Tag Archives: horror movies

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.

 

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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.

TIFF Bingo

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

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

the cured

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

SXSW: Game Of Death

Laurence Morais Lagacé and Sebastien Landry are two young Canadian directors who apparently have wild and sick imaginations.

A bunch of teenagers, who’ve already had the sex and done the drugs, are just bored Game-of-Deathenough to try a dusty old board game, Game Of Death. They should have read the instructions first – once engaged, the game counts down the 24 people necessary TO MURDER in order to “win.” The game doesn’t stop until 24 are dead. When the clock runs out, if no one is killed, the game itself will execute a player. How stoned would you have to be for this to sound fun?

They do what any normal teenagers would: beer bongs. But failing to take this game seriously is a fatal mistake: when the clock runs out, one of the characters’ heads explodes. Like, explosively explodes. Yes, I know, I’m quite the colourful writer! Bow down if you must.

At any rate, this game is For Real. Now there are 23 left to be killed and some interesting choices to be made. Will the kids turn on each other, prey on their neighbours, or sit back and wait for their own skulls to go bust?

Interesting fact about teenagers: they are devoid of morals. Apparently. And video games have definitely made them callous!

Interesting fact about me: I cannot spend an hour and a half listening to a teenaged girl game-of-death-F69597cry. I assume this the same is also true of teenaged boys. I understand that some people cry under pressure, but for the sake of watchable movies, I think film makers need to dispense of this annoying soundtrack.

Interesting fact about this movie: exploding heads are NOT the most disturbing thing about it.

Should you watch it? Hey man, no judgments. There’s no real horror here; no anxiety, no foreboding, no creepiness, just straight up gore and blood lust, plenty of both, and some gratuitous bikini shots thrown in. Perfect guilt-watch?

 

SXSW: Two Pigeons

I can admit when I’m wrong.

Okay, no I can’t. But I’m going to make an exception here. You know I don’t handle horror well and so I didn’t make 2 Pigeons a high priority at SXSW, despite it having an interesting premise. And you know, about 10 seconds into the film, I realized that I was wrong. It’s already better looking and better sounding than I could have imagined.

Hussein (Mim Shaikh) is an untidy, unscrupulous estate agent; the film’s press release describes him as “oily, amoral” but I confess to two-pigeons-F71465-thumb-860xauto-65830sort of liking him, probably mostly for his loud, flashy suits. Hussein seems like a pretty regular bloke. He gets up, brushes his teeth, hustles his clients, masturbates, goes to bed, does it again. But when Hussein leaves his apartment, we realize he isn’t so regular after all. He doesn’t know it, but he’s got an uninvited, unseen guest living in his home. Orlan (Javier Botet) only comes out at night, or when Hussein’s at work. Why is he doing this? And for how long? Only his dangerously thin frame hints at a time frame no one is comfortable with.

Turns out, this isn’t so much a horror as a super creepy movie. I could possibly handle a stranger secretly living beneath my bed, but I CANNOT abide by a stranger “recycling” his mouthwash back into our (secretly, to me) communal bottle, or using my face cloth in areas of the body that are NOT THE FACE. Although, note to anyone secretly living in my home right now: please, please avail yourself of whatever breakfast cereal you like. All you can eat. I promise, I eat the stuff so rarely I won’t even notice.

But back to the why: this guy isn’t just getting a free ride, he’s fucking with his landlord-dupe. This movie seriously preys on our unconscious fears: that even with our doors safely locked, our bodies, our safety, our personal space are not inviolable while we sleep. Every day, Orlan’s violation and desecration escalates. YOUR SKIN WILL CRAWL.

The one problem I had with the film is how unperceptive Hussein is. It feels just a tad too much that no matter how far Orlan takes the transgressions, Hussein just kind of shrugs it off. And the harder Orlan works at being disgusting, the more personal it seems. And yet director Dominic Bridges keeps us in the dark for far too long.

So that’s it. That’s as far as I’ll take you. Should you watch it? That depends entirely on the iron in your stomach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: The movie was titled 2 Pigeons when we saw an early screening at SXSW. It has since been retitled Freehold.

 

 

SXSW: Lake Bodom

True story: in June 1960, four kids (two 15-year-old girls and their 18-year-old boyfriends) went camping. Three of them were found dead, stabbed and bludgeoned to death; the fourth was bloodied and blank, with no recollection of the violent attack. This case has remain unsolved in Finland for nearly 6 decades, but theories have turned into legends, and this film is born of those campfire ashes.

In Lake Bodom, Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla) is obsessed with lake-bodom-2016-movie-featuredthe murders. He talks his friend Elias (Mikael Gabriel) into helping him recreate them, hoping to solve them once and for all, but Elias is in it for the sex, not so much the solving. They coax along two best friends who think they’re going on a very different trip – Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) is happy to escape her oppressively-religious home life, and Nora (Mimosa Willamo) is just happy to spend time with Ida.

Since this is a horror movie, you know what’s coming next: this isn’t just a recreation. Shit goes down! But Lake Bodom isn’t quite as predictable or straight-up as that. There’s a series of twists that defy expectation, melding several horror tropes into a single film, keeping you guessing and interested and creeped the fuck out. This film looks better than any horror film has to. Some of the shots are full-stop beautiful, which only adds to the ambiance. Atmospheric and well-paced, Lake Bodom provides thrills and anxiety in equal measure, earning every drop of blood splashed across the screen.

Lake Bodom has a relatively low body count, but if you’re in it for the gore, no worries: it makes each one count. In detail. Graphic, brutal detail. Fans of horror who are tired of the same old thing are going to love this. Well, love and hate this. It really is quite scary and maybe not as “fun” as a traditional slasher flick – there’s real meat here, if you can stomach it.

Lake Bodom will be released exclusively on Shudder May 2017.

 

 

 

SXSW: Alien & Alien: Covenant Sneak Peek

alien-F71972Anytime you get a chance to watch Alien with Sir Ridley Scott, you take it. How great is it that we got that chance?  Even better, Scott was not alone. He brought Alien: Covenant footage with him, as well as Covenant stars Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, and Michael Fassbender. An entertaining Q&A took place after the bulk of the new footage. We didn’t learn any big secrets but it’s obvious that all three actors were thrilled to have had the chance to work with Scott, particularly McBride who joked that his parents were thrilled he was finally making a real movie.

ridley-scott-F71972The new footage proves that Scott is not afraid to rip himself off, and that’s great news as far as I’m concerned. You would expect Alien: Covenant to bear at least a passing resemblance to Alien (as the former’s purpose, aside from making tons of money, is to bridge the gap between Prometheus and the original quadrilogy. But the similarities are greater than that, they’re intentional callbacks to the original.  That made the footage from Covenant FEEL like Alien, as it took us to the same places that Alien did, only now we know what’s going to happen (and what has to happen). Scott delivers on his setups with glee, letting us know he’s right there with us. A facehugger scene featuring Billy Crudup was especially awesome. It’s a good bet there will be more moments like that in the footage still to come.

If the rest of the movie measures up to the three full scenes we were treated to then Alien: Covenant is going to be a must-see for anyone who is a fan of the original. And I’m guessing you’re a fan if you are reading this. This one could be great. I’m now super excited to see it when it opens May 19th. And if Scott is available for another screening then, all the better. Fingers crossed!

There’s much more to come from SXSW. Check out @assholemovies for more movies and photos as things happen!

Get Out

You all know I’m a chicken shit, so even though I was curious about Jordan Peele’s foray into the horror genre, I still stayed the hell away. So far 2017 has been a banner year for me in terms of a) Not peeing my pants in movie theatre seats and b) Not bursting the blood vessels in my eyes out of sheer panic. But…you all spoke so highly of it. You tricked me into thinking I could take it. I’m looking at you, Jane.  She made me believe in myself, goddammit. Totally unwarranted!

The movie itself lulled me into complacency. Chris is a city boy and a photographer, and like many men, he refuses to own nice luggage (the duffel bag thing is creepy and played out guys). Nothing scary there. Daniel Kaluuya is a pleasant surprise in the lead role, affable if somewhat guarded. He strikes me as reasonable right from the beginning, which is nice in a horror film, which are usually filled with air heads who don’t know enough TO NOT GO INTO THE BASEMENT\WOODS\DARK ALLEY. When some vaguely racist shit happens to him (he’s black), he’s just shrugging it off, not because it doesn’t bother him, but because he knows the deal. This is typical bullshit. His (white) girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), meanwhile, gets all up in arms. Because: racism! It’s news to her! But don’t worry, she says, my parents aren’t racist at all. They’re going to love you.

They don’t love him. Dad (Bradley Whitford) goes out of his way to connect racially. It’s as awkward as you’re thinking. Mom (Catherine Keener) is uneasy, and maybe a little disapproving. Brother is overzealous. The help (the only other black people for miles) ARE FUCKING CREEPY. So yeah, big surprise, Mom and Dad are a little bit racist after all, and Rose is a little bit embarrassed, and Chris is a little bit wary. Read that as: NOT WARY ENOUGH. Even though his excellent friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) straight up warned him not to go out into suburbia. Always listen to Rod.

Chris inevitably overstays his welcome and I’ll stop there because half the fun of watching this movie is finding out how it’s going to go down. I mean, you pretty much know what’s going to happen, but you get the pleasure of seeing the twisted stuff that comes out of writer-director Jordan Peele’s mind. This whole ugly caper is a great showcase for some social commentary, and if you know Peele’s work, you know he excels at racially-based comedy. He just makes wry observations and presents them in a way we can all laugh at. Turns out he can do the same thing with horror (minus the laughing…actually, plus some laughing. Guilty laughing. Nervous laughing).

And a note about the horror: it’s not so bad. The stuff I was grumbling about up there? That happened in the first 10 minutes, and it’s probably technically not part of the horror at all. It was a dead (well, dying) deer, who was quite vocal about her displeasure. It nearly killed me. The rest was tolerable. Yes, there’s tension: loads and loads of tension (imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time AND getting repeatedly attempted-murdered in one single weekend!). But Peele isn’t exactly trying to horrify you; he’s trying to unsettle you. And he’s doing that exceedingly well.

A big part of why this works is the excellent casting. The performances are solidly on-point at all times, sometimes downright impressive, but no one’s trying to overshadow anyone else. It’s oddly well-balanced for a horror film, and whatever little look-the-other-way moments a horror necessitates, Kaluuya is smooth enough to steer right through. The worst part of this movie is knowing that if Chris survives, he will be defying that age-old stereotype: the black guy dies first. But even if he manages to walk away from knife-wielding assassins, there’s no walking away from racism. That shit will follow you home.