“Wherever you go, the plague follows.”
Andrew Brooker reviews the surprisingly good micr0-budget indie, The Watcher. A decent plot and strong direction make this worth a watch for horror fans.
“Wherever you go, the plague follows.”
Andrew Brooker reviews the surprisingly good micr0-budget indie, The Watcher. A decent plot and strong direction make this worth a watch for horror fans.
Film festival favourite, The Dark Tapes, finally makes its way to Failed Critics and found-footage fan Owen Hughes reveals the good and the bad of this low-budget horror anthology.
“Beauty is just so brief.”
Haunted house horror can often be a procedural affair. I’ve sat through far too many that follow the exact same blueprint as the last two-dozen and don’t do anything to mix things up. You’re left with nothing but a tick-sheet of predictable horror to endure.
I’ll be honest, as much as I am a fan of indie horror director James Cullen Bressack, and as much as I’ve loved most of his films, I went into Bethany with some concerns that I was in for another paint-by-numbers horror with nothing to make it stand out from the crowd. Not because I don’t think Bressack has it in him to do something different; but because as a true student of the genre, he would be forgiven (kinda) for following the subgenre’s guiding principles for his first haunted house flick.
Still, I’m not a prideful guy. I can admit when I’m wrong. And I can admit when I absolutely should have had faith in the filmmaker that I’ve always had faith in before, and not doubted his skill.
Moving back into her childhood home after her mother has died, Claire (Stephanie Estes) and her husband Aaron (Zack Ward) are hoping to leave a chaotic and traumatic past behind them. What should be a separation from the world that’s done them more harm than good quickly becomes an abject lesson in how to forcefully revisit a childhood that scarred you for life.
Now, Claire is living in the house she once shared as a child with her beauty obsessed mother (Shannon Doherty) and her younger years are, quite literally, coming back to haunt her.
Claire grew up with her best and only friend Bethany; a figment of her imagination, a ghost in the walls that kept her company when her abusive mother went off the rails. Now she’s back home, Bethany appears to be looking for company again. Aaron and his tormented wife are going to need to work out what she wants and how to appease her before the now bitter and vengeful spirit gets the better of them.
Ok, so it’s not totally original and it does sound like a lot of indie horror you’ve already seen. But that’s not to say that it is the same as all the dried up old shit that populates the bottom row of the Netflix horror section. On the contrary, to call this simply a horror movie would be to do it a real disservice. Bethany dances a line between traditional horror and psychological thriller; and it’s a line that that so many have failed to conquer before. It’s a tough genre to crack because you need to be able to build an atmosphere that convinces your audience that this is something that could affect them. It has to not just be believable, but it has to be something that plays on the deepest fears of anyone witness to it. Ghosts in the walls should do the trick, huh?
Bressack has done himself a world of good by getting a good writing partner. Teaming up again with Zack Ward for the screenplay has brought a tightly scripted story with very little in the way of throw-away dialogue or fat that can be cut away.
Last year, the pair wrote Ward’s feature directorial debut together, Restoration; a decent flick that proved the duo could script a film together and it not be complete rubbish. With Bethany this writing team have definitely found their flow and they have worked hard to make sure that every time you think you know what’s coming, you’re usually wrong.
And that’s where Bethany really shines.
You would be forgiven for thinking you were walking into a predictable, run-of-the-mill horror, because that’s just what we’ve come to expect from so much of the genre nowadays. From the smallest indie to the biggest Blumhouse production, we’re just conditioned to expect aggressive blandness when it comes to modern horror. Thank god for people like Bressack and Ward trying to inject something a little different into these films.
It’s not necessarily success you need when you try something different; you simply need to have attempted to shake things up. As quickly as every trope is rolled out (let’s say, oh, I don’t know, steamy mirrors on bathroom cabinets that you can open) and you’re positive something is gonna jump out behind you, Bressack calls your bluff and does something completely left-field and creeps the shit out of you instead. It’s a genuine breath of fresh air to not be able to guess what’s coming.
As you get towards the end of this tight 90 minutes, as the last card is flipped over and the reveal you’ve been biting your nails to get to arrives, it is an honest-to-goodness “holy shit” moment that’s as strong a horror reveal as it is an emotional gut punch. It’s at that point that you realise just how much of a personally resonating story this must have been for the man behind the camera.
It just feels like a lot of love and effort went into the creation of Bethany; it feels like James Cullen Bressack is trying to carve out a little piece of horror to make his own and it feels like this director (that I’ve been championing for so long) may have made the film that gets him known in far wider circles.
I can only hope.
“My fear makes you stronger. I’m not scared.”
It’s the first Friday the 13th of 2017. And as this most auspicious date now requires, we are duty bound to consume whatever horror film is released into cinemas. So off I went, the good little consumer (and horror fan), to sit in a dark room and indulge in my favourite of all the genres.
Things are bound to go wrong for college kids Elliot and Sasha; the couple move into an off-campus house with Elliot’s friend, John, where they soon trip across strange scribblings in a night stand. The words “don’t say it. Don’t think it” repeatedly scrawled on a board covering up a name carved into the wood.
“The Bye Bye Man”
The Bye Bye man is a ghost, of sorts. The utterance of his name brings him to you and once he’s in your head he can play with it. The spirit shows you things meant to mess with you, to scare you and to make you do stupid and dangerous things to yourself and those around you. The pale ghost-like entity terrorises the trio as they fight to figure out where he came from and how to escape the curse that they seem to have brought upon themselves.
Every time I watch one of these committee built horror films, a little bit of my soul dies. I knew this film was going to be garbage, but the premise of a supernatural villain who feeds off people’s fear, strengthened when they allow him into his head, sounded kind of cool. It sounded tacky, played out and completely unoriginal, but it sounded kind of cool. It was an idea that I was willing to get behind and give a chance to.
Sadly, as is always the case, I was let down badly.
One dimensional, walking talking clichés for main characters annoyed the piss out of me. Within minutes of them being on screen I was praying for their swift but gory demise to put them out of my misery. The hatred for them meant I was in no mood to watch as they try to trade blows with The Bye Bye Man. Instead, I’d rather they were killed off quick so I could go home and wash the tropes off me!
Worse still is that the main bad guy seems like a neutered, pre-watershed baddie! Watered down to almost nothing, I’m embarrassed for the character and I’m embarrassed for Doug Jones (the man behind some of Guillermo Del Toro’s best creations including Pan and Abe Sapien) for putting effort into his role. Writers and director make no effort to make him scary and instead chose to have this man just wander round in a cloak with an enormous blood soaked hound with no rhyme nor reason to his existence. It just felt like such a waste.
Essentially, I reckon someone had the idea of this lanky ghost in an overcoat that looks a little like the pictures we’ve seen of the new Pennywise and based their entire film around that concept with little thought going into much else. The idea of these kids hallucinating things that scare them giving us a look into their personalities is only a good idea if I know anything about them. Or care about them. Or at least don’t want them to die a horrible death.
I really wanted to like this film, I thought The Bye Bye Man was a very cool looking character and this ghost patrolling people’s psyches with his dog in tow was an awesome concept. But there was absolutely no follow through. A selection of ideas put to film with no real connecting thread for them; The Bye Bye Man is the bastard love child of Jeepers Creepers, Candyman, Final Destination and a ton of other, much better horror films.
Perhaps I would have been a little more forgiving if it had turned up on my HorrorShow or Shudder subscriptions with an indie feel to it, but the hyper glossy Hollywood treadmill look doesn’t endear it to me in the end. I expect – no, I demand – much better from my horror films.
Counting on all of his fingers and toes like a mildly autistic Ben Affleck in this week’s main review, The Accountant, Steve Norman has discovered the magic number!
Turns out that De La Soul weren’t lying and it is three. Steve, Paul Field and Andrew Brooker, if you want to be precise, with Owen Hughes on a camping trip in Wales or something.
As well as yet another 2016 thriller to barely register any thrills, there’s also room on this week’s bitesize episode to review two other new releases, as Brooker dissects Nocturnal Animals and Paul kicks off the section with a new horror film, Rupture, starring Noomi Rapace.
We also have What We’ve Been Watching with competitive tickling documentary (no, really), Tickled, plus indie horror The Neighbour – and even a few softcore pornos make it on with the boss absent (sort of). Tsk tsk.
As the nights draw in and the temperature drops, as the sweet cupboard fills up and the pumpkins are carved, it can only mean one thing… Halloween is just around the corner.
What better way to celebrate than giving knocking on people doors and stealing lollipops from small children a miss for a night and spending a bit of time comparing our favourite (and least favourite) scary games? John “The Madman” Miller and Andrew “Axe Murderer” Brooker are joined by their first guest, The X-Cast host and podcast veteran “Spooky” Tony Black (who managed to leave the podcast this week with an enormous list of must-play games). Together, the trio take on the first week of decent news since Character Unlock began and dig into what they’ve been playing since we last heard from them.
Our latest episode tackles the new Nintendo Switch announcement as the guys ponder the future of the console maker and try to decide whether or not their new console is worth spending money on. We talk about Red Dead Redemption 2, the game guaranteed to be the biggest release of whatever year it gets delayed to. And super fans Tony and Brooker forget they’re not on a film podcast and dissect the latest Assassin’s Creed movie trailer.
A plethora of newer releases get the What We’ve Been Playing treatment as Battlefield 1, No Man’s Sky and Gears of War 4 are all analysed within an inch of their lives as John falls in love with the World War 1 shooter, Tony gushes over futuristic management game and Brooker loves, but gets really angry, over the latest in the Gears franchise.
As the boys go through their good and bad horror game lists, it becomes apparent that they all needed to expand their scary game horizons a little bit and needed advice from listeners and followers to get a feel for what games they need to be playing – or hiding from.
Join us in a couple of weeks when our hosts ignore everything else and hope to still have listeners after they do a Call of Duty retrospective.
Wahey look how quirky and gothic we are as hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes stumble around for far longer than they should on this week’s podcast discussing Tim Burton’s latest zany fantasy film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Ooooh we’re so weird. Steve’s got a face full of wasps and Owen constantly props himself up with sticks else he sinks into the ground. It’s fine though because of the randomness and wacky way we present ourselves so you’ll have to love it.
Oh, by the way, I was being sarcastic.
In less annoying Burton-esque tropes, the pair struggle to get a handle on why Disney are bothering to remake The Lion King and end the show rather unusually by trying to figure out exactly what’s wrong with the BBC’s sitcoms lately.
In What We’ve Been Watching, Steve also finally gets to see Don’t Breathe after its glowing review on the podcast a few weeks back, whilst Owen revisits the remake of one of his favourite ever movies in 2008’s Day of the Dead.
Join us again next week for a slightly more on track podcast (presumably).
“In hell, everybody loves popcorn.”
And so begins day four. Sadly, my last day at the festival. I don’t care if it’s the London Film or Download, as is the way with all festivals, the last day means a sea of tired bodies, struggling to get to the first act of the day, let alone make it to the end. And the bogs fucking reek!
That aside, this is an interesting day. Besides the evening’s closer, I don’t know anything about any of these films. I’m going in completely blind and hoping for a surprise or two. So for the last time this year, won’t you come join me?
“Come outside. There’s nowhere to hide.”
Hopefully not starting the day as we mean to go on, the UK premiere of Downhill promised us that “Evil Awaits”. Unfortunately, the only thing that awaited the audience in the Horror Channel screen was a mosh-mash of genres that didn’t seem to be able to decide what it wanted to be.
Set up like a scary stuff in the woods flick, we are forced to watch an awful lot of GoPro footage of bikes on dirt tracks before our main characters, a pair of bike racers, stumble across a man in a jeep bleeding. Insanity ensues as we are treated to a dude with a weird infection that seems to be zombifying him, a bizarre cult, completely unexplained bags of meat hanging from trees and a bunch of hunters that, although the film is set in South America, suddenly seem to have menacing south London accents. Oh yeah, and there’s angry people having angry sex around confused and angry looking goats. For fuck’s sake.
A couple of half decent tense scenes can’t rescue this pretty bland mess of a film.
Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word
“Maybe God shouldn’t have played God.”
Upping the quality for the second film of the day. Red, White and Blue director Simon Rumley takes on an eerie true story of a convicted rapist and murderer who to his last breath pronounced his innocence and cursed everyone involved in his death sentence.
This genuinely chilling story of a ghost exacting his revenge from beyond the grave isn’t just a great horror film, but it’s a magnifying glass on some very real issues that affect the United States to this day. As our characters start dropping like flies and begin investigating the situation they find themselves in, it asks a lot of questions about the finality of capital punishment.
A great story, some very scary and chilling scenes that will leave you with goosebumps. An excellent film.
“Are you sure you’re cut out for this?”
Martyrs‘ Morjana Alaoui stars in the latest world premiere of the day. This psychological horror takes a slightly slower pace for the day and sees two main characters fighting disabilities in their own way.
One man, a tetraplegic former rock star, bound to a wheel chair for life is fighting with the day-to-day horrors of not being able to live his life. Having all of his freedom taken away has become his own personal hell. Fighting his present and future, he needs help 24/7. That help comes from an agency carer who is fighting the demons of her past that just won’t let her be. Together the pair struggle with each others differences as the film culminates in a bloody mess of inevitability.
A great film that’s going to be playing on my mind for some time.
“I was able to live, because I chose to die.”
Ok, so the guys really pulled one out of left field for this. Being a horror film festival, I expected even films labelled as sci-fi to have a scary element to them. After all, Alien and Event Horizon sit firmly in both genres. But nothing like that here.
A conventional sci-fi flick, Realive is a futuristic Frankenstein story with healthy doses of films like Moon added in for good effect. A decent outing, it’s the story of a man brought back to life in the 22nd century after freezing himself Walt Disney-style in the early 21st. An interesting premise for a film as we watch the newly resurrected Marc Jarvis essentially go from being a newborn to a fully fledged adult in a matter of months. Quickly learning to ask questions about where he’s from and why he’s here, the answers he find really aren’t the ones he wanted to hear.
Probably the biggest budget film of the day, but not really the right setting for its European Premiere.
“Murder school. Is now in session.”
Rob Zombies latest exploitation, grindhouse, hillbilly horror has finally hit these shores. The film that I came to FrightFest for has finally come around.
It’s just another Zombie film. He doesn’t do anything new or original, but those that came to this party know the dance – and that dance is exactly why I’m here. The seventies-set film about a family of carnies grabbed on the roadside and thrown into a deadly maze where nasty people with nasty names like Sexhead and Deathhead are coming at you with some really fucking dodgy weapons. I mean, there’s a Nazi clown midget who speaks Spanish. Need I say more?
Crazy deaths, a mental soundtrack – whether album or scoring, I love listening to Rob Zombie and John 5 working together – and an hour and forty minutes of carnage. I loved every blood soaked second of it.
And so ends FrightFest 2016
That’s it for my first FrightFest. And that’s it for your first FrightFest with me. Tomorrow actually sees the festival end and the booze addled shut in begin. With films like Found Footage 3D and Train to Bursan headlining the screens, it’s sure to be a good one.
Sadly though, this is my last day here. But it’s been a blast. Great films, shit films and a ton of cool people. I genuinely can’t and won’t ask for more than that. I’ll definitely be back next year. I will probably put together a bit of a round up in the next few days after I’ve scoured VOD for a few films I missed; but until then, it’s another day where I’m getting home at stupid o’clock in the morning. I need my bed guys.
“The World is not round. Not from where I stand. It’s warped. Contorted.”
I’ve always wanted to come to one of these festivals. A few days surrounded by like-minded horror fans watching new and interesting stuff made to make your skin crawl, your heart race and stain your pants.
As tickets for this year’s festival went on sale, I wondered and waited and couldn’t decide whether or not this was something I should actually do. “Fuck it” I thought. I’m jumping in.
Ok, so real life is getting in the way (as it does) and as such my FrightFest experience this year is three days out of five. I struggled through a long shit week at work, loaded up on Red Bull and Lucozade and hit the motorway for opening night. And there I was. Tired, grubby, and only just making it in time for the opening film of the festival. But I made it. Won’t you join me for a couple of days of horror?
My Father, Die
“Come on. Make me proud.”
Starting the show off with one hell of a bang, Sean Brosnan’s feature debut film blew the roof off the Horror Channel Screen. With a little chat from star and super bad guy Gary Stretch afterwards.
After watching his father beat his older brother to death, leaving him deaf from the same attack, Asher has waited years to avenge his brother’s murder. He gets his chance when his father, Ivan, is released early for good behaviour and he rolls himself back into town. Asher tracks his old man down and lays a vicious beat down to the murderous bastard, leaving him for dead.
But this monster of a man isn’t even close to being done. A brutal and bloody cat and mouse game ensues as Ivan tears the little town apart looking for his son.
My Father, Die set the tone for the rest of the weekend with its visceral violence wrapped up in an excellently made story. With no flab to the film anywhere, it’s as near perfect a film as you’re likely to see.
Gary Stretch’s Ivan is a terrifying monster of a man. Walking a fine line between scary and cheesy-funny, he walks the darker side of that divide brilliantly. I certainly don’t remember him being that big in Dead Man’s Shoes, but the man definitely bulked up for his role as the biker turned killer.
Joe Anderson’s turn as the deaf and voluntarily mute Asher was great. He was convincing as the scared boy in a man’s body, stepping up to protect his family; with a fun and surprisingly effective added touch of the film being narrated by young, pre-mute Asher.
The FrightFest listing for this film describes it as “The Southern Gothic progeny of CAPE FEAR, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and OLDBOY” and I can’t agree more. If you let Rob Zombie remake any of those films, you are going to get this nasty little flick. One of the best films I’ve seen in a while. The rest of the weekend has some work to do to keep up!
“Stay off your phone. They didn’t.”
Sadly, there was never going to be a good way to follow up Hillbilly Cape Fear back there, so the festival threw out the “Also Ran” of the night. The film that had to be shown on Thursday so it could be called the UK premiere before the cinema and VOD release the next day.
Cell is the latest adaptation from a Stephen King book. Starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson (henceforth know as “The 1408 Team”) it sees graphic novel writer and estranged husband/father Clay Riddell (Cusack) teaming up with grizzly Tom McCourt (Jackson) when the world is mysteriously zombified through untimely use of their phones. Instantly turned into violent psychopaths via their attachment to the iDevices, the monsters created by the strange signal are ever-evolving and ever-more dangerous as the pair struggle to survive on their way to Clay’s wife and son.
Aside from a couple of relatively interesting ideas, Cell doesn’t really offer anything worth watching. Team 1408 seem to enjoy their time together and it’s nice not to have a shiny happy ending, but besides that, you’ll probably do better with 28 Days Later. There’s a lot that could have been great here – but in fairness, the book isn’t one of King’s best – and there’s plenty of potential that’s been squandered. But this is nothing new, especially when it comes to King adaptations.
Just watch Team 1408 in their previous roles together.
Like I said, there was never any chance of a film keeping up with what My Father, Die this evening. Hopefully this is the night they just needed to flash a few mainstream stars around and we can get back to the goodness of great horror afterwards.
And that’s a wrap for the day.
Sadly, my time with opening night ended here. Struggling to stay awake during Cell and the prospect of a two-hour drive home meant I had to call it a night. It meant I missed the world premiere of one of my more anticipated films, Let Her Out, but that’s life. From all accounts, it went down an absolute storm and blew everyone away.
There’ll be no Friday wrap up for this year’s festival. I have to work to pay for the tickets after all. But I will be rooted to my chair all day Saturday and Sunday where I get to see really anticipated films like Darren Lynn Bousman’s Abattoir and Rob Zombie’s 31.
“Without me, there’s no you.”
I only recently saw the trailer for the latest churned out, seemingly paint-by-numbers horror movie Lights Out. A quick chuckle at it, as is the norm when you see another one of these New Line Cinema pant wetters, and you move on. But things living in the dark is one of the few things guaranteed to scare the shite out of me (see last year’s We Are Still Here) so this had a little potential, and interested me more than most. It helps that, even in the most minuscule of ways, recently everywhere horror director James Wan’s name appeared in the trailer.
After his father is killed under mysterious circumstances, school boy Martin (Annabelle‘s Gabriel Bateman) is haunted by a strange figure that lives in the shadows. Brought to life, and living with his mother Sophie (Maria Bello) the supernatural entity seems hell bent on killing everyone that even thinks to question Sophie’s sanity.
When Martin’s ghost problem spills into school, his sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer, of Warm Bodies fame) gets involved and drags Martin back to her place. It quickly transpires that no where is safe if there’s a shadow in the corner or a closet without a light in it. Brother and sister, who have been plagued by the ghost of Mum’s friend Diana before, must now figure out how to beat this ghost that only comes out when the lights go out, before she kills everyone and takes Sophie for herself.
As these films become more and more popular – love them or hate them, they’re good date night movies – it seems like originality kind of goes out of the window. This has always been my issue with horror films made by stockholders. So if you can’t be original, be good. No, be great.
Ok, so Lights Out isn’t GREAT. But it is very good for what it is.
Something grabbing you out of the shadows is pretty damn scary. But scarier than that is the idea that it’s coming after you because it thinks you’re trying take away its only friend: your mum. This nasty little fucker is literally hiding under your bed waiting for the lights to go out so it can tear into you like your in-laws mauling the chicken at the one and only barbecue you were able to squeeze in this year. This is why this film done a decent job of scaring the crap out of me. The only time you see Diana, she’s a moving shadow with claws, moving and shaking towards her victims as they clamber desperately for the light switch. If you’re lucky enough to get through the dark and get the lights on, she’s gone.
Someone, somewhere has done a great job of putting this film together. Director David F. Sandberg – who based the film on a short he made a few years back – has had found a few imaginative and fun ways to scare the balls off of you. Particularly when it comes to telegraphing Diana’s presence. As you hear her scratching away in the dark, you wonder which little corner she is going to jump out of. As the lights go down or the candles flicker, you are on the edge of your seat biting your nails in anticipation of her arrival. There’s a beautifully creepy and jumpy moment involving a pulsing red light that will have you jumping out of your skin and a genuinely creepy, skin crawling moment as this mass of black appears exactly where you think she will, but with an air of menace that’d have you screaming like a little girl if you weren’t in a crowded cinema.
In what is, I think, a pretty effective metaphor for living with a mental illness and living with a parent with a mental condition, Diana’s presence and the effect she has on families isn’t subtle, but it does exactly what it sets out to do. And in an ever more clogged-up genre filled with boring, badly made crap, Lights Out with its short and snappy 80 minute runtime is a breath of fresh air.
Scares are obvious and predictable, but they’re made well enough to give you the creeps as and when it’s required. I’m certain I’ll be shifting my arse up the stairs a little quicker when I turn the lights off tonight.
Murdered in his sleep, chopped up into tiny pieces and stuffed down the back of Paul Field’s sofa. That’s what we presume is the reason behind the Underground Nights co-host taking over duties from the absent Steve Norman this week as he joins Owen Hughes and Andrew Brooker for this week’s triple bill podcast.
Each of the trio picks three films that have frightened them – not necessarily the scariest films they can think of, but rather, those that have at some point in their lives scared them beyond their senses. The theme for this triple bill was chosen with FrightFest in mind, which kicks off on Thursday this week and has a mini-preview of a couple of films that the team are keeping an eye out for.
There’s also room in the whopping 2 hour run-time for the Failed Critics to chat about more controversy over Sausage Party after last week’s damning indictment of the way that film’s producers have been treating the animators. This time, it’s the Swedish age-rating system that feels the full force of the podcast. Take that, Sweden!
New releases this week includes the return of Ricky Gervais’s comedy character David Brent in feature film Life on the Road hitting cinemas this past Friday. Brooker also shines a light on the latest horror-by-numbers, Lights Out.
“I never said I wanted to get away with it. That was never the plan.”
Independent found-footage and home-video style films can be an acquired taste. You can watch through dozens and dozens of them before you come across one worth watching, let alone one you love. So, a couple of years back when I came across James Cullen Bressack’s To Jennifer, I was blown away. I promise, I’m not going to turn this into another article where I gush over just how much I love Bressack. God knows, I’ve done that plenty.
These kinds of films aren’t the type to usually get themselves a sequel, but here we are, with writer/director Hunter Johnson not only helming this smartphone sequel, but starring in it too.
Very quickly it’s revealed that To Jennifer was, in fact, just a film; and director James Cullen Bressack (playing himself) would be up for someone grabbing the reins and directing a sequel. Taking that as a call to action, wannabe director Spencer (Hunter Johnson) heads out to LA and gets to work on his home recorded follow-up.
Hooking up with his buddy Mack (David Coupe), Spencer sets about making the perfect sequel to the film he loves so much. Documenting everything for us to see, Spencer gets his perfect Jennifer (Lara Jean Mummert) – and gets to work letting his obsession get the better of him. With phone and crew in tow, the fan-turned-filmmaker is set to let his dark secret out, spelling trouble for everyone around him.
Sometimes, nothing can be more fun than watching our hero descend into madness. Especially in horror films when the protagonist may or may not be the bad guy too. 2 Jennifer is no different. Spencer is a fun character to watch, especially once it becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right. The moment that you realise that 2 Jennifer is also a comedy is gold. When the creepy director refuses to audition any actress whose name isn’t Jennifer – and loses all interest, becoming increasingly dismissive when he gets his way – I couldn’t help but laugh for a big portion of the film. The second you realise exactly what’s going on, Johnson directs himself doing some pretty heinous shit to his own character and to others. Man, what a pay-off.
Like so many before it, 2 Jennifer is mostly build-up, with a blood-soaked finale that doesn’t disappoint. It suffers from the same budgetary problems as so many indies before it, horror or not. But what it does, it does pretty well and you won’t catch me ragging on a film for having no budget (well, not a film that I enjoyed watching, anyways) and I really did enjoy this one. I found myself completely riveted.
I think it goes without saying that this is made for indie horror fans; and certainly fans of the original Jennifer film. If, like me, you found yourself excited when it was announced that 2 Jennifer would belong to a trilogy, then go right ahead and see this film. If you like fun little horror films, I would call both this and its predecessor required reading. Definitely give it a butcher’s. At less than an hour and a half, it can’t and doesn’t outstay its welcome. The time you do spend with it will make you laugh, cringe and wince. What more could you ask for?
2 Jennifer releases on your favourite Video-on-Demand service on August 19th.
“Blades and fangs for the visitors.”
Ladies, gentlemen, I’ve just seen a nasty, nasty little film. A film that has been called a horror, but isn’t really. One of those tense, violent little movies that no one really knows how to classify but because it’s all blood, gore and suspense, we’ll call it a horror. A film that does interesting and gruesome things with Stanley knives and Nazis that’ll leave you flinching and grossed out.
Ladies, gentlemen, I’ve just seen a fucking brilliant little film.
Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier (previously responsible for writing and directing 2013’s Blue Ruin), Green Room pits a rock band touring the Pacific Northwest against a group of bloodthirsty skinheads who own the club they have ended up in.
When band “The Ain’t Rights” find themselves in desperate need of a place to perform, they are set up with a well paying gig at a clubhouse in Oregon; a real “boots and braces” kind of place. Being a punk band, the group are used to a few seig heil-ers in their audience and don’t really pay it much attention until things go south, quickly and horribly. When the band – that includes Star Trek‘s Anton Yelchin reuniting with his Fright Night co-star Imogen Poots – stumbles upon a fresh murder, the skinheads in charge take steps to neutralise the people that are about to bring the police down on them.
Locking themselves in the venue’s green room – both “venue” and “green room” are said with a massive pinch of salt; a giant fucking shed covered in swastikas, rebel flags and SS emblems pretty much has a sign over the door that says “super duper Nazi human slaughter house” – the band has to fight their way through psychos with massive knives and some very angry dogs in an attempt to get their stupid selves out safely.
Green Room is a simple little film. There’s no convoluted or confusing story; five guys on one side of a door trying to get out, a ton of bloodthirsty Nazis on the other side trying to get in and somewhere in the middle, there is going to be a shit load of blood. Nasty, ingenious, wince inducing things happen with box cutters and machetes on both sides of that door as the band’s limits, and their bodies, are tested and tested again by the maniacal horde waiting outside for them.
Running the show on the saluting side of the door, is a terrifyingly cold and nasty Patrick Stewart. Light years from the Picards and Professor X’s we have gotten used to over the years, Mr Stewart has sunk his teeth deep into this role and is swinging for the fences. Think Stacey Keach’s Cameron Alexander from American History X but much, much worse. He’s a horrible man with not a nice bone in his body; he oozes evil in every frame and has turned himself into a genuinely terrifying force to be reckoned with. Each and every skinhead looks like he’s terrified of this guy too, it’s an amazingly impressive role for the Shakespearean actor. You almost want to cheer him on and see him win the day, not least of all because the band are a bunch of idiotic, unlikable twat flaps that you really kind of want to see horrible things happen to.
There’s not much else to say about this excellent little flick. Its story is tense and unnerving; its direction and cinematography are terrifyingly claustrophobic; and the acting is absolutely stunning. Its violence is nasty and unforgiving but even its worst parts don’t feel gratuitous. A great, great little film that left me shaken and shell-shocked as it ran its course. I can’t recommend it enough. I can’t wait for the general release so I can go watch it again.
“All her suffering will have been for nothing.”
In 2008, at the height of the torture porn era, the French were in the middle of their own little moment in nasty films. Among such charmers as Irreversible and Baise-moi, horror director Pascal Laugier set loose Martyrs upon the world. A brutal, brutal little number that managed that not only quenched the thirst of even the most bloodthirsty of horror fans, but it was also infinitely smarter and much more meaningful than most would have given it credit for on first look. An amazing little movie, it was easily one of the best horror films of the last few years and is one of those rare ones that sticks with you long after you’ve seen it.
So, what did the Americans do? They took the film, sanitised it, removed all of its nuance and meaning and sold it back to us like a cheap bar selling us watered down beer. In dirty glasses. That they’ve pissed in.
Directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz and written by Mark L. Smithen, Martyrs is set years ago, as Lucie (Troian Bellisario – never heard of her, I think she done an episode of NCIS once) escapes from an isolated warehouse. Tortured and beaten as a child, she suffers from constant waking nightmares caused by the trauma of her childhood ordeals. Now, her only solace comes in the form of her best friend, Anna (Bailey Noble – she was in True Blood long after I quit watching it), and the search for those that captured her all those years ago. But when her search sees her hitting the right track, her and Anna discover the grizzly truth behind Lucie’s kidnapping and what would have awaited her if she hadn’t escaped.
This isn’t a new thing, but the watered down horror remake is starting to wear a little thin with me. The original Martyrs wasn’t just a superbly bloody body-horror film, it had real heart and feeling behind it. Its look into religious ideals and the extreme lengths some can and will go to for their shiny happy feelings was a chilling one that left a very nasty taste in your mouth. Here, with this new one, the only taste left in your mouth is of the shit that’s just been flung at your face for the last hour and a half as the filmmakers make a real effort to remove all intelligence from the film and make it more like a run-of-the-mill teen filled horror.
I mean, the opening few minutes feature a young girl being haunted by this terrifying looking ghost of an old woman; the original film had me on the edge of my seat, biting my nails with tension. This remake basically takes that great little scene, and turns it into an unwashed old woman dancing about the young girls room in the dark; like your nan has had a senior moment and decided your room is actually some weird 40’s dance hall. And she’s naked. No tension whatsoever, but plenty of nightmares I guess.
To talk about the ending to either film would really spoil both, so I’m not going to dig too deep here. But this is where the new Martyrs commits its gravest crime. Those that have seen the 2008 original will shudder just at the thought of the ending. A truly horrific moment of cinema that leaves even the most hardened horror fan shaken and slightly unnerved. A nasty little bit of film that sticks with you long after the movie’s credits have run their course and left you chilled to the bone.
Fast forward to 2016 and we get an ending that you can see coming a mile away because you’ve seen it a thousand times before. As originality and genuine terror are replaced with generic horror tropes and a bland, unimaginative script that’s swapped a desperate search for the answers to the afterlife with an uninspired look at cheap horror 101. The writers and directors seem to have forgotten all about the scenes of just brutal torture that we were subjected to that made us realise just what these people were putting CHILDREN through. They have instead opted for a well-worn and safe road to their finale that simply leaves you bored.
Overall, there’s no reason at all for me to recommend this completely unnecessary and uninspired Martyrs remake. Go watch the original, because it’s much, much better (and a damn sight scarier). This ghastly fucking remake is about as fun as repeatedly treading on an upturned plug barefoot.
“Trouble us, no more.”
As a life long fan of the horror genre, I’ve become somewhat disillusioned as of late with the films being released with that label. Sure, there are a few gems here and there, last year’s We Are Still Here is a particular favourite of mine; a terrifying nightmare piece that genuinely scared me and had me shifting my arse up the stairs super fast that night in terror. Sadly, most horror films don’t do this to me. Part of it may be that I’ve been soaking myself in horror films for so many years that there isn’t much that makes me jump any more. But I think, more than that, is that the market has been saturated with paint-by-numbers Lionsgate garbage made by accountants and marketers for the biggest gross at the lowest possible cost.
Enter, stage left, Robert Eggers’ The Witch.
Subtitled “A New England Folktale”, Eggers’ debut feature film is set in the early part of the 17th century; a time when religious belief and prayer surpassed logic and common sense and the entire new world led their lives by the teachings of the church. To speak out against those in charge is to be branded a heretic and find yourself banished. That’s exactly what has happened to William – Ralph Ineson, veteran of almost every British TV show you can think of – who has spoken out against his church, and he and his family have been thrown out of their plantation.
Trying to make a life for themselves on the edge of an almost impassable forest, the family – that includes Game of Thrones‘ Kate Dickie and relative unknown Anya Taylor-Joy – struggle from day-to-day with poor crops, no wildlife to hunt and just a general lack of amenities in their secluded little farm. Things start to spiral uncontrollably for the family when their youngest son, Sam, disappears under bizarre circumstances. With no trace of the infant, the family attempts to move on without answers but seem to be constantly stopped in their tracks by the strange goings-on around them and the ever more likely chance of there being a witch living in the woods near where they’ve made their home.
The smart thing about The Witch is how it purposefully avoids all the traits of modern horror. With almost no blood and absolutely nothing in the way of cheap jump scares, Robert Eggers has created a film to satisfy even the most jaded of horror fans. Setting the film in the 1630’s, and using almost all naturally available light for the shoot, the film looks eerily washed out in every frame, upping the creepy factor using nothing but the naturally occurring shadows.
Scarier than anything else, however, is the religious undertone the whole film has. Set some sixty years before the famous Salem Witch Trials, The Witch is a terrifying look at how it’s possible to delude yourself into making things worse with the religion that is the basis of the society you live in – a problem that is still very much there in some parts of the world we live in today, I’m guessing that’s kind of the point of this film – as the family refuse to do the sensible thing and leave the cursed farm and instead choose to live under God’s protection, knowing that he will protect them and keep the evil around them from harming them. And even as the opposite becomes abundantly apparent, the family’s delusion is still stronger than whatever lies in the forest.
As a debut feature, in any genre, The Witch is stunning. Its $3.5 million budget (a little over a third of the bloody awful The Forest‘s purse) spread perfectly in making an outstanding little flick. But as a horror film, it’s an absolute masterclass. With zero jump scares and no blood and gore, the film relies completely on the nail biting atmosphere it creates and the nerve shredding, creeped out feeling it leaves you with long after the final scene has gone dark.
Horror is, for the most part, one of those subjective genres. Some will head to the cinema based on the praise The Witch is getting and decide it’s complete guff because there’s no blood, guts and torture. For those people, fear not, there is a new Saw film in the works. But, if tension and atmosphere are your thing, The Witch will be right up your street.