Tag Archives: horror movies

Winchester

As a widow, Sarah Winchester has inherited majority share of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The other stakeholders get together to hire laudanum-addicted Dr. Price to assess her and find her incompetent to run their business. It shouldn’t be too hard: she’s a crazy, reclusive old lady who is constantly remodelling her home, round the clock, to better suit the ghosts and spirits who inhabit it.

It sounds bad on paper, but once Dr. Price (Jason Clarke) arrives, he starts to share in her hallucinations. Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) was a real person, and she really did believe that anyone killed by one of her guns may visit her home in death – seeking revenge or otherwise – and it was her duty to house them and try to find them peace. To appease them, she employed a work crew, round the clock, day and night, 7 days a week for 37 years, until her death, building new rooms, tearing down old ones, resulting in a 7-story house with more than 100 rooms, staircases that led nowhere, and twisty, unnavigable hallways. But some ghosts were not content with her efforts. Some ghosts demanded more.

I have no problem with the cast, and as you might guess, Helen Mirren is of course a gothic gem. But this movie was all wrong. All wrong. It should never have been a horror film. This is actually a very interesting story that deserved a much better treatment. Sarah Winchester is the kind of character you instinctively want to learn MV5BYmQ0YTZjNzctNWI0MS00ODBlLTk3YjUtZTUwMGY0MjM1N2FjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_more about, but this movie would have you on Wikipedia rather than provide her any backstory or context. Instead the house is the most compelling character, and all the walking, talking, sentient characters, both alive and dead, are badly neglected. But even the house sort of loses its charms after the film makers’ limited imagination is maxed out. It just feels like all directors Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig are concerned with is shoving as many jump-scares into one movie as humanly, or demonly, possible. And it’s a lot. There will be something terrifying in EVERY corner, in every mirror and reflection, under every bed, in every attic, behind the curtains, and inside the body of every ginger man and boy. They’ve used a very interesting story as the mere setting, and then completely spoiled it with misuse.

Winchester needed to be a drama with supernatural elements, like Sixth Sense, but instead it’s bottom of the barrel horror. I was prepared to be frightened by it (Sean and I even “worked up” to it by viewing Peter Rabbit first) but I wasn’t expecting to pity it, and it’s hard to sustain suspense for a thing you feel sorry for. And I felt bad for Helen Mirren, who would be too good for the tripe even if she herself were a long-dead ghost merely haunting the set. The good news, though, is that she looks terrific in a widow’s mourning veil, so let’s get her in a Guillermo del Toro film, stat!

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SXSW: A Quiet Place

A family tiptoes barefoot through a deserted city, collecting food and medical supplies before their long walk back home to the family farm. The daughter is deaf but the whole family communicates silently. It is clear that not one sound must be made, not a single sound, even if it is not yet clear why that would be.

In the great style of horror movies, we know soon enough: beasts, monsters or aliens, whatever you call them, they hunt by sound. You’re safe as long as you’re silent – but who can remain truly silent, and for how long? In the year or so since the attacks started MV5BNGRhMWRhNzEtOGM2NC00MGNjLWE2ZTEtMzE0NDk1ZmU5YmYwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_happening, it’s clear this family was quicker than most to adapt. They appear to be among the only survivors. But even if you can manage to never speak, to never laugh – can you also manage to never knock over a glass of water? To never sneeze? And what about the poor mother, visibly nearing the end of a pregnancy. Can she labour in silence, and what about the newborn – won’t his first act be to cry? In fact, this movie keeps you so on edge I despaired as the mother doled out fish and veggies for dinner. Were the vegetables suitably soft? A particularly crisp cucumber could spell certain death.

You likely heard me bellyaching about having to survive a horror movie for SXSW’s opening night film, but I wanted to do it for Emily Blunt, and her husband\director, John Krasinski. Not because I owe it to them personally, but because neither is known for genre work, so if they’ve made an exception for this, it must be exceptional.

And actually, it is. First because of the silence. There are different kinds of quiet and we experience dozens of them during A Quiet Place. The pregnant silence, the expectant silence, the easy quiet, the calm quiet, the hair-raising, heart-beat elevating, sweat on the backs of your knees silences. And then there’s the daughter’s silence, true silence, the kind that envelops you, comforts you, terrifies you. This is the movie that should be up for Oscars in sound editing next year but probably won’t be.

Second, because of the acting. Emily Blunt is easily phenomenal. Mom characters tend to get short shrift in horror movies but in this case, Blunt gives us patience and strength, real suffering and heartache, an iron will and a tender heart. The kid actors are top-notch too – in fact you’ve already heard me rave about them, Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck, and Noah Jupe in Suburbicon. John Krasinski is the first to admit that he learned a lot working alongside these professionals and he fills the father’s shoes nicely.

But this movie is also remarkable for its themes that extend way beyond the genre. At its heart, it’s really about a family who is trying to prepare its children to fend for themselves in the big, bad world. Like any family. Only hopefully your children won’t be facing any literal face-eating monsters. But of course you’re afraid for them, afraid that they’ll encounter something you haven’t prepared them for, and that you won’t be there when they need you. As director, Krasinski makes us care for this family, while at the same time making it feel like it could be mine or yours.

 

The Vault

Two sisters (Taryn Manning, Francesca Eastwood) agree to pull a bank heist in order to save their brother. The siblings are split up, some guarding the hostages while others go in search of money. The bank manager (James Franco) sends them downstairs to a creepy subterranean bank vault that’s haunted as shit.  The stuff happening down there makes the bank robbery seem like a cakewalk. Those hostages don’t know how good they’ve got it! And the bank robbers don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into.

MV5BNTUyMjlmZmEtNjIzMC00NmI5LWE1YTEtNjc5YTg1ZGFjOWMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODU3NTQxMw@@._V1_The criminals are surprised how south this has gone, and how quickly. How are the cops already here? The tellers reluctantly tell them: the bank is haunted. The ghosts are the victims of another bank heist, an extraordinarily bloody and cruel one, and they’re not about to let another one go down if they can help it. Of course, you can warn the people in a horror movie all you want; they never listen. They never listen!

A known and admitted chicken shit, I can attest that some of this got to me. But some of the horror also struck me as downright silly, and I do not believe this was remotely intended as a horror-comedy. Horror-heist, perhaps, but it clearly fails at both of these at the same damn time. I started this movie two months ago (before James Franco was even on the #MeToo hit list) and abandoned it, too freaked out to keep going. The quick editing is the most effective – flashes of evil do more to prey on my imagination. I only took it up again in broad daylight, with 4 dogs cuddling me, and Sean wall-papering nearby (dogs pick up on tone – do you think the score of a horror movie is as disturbing to them as it is to me?).

The truth is, this movie wasn’t worth the extraordinary measures I’m forced to undertake just to survive it. I tend to stay away from scary movies because I know my limitations and I’m generally not good for anything worse than say Shaun of the Dead, but preferably ParaNorman. However, some exceptions must be made. Last year I knew that Get Out was one of the ages, a movie that transcends its genre. I saw it in theatres and kept myself from hyperventilating to death. Before that, I somehow managed to sit through The Witch at the New Hampshire Film Festival. It didn’t kill me but it sure as hell tried; its eerie atmosphere made for an incredible film but for me, it was just too much. My panic was so intense that for most of the movie I was simply eyeing the exits and praying for escape.

Now I’m on my way to SXSW where the opening film is a horror called A Quiet Place, directed and co-written by John Krasinski, whom I cannot believe would do me like this. The movie stars both himself and his lovely with Emily Blunt and they play the parents of a family forced to live in utter and complete silence, or else some unknown but terrifying thing will hunt and kill them. The trailer made me pee a bit. So how, dear readers, am I going to get through this one? Please, send your tips and tricks for surviving this movie. The gore doesn’t bother me. It’s the anticipation, the quiet moments, which this film will be filled to the brim with, fuck you very much John Krasinksi. I’ll be the one doing lamaze-type breathing, with or without a paper bag over my head. But don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll write a totally objective review!

Flatliners

Courtney is a medical student in a competitive hospital. She’s not content with just being the best, she wants to be a pioneer, and she’s got her eye on quite the break-through: she wants to be an expert in the afterlife. To that end, she recruits a few brave colleagues to do some top-secret experimenting in the hospital’s basement. She somehow convinces them to stop her heart for a full minute before resuscitating her. When she wakes up, her brain is re-wired, keyed up to excel, to remember everything, to reach further, better, higher. So of course her fellow students are jealous, and curious, and lineup to have their hearts stopped.

Ellen Page is kind of the coolest. I respect her. She makes everything she’s in better. Flatliners-stillBut you can hardly make something better if it isn’t remotely good to begin with. The thing is, the idea behind this movie is probably solid. But this movie takes an interesting premise and immediately flushes it down the nearest toilet. It takes philosophy and science and turns it into a party drug, giving lots of opportunity for shirtless dancing but not a whole lot else. It’s supposed to be a horror movie and it does lazily throw some things at the screen in order to startle you, but it doesn’t try hard enough at anything. I don’t even think the original was all that great, but trying to make a second cup of tea from the same old tea bag makes for a very weak cuppa.

The most character-building the movie strives for is to give each student a name, and a haircut. Basically they’re all greedy, selfish, horny little pricks. Shouldn’t med students know better than to intentionally die?

Newsflash, guys: bringing stuff back from the dead is rarely a good idea. It’s funny that the director made a movie about this but never took the lesson to heart.

Monster Pool: Seven Deadly Sins

Was it really two years ago that Jay and I furiously drove back from New Hampshire to Ottawa to see the first Monster Pool Horror Anthology?  Apparently so.  As this site evidences, we have seen a truckload of movies since then, but very few of those have been as gory as the latest Monster Pool entry, titled Seven Deadly Sins (and even fewer have been as Ottawa-centric, considering this effort comes from a team of local filmmakers).

Monster Pool: Seven Deadly Sins wastes no time in getting to the gore.  Like, insides falling out kind of gore, and skinless body in a bathtub kind of gore, and cannibal eating dinner kind of gore.  And while these effects don’t have the gloss on them that a $200 million budget can provide, the fact they are still convincingly disgusting is a great credit to these talented filmmakers.  This is a well-polished effort that fits together well, and builds on the previous two Monster Pool entries (all three of which are available online through http://monsterpool.ca/ – and the first two films can be viewed for free!).

All these filmmakers put their talent on display and the result is a polished and cohesive product.  The quality of the effects was a highlight for me, as they were consistently good throughout each of the seven short films plus the “wrapper” story that linked them loosely together.  The acting was less consistent than the effects, though I’m not even sure that is necessarily a criticism (overacting is arguably a staple of the horror genre).

All in all, Monster Pool: Seven Deadly Sins ended up being an excellent and, um, festive way to spend my Halloween after handing out candy to 191 kids (Jay had to work so I manned the door by myself!).  My only regret is not saving more candy for myself.

 

 

 

TIFF: Downrange

A group of 20-something kids are driving through some deserted part of California when they experience a tire blowout. They’re carpool strangers but the sniper\serial killer hiding in a tree doesn’t care about that. He’s going to ruthlessly pick them off one by one whether they’re going to die in the arms of strangers or not.

Welcome to Midnight Madness at TIFF, folks! Director Ryuhei Kitamura is back with another offering and he promises that this one is buckets and buckets of a bloody good time.

Anyway, what more can I even say? 6 actors, an untold number of bullets, and a sadistic MV5BYzgwM2Q2YzAtM2M0ZS00MGNiLTkzNWYtNDg3ZmI5MTJhODBlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,801_AL_director who loves to really probe each and every gaping wound. It’s not enough to kill them, we must make them suffer, and the audience along with them. Every hole blown into every body must be explored. Former body parts hang like meat curtains. Quick deaths are verboten. Noisy, sucking, death rattles are preferred. And even dead bodies are not safe: there are still plenty of ways to disrespect them, hard.

That said, I felt like the director oversold the insanity of this piece. It takes a while for the killing to start but once it does, there’s absolutely no tension in this film. The onslaught is relentless but it’s so consistent you’ve really got nothing to worry about. It’s hard to be properly scared of something so unequivocal. There is, however, plenty of syrupy prop blood to soothe your black soul, and all the bugs to go along with it. Plus, a score actually derived from the rhythmic firing of a rifle. If you don’t like gore, you won’t like this film. If you don’t like bad acting, you won’t like this film. But if you’re the kind of person who just wants to pass the day watching strangers get brutally slaughtered, Downrange is an obvious choice.

 

TIFF 2017: Bingo! I Got Bingo!, Part 2

Catching 3 films by female directors is easy. The TIFF lineup this and every year has lots of interesting films to choose from, many of them directed by women. Getting full TIFF Bingo isn’t so easy.

I have stress dreams about the Midnight Madness ball and avoid it like it’s a not deep-fried vegetable so that’s out. And, while Battle of the Sexes had its moments, I can’t honestly say that I thought “Now this I’ve got to try”.

But I did…

Thank a Volunteer

Mom and Dad– The festival and the city that hosts it can be a little overwhelming at first. Even though I feel like an expert by the end of my stay, every year I’m feeling a little disoriented when I first get into town. So I’ve just checked into my hotel, it’s 11:40 at night, and I’ve got a Midnight Madness screening of Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad in 20 minutes. I’m running around trying to find Ryerson theater and I’m getting stressed out imagining all the ways that I could humiliate myself trying to volley a beach ball in a crowded theater. Luckily, a friendly orange shirt is never far away and I was very thankful to the volunteers who helped me find where to line up. I never miss a chance to thank a volunteer and I applaud for them every time the TIFF commercial prompts us to.

So, anyway, Mom and Dad. Taylor (Crank, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence) seems to be just begging us to make this a cult classic. An unexplained virus suddenly hits suburbia in the middle of the school day that infects parents with an uncontrollable urge to violently murder their offspring. Poor Carly (13 Reasons Why’s Anne Winters) and Josh Ryan (Transparent’s Zackary Arthur) are forced to fend for themselves against their now-deranged parents played by Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair.

Mom and Dad is bananas. Almost every aspect of the film- from the basic concept down to the music and over-caffeinated editing- seems driven by the same manic energy that fuels Cage’s typically unhinged performance. The actor, who in the eyes of the enthusiastic Midnight Madness crowd may as well have been John Lennon, already starts overacting long before the virus starts making everyone crazy. He outCages himself in this movie and- while it would be a stretch to call it a good performance- it feels like the right performance for this movie. But it’s Blair, surprisingly, who somehow finds a way to keep this runaway train from going off the rails. From the start, we can tell that her character is a good mom. She loves her kids but she’s exhausted and taken for granted. She’s the only believable character in the whole thing and her presence brings Mom and Dad back to earth. It’s through her that we start to sense that the virus is tapping into an existential crisis that was already in place before the infection.

To call Mom and Dad good would be ridiculous but it’s not really trying to be. It just wants to be fun and, for the most part, it is. It’s often funny, even coming dangerously close to smart, especially when it’s in terrible taste.

Phone Dies

I got some great photos this year, many of which you can see if you follow us on Twitter. I like sitting in the front row so I was able to get some shots of Nicolas Cage, Alicia Vikander, Alexander Payne, and Darren Aronofsky that I’m really happy with. But you won’t see a photo of Ellen Page (who, if I’m not mistaken, counts as a superhero out of spandex) because my phone died.

The Cured– So I did manage to get a couple of pictures of Ellen Page during the Q&A for The Cured. They’re just not tweetable because my phone didn’t have enough juice left for the flash to work. So it’s not a great picture. It’s a shame because I love her.

And, yes, fortunately for my TIFF Bingo card, my phone officially died on my way back to my hotel.

On to The Cured. This debut feature from Irish director David Freyne finds yet another way to breathe new life into a genre that seems to never run out of ways to reinvent itself: the zombie movie. Once this version of the zombie apocalypse has died down, two thirds of the “infected’ have been successfully cured and are slowly being reintegrated into society. Ex-zombies don’t have it easy though. They still have painful memories of the suffering that they inflicted and most people still don’t trust them.

Senan (Sam Keeley) has just been released from a treatment facility and is taken in by his brother’s wife Abbie (Page) who has been widowed by the outbreak. When he falls in with a militant group of zombie rights activists, Senan struggles to find a balance between his desire to fit in and atone for his crimes and his instinct to stand up for his fellow cured.

To Freyne, his film is really about how we treat each other in today’s mixed up world. It’s a serious movie with serious themes that somehow finds time to deliver the goods when it comes to zombie scares. Freyne’s direction is confident and precise, more so than almost any other movie I saw at the festival this year.

So there you have it. I wore out my phone battery, saw 3 films by female directors, thanked every volunteer that I spoke to, and even managed to see some good movies while I was at it. By now, experienced Bingo players have probably already spotted my path to victory but please feel free to stay tuned for more details.

 

Little Evil

Little Evil is not an exceptional entry into the genre, but it’s a quirky little horror-comedy hybrid that’s just clever enough. This film is of the ‘possessed child’ variety but the focus is on Gary (Adam Scott), the demon child’s stepdad. Step-parenting is hard, y’all! And it’s slightly harder when your new wife’s kid is the spawn of satan. You really get put through the ringer. And of course his Mom (Evangeline Lilly) is always going to take her darling son’s side – how dare you suggest that he might be, you know – a little evil? He’s an angel! Besides, how much trouble can a 6 year old really get into, even if he is the Antichrist?

99e58ff3fb9373b5bb8760617c7674f23bddd0d1Director Eli Craig clearly has some fondness for the genre, and little odes to other possessed-kid movies pop up from time to time. Another thing that pops up is Craig’s own mother, Sally Field, as a social worker who thinks Gary just isn’t trying hard enough. It’s a small but terrific role for her – possibly the kind of role only her son could ask her to play.

The film’s weakness is that it never fully embraces its own identity. It doesn’t go full goofy, but it can never be full horror. The result is perfectly watchable but a little frustrating knowing what it might otherwise have been. It also sort of neglects little Lucas (Owen Atlas, the titular Evil himself). We don’t know him well enough to judge whether he truly wants to bury people alive, or whether he’s just not fond of Mom’s string of boyfriends. Our early impression is that he likes to dress like he’s in ACDC and he’s mostly silent, only talking through a creepy goat hand puppet. He’s only just turned 6, still small enough for us to feel naturally protective over, so if you want me to contemplate stabbing him through his unholy heart, you’d better give me good reason and some to spare.

All in, this is a fairly throwaway movie. The beats are familiar, it’s just that Gary’s merry band of misfits consists of a step-dad support group. There are some laughs to be had here, and if you’re a fan of horror, it’s fun to play Where’s Waldo with the references. This is Netflix original content, and it’s streaming there right now.

Dead Shack

Dead Shack is that rare comedy-horror hybrid that actually works on both counts. It was yet another surprise from Fantasia’s lineup and I really have to stop being surprised because the truth is the programming is quite excellent even if the movies tend to do be a little wheelhouse-busting.

[I mean, what the hell is a wheelhouse anyway? Well, okay, I know what a wheel house is, it’s the little shack on a fishing boat where the wheel goes. If something’s in your wheel house, then you’re capable of doing it. And it’s not that I’m incompetent or unable MV5BZTgzODJjNDUtNGVhNC00NmUxLWJmYWUtMWU0ZTRiMGZmMzMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,743_AL_to watch genre films, it’s just that I’m rather chicken and often shy away. But here I am, grabbing the ole wheel by its…spokes? And I’m loving it.]

Dead Shack is about a family who goes on a budget camping trip to a rundown cabin in the middle of some bug-infested hellhole, and if I stopped writing right there, well, that’s horrific enough for me. But no. While on the trip, Dad and Dad’s new girlfriend immediately set to partying (euphemism for heavy drinking). His teenage Son and Daughter and their Ambiguous Friend knock about in the creepy surrounding woods and stumble upon a neighbour who looks like a Volvo-driving soccer Mom until she puts her armor on and brings home human prey for her undead family to feast upon.

For a movie about cannibalism, it’s actually quite funny. A lot of the fun comes from Dad, who is earnest and geeky and trying just a little too hard to be Cool Weekend Dad. But then it’s his kids who have to come to the rescue with their improvised armaments and slapped-together weapons. Death Shack kind of has the feel of an 80s movie – picture a Goonies-Evil Dead mashup. And there’s still plenty of gore and tense framing and a pretty heart-pounding soundtrack to satisfy the sickest of you souls. Bon appetit.

 

 

 

SXSW: Prevenge

Alice Lowe has stumbled upon a new kind of body horror: that of a heavily pregnant woman. Ruth is on a murder spree, guided by the wee voice in her womb who just happens to be a misanthropic areshole. The little voice chimes in, pointing out the bad people, or the disappointing people, or the less than desirable people, and encouraging mom to kill, kill, kill. Apparently there’s blood lust in umbilical cords these days!

Alice Lowe is my hero. She wrote (and starred in) Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, appeared in Adult MV5BN2EzNTdlOGEtNWViZC00MmE5LWFiNzgtOTIzODNlMjBjM2M2L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1399,1000_AL_Life Skills and Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, and lent her voice to Locke, among a flurry of other activity, including fucking. That’s crude, but the end result is that she found herself pregnant, and instead of taking maternity leave like a sane person, she wrote and directed herself, at 7.5 months pregnant, in this film about a homicidal fetus. And it’s her first feature as director!

Ryan Reynolds became murderous when his cat Mr. Whiskers told him to, but Alice Lowe has done him one better. Prevenge is blackly comic and wryly British, if I may say so. Ruth’s unborn baby seems to be holding the world accountable for her absent father, slyly suggesting to her mother that certain someones might be deserving of a gory end. Ruth seems to indulge baby’s every whim but does struggle with her conscience. Is this a new kind of pre-partum, um, madness? And what the heck is going to happen when the baby comes out? Yikes!

Shudder, “Home of Horror” hosted a screening in NYC where all pregnant women were admitted free. I suppose those who weren’t superstitious attended, and hopefully saw the humour in a pregnant lady killing for two. If that’s something you might be into, the good word is that Prevenge is streaming on Shudder right this very minute.