Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Horror Watch-a-Thon

No scary stories this Halloween, but I figured that since I've been watching a lot of horror just recently, it'd take me ages to cover all in my regular fashion, so therefore, it's time for the One Paragraph Review... thing. Yeah, I don't have a better word for it, but let's get this thing rolling, shall we?

Ginger Snaps
Teen horror coming of age story with werewolves, where lycanthropy is used as a metaphor for puberty. No, really. Anyway, this is the story of the two sisters Ginger and Birgitte, who are morose outcasts of the sort I personally have never seen outside of American (or in this case Canadian) movies. Ginger is bitten by a werewolf on the first day of her first period, so she slowly turns into a werewolf, growing sexier and more primal on the way, until the "sexy" part kinda takes a drop... unless you're into that sorta thing. The relationship between the two leads is really good, although it gets a little uncomfortably incestuous at some points, still, it makes you care for the main characters, and that's something a lot of horror movies seem to forget you actually have to do. The makeup and the effects are pretty good, but not mindblowing or on An American Werewolf In London-kind of level. Still, very watchable, even for us guys.

Event Horizon
It's Hellraiser.... IIIIIIIIN SPAAAAACE. Seriously though, the titular ship has suddenly reappeared after it's sudden disappearance. A team is sent to investigate the now derelict ship that was the first ship using experimental Faster Than Light travel technology. Hoh yes, I can't see this going wrong at all. On the expedition we also get the Event Horizon's designer, Doctor Wier, who has some guilt issues that eventually turn him into the anthromorphic representation of the now evil as hell ship, because faceless evil doesn't sit well with western audiences, I guess. Got some good scares, but a bit of a Jump Scare addiction as per usual, and the brief, and not so brief, flashes of hellish torture we get are properly fucked up. Probably a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it's one of the better space-horrors since Alien.

David Cronenberg's The Fly
Oh dear. When Cronenberg's involved, you know you're not in for a happy fun ride. Scientist Seth Brunden has invented a teleporter, but when he tests it out, a lone fly in the teleportation chamber leads to what can easily be described as a genetic mashup with the worst thinkable consequences. Seth becomes some half-human half-fly abomination, and his girlfriend is starting to wonder if the child she's carrying will have a similar genetic problems. It's a rare movie in that it happens to be both heartbreaking and quite stomach-churning, sure. Sure, we see the protagonist hurl acidic vomit at both food and... somewhat more sentient targets, but we also see his girlfriend who's simultaneously be worried for and afraid of her increasingly mutated love. I would say the movie's just a little less disturbing than Videodrome overall, but that's mostly because it's fairly straightforward. It pretty much crushes Videodrome under it's heel what emotional investment is considered, though.

Halloween's apparently my "catch up with horror movies I should have seen"-holiday. Works for me. This flick follows the titular character, a naive outcast, who gets invited to the prom by a popular guy. What could possibly go wrong? In a nutshell: Pig's blood, psychic powers and religious guilt and paranoia implanted by a crazy abusive christian fundamentalist mother. Oh yes, this one is a bit light on the horror, like a lot of Stephen King stuff is want to do, but once it cracks up, it cranks up on high.

I figured I could end this on a lighter note. Don't get me wrong, death, pain and universal brouhaha is all nice and well, but once in a while, I want to see a movie with zombies, gore, ludicrous gibs, and all the main characters surviving. Four survivors traveling through zombie-infested America, searching for home, a theme park and a twinkie. It's a fairly clever zombie flick, maybe a bit of a reconstruction of zombie movies. Fun, awesome, and kind of heartwarming, talked about it before.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Happening

Oh M. Night Shyamalan, where did you go wrong? The Sixth Sense was great, several bricks were shat, and the twist ending is right up there with "The Narrator is Tyler Durden" and "Rosebud was his sled" as far as fame goes, and well deserved, it was one of the twists that really changed the movie upon rewatching it. Sure, some of the later movies didn't quite live up to the greatness, Signs, The Village, Lady In The Water, these weren't great, in retrospect they were pretty shit, but at least the two former had some scaryness going for it. Lady in the Water had... uh... I'll have to get back to you on that one. Annoying strawmen of people criticizing the director? Anyway, despite my vitriolic attitude towards his works, it wasn't until I saw this film that I realized just how far the mighty hath fallen. Spoilers as usual.

So, The Happening. This story follows Eliot Moore and his incredibly creepy wife, Alma, who, despite being unsettling enough for a horror film on her own, and possibly a few sequels, apparently isn't supposed to be creepy, as they flee from the titular... well happening.

The happening is people going suicidal due to a neurotoxin that causes people to kill themselves. Now, this being a Shyamalan film, there's also a very prominent B-plot, to the point where I'm considering if maybe the whole "suicide plague"-thing is the B-plot, where Mr. and Mrs. Moore are growing distant, their marriage slowly disintegrating. The twist, or what goes for a twist in this movie, is that the plants have had it with humanity's shit, and is now releasing the neurotoxin whenever there's larger groups of humans around. Apparently, their chlorophyll rage can be quelled by either the power of love or exceedingly suicidal idiocy, but I'll get back to that later.
Scary, no?

So, what's the problem with this, movie? I'd say there's several, but it'd help if the man playing the main character, Mark Wahlberg, formerly of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch fame, could... you know, act. Seriously, this man has all of one expression, one tone of voice. Oh yes, it's Dull Surprise all the way, sure, he's not quite as bad as the actor playing his wife, but she's not the main character, and as such, it's not as catastrophically bad for the movie. Seriously, there's one line in the movie, where Elliot tries to be diplomatic with a potted plant, only for it to realize it's a plastic plant. This could be pretty hilarious. Just the slightest hint of deadpan, or exasperation, hell, just a relatively minor change in tone could make this scene funny, as I'm pretty certain it was supposed to be.

The Silver Screen cannot contain the raw emotion of Mark Wahlberg

Also, I'm pretty sure this is just a problem with my twisted sense of humor, but this movie's attempts at being frightening also falls flat. Seriously, large parts of the population is killing themselves, this should be scary. Instead, most of the deaths feel like a parody. One memorable kill is when Mark Wahlberg is left looking in... well... dull surprise as a survivor starts up a big-ass lawnmower before laying down in front of the thing. Judging by the music, this is supposed to be scary. Needless to say, it really doesn't work.

Speaking of things this movie doesn't do well, let's talk about the science, although it's more appropriate to talk about it's attitude towards science. I'm not fanatical about it, but I'm of the opinion that the scientific method is quite solid as far as getting answers about the universe goes, and the philosophy behind it is quite solid. Therefore, I find it infuriating when the movie opens with Mark Wahlberg's character, a science teacher, having a long speech about how science is pretty much useless, and nature does shit that nobody can explain because... nature did it, I guess. I just can't get over that. Had he been an English teacher, or a social studies teacher, or any other sort of a teacher, it could make sense, but a science teacher telling people that science can't explain shit? Jesus and a half, Shyamalan, I'm getting the impression you want to make a point here.
Again, as a Shyamalan movie is want to do, the climax of this movie is a little odd. To be specific, our two main characters end up sitting in the dark, talking about their relationship. Yeah, not surprising, pretty much every Shyamalan film I've seen, sans Lady In The Water, I think, builds up towards the climax like this. It seems to point towards Shyamalan preferring to do drama, despite never really doing any straight dramas. Anyway, large talky bits pass, it's difficult to care, since the acting's wooden and the writing artificial. Then comes the part that slays me. Our heroes are caught in separate buildings, with murderous plants separating them, but when they work out their relationship problems, they decide they'd rather die together, and they go out in the meadow OF DEATH.

Not pictured: Death

You'd think that this would be the end of our heroes, but for some reasons they are unaffected by the neurotoxin. Not quite sure why. Either, their love stopped the plants, their apparently suicidal stupidity made the plants realize there wasn't much more to be done, or they just got stupid lucky. I kinda get the feeling the "power of love"-thing was supposed to be the subtext, but it's so... disappointingly lame. I mean, I'm sure a talented director could make this work, but Shyamalan just ain't it.

So, in a nutshell, The Happening might be one of the most unintentionally hilarious films that was ostensibly supposed to be scary I have ever seen . I'm thinking someone should have a nice sit-down with Shyamalan and tell him that despite The Sixth Sense being quite good, him being a part of a movie's production doesn't automatically make it good. Luckily, the next few movies I plan to cover is somewhat better. Also, Halloween's coming up, so I guess something should be done with that.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rec 2

I don't know what to say about this. Really. It's flat out uncanny. I got this movie a little while ago, I watched it, and I sat down and prepared to write this little review. Then it hit me, I wasn't quite sure what to do with this thing. Should I give it faint praise or give it what for? I didn't really know, and maybe I still don't. The most frustrating part is that it's not Antichrist "What the hell? I mean, seriously, what the hell?"-uncertainty, although there's some similarities. Well, let's just get to it, and we'll see where it goes. Spoilers as big as caribou will follow, consider yourself warned.

Rec 2 starts up where the first one leaves off, or to be more precise, just before the first one ends. Our heroes is a Spanish SWAT-team (or their Spanish equivalent) that is sent to investigate the zombie-infested apparent building. Also, keeping up with the ShakyCam tradition of the first one, the whole movie is told through the helmet cams of said unit, and a traditional camera that apparently can show footage from any of these cameras. They're also teaming up with a government representative who turns out to be a priest.

Here comes the big twist, which kinda ruined it for me. The SWAT guys discover that these zombies seem to be somewhat on the wrong side of the "Zombies are usually Agnostics"-rule, because these zombies recoil from the Word Of God and are restrained by a crucifix on a wall. Yeah. Kind of a tonal shift from the first one, there. Turns out Patient Zero, The Medeiros Girl, really was possessed by Old Nick, or some close acquaintance of his, and she then spread her super demon rage-plague with intentions of... well, taking over the world, I guess. Oh, and she only exists when it's dark, I think, the movie's kinda hazy on this point. Anyway, our priestly friend needs to get a sample of this girl's blood so the Vatican will be able to make a vaccine against being possessed by demons, or something like this. Oh, and the demon possession apparently is in the form of a slug/snake thing. Most horror movies take longer than one sequel before they end up on "Demonic Snake/slug/leech things did it."

I mean... what do I say to this? Rec 1 hinted at a possible supernatural origin, although that theory was uttered by a recluse with a room full of crazy, so I always figured it was some religious nut who had hijacked this otherwise seemingly secular zombie apocalypse, in the vein of what Romero tends to do, so I guess the REC guys should get points for catching me off guard ... buuuuuuut not too many points. Why? Quite simply, Rec 2 isn't all that scary. For one thing, it gives us an actual explanation of what exactly is going on, it introduces a goal other than survival, and... the zombies now have a voice. I didn't think about this earlier, but it now occurs to me, the Main Zombie can go all ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL on any of the other zombies, and thus our heroes can talk with the villain. In some horror movies, this really really work, like Hellraiser or Nightmare on Elm Street 1 (and pretty much only 1, but still,) but kind of the charm of zombies is that you don't know what the fuck they're about, except munching on your tender flesh, and the REC 1 zombies seemed only tangentially interested in even that.

If I am allowed to further my rant on the topic, which I am, since this is my blog and I don't exactly have to think about my massive fanbase. Take Paranormal Activity, for example. It was so goddamn effective as a horror movie partially because you never knew what the Ghost/Demon/Something wanted, and although it's dislike for the main characters were obvious, you didn't know how to placate it's anger, or if that at all was possible. Sure, there's no reasonable solution in place when our heroes confront the queen zombie, for the lack of a better title, there's a certain dialouge going on, the priest has this "In Christ's name, state your name, demon"-thing going on. Shit, give this guy an old priest and a young priest, a bed and a flight of stairs and he'd solve this whole brouhaha in no time at all.

In addition to the above mentioned, the addition of multiple cameras kind of ruined the experience for me. Sure, in principle, it seemed like a great idea, more openings for "The camera man gets eaten"-scenes, but it really takes away what I figured to be the charm of the first movie. You didn't know everything that was going on, you knew about as much as the cameraman. Fuck dramatic tension, something was going to jump out at you right after you least expected it, and with a little bad luck, it was going to eat you. In a way, they try the same thing, but in a slightly grander scale, as most of the video is as "edited" by the main camera anyway, except a bunch of teenagers show up with their video camera and we see it through their lense. Why did this movie need teenagers? Except that it eats SWAT officers like Cthulhu eats investigators and there's not enough fresh meat otherwise, that is.

The movie also has some problems with plotholes and characters acting stupid. Let's have a look at the former first. So, our heroes are all SWAT, which is to say they're trained for just such situations as they find themselves in, this doesn't ring true with how hillariously badly they do their job. Sure, most SWAT doesn't have to deal with We Are Legion Demon scarybollocks, but they occasionally do monumentally stupid thing. For example, they tend to split up at the drop of a hat, something that seems counterproductive to the process of not getting blindsided by some psycho, also, the priest has a dedication to his cause that he wouldn't believe. I mean, after the third or fourth failure at the objective, shouldn't the man at least consider to cut his losses, nuke the site from orbit and call it a day? Maybe looking into alternative lines of work?

This ties in nicely with one of the bigger plotholes, or worst character stupidity. At the very end, our heroes have finally tracked down the Queen Demon, and they need to get some of her blood, for said vaccine. In the brawl, they kill the creature, and the priest despairs. Now, I realize the filmmakers probably had some fancy ideas about why they couldn't... well, you know, just get the light back off, stab her with a syringe and get the gore and get outta there. Maybe the demonragething leaves the body when it dies or something, but in that case you need to explain that, otherwise it just seems cheap.

I'm starting to realize why I felt conflicted about this movie. It's a little disconcerting actually, but I think I really wanted to like this movie. I'd love this movie to be the good horror movie sequel that I could point at and say "See, you morons? This is how you do it." All the ingredients were there too. Same writer, same director, hell, the main character makes an appearance, I'm still uncertain if the sequel was planned from the start, but it could at least be a sequel that didn't bring immediate shame on the original. Hell, for a few moments in the beginning, I was optimistic, even savoring some of that sweet nervous fear that deeply saturated the first film. The sight of the SWAT team moving through the building was effective, conjuring up the terror from the first film, filling me with questions, how will the SWAT handle the undead? When will the first unexpected, brick-shitting scare happen?

About here would be a good place. Just saying

Unfortunately, I now realize that his movie just didn't work. A sequel should try expanding on the source material, true, but the tone shouldn't be so radically different that anyone going in with the expectations of the first film will be left scratching their heads. Sure, the idea is relatively fresh, but so was the idea behind my next planned review, The Happening, and well... I think most people know how that one goes. It's at this point that I'd say that the sequel hook didn't work , and won't be dragging me back for more, but I'd be lying. I'll be watching the next REC film, if nothing else because I hope the crew behind these movies can get back to the greatness of the first one. Optimism, ho!