Sunday, February 1, 2009

Film Review: "The Uninvited" (B-)

I desperately need to go back through my DVD collection so that I avoid seeing PG-13 horror movies one after another.

However, comparing "The Uninvited" to the flood of other PG-13 horror out there right now, it's not half-bad (but it's not half-good either). The entire movie is simply ... okay. I've never seen the original material it's based on, so I won't even comment on it like it's a remake.

One of my chief pet peeves with all these PG-13 movies is that they go straight to the lame scares and the jerky/contortionist ghosts walking about. It was fun while it lasted, people. Stop using it - it fails to be anything but lame at this point. That being said, I do have some respect for the plot. It was mildly intriguing towards the end (although I'd figured it out before that), but the film lacks any energy prior to that. I found it difficult to care for any of the characters, except for - oddly enough - Rachael, played by the always fantastic Elizabeth Banks, who definitely amps up the creepy atmosphere. The teenage leads, particularly the eldest sister, are annoying and I just didn't feel the actresses really ... tried. I'm not sure they had to.

As for the material, the script is passable and generally a cut above the crap that has hit theaters lately. I wasn't a big fan of exactly how the film ends - I fail to see why directors always seem to go for the lame "dun dun dun" moment at the end of the movie. To be honest, most of the time I believe it is because they feel they need it, but I don't think this one did. I also felt the pacing was a little off - the film seems to take forever to get to the point. I'm not sure if that's because I was bored (.... I was) or if the movie is just a series of "boo!" moments before the last twenty minutes.

There are a few moments that surprised me during the film. I'm pretty sure commenting on them doesn't spoil anything, so I'll go ahead and ask: who else didn't know that you could show a vibrator in a PG-13 flick? I was shocked when it came up on screen and it isn't a "hidden" thing - it is very blatantly the focus of a conversation. I had no problems with it, but I just didn't think PG-13 movies could show sex toys.

All in all, "The Uninvited" is not a complete waste of time, but it wasn't exactly enjoyable. Like I said, I really didn't feel "into it" until the final twenty or so minutes ... and by that point, I'd already figured out how it was going to end anyway. That being said, I think anyone who is in high school and/or isn't a hardcore fan of the genre will find it an enjoyable 90 or so minutes. It seems like the kind of DVD that is destined to be picked for a slumber party.

And the fact that those kinds of movies are what horror fans get nowadays is seriously depressing. I really hope the "Friday the 13th" remake does not let me down - I need some good rated R horror, even if it is a remake of one of my favorites.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Film Review: "The Unborn" (D)


You know, I give PG-13 horror movies a lot of flack on this blog. It is extremely rare for me to like one. And I have reasons for that. They seem to be chiefly made to make money off the hordes of teenagers that crowd movie theaters on Friday nights, but they're never developed fully because ... well, they don't really need to be, do they? If you've ever been in a crowded movie theater with a bunch of high school students on a Friday night, you know like I do that only a few of them actually pay attention to the movie.

This is very obviously a movie that was underdeveloped from the beginning. It's poorly directed, poorly acted, and by god it's poorly written.

There's not one thing I like about the film ... except for maybe that Gary Oldman is in it. And I'm not quite sure how they got him to be in it, although I suspect it was one of those "well, I'm still getting paid" things. Unfortunately, the script isn't magically any better because the words are coming out of Oldman's mouth. Also, while I'm on the subject of actors taking roles I wouldn't ever see them in - why is Carla Gugino in this film? I've seen her work - including a play on Broadway - and I know that she is much, much better than this.

Here's my one line review: Tries to steal from "The Exorcist," only it doesn't work at all.

While watching the film, I could hear people react to the creepy ways in which some of the possessed people walk as if it was all that original. That's straight out of "The Exorcist" my friends. And how do I know that? Because when I first saw the unrated version of that film, the spider-walk was burned into my brain. I get that directors and writers often want to pay homage to the films they grew up with, but here's the thing:

If you don't have a strong story or script to begin with, putting in these scenes as a sort of kickback to your favorite films from your formative years, it just comes off as stealing. It looks cheap and like you're going for the easy, quick scare. People forget that the reason the spider-walk worked so well for "The Exorcist" is because the rest of the film was so strong. It's not as if the spider-walk made that film what it is.

That being said, this film doesn't fail purely because it's PG-13. If it was rated R, I probably would have thought it just as bad ... only perhaps slightly more fun to watch. This film mostly fails for the same reason I hated "The Happening" - it comes off as if every part of its making was lazy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

AFF '08 Film Review: "The Alphabet Killer" (D)

Ah, yes. The one and only horror movie I saw at this year's Austin Film Festival - of course, with my luck, it was utter crap.

"The Alphabet Killer" is part crime thriller, ridiculous drama, and fucking god-awful horror. It is a genuinely boring, stupid, uninspiring piece of work. I kid you not, I think I fell asleep nearly five times during the movie - I could see people staring at me because my yawns were so loud.

The movie is poorly acted, scripted and directed. If I hadn't been with a friend, I would've walked out possibly in the first five minutes, but I did try to give it some time. One question I couldn't stop thinking about during the entire film: how the hell did they get some of the actors they did to sign on? Was there a collective brainwave of stupidity that forced the actors to sign that contract? Anyway, that doesn't matter. Even with stronger acting, the movie would have still been a lazy mess.

First off, the movie can't decide what it wants to be. It wavers from being truly shitty horror - tossing dead girls into scenes to wander around for a few cheap scares - to dumb drama and even worse crime thriller. You don't necessarily have to make a choice, I suppose, but movies like Silence of the Lambs that combine elements of horror and thriller for truly excellent (or even good) filmmaking come along very rarely. And while I believe that an independent film could do this, it certainly was not what I saw tonight.

Eliza Dushku should stick to anything Joss Whedon writes and that's it. I'm not sure the girl can act as anything other than femme bad-ass. I say that with love, because I honestly do like her. Everyone else in the movie is just forgettable, so I'm just going to ignore them.

And, oh, the ending. That was just ... too awful for words. If you don't have Morgan Freeman in you're movie, you shouldn't be utilizing narration. Period. The end. DON'T DO IT.

I am at a loss to describe the assault on my brain that was "The Alphabet Killer." It wasn't as bad as "Seed," but it comes pretty fucking close. I don't even have the energy to have a longer review.

Friday, September 26, 2008

FF '08 Film Review: "Martyrs" (A+)

I've been tracking French horror seriously since seeing "Haute Tension," although I was not a fan of the film overall. Stylistically, however, I was very impressed and Alexandre Aja quickly became a top favorite on my list of directors to watch. But then I saw "À l'intérieur" ("Inside"). And then I saw "Frontier(s)". Not to mention the smaller films along the way.

Somewhere along that path, I decided any horror director in France was on my list of directors to watch.

"Martyrs" is one of those films that surpasses greatness and is something else altogether. Directed by Pascal Laugier, the film is like a punch to the gut. I didn't think that "Inside" could be topped - certainly not so fucking quickly - but it certainly has been. I have more affection for "Inside," but in terms of everything else - "Martyrs" is brilliant, disturbing, utterly fucked ... but in the best kind of way. And if you thought "Inside" couldn't be beat in terms of gore ... well, it can.

WARNING: Don't read this review if you haven't seen the movie. While I don't give anything away, it will be a much better experience overall if you go in knowing nothing.

The film starts simply - a young girl, Lucie, running and screaming down a back road. We discover she's been locked away, but there's no traces of sexual abuse or reasons for her capture. To make matters worse, Lucie is catatonic and won't speak to anyone except, eventually, for one friend.

The film unfolds from there, although it's important to point out one thing. While the film is on a relatively slow-burn and doesn't operate like many horror movies, this movie is by no means slow. It's seductive, yes, but at the same time it brings the action and straight-up horror like most other movies can't even dream of doing. The gore is even better/more plentiful than "Inside," but as much as there is, it never goes overboard given the context of the story.

This film is utterly gorgeous to watch. The actresses are beautiful in their despair and fantastic in their roles, which were neither easy to cast nor play from what I've heard. Watching their descent into madness and then something else is like running a marathon. Every extreme horror movie you've seen before this, except for perhaps a rare few, were like practice for sitting through this movie. I would guess that being able to make it through the last 30 minutes of the film without hiding your eyes somehow are what will divide the hardcore horror fans from the rest.

There are sure to be some people who hate this movie through and through, which is probably one of the best things about French horror cinema. It doesn't play to what the audience wants, it doesn't play to what it thinks the genre as a whole wants ... and what results is possibly the most organic, real, and oddly inspiring films I've seen in a long time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

FF '08 Film Review: "The Burrowers"

I have to be honest, I wasn't sure what to make of this going in. I love the idea of mixing two genres like westerns and horror, but I can't claim I was too excited to see this one. However, during Fantastic Fest, I made a concerted effort to see anything that I considered to be tried and true horror.

My one sentence review of the film: I was underwhelmed. It's not bad, but it isn't great either. I love slow-paced horror movies - I think I've demonstrated this in previous reviews - but I felt bored in this one overall. I just didn't connect with the film like I wanted. I may just be one of those people that can't see a mix like horror and western actually working - I would really have to see one that blew me out of the water to convince me this is a match. However, that being said, I do appreciate that it was something different and genuinely original.

Two things that didn't work for me, which I believe was what ended up breaking my entertainment of the movie: the love sub-plot, which just seemed a little too fake. This could be for a couple of reasons - the script, in these sections, seemed weak; the acting also seemed to be very wooden.

The second thing I disliked was the ending, which seemed forced and tacked on. To me, if a western and a horror movie are going to mix - why not make it a slow-paced, fading ending instead of a shot to the gut? This was a chance for the film to end on a beautiful note and take advantage of the rather gorgeous cinematography employed throughout the movie. I always want to scream when horror directors don't play to their strengths and instead play to what they think a genre audience wants. It felt like the last 30 minutes of the movie was deliberately contrived to add in the gore/action factor and the film didn't need it. The creepiness of the people being buried and the burrowers themselves was what they should have stuck with, not a balls to the wall action sequence.

Overall, like I said, I was just completely underwhelmed. However, I do think the film is worth a look, although I'll doubt you'll be able to do so without buying the DVD or pirating it. Hell, Lionsgate wouldn't even give "The Midnight Meat Train" a wide release and that was backed (and originally written in short story format) by genre fave Clive Barker.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Film Review: "Tamara" (C+)

To be honest, this is one of those films that I don't love, but I don't exactly hate either, although that's mainly because I can't muster up enough energy to care either way. It's the same old tired storyline (school outcast gets revenge) twisted until it's part "Carrie," part "I Know What You Did Last Summer." The movie is mildly offensive to me - why is it that the "nerd" always finds herself and her power, only to become evil and super-sexy through that? And to be quite honest, I thought the character was cuter as the nerd. But, that's just a ridiculous side-note.

I'll give this movie props for what it tries to do. It tries to be different, but suffers from lack of a good script to keep it going through the whole movie. The acting is wooden from pretty much everyone except for the lead (Jenna Dewan), who does her best given the script she has and really, is decent as both the mousy nerd and the sex kitten. While the movie did make me laugh a few times ("it's wet" and other sexual innuendos were mildly amusing to me), the movie lacks any sort of driving force after about 45 minutes.

The kill scenes start off great, but fail to deliver the same punch after we see the kid start cutting off his own facial features. I will say, however, that I was absolutely amazed with one sequence which occurs in a bedroom, although I don't want to give away too much. Disregarding any of the negative undercurrents the scene may have, it was shocking enough to me that it woke me up after too many minutes of boredom. The problem is, the film goes right back to being boring and uninspired.

All in all, I have to say, the movie is entertaining enough for one viewing. I didn't hate it and it's far from the worst horror movie I've seen this year (I'm leaning towards "The Happening" getting that dubious honor). I do not, however, get why Lionsgate released this into theaters even if it was just for a limited engagement. If anything, this is a forgettable direct to DVD release trying to pretend it's a bigger production that it actually is, but it's certainly nothing remarkable.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Film Review: "The Happening" (C-)

If there was one film that I've seen so far this year that I pretty much hated and wanted to walk out of, it's this one. And, I have to say, that surprised me, even if I didn't like "Lady in the Water" either. I still went in expecting a quality movie or, at least, an entertaining one. I didn't get either, and unless you're blind and deaf, neither will you.

First things first - M. Night Shyamalan should not be allowed to write his own movies. If he wants to come up with the stories or background, fine. But actual dialogue? Someone should stab him with a pen if he tries to get anywhere near a computer. I think he's a fantastic director, but I also think he takes on too much.

Don't get me wrong, there are a few moments in the film that were successful, but overall the film is boring, stupidly sentimental and outright ridiculous. I liked how the film started, especially the scene at the construction site. That thump of the bodies hitting the ground made me flinch and it certainly started the film on the right note (or bad, depending on how you look at it). But while scenes like this make sense, all of the gore in the later areas in the film seem like they were put there for no reason. Now, normally, I'm a fan of any kind of gore - I don't care why it's in the movie. But in this case it seemed like Shyamalan wanted to prove something, wanted to make an R-rated movie and tacked a bunch of scenes on that effected the pacing of the movie. Seriously? The scene where the kids get shot up? POINTLESS. And the scene with the crazy lady being effected by the ... wind? ... was laughable. I won't even get started on the running from the wind sequence, because I believe everyone already realizes how dumb that looked.

I firmly stand by the statement that this is probably both Mark Whalberg and Zooey Deschanel's worst movie (although I can't claim to have seen every single film they've both done). Whalberg sounded like he was always asking questions and that he had somehow been transformed into a human squeaky toy. He sounded asinine. Deschanel looked like a blow-up doll for the entirety of the movie and gave what felt like a half-assed performance. I wouldn't be surprised if Shyamalan told them to act that way, so I'm not sure who deserves most of the blame.

Now, I've got nothing against eco-terror or whatever it's been labeled now, but it just wasn't dealt with effectively here. The movie seems haphazard, awkwardly paced, and where it should be tense and fraught with energy it's simply lame and moronic. A great start, but everything after the first 10 or 15 minutes is forgettable, yet too dumb to forget at the same time.