Friday, May 30, 2008

Film Review: "The Strangers" (B)

I have to say, this was one of the few mainstream horror movies that I've been excited about lately, probably because Liv Tyler is one of my favorite actresses and I was excited to see her in the genre. But, as per usual, one of two things happened: 1) I was underwhelmed, most likely due to my high expectations going in; or 2) I come out hating it. This time, it's number one. SPOILERS follow. Because I just couldn't help myself.

I'll start with what I didn't like first. The big problem with this film is that it gives away the ending in the first 30 seconds - because of this, some of the suspense is immediately taken from the film since you know what the end is going to be. Another problem I had was the masks, except for the Man's, which was at least somewhat creepy. It just seemed a little too "Scream" for me. I know that was part of the film's allure - masked man literally hiding in the shadows - but unless the film is done very well, it just seems cheap to me. And one of the best movies I've seen in recent years featured a home invasion-style plot without any mask wearing (the french flick "Inside"). Also, the whole scene with the friend? When EVERYONE in the movie theater can figure out that sub-plot before it happens, it's just bad. As for the ending ... the last five minutes bugged me for a variety of reasons.

One, why would two seemingly able-bodied young boys be walking their bikes and not riding them if they're not going up a hill? That makes no sense. Two, the Christian pamphlets ... that was too much. Three, they went for the ultimate cheap scare at the very end - which I hate. If you feel you need to do that to scare your audience, you're obviously either in an obviously B-movie or scrambling for an ending. By that point, I was ready for it to be over. Perhaps what ultimately makes this movie sub-par is that it tries to live up to films that have come before it, but just aren't at that level.

However, there ARE good things in the film - I sound like I'm bashing it, but to be honest ... the first half was good, it was just the second half that got lame. In the beginning, we're treated to something you don't often see (except more recently in "Vacancy") where the couple in question is fighting and you don't really know why. Only in contrast to "Vacancy," the two lead actors (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) actually have chemistry together and make a very nice start. I was genuinely interested in what was happening between the two of them and the tension already there was a good way to build up to the first encounter with the Strangers. I also really enjoyed the use of the vinyl record - not only was it actually a good soundtrack (although there is no score and surprisingly little dialogue, as well), but the scraping of the record being over is a fantastic way to put the audience on edge. Having a record player myself, I know how creepy that sound is in an otherwise silent house. I felt like the acting was above par for normal horror fare, although I would have liked to see a bit more dialogue between the two leads. I will say this - and I'm surprised at myself, honestly, for liking this - I liked the "i love you" from one character to the other as they were about to die. Usually I hate this cheesy sentimental BS in horror films (because you normally don't really identify with the characters enough to care, anyway), but for some reason it worked for me here.

All in all, this is a fairly entertaining ride for the first 40 minutes. After that, the film tries to do much when it is actually at its best being very simple and silent. I will never understand why so many people in the horror genre don't seem to realize that silence is often scarier than noise.

But hey. At least this wasn't PG-13 or a remake, right? Go see it for at least that reason - perhaps then people will see there is a market for R-rated horror.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Film Review: "The Ruins" (B+)

I should have reviewed this film a long time ago, but I'm a bit behind these days. I actually saw it the night before it came out at a midnight screening (and won the book, which I already had, because no one else knew their trivia), but work and school has taken me hostage.

"The Ruins" would probably have worked more for me if I had not read the book beforehand. I liked the interpretation, but I do think that it was very abrupt and weird changes were made I can't quite understand fully. I'm also pretty damn angry about the ending - what works so well for the book is the bleak outlook and how it doesn't end semi-happily, which the movie does. This is just yet another example that most studios or directors do not have the cojones to close things out like the book does. It does make me wonder, though, what Scott Smith has to say about the movie ending vs. the book ending.

The biggest flaw of "The Ruins" is that it doesn't let itself have a slow-burn. This is one of those rare horror movies that would have been much better had it been 30 minutes longer. I needed more character development, more descent into insanity. That is one of the scariest parts of the story - not the vines, but how the group slowly turns in on itself and the way each character breaks down. This isn't just my opinion, either. After the screening, the friend I went with and I were discussing what actually happens in the book vs. what happens in the movie (I was telling her how they were different from each other, she has not read the novel). She commented (prior to me mentioning anything) that the movie felt like it went too quickly and glossed over the descent into madness by each character. To me, that was the story being told - not the story of the vines. It felt a bit disjointed to me, overall, as if we were bouncing back and forth.

This isn't to say that the movie isn't somewhat effective in making you squirm, although I did feel more prepared because I - at least on some level - knew what happened. The film didn't really need gallons of blood - although there is a fair amount of blood and hey, even a severed limb! Even if I am someone who can stand pretty much anything shown on screen, the sound of those bones being purposefully broken made me wince. I think the scenes in this film will satisfy most horror fans; if you want anymore, go watch "Cannibal Holocaust."

To be fair, I did enjoy the movie. I criticize somewhat harshly mostly because I loved the book, but I respect the film for what it is - a decent interpretation of a fantastic story. It doesn't surpass decent, even if the screenplay was written by the same man who wrote the book in the first place. It's entertaining and creative and certainly a great movie to scare the pants off others, but I needed at least 20 more minutes with the veins for "The Ruins" to be a great experience.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Film Review: "The Car" (A+!)

This film came out of left field and I absolutely loved it. Me and a friend went out to the Drafthouse's Terror Thursday midnight showing of this and promptly had the time of our lives! It is very rare for me and this particular friend to both enjoy a horror film that mixes comedy and horror, especially one that was made in the '70s. Nonetheless, there is nothing in this movie that isn't pure brilliance. Maybe part of it was atmosphere and that we were watching it at my favorite theater with a great audience and having good food, but I really think this movie is perfect entertainment.

To be honest, there isn't much I can say about this film besides remark on how awesome it is. It's such a great example of what every monster movie should try to be. Every moment of this film had me in fits of laughter or seriously enjoying myself. The scene where the James Brolin painting first appeared nearly killed me I laughed so hard and when the painting returned, I had a full-out attack of laughter that left me sore in my ribcage the next day. I want that painting in my living room - I am totally serious.

My life's dream right now is that Josh Brolin does a remake of this. And that someone buys me a poster I can put up immediately.