Friday, February 25, 2011


Today's movie is a bit of a rarity, Buried, the 2010 movie staring Ryan Reynolds, and only Ryan Reynolds, directed by a certain Rodrigo Cortés, who as far as I can see have directed only one feature-lenght film before. Also, the whole thing is set in a very restricted location, inside a coffin to be precise. There's several ways a concept like this could go horribly, horribly wrong, but how it fares, I won't get into quite yet. Also, this review will be fairly spoiler free, as I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on the full arc and experience of this 
I like this poster. Probably the best use of Review Blurbs I've seen.

The story is, as one might expect, fairly bare-bones. Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a truck driver working for some contractor firm who does work in Iraq. When transporting some goods to a school somewhere, the convoy gets attacked and our hero gets knocked out, waking up inside a small coffin under ground with a cellphone, a lighter, a hip flask of whiskey and some other minor items he finds over the course of his stay in the wooden box that, luckily for him, is somewhat larger than a coffin. Over the course of the movie, he gets into contact with both his kidnappers and a branch of the US military that just might help him, however, his prospects are, understandably, rather grim.

In one way, this movie reminds me a little of Dogme movies, as by defined by the Dogme95-movement. I'm not much a fan of that school of film-making myself, but I can definitely see the appeal in ultra low-budget simplistic film-making. Not to go much of a tangent, Buried is very much a minimalistic movie, since the only character we see in the entire movie, with one brief exception, is Paul, and the only set, with no exceptions, is his minuscule prison. That said, Buried does allow itself a couple of luxuries that would not be allowed in a Dogme movie, amongst others some camera tricks. You'd think the camera crew wouldn't have too much of a job in a movie like this, but there's some surprisingly good camera work in there. For one, we have the very handheld, wavy style many of the shots are in, especially after Paul starts going just a little stir crazy, but the most impressive shot, in my mind, was a lingering 360 degree sweep of the coffin that it took me a while to figure out. On the less bright side, there's a couple of kinda immersion-breaking shots that show Paul in the coffin with darkness outside. I'm a bit torn on this one, because I think it works, as the movie is kind of from Paul's point of view, and getting a little artsy to express his emotions is groovy, but especially that shot reminded me that this was, indeed, shot on a set somewhere, but that's enough film student wankery for now.
You'll see a good bit of this during the movie.
Oh who am I kidding, the wankery is all I've got. To be honest, Ryan Reynolds surprised me in this. Considering I had only seen the guy in Blade: Trinity, which was pretty much the worst imagenable introduction to the Blade series I could've gotten, with a Reynolds who plays badass about as well as Mark Wahlberg plays... anything, and was relentlessly shilled as a character I should care about, despite being about as interesting as watching painted grass dry, and a couple of comedies of varying degrees of romantic subplotting. That said, I did not make that connection in this movie, oh no, far from it. Thanks to the stark lighting in the coffin and Reynolds actually playing a serious character, it took me a good half hour before I said to myself. "Wait a second, that's Berg." Most interestingly, this did not really ruin my enjoyment of the movie, I guess we'll have to chalk that up to Reynolds actually showing some acting chops here.

Seriously, Paul Conroy is a bit of a tricky character to play, since he's got what I will only describe as several asshole-ish traits, well, maybe that's a little unfair, and he's just a regular guy who reacts poorly to the fresh batch of weapons-grade bad luck that has been dumped in his lap? It's an interpretation thing, I guess, but either way  Reynolds does it really well, he plays a character that supports both these interpretations, and does it so well that I actually felt sympathy for him, lacking this would've been a deathblow for the movie, or at least made the thriller part less potent. Without spoiling too much, the final fifteen to twenty minutes might be some of the most intense movie watching experience I've ever had, and it made me kinda sad I didn't get around to catching it in theaters, because the ability to pause, minimize and in general not have the movie thrust in your face for the full 90 minutes might have taken away from the intensity somewhat. Of course, looking at these last 20 minutes, it might not be such a bad thing to have the impact diminished a little, but there you go, I'm a movie masochist, apparently.

Also, it should really go without saying, but claustrophobic might want to give this one a pass, just like epileptics might want to avoid Irreversible.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Orphanage

So, in my recent crusade to upgrade from DVD to BluRay, I also acquired a copy of The Orphanage, another Spanish horror hit along the lines of The Devil's Backbone and simialr. For the longest time, I thought this was a Guillermo del Toro production, but turns out he's got little to do with this, except a producer role of some sort. Regardless, orphanages are prime real estate for scaryness, so let's get rolling. 

The Orphanage subscribes to the philosophy that incorporates larger themes than just the pure danger and fear, incorporating more, shall one say, adult fears and concerns into the mix. It's very refreshing when movies do that, because I get the distinct feeling that the filmmakers have a point to make, and as long as they're not blatant about it, I find it a-ok. This movie is about a woman named Laura who moves back into her childhood home, an orphanage, with the intention of starting it back up. In this old building and in the surrounding countryside, Laura's sick son gets a new invisible friend. So, as you might have guessed, here be ghosts, sorta-creepy but benign (?) ghost children, gotta love those.

Now, I'm actually a bit torn regarding what I think about this movie. The drama bits were very well done, with convincing acting and the pacing is fairly satisfying, however, it feels a bit like the movie can't quite make up it's mind if it's going for that whole horror vibe after all. Sure, there's a fairly creepy scene in which a séance is held to try getting to the bottom of this whole brouhaha, but I get the distinct feeling that the horror doesn't quite... blossom, although it could be because the horror is somewhat more subdued. Then again, I've seen good subdued horror too, and I wasn't seeing it in this. Or maybe I'm not getting it, as it were,  it wouldn't be either the first or last time anything like that happened.

Still, this movie's popularity is kind of surprising to me. I mean, it's not bad, nonono, but it strikes me as one of these movies where I go in expecting Paranormal Activity crossed with Pan's Labyrinth, but got something more akin to The Changeling, but with a twist of supernatural (that is uncanny stuff, not the tv show... although I guess...) It's a bit of the same problem I had with Black Swan, although I liked that one better because it, on a certain level, the horror bits it had was better. Also, Natalie Portman was pretty damn good in that movie, but that's a topic for another blog.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


For the longest time, I was planning to not see Splice. The movie I saw laid out before me in the trailer was that of the folly of science, creating a humanoid being that turns out to be a (literally) man-eating seductress who does not let such petty problems as biology get in the way of getting her freak on with the bumblig science guy, and then eat him. Nothing new, nothing really interesting, soft science all around, what has humanity wrought, etc etc.

I am, however, taught, yet again, not to judge a freakish decidedly not-entirely-human humanoid on it's cover, and to sort out my goddamned metaphors, for that matter. What convinced me to give this one a chance was, believe it or not, the director. Vincenzo Natali, the man responsible for both Cube, which is one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and Ginger Snaps, which I wasn't crazy about, but definitely is good, in that "what is it with Canadians and horror" sort of way.
No, no, not like that one .... Rowsdower
I call this movie a horror movie, but I'm not so sure on the definition of that, but I'll get into that after the recap. The movie follows two scientists, Clive and Elsa, played, respectively, by the flaming passion in human form that is Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley. The two find themselves struggling to get continued corporate funding for their genetic research, this sorta degenerates into a B-plot, though, as they create a human/animal gene grab bag which matures quickly into a... being they name Dren.

Actually, most of the movie isn't really about the funding or ethics of the whole thing, although it gets brought up occasionally, and ends up showing a pretty big part of things towards the end, I wouldn't say that's what the movie is about. No, you see, since Dren, the human-esque girl's creation was unplanned, probably unethical and  overall something the bigwigs at Financing IffyMoralsCorp would not approve, our two scientists, who are together, for the record, raise the strange tadpole-scorpion-winged-something as... well, their daughter, and this is where the movie grows interesting. Lurking in the background, we're given more than a few hints that's Elsa's childhood was less than stellar, and that her mother had this whole control issues thing which her daughter may or may not have gotten herself. It doesn't come fully into play before the end, but when it does, it's easily the most unnerving scene in the movie, and better than the quote-unquote climax by far.

As one might glean from the recap, this movie is rather light on the horror. It's more of a Soft Sci Fi story, using this cloning to explore how the characters act around life they, in the quite old-fashioned semi-godlike fashion, created, and how their character flaws end up fucking them all over. Good times. One could argue that Adrian Brody doesn't as much act as he's just... there, but on the other hand, his dispassionate presence sorta fills a role in itself, so I guess it actually works here. I don't know why I tend to notice how hard Brody is not acting, especially how he easily acts circles around... say... Mark Wahlberg, then again, I'm pretty sure a ten-sided die can act better than Mark Wahlberg.

At any rate, what I consider the biggest flaw of the movie is that the ending's sorta... not right. Horror-wise it pretty much does it right, we have a murderous beast with sexual undertones (or overtones, some might argue) chasing people through a forest. However, I just can't get into it. Partially because the tonal shift, the family situation at the scientists' place escalates until Elsa straps Dren down on a table and cuts her poisonous stinger tail off. This scene is easily the most tense and, in a certain degree, frightening scene in the movie. Although it has never been explicit, it's quite obvious that Elsa's mother was, as we say in the business, quite mad,  and it seems that here, Elsa has followed suit. Sure, there's a perfectly good reason for cutting that thing off, it's a goddamn liability on account of being poisonous and deployable like a proper scorpion stinger what speed is considered, but that doesn't change that Elsa dehumanizes Dren, who she up to this point treated like her own daughter. In another movie, this might have been the sign that Elsa saw Dren as the abomination she truly was, but the way it's played, I really think you're supposed to think this was a seriously dick move. Point is, after all that, the actual wham-ending just feels... tame, although that too contains some unpleasantness, including Elsa's "comeupance" if one can say that without sounding like there's some seriously wrong with you, but it just doesn't feel like it's supposed to be scary or suspenseful, it's just to mop up the loose ends after the movie's two big scenes. Which isn't to say that it comes out of nowhere or doesn't do a good job, because it, respectively, is foreshadowed, and does tie off various loose threads to some degree, at least.

All in all, I liked Splice, it was much better than I had expected, and a weak last 5-ish minutes really did not detract from the characters, SFX and just plain copious amounts of thought that was put into this movie. This is probably a good movie to show people who do not like horror movies, although you might not recruit all that many people through this one, as it's fairly open about not being much of a horror movie, when you look away from the trailer, that is.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Norwegian horror spotlight: Snarveien

It's time again, dear friends, to delve into the dark scary forests of Norwegian horror, this time with Snarveien (trans: Detour) Well, if horror movies have taught me one thing, it's that taking a shortcut is never a good idea, and a whole movie set in or around a shortcut is bound to be a bloody fun affair, right?

Well... not quite. This movie is fairly similar to The Strangers, in that it has a very limited cast of characters, admittedly not quite as limited as the above-mentioned movie, and a low bodycount. It does have a few kills, but mostly, it keeps working up the atmosphere. The plotline is fairly basic. Lina and Martin are on their way back from Sweden, where they have bought alcohol for a friend's wedding, shopping east of the Norway/Sweden border is a fairly popular activity in this country, probably on account of the price. However, our heroes take a side road to avoid customs, which most horror fans should tell you is a really shit idea. Just to make it worse, this side road is blocked on account of an accident, and they find themselves taking an inderect route, where they encounter some local color and a car breakdown. In their efforts to getting the car fixed, they manage to stumble over a snuff film streaming operation who, as covert operations is want to do, decide to capture the two Norwegians and torture 'n kill them.

So yes, the story isn't what you'd call amazing, but it's an ok setup. Of course, this basically is Texas Chainsaw Massacre copy number one-hundred and thirty five, with the Deep South is replaced with the westernmost parts of Sweden, and it doesn't really evolve past that, the big plot twist being fairly obvious from the get-go, but it's a slasher, I guess I can't really ask for more. What this movie has, though, is some pretty good scares, especially one point just before everything goes seriously south, where our hero is looking at several monitors, one of them showing a closeup of the back of his head, to turn around to see the one filming him. The fact that this man apparently had a nightvision camera built into his gimp mask does little to alleviate the sheer sinking "oh... shit" feeling, that is, if not entirely on par with Marble Hornets, then at least up there.
One of the many signs your day is going to get worse.

Although this film wasn't bad, I feel it illustrates a decent point when it comes to Norwegian horror. Sure, there's good horror coming out nowadays, and the business is finally going into a track which makes actually getting involved with it seems like an actual option, however, I do think Norwegian horror is taking after some... less charming traits from the big movie machine that is Hollywood. I mean, Fritt Vilt (Cold Prey) pretty much was a straight slasher ripoff, and its sequels more so, but I honestly hoped the Norwegian Slasher would either grow somewhat more unique, reflecting Norwegian tradition and quirks, or phase out when people realized there's made hundreds, probably thousands of those things already, and the minor variations it usually plays around have been tried before. I'm not saying slashers can't do anything new, it's just that minor variations in setting really doesn't make it new and exciting, and neither does stupid twist endings, although those can work too, but I'm getting into a digression in a digression, some real Inception shit.

So, as you might be able to discern, Snarveien wasn't bad, you certainly could do worse than it, since it's clearly made with vigor and a little more inventiveness than what's usual in the genre. It's not going to rock your world, but for a quick, easy popcorn movie, it can do quite well.