The Purge: Anarchy Review

The Purge: AnarchyI want to preface my take on The Purge: Anarchy by stating how much the first film annoyed me.  The concept of an annual 12 hour time period in which all crime is given a free pass ended up serving as a plot device for a rather weak home invasion flick.  The idea of the purge felt like a mere afterthought simply conjured up to justify daft characters chasing each other around in a dark house.

But the sequel wisely forgoes the home invasion aspect and expands on what should have been the focal point to begin with- the annual purge.  The Purge: Anarchy opens just a few hours before the commencement of the annual purge.  Our leads are introduced amidst the unrest of a city scrambling to prepare for chaos when time is running short.  Waitress Eva is struggling to support her daughter, Cali, and her terminal father.  Liz and Shane are driving home when their car breaks down just on the edge of downtown.  Another man bent on revenge suits up and heads out into the city to join the purge.  These characters converge and must band together if they hope to survive the night.

In this outing, viewers witness the purge from the lower class perspective; the poor who can’t afford the extravagant security system seen in the first film.  The poor who are tired of falling victim to the rich on purge night.  The divide in social classes plays prominently in both social commentary as well as a larger plot thread interwoven throughout but always manages to cut away to a thrilling action sequence before it risks feeling too heavy handed.

Our band of survivors develop into fully realized characters in between thrilling moments of imminent peril as the brushes with death slowly chip away to expose their motivations and desires.  While impressive, the characterization is not perfect.  Cali is meant as the bridge between the story and the audience, but her constant barrage of questions comes across as grating and idiotic despite being necessary.

The editing for the Purge: Anarchy should be given high praise as well.  With so much crammed into a short one hour and forty minute run time, it somehow never feels overcrowded.  Each component is entwined in perfect balance, from the reflections on society, character development, to the survival horror aspect.  Scenes of horrific pandemonium in the streets are shot and cut in a way that avoids being overly gratuitous while still retaining a sense of terror.

For fans of the first film, and there are many, one character does carry over into the sequel.  As this character isn’t revealed in the previews I won’t spoil it other than to say keep your eyes open during the second half of the film.

The people behind last year’s sleeper hit became attuned to audience complaints and took notes. Now, they present us with a sequel that easily erases the bad memories of its predecessor; a sequel that dumps the home invasion angle in favor of a fun action horror story.  The sequel has also given me some appreciation for the Purge, as I now see the two as a complementary pair.  The first presents the purge from the perspective of the upper class, whereas the Purge: Anarchy shows the purge from the opposite spectrum. Writer Jim DeMonaco accomplished something very rare: creating a sequel far superior to its predecessor.   As I’m sure the Purge: Anarchy will do well in the box office, I suspect we’ll see more sequels in the future.  But the question is, will they be as fun as this one?

Blood Glacier (2013) Review

Blood GlacierA group of scientists stationed in the Austrian Alps make the discovery of a crimson glacier.  It, like all surrounding glaciers, are melting thanks to climate change.  It’s not blood in the glacier, however, but an organic matter that incubates in the host’s stomach, mixing DNA of the host and any animal it may have eaten.  So a fox that has eaten a wood louse and a beetle will have a creature burst from its stomach that will be a mutation of all three animals, and it will be hostile.  This is precisely what the scientists discover when our lead, loud mouthed Janek, follows his dog into a dark cavern beneath the blood glacier.  While the scientists try to process their discovery, more and more creatures begin making their presence known.  Throw in a government minister with an entourage en route, including Janek’s ex, to make a publicity appearance at the outpost and you have a multitude of characters that must band together if they want to survive.

Much of the story’s focus is on Janek and his ex, Tanja.  It’s made clear that they parted under sudden and mysterious circumstances years prior, and her sudden reappearance has thrown him into emotional turmoil.  It’s this plot thread that is meant to anchor the audience emotionally to the story, but it ends up feeling contrived.  In a later scene, Tanja picks a strange moment to make a solemn confession to Janek about the end of their relationship, but never offers to explain the reason behind her decision.  It’s this forced relationship that makes the film feel much longer than it actually is.

Minister Bodicek should have been the focus.  Her introduction gives the false impression that she’s a high maintenance, fragile politician that needs her every whim catered to.  She proves to be the toughest one of the bunch while retaining the most compassion for her fellow survivors.

Likely to budget, the creatures don’t seem to attack often or with any sense of urgency.  It’s rare to even get a good look at the creatures.  I didn’t realize that the climax had come and gone until the music queued up to signal the film’s end.  It’s not the budget that’s the issue, but that the film doesn’t know what it wants to be.  Torn between B movie creature feature and ominous eco horror, the film unsuccessfully attempts both.  There are tragic moments in the film, and it doesn’t mesh with the gory camp moments.  Choosing just one would have made Blood Glacier far less tonally confusing and much more enjoyable.


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.


Afflicted (2013) Movie Review

afflicted 2013 posterAfter a string of recent yawn inducing found footage flicks, Afflicted proves that the sub-genre still has a lot to offer.  First time directors Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, who play themselves as well as wrote the screenplay, were awarded best screenplay, best picture, and best director in the horror category at Fantastic Fest 2013, where Afflicted premiered.  Out on VOD and theaters in April, this is a must see for horror fans.

Best friends Derek Lee and Clif Prowse decide to embark on a year-long trip around the world, video logging their journey with Clif’s professional documentary film making gear.  Derek’s family isn’t fond of his decision; he’s developed an arteriovenous malformation in his brain and they worry he may stray too far from the reach of proper medical care should anything happen.  Of course Derek shrugs it off, choosing to make the most out of whatever time he has left, and the pals begin their trip in Barcelona.  They then move on to Paris to meet up with a couple of friends, where things begin to derail.  When Derek takes a woman he met at a bar back to the hotel room, the guys think it’d be hilarious to interrupt his rendezvous.  Instead they find him alone, lying on the bed unconscious and bleeding.  There’s a chunk of flesh missing from his arm that strangely resembles a bite mark.  Refusing to seek medical treatment, Derek insists they move on to their next destination but Clif becomes increasingly worried as Derek begins displaying weird symptoms.  Symptoms that horror fans will recognize right away.

Derek’s transformation runs through the gamut of emotions; awe,elation, amazement, disgust, horror, desperation, panic, and acceptance.  When Derek begins scaling walls in the empty streets at night, it feels very reminiscent of Chronicle.  Don’t worry, it’s not another superhero movie.  Because not long after discovering his superhuman strength, Derek’s body goes through some pretty cringe inducing changes.  Followed by some of the film’s creepiest, edge of your seat moments.  There are even some high-octane Jason Bourne type sequences.  This story evolves, and not always how you’d expect.

Clif and Derek have excellent chemistry as friends with a long history, and feel believable as individuals as well.  Clif and Derek are well-developed, and more than that they’re likable.  So it doesn’t take long to become invested in their story.  When things go awry, Clif’s devotion to save his friend is both admirable and a bit foolish.  Derek’s decision to push his health aside for the sake of living also makes sense.

Because of Clif’s profession, Afflicted maybe the most polished found footage film ever.  The bright and colorful backdrop of Europe is a welcome change to the dark and grainy style that’s the norm.  In Clif’s gear was maybe the most clever explanation of camera’s use in any found footage film: the camera vest.  It bypassed a lot of problems that are typical in found footage.  It does not solve the shaky cam problem, however, and there are a few chaotic action sequences.

With themes very similar to Chronicle and An American Werewolf in London, Afflicted has so many elements that make it a great film.  Though the scares are few, they’re well placed and effective.  Go see this film in April.  Stay for the mid-credit jaw dropping bonus scene.

“Black Spot” Horror 3D Short with Throwback Feel.

Black Spot3d poster image

Paul is stranded on a lonely country road when his car fails to start. He walks through a melancholic landscape of missing person posters and floral tributes to roadside deaths, before chancing upon another car, but one which ironically is also broken down. Not only will this car provide Paul with salvation and suffering, but force him to face his own recent past actions and a provide him with a potential chance to redeem himself…

“Black Spot” is a 6 minute sensory assault by Sussex based film maker Luther Bhogal-Jones, using only a 3D camcorder roughly the size of a Blackberry.  The writer/director’s love of 3D films inspired the classic look of the short.  Faster Productions offers three ways to view this short: stereoscopic 3D for 3D tvs, classic 3D requiring red/cyan 3D glasses, or standard 2D.  The 3D is what really makes this short, giving it a throwback 70s horror feel.  With an unyielding soundtrack, the short isn’t bogged down by unnecessary dialogue either.

All three versions can be viewed here.

While there, be sure to check out Luther Bhogal-Jones’ other horror short, “Creak.”  Well received by genre critics, “Creak” is haunting and atmospheric for its short 5 minute run time.  It’s amazing what can be done with a small budget and only a few minutes to tell a complete story.

Haunt Movie Review

ImageHaunt opens interestingly enough: a man emotional over the deaths of his children tries to contact them through an antique EVP radio and things go awry when he turns the dial and hears their voices.  Their voices aren’t the only that he hears. Something is comes through the open connection and the man dies as a result.  This gives way to a narrated montage explaining the tragedy that befell his family in that house, known as the “Morello curse.”  Only the mother(played by Jacki Weaver) survives and she moves out, leaving the large creepy house open for our protagonist, Evan, and his family to move in. 

As Evan and his older and younger sisters explore their new house, their images are juxtaposed with the corpses of the previous tenants as they move past the spots where they died.  First sign this movie was going to disappoint, as this came across more clumsy and forced than atmospheric.  Evan claims the large attic space as his bedroom, and the deliberate camera shots of the small door in the corner and moving floorboard really rub your face in the foreshadowing.  

Restless one night, Evan takes a walk in the woods and comes across a girl his age crying alone in the path.  Naturally, they hit it off immediately, and Sam spends the rest of the movie attached to Evan as she’s hiding from her abusive father.  She’s very familiar with Evan’s house, claiming to have spent a lot of time in the house before, and I admit I wondered if she was a ghost.  Her behavior was a little strange for a normal girl.  She somehow knows about the antique EVP radio left behind in the small attic room and talks Evan into using it to make contact with spirits.  Contact is made, much to Evan’s surprise, and he shuts the radio off.  Only the ghosts aren’t ready to cease communication and the haunting escalates.

Haunt is a competently made film, but it’s like so many haunted house flicks before it.  Some of the jump scares work, but so many fall flat because you’ve seen the exact same ones duplicated before.  When Evan peers through the partially opened door of his younger sister, curious who she is talking to, I bet you can guess what happens next.  The designs of the ghosts are well done, and not all scares fall flat.  Some of the visuals are effectively creepy.

The actors all do a fine job, and the dialogue is more intelligent than you’d expect for a horror film featuring teens as the leads.  Evan and Sam actually make logical choices.  Jacki Weaver packs a lot of punch into her smaller supporting role.  

As typical and generic as most of the film felt, I admit the ending was not what I expected.  The mystery is wrapped up rather abruptly, though, and I was left wishing there was a little more explanation.  Some plot threads felt under utilized and pointless, but overall the narrative was interesting enough.

An enjoyable haunted house flick with decent scares lead by a likable cast, just don’t expect anything new.

Odd Thomas is an Odd Mess (Review)

ImageAfter a long delay due to legal issues, Odd Thomas is finally receiving a wider release later this month.  Based on Dean Koontz’s bestseller, Odd Thomas revolves around a short order cook, played by Anton Yelchin, in a small town who is often sought out by ghosts to solve their deaths. When he’s jolted from his bed in the middle of the night by faceless people in bowling uniforms being gunned down, he knows something evil is coming.  The stakes are raised higher by the CGI Bodachs, demons that feed off of death and carnage, that start accumulating in large quantities everywhere he goes.  Odd Thomas, usually never seeing more than one at a time, realizes they’re on the brink of devastation. Using his supernatural gifts, Odd must hurry to prevent whatever catastrophe is about to befall the town.

Only two people know of Odd’s abilities: police chief Wyatt (Willem Dafoe) and girlfriend Stormy Llewellyn.  Wyatt covers up for Odd whenever Odd happens to nab the bad guy in the midst of ghost duty, and also serves as a father figure.  Stormy (Addison Timlin) is the quirky love of Odd’s life who worries about his safety.  They serve as Odd’s allies as he bumbles his way through solving the mystery, using the Bodachs as a bread crumb trail.

Doesn’t sound bad, right?  Unfortunately the film ends up being a convoluted mess that doesn’t seem quite sure what it wants to be.  The movie opens at break neck speed, throwing you into the deep end of Odd Thomas’ life and ties to the supernatural.  It feels almost like an MTV production- overly stylized with a trendy soundtrack while the plot isn’t nearly as polished.  The film’s tone seems all over the place as well.  Sometimes happy, sometimes funny, sometimes slightly dark.  It adds to the confusion. As it barrels to the finish line from the get go, the dialogue has to constantly explain what you just saw and the exposition gets tedious.  Any rules the film sets up early on are dismissed later on without explanation or consequence.  For example, Odd pretends to not notice the Bodachs as, he explains in voiceover, they kill any one who can see them.  So prepare to be confused later on when that rule is ignored.

Willam Dafoe is affable in his limited role, but the role of Stormy was puzzling.  I assume she was meant to be quirky and strong minded, but the actress seemed only able to deliver the lines in such a perpetually perky way that it felt flat.  Any scenes between Stormy and Odd were salvaged only by Anton’s genuine geniality that he brought to his role.  It was thanks to him that any emotional scenes had any impact at all.  Actually, Anton Yelchin is the glue that held this mess together. There are a few smaller cameos that I imagine had larger roles in Dean Koontz’s book, but held no meaning in the film.

Overall, Odd Thomas is hindered by the script.  If you have to constantly explain to your audience what is going on via narration, then there’s something wrong. Character development was non-existent as well. Instead of cleaning up the narrative, style was slapped over it as a band-aid.  The only positive was Anton Yelchin’s performance, keeping the film from floundering altogether.  


Contracted (2013) Review

ImageFeatured on so many top ten lists of 2013, Contracted also has one of the most intriguing premises of any recent horror film.  The story follows Samantha as she attends a friend’s house party after a fight with her girlfriend.  While inebriated, a stranger slips something into Sam’s drink and she contracts the nastiest sexually-transmitted disease after they have sex.  I do mean nasty.  This movie is not for those with weak stomachs.

On that front, this movie succeeds as a body horror film.  Samantha’s symptoms grow more disgusting and more serious over the course of three days and by the climax you’re screaming at the screen.  Samantha’s disease alone makes it easy to understand why Contracted made so many top ten lists.  Beyond that, this film failed for me on many levels.

There are no fully developed characters in this film.  With the exception of the lead, all other characters feel more like one note stereotypes.  Though Najarra Townsend’s performance as Samantha was strong enough, and she had a bit more depth to her than any other character, I lost all sympathy for her fairly early on when she continued to make the most asinine decisions that seemed to go against human nature.

Any scenes with Samantha seeing her doctor are excruciating to watch, as the level of incompetence is mind boggling.  Day one, Samantha experiences an alarming amount of vaginal bleeding so she makes an appointment with her doctor.  He starts to examine, stops when he sees a rash on her abdomen, and just chalks it all up to a STD.  What?  That’s it?  Samantha seems as interested in getting answers as her doctor is; which is not at all.  And sadly, this sums up how most scenes play out; something utterly horrific happens with Samantha’s body and she just tries to go about her day.  The climax manages to simultaneously thrill with the level of gore while confuse as none of the character’s choices make any sense whatsoever.

This movie will delight gore-hounds and most will love the twist at the end. This movie will also make you never want to have unprotected sex.  Ever.  But it is also likely to make you want to throw the remote thanks to the ineptitude of the entire cast of characters.  If you’re the type that likes to have everything answered, then be prepared for disappointment as well.

Maniac (2012) Review

ImageManiac, remake of the 1980 film, favors style over substance.  The premise is simple: shy Frank is a mannequin store owner by day, but stalker and scalper of women by night.  Photographer Anna unwittingly becomes Frank’s next obsession when she stumbles across his shop and seeks his help with her latest art exhibit.  

What makes Maniac unique is that the film unfolds through Frank’s eyes.  Shot from the serial killer’s perspective, you only catch glimpses of Frank throughout the film, mostly in reflections.  It’s an effective method; you’re unnerved while watching the victims through his eyes yet you can’t help but feel some compassion for Frank.  Which is even more disturbing.  Frank is not gentle with his victims and the scalping scenes are brutal and gory.

Elijah Wood portrays Frank with a perfect balance of lonely innocence and schizoid creep.  Nora Arnezeder, who plays Anna, does a superb job as the object of Frank’s desire.  She manages to be both charming and endearing, which can’t be easy when forced to emote directly at the camera.  It’s her friendship with Frank that prevents the film from becoming too repetitive with Frank’s stalk and kill pattern. 

I should mention that I’m a sucker for easter eggs, and I loved the nods to both the original Maniac and Silence of the Lambs.  I suspect this movie will be polarizing for viewers; I don’t see everyone buying into the film’s style therefore will be unable to get past the basic serial killer formula.  It worked for me completely, however, and elevated it above many other slasher flicks.  The performances were top notch and the killer’s POV added more depth to an otherwise predictable story.  

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Review

ImageOn Friday the 13th, 13 U.S. cities and 13 countries screened Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones early.  T-shirts were given to lucky attendees, and hooded monks blessed audiences with a protection prayer prior to the film’s start.  

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones detours from the main story we’ve become accustomed to with the first four films and shakes up the pattern audiences have come to recognize.  Instead, we follow Jesse, recent high school graduate in Oxford, California, as he celebrates with family and friends in a cramped apartment complex.  Enamored with a family member’s camera, he uses his graduation money to buy one of his own and films his everyday life with his best friend, Hector. Hector and Jesse begin using the camera as a means of entertainment now that school is done.

When a downstairs neighbor suffers an untimely fate, Jesse and Hector make the rash decision to explore the abandoned apartment.  Suffice to say things start spiraling downward fast when Jesse wakes up the next morning and discovers a strange bite mark on his arm.  

The Marked Ones injects a lot of humor into the series.  Jesse and Hector endeared themselves to the audience early on with their sense of humor, making audiences all the more invested in his family’s fight to save him.  Also new to the series is the quicker pacing and lack of the tell tale crescendo of sound to indicate an upcoming jump scare.  That’s not to say that this movie doesn’t effectively build tension, oh it does, but those jump scares are no longer announced a mile away.  Though set in a new city with new characters, this film does tie directly into the series.  Poor lone survivor Ali, from Paranormal Activity 2, makes a brief appearance at one point to offer some answers.  

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones breathes new life into a series that seemed to be on a decline and is a clever addition to the franchise.  Target audiences will love this film.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is out in theaters January 3rd.