Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Hauntings and Infections

No trailer post this week as Monday was a lot more hectic than I originally thought it would be, so to make up for it here is a super-sized review post.

As I was selecting films to put together for this micro-reveiw post I was aware that I could make a single post dedicated to a single genre. I am aware that a high percentage of the films I've reviewed on here so far have been either a part of, or closely related to the horror genre, but I felt that it would possibly benefit you readers if these posts were a little more organised into themes or genres than they have been so far. I can't promise that every post will contain films that are completely related or compatible but I will try my best to make them a little more cohesive in the future.    

I also just happen to have watched a pretty high number of horror films recently, so there's that too!

*The following reviews may contain mild spoilers*
Andrés Muschietti // 2013 // 15 // 100 mins

Produced by Guillermo Del Toro and inspired by a three minute short filmMama is the story of two young girls who, after being found alone and feral in a woodland home, are reunited with their Uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain). With them, the girls bring the mysterious figure of Mama, an unseen presence that seems to ruthlessly protect and comfort them by any means necessary. The film features a handful of genuinely effective scares and sets an impressive tone that does remain strong throughout the majority of the films runtime, however Mama's primary flaw and eventual downfall comes in the same form as was seen in Del Toro's previous horror production, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which is an overuse of sub-par visual effects. Very early into the film the audience is given brief, but clear, glimpses of Mama, and as the film continues she is seen again and again until her presence becomes nothing more than a continuous display of  lacklustre graphics. In the short film Mama is seemingly portrayed by a real actress with a digitally altered face and hair, and even in the closing shots of the short, as more of Mama's face is seen, the creature loses much of it's impact, and this is unfortunately heightened in this adaptation, particularly with the decision of the filmmakers to make this version of Mama float, and as such entirely CGI, which means that any impression of real physicality is lost. Her bizarre posture, which is explained through a fairly interesting backstory that is only minutely explored for the sake of visually impressive dream sequences, comes across as awkward and artificial instead of disturbing. This reliance on digital effects leaves the audience over-exposed, and therefore desensitised, to an antagonistic presence that is clearly supposed to terrify. This is an even greater shame as there is clearly a distinct level of passion and care that has been put into this project by director Andrés Muschietti in order to make his short film into an impressive feature length piece. The performances are all fine and meet all the requirements of this kind of film, which is at times disappointing given the previous work and expectations of the female lead, and there are some instances of exciting and impressive cinematography, but all in all the film relies far to much on CGI and fails to realise the impact that suggestion can have in a horror film such as this. Then, of course, there is the small issue of a scene in which a character gets attacked by an animalistic hair piece. 

David Pastor, Álex Pastor // 2009 // 15 // 84 mins

In a world that has been devastated by the outbreak of a deadly infection Brian (Chris Pine) and his brother Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci), along with Brian's girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo) and Danny's classmate Kate (Emily VanCamp), are travelling to a beach they frequented as children and believe to be a safe haven from the dangers surrounding them. Carriers is notable for it's unforgiving look at the lengths people will go to in order to survive extreme circumstances. At the risk of pigeonholing this film in a category to which it doesn't belong, Carriers subverts the character tropes familiar to many films within the Zombie//Apocalypse sub-genre by presenting characters who, rather than striving to band together and help the helpless, are cold and entirely self-serving. The narrative is nothing new, conforming to the familiar situations characters in this kind of film always find themselves in, but the dynamic between the four characters and their individual drives are enough to prevent the plot points becoming completely stale. Of the four actors Pine gives the most impressive performance, shedding his nice-guy image to become a cynical and often horrendous individual that seeks no relation from the viewer. It is this unsympathetic representation that will divide audience opinion of the film and provoke the most intriguing responses to the story as it brazenly displays the brutal survival instincts we all possess yet hide or deny. Christopher Meloni's depiction of a desperate father that the four encounter early on is the films most impressive attribute and his performance by far the most affecting, and it is unfortunate that it could not have been explored further. Carriers was marketed to audiences as another zombie-horror film, and with those expectations it will surely disappoint on some level, but as a harsh exploration of human ruthlessness and survival it is a harrowing drama that happens to be set firmly within the premise of another zombie movie.

James Wan // 2010 // 15 //103 mins

The writers and director of Saw take the haunted house narrative and turn it on it's head with the story of a family who begin experiencing recurring visits from supernatural presences after their eldest son falls into a mysterious coma. Insidious succeeds where many supernatural horror films fall flat as it resists the temptation to bloat the narrative with continuous scares right from the beginning. Rather, it is a slow burner that builds up a familiarity and sympathetic relationship between the viewer and the family before unloading the scares. This technique works perfectly and makes each of the twisted and terrifying events that follow all the more effective as these are characters the viewer can care about and invest in fully, something which is helped in no small part by the acting talents of Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne. The onslaught of horrific supernatural occurrences that follow vary immensely but all carry a weight that ensures each scare is as impacting as the last, while the variation amongst the entities that terrorise the family means that nothing feels repetitive or familiar, as is common in many narratives that deal with hauntings. The film pays great homage to the genre as a whole and manages to do this while never seeming unoriginal and packs in numerous narrative twists without becoming too convoluted or ridiculous. It is very much a film of two halves, the difference between which may alienate or disengage some viewers, however the result is something refreshing and unexpected. One scene featuring Rose Byrne and a baby monitor displays perfectly the films focus on sound design, which is stellar throughout and works in tandem with an impressive score that is evocative of classic horror and compliments each of the differing set pieces perfectly. Director James Wan brings together every element to create a film that is terrifying and extremely effective, and fails to become less so with each subsequent viewing.

[REC]3 Génesis
Paco Plaza // 2012 // 18 // 80 mins

Following on from two of the most brilliant entries to the handheld camera and zombie sub-genres in recent years, the third installation to the [REC] franchise removes itself from the events of its predecessors by exploring the spread of the virus when a veterinary doctor who has been bitten by an infected dog attends his nephew's wedding reception. The concept of [REC]3 Genesis is in itself quite solid, with the use of an overcrowded space filled with family and friends for the setting and the decision to move on from the handheld camera style early on in the film. Unfortunately though, the film itself is in no way strong enough to help either of these developments create any impact. The setting is never fully utilised for any kind of dramatic effect, outside of a weakly constructed love story and the occasional zombie-grandpa gimmick, and when the moment finally comes that the hand-held style stops and a traditional filming technique begins, the actors seems to transform into a troupe of cheesy over-acting moron's. Further changes to the established style of the franchise that are somehow even less effective include the implementation of comedy, which makes the film a tonal mess that struggles be even mildly humorous, and the puzzling decision to make the infected antagonists into slow, shuffling zombies from the 70s that barely resemble the terrifying feral antagonists that were present in the first and second films. The film lazily relies on new developments upon the original films mythology in order to provide scares and, most insultingly, a cheap way in which to save the protagonists from harm. The most frustrating aspect of [REC]3 is that it fails to resemble anything like the franchises earlier instalments, and rather comes across as a poor comedy horror that has had the [REC] name attached in order to draw an audience. That this comes from the makers of the first two films is baffling as this feels completely removed from the brilliance of what came before it. It is a poorly acted, badly scripted mess that pits flesh eating family members against a man dressed as a sponge. 

Lovely Molly
Eduardo Sánchez // 2011 // 18 // 99 mins

From the writer, producer and director of The Blair Witch Project, Eduardo Sánchez, Lovely Molly follows the mental disintegration of Molly (Gretchen Lodge), a struggling newlywed who after moving back to her childhood home, experiences recurring visits from an invisible entity that wants to hurt her and seemingly has links to her father. Lovely Molly's story is full of layers that each take prominence throughout the film and deal with themes that include the supernatural, abuse, addiction, insanity and the occult. While few of these themes are actually resolved by the end of the film, they do provide a great deal of substance to the narrative that keeps a constant intrigue as to the nature of the events that are unfolding. Much like The Blair Witch Project, this film relies on what is not shown in order to build fear and tension, and as a result the weight of the film is rested entirely on the shoulders of leading actress Gretchen Lodge. Her portrayal of the fragile and disturbed Molly is captivating and eery in it's naturalism, Lodge commits fully to the character and depicts a psyche that is close to breaking with ease. The use of a handheld camera, manned by Molly, is implemented at various points throughout the film and while it is effective in it's use, it is never fully warranted or explained and often feels like a stunt move to conform the the popular style of horror films of recent. The most successful stylistic element by far is the sound design of the film which essentially create the entirety of the horrific sequences that befall Molly. The combination of Molly's screams and cries over the bizarre sounds and speech of the figure that is stalking her are brought together masterfully in conjunction with other effects such as a ear-piercing ring that dominates many of these scenes. The film is full to the brim with atmosphere and features sounds and images that will stick with viewers long after the credits have finished. It is this reliance on atmosphere that makes Lovely Molly so much like its predecessor and in turn, an extremely unsettling watch.

The Amityville Horror
Andrew Douglas // 2005 // 18 // 90 mins

A retelling of the 1979 classic horror and based on supposedly true events, The Amityville Horror is the story of the Lutz family, who experience violent and disturbing hauntings within their new home after learning of it's morbid history. This film is an unfortunate case of style over substance, as fast paced editing and exciting cinematography litter the screen and dilute any semblance of a strong narrative. Rather than striving to be a faithful adaptation of the original novel, as it was initially touted as being, the film relies on countless jump scares that are only effective as they are almost always accompanied by a loud piece on non-diegetic sound. Similarly the heavy use of gore seems present only to satisfy the torture-porn urges that have developed within the genre, and yet are never impactful enough to induce a strong reaction from the viewer. Ryan Reynolds puts forth a somewhat well-crafted performance as George Lutz, showing the family man's disintegration into a raging and dangerous threat, however any emotional or psychological turmoil within his on-screen presence is overshadowed by a recurring focus on his abs. As Kathy Lutz, Melissa George is also wasted on a script that simply requires her to take part in a sex scene and then spend the remainder of the film in hysterical tears as she watches her new husband turn on her and her children. As the plot tries to explain the strange goings on the series of random events make the film less and less engrossing and only serve the melodramatic tone that is present in excess. The films closing montage signals a visual-centric film that could have been effective without relying on bloody and jumps, yet makes up a mere minute of the complete films 90. As such the bulk of this horror is host to blood covered spirits and domestic arguments, neither of which are successfully handled and simply result in a mediocre attempt to revitalise a familiar story. 

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