace won’t charm today’s audiences raised on physical shocks. However those partial to slavish attention to detail will find much favor here. This engrossing saga of a Puritan family’s worst nightmare is extremely artistic. That makes the thiller rather unique in this day and age.

02-18-16

Goodnight Mommy

Posted in Foreign, Horror, Thriller with tags on October 8, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Goodnight Mommy photo starrating-4stars.jpgCreepy twins? Check. Domineering mother? Check. Frightening masks? Hissing cockroaches? A newly acquired pet? A priest? A cemetery? Cornfields? Plot twist? All present and accounted for. Goodnight Mommy contains some timeworn horror movie tropes, but instead of relying on clichés, it elevates the formula. The sampling synthesizes these elements into something entirely new and surprisingly innovative. Horror, arthouse cinema or psychological thriller, it’s all of these and more. I dare say within its framework, I faced a small handful of the most uniquely disquieting images I have ever seen. You can’t unsee these things. The concepts are creatively unsettling.

Goodnight Mommy is the first narrative feature from filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. Ever since it had its world premiere at last year’s Venice Film Festival, the movie has built up a solid reputation of positive buzz. In September it was even submitted as Austria’s 2015 Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film.  Flashback: fellow countryman Michael Haneke’s Amor won the award for Austria back in 2012. Interestingly Goodnight Mommy actually recalls the chilly isolation of Michael Haneke’s work, particularly with his Funny Games. Even the similar setting, a gorgeous estate by the lake, is incongruously tranquil for a horror flick.

The writer-director team of Franz and Fiala take the sacred bond that exists between a mother and her children and shatters it to pieces. In their deconstruction, the chronicle plays out slowly, but at the climax, the dysfunction reaches a boiling point. Elias and Lukas are nine-year-old twin boys enjoying the summer in a modernist lake house made of steel and glass. Things seem fairly idyllic until mother shows up. Father is not in the picture. Mother’s appearance is obscured, her face wrapped in bandages, apparently the result of some facial surgery. She is a television presenter so perhaps the procedures were cosmetic. Regardless, her presence now vexes the children. She regresses into more irritable and oppressive, almost malicious, behavior. Is this woman their mother or is she an impostor? The boys have their doubts. What follows is an exploration of identity and trust.

To give any more plot details would be to spoil the delight of discovery. Oh and believe me, this spine-chiller has a few shocking developments. The drama travels down a twisty path that grows ever more grotesque. The descent is so gradual that for most of the duration I was completely on board. The eerie trip mostly relies on psychological horror. If the directors make an error, it’s that they ultimately show more than they should. The flirtation with gore is enough. By the end, the plunge into Grand Guignol crosses the line. Only once, okay maybe twice. The impropriety betrays the dominant milieu of the picture.

In this genre, what often separates the wheat from the chaff is the visual lexicon, that is – the discernible style of the director which is then boldly captured by the cinematographer. Here they artfully flaunt a narrative that manifests anxiety. The dread is palpable. The fact that the ambiguous story is created without much clarification intensifies the air of disorientation. Granted there are a lot of red herrings that purposefully mislead the viewer in ways that don’t always play fair. I still have no idea what that pizza delivery was about. But in a production such as this, the misdirection only heightens the unease. The script skillfully undermines the strength of the familial bonds we hold dear. I won’t soon forget the experience. I just have one nagging question: Why are the Red Cross volunteers in Austria so aggressive?

10-07-15

The Visit

Posted in Comedy, Horror with tags on September 15, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Visit photo starrating-2stars.jpgThe good news is that The Visit is M. Night Shyamalan’s best film in a decade. The bad news is that it’s still nothing to write home about. The perennial letdown hasn’t directed anything satisfying since 2002’s Signs. As of this writing, that was 13 years ago and with each passing year, the possibility of another gem like The Sixth Sense becomes less and less likely. However The Visit warrants some praise. He’s working with a much lower budget this time around, so the expectation for an “event” movie is gone. This is a much more restrained affair. Additionally, the lighthearted drama frequently veers away from standard horror into outright comedy. The two characteristics are enough to lift this out of the execrable muck from which his work usually descends. However, that still doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable.

Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are two annoyingly precocious teenagers who board a train alone. [Random aside: Oxenbould is the reincarnation of young 80s actor Joshua John Miller (River’s Edge, Near Dark)] Tyler is an enthusiastic rapper. It’s not clear whether this suburban white boy’s rhyming skills are supposed to be humorous or endearing. Grating is a word that comes to mind. Anyway, the two kids are on their way to meeting their grandparents for the very first time. That’s right, they’ve never met. Mom (Kathryn Hahn) had a falling out with her parents 15 years prior and so Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) have been estranged from the family for all this time.

Here’s where things go from adequate to unbearable. Becca is an aspiring filmmaker and wants to capture her visit for posterity. The movie we’re watching is her shaky cam footage of everything she views. Her brother Tyler is also given a camera so more than one point of view shot can be rationalized . Naturally M. Night Shyamalan is actually the one responsible for this approach. We get these headache inducing shots that switch back and forth between the two camcorders in an effort to record everything. Even when a device is dropped on the ground, it still conveniently captures the important action. This cinematographic style adds no value to the account other than to create a nuisance. It’s shtick and it doesn’t serve the story.

The Visit has a decent foundation. Kids stay with grandparents that are complete strangers to them.  Nana and Pop Pop are seemingly well meaning old people. Their initial impression is warm and pleasant. Then things change when the sun goes down. Their behavior becomes erratic, in essence bizarre. Nana roams the house at night in various states of undress. She vomits on the floor and scratches at the walls. Pop-pop keeps his soiled adult diapers in the woodshed, attacks a stranger on the street and delusionally dresses in formal wear for a nonexistent costume party. Are they suffering from aging mental disorders or is there something even more sinister afoot? The chronicle marks the kids’ vacation time with five title cards, one for each day of their trip. The first person shaky cam perspective only obscures an empty narrative. The gimmick takes what could’ve been a passable time filler into something interminable. Right around the halfway point you’ll realize there’s no plot. That is, of course, until that inevitable “twist” that in no way justifies the long-drawn-out set-up. Apparently M. Night Shyamalan knows no other way to creatively end a story. The movie is a mere 94 minutes. Yet you’ll be begging for that final Friday title card way before it appears.

09-10-15

Insidious: Chapter 3

Posted in Horror with tags on June 9, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Insidious Chapter 3 photo starrating-2stars.jpgInsidious Chapter 3 is the inevitable prequel set before the events concerning the Lambert family in part one. Despite her third billed status, the drama revolves around teen Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott). Her mother has recently succumbed to cancer and Quinn misses her terribly. She goes to visit a spirit medium, Elise Rainier, played by returning cast member Lin Shaye. A warm presence, she is a welcome sight. Elise attempts to make contact and immediately feels an evil entity that strikes her with fear. She warns Quinn that when you try to speak to the dead, all of them can hear you. So the apparent moral is, “Don’t attempt to talk to your loved ones who have passed on.” Seriously?

Insidious was an an effective chiller because it built suspense out of simple things. It was able to make a pair of shoes behind the curtains seem creepy or a shadowy figure outside the window. As the 2010 movie was refreshingly straightforward, Chapter 2 went the other route, becoming overly complicated with needless exposition to define everything we had seen in the first story. In this way the script undermined the source. It’s not unlike revealing the secrets behind how a magician performs his craft. You’re now more informed but less dazzled by what you initially saw.

I guess the nicest thing I can say about Chapter 3 is that it doesn’t leave a stench as rank as Chapter 2. It’s not horrible – just dull. The narrative is utterly rote. There’s precious little creativity to justify why this was made. Actress Lin Shaye is vital as the psychic. Also back are paranormal investigators Tucker and Specs: Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell. They’re mildly amusing. Unfortunately the plot relies on a lot of cheap jump scares that are more irritating than frightening. Furthermore, every single one is inserted exactly where you expect it, so they’re predicable as well as tiresome. Dermot Mulroney plays it sitcom campy as Quinn’s father. He acts as if he’s in a completely different film from everyone else. He’s a shouter in a room full of whisperers. Whannell returns as screenwriter and takes over directing duties this time. James Wan, the director of the previous installments, is now only a co-producer. While it’s an improvement over Chapter 2, the picture has significantly lower production values. If how Elise met Tucker & Specs has been keeping you up at night, then Chapter 3 might serve a purpose. Otherwise be good to your ears and watch something less discordant.

06-06-15

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

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