Tag Archives: Movies

2AM: The Smiling Man

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As a frequenter of a subreddit called NoSleep, I was delighted to find that one of the most memorable creepypastas I’ve stumbled across was interpreted in film format last year. 2AM, directed and edited by Michael Evans of Go For Broke Pictures and starring Sean Simon and Paul Foltz, is based on a supposedly true account by user tidal_wave of what happened during one of her sleepless nights out and about in a big American city.

Tidal_wave, a self-described night owl, had made a habit of strolling through the streets late at night while her (she doesn’t explicitly state her gender in the story, but as she pointed out in the wake of the release of 2AM, she dropped some pretty obvious clues) non-nocturnal roommate was asleep. This went well for four years until she encountered the now-notorious Smiling Man and resolved never to walk out at night again.

The major creep factor here is that the story is realistic. Insane people exist, drugged out people exist, and people who just enjoy messing with strangers in the middle of the night exist. Whether or not creepy supernatural beings from hell exist is debatable, but a story like The Smiling Man sure makes some of the more terrified minds wander.

The most glaring inaccuracy in 2AM is the protagonist, who is most likely female in the original. But seeing as that’s not exactly a crucial element in the story, I think it’s fair to say that the film team did The Smiling Man justice — though the visual portrayal of the smiling man might actually be a tad more hilarious than horrifying while the written description is 100% spine-tingling, but that’s just my opinion. Here’s what tidal_wave has to say about the adaptation of her story: “This is pretty cool. It’s really well shot, and the actors did a great job. It’s not particularly accurate in terms of how it actually went down, but a few things were very close.”

Read the story, which was originally posted to r/letsnotmeet and later re-posted to r/nosleep, here (listening to “Surfin’ Dead” by The Cramps while reading helps if you scare easily) and watch the short film below. I recommend proceeding in that order.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_u6Tt3PqIfQ]

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

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It’s safe to say that the Paranormal Activity franchise went radically downhill after the first film. Given the mediocrity of the second and third instalments I didn’t even bother with the following release, which, according to reviews, turned out to be a wise move. But here they are, still milkin’ it Saw-style, and on a rainy Saturday with nothing to do except lounge around I decided to pass the time with some mindless entertainment and deemed the newly released Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones by Christopher Landon perfect for the afternoon.

The Marked Ones isn’t technically a sequel (the fifth part of the series is coming out in October), it’s more like a spin-off. It is supposed to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the paranormal forces at work and touches on aspects of the previous PA films, all the while telling a new story.

I expected it to be stale as a corpse, but it is actually much more entertaining than every post-PA1 flick I’ve seen. The storyline centers around two best friends, Jesse and Hector, who are just living for the day and horsing around like teenagers do until Jesse’s weird neighbour dies and spooky occurrences start piling up. The first half of the picture is uncharacteristically humorous. The main characters are likeable goofballs and there are some genuinely funny scenes (minuscule spoiler ahead: the entire audience chuckled when Hector slid down the stairs in a laundry basket with a GoPro attached), which is a change I embrace. The movie feels relatively authentic and not like a big budget Hollywood production in general, and it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously.

The jump scares are fun and actually made me jump. Admittedly, that’s not exactly a shining accomplishment because I am a huge scaredy cat, but judging from my fellow cinemagoers’ reactions, they do work. Even so, I didn’t find the film all that scary in terms of suspense, but that didn’t strike me as a problem.

My major criticism is that for every question answered, The Marked Ones raises another, presumably to make sure that the machine can continue milking the franchise for every last penny until the end of all existence. Cliffhangers are annoying when the intention of the makers so obviously isn’t to let people reflect on the story on their own, but to make more money off sequels.

Other than that, The Marked Ones is a solid popcorn flick. For me, its strong points are the protagonists and the humour. You don’t necessarily have to have seen PA2, PA3 and PA4 in order to understand and enjoy this one, but I recommend watching PA1 so you’re not missing the key links (and besides, it’s inarguably the best of the bunch and you should totally check it out if you were hiding under a rock and somehow missed it in 2007.)

Kondom des Grauens (Killer Condom)

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Beware of carnivorous condoms in New York! The ravenous little bastards feed off of male genitalia and no one knows what their deal is. The first known case takes us back to the Quicky hotel, where a corrupt teacher took his student to let her “work” her way up to better grades and eventually ended up with a mutilated penis. Unfortunately, what started as an only moderately regrettable hit of karma quickly spiralled way out of control.

Enter Luigi Mackeroni, the hero, the cop investigating the case. He is a chain-smoking badass with Sicilian roots who happens to be gay and has his trans ex-lover call him “Lutschi” whenever she pops up. Like everyone else, he initially thinks that the girl bit off the teacher’s penis, but is proven wrong when he witnesses a schlong-devouring wrapper in action at the notorious hotel. He then proceeds to take us on a hilariously bizarre journey that leads to the origin of the killer condoms.

Kondom des Grauens is the first Troma-distributed film (based on an equally screwed up cartoon by Ralf König) I’ve seen, and I loved it. Ridiculousness and excess are defining characteristics of the trash genre, and this jewel sure delivers. Just from the title and above summary you should be able to tell that taking it too seriously won’t allow you to enjoy the viewing experience.

But while you do have your cheesy one-liners, overblown characters and primitive sexual jokes, Kondom des Grauens also carries a very real message. It’s depressingly rare to see an openly homosexual lead in any film, and even rarer to have one as un-stereotypically gay as Mackeroni. Conservative views and general bigotry are challenged throughout the whole flick and especially in a big moment toward the end.

A special mention goes to the cast. Trash works are often ridiculed for the bad acting performances, and this might be the case for Kondom des Grauens on a technical level, but holy Mackeroni (sic), are these people charming. It actually reminded me that good characters are an indispensable foundation for a good trash/comedy film. Also, some of you Germans and Luxembourgers might spot one or two familiar faces. (Spoiler alert: look out for Hella von Sinnen and Iris Berben!)

So I was mightily amused and occasionally touched, which means that the movie fulfilled its purpose in my eyes. I’m sure it’s not without fault, but I was too entertained to pay attention, and that’s the way it should be.

Cargo

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Little gets me like father-child relationships, and nothing gets me like father-child relationships in bleak post-apocalyptic settings. This has to do with father-child dynamics (which I find fascinating), but mostly the concept of unconditional, selfless love in the face of a woefully hopeless future. I was bawling my eyes out 10 minutes into both the book and film adaptation of The Road when nothing had even really happened because the subject touches me so profoundly.

So when I tell you that Cargo by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke is about just that — a father-child relationship in a bleak post-apocalyptic setting — you can probably guess the way this review will turn out. Yes, a tear or two were shed. Heartstrings were pulled. But Cargo doesn’t go for the cheap drama shots and moral lessons. It isn’t a boastful, manipulative film. It’s gentle and cautious, and its brilliance lies in its impartiality. Except for some subtle musical accompaniment that rears up toward the end, there’s nothing to direct your emotions, not even dialogue. The raw tragedy of the storyline does the job.

I think many of us are a tad sick of the zombie genre by now because it seems like covered ground for the most part, but this picture is a must-watch. It’s hugely popular with over 5 million views on YouTube despite not winning any awards at the Tropfest festival, where it was originally screened. And with good reason. Watching it is a rewarding way to spend 7 minutes and 4 seconds of your day, I promise, and about 76 811 people are backing my claim as we speak. Beware, though, for it might also shatter you emotionally, especially if you’re a dad/parent yourself.

Find it embedded below, and let us know what you think if you’ve seen it or decide to do it now.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gryenlQKTbE]

Miami Connection

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Last week I finally found some time to watch a movie and while I was thinking about what to watch I came across the Miami Connection trailer. I loved it and still do. There is a 80s rock band (with a pretty front woman) playing, there are motorcycle ninjas, gang fights, there is fire, cocaine and even some gore. You can’t go wrong with that, right? Well, you can. As much as I love the trailer and the fantastic movie poster, the movie is absolutely disastrous in its entirety.

Miami Connection (1987) is an indie martial arts film which was ignored and basically remained unseen for years, until Drafthouse Films decided to restore the movie in 2012 in order to give it a release.

Writer, producer and co-director Y.K. Kim, who is a taekwondo martial artist, clearly had no idea what he was doing and neither did the rest of his team. Film director Richard Park discovered Y.K. Kim when he was on a Korean talk show to promote a book about taekwondo. Park thought it was a good idea to convince a man who had no previous experience in the field to bring to life one of his storylines, and that’s how Miami Connection was born.

So, as I said, it’s painfully obvious that Y.K. Kim has no cinematographic knowledge or skill at all. The story is confusing as is (“A martial arts rock band goes up against a band of motorcycle ninjas who have tightened their grip on Florida’s narcotics trade“???), but on top of that, there are too many superfluous subplots which don’t add anything to the movie. The chronological order of the scenes is all over the place, there is no structure behind it. The whole movie is like a trailer: it doesn’t want to reveal too much about the actual plot, which is obviously suboptimal for a feature length film.

All in all, what I took away from this viewing experience was, once again, that the term “cult film” can be misleading. Many people don’t understand that even trash films can be inspirational and worthy of respect. Miami Connection, however, does not fit the bill.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpZu69OB2KM]

5 Classic Horror Films That Took Us A While To Catch Up On

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If you’re into cinema, you’re probably familiar with the phenomenon. There always seem to be a few classics that slip through the cracks and sit festering on our to-watch lists for years. Sadly, it’s well-nigh impossible to watch every significant movie ever made, but we film reviewers at El Gore want to try, and we’d like to document some of our impressions along the way.

#5 Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

Luc: A Nightmare On Elm Street is probably the biggest surprise for me, in a positive way. I’m not a huge fan of supernatural elements in horror films, and I wouldn’t have watched this one if it wasn’t for the great 1985 B-movie The Stuff, which made use of the same rotating technique the makers of Nightmare did. I appreciate that they don’t show gore just for the sake of it, but use it intelligently. I like campy 80s horror films and this one is now among my top 10 in the genre.
Anna: This is my favourite movie on the list. I think it is a masterpiece. Genuinely creepy, intelligent and well worth the hype. It’s not so much a slasher picture as it is surrealist cinema — a genre I am not particularly fond of, but it’s crafted to perfection here. The psychology behind the character Freddy is intriguing, too. Apparently he’s a hybrid of terrifying and semi-traumatic experiences Wes Craven had as a kid (a stranger stopping and staring right into his eyes outside of his window, a bully named Fred) and his garb is very deliberate. The entire movie calls for interpretations and discussions of possible symbolism, and I love that.

#4 Friday the 13th (1980)

Luc: In my opinion, Friday the 13th hasn’t aged well at all. It’s strange how there are people being slaughtered constantly, but you still get the feeling that absolutely nothing happens throughout the movie, with the exception of the plot twist, which completely missed the mark for me. It was a massive disappointment, and my least favourite film on the list.
Anna: To be perfectly honest, I thought this one was one big pile of “meh.” I agree with Luc in that it might have worked back in 1980 when it had some sense of novelty to it, but in 2013, it is a trite and underwhelming watch. The plot twist seems to channel a bit of Psycho, but it wasn’t a light-bulb moment and even seemed somewhat off to me. As I said, I would probably review it differently had I seen it when it originally came out. But today, it’s a decent slasher. Nothing more.

#3 The Exorcist (1973)

Luc: My mother told me that when she saw this one in theatres right after it came out, she found it deeply shocking and still does. I might be desensitised, but a few demonic screams of “fuck me!” and some fake vomit are not enough to instill terror in me. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I generally don’t like movies dealing with exorcism, not even the modern ones, so it might just not be my cup of tea.
Anna: Another horror classic that, try as I might, I am unable to fully savour. I cheated with this one, because I already watched it a few years ago with friends during a sleepover. We all thought it was hilarious then, but I blamed it on the jovial setting. I watched it again two weeks ago to find that my impression remains unchanged. At this point, it’s more of a comedy to me. Maybe I was born too late, maybe I’m jaded, maybe I wouldn’t know taste if it socked me in the face with the force of a Typhoon, I have no idea. All I know is that I truly, sincerely don’t understand how The Exorcist could be scary or shocking to anyone over the age of 10.

#2 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Luc: Even though this Polanski is unarguably a pioneer of the Satan child/satanism/demon/black magic type of movie, I think many successors have done it more effectively. What really irks me about Rosemary’s Baby is not the subject matter, but the way they treated it. The irritating performances (not the characters themselves, but the actors) are another factor in that equation. One of those films that could have stayed on my to-watch list a little while longer.
Anna: I really hate that I ended up not liking Rosemary’s Baby as much as I thought I would. I understand why it’s so highly regarded and respect it as a classic, but it just didn’t do much for me. It was unsettling in places, but even as someone who loves slow pace in movies, the plot development struck me as excessively prolonged. On top of that, I wasn’t invested in the characters in any way. What I did like were the ending and the cinematography. This film is stunning visually.

#1 Psycho (1960)

Luc: Hitchock’s work, for me, is a tricky matter. I am aware that the man has done a lot for the world of cinema, but even still, I cannot worship him as devotedly as others do. Also, I postponed watching Psycho in full for a long time because I thought I already knew its development based on the famous shower scene. Now, there are two Hitchock movies that I’ve seen and disliked, namely The Birds and Rebecca, and three that I’ve seen and regard as masterpieces: Vertigo, The Rope and as of today, Psycho. Even though it’s the oldest movie on the list, I think it works better than the other horror works on so many levels.
Anna: Psycho is fantastic. There’s not much else to add. It’s unnerving from start to finish, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire runtime, and I did not see that plot twist coming. It lives up to its reputation as first-rate and psychologically harrowing. (And unlike some famous critics, I am pro-explanatory shrink scene.)

5 Mini Reviews of Fucked-Up Francophone Films

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I’ve been delving into the world of French language horror/extreme cinema lately (not least because I want to improve my French), and as the movies are piling up, I decided to deviate from the usual Film Friday format and compile a list with 5 of my most recently watched flicks. I hope you’ll find one or two that spark your interest. Let’s get down to business without further ado!

#5 Frontière(s)

The plot according to IMDB: A gang of young thieves flee Paris during the violent aftermath of a political election, only to hole up at an Inn run by neo-Nazis.

Mini review: A messy mix between Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel with some Nazi-horror peppered throughout (also, the head of the family reminds me of Dr. Heiter from The Human Centipede.) It starts out rather promising and has its moments, but it’s disappointing overall. I feel like the movie takes too many turns, includes too many elements and is inconsistent in its theme. It’s a clusterfuck of every monstrosity and method of torture imaginable, and unless you’re into that particular niche, I’d stay away from it.

#4 A l’intérieur

The plot according to IMDB: Four months after the death of her husband, a woman on the brink of motherhood is tormented in her home by a strange woman who wants her unborn baby.

Mini review: I don’t usually feel comfortable giving excessively brutal movies a positive rating, but A l’intérieur is an exception. Firstly, in terms of technicality, ambience, suspense and unpredictability, I think this film is amazing. Secondly, I don’t believe it can be described as torture porn for the simple reason that it shows graphic violence, but doesn’t glorify it. We’re painfully aware of the fact that we’re watching a heavily pregnant woman in peril and we’re rooting for her until the bitter end. Not once are we encouraged to relish in her anguish or enjoy what is being done to her. We’re encouraged to wish for the woman and her unborn child to make it out alive, never to get pleasure out of seeing them hurt. At the very least, A l’intérieur is the epitome of “effective.”

#3 Captifs

The plot according to IMDB: A group of medical aid workers in Kosovo is kidnapped by a non Slavic gang of organ traffickers.

Mini review: This is a solid horror film. The organ trafficking thing scares me shitless, so that might be the main reason why it worked for me, but it also scores in terms of cinematography and writing. It serves as a perfect starter if you’re in the mood for a Saturday evening horror marathon.

#2 Les 7 jours du talion

The plot according to IMDB: A doctor seeks revenge by kidnapping, torturing and killing the man who raped and murdered his young daughter.

Mini review: As you might have suspected from the plot summary, Les 7 jours du talion is hands down the most depressing picture on this list. It’s dunked in nebulous shades, depraved of musical accompaniment and deals with one of the bleakest tragedies a family could ever suffer: the murder and death of a child, and the desperate craving for revenge afterwards. It goes without saying that the film is not thrilling in the mindless horror sense. It’s heavy through and through, and really does treat the subject with the necessary amount of seriousness and dignity.

#1 C’est arrivé près de chez vous

The plot according to IMDB: A film crew follows a ruthless thief and heartless killer as he goes about his daily routine. But complications set in when the film crew lose their objectivity and begin lending a hand.

Mini review: C’est arrivé près de chez vous is an absolutely horrifying viewing experience. I see it as a Belgian counterpart to Funny Games — a harsh criticism of the exploitative nature of the media’s coverage of violence and the audience’s voyeuristic gaze. It’s shot in a mockumentary style, which helps immerse you in the story better than, say, Natural Born Killers‘ over-the-top shtick. The latter left me much less impressed and pensive afterwards. I highly recommend this brilliant cinematic satire if you believe you can stomach the disturbing and unsparing scenes of gratuitous savagery.

Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County

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This is my first time ever reviewing a movie about aliens. Out of the long list of human-invented monsters and entities, I find our fabricated image of aliens to be the least scary and/or interesting, so I don’t seek out stories involving them. I am tired of seeing the same old pale inverted triangle heads parading around the earth with their long limbs, technologically advanced spaceships and shady intents. I have yet to see a movie that deals with them in an exciting way and doesn’t use the worn-out stereotype of the extraterrestrial tyrant with supernatural powers.

Sadly, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County does not challenge our idea of extraterrestrial life, either. But it did capture my attention because it is a straight to TV movie that came out one year before The Blair Witch Project and was marketed as real footage, as well. (By the by, the fact that this actually worked is hilarious. Aside from the fairly obvious movie mistakes, like glaring audio/visual asynchrony and the like, the makers included the alien actors in the credits.)

The film, which features interviews with all sorts of “professionals” in between the found footage, is told through the lens of a kid who wants to document his family’s thanksgiving get-together with his new camera. They’re all having a medicore time until the three brothers go out to check what’s wrong with the electricity. They notice strange lights in the distance, decide to investigate and end up witnessing a strange ritual performed by aliens in front of their spaceship. Things go downhill from there.

The acting struck me as substandard and very distinctly amateurish (except for the little girl, who managed to unsettle the ever-living hell out of me), which shattered hopes of the film feeling real and dangerous for me right off the bat. As entertainment, “okay” is the word I would use to describe it in a nutshell. Truth be told, this is far from the worst outcome. I actually do think it is suspenseful, and the alien intruders have some pretty creative methods to mess with the family. The psychological manipulations, especially towards the end, are seriously unnerving. I’d love to spoil a specific scene here, but I’ll keep it as vague as possible by revealing that people end up putting their tongues where they don’t belong, and it leaves you… puzzled. There are very few jump scares, which I appreciate, as well. The film tries to build to a climax of terror by using tension and subtly disturbing occurrences.

I’d say that watching Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County can serve as a nice Friday evening pastime for found footage/suspense/alien fans. The movie is not groundbreaking or challenging in any way, but it’s one of the more tolerable alien flicks I’ve seen, if that counts for anything coming from an alien flick avoider.

Calvaire

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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.

Dread

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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.