Tag Archives: Horror

Knife Point

Published by:

It is Friday, and I am back with a new short movie review — although, to be fair, Knife Point doesn’t technically qualify as “short” if you consider the fact that all my previous picks did not exceed 10 minutes. With its 24 minutes runtime, it takes a little more time out of your day than the others, and definitely demands more of your attention. Director Carlo Mirabella-Davis himself calls it a “horror short”, but I’d categorise it as a thriller because of its slow development and emphasis on tone rather than action.

Mirabella-Davis completed his Masters degree at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and now teaches directing and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy. He teamed up with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, stars of the renowned movie Once, and directed a documentary about their real life romance. He’s a prolific and knowledgeable filmmaker, no doubt, and Knife Point is another testament to his prowess. It makes for a terrific visual experience with its striking cinematography, gripping atmosphere and pretty soundtrack. The talented cast adds to its quality, as well (special mention goes to Kate Lyn Sheil, who deservedly won Best Actress for her poignant performance at The Brooklyn International Film Festival.)

I have my share of problems with the story, though. Knife Point is about a knife salesman who travels with an evangelical Christian family, and of course, trouble looms on the horizon and some serious shit goes down later on. Firstly, I have read reviews that called the plot twist “unexpected”, and I have to disagree. Vehemently. I could predict the way this movie would turn out from miles away, and it’s not because I’m a fortune teller/Sherlock reincarnate/intuitive genius of some kind. Secondly, and this ties in nicely with my first point, the message is so unbelievably morally judgemental and lazy. I find it hard to elaborate here because I would have to spoil the entire plot, but let’s just say that while I understand the damage religious fanaticism can do, there are smarter ways to treat the subject. The portrayal of the devout family (specifically the father) struck me as far too rigid and caricatural, and I’m not a fan of unfair stereotyping, even if I personally disagree with the worldview of said group.

So that rubbed me the wrong way, and I ended up staring at the screen with a raised eyebrow as the credits rolled. To me, Knife Point feels like a personal vendetta against religious people, and it made me too uncomfortable to savour the otherwise fantastic viewing experience to the fullest. I’m sure other people won’t see a problem with it, though, and if you think you can see past it, I can let you sit down for half an hour to absorb the beautifully shot and acted film with a clear conscience.

[vimeo 74499750 w=480&h=281]

Calvaire

Published by:

Calvaire (also known as The Ordeal) doesn’t sound like a noteworthy cinematic experience if you whittle it down to a simple description. A few days before Christmas, a man finds himself stuck in a remote woods area with his broken down van and gets a room for the night at an isolated inn. Sounds familiar, right? It’s the world’s safest horror formula, it’s been done a bazillion times with minor variations, and even those variations have a tendency to be utterly predictable.

But before you scream “next”, allow me to inform you that this film turned out to be a gem among a sea of pebbles. There were two reasons why I decided to watch Fabrice du Welz’ picture despite the less than convincing plot summary: the fact that it was partly shot in Luxembourg (which is always enticing) and that it was featured on a New French Extremity movie list (a collection I am currently trying to wade through.) My expectations were low, but it is safe to say that Calvaire surpassed them.

First, I love the methods used to create the sense of impending doom throughout the first half of the movie and the generally eery atmosphere. The film doesn’t have a soundtrack, except for a violin tune during the final shots and credits and a piano tune during an earlier scene which I cannot describe for fear of spoiling one of the creepiest and most iconic moments Calvaire has to offer. The cinematography is just incredible in a toned-down way. The scenery is enveloped in grey, hazy tones, there are no flashy colours or outrageous effects, and coupled with the raw beauty of Belgian/Luxembourgish nature, this makes for a gripping and aesthetically pleasing viewing experience.

Then there are the characters and the brilliant acting. The protagonist, a singer and entertainer who goes by the name of Marc Stevens, has a talent for attracting people — including weirdos. And we buy it. He exudes charm and possesses the stereotypical timid, sensitive nature of an artist that appeals to both women and men of all ages. The owner of the inn, Bartel, is introduced to us as a suspicious but at the same time likeable teddy bear who would never harm a fly, and we spend a quarter of the movie wondering when or if he will snap. The clever scenes leading up to the break of bizarre madness fill us with tense anticipation, and that psychological thriller aspect of the film is its definite forte.

The first ~50 minutes deserve nothing short of a 9/10, it’s the remaining minutes that make me put a lower rating. While Calvaire is innovative and well made from start to finish, it did disappoint me a little for its sudden, drastic change of course about midway through. The way I see it, it dragged the movie down to a “senseless violence for the sake of it” level, which could have easily been avoided with a promising start like that. I still think it’s a must-see for fans of the genre and recommend it to anyone who is into European art house cinema. Prepare for a surprisingly disturbing ride if you do check it out.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Published by:

Tucker and Dale, two simple-minded but sweet textbook hillbillies from West Virginia, are headed to their vacation cabin in the woods. On the way there they meet a bunch of snooty college kids who suspect them to be murderers because of their lumberjack physique, and what was supposed to be a peaceful trip involving some good ol’ beer drinkin’ and fishin’ turns into a series of misunderstood situations with side-(and skull)-splitting consequences.

With a premise like this, what can really go wrong? After my standard initial doubts had worn off, which didn’t take longer than about 3 minutes, it became clear that my answer would be a resonating “nothing.” Tucker and Dale vs Evil takes the awesome cake in every aspect. It intelligently pokes fun at the backwoods horror trope and subverts all the stereotypes associated with it, the acting, with Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine in the lead roles, is excellent, the writing is extraordinary, and it includes funny references and homages to, among others, the “groovy” scene from Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness.

Comparisons are inevitable here, so we’ll get the most prevalent one out of the way right now: this picture makes Shaun of the Dead look mediocre at best, and I love the latter as much as the next person. But I don’t like measuring two great cinematic works against each other, so I’ll just say that you can think of Tucker and Dale vs Evil as the Canadian pendant to Shaun of the Dead, which, in my opinion, is a near perfect parody of the zombie genre, whereas I can’t imagine a more spot-on parodic dissection of the American horror/slasher genre than Tucker and Dale.

What I adore most about this film is the love and passion that so clearly went into making it. Director and co-writer Eli Craig had been trying to get it made for a couple of years before he succeeded, and accordingly, the final product glows from within in a way that you just can’t fake. It’s witty, it’s fun, it’s tirelessly entertaining, and to top it all off, it actually has one or two things of substance to say about hackneyed stereotypes. It’s a full-scale victory, and it deserves much more recognition than it got.

Do not watch the trailer before picking up the movie, though, as it takes the punch out of too many surprises. Just trust me, a voice on the Internet, and buy it. If it doesn’t elicit at least one wholehearted, from-the-stomach laugh out of you, you’re free to ask me for a refund and send me hate emails for the rest of my life.

Dread

Published by:

We all know what it’s like to see a great story ruined on film. We’ve all experienced how much it hurts. After the first fifteen minutes of The Great Gatsby, I felt like drowning myself in a bathtub or eviscerating myself with a kitchen knife or drinking acid or anything fatal enough to put me out of the supreme misery that was wasting time on this offensively misguided interpretation of a classic novel that I’m not even a huge fan of. For this reason, I feel deeply for the people who loved Clive Barker’s short story from the second volume of his Books of Blood collections and went into this dreadful (no, not a compliment in the context of the movie) experience expecting a worthy adaptation.

Dread is without a doubt the most boring piece of cinema I have ever had the misfortune to watch. It was a pain, and I haven’t even read the short story it is based on (though I do want to check it out because the premise is definitely promising — if only the execution were better.) You see, despite claiming otherwise when I review them, I like exceedingly bad horror movies. They are fun. I like watching them with my friends over pizza and laughing at the particularly terrible special effects or absurd scenes of gore in between conversations. This one, though, isn’t even suited as background entertainment. It’s infuriating in its complete and utter mediocrity.

It’s trying too hard, first and foremost. And it makes sense — the subject matter requires a certain amount of “trying.” It’s about people’s innermost fears and hang-ups, complex psychological territory that is as interesting to explore as it is difficult to cram in compact pieces into a plot and translate gracefully to the screen. From what I’ve read, Barker nailed it in his short story, but it does not work here despite its definite potential, so I feel that I can confidently blame director Anthony DiBlasi for fucking up. The film starts out incredibly slow in an attempt to build tension and shed light on who the characters are, except instead of succeeding in doing so, it works as a soporific, so it takes a lot of strength and willpower to even make it to what I suppose could be described as a semblance of action. And when it hits, it seems out of place because of the slow pace which had marked the film up until that point (and still does besides the short bursts of actual events.)

So not only does it not fulfill its intended purpose, as mentioned before, it is also unbelievably boring. And I think that effect is magnified because it fails at being deep and interesting despite trying so hard. The film is dunked in dark lighting which is probably supposed to help build the sombre atmosphere, when in fact, it does nothing but irritate your eyes. The actors are strategically mumbly and angsty but end up appearing so completely uninspired, there is no point at which you can muster a bare minimum of fucks to give about their inner lives. You don’t care to find out what their weird phobias are or where they’re coming from. You don’t care about their relationships with each other. And that is the downfall of a story which relies so heavily on build-up and toned-down analysis of the human mind.

My suggestion: rather than renting and watching this movie, you can try stabbing yourself in the eye for 108 minutes. When you’re done, you will have sustained the same trauma while doing something more productive with your time.

Tell

Published by:

Last week was pretty intense and quite stressful for me and I didn’t find the time to watch and analyse a whole movie. I even promised a friend to re-watch Von Trier‘s Antichrist, to review it and to note down some of my thoughts  but yeah, I simply couldn’t balance it. Nonetheless, I don’t want to disappoint you by not posting anything, so I decided to recommend you a movie instead of reviewing it.

Tell (2012) is low-budget, 32 minute psychological horror film by writer, director and editor Ryan Connolly who is probably best known for the internet shows Film Riot and Film State. Tell is loosely basesd on Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart and was made available via YouTube.

“Connolly’s do-it-yourself pragmatism is evident with almost every aspect the film: a single, readily available location, a small cast, no showy special effects.  It’s the amateur filmmakers handbook played to perfection, relying on classic methods of suspense to grip the audience–the kind of flick where you cover your eyes with your hands, but still peek through the gaps of your fingers. Connolly specifically chose to shoot the film on an HDV camera with a letus 35mm adapter as opposed to a big sensor DSLR in order to capture the grain of old-school horror movies. It works. The mood of the film is precise; the cinematography and color grading are both technical high points. Contributing to the overall mood is the film’s score, a fantastically eerie soundtrack from UK based composer, Daniel James. Upon completion of the project, it took Connolly 6 months to locate and finalize his post audio team. The wait was worth it.“ Ivan Kander via shortoftheweek

I absolutely agree with Ivan and even though Tell  is not perfect, I refer to the cast which (besides the main character) is quite weak, the foreseeability and the few lengths,  its cinematography and the score are simply amazing! Give it a try!

Run

Published by:

Since I have to try and dodge the short film review spoiler trap, there’s not much I can reveal about Run except that it’s about a backpacker who writes to his mother about his adventures on the road. It was single-handedly written, shot and edited by UK filmmaker Mat Johns for the 2012 edition of the Halloween KinoKabaret event in which he’s been taking part since 2006, filmed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and the help of a shoulder rig, and done on a zero budget in under four days.

I’ll skip the beating around the bush business and say that I am impressed. Flat-out impressed. I’m floored that a compact 6:45 minute watch managed to have such a profound emotional impact on me. The visceral handheld cinematography, the gentle but distinctly eerie voiceover and the main actor’s performance build an incredible atmosphere that takes a painful turn halfway through. The only thing I am conflicted about is the soundtrack — I’m generally not a big fan of background music because I find it emotionally manipulative and imposing in a bad way, as though it’s trying to dictate how the viewer should feel — but ultimately, the melancholic piano piece only adds to the twisted beauty of this short.

There’s no use in writing more as Run speaks for itself. Even British national treasure Stephen Fry loved it so much that he sent it out to his over 5 million Twitter followers. Mat Johns has created a short film which is heart-destroying in its magnificence, and I strongly encourage you to watch it.

Begotten

Published by:


There is a lot of disturbing stuff out in the cinematic world and even though I have seen a lot, there are always films which literally fuck my mind. When I ask people about the most disturbing movie they have ever seen most of the answers are related to either the New French Extremism with Martyrs and À l’intérieur, the Italian cannibal films with Cannibal Ferox/Holocaust or the Asian splatter and gore genre with the Guinea Pig series and Ichi The Killer. I partly agree with the people and claim that most of those films are disgusting, brutal and controversial but in the end they are not really disturbing. This probably is a question of definition but personally, I think a disturbing film should have more to offer than simple shock value and that’s when experimental cinema comes into the limelight.

Begotten‘s premise is not easy to follow and there are a lot of different interpretations throughout the internet. I won’t concentrate on those but the movie contains all kind of religious references. I highly recommend watching the film without doing any research but to look some stuff up on the internet afterwards. The plot alone is probably one of the weirdest things I have ever read.

After director Elias Merhige, the script is inspired by Antonin Artaud’s Le Théâtre et son Double, Nietzsche‘s ideas on aesthetics, and a near-death experience Merhige had when he was 19 years old. To sum up, Begotten is an intense and dazing avant-garde horror experience, a cinematic wreckage and if this wasn’t enough, the film was shot on black and white reversal 16mm film and the director rephotographed, filtered and manipulated every single frame in order to intensify his surreal visions and artistic violence. Together with the unconventional decision to abstain from dialogues and traditional storyline the cinematographic brilliancy attains to perfection.

I am still enraptured by the grotesque and radical atmosphere, by the pulsing images and the raw violence. Begotten is a movie which you will never forget! And last but not least here is an interesting article I came across a few days ago: Begotten Antichrist: Did Marilyn Manson synchronize Antichrist Superstar to the movie Begotten?

Srpski Film (A Serbian Film)

Published by:

Today I want to write about a movie that came out three years ago and that, due to its extraordinarily shocking and graphic content, quickly achieved cult status and has consequently been discussed to absolute death. Everything I’m about to say, I’m sure someone else has put more eloquently and intelligently before. And still I felt that this would make for a worthwhile review for the simple reason that I rarely come across films that elicit such a strong reaction out of me, and seeing as I’m not alone with this sentiment, it might be interesting to get yet another take on why it’s stirred so much fuss.

It’s been two years since I first watched Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film, and to this day I regard it as the movie that messed with my head the most and for the longest time. To get the plot out of the way, for those who have been blissfully unaware of its existence: the retired porn actor Milos is struggling to make ends meet with his wife and kid in a poverty-stricken Serbia. He gets an ominous, albeit financially enticing offer to star in the newest project of a director who claims to make “artistic pornography”, and after a brief period of consideration, he agrees to sign the contract. We then watch him as he enters a swirling downward spiral and gets sucked further and further into a vortex of violence and insanity. In an interview, Spasojevic concisely explains what he tried to express with this heavily-layered metaphor:

[…] first of all this film is an honest expression of the deepest feelings that we have about our region and the world in general. Concerning our region, the last few decades have been dominated by war and political and moral nightmares. The world in general is sugar-coated in political correctness, but it is actually very rotten under that façade. So we’re talking about problems in the modern world, only they’re set in Serbia. And it’s a struggle against all the corrupt authorities that govern our lives for their own purposes. So yes, there is anger in the film.

A Serbian Film seems to divide people in three camps: the fans who think it’s an experimental chef d’oeuvre, the highbrow moviegoers who lump it in the same category as Human Centipede, and the ones in the middle who find it impossible to rate this movie because they can’t figure out what it’s trying to be. The first category disagrees with the criticisms of the second fraction, namely that the film is made for simple shock value with no other purpose, and then there is the latter group, the people who think they see value in it, but are undecided whether they can get behind the extreme images used to deliver the alleged bigger message.

I am one of the undecided folk. Make no mistake, I don’t “like” A Serbian Film. In fact, it makes me nauseous.

But what makes it so psychologically confronting for me is that I can’t dismiss it as a sole cinematic genital wart. It’s not August Underground or Slaughtered Vomit Dolls. It is truly, thoroughly fucked-up, but it doesn’t feel like the excessive violence is the essence of the movie or meant to titillate the sadistic impulses of the viewers. It’s kind of tricky to pinpoint why, though, because once it surpasses a certain point, despite all aspirations of being an “art film”, it becomes little more than an orgy of seizure-inducing gore. Still, there’s the — in my opinion — beautiful lighting and shot composition, the efficient acting and the quiet, intimate scenes that humanise the protagonist and his family leading up to the break of doom. There are scenes that I think are truly stunning visually — my favourite is the one in which Milos goes for a run while his brother talks to his wife in the kitchen — but so disturbing in content that it leaves me with a strange, confusing kind of fascination. The family is actually likable while the other characters are corrupt and seem to exist only in a sick parallel porn universe (a political allegory that’s not even far-fetched), and their victimisation does not leave me cold. I know only bad things will happen to them because the film has a consistently grim vibe, but it bothers me that they cannnot escape. Something about this mix makes it seem like it’s not just senseless, exploitative torture porn. It feels more like a tragedy.

Art is subjective, and we can and will argue about it until our planet bursts into flames (which is great, life would be boring if we just left it alone.) I don’t understand the Oscar-nominated impressionistic picture Tree of Life and see no beauty in it, to someone else out there it is most likely the single most touching movie ever made. I think Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is an overly pompous, pretentious attempt at combining art with exploitation, but you might well be sitting in front of your computer screen shaking your head right now because that is exactly how you feel about A Serbian Film, which I personally think comes closer to achieving the juxtaposition of ugliness and beauty.

I hate many scenes in this film because I think they are way over the top and its nihilism often strikes me as juvenile, but I am confident that it does not deserve the label of “shlock.” I would not recommend watching it, however. There’s only so much outrageous, inventive violence you can defend before you must admit that while the basic approach is admirable, the content oversteps the mark one time too many. I maintain that A Serbian Film is intriguing in a soul-shatteringly ambiguous way: it’s far too well-made to be laughable, yet too perverse and vile to be placed alongside provocative (but comparatively vanilla) masterpieces like the 1997 Funny Games. And it may well be that this means that the film has fulfilled its purpose.

Chernobyl Diaries

Published by:

We humans tend to get off on things that get our adrenaline pumping. Some of us watch horror movies for that reason, others do bungee jumping, and then there are the people (typically ditzy Americans, according to your cookie-cutter horror flick) who seek the thrill of a little more real, imminent and glamourous danger by venturing into the realm of extreme tourism.

In Chernobyl Diaries, a group of three Americans — Chris, his girlfriend Natalie and their mutual friend Amanda — tour around Europe. They end up visiting Chris’ slightly douchey brother in the Ukraine who then convinces the bunch to hire a tour guide to take them to Pripyat, an abandoned city on the outskirts of Chernobyl where the workers of the infamous nuclear reactor used to reside. The vacationers, who are joined by another couple before they set off, soon realise that the place might not be so abandoned after all, and the potentially chillingly fun trip turns into a lethal clusterfuck.

Although I do see why one could take issue with Chernobyl Diaries or just plain dislike it, I disagree with the vast majority of reviewers I’ve come across who absolutely tear the film apart and barely have one star to spare. The acting is okay. A bit flat, but we’ve all seen worse in a genre that doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development or hard-hitting dialogues, and I think Jesse McCartney in particular did a surprisingly great job. The jump scares are few and effective without being overtly cheap. (Hold out for the bear scene – granted, it is hilariously random, but that one killed me.) I like the cinematography, too. The shaky camera gives the film an ominous, found footage vibe, which I think works well with the story and adds to the tension.

My biggest but ultimately baseless worry from start to finish was the film’s premise. If you choose to capitalise on the world’s worst nuclear accident to date by using its consequences as a means to build your plot, it goes without saying that the execution should be tasteful, and from the way I see it, the makers of Chernobyl Diaries largely managed to avoid the myriad of traps and hazards that come with the territory. This is worth applauding and already more than I would expect of any sci-fi horror flick. Trust me, I’ve seen tacky, and this one doesn’t pass the test.

Still, I acknowledge that the film has its faults, the most irritating being the ending. It’s improbable, hasty and strangely out of place. Instead of keeping it classy and heightening the ultimate suspense and scare factor by using an open ending, they tried to squeeze in an explanation for the obtuse plebeians in the back seats who might not have caught the obvious. (There are more minor examples of this borderline condescending attitude towards the audience sprinkled throughout the film.) I really wish they would’ve just thrown the last 10 minutes out of the final cut.

I didn’t find out that Oren Peli is responsible for the story and screenplay until after I’d watched the film, and as a big fan of the first Paranormal Activity (the fifth installment of the tired franchise is set to be released later this year, by the by), I do have to say that this one is relatively weak in comparison. But I recognised Peli’s penchant for suggesting the horrifying rather than showing it, which I deem the single most effective formula in horror.

In conclusion, if you go into this movie expecting an illuminating commentary on or analysis of the Chernobyl disaster and its impacts, you will be sorely disappointed. The same is true if you go into it hoping for originality and innovation. If you go into it with a willingness to be entertained and creeped out for a majority of its 86 minutes runtime, however, you have a good chance of getting your money’s worth. Chernobyl Diaries isn’t groundbreaking or “the best” in any regard, but it makes for a thoroughly solid horror experience.

Suay Laak Sai (Sick Nurses)

Published by:

Eric “recommended” Suay Laak Sai (Sick Nurses) to me because of a gory GIF he discovered on tumblr (R.I.P.). As I can count all Thai (horror) movies I have ever seen on one hand, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. So, before getting too excited, I just didn’t expect anything which was a good idea because Sick Nurses is really bad and I don’t understand why it still gets that many positive reviews from other bloggers!

The Film was written/directed by Piraphan Laoyont and Thodsapol Siriwiwat and produced by Prachya Pinkaew, director and producer of Ong-Bak. As so often with Asian horror (trash) movies, the fundamental idea is quite interesting but the visual implementation is antic.

The film takes place in a suburban Thai hospital, where Dr. Tar and his seven nurses sell dead bodies on the black market. As one of the nurses finds out that her sister is having an affair with her boyfriend (Dr. Tar), she threatens to call the police to blow their cover. The doctor and the 6 nurses decide to kill her and to keep the body cooled to make sure that it can be sold in the near future. And now, guess who is coming back to haunt the hospital crew in order to take vengeance?

Sick Nurses is a postmortal revenge movie which tries to sell/promote itself by suggesting some sex and showing one or two ok-ish gore scenes. I don’t recall how many times I’ve already said it but if you are not able to make a good film, you at least should hire some girls who will do nude scenes. This is in no way meant to be sexist but putting annoying Thai girls in sexy nurse costumes, showing some ass close-up views and kissing stuff but at the same time letting your actress shower in her clothes is a bit awkward, unimaginative and uncreative.

Uncreative is possibly the best adjective to describe the whole film and I had the feeling that the directors didn’t even try to implement their own ideas. In addition, the story doesn’t feel coherent at all. I would say that I recognize the directors’ intention to combine a postmortal ghost story à la Ringu and Ju-on with weird postmodern punk movie elements like in Tokyo Gore Police & co. Unfortunately, the result is a failed attempt since you have the feeling of watching two separate storylines that never really intersect. Not to forget the movie mistakes, the really bad acting and other obvious movie no-gos. Sick Nurses was done without passion, don’t waste your time.