Monday, September 11, 2017

Ghost House (2017)








DIRECTOR: Rich Ragsdale

WRITERS:

Kevin O'Sullivan
Jason Chase Tyrrell
Rich Ragsdale
Kevin Ragsdale

CAST:

Scout Taylor-Compton
James Landry Hebert
Mark Boone Junior
Russell Geoffrey Banks
Rich Lee Gray
Wen-Chu Yang
Elena Krausz
Michael S. New

PLOT:

Julie and Jim are a young American couple who take a trip to Thailand. The plan is for them to experience the culture together. After some sightseeing in Bangkok, Jim asks Julie to marry him. This is observed by two fellow guests that are staying in the hotel. When they take them out to celebrate the engagement, they are unknowingly tricked into disrespecting a ghost house. This leads to Julie being stricken with a curse that is connected to a malevolent spirit.








There is no greater feeling in the world to me than travelling to a foreign country and experiencing that culture. Travelling is one of the most exhilarating and freeing things in the world. To be taken out of your comfort zone, there is nothing quite like it. I can say that I have been on both sides of travelling, the positives and the negatives. So I always find myself gravitating towards these type of movies that show tourists taken out of their usual situations and thrown into the horrors of exploring the unknown.

Going into Ghost House, I was expecting something along the lines of The Grudge or The Other Side Of The Door, and the whole J-Horror remake craze. I thought it would riff on that whole 'Tourism Gone Wrong' sub-genre. Ghost House, for the most part, is precisely that. This is a film about an American couple who travel to Thailand and get more than they bargained for. I live for these type of movies, and I have to say that I enjoyed myself more than I didn't with this latest take on a familiar story.

While Ghost House has plenty of problems, I wanted to start with the positives of the film. I've never been to Thailand. I have travelled to China and Japan and found both places either very rewarding or spiritual. As I watched this, I felt that the writers and filmmaker tried their best to show Thailand in that light. While still a horror film, and where things go wrong. It only made me want to travel there myself and experience this country for myself. It didn't deter me, as much as it did excite me.

I also found myself enjoying the mythology that this story sets up. I pride myself on knowing a lot of the weird and strange stuff that inhabits this world. Yet, I had never heard of a ghost house until I saw this movie. In The Grudge, when a person dies in the grip of a powerful rage, that person stains that place of death and seeks to pass on a curse that will eventually kill anyone who comes upon that place. I really loved that about the film. In Ghost House, we have these miniature ghost houses that are created to appease the spirits so they won't move into your house.

The movie has this sense of dread looming over it from about fifteen minutes in, and it doesn't really let up until the third act of the film. Once our couple is offered up and is tricked into disrespecting the ghost house, all of the life and colour is drained from this movie. That whole feeling of being lost and alone in a foreign country is felt here. Minus a few nightmarish sequences involving fire, the film stays dark and sombre. It captures the mythology and sense of dread well.

When it comes to the actual scares, I don't think the movie was all that scary. It has all the usual jump scares that we've come to expect. Quick flash cuts and the sudden loud noises are littered throughout the film. We've even got that hallway scene where the lights are flickering, just they've not included the ghost in each flicker. It felt very The Grudge 2. A lot of the visuals feel like we've seen them before. I don't think this is going to break any new ground when it comes to the supernatural stuff.

Another issue that I have with Ghost House is the third act. I don't know what I was expecting with how they were going to break the curse that Julie is inflicted with, but it wasn't a ritual and sacrifice. It feels different from other films in that sense but also plays incredibly silly. I'm all for witch doctors needing to have someone slice off their own finger as a sacrifice. It's the firey CGI ghost screaming in her demonic voice and scurrying up walls like some cockroach that sort of killed all the tension in that final ritual scene. Not the worst ritual scene I've witnessed in 2017.

Lastly, we come to the performances. I've been pretty vocal about my hate-rage for Scout Taylor-Compton's acting in the Halloween films. The more I watch her in other genre films, the more I appreciate her performances. I thought she carried the film. James Landry Herbert who I know from a couple of Micky Keating's movies is decent here. Not as manic and crazy as I've seen him in other films, but here he stars as the sympathetic fiance. The most well known of the cast is Mark Boone Junior, who plays a seedy club owner. He seems to have the most fun with his role.








DEATH TOLL:
 5

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A ghost shoves her arm down a woman's throat.
- A man is seen being repeatedly punched in the face.
- We see a road accident involving three deaths.
- A woman is seen burning alive.
- A man cuts off his own finger.
- Visions of a hospital corridor covered in blood.








Ghost House isn't without its faults. The movie has a pretty silly third act, and a lot of the scares don't really land. What the story does get right is that it has this sense of hopelessness and being lost in a foreign country. The film looks aesthetically creepy. I think the performances are what really holds this movie together. I wanted to see our couple make it out of this horrible situation alive and that falls back on the chemistry between Scout and James. This is worth a watch.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Dementia 13 (2017)








DIRECTOR: Richard LeMay

WRITERS:

Dan DeFilippo
Justin Smith

CAST:

Julia Campanelli
Channing Pickett
Steve Polites
Ana Isabelle
Marianne Noscheze
Ben van Berkum
Anthony Salvador Lewis
Donal Brophy
Roland Sands
Christian Ryan

PLOT:

Several of the Haloran Family decide to visit the families country estate which is now where the eldest son currently resides with his new wife. They are visiting to honour the memory of their youngest daughter who drowned in the lake by the house. Now, like every family, they have their secrets. The secrets will come back to haunt them when a killer shows up at the estate and starts picking off the family one by one.








Going into Dementia 13, the only thing that I knew about this film was that it was a remake of the Francis Ford Coppola movie. You know, the man that gave us Dracula, Apocalypse Now, and The Godfather Trilogy. At the beginning of his career, the man directed a proto-slasher. This is the only thing that I knew about the remake. Due to not seeing the original, I have no basis for comparison between the two films. I can only think that if the remake is anything like the original, Francis Ford Coppola went onto bigger and better things.

Dementia 13 is an odd one. The story feels very fractured and almost non-linear, at first. That is until things start unravelling and the sort-of-twist is revealed at the end. For the first hour and ten minutes, I was wondering what the hell was going on in the story, as it feels like three separate storylines which finally come crashing together in the end. While they end up making some form of sense, it still felt a little all over the place for the first hour of the film.

The story itself starts out with a woman who looks like she is being emotionally and physically abused by her husband. When she decides to finally fight back, it appears as if she is our protagonist. Cue to her being brutally murdered with an axe just a few minutes later when the family storyline comes into play. It's a bit of a jarring moment as I was expecting one thing and something entirely different happens. At first, I was onboard with this early storyline. It's when the family come into play that things sort of spiral out of control.

Right up until the final twist, this family is all over the place. We get vengeful ghosts, a masked killer who is picking the family members off one-by-one, and awful acting. With every member of the family containing a secret. Not one of them is likeable. So as the family are being killed off, we really have no one to root for here. It's as if the writers wanted us to hate every single person here and for the most part, we really do. Even our abused wife who turns out to be a gold-digger in a later reveal. It's a very odd choice to not have a proper hero and everyone as a villain.

The story almost feels like they were trying to replicate the success and feel of You're Next without any of the cleverness. A family comes to a rural estate. A killer shows up and starts murdering people. It felt similar, but the storyline involving the ghost takes it out of that grounded reality. I think had the story just been about a family who was there to honour the memory of their dead daughter, and a killer is killing off the entire family to obtain the inheritance and estate, it would have played much better for me personally. I'm not sure if the original film plays the same way.

When it comes to the twist of the killer's identity, it felt predictable. With the way, the story plays out, it could only really be this one person. From the outset, only one real character has any motive to kill, and they are the worst of the family. When they are seen being killed, it's never actually confirmed. So for the entire running time, I was just waiting for this person to pull off the mask and when it happens, I wasn't at all shocked by the reveal. It was actually a little disappointing, to be honest.

When it comes to the cinematography and location, I think the film looked great. The country-side manor is gorgeous. The estate is castle-like, and while they don't use it for any really great chase scenes, it's a nice place to house all the characters. I think the director does try to deliver a few well-done camera shots and angles. I can't fault them for at least trying to provide a decent looking film even though the budget was probably quite minimal on this slasher.

Lastly, we come to the gore and bloodshed. I love that the director has chosen to go with practical gore effects over computer-generated. It makes the death scenes a lot more enjoyable when we are watching a woman take an axe to the chest, or a bloke being repeatedly smashed in the face with a wooden oar. I think minus a few cheaper looking gore makeup effects, most of this movie seems very well done, and we get a few bucketloads of blood splashed about in the film. On the carnage candy front, I've got no real complaints.
 







DEATH TOLL: 11

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man and woman are strangled and choked to death.
- A woman falls over and hits her head on a rock.
- A man's head is beaten in with a hammer.
- A man's head is smashed in with an oar.
- A man is hit in the back with an axe.
- Several men are shot in the head.
- A woman is hit in the chest with an axe.
- A guy is shot in the chest and stomach.
- A woman dies after being shot in the back.
- A woman is dragged into a lake and drowned.








Being a remake of the Francis Ford Coppola slasher from the early sixties, I'm sure a remake comes with some hesitance from fans of the director. How do you follow that up such from such an iconic filmmaker and provide your own vision? Luckily for me, I haven't seen the original. So I went into this remake with an open mind. Sadly, this is a movie that misses the mark. A supernatural slasher with some pretty terrible acting and a predictable third act drag this story down. All is not lost though, go in for all of the gory practical effects and you might come out surprised.
 


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Bullet Head (2017)








DIRECTOR: Paul Solet

WRITER: Paul Solet

CAST:

Adrian Brody
Antonio Banderas
John Malkovich
Rory Culkin
Ori Pfeffer

PLOT:

When three criminals decide to hide out in a warehouse while trying to evade the law, they soon discover that they may have trespassed on the wrong property. When they find the remnants of a deceased man and a room full of decomposing dogs, they soon realise that the law that is closing in on them from the outside, may not be as deadly as whats roaming within the walls inside of the warehouse.








While listening to one of my favourite horror podcasts, they talked about Bullet Head in passing. They had stated that the director was a close friend and that they finally got around to seeing it, which they had described as a lot of fun. I had no reason to doubt these guys. They are usually on the money. When you tell me that a movie is about a killer dog inside a warehouse, hunting and preying on unsuspecting victims. I'm sold on that film. Cujo, Man's Best Friend, etc. They all hold a pretty special place in my heart.

Looking at the poster for the film, it gives you no indication whatsoever that this is a story about an enormous killer dog inside a warehouse trying to maul several people. This appears to be like one of the many B-Grade, Americana Gangster Crime movies that litter those shelves of your local shopping market bargain bin. For the most part, this is just that. It has that crime film element, but this has a twist involving the killer dog. It's a shame they don't use that element more in the film.

I put Bullet Head on while I had a group of friends over. I told them, I believed it was a horror-adjacent movie about a killer dog that hunts a group of criminals down in a warehouse. They all sounded relatively keen to watch the carnage unfold. At various times throughout the first forty minutes, my friends were asking me, "When does the horror start?." On IMDb, this is listed as a crime thriller, and I think hearing them talk about this on a horror podcast, I thought this was going to be more in line with those 'Animals Attack' films.

The first big issue that I have with Bullet Head is that it's just not that fun. Of course, the people on this podcast are going to praise it as it's made by a friend of theirs. It's hard to be harsh on a movie when it's directed by a friend. The pace of the film feels plodding. The first half of the film, barely anything happens. Here you have managed to secure an Oscar winner and a twice Oscar-nominated actor, and all you have them do is stand around in an empty warehouse, arguing with a third actor who isn't even in the same league as them when trying to share the screen? I just didn't enjoy any of the dynamic here.

We also have Antonio Banderas in the villain role. The man who owns the warehouse. The one who has apparently been using the warehouse as a dog-fighting ring. With a name like Blue, he is not happy that these criminals have taken up refuge here. When he comes into the story in the third act, it's a scenery-chewing performance. You have him going up against Adrian Brody and John Malkovich who are trying their hardest to keep this story afloat, and it becomes a weird mix of shootouts, evil dog chases, and a battle of wits. It all feels a little too late.

My favourite aspect of Bullet Head is the cinematography. When you're filming inside a warehouse that is filled with rubble, you really don't have much to go on regarding a colourful aesthetic. This has a very cold and brutalist look and feel to it. Luckily, for the audience, we get to witness a lot of excellent camera work. There are the swirling camera shots when a character goes into a drug-induced stupor. We have underwater shots as bullets fly around a person. A dog hunting a man who is hiding atop a piano while the camera lingers above him. I can't fault the look of the film. This looks very well made.

For me, I think what would've made this film more enjoyable was if they added more of the killer dog. I actually think it would've benefitted the story more. What we get is a crime film with a subplot featuring a vicious dog that isn't used nearly enough here. I think had they gone all out and just delivered a story about three criminals trying to survive a killer dog, and lent itself more to the horror genre, I think this film would've been a more enjoyable ride for me personally. Some people may enjoy the melding of crime film meets when animals attack story.

Lastly, when it comes to the gore and violence, I felt that the movie was restrained when it came to the attack scenes. We get aftermath shots that appear bloody, but we don't ever really get to see the attacks themselves. The most gruesomely bloody of the attack scenes in the movie comes just before the credits begin to roll. I would have relished if the film had been just an absolute vicious dog attack movie that gave us buckets of blood. If you don't like violence against animals, you may find some of the scenes quite distressing here.







DEATH TOLL:
 3

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man's body is found after being attacked by a dog.
- We see a man follow blood down a hallway.
- A dog chews down on a man's arm.
- A dog is killed off-screen during a dogfight.
- We witness several dead dogs in a mass grave.
- A dog dies after being shot.
- A man's throat is torn out by a dog.
- We see the aftermath of a man who has been killed by a dog.








Bullet Head feels like a missed opportunity. While the film has a renowned cast, some emotional heft towards the third act, and some excellent cinematography and camera work. It's sadly not enough to save the movie. For a good portion of the running time is just incredibly slow-moving. It feels like not a lot happens here. Maybe, I just went in expecting a killer dog movie and got something different to what I was anticipating. A crime movie with elements of when animals attack. I just wish I'd been given more canine and less crime.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

House On Elm Lake (2017)








DIRECTOR: James Klass

WRITERS:

Shannon Holiday
James Klass

CAST:

Becca Hirani
Andrew Hollingworth
Faye Goodwin
Lorena Andrea
Tara MacGowran
Oliver Ebsworth
Kate Lush
Tony Manders

PLOT:


When a couple and their young daughter move into a quaint lake house, they want to make a fresh start for themselves. Little do the couple realise that the lake house has a dark history. Just several years earlier, the previous family was brutally murdered in a ritualistic killing. Once the family moves in, they soon come under the possession of something far darker.







House on Elm Lake begins with an incredibly unpleasant scene where both parent and child are tortured and brutally murdered during a dark ritual. Being utterly repugnant is the primary objective here and what this movie does is it falls back into those exact patterns, time and time again. It doesn't need to appear realistic in any form. It won't have to be overtly obscene and gory. What this house on Elm Lake does to obtain this reaction from me is that it feels like this is all shock for shock values sake. It feels like it doesn't have anything else to say.

From the word go, this movie wastes no time in throwing the audience into complete savagery. I love me some sheer brutality and bloodlust, but when you open your film and within thirty seconds, watch a father stab his own child in the stomach not once but fourteen times while his mother watches on. It feels mean-spirited and not fun. I know that its goal is to set up the house at Elm Lake and why this new family gets it so cheap, but some restraint here still would have reached that point without all that need for such cruelness. 


Once we are introduced to this new family that has taken over the property. We are given roughly fifteen minutes of family dynamic before the reasons behind why they have moved into the new lake house are made clear. Tonally, the happy young family thing doesn't feel genuine once we learn the husband has cheated on his wife for the better part of six months. They are now trying to make things work, but for me as an audience member, this makes me automatically hate his character. The more people that we are introduced to, the more they become unlikeable.

It feels like both of the writers set out to write these awful and torturous characters. We have the best friend of our female lead who is the one the husband had an affair with. The only good thing about that dynamic is that it's revealed that the best friend always knew and forgave her. I thought that was a neat touch. We have a babysitter who goes out of her way to scare their daughter. She's just a bitch. Now the cheating bloke and his grovelling missus are the most poorly written of the lot. It's all conflict and no resolution. Even our female psychic isn't memorable here. Not once did I find myself connecting to a single character nor did I care for any of them. I didn't care if they lived or died here.

You can also feel that both writers were inspired by a lot of better horror movies. This feels like a collection of homages or direct moments that have been lifted from other films. The biggest is The Evil Dead. We have the house in the woods. We have a book that while not the Necronomicon is clearly inspired by and wrapped in skin. There is a scene where our main character hires a psychic who enters the house and can already see that a dark entity has possessed her partner like in The Conjuring. It just feels as if no effort has gone into setting itself apart as its own story. Here they have relied on these better films to craft their vision.

The highlight of House on Elm Street is the gore. While the film isn't exactly graphic or realistic concerning gore. There is a lot of bloodshed on display here. This is also a very low budget movie. It was made for roughly five thousand dollars and shot over eight days. For the most part, I found myself liking a lot of the violence even if you could tell the filmmaker was limited. A sex scene that features both parties covered entirely in blood is the highlight of the film for me. Had the production had a bigger budget, I think they have been able to create some bigger set-pieces.

Is House on Elm Street scary? No. I think with a lot of the restrictions placed on the film due to budget. A lot of the scenes that try to play frightening feel very familiar. Not once did I get shocked by any of the jump scares here. The most uncomfortable moments all fall back on our young actress who has to act around an old man who is easily in his late fifties while he is stark naked. A lot of male nudity is shown with our young actress in the same scene. It's either done for real, or they have managed to do some pretty solid camera trickery on their small budget.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the acting. I think what makes the performances in the film feel like they miss the mark, all fall back on the writing of the characters. Pretty much all of the characters in the movie are either unlikeable or are revealed to have done stuff that one would consider deceitful. The only innocent one is the daughter, and even her character feels underrepresented in the scheme of things. I think our two leads show promise regarding performance; they just haven't been given much to work within this story.


DEATH TOLL:
 6

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A child is repeatedly stabbed in the stomach.
- A babysitter's eyes are gouged out.
- A woman is brutally raped.
- A little girl is suffocated with a pillow.
- A woman is killed with an axe.
- A woman is stabbed in the back.
- A sink starts to fill with blood.
- A guy is scratching a leg wound.
- A man urinates and coughs up blood.
- A woman is strangled, and her head is slammed against the floor.
- A woman stabs her husband in the chest twice.
- A man has his head crushed in a car bonnet.
- An old man is seen bleeding out of his mouth.
- A naked woman is seen showering in blood.
- A couple has sex covered in blood.



House on Elm Lake is a swing and miss for me. It's a film that I feel has the best of intentions. No one sets out to make a bad movie. This story is a horror through and through. The film is unpleasant from the opening scene until the bitter end. The is bloody and violent. It's sadly let down by a terrible script that feels like it borrows from much better movies, instead of being its own beast. A familiar retread of the tropes that we've all come to know. 



Friday, September 01, 2017

It Comes At Night (2017)








DIRECTOR: Trey Edward Shults

WRITER: Trey Edward Shults

CAST:

Joel Edgerton
Carmen Ejogo
Christopher Abbott
Riley Keough
Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Griffin Robert Faulkner
David Pendleton

PLOT:

As a family stays secure in their desolate home in the wilderness. An unnatural threat terrorises the outside world. When a desperate young family shows up at their house seeking refuge, things suddenly go from bad to worse. As tension and paranoia set in between the two families. The lingering threat that awaits on the outside may not be as dangerous as the one now growing between the group of people inside the home.








Back in April of 2017, It Comes At Night first debuted at the Overlook Film Festival. It opened to rave reviews, and the hype machine was in full swing. A24 is a studio who have only been around for roughly five years and has had an incredible run with their films. Their genre movies have also been some of the best of the last decade. We've had Under The Skin, Ex Machina, The Witch, Green Room, The Blackcoat's Daughter, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, and Hereditary. They are on a roll at the moment.

When the trailer for It Comes At Night first debuted. I think a lot of horror fans may have been under the impression that the movie may have been about a monster of some sort. The title and all of the promotion for the film may have hinted at a story that was far more sinister than what we get in the final movie. Once it debuted, the critics were all over the film. I heard a lot of disappointment from fans that thought that the movie wasn't what they had expected, and the marketing was all a lie and had deceived horror fans.

Once I finally got around to watching It Comes At Night. The film had already been and gone. It came and left cinemas. The hype had died down. The genre had been divided by the movie they had witnessed. I had listened to an array of my favourite podcasts review the film, and not one of them had ruined it for me with their talks. Still, opinion was incredibly divided. It wasn't until the movie had landed on Netflix that I finally got to watch it. With all the talk of people saying that the film doesn't promise what the title is meant to deliver. I went into this not expecting a monster movie and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Yes, It Comes At Night isn't a creature feature. Some people may even feel that this title misleads horror fans. Yet, I think genre fans made up their mind with what they were getting way too quickly with this one. This is an end of the world tale that deals with a deadly virus, and for that, I really enjoyed it. Something eventually does come during the night, and while it isn't a monster, that title does make complete sense to me now that I've seen this film. What takes place in the movie was enough to have me on the edge of my seat more than once.

What I loved about It Comes At Night was that from the very first moments that this movie begins, it is steeped in dread. While the film is very slow-burn in its approach and build-up towards its conclusion. I never felt like the family was safe, and for that, it made this incredibly nerve-wracking. The entire movie is dripping with suspense. It had moments where I genuinely felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand-up. One scene being the red-door sequence. That moment was chilling stuff even if the overall story took that time in getting to those scary places.

The acting in It Comes At Night was excellent. Joel Edgerton is a fantastic actor. Being Australian, I've known his work since first seeing him in the superb drama Praise. He has just gone from strength to strength, and I'm glad that he broke into Hollywood. I remember first seeing Carmen Ejogo is The Purge: Anarchy and knew she'd be one to watch. This is now the third movie that I've seen her in, and I thought she was bloody brilliant here. Riley Keough and Christopher Abbott round out the main cast. Both do great in their respective roles as well.

Now onto the issues that I had with It Comes At Night. My biggest issue is the ending of the film. This is one dark ending. This is not exactly a pleasant experience. You will not walk out of this story saying that was enjoyable. It's an ending that descends into paranoia and death. I felt so sorry for certain characters in this movie. It is the same issue that I had with Jackals. It's a grueling film where I think some form of a happy ending wouldn't have gone astray. I felt emotionally drained by the time the credits had begun to roll.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the look of It Comes At Night. I think this is a gorgeous looking film. For a movie made for five million dollars and set mostly within a house in the wilderness. A lot of the cinematography and camera work looked fantastic. I think a lot of the more horror elements looked incredibly creepy here. I loved that the look and feel of the film weren't about jump scares but were slow-burn tension. To make a house scary and the wilderness feel like a threat, I can't wait to see what Trey Edward Shults delivers next.







DEATH TOLL: 7

BLOOD AND GORE:

- An old man is shot in the head, and his body is set on fire.
- A man, woman, and child are gunned down in cold blood.
- A teenage boy dies after becoming infected.
- A man is repeatedly hit in the face.
- Two men are gunned down in a forest.
- A woman vomits up black sludge into a teenage boys mouth.
- A dog gets sick and die, and its body is set on fire.
- A teenage boy is shown covered in infected sores.








When It Comes At Night debuted, critics and audiences were divided. I heard a lot of mixed opinions before I finally saw it. Going into this, I wasn't sure what to expect. I feel that the movie was more successful than it wasn't. I got a well made and creepy film about paranoia and the end of the world. While this isn't an enjoyable experience, this is filled with suspense and excellent performances. While some may find the title misleading, you will most certainly find that something does indeed come at night.