Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

47 Meters Down (2017)

JUNE 18, 2017

GENRE: PREDATOR, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

If it were up to me (and nothing ever is, for the record), Universal would re-release Jaws every other summer, in honor of it not only being the original summer blockbuster that paved the way for everything else currently playing at the multiplex but also of it being JAWS, goddammit. On the other summers, some studio would release a new sharksploitation movie like 47 Meters Down, which of course owes some of its existence to Spielberg's classic, but also provides some thrills on its own accord and, unlike the comic book/franchise wannabe films clogging the other screens, is refreshingly simple for a summer movie. When even the low-budget horror films can't help but be bogged down in world building (Annabelle 2 has a clunky setup for the upcoming Nun spinoff), there's something kind of novel about the idea that I'll never need to remember plot points or characters from this movie ever again, as there won't be a "48" Meters Down.

Well, I mean, there probably would be if the movie was a giant smash, but like last year's The Shallows and several others before it (including Jaws, but no one was smart enough to prevent three sequels), it's an open and shut story, and a very simple one. Our heroines (sisters played by Claire Holt and Mandy Moore, who couldn't look less like sisters if they tried and honestly wasn't a necessary plot point - they could have just been besties) are on a cage-diving jaunt, where they don scuba gear and are lowered into the water to see some sharks up close, when the line breaks and their cage sinks... you guessed it, 47 meters down, to the bottom of the ocean floor (for you non-metric folk, that's about 150 feet). From then on it's a more or less real-time account of them trying to figure out how to survive when their oxygen tanks are running out and communication with their boat requires dangerous trips outside the relative safety of their cage, as the sharks continue circling the area.

So basically it's in the vein of Frozen or Thirst, as our heroes try to survive the elements as well as a natural predator doing its thing (as opposed to a human murderer and/or a "monster" like Deep Blue Sea's super-intelligent sharks), inviting the audience to play along with "Why don't they try ______?" questions that are usually answered by the film itself. For example, you might wonder why they don't just swim for the surface, as 150 feet isn't THAT far and the sharks can be warded off with flares and the like. Well, since they dropped so far, they're now at risk of getting nitrogen bubbles in their brain (known as "the bends") if they don't depressurize properly, which requires them to ascend a bit and then wait five minutes for their body to adjust before ascending again (and then stopping again). By keeping the situation simple and also unquestionably dangerous (as anyone can be afraid of sharks and also running out of air), it also restricts the amount of armchair quarterbacking the audience can reasonably bother with, unlike say Frozen, where everyone was pretty sure THEY could survive jumping off the chair and snowboarding away from the wolves. OK, maybe you could do that, somehow - but can you stop nitrogen bubbles from invading your brain, genius?

At its best, the movie offers terrific thrills that you don't often see in these shark movies. Folks tend to be on boats or some other structures (such as the rock in The Shallows), i.e. above the water, but our heroes are submerged for the bulk of the film, and director Johannes Roberts ties one hand behind his back by refusing to cut to the boat on the surface. Even when the girls make contact with their boat (captained by Matthew Modine in a role that amounts to a cameo) Roberts keeps his cameras underwater as well, allowing us to wonder if Modine and his mates are truly trying to save them or if they're leaving them behind on purpose for one reason or another. It's a fun little trick; the film takes place in Mexico and our protagonists are vacationing Americans, so decades of horror-watching has us trained to believe that the "locals" are out to rob and/or rape and/or kill them since no one can travel in a horror movie without running afoul of scary foreigners. It's really not until the last few minutes of the film that we know if they're villains or not, making a solid way to add tension to the proceedings without really doing much of anything.

It's a shame, then, that the horrendous dialogue keeps sinking the movie's chances of being a classic example of the sub-genre. When everyone shuts up and tries to carry out some life-saving action that requires considerable risk (like when Holt gets out of the cage by sliding between the bars - which requires her to take her oxygen tank/mask off first), the movie works like gangbusters, and I kept cackling at every new setback (personal favorite: when Moore's character pulls on a lodged speargun and manages to shoot herself with it - not only causing an injury but giving the sharks fresh blood to smell). But whenever things settle down and the girls chat, it's borderline painful to listen to their generic, half-realized backstories. Apparently Moore's boyfriend just left her before the trip began (he was supposed to join, if I'm understanding correctly) because she's pretty boring, so part of the reason she's taking the trip at all is because she wants to post pictures that proves she can be fun and take risks. Since we never met the guy I don't know why we should care much if she manages to win him back with her new Facebook profile photo, and the dialogue itself is cringeworthy, doing it no favors. Somehow Blake Lively talking to a seagull was more natural than anything these two alleged sisters manage to say to each other. There is also a poorly implemented bit of foreshadowing that spoils a minor twist about the finale (which recalls the original ending of another movie featuring women who are trapped below the surface), though there is some fun in trying to figure out when that particular plot point came into play.

It also felt strangely held back at times, as if it was originally an R rating and someone cut it back to PG-13 at the 11th hour. There are two attack scenes that are borderline incoherent, as if they were trying to avoid showing shark-munch action, and a later very serious injury is noticeably cut around as much as possible. There is also a lone F-bomb relatively early in the movie; I know you're always allowed one in a PG-13 but having it come so early seems to suggest there could have been more at some point (because in a movie where you're trapped with sharks, you're likely to say OH FUCK! or WE'RE FUCKED!, but they don't - Moore just says it casually in one of the first scenes, saying "I fucked up" re: her relationship). I poked around and couldn't find any evidence of this being the case, so perhaps it was designed for PG-13 and they were being overly cautious? Either way, it felt like the movie was trying to avoid the B-movie carnage were showed up to see. Roberts' other films (including the HMAD book-worthy The Expelled) were all rated R, and I honestly didn't realize this one wasn't following suit until I checked real quick during a bathroom trip (it was like 90+ on Sunday so I was chugging water), so now I can't help but wonder if it'd be a better film if he was in a position to indulge.

But look: there's Jaws, and then there are the other shark movies, and among them, this ends up somewhere in the middle of the pack. It lacks the maniacal flourishes Jaume Collet-Serra brought to The Shallows, but it's a lot better than your average Syfy thing (and, not that it's a high bar, but it's better than two of the actual Jaws sequels), and I'm glad it got a big-screen release after it was nearly sent direct to DVD/VOD last summer. It's not a movie you'd probably want to watch over and over, but for the one time you DO watch, the big screen is the place to do it, and honestly if it went VOD I probably never would have seen it unless I had to for work. The sharks look good (for the record, this is likely the lowest budgeted movie you'll see in a multiplex all year) and the pacing is nearly breakneck at times, as they're pretty much screwed within minutes of going into the water (itself a scene that occurs before the 20 minute mark). It might feel a bit handicapped at times, but it got the job done and scratched my shark movie itch until I have time for Chief Brody and his pals again.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

It Comes At Night (2017)

JUNE 9, 2017

GENRE: POST-APOCALYPTIC, THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I kept hearing how It Comes At Night's trailer was misleading and that it wasn't really a horror movie, so I rushed to see it on opening day (instead of The Mummy!) before I knew much else, as I had managed to not see a trailer yet and didn't want to press my luck. All I really knew was that it wasn't a full blown traditional horror movie, and that a lot of my friends liked it, so that was enough to be excited but also not have any specific expectations of what it might be. I point all of that out because I was still disappointed with the film as a whole; it had some really good ideas and performances, and I was on board for about 40 minutes or so, but as it went on, and again when it was over, I couldn't escape a certain "That's IT?" feeling.

And as I got further away from it (i.e. thought about it) I liked it even less, so this might have been a more positive review had I written it that afternoon instead of five days later. I wouldn't say it was a "bad" movie in the traditional sense, but more a frustrating one because it kept introducing these ideas that could have paid off beautifully - or at least, made the film more engaging - but then writer/director Trey Edward Shults would drop them without fanfare. For those who were as blind to the film's narrative as I was, the plot concerns a family of three living in their boarded up home to protect themselves against a deadly virus and also the types of evil humans that show up in 99% of post-apoc/zombie movies. One day a man named Will tries to break in and they capture him, but eventually believe him that he's just like them, trying to protect his family. After some hesitation, the dad (Joel Edgerton) decides to help Will pick up his family (and their supply stash), figuring a group of six is better than a group of three.

Well his son is a teenager who presumably hasn't seen a lot of women since hitting the point in a man's life where seeing women would be a very pleasant experience, and Will's wife is Riley Keough, who any man would justifiably be smitten with. The young man takes an instant liking to her and starts staring at her as she works a well pump, shifting his glance downwards when he should be looking at her face during conversation, etc. So when tensions eventually boil between the two families over a lack of trust, you start wondering if he'll turn on his own family out of desire to be on this woman's good side. But nothing even remotely like that happens! Keough barely even registers in the movie after she notices his attraction, turning the whole subplot into little more than padding. Yes, it helps get across the idea that he's lonely and growing up in a world that won't afford him a normal life (and, presumably, won't ever actually fall in love properly, given the seeming lack of options), but when they zero in on this particular thing for ten straight minutes of the film only to drop it and never mention it again, it's counterproductive.

I could list one or two similar examples, but given that the film seems to be polarizing (the D Cinemascore sure seems odd next to its 86% "fresh" rating Rotten Tomatoes) I don't want to risk spoiling, since half of you will likely love the film. Without spoiling anything else I will say that the script seemed like it was a draft or two away from really hitting it out of the park, which is part of what made it so frustrating - I'd almost rather watch a movie that was just a bust from the start. Oddly it's the 3rd film from A24 in a row that I've seen that left me feeling the same way - one was Blackcoat's Daughter (formerly February) and the other was the non-horror Free Fire. All three films had very direct, uncomplicated plots (though Blackcoat at least offers two such tales, with their connection being a very clumsy twist) that gave far too many talented people almost nothing to do. I mentioned Keough is largely wasted here, but so is Carmen Ejogo (Keough's co-star from The Girlfriend Experience) as Edgerton's wife, who I don't think gets a single scene to herself or even says much of anything when she's around.

But Edgerton gets plenty to do, and gives a fine performance that had me wishing that he directed it as well, since he did such a terrific job with The Gift. I mean I haven't seen Shults' other film (Krisha), but I know it ain't anything that would wind up in a "horror" category, unlike The Gift which does (even though, like this, it seems to fall on the other side of that tight line between horror and thriller), and Edgerton has proven he can handle that kind of situation and make a memorable film - not to mention one audiences had a better response to. It's funny though, he was in the 2011 Thing prequel and here, when the film's at its best, it's actually a better successor to Carpenter's film than that junk. Edgerton's paranoia about whether or not he can trust Will works like gangbusters, and Shults is smart enough to never inform us of Will's true intentions and/or if he's lying about one or all aspects of his story. There's one point where Edgerton seemingly catches Will in a lie about the existence of a (now dead) brother, but Will explains it away - was it the truth, or a lie to cover the lie? And was he only lying in the first place not out of some nefarious motive, but merely to protect himself?

We don't get those answers, and that's fine - because we're with Edgerton and his POV and if he doesn't know, neither should we. The problem is, we're not ALWAYS in his POV, as we shift to the son's perspective for several key scenes and stretches, and even Will's for a brief scene with his family. So that throws off the whole thing, because now that Shults has shown us he's NOT bounding himself to just Edgerton's perspective on things, it makes the unanswered questions all the more exasperating, because it's like he's randomizing what he chooses to reveal and what he leaves up to our imagination. He also blunders a bit by (vague spoiler ahead) proving Edgerton was right about one thing, which renders his earlier actions defensible when it seems like we're supposed to wonder if what he did was the right call. The ending is not a happy one, I assure you - but a few tweaks could have put it into The Mist territory in terms of ballsiness. Instead it's just... well, kind of a practical one.

Shults also plays with the film's aspect ratio, starting off in the traditional 2.40:1 range but going to 3:1 by the end. It's a techie gimmick that most won't notice (including myself, partially because the theater didn't have it framed correctly in the first place), and rubbed me the wrong way when I read about it later. Like he cares about this but can't be bothered to give either of his actresses anything of note to do, or resolve two subplots, or explain why they're so afraid of the virus that they sometimes use gas masks inside, but at one point Edgerton just takes his off for no reason when he's outside in an unfamiliar area. It reminds me of those obnoxious gamers who care more about whether or not the game will have a high FPS rate than they do if the game itself is actually any good. I mean if that's his deal, fine - but it will make me very hesitant the next time he's got a film out there, because it seems we care about very different things when it comes to movies. Nice cinematography though.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Evil Ed (1995)

JUNE 7, 2017

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, SPLATTER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (REVIEW SCREENER)

I remember reading about Evil Ed in Fangoria back in the 90s at some point, making a note to see it as soon as possible because it sounded so much in my wheelhouse. Alas, the VHS version that was released in the US was cut, and I was too snobby to settle for such a thing, so I opted to wait until I found an uncut one. And then I just forgot about it, apparently, because I'm sure I could have found one by now thanks to having money and the know-how to import discs and such. Well, 22 years later, I've finally seen the movie thanks to Arrow's new Blu-ray, which is more uncut than ever, featuring a few extra minutes of (non-gory) footage and, of course, given a high-def/widescreen transfer to boot - it's as if I was meant to wait more than half my life to get around to seeing the damn thing.

Ironically, if I had to distill my thoughts on the film down to one word, it would be "dated", and so even with all the gore chopped out I probably would have enjoyed the movie more had I seen it in the 90s. The plot, for those uninitiated, concerns a mild-mannered editor who is used to working on art-house dramas tasked with censoring a series of slasher movies titled Loose Limbs, bringing them up to the standards required by the local ratings board. At first he wearily works on the films as "just another job", but then overexposure to all of the violent imagery starts warping his mind, resulting in a series of hallucinations and then murders as he goes more and more insane. Lots of old-school Peter Jackson-y splatter ensues. The filmmakers were taking shots at Sweden's censorship board, which was at the time one of the most strict in the world; interestingly enough the practice of cutting films was relaxed the following year, though I doubt Evil Ed was a factor in the decision.

But that just adds to the feeling that it's a bit past its time - censorship now isn't as big of a problem for horror and its fans. With more and more films going out unrated entirely (and the MPAA being more lenient in general), it feels like the time to take a stand against slicing the gory bits out of a slasher movie has long since expired (correct me if I'm wrong, but the last time they made a big stink about a horror movie was Hatchet II, seven years ago). This isn't a critique on the film's existence; just more of an observation, that I almost wish I was seeing the film now in "revisit" mode, as opposed to seeing it for the first time. There are some great gags that haven't dated at all - such as when Ed smiles proudly at a cut he made that renders a gore scene completely incoherent - but overall it felt like kicking a dead horse as opposed to standing up against some ongoing injustice.

(Note - if you are a filmmaker who has recently battled with the MPAA or any other ratings board, feel free to counterpoint, but please note I'm speaking in general terms. I do not doubt that there is still a problem with filmmakers being forced to hack up their films to appease a bunch of people who wouldn't see it anyway - it's just not something that makes the news as often as it did in the 80s and 90s when they were targeting Wes Craven and the Friday the 13th sequels seemingly out of spite. And, again, going out without a rating isn't as crippling as it used to be since newspaper ads aren't how these films get promoted.)

So without that niche appeal, it's just another "guy goes crazy and starts killing people around him" movie, albeit one with a more humorous and whacked-out slant than the average Shining wannabe. Ed's hallucinations aren't just of his friends/loved ones saying things that are only in his head - no, he sees possessed nurses, devils, and even a thing that I could best describe as a goblin version of one of the characters from ABC's 90's show Dinosaurs. His hallucinations START normally - he sees an old lady neighbor as a hot lady coming on to him early on - but they go full blown gonzo by the midpoint, which was a fine surprise. Not only is it obviously more interesting to look at, but it also showcases more of this next-to-no-budget film's surprisingly strong FX and makeup work, which more than makes up for the time capsule-y feeling. Let's not forget that by this point in the 90s, CGI was already starting to take over even in lower-budgeted horror films (1995 was the year of Hideaway and Lord of Illusions, among others), so it was already time to start appreciating the films that were still doing it the right way.

But it also feels like they didn't have quite enough for a feature with their initial concept, so the film takes an odd detour for its climax, as Ed rampages around a hospital while a bunch of SWAT type guys try to take him out. This allows for a lot of bonus gore, but also feels like you're suddenly watching a sequel to the movie you watched for the first hour or so. And not just any sequel, but one made by a new creative team, as the whole "horror movies drove him crazy" focus feels like it's no longer even relevant. It's entertaining in its own right, no doubt about it, but as a whole the movie feels a bit cobbled together from a bunch of ideas as opposed to something more cohesive. As a result I felt kind of exhausted and ready to move on, which is a bummer when being presented with top notch prosthetic work (and a very game performance from Johan Rudebeck as the title character, who reminded me of an older Toby from The Office).

Arrow's blu-ray is, naturally, aimed more at folks who already loved the movie (and were likely aware of its narrative shortcomings), and I can't imagine a scenario where they will be disappointed. In addition to two cuts of the film, there are two extensive documentaries (one running over three hours) and lots of new interviews with director Anders Jacobsson and the simply named Doc, who edited the film. Apparently they've been working on putting together this special edition for over six years now, so it's clearly a labor of love and it shows - I particularly liked the footage of them hunting around for deleted scenes (and a quick bit where Doc almost accidentally cuts up the film's negative!). I actually learned how to use a flatbed editor back in college and it gave me a world of appreciation for those who cut full films on it since doing a 5 minute short was hard enough, so seeing it in action (both here in the bonus features and in the film) gave me pleasant memories of the simpler days of being in college. Some additional deleted scenes and other outtake type material is also present, though as it was all in Swedish (with subtitles) and extensive I didn't get through it all, since I would have to keep my eyes glued to the screen instead of just listening to the interviews while I worked as I normally would. Multitasking is the only way I survive, really.

I'm happy I finally saw the film, and would happily keep it in my collection if I had a regular copy of it (I only got a screener disc in a blank plastic sleeve, i.e. nothing I would put on my shelf), as it'd be a fun one to throw on at parties given the extensive makeup and gore highlights. Arrow's set does it a justice it's never been afforded for over 20 years, and I'm happy for Jacobsson (who has only directed one film since, sadly) and his crew as they clearly worked hard to get it out there both in the '90s when it was made, and now where it can be properly seen for the first time. I wish I liked it a bit more, but not as much as I wish I was finally owning a proper copy of an old favorite that would have blown my mind when I was 15. Oh well.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Aaron's Blood (2016)

JUNE 1, 2017

GENRE: VAMPIRE
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

Hey, have I mentioned that I have a kid now?

I joke, of course - I know I can't talk (well, write) for five minutes (sentences) without bringing up my new, mostly wonderful job as father, but it really does have a profound effect on how I watch horror movies, and I don't just mean that it takes me a week to get through one because I never have 90 minutes to myself. It's wearing off some, but I get more worked up whenever kids are killed or in danger, and find myself feeling sad at the weirdest things. There's one Friday the 13th sequel (Final Chapter, I think) where we just see some crying parents in the hospital, and it bummed me out last time I watched! It dawned on me for the first time that some (yes, fictional) parent probably had to muster up the courage to let their beloved son or daughter go off for the weekend, and now they're dead - and so I start thinking that I'll never let my kid do the same. So when I read the plot of Aaron's Blood, I knew it was right up my alley, as it involved a father being torn between his love for his kid and his own conscience when the boy turned into a blood-needing vampire.

Now, when it comes to masked maniacs, there's a slim, but not impossible chance my son could find himself the victim of one someday, but I don't believe vampires exist, so I can watch this kind of a plot without hyperventilating at the possibilities, while also considering them in the hypothetical. WHAT IF my beloved Will (who just turned 3, by the way) turned into a vampire and needed human blood to survive? Would I be able to bring myself to kill innocent people (also someone's child) to keep him alive, or would I mercy-kill him in order to spare him the agony of immortality? I mean, sure, blood is blood and thus I could conceivably get it from prisoners or right-wing nationalists in order to lessen the guilt, but it's easier said than done, and that's just the hunger part of it. He couldn't go out in the sun anymore, so he'd have to stay home - and thus I'd have to stay home as well, which means no work. How do *I* survive, in this case?

Literally dozens of these questions ran through my head while watching, more than making up for the fact that the movie doesn't really offer much that you haven't seen in the likes of Maggie (albeit with a zombie) or Let The Right One In, among others. The father/son dynamic is the biggest wrinkle, as it's often a father and daughter (or a couple) that go through these "whatever it takes to keep my loved one alive" scenarios, but the script finds precious few moments for the two of them to bond or even really talk at all. Unlike Maggie, which kept things (too) simple, the movie offers a subplot involving a Van Helsing-y type who wants to kill the vampires but is also sympathetic to the father's situation, as the kid is all he has (the mother died some time ago). There's also a priest who wrestles with the implications and offers advice/exposition, plus his sister, and so the father (James Martinez, who was in another "Dad protects son" movie, the underrated Run All Night) spends more of his screentime with these folks than he does with his kid. As a result, the appeal is somewhat muted - you really need to see how deep his bond with his son is to go along 100% with his actions throughout the film.

It probably wouldn't have hurt to see more of the story from the kid's POV, either. Early on we get the usual scenes of him getting stronger and finding out how hard it can be to be a vampire (no sun!), but as the movie goes on he is kind of backgrounded in favor of the dad's attempts to save him. The DVD has some deleted scenes and I wasn't surprised to see that they all involved him - more stuff at school, setting up more antagonism with the obligatory bully, etc. I mean, the hook of the film is how the father-son bond is challenged by this new development, at a time when kids tend to start being more independent, so it's odd that writer/director Tommy Stovall kept muddling up that appeal with pointless diversions like the dad trying to track down the blood donor that caused the vampirism in the first place, because that stuff just isn't as interesting (at least, to me).

Indeed, the best moments are those quiet ones that kinda pulled at my dad-strings. Just this morning my kid seemed disinterested in his usual hug and kiss goodbye when I dropped him off at daycare, and so a scene where the dad considers the idea that his son will stay a young boy (11 or 12ish, in this case) forever kinda hit hard - I'm not sure I can handle the "Dad you're embarrassing me" era, and wouldn't mind always having him small enough to cuddle up with me to watch cartoons as he someday won't want to do. There's also a scene where the kid questions why the dad no longer uses one of his old nicknames on him ("Because you told me to stop calling you that," the dad sadly replies), which flooded me with memories of when I, as an adolescent, would feel a bit sad that I was too big to say "mommy/daddy" anymore - just because you want to grow up doesn't mean you want to shed yourself of all the benefits that come from being a nearly helpless toddler. It's this sort of stuff that really gave the movie its appeal to me, and I'm curious how non-parents will react to it - will it just be "boring talk" that delays the vampire action?

Being that this is a low-budget independent film, I trust no one will walk in expecting Blade levels of carnage. The body count is low, but they make those moments count with some decent vampire makeup and an admirable acceleration to the "turning" process; Tate is drinking blood at around the 25 minute mark, so there's no slow burn "save it for the third act" bullshit. And they splash real fake blood on actors' faces during the kills, so kudos for that as well. One good thing about the dad keeping so busy by meeting folks who can help is that it keeps things moving even though there isn't much traditional fangplay. It's a short movie (barely over 80 minutes), but the pacing surprisingly made it feel even shorter - I was actually kind of surprised when it ended, thinking it was only a little over an hour or so since it started.

Overall it's a well-intentioned film that tends to focus on less interesting things a bit too often, somewhat handicapping its chances to be something truly special. It's enjoyable and reasonably well made, but there are probably 20 or so minutes devoted to the same sort of "vampires must be stopped!" kinda hooey that we've all seen a zillion times. Perhaps if the two primary characters went on a road trip or something, minimizing how much time the supporting cast could drop in, Stovall and his team would have really hit it out of the park. But if you enjoy these low-key vampire flicks, and/or want something besides Field of Dreams to watch with your dad next Sunday, it's worth checking out. The disc has a smattering of standard extras (behind the scenes, trailer, and the aforementioned deleted scenes) to sweeten the deal, though I'm sure VOD (and apparently even a small theatrical run) will be where most people see it. I'll keep the disc, however - if my kid turns out to like horror movies maybe I can show it to him in time for him to think twice about telling me not to call him "Pookie" anymore, when he sees how sad the kid felt when he realized his dad stopped using his pet names in favor of his real one!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Alien: Covenant (2017)

MAY 21, 2017

GENRE: ALIEN
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I don't know what it is about Prometheus that gets people so worked up on both sides of the argument, but I hope we don't have to listen to the same online shouting matches for another five years about Alien: Covenant, because despite the title it's really just "Prometheus 2", following up that film's themes and, once he's reintroduced, main character. Additionally, it suffers from a number of the exact same problems (dumb characters! Too much ret-conning about where the aliens came from!), so it's possible some of these folks can just copy paste their old critiques into new Facebook posts. My only hope is that Ridley Scott makes the next film quicker, and then it finally connects up to the first Alien, so people can stop theorizing and go on with their damn lives. Until then, please stop arguing - both films have strong points and weak points, like most movies ever made (including Alien and Aliens, sorry to burst your bubble), and like EVERY movie ever made, there will be people who saw it differently than you, and their minds won't be changed by your tweetstorm.

As for me, if I was ranking the series, I'd put this one about in the middle, same as Prometheus, in that both are not up to the original "Ripley Trilogy" but better than Resurrection and the two AVPs, though I guess those films no longer count (if they ever did?) thanks to the reveals in this new branch of the series, which makes AVP's plot seemingly impossible. I'll let you discover the specifics yourself, but I don't think I'm spoiling too much when I say David (from Prometheus) is back and has seemingly doubled down on his "villainous by curiosity" nature, as he is once again doing things just to kind of see what happens even though he seemingly knows it will spell doom for his human colleagues. But this time there is another android, Walter (also played by Michael Fassbender, with a different accent) who is a later model than David, designed to be less human i.e. potentially evil. It's this dynamic that Scott was clearly interested in (the film opens with a lengthy conversation between David and his creator, Guy Pearce - this time without old man makeup), and thus it's no surprise that it's also where the film really shines - the two androids conversing about whether saving someone's life is programming or a "soul" is fascinating, and I could have easily watched another half hour or so of their debate.

But alas, people who bought tickets for Prometheus wanted more alien action than they got, so this time they get it, even if Scott's heart doesn't seem into it. People will argue about the gestation periods and all that because they have nothing better to do with their lives, but everyone else can enjoy the fact that we get not one but two aliens bursting out of bodies in the film's first half, along with the accompanying body count. The plot, such as it is, concerns the titular Covenant, a pioneer ship with fifteen active crew and a couple thousand frozen colonists ready to build a new world on a distant planet that was found inhabitable. But as this is an Alien film, a mysterious transmission from none other than Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace's character from Prometheus) has them detouring to another planet (no, not LV-426, but not the one from Prometheus either) and looking for the person who sent it, and that's where the trouble begins as two people get infected (with a new method - inhaling xeno-spores!) while they hunt for Shaw on this strange planet.

One interesting thing I noticed is that the movie has very few "nighttime" scenes - most of the alien action occurs outside during daytime (albeit overcast, it's not a "sunny" entry), which allows us a better look at the various creatures. The full sized ones are practical and used sparingly but well, so all of that stuff is fine - the problem is that the action/horror beats themselves are rather uninspired. Again, these people are rather dumb, or at least overly prone to panic, as one blows up themselves AND their transport by firing wildly in a room filled with gas tanks, and later one shoots his squadmate in the same circumstances. Two of them even go off for some shower sex at one point; to be fair they thought the alien was dead at that point, but were you REALLY in the mood after ten of your friends were killed? If Scott and his writers (four are credited) put as much effort into these sequences as they did the more thought-provoking, big idea ones, this could be a minor classic instead of just a pretty good entry in a very erratic series. Hell, even Life offered more inspired "killer monster on a spaceship" action, even though on a base level it was just Alien - why can't an actual Alien movie measure up to the damn knockoffs?

As far as the humans go, they're the usual mixed bag of recognizable character actors (Demian Bichir, Amy Seimetz, Billy Crudup) and borderline anonymous grunts, giving a mix between the first Alien's blue collar paycheck collectors and Aliens' tight squad of buddies. Character development is fleeting to the point that I didn't realize two characters were married until one cradled the other (dead one) in his arms, and probably will have better material on the Blu-ray (as did Prometheus, for the record). The nicest surprise was Danny McBride, playing the ship's pilot who only makes I think two jokes throughout the movie, shedding most if not all of his usual persona for a change (I find him to be one of those guys that always plays variations of the same character). I was also happy to see Callie Hernandez from Blair Witch as the co-pilot; she doesn't get to do much beyond challenge McBride's decisions (they're all on the ship above the storm-ravaged planet; he wants to go help the others, she wants to keep the ship safe) but it's still fun to see her go from low-budget found footage to a megabudget flick like this.

But they're led by Katherine Waterston, who the script lets down more than anyone else. Her husband is killed early on (not alien related) so she's sad, fine, but that's pretty much her one note throughout the film. And they give her Ripley-esque hair, which does her no favors as you're constantly reminded of what a better character Sigourney Weaver got to play. She barely even gets to do anything badass; Walter saves her in one action scene, McBride's character is backing her up throughout another... for a series that is iconic for its female protagonist (an Oscar nominee for Aliens, in fact - incredibly rare for genre movies at all let alone sequels) they really should have delivered more on this front. I had to double check her character name, for Christ's sake (Daniels), and I actually like Waterston from her other movies, so I can't imagine how blank she'll be to viewers who have no prior connection to her.

That said, it's really Fassbender's show, and he is terrific (as he always is). They don't interact too much, but when he's playing David and Walter in the same scene, it's electric, and it also provides the film with its most suspenseful moment as David does the fingering on a flute as he tries to teach Walter to play. I spent the entire scene sure that David was going to ram the thing through Walter's skull (or chip, I guess) to kill him, and tensed up more than I did for any of the uninspired alien scenes. But even when David is talking to other characters, he is riveting - I love how casual he is about how evil he is, and the glee he seemingly takes at taking advantage of how stupid some of these people are. There's a minor "faith vs. science" thing going on between him and Billy Crudup's character (a man of religion) that also shines, but it also seems like it got whittled to the bone, either by rewrites or a nervous studio, unsure if they were willing to allow more of these heady conversations in a summer movie about aliens. God forbid anything be interesting nowadays.

Long story short, if you want more alien action than Prometheus offered, you'll get it - but it's still very much a Prometheus movie, far more concerned with ideas about creation and man's place in the world than xenomorphs scurrying around and melting faces with its acid blood. You get those things, but even a child can probably sense the filmmaker was in a rush to get them over with so he could get back to what actually interested him. Like Prometheus, the film would probably be a lot better if it was completely disconnected from a long-running franchise; Ridley may have started it, but it became another thing, and now he's forced to serve two masters (in a time when impatient audiences won't allow him to really dig deep with the things he wants to explore). I actually liked how the Alien series always offered another filmmaker's unique approach to the material (even Paul WS Anderson), but now it's seemingly a Ridley Scott series - it's a tough thing to shake off when you're watching the movie for the first time, especially when they're seemingly promising more Alien than Prometheus by changing the title. I luck out a bit in that I've never held the original series up to as much scrutiny or obsession as say, the Halloween movies, so I can't get angry at these things like some die-hards do (AVP:R is the only one I flat out dislike, but Alien - my favorite - isn't in my top 25 movies or anything). Again, they have their weak points and their strong points, and this is no exception - it's just weird that the weaker things are the parts we ostensibly bought tickets to see.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

For A Few Zombies More (2015)

MAY 12, 2017

GENRE: ZOMBIE
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Considering how much I dislike watching sequels when I haven't seen the originals, AND how I try to balance out my sub-genres, I find it amusing that this and the previous HMAD review are for sequels to zombie movies I never saw. But unlike Dead Rising, I didn't even realize For A Few Zombies More was a sequel until a character had a rather blase reaction to the appearance of aliens, and got suspicious that I had missed something, i.e. an entire movie. That film, 2004's Hide and Creep, is one of the ones I had on my DVD queue back in the "every day" days of the site, but never got around to seeing it - now I pay the price! Oddly enough, the Blu-ray case doesn't even mention the first film, so perhaps they're purposely trying to play down the connection anyway.

Luckily, besides that quick bit, I never felt at a loss here, and a quick read of the first film's wiki page shows that apart from a few characters there wasn't much of a tie between the two films, as most of this focuses on a character that doesn't seem to have been in that one. Her name is Natalie, and she's on a rescue mission that ropes in the returning characters (including Chuck, played by co-director/co-writer Chuck Hartsell), but if I'm understanding correctly that film had an anthology type structure (like Pulp Fiction or Trick r Treat) as opposed to this one's straightforward narrative. Long story short, if you too haven't seen the first film and have an opportunity to watch this one, don't let your "ignorance" sway you - I'm super picky about these things and I barely even noticed, let alone let it bother me.

Besides I was too impressed with how many zombies they had and the amount of shootout action the film offered. The budget for the first one was only 20k, and while this one was not reported on its IMDb I doubt it was much higher since funding for these sorts of movies has gotten harder, not easier, in the past 10-12 years. So while that means some of the locations ring a little fake and not every actor will be going on to bigger and better things, you get a lot more of what you came for than you're usually liable to find in such things. There's a bit around the halfway point or so where zombies swarm a car, and I was legitimately impressed with how many they had - a wide shot shows several dozen coming from both directions as they close in on the car, keeping it from driving off to safety. Not every scene is that populated, of course, but even Dead Rising I don't think ever offered 50ish of the damn things onscreen at once.

As for the shootouts, they get a bit repetitive (there's even a joke about their frequency that made me chuckle), but since the zombie action was probably harder to pull off and more expensive, I found it to be a pretty nice consolation prize. So even though there's not a lot of undead action, there's still plenty of GENERAL action, as opposed to people just talking or driving around backroads hoping that other cars don't pass them by in this supposed post-apocalyptic wasteland (or dystopia, if you will). Imagine if Day of the Dead had the same amount of zombie action, but instead of Joe Pilato yelling at everyone the characters all just kept shooting at each other - that's kind of what the pacing is like here. That said, I would have been thrilled if maybe ONE shootout had been chucked in favor of another zombie scene, even a simple one like one or two zombies trying to get into a room where our heroes were trapped with no other exit or something - it felt like there were long stretches without any real zombie appearances at all, which minimizes their threat.

Then again, more zombie action would mean less dialogue, and that's there the film shines. Again, not all of the acting is great, but a number of the characters are dryly sarcastic and kind of world-weary about their predicament, which I found amusing - even when they took a shot at Armageddon out of nowhere (*shakes fist*). Hero Chuck is a film buff, and he apparently just wanted to sit around and watch movies until the whole thing blew over, which is pretty much what I'd want to do if the real world got overrun by the undead. But thankfully he doesn't drop too many obvious references, and a number of them are even inspired - mentioning Starship Troopers at one point turns out to be a setup for a later punchline about that film's Dina Meyer (whom young BC was quite smitten with back in the day). And I like that Dawn of the Dead is a movie that exists in this world, without it becoming a big thing - the character has more to say about Star Wars (it's in the same pile) as he's currently faced with a "look out for yourself, or help your friends" decision as Han Solo was in the first film. Plus, when they're talking we're less likely to be pummeled by the faux Carpenter score - we really need to give this brand of homage a rest for a while I think. Same goes for the signature Carpenter font, though here they actually go with the Halloween credit font specifically, instead of the Albertus "Carpenter" one, so I have to give them a pass on that out of loyalty to my favorite movie.

I also really loved a rather inessential bit where our heroine stumbles across a band who is recording a double album. She's incredulous that they're bothering considering the zombie issue, but the band explains that when all the zombies are gone and normal civilization occurs, folks will want new music and there won't be any - just the old stuff they had before everything went to hell. I always wondered, particularly in the Romero films, when exactly these kind of things stopped happening - like in Night of the Living Dead, it's just started and kind of a localized problem, so I'm sure people in Hollywood kept on making movies for a while. But when did they finally decide enough was enough? Ditto for pretty much everything - were the folks who make microwaves still going to work, or did they figure it was pointless and stay home? I would love to see a zombie movie where everything had a specific frame of reference for when the world "stopped" in a general sense; it fascinates me for some reason. Indeed, a lot of the references here were from 1997-1998 (there's even one about The Postman!), so I wonder if that was intentional or just coincidence. Probably have my answer if I saw the first film.

The Blu-ray I was sent came with a novelization, which made me very happy and I instantly put it with all my others, which I really need to organize someday. It's a fitting "gimmick" for the film's 90s worship (the hero is an ex-video clerk, in fact), as it seems every movie that came out in that decade had a novelization (if you want proof I'll let you borrow my copy of Stepmom). I'd like to read it, but I feel I should put more energy into finally watching the first film, because these are the kinds of indie horror films I want to see more often. I may not love them, but I can see that they actually care about what they're doing and have a "let's put on a show" attitude that I am unable to detect in the average found footage flick (hell, they even hand-painted the poster instead of doing some shitty Photoshop thing - see below!). As I find less and less time to watch and review something just for the sake of doing so, I don't want to waste more of my life on cynical "Let's join the party" junk. I want to feel like the people behind it were less concerned with finding distribution in the current market than they were with simply making something they could be proud of down the road.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Dead Rising: Endgame (2016)

APRIL 30, 2017

GENRE: VIDEO GAME, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: STREAMING (ONLINE SCREENER)

Not counting things like Final Fantasy, I can't skip entries in video game series any easier than I can skip movie sequels. I remember when Halo 3 came out and my friend wanted to play the campaign with me, but I refused because I hadn't finished Halo 2 yet and didn't want to spoil anything for myself (the irony being that I couldn't tell you a damn thing about any of the Halo games' narratives beyond "kill those things"), and when I got an Xbox One it came with two Assassin's Creed games that I still haven't played because I haven't finished all of the Xbox 360 era entries. So it's kind of funny that I watched Dead Rising: Endgame without seeing the first film (Watchtower), which not only had reveals that meant nothing to me since I hadn't watched the first film, but also included game characters I haven't met yet as I've only played the first game.

(If you're wondering why I broke my "rule" - I had to watch the movie for work and didn't feel like tracking down the original as it wouldn't have any bearing on what I needed to do as I watched the sequel.)

Long story short, I am probably in the minority of people watching Endgame who were neither fans of the original film or die hard fans of the game series. Don't get me wrong, I loved the first Dead Rising (it was the first game I got for the 360, in fact) and played the "Case Zero" mini prequel to the 2nd game, but just never got around to playing the others. I am cursed in that the kinds of games I love are very long, and I'm also a sucker for side missions and collectibles, but I also have about three hours a week max to play games more often than not. So I only get through maybe four or five games a year, and for every ten games that come out I want to play, I maybe get through one of them. Long story short, the DR sequels are (as of now) part of that unfortunate group that just falls by the wayside. It bums me out, and I'm constantly having "Maybe if I beat traffic I can play..." kind of daydreams that never come to fruition; I just have to make sure my systems all still work in 2045 when I can retire and spend the rest of my days in blissful game-land.

That said, I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to. The "movie based on a video game" sub-genre is a fairly sorry lot, as you all know, and the film's low budget roots seemed ill-fitted to the game series (more on that soon). But despite the fact that it swiped a good chunk of its narrative from another game movie sequel (Resident Evil: Apocalypse), I found it rather engaging in a timekiller way, never boring me or making me angry or anything like that - my main gripe was that I was reminded that there are now four games in the series I haven't played (if you count the remake of Dead Rising 2 that told the story from Frank West's point of view). Jesse Metcalfe made for a decent everyman hero and proved to be capable of handling the action stuff, and he was backed by a good supporting cast including two Bates Motel vets: Keegan Connor Tracy (the hot teacher Norman offed in season 1) and Ian Tracey, who was Dylan's gunrunner boss. Oddly enough, his character, who hadn't been seen for a while, reappeared on the show's finale, reminding me of where I knew him from and saving me a trip to the IMDb while I was watching this. P.S. - Bates got real good during its last two seasons, so it's worth catching up on Netflix or whatever if you dropped it during its wheel-spinning third season.

Like I said Endgame borrows more than a bit from Apocalypse, as it focuses on a motley group of heroes making their way across the zombified city as a doomsday device counts down toward their certain doom. Hell they're even being aided by someone from the evil company who is exchanging his assistance in order to save his daughter (with Tracey in the Jared Harris role), which I found kind of amusing. See, the two game series are both from Capcom, but they're not much alike beyond "zombies", so it's strange that instead of following suit the movie would crib so heavily from the other series' sequel (especially one that tends to be the least liked among its fans, though I kind of enjoy Apocalypse for the most part). Luckily it's not just a standard "They're going to blow the city up!" countdown - it's something a bit more interesting, as the corporate assholes plan to activate an overload of the chip that people have implanted to keep them from turning into zombies.

This would be Zombrex, a "cure" from the games that the player must take after being bitten, used here sparingly outside of the chip subplot (the chip administers a small timed dose on the regular - an overload will have the opposite effect, I guess?). Since its existence would kill most of the film's suspense, the idea here is that the evil company has come up with a new strain of zombies that are faster and harder to kill, and standard Zombrex won't work (because they're also developing a cure for this new strain and will make billions selling it). It's one of the few things from the game that's used really; Fortune City is mentioned and one of the series' heroes shows up near the end (I'm not sure if he was in the first movie), but it also shows a character playing Dead Rising 3, so I'm not sure what plane of reality we're dealing with here. As with the RE series, it seems they didn't think copying the story from the game would be a wise option, but knew they needed these little shoutouts to make the hardcore fans happy.

But it's still an odd use of the license, in my opinion. For starters, the zombie numbers are very low, and I don't think you ever see more than ten or twelve on-screen at any given time. One of the game's big draws is how many hundreds of zombies it was able to render on-screen at once for your player to kill, and there's never any real break from them (at least, in the two I played, beyond a small safe zone where you save and such) as they swarm everywhere at all times. There are no human psychos to deal with either, just a few obligatory looter types, and the evil corporate guy played by Dennis Haysbert (who never interacts with the core cast), and it's also largely devoid of humor which is another thing that helped the game stick out from Resident Evil and the like. Apart from the Zombrex and a quick appearance from the hero of the second game, the only thing time it really feels like its namesake is when they find themselves without guns and have to fashion weapons out of the stuff they find laying around the room. For whatever faults most game movies have, they at least feel "at home" with the visual aesthetic and tone of their source material (save for a few Boll flicks and the abysmal Super Mario Bros), but here it's like they shoehorned in a few things at the last minute to justify a license they didn't initially have. I'm curious if the original film had the same problem?

Luckily, the zombie action is decent when it occurs. There's a lot of digital, but for some reason it didn't really bother me (maybe because it was offering a bit of the cartoonish feel a Dead Rising movie should offer in droves?), and Metcalfe gets to enjoy a pair of fun sequences. In one he's tumbling up and down an escalator as the zombies come at him from both floors, and then later we get a John Wick inspired "long shot" (it's got some obvious cuts "hidden" by Metcalfe backing right up on the lens) where he takes down a swarm of walkers in an operating room. He uses the medical equipment to fight them off as they keep coming, scrambling around like Jackie Chan or someone as he tries to stay alive but also find a way to get the hell out of there - it's not what I would have expected to see given what we saw in the first hour or so, and it put a big smile on my face. Again, there aren't a lot of zombies in the movie, no "hordes" or anything like that, so I'm glad that they balanced it out by making the action scenes stick out instead of offering generic run n' gun kinda stuff that would get real old by the end of the flick. There's one evil human too many in the film's climax, but otherwise the characters are largely likable and even fairly well developed for this kind of thing.

Apparently the last game didn't sell so well, so I don't know if that means the film series will come to an end as people are apparently moving on from the franchise. Someday I'll give the first film a look, and the cast/crew should be commended for taking what could have been sub-Syfy movie crap and turning it into something fairly enjoyable. I wish it felt more like the game, true, but if it was a direct adaptation of one of them (or indulged in some of the games' wonkier elements, like the cult in the first one) it'd make the changes even harder to ignore. No, ultimately they had the right idea to more or less tell an "original" story and let us get immersed in something new, and if they do get a third film (this one lays the groundwork for one) I hope they continue that path. It worked OK for Resident Evil (and, to a lesser extent, Assassin's Creed, which bombed but was at least its own thing set in that world, rather than a boring retelling of one of the games), and should be the approach for pretty much all game films. Any game with a story worth telling on the big screen will likely be too long for one, after all - trying to cram it into 90 or even 120 minutes would just piss off the gamers while leaving the non-players bewildered at a "Cliff's Notes" version of a narrative. Then no one wins.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Phoenix Forgotten (2017)

APRIL 21, 2017

GENRE: ALIEN (?), MOCKUMENTARY
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I can't recall if it was for an article, in a conversation, or maybe just a few tweets, but a while back I listed a few "rules" for making an effective found footage movie, after growing weary of seeing so many that failed to even come close to presenting any sort of reality. I mean, sure, when you're walking into Paranormal Activity 6 you can't expect anything even remotely believable (which is the key to making these particular movies work, but what do I know? I'm just the guy laughing at the series' downfall), but standalone films really have no excuse for the sloppiness I often see. So I'm happy to say that Phoenix Forgotten gets a lot more right than it does wrong, and its only real flaw is joining a party that's essentially over. Had it come out during the format's peak in popularity (2011-ish), we might be singling it out as one of the best of the lot. Now, it's just likely to ignored, and eventually give lazy punwriters an easy mark given its unfortunate title.

The most important one of these rules is to let the viewer get sucked into the possibility that what we're watching is real. Now, I mean in a general sense - I know Ridley Scott did not produce an actual snuff film, but if they do their job, I should catch myself on occasion thinking that I'm seeing at least SOME actual footage, not an entirely fictional piece. Because if they can't do that, there's really no point to the POV aesthetic - it's limiting for the filmmakers and can be a turnoff for some viewers (motion sickness, for starters), so when handicapped from the start it baffles me that so many fail to even try to depict a naturally shot piece. Impossible cutaways, recognizable actors, overuse of CGI, people filming their own loved ones being murdered... all these sins are committed time and time again, but I saw little to none of that stuff here. In fact, given the way the movie is structured, I really believed that I was watching re-purposed footage for a while, as if filmmaker Justin Harper found someone's home movies and creatively cut them in a way that could be used as genuine backdrop for a present day story he made up.

And that leads to the second rule Harper and his crew thankfully followed - they made the movie compelling from the get-go. Far too many of these films have long buildup to brief payoffs (even some of the good ones are technically guilty of this), because there's just the one or two cameras being used on this one trip into the woods or whatever, and the movie has to hit a feature runtime but also make sure no one is too rattled to keep shooting. Phoenix finds a pretty simple but effective way around this - it splits the timeline between the present day and 1997, with the present day scenes featuring a young woman (Sophie) who is making a documentary about what happened to her brother Josh, who disappeared twenty years ago... and also liked to film his adventures. At first, we're not even sure how their story ended - we know she's trying to find out what happened to him and his two friends, but the movie doesn't straight up tell us in the present day that he was never found. We see old news footage and such about the initial search for them, but unless I missed something*, they avoid coming down hard on their status in the present day. For all we know they found the bodies, or they found the three teens but they were so haunted by whatever they saw out there that they're unable to communicate anymore. I think it's around the halfway point that we get concrete proof that they are indeed still missing (presumed dead), as until then they just keep things vague: "I want to know what happened to my brother" or things along those lines. It kind of reminded me of the show I Shouldn't Be Alive, which would depict tragedies that befell rock climbers or white water rafters or whatever - there would be a group of 3-4 people who get lost/injured, but only 1-2 of them would be telling the story so we could still be in suspense about what happened to the others.

Another thing in the movie's favor in these early scenes is that it's funny, even somewhat charming at times. Two of the kids do a little spoof of the end of Contact, the aloof dad hopes that if they saw air force planes that it's "our air force", our wannabe documentarian hero is given advice on how to be a better interviewer, etc. And when they visit a pair of UFO enthusiasts and tell them that they shot the footage that was used on the news (the lights first appeared during Sophie's birthday party, so the camera was already out), one of them says "Oh that was you? Congrats! Can you please try to focus next time?" (or something along those lines) that literally made me burst out laughing. It's an unspoken tradition for these things that the people who seemingly want to be filmmakers kind of suck at it, so it's funny to see it actually called out for once (and by a jovial old guy who is still charmed by the kids and helping them out). Likability is a problem in modern horror as a whole, and even the best FF movies tend to have obnoxious protagonists (Micah, Heather, etc.) - it's not often I find myself genuinely enjoying all of the characters in one of these things.

The movie also gives us enough clues to suggest something more grounded than aliens might be responsible for their disappearance (if anything, they kind of make the abduction possibility more of a late-game theory, as opposed to something they assume right off the bat). Josh has a crush on the girl of the group (Ashley), but it seems that she is more into his buddy Mark, who they bring along on their UFO spotting trip because he has a car and better survival skills (i.e. reading a compass). In the present day we learn that some blood and a few beer cans were found in the car, so the idea that maybe this was merely a tragic love triangle/drunken accident is teased for a bit. It's also heartbreaking when Josh's mom (in the present day) says she hopes that Ashley had feelings for him in return, as he never had a girlfriend and she wanted him to experience that in his short life - because we know she didn't, and if he is dead, then I guess he did indeed die without having any romantic encounters. Since very few of these films ever bother with a dual timeline or even present day bookends, we never get any sense of how these mysterious disappearances weigh on their loved ones, so I loved seeing this brief moment of rather gut-wrenching humanity.

Then of course there's the possibility that they saw something they shouldn't have and were disposed of in the vast desert, with drug dealers and such brought up briefly as potential theories. But the one that's given some actual weight is that old standby: government coverup. As with all UFO cases (and the Phoenix Lights sightings in 1997 really did happen, look it up if you're unfamiliar), there's always the "It was the government testing a spy plane" or whatever idea, and there is indeed an air force base near where the kids are looking for the lights to appear again. Harper smartly uses some legitimate real news footage of the governor of Arizona mocking the idea of aliens back in 1997, juxtaposed with the (also real) fact that he admitted it could have been extraterrestrial about a decade later, when he was no longer governor and thus didn't have to worry about looking silly and/or trying to keep his people from panicking. Obviously, anyone sitting in the audience "knows" it's aliens because of the trailer (and a random drug dealer would be a really underwhelming answer), but if you don't see the trailer (and I never did, for the record), the film does a fine job of keeping "alien abduction" out of your head for a surprising amount of time, by utilizing the little bits of evidence they do have to present more grounded theories.

(My initial theory: he was murdered by Fox executives, because in 1997 he somehow has a VHS copy of X-Files: Fight the Future in his bedroom. The two friends were collateral damage.)

The key to all of this "we don't know" stuff is the fact that they've only found the first tape the kids made, because the second (final?) one obviously would have been on them at the time they disappeared. So the first 45-50 minutes of the movie have a Lake Mungo-esque feel to it, as if we were watching an Unsolved Mysteries episode where they had actual footage instead of recreations. As I said, they had me believing for a while that the 1997 footage was all legit - the aspect ratio and quality changes to what they'd actually have back then (4:3 VHS quality crap), unlike Paranormal Activity 3 and some others that couldn't be bothered to try to match the proper technology for the time. And even more importantly, what we were seeing really wasn't all that unbelievable - the incident was real, and there probably IS footage shot by an adventurous teenager, running around in the local desert hoping to get more proof of it. In reality, that kid would find nothing and go home, but if a filmmaker in 2017 got access to that footage and cut it up in between newly shot (fictional) scenes of actors pretending to be related to the people in that footage, no one in the audience would be the wiser, and it'd be pretty creative to boot.

Of course, that illusion is eventually shattered when their final tape is found, thanks to a librarian who finds their damaged school camera in storage (how it got sent to them isn't spelled out, but the camera has a "Property of (whatever school it is)" sticker on it, so we can assume someone found it and mailed it to them however many years later). The tape is a bit beat up but can be played, and at this point we see it play straight through, revealing what happened to them (well, mostly, it's a single camera hampered by 1997 technology, so it's not exactly crystal clear, but that's also realistic). If there's one thing about the movie that bugged me, it's that they don't return to the present day after the footage is watched. It's treated as a reveal; she hits PLAY and then they cut to later as she is stunned by whatever was on the tape, and then she makes an inquiry at the air force base to see if they can help her explain what she saw, but they refuse to help. Then she just kind of shrugs and we watch the entire tape in full, and when it finishes the movie is over. Does she show it to her mom, or the other kids' parents? Upload it to Youtube? Finish her documentary? We just don't know. It's kind of a weird way to close it up, because the movie is presented more as her journey than his, and we kinda figure from the start that his ended in tragedy, so it would have been nice to see how things ended up in the present day.

As for that last tape, this is where the movie becomes more traditionally found footage-y: they goof off a bit, they film more than necessary, and finally they get lost. The period setting serves it well; we know they won't have GPS or cell phones (these existed in 1997, but no explanation is required for their absence - they weren't commonplace as they are now), and they just have the one camera, so 99% of the time it's Josh's POV, allowing us to never forget whose POV we're seeing (a major issue with many FF films, especially Blair Witch 3 and pretty much any one about ghost hunters). But they justify the continued filming in a way I don't think I've heard before - when the obligatory group member goes missing, the other two keep shooting landmarks, so they can retrace their steps in the morning (rather than run in circles looking for him in the dark, they decide to keep moving in order to find help). And we get answers for the blood and beer cans, so that has its own small charms when we discover the actual context for their existence. I mean, if you're sick to death of these movies I don't think there's anything in this segment that will change your mind, but take it from this "expert" - they do way more right than wrong here.

Apparently, it's all for naught as far as box office goes, as the film is expected to only gross a mere $2m this weekend, which is pathetic for a film opening on 1500+ screens (to compare, Blair Witch Project sold about that many tickets on its opening weekend - which was in only 27 theaters). It's not the film's fault; I think the audience is just burned on this sub-genre for the time being, and it's not quite ready for a revival, even if the movie delivers the goods (though I should stress it's not particularly scary; unlike Blair Witch Project's strange noises and such throughout, it's really only the last five minutes that put the movie in the "scary movie" genre, as it's otherwise basically a straight up mystery documentary). Hopefully it will find its audience on home video and VOD down the line, but even if not I hope they can take some solace knowing that they won me over - I'm as tired of these movies as anyone, and was not expecting to enjoy it (I don't go into a movie HOPING to hate it, I just didn't think there would be anything to hook me in. I was really only going because I hadn't updated the site all week and had time to see it before work). But it didn't take long for me to realize that they actually thought the POV aesthetic through and knew how to keep the audience engaged without cheating or breaking any semblance of "reality", and remained largely free and clear of the genre's usual pitfalls. Good job, folks - sorry about all the shitty ones over the past couple years that apparently have audiences unwilling to give yours a chance.

What say you?

*Very possible, as the theater skipped their usual 20 minutes of trailers due to a technical issue, starting the movie "early" (a few minutes past its actual listed time). I had to wait for them to brew coffee, because god forbid they ever make it before being reminded, so when I walked into the theater expecting trailers, I saw the movie was already on. It doesn't seem like I missed anything of note (it couldn't have been on for more than 30-60 seconds), but it's possible there was some text at the top that clearly stated their status in 2017.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Tank 432 (2015)

APRIL 11, 2017

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

While I'm neither a scholar or even dedicated fan of Ben Wheatley (I've only seen two of his movies, but Free Fire is one of my most anticipated films of the year, if that makes up for it), the name means enough to me by now to know that whatever the project is, it will be an interesting one. To be fair, Tank 432 (formerly Belly of the Bulldog) is merely executive produced by him, which is often a ceremonial credit one lends to a pal in order to get the film a bit more attention (hey, it worked!), and writer Nick Gillespie is a frequent collaborator of Wheatley's, making his feature debut here. I can't speak as to whether or not that is definitely the case here, but if you thought Wheatley's own films were puzzling and cold, you should steer far clear of this one, as it makes something like Kill List look like the most formulaic studio release in ages.

I don't usually do plot summaries, but I'll break tradition here because, quite frankly, it's pretty much all I can say about the film with any certainty. A group of mercenary soldiers are trying to transport two hooded POWs (if this is even a war) on foot when they come across some corpses and a car that won't start. They make their way further and find a tank, but before they can fully check it out someone starts shooting at them so they dive inside and shut the door, inadvertently trapping themselves. Then they start going through the motions of single-location horror (trust and mental states break down in equal measures) and people start dying. Our lead (Rupert Evans from The Boy) is kind to the prisoners while the rest of the squad is not, and one soldier hates rookies - and now I've also told you everything I learned about the characters in 90 minutes.

To be fair, I am not now nor have I ever been much of a fan of these kind of aloof, "mood above coherence" horror or thriller movies, because I tend to prefer a narrative that I can get a grasp on and characters I can give a shit about (or at least tell apart, which I had trouble doing at first until two of the men were removed from the equation). Nothing wrong with a little mystery, and I don't need every question answered, but this is a movie that starts not unlike a segment in Memento, albeit without the "OK now we will flash back ten minutes so you can see how he ended up in this chase scene" explanations. I actually had to double check the runtime because it seemed like my Blu-ray skipped forward a few minutes, and it's far too late by the time we learn that not knowing what was going on in the first minute was part of the point. That I'm still unsure of what the point WAS is just the cherry on top, I guess. Gillespie based the film on his own short story "The Smith Hill Forest Incident", but I'm not sure if it was ever published, because the only evidence of its existence that I was able to find online was in reviews/press notes for this movie. Perhaps it will yield some clues if he ever releases it, though if it's not in the next few hours, I'll likely forget all about it.

That said, there's JUST enough here to give it a look as long as you're prepared for such rampant ambiguity. As you might expect given the "psychological" tagging, hallucinations are common, and the assorted visuals that accompany them - gas masked specters, flash-forwards of our characters covered in a mysterious orange powder, insects and the like - do their job in unsettling the audience just as the characters are. The claustrophobic setting is also inspired; when I heard the movie involved characters trapped in a tank I assumed that they were "trapped" as in pinned down and not able to get far from it, not literally trapped inside one. Gillespie cheats a bit to give his angles (i.e. the camera is aimed at the right side of Evans' face, but on the reverse shot we can see he's up against the side of the tank and therefore no camera could be there unless that side was removed), but apart from establishing shots used to show time passing he stays inside with everyone, rather than cut to other characters or a command center or anything like that. They're in the tank for a good 45-50 minutes before this approach is abandoned, enough time to be as sick of being in there as they are. The story may be incoherent, but the film as a whole sure allows us to feel the same way its characters do.

Also, I'm not sure if this is a compliment or not (complisult? h/t Community), but since we don't know what's going on or what these folks are all about, the movie is NOT the latest in the endless series of war-set horror films where our heroes are undone by the traumas of war, like Deathwatch, R Point, Below, The Squad, etc. Do these people deserve their fate? Are their pursuers actually the ghosts (real or imagined) of innocent victims of the war they're fighting? Couldn't tell you, so we can say they're NOT and this is different than 90% of horror films with war backdrops. Much like found footage movies about abandoned asylums, I think I've seen enough of those movies, so I was a bit relieved when I realized this was not the latest one. And even if it is, at least it's still different, because those I usually understood and here I was just frequently wondering if I perhaps fell asleep or somehow activated a "shuffle scenes" feature on my Blu-ray player.

But like I said, there are folks who really love those kinds of movies, and they're probably not being satisfied as of late, especially not on a professional level with recognizable actors and actual production value. The actors are fine, the score is quite good and it's never dull to watch, so it technically meets watchability requirements - it just lacked that element that makes some hard to follow movies compelling (see: most David Lynch), where I might want to rewatch a film to see if I could get the answers on a second go around. Here, they didn't give me enough to care to do that, but if I'm not in the target audience I guess it doesn't matter much what I think. You guys can keep making fun of me for liking Shocker or whatever, it's fine.

What say you?

*Yes, war + orange usually means Agent Orange, but if that's what it's supposed to be I think Gillespie looked at the wrong symptoms.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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