Stage Fright (2014) Review

ImageThe night of The Haunting of the Opera’s grand debut, Broadway star Kylie (played by Minnie Driver) is murdered backstage by someone wearing the mask of the play’s villain, Opera Ghost.  Ten years later, Kylie’s twin children Camilla and Buddy are working for their stepfather Roger (played by Meat Loaf) at a performing arts summer camp on the verge of financial ruin.  When the camp chooses a Kabuki style revival of The Haunting of the Opera as their summer program, the Opera Ghost killer returns to wreak havoc.

Stage Fright feels more like a very niche type of film.  More than just a horror comedy, it feels as though it’s meant for fans of musical theater.  Not only is the entire plot centered around a musical, from the audition process to opening night, but the characters will break out into song and dance almost at random.  It’s all clever; the songs’ lyrics are satires of theater stereotypes and are often sung by the embodiments of theater stereotypes.  But it’s clever in the way that it expects you to be very acquainted with theater. The film’s musical of choice, The Haunting of the Opera, is a blatant spoof of The Phantom of the Opera.  So in this way, Stage Fright feels like it’s directed to a very specific audience.

Clashing with the musical theater satire is a surprisingly bloody slasher flick.  The Opera Ghost’s brutal slaying style feels very reminiscent of 80’s horror, and it can be very messy.  Of course, he sings too, though his metal vocal style set against heavy guitar riffs contrasts the broadway musical numbers sung by the rest of the cast.  His identity, however, is an easy mystery to solve despite the red herring or two.

Allie MacDonald is perfectly cast as lead Camilla.  She somehow manages a perfect blend of awkward, vulnerable, and ambitious that makes her a protagonist you want to root for.  After her mother’s untimely death, her only motivation is her brother and the desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps.  It’s her journey from the sleazy politics in the audition process through the serial killer’s opening night spree that keeps the film grounded.  Meat Loaf’s role is also a pleasant surprise as the desperate camp owner.  

Stage Fright’s horror elements, despite being bloody fun, are overshadowed by it’s musical theater aspects.  After the opening scene, I almost forgot I was watching a horror film at all.  While I appreciated Stage Fright’s uniqueness and satirical humor, I felt some of the inside jokes were lost on me.  If the thought of watching the Glee kids get slaughtered amuses you, give Stage Fright a shot.  But be prepared to spend a lot of time getting very familiar with musical theater before the payoff.  Stage Fright is currently on VOD and will be released theatrically on May 9.

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Oculus Review

OculusI should warn you now, before you view this film you should disregard any trailers or tv spots you’ve seen.  They’re misleading.  Or perhaps, more accurately, they only provide a glimpse into a small part of of the story.  Which for me worked great, as the trailers seemed more like a derivative supernatural flick I’d seen before.  Oculus feels like two movies in one; a supernatural past interwoven beautifully with the psychological present.

Siblings Kaylie and Tim Russell had a rough childhood.  Both of their parents descend into madness shortly after the arrival of a mysterious antique mirror, and it culminates in a tragedy.  Kaylie is pushed into the foster system and Tim is sent to a mental hospital in the aftermath.  Eleven years later, Tim is released and the siblings meet again in their childhood home to fulfill their promise to each other years ago; destroy the mirror that destroyed their family.  Kaylie is prepared, having done so much research on the mirror’s history she’s set up a strict set of precautions to protect them from the mirror’s defense mechanisms.  Tim is less sure of the plan, afraid what this could mean for his state of mind.

Over the course of the evening, while the pair are fighting off hallucinations, their past is slowly revealed through flashbacks.  This format is both impressive and a bit repetitve.  Impressive in its cleverness, but after a while you feel like the hallucinations are all stuck on repeat.  The past storyline is far more intriguing because of this.

The performances are impressive as well, especially the child actors who play the younger versions of Kaylie and Tim.  Your heart breaks for them.  You watch as the mirror seduces their father (played by Rory Cochrane) and plays on the insecurities of their mother (played by Katee Sackhoff).  The unravelling of their psyches may be the most interesting aspect of the story.  Present day Kaylie and Tim fight off the mirror’s effects, struggling to figure out what is real or not, but moreso they’re struggling to cope with their past.

It’s because of the dual storylines that Oculus feels so clever, yet I can’t help but feel they clash with each other as well.  It’s also left me debating the ending, as I’ve formed a two opposing theories based the past and present.  The scares are not what was advertised in the trailers, either.  Oculus is far more about psychological and emotional horror than jump scares.

Oculus is an intelligent horror film, one that has left me pondering over the details for a while after initial viewing.  But if I’m being honest, the dual plotlines of past and present Tim and Kaylie contrast maybe a little too well.  I found myself more as a detached spectator rather than being fully immersed.  The ending is a bit predictable too; you’ll likely call it almost from the start.