Thursday, September 21, 2017

Serpent (2017)








DIRECTOR:
 Amanda Evans

WRITER: Amanda Evans

CAST:

Tom Ainsley
Sarah Dumont
Skye Russell

PLOT:

Adam and Gwynneth are a young married couple who are currently getting through a rough patch due to her infidelity. Trying to rekindle their marriage, Gwynneth decides to tag along with Adam who is heading to a place known as Suicide Gorge in hopes of finding a rare beetle. While sleeping in their tent, they awake to discover that a Black Mamba has entered their domain overnight. The couple now needs to escape without upsetting the venomous snake if they plan on surviving their romantic getaway.







When I first came across Serpent, I was under the impression that I was about to sit through a story about a killer snake. Not seeing the trailer, or even knowing anything about the film. I was only going off of the premise on IMDb. I immediately sat down to watch this in the hopes that I'd see this couple terrorised by a venomous snake. I thought that I'd see something in the vein of Sssssss (1973) or Venom (1981). This movie is something else entirely. I'm just not sure if it's very good.


I am all for a movie that does something different with a well-worn premise. I'm also here for a story that takes its time in building to something. I also enjoy a slow-burn as much as the next man. What we have here, though, is a movie that contains two subplots that come colliding together at around the midway point. It's just a shame that neither of them ever really feel as engaging as I assume the filmmaker intends them to be. I think this commits the cardinal sin of just being boring.

The element of the movie that I actually enjoyed is the marriage problems, infidelity, and trust issues. I think these added more tension and uncomfortableness than any of the scenes involving the Black Mamba snake. Right from the very beginning, we, the audience are aware that there is a rift happening between this couple. She's still receiving messages from the man she cheated on her husband with. The signals he is sending her are getting increasingly hostile. This provides us with this looming dread that Adam may find the messages.

Once the snake manages to slither into the tent, I think this is where it lost me. For the rest of the movie, we watch a couple trying to stay perfectly still, in hopes of not altering the snake to their presence. They also try to come up with ways of trying to escape or trap the snake. It's just a shame that a lot of their choices end up feeling like stupid character decisions. I am sure the writer did research and even spoke to snake experts on ways to survive a Black Mamba if it got into your tent. I just didn't find these moments very suspenseful.

Beyond the infidelity issues and the poisonous snake. I think there are some broader themes that hide beneath the surface of this film. I'm not very religious, and I'm not even sure if the director is herself. We have a man by the name of Adam, and his wife has tasted the forbidden fruit, so to speak. The imagery of the snake also plays a big part. I feel that the director was trying to be deep and provide an allegory on religion. This is what I meant when I said that I thought this was something else entirely and not just a killer snake movie.

I have to hand it to the filmmaker and actors if the stories about the production are true that the actors acted alongside real snakes. I think if that is true, that's pretty damn brave of them. For a lot of the tent scenes, the snake next to the actors looks pretty real. While we have moments where the snake is clearly computer generated. The tent scenes look really well done. Minus the few moments of silliness where the snake sort of flies towards the actors and bites them in the water. I think it looked really good here.

The cinematography in Serpent also looks quite beautiful. I think with this film being filmed in South Africa, it has a completely different look to what I assumed would be a US production. The South African scenes never feel more evident than the ones at the beginning of the film when the couple is leaving the city. Once we get to Suicide Gorge, we have a lot of sprawling nature shots. I think the director has managed to capture this sort of jungle paradise in a beautiful light. I'm sure National Geographic would be pleased with it.

Lastly, we come to the performances. I think the actors did the most with what they are given here. Tom Ainsley was the standout for me. It doesn't hurt that the actor's incredibly handsome and spends a lot of the time shirtless. I think he portrayed that scorned husband well. I believe that Sarah Dumont has the most to recover from as we immediately dislike her character due to her cheating on him. I think by the end, they manage to have this sort of redemption story for her role.







DEATH TOLL:
 0

BLOOD AND GORE:

- We see a vision of a man dead in a tent.
- A snake is repeatedly stabbed.
- A woman is bitten by a snake.
- A snake is bashed to death with a rock.
- Beetles crawl inside an open wound.







Serpent feels like two different films all rolled into one. A drama about a crumbling marriage that slowly descends into a story about a couple who are trapped in a tent with a killer snake. At first, I wanted to give this a lower rating but felt that with the themes of religion, the tension between the couple, and the cinematography. It tries to set itself apart from other 'animal attack' movies. What brings the story down, all falls back on the pacing, some of the dialogue, and some dodgy CGI scenes involving the snake. Worth a once-off watch if you want something different.
 


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Happy Hunting (2017)








DIRECTORS:

Joe Dietsch
Louie Gibson

WRITERS:

Joe Dietsch
Louie Gibson

CAST:

Martin Dingle Wall
Ken Lally
Kenny Wormald
Connor Williams
C.J. Baker
Gary Sturm
Jeremy Lawson
Sherry Leigh

PLOT:

When an alcoholic drifter receives a call about an ex-girlfriend, who has passed away. On that call, he discovers that he's fathered a young child. Now with her passing, it's left the child alone. He decides to drive to Mexico to be with his child. Stopping over in a small desolate desert town, he gets more than he bargained for when he learns that the town is full of hunters that have a yearly tradition hunting day, only it's not animals they hunt, but humans.








When I first came across Happy Hunting, it wasn't due to something positive. It was the movie's marketing team being accused of ripping off Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin poster. Putting the posters side by side, you can't deny the resemblance. With only a slight font change and a couple of shades difference between the colours used on the poster, you'd assume that the movies themselves were somehow related. So initially, I didn't even bother watching it as I was a big fan of Blue Ruin. I didn't want to give a simple copycat the time of day.

It wasn't until I saw Happy Hunting pop up on Netflix that I decided to research a bit more about it. While I still had a sour taste in my mouth from the controversy about the similar poster campaigns. I decided to check out what the critics had been saying about it on Rotten Tomatoes. With being such a low-budget film, I didn't even expect it to have a Tomatometer. To my surprise, the movie held a 100% Fresh rating on the website. It was only then that I decided to give Happy Hunting a watch.

After I finished watching Happy Hunting, I was pleasantly surprised. As that age-old saying goes 'you should never judge a book by its cover', and I've got to admit that the saying seemed pretty fitting for this film. Clocking in at an hour and a half, it's a violent, fast-paced, and confident film from two first time filmmakers. I was shocked to see this was their first feature film that wasn't a documentary or several episodes of television. This is a solid debut.

The movie doesn't take long at all in getting to the gory good stuff. It takes only half an hour for our main character to be thrust into a terrifying situation of being hunted down for sport in the middle of the desert. From this point on, it feels like a game of cat and mouse. Only the cat seems to be an entire town of hunters who have placed bets on who can secure the most kills. The story never slows down from this point. It always feels like it's moving forward and for that, I can't fault the pace of the movie.

When it comes to the gore, the movie delivers by the bucketload. People are hunted, they are shot, stabbed, and maimed. People are decapitated, heads bashed in with a spiked baseball, and the list goes on. If you were wary that this might be your run-of-the-mill thriller, you would be wrong. While Happy Hunting indeed has elements of all that, this is an all-out gruesome blood sport that never takes a breather. You will be rewarded with blood and carnage.

On a cinematography level, Happy Hunting is a sight to behold. Being that the film is set in the desert, we have these sweeping landscape shots that capture the isolation of being stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The movie is drenched in these browns and golds that really make you feel what it must have been like to film in these arid sorts of conditions. I also found myself really appreciating the aerial shots of above where we see cars or people driving or wandering through the harsh landscape.

The issues that I have with Happy Hunting is that while it's incredibly violent, it still feels like a lot of the bloodshed may have been helped along with CGI and not with practical. Hey, I could be wrong, but whenever someone is torn apart by bullets or blood is sprayed across the screen, it looks computer-generated. This is distracting and always has been in current horror films. How hard is it to load up a squib? Give me a practical effect over a computer one any day of the week.

Lastly, I wanted to bring up the last problem that I had with the film and that was the ending. Our lead character gets put through the wringer in this movie, and for once, I would've welcomed a happy ending for this character. While he does dish out his own brand of revenge, the ending left me feeling a tad bit cold. One thing that the ending does provide is a pretty topical discussion about walls and Mexico that would fit pretty well into the current political climate. While I was unhappy with the dark ending, I did like that slice of commentary.








DEATH TOLL: 18

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man is shot in the eye.
- A woman is pulled out of a speeding car and splits her head open.
- A man trips over and blows his own head off with a shotgun.
- Men are shot in the head, face, neck, chest, and stomach.
- A man is shot in the face.
- A man's head is set on fire.
- Three people are hacked up with an axe.
- A man steps in a bear trap.
- A woman is stabbed in the throat.
- A woman is shot in the head.
- Men are stabbed in the throat and stomach.
- A man uses a knife to shoot a bullet.
- A man is hit in the chest with an arrow and run over by an SUV.
- We see a man's decapitated head, and his hand's are cut off.
- A man breaks his nose in a car accident.
- A man is shot in the stomach with a shotgun and his intestine's fall out.
- A child is shot in the head.
- A man's head is crushed with a spiked baseball bat.








Happy Hunting is a movie that truly surprised me. It's a violent and bloody tale that feels a little like Mad Max meets The Most Dangerous Game. Gorgeously filmed and an assured debut film from two new filmmakers. At times frenetic and fast-paced, it should keep you entertained for the vast majority of its running time. While the film isn't without its faults, the positives outweigh the negatives here. For once, trust that 100% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.
 


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Escape Room (2017)








DIRECTOR: Peter Dukes

WRITER: Peter Dukes

CAST:

Skeet Ulrich
Sean Young
Christine Donlon
Randy Wayne
Matt McVay
Ashley Gallegos
Hayley Goldstein

PLOT:

Brice owns an escape room in Los Angeles. His business is currently struggling, and he is trying to find new ways to make his escape rooms more interactive and fun. He decides to take an ancient box from an antique shop that contains a demon within it. When a group of friends head to his escape room for a night out, they get more than they bargained for when a possessed killer ruins their night. They have less than an hour to solve the puzzles, or they'll die.







Over the last several years, escape rooms have grown in popularity. It appears that the trend of solving puzzles while in a locked room with only an hour to escape is all the rage these days. Enjoyed with your closest friends, random strangers, and even colleagues at work functions, they are the new in thing to do. It now also seems that horror filmmakers have caught on and taken the concept and ran with it, with no less than six movies and short films coming out over the last three years.

As someone who is yet to experience an escape room. I don't know what the rush or feeling is like of being locked in a room and forced to solve puzzles. As a person who is both competitive and has obsessive-compulsive disorder, they would probably drive me utterly insane. I'm the sort of person who likes to be in control at all times. So I'm not a person that likes to relinquish that power or put it in someone else's hands. If I were to get locked in one of these places, I'd probably get bitterly jealous if someone solved the puzzle before I did.

Escape Room is a movie that almost gets itself across the line for me. It has moments that I really enjoyed here. The story mixes some interesting mythology with demonic possession which uses an escape room as the setting. For the most part, it works. Is it a device that we've seen variations of before? Yes. It's just the director and writer has chosen a clever setting to have our four victims be thrown into, and for my first escape room horror experience, I didn't hate it. It's not without its problems, though.

Since Scream was released in 1996, we've had a massive increase in horror cinema being quite meta and self-referential. Escape Room feels no different here. At times this works wonders. At other times, it borders on the extreme. Sean Young plays an antique shop owner who specialises in oddities. She takes a phone call at one point and states 'do not feed it after midnight'. This was a nice little nod to Gremlins. Our Annabelle doll even gets a mention. I enjoyed these moments. What I didn't enjoy was our two lead male characters name-dropping every horror movie ever made.

In bringing up our two main characters and their girlfriends. They are actually the part of the film that I just didn't care for, or cared if they died. The two main guys have been written to be these relatable horror fans. Yet, I just found them and the girlfriends annoying. The character that I feel that I connected with the most was Skeet Ulrich as a struggling business owner who just wants to run the best escape room in Los Angeles. He is the character that feels the most sympathetic. I believe it's his presence on screen that elevates the story.

Now, our killer who is possessed by a demon is actually pretty creepy. A handyman meets Baghead Jason is what I would say he reminds me of. Here the killer wields a pair of scissors like some crazed homemaker. While the gore isn't too extreme here, we do get a sweet death where a pair of scissors meets the top of a woman's skull, not once but twice. I think the writer has tried to set out and subvert expectations with several of the character deaths and they may actually shock some of the more unsuspecting viewers.

When it comes to the scares and tension, I think that Escape Room sadly misses the mark. I think what the director has gone for here isn't jump scares, but instead, he's tried to create a slow building tension. There aren't a lot of scenes where characters are suddenly scared by loud noises or animals jumping out in front of them. We are aware from about twenty minutes in that our possessed killer inches closer to these victims by way of a timer and a chain. It's this which keeps the characters on edge.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about some glaring issues with the plot. The film opens with two characters in the desert who decide to bury the box. When things turn sour due to the box having a hold over them, it ends in murder and suicide. We never find out how it makes its way to the US. We don't know how it came into possession of each person. All we get is some credits with the box photoshopped into different decades. We don't even get any backstory on the demon. We just know that skull-box is what houses it. I'd have liked a little more from the story.








DEATH TOLL: 5

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man is shot in the back.
- A man shoots himself in the head.
- A man is stabbed in the back and chest with scissors.
- A woman is stabbed in the head twice with scissors.
- A woman is stabbed in the chest with a shard of glass.
- A man is stabbed in the arm with a shard of glass.
- A man is shot in the chest and face by police.








Escape Room is the first of several released and planned movies that turn the escape room into a place of pain, hurt, and suffering. While this movie has many problems, I still found elements of the story that I enjoyed. I think the film mixes this latest craze with the supernatural well enough. We have a creepy looking killer, some clever meta gags, and decent performances from Skeet Ulrich and Sean Young. Where the movie loses points is a few glaring plot holes, lack of scares, and unlikable characters in our four victims.


Friday, September 15, 2017

The Hatred (2017)








DIRECTOR: Michael G. Kehoe

WRITER: Michael G. Kehoe

CAST:

Sarah Davenport
Andrew Divoff
Darby Walker
Alisha Wainwright
Bayley Corman
Nina Siemaszko
Amanda Wyss
Ronnie Gene Blevins

PLOT:

When four young women travel to their college professor's new country house for a weekend getaway. They soon get more than they bargained for when they discover that the house hides an incredibly dark secret. As they start to snoop around, they find that the original owner may have close ties to the Nazi's and Hitler himself. It's now up to the four women to fight for survival and stop an ancient evil.








The Hatred comes to us from Producer Malek Akkad. You may know him from such movies as Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers, Halloween H20, the forgettable Halloween: Resurrection, both of the Rob Zombie Halloween remakes and the all-new Halloween sequel. So going into this latest flick, and seeing his name on the project, I thought that it had some clout. With a big-named producer behind the movie, I was sort of excited to see what this one had to offer.

After watching The Hatred. This is a movie that is riddled with problems. Yet, it has stuff that I admire about it. This is a spin on the haunted house film that we've all seen a hundred times or more. When it comes to that element of the plot, though, you'll have likely seen it all before. I can't see many horror fans walking out of this movie shocked by the events that happen once our four young women are preyed upon by a malevolent, revenge-seeking ghost. I'd say it's the most ridiculous part when it comes to the story if I'm honest.

Before our rage-filled entity starts to dispatch of the core group. The plot delves into the history of the property, and previous owners. This is the part of the story that I enjoyed. It feels like for half of the film, it's grounded in some kind of reality. I liked that this patriarch of the original family was connected to Hilter and the whole Nazi occupation. I thought this was a nice touch. I also really enjoyed the addition of the amulet and the connection to the Knights Templar. I thought this was an interesting little twist on what we've come to expect.

Once these two elements come colliding together, it all sort of falls apart. Things get increasingly silly and at times laughable. The patriarch wearing an old protective suit with a gas mask is inherently creepy. It's a visual that gets under your skin. The fact that the patriarch is strict and the family is Amish. It gives it this uncomfortable vibe when the daughter wants to explore life outside her confined upbringing. They should have had him be the main villain. We hate him from the outset, and they decide to go with the dead daughter who like in many of these supernatural films, just wants to be found. A plot device we've seen before.

Why is it when a character is killed in a violent rage, that their spirit decides to harm the people that it's trying to connect with in hopes of getting them to free their body so they can be at peace? Haven't these spirits ever heard of the saying that you catch more flies with honey? Once it's revealed that the daughter is the big-bad of the film. It's just a very odd visual. We have this bright yellow CGI ghost who is surrounded by this smoke. Screaming and flying around the house just makes it all the funnier, Not scary. It kills all the tension in the story.

I will have to hand it to the director and writers who give the audience one set-piece that completely subverted my expectations and creeped me out. We believe that our protagonist is speaking to the young girl she is babysitting. When she looks under the bed at the request of the little girl, the little girl is under the bed and states 'that's not me'. To pan up and reveal the little girl is, in fact, the spirit. It was genuinely creepy. I also enjoyed the design of this green-skinned creature which is clawed and has bright glowing yellow eyes. They seem to throw a lot at the wall and hope it sticks.

When it comes to the acting, I found it all a little hit and miss. Andrew Divoff who we all know from The Wishmaster is the most well-known of the cast, and as always, the guy does creepy very well. I think he was the standout. Sadly, it's the horror scream queen and icon Amanda Wyss was sadly underused here. She is only here in a blink, and you'll miss it role. The four actresses who play our group are all okay, but them sprouting off facts about Nazi's and the Knights Templar was giving me some Denise Richards vibes in The World Is Not Enough. It all seemed a little farfetched.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the ending of the movie. I feel that it was a pretty big letdown as it doesn't really explain any of the connection between the patriarch and the Nazi-occupation, the Knights Templar or Hilter. While these four college students give us their theories on the links between our father and his past, it's never really explained. It feels like these details are all provided by way of exposition, yet they don't really come together. I thought that this wasn't executed very well.
 







DEATH TOLL: 8

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A girl is drowned in a trough.
- A woman sprays insecticide into a man's mouth killing him.
- A woman is attacked by a demon.
- A man is impaled and ripped back into a house.
- Two people are found wrapped in barbwire.
- A woman is attacked by a possessed little girl.
- A bloody message is scrawled across a wall.
- A woman pulls a chunk of glass out of her foot.







The Hatred is a movie that feels like a melting pot of ideas that sadly doesn't come together in the end. What is essentially a run-of-the-mill haunted house story with some neat ideas up its sleeve. What works in the story here is the backstory of the original family and the Nazi connection. What doesn't work is all of the supernatural stuff. Instead of providing scares, it backfires and becomes unintentionally funny. It's not all bad, it just doesn't feel like it reaches its full potential.

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.