The Witch (2016)

The film has a very confusing premise that never really resolves itself. However, it is certifiably creepy and that goes miles for this horror fan.

Since A24 is gaining a credibility I don’t think it altogether deserves, I thought I’d republish my review of an early film they produced. This film had a lot of potential but didn’t get there for me. I think THAT is really what defines this brand and that really sucks. I hope that changes. I wrote the content below when this film came out.

The Witch (2016)

 

Cast

Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin
Ralph Ineson as William
Kate Dickie as Katherine
Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb

Directed by

Robert Eggers

Written by

Robert Eggers

Horror
Rated R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity
1h 32min

I saw this film not knowing what to expect. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating in the 80% range so I was naturally curious since I rarely see horror films doing so well. The audience was not favoring it quite as much so that made me wonder what was going on here. Sometimes that means it’s a “movie makers” movie and not one the average American is going to “get.” I was right about that I think. This film has received a Sundance “best director” award and all sorts of other laurels on its poster. Usually those mean foreign film but in this case they are festival awards. This movie is taking the critics by storm. I think the audience will get on the bus sooner or later. Please understand, this film is not the easiest to understand but it still combines several powerful themes to make a hard hitting horror film and I love it!

It displays the cruelty of religion in the same way the Crucible and the Scarlet Letter. It takes it all the way into the psyche of a Puritan family and causes them all to question whether each other are witches. Mind blowing. It’s not a horror movie per se but it uses elements of diverse themes to create an original movie. Don’t watch this movie hoping it to make sense but rather dwell among the family and observe the sickness that religion can become. The ending may perplex some or it may be an awakening. I think the director wants us to draw conclusions but not in a concrete way. Why does the heroine walk naked into the trees? What caused this transformation? Did she make the choice or was it destiny made for her by her family? Is the family innocent? This dark tale raises more questions than answers. Though much is never explained, it’s the experience of these unexplained things that is the essence of the ride. We may not want to get off but the director pulls off our seat belts at the credits and says GO NOW! Then, we have to think about it. I’ve been doing so for 2 days straight and it’s lovely. 7/10

The Chernobyl Diaries

Yep, it’s time for the Monday episode. We post a one here every Mon and Thu. Have you seen this film? It’s a cool little indie horror that really gets you thinking about what happened in the Chernobyl disaster. Quite scary and quite interesting. Good combo! Listen to my 5 minute review below. Not a perfect film but I recommend it!

Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
R | 1h 26min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 25 May 2012 (USA)

Six tourists hire an extreme tour guide who takes them to the abandoned city Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. During their exploration, they soon discover they are not alone.
Director: Bradley Parker (as Brad Parker)
Writers: Oren Peli (screenplay), Carey Van Dyke (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
Stars: Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski, Olivia Taylor Dudley

The Ritual

I’d been waiting for this film to come into theaters and once again: we have a Netflix movie that never made it there. Is that bad? This is the first real horror film of 2018 and it certainly watches like one. Unlike some movies that have come down the pike in a forest that really weren’t horror like “The Witch” and “It Comes at Night,” this one has the elements of a horror and delivers as such.

The Ritual (2017)
1h 34min | Horror | 9 February 2018 (USA)

A group of college friends reunite for a trip to the forest, but encounter a menacing presence in the woods that’s stalking them.
Director: David Bruckner
Writers: Joe Barton, Adam Nevill (novel)
Stars: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier

The director is David Bruckner, known for “V/H/S,” “Southbound,” and “The Signal.” Looking at these titles makes me realize he has a solid background in horror and “The Ritual” is his foray into the big time. This one will probably be enjoyed by more than the others. It’s an “on location” piece meaning it is filmed in the woods. This must have proved challenging. I found some pparts of it to be a little misguided but as a whole, this is a directorial accomplishment.

There is a house the hikers happen upon in the film. Upstairs there is an odd piece of ritual like art. It looks rustic and religious in form. I found not much was explained there and it never really added up for me what was happening there. It was if it was just being blamed on the supernatural when the scenes could have held better clues.

Other than the house scene, the film develops well throughout. The ending is a massive crescendo and it’s nothing you’d expected up to that point. By saying less, he says more. By suggesting the size and shape of creatures, he makes them all that more scary. Because it’s supernatural, we can’t really argue logic here which is good for the director because it’s lacking a bit there. Having said that, I found this horror film scary and full of suspense. There are many roads to Rome and this one definitely finds its way there. I give it a 8/10

Hush

Hush was made for under $75,000 usd but leaves us with the Hush product which is as scary as any high budget horror film. It’s a “thinking person’s scary” which some may prefer to the pure slice and dice variety, though there is certainly some of that here.
hush movie posterThis film was directed by Mike Flannigan (Oculus). He co-write the film with Kate Siegel (plays the main character Maddie) who in real life shares a house with Flannigan. In fact, several sources indicate they wrote the screenplay with their home layout as a blueprint. She starred in Oculus.

“Hush” is a thriller and horror movie that features a deaf writer at her laptop being broken in on and attacked by a masked man. There are few casualties, few actors, and definitely a few gallons of blood spilled on scene. One original component that builds suspense is that the main character/victim is deaf. This is an ingenious idea as it allows for a few really spine tingling scenes requiring no cgi or music for that matter. The killer’s mask looks different from the standard ones we’ve seen in break-and-enter thrillers, for example presidents and Star Trek masks. In this case, it’s very carefully crafted. In some scenes it appears to be part of the attacker’s own face. This serves for another original, simple, scary element that probably didn’t cost much to create.

Another film that comes to mind that created massive scares on a low budget is Insidious. It’s being proven again and again we don’t need million dollar movies to be scared and thereby entertained. Through a series of slashings and “intruder” scenes, the deaf Maddie learns she doesn’t have to be a victim. She fights back. Everything is filmed in a dark setting outside and inside the house. This accentuates the revenge element that weaves throughout and leads us to an ending that is pleasing horror critics all over the internet.

The film screened at SXSW for a panel of industry “buyers.” It did very well there but somehow ended up on Netflix where I was fortunate enough to see it. Netflix needs more quality horror and suspense films like Hush. Frankly the category is small on the service and appears to be shrinking. I had a lot of fun watching this film and highly recommend it if you can catch it on Netflix or elsewhere. Imagine you have earplugs in and can’t hear a thing and you can’t hear anyone sneaking in the window either. This film makes the most of the simple scares. I think it would be great to see it on the big screen.

Creep 2

This film came out earlier than I was expecting. I saw Mark Duplass’ tweet on my phone and rushed on home to see it.

I really enjoyed it. You can hear my visceral reaction on my podcast The DRP. For here, I’ll just say that Duplass did it again. The foreboding sense of creepiness in the original is carried on in this one. There is a woman in this one, a video “artist” who has a Youtube show where she answers want ads. Anyone see the connection?

Duplass is chilled out a lot more in this one which makes it even more scary. He offers the woman a videographer job to film his “documentary” as he discusses his life as a serial killer. This really raises the tension. You’ll have to see what happens as I am not here to spoil it for you. We see “peach fuzz” again which is highly cool in my opinion. That was one of the elements of the first one that really shocked.

This film could have just sucked but it doesn’t. It makes the most of “found footage” as a genre and Duplass’ character is highly creepy, more than ever while maintaining the similar horror vibe of the original. I can’t think of how to make it better for what it aims to be.

10/10

Tusk (2014)

My podcast Talking Stars is recording an episode on Tusk in October. Here are some of the reasons I love this movie the way I do.

Tusk (2014)
R | 1h 42min | Comedy, Drama, Horror | 19 September 2014 (USA)

A brash and arrogant podcaster gets more than he bargained for when he travels to Canada to interview a mysterious recluse… who has a rather disturbing fondness for walruses.
Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Stars: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment

I’ve talked about this film for well over a year but have as yet to review it on my blog. Here goes:

Kevin Smith has carved out an etched name for himself in the film world. Most film students will tell you about Clerks, his cult fame status film about some deadbeats who keep a store staffed, albeit half-aware. We all worked those types of jobs and/or some still do so it’s highly relate-able. Besides that, there is a undefinable quality to it people can only attribute to Kevin Smith as director. Red State is another film that people are ready to line up and give blood for. His influence on film is undeniable in my mind. He tried horror with Tusk and he went way out at that. It’s unlike any horror you’ll see in that it molds disgusting, repellent body horror images with sarcasm and flippant comedy. But there is a third element that doesn’t get discussed a whole lot and that is the literary theme of the sea and its dark foreboding nature toward humans. It’s a bit like Jaws in that way, without a shark.

Justin Long plays Wallace, a despicable podcaster who gathers followers by exploiting outrageous stories. The stories seem to involve the misfortune, maiming, and even death of his subjects. He cheats on his beautiful and kind-hearted girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and overall he is an asshole, and that’s what he’s meant to be.

Michael Parks plays Howard Howe, a retired Navy seaman who lives in a mysterious house and provides Wallace with what was to be one of his biggest exclusives yet. But alas, things are not always what they appear to be. Howe is obsessed with surgically creating walruses from living people and that’s the “guts” of Tusk.

This movie scared the hell out of me when I saw it in 2016. It stuck with me and I have seen it twice since. People either love or hate this film. I happen to fall into the former category. I love the horror and I love the comedy. Make no mistake, they exist at different parts of the film and much of it is no laughing matter. The idea of being abducted and having your body destroyed that way is chilling. At the same time, we have Kevin Smith comedy throughout reminding us of what this is about.

At time of writing this, my podcast Talking Stars is planning to record an episode on Tusk and body horror. I hope you can tune in. Watch the site for more details. After 72 episodes, I’ve never been this eager to do an episode. If you’d like to be on it, let me know.

10/10

A Dark Song (2016)

Horror movies have talked about love and loss before but not usually this deeply. The issues are so deep in fact, one might question whether they belong in a horror film. They exist just the same and while watching this film you don’t just see them on screen, you absorb them. The longing of the protagonist and her helper calling on the black arts becomes our own … “poor us,” as the ritual master says, in that sense.

A Dark Song (2016)
1h 40min | Drama, Horror | 28 April 2017 (USA)

A determined young woman and a damaged occultist risk their lives and souls to perform a dangerous ritual that will grant them what they want.
Director: Liam Gavin
Writer: Liam Gavin
Stars: Mark Huberman, Susan Loughnane, Steve Oram

I can sum up this, Liam Gavin’s directorial debut, by saying it moves way too slow for the first 3/4 but the last act is the stuff you take home to your nightmares. We needed the visuals in the first 3/4, they were sadly absent. I hope when Liam gets his next project he remembers that. I really can’t recommend this film to all horror fans because I found it nearly impossible to sit through but I might say if you have fast forward abilities, go to the final act. You’ll see things there you’ve never seen.

Back to non-spoiler territory: The protagonist has lost her son to occultists who ceremoniously murdered him. She pays another occultist to take her through rituals to enable her to talk to her guardian angel and her son to seek revenge. It’s gritty and you expect typical demonic stuff that only lightly comes. It is basically a hodgepodge character study of two dysfunctional people churning, tortured by desire and vegeance, seeking to call on the supernatural realm for relief … and failing. The end third is worth it. This is a movie to discuss, without a doubt. Watch for Liam Gavin’s future work as I will.

8/10

Creep (2014)

This is one creep you will never forget. He may even change the way you place ads and followup on meeting strangers!

Creep (2015)
Cast
Patrick Brice

as Aaron

Mark Duplass

as Joseph

Directed by
Patrick Brice
Written by
Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Other Info

Drama, Horror
Rated R
1h 17min

NOTE: At time of my repurposing this post, “Creep 2” is in the works. But as far as Creep goes: the “found footage” genre strikes again. This time we have a psychotic in our face most the movie. The movie scares because it is plausible.

While we may not be able to divine his intentions, the “creep” does everything in a way that is believable, possible. When blood is shed, we don’t question the possibility.This movie could really happen. The plot is a twenty something dude answers an ad for a job filming another dude. The work is one day and it pays $1,000 cash. I imagine a lot of people could use the money and would therefore show up for an interview. Aaron, played by Patrick Brice, does just that. When he gets to the address, he finds a vacation cabin of sorts, not fully secluded. He soon finds out the motives of the employer and much more than just to film him.

Creep becomes a character study in boundaries in a similar way to “The Cable Guy” where Jim Carrey was the Creep. The difference is, this film is horror. Aaron, played by the actual director of the film, misses several opportunities to escape. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to hurt the Creep’s feeling. Would you rather hurt someone’s feelings or be killed? I think the answer is pretty obvious. At the same time, we humans hate confrontation and so Aaron, as a human, avoids confrontation and plays along.

I’ve seen Mark Duplass in several movies, my favorite being “The One I Love.” He’s a great actor and his ability to shoot lines like a firehose is shown in this film. He is clearly disturbed but the main character Aaron wants to find out just how much. Ultimately, as Aaron tries to get away, the plot becomes a hunt. I enjoyed the thriller aspect of this film but I wondered a lot why it was tagged horror. There were no dismemberments or zombies. It was just Aaron and Joseph talking through mountains of dialog (most Joseph’s)

I’m really not to keen on the found footage genre. Still, this movie used it well. Everything made sense, that it could have happened and been edited together. It lost a point for not being innovative. How many times have we seen the stalker befriend and kidnap someone? It lost another point for calling itself horror. There is a scene or two you could describe as such, but I think it’s better archived as a draa. Fr those reasons I gave it a 3/5. I recommend it if you can’t find anything else to watch. Trust me, there are plenty of movies I wouldn’t recommend as such, this is a good movie.

The Devil’s Candy (2015)

Some horror movies are great for a sleep over when you’re in high school but aren’t very deep for discussion. This is one such film. It has creepiness and some jump scares (not too many) and it works on that level. As a serious horror movie however, it doesn’t make my grade. It’s just ok.

The Devil’s Candy (2015)
Not Rated | 1h 19min | Horror | 17 March 2017 (USA)

A struggling painter is possessed by satanic forces after he and his young family move into their dream home in rural Texas, in this creepy haunted-house tale.
Director: Sean Byrne
Writer: Sean Byrne
Stars: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince

This film is directed by Sean Byrne. He is from Tasmania. He has a strong background making films such as The Loved Ones, a horror movie involving power drills. film shorts and commercials and has received much acclaim for creating this film. Still, it isn’t a massive scale film most young directors hope for. He does show much promise though in this film so I await what he does next with enthusiasm.

Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince are the top three actors in the film and they are a stronger feature than the story in my opinion. Embry is known from films like Sweet Home Alabama. He has that all American boy look but in this film, he is a hessian metalhead, trying to be a good guy but failing. Appleby landed a huge role in the reality series Unreal. She is well cast in this film because her eyes always look scared, stressed, and sad. Pruitt Taylor is from Mississipi Burning. He looks psycho, in this film he is psycho, or possessed or both.

The basic story line here is the possession of a painter who lived in a home. A couple moves in and he comes back seeking the will of the devil who lives in the house. It’s an ok horror movie. IT has some thrills and it;s nice to see these actors’ faces. Because I would not see it again, I’m grading it down to a 6/10 which isn’t failing.

6/10

Beyond the Gates (2016)

Recently I saw Drive and it had that 80’s background synthesizer mood. Soon that I saw Turbo Kid that had similar background music. Could this be coming back? It works for me!

Beyond the Gates (2016)
Not Rated | 1h 24min | Adventure, Horror | 9 December 2016 (USA)
Two estranged brothers reunite at their missing father’s video store and find a VCR board game dubbed ‘Beyond The Gates’ that holds a connection to their father’s disappearance.

Director: Jackson Stewart
Writers: Stephen Scarlata, Jackson Stewart
Stars: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant

This one does uses that 80’s synth sound too only it’s decidedly a horror/thriller film unlike the thriller Drive or comedy action Turbo Kid. When your budget is low, you have to get creative with sets and effects. This film indeed does that effectively. What better concept for a film like this than a VHS tape that opens the door of hell?

The story revolves around a guy, his girlfriend, and his estranged brother who he grew up with in a small town. The protagonist’s dad owned a VHS store there and so the protagonist and his brother spent a lot of time hanging around the movies and playing with reminders and other equipment there. They stumble across a tape that is what used to be known as a VHS RPG. In this case they are given clues on how to get “beyond the gates” and reunite with their father who has mysteriously disappeared.

There is blood and guts and it ends up being a pretty “jump scary” film. Even so, a goofy vibe permeates the whole film. It reminds me of the inside jokes of nerds from high school woven into a film that most viewers wouldn’t laugh at or be scared by. Nonetheless, I found it a lot of fun. The ending is ridiculous but it takes itself so seriously you can’t help but find it satisfying.

Final Thoughts
Beyond the Gates is a low budget horror/thriller that brings you back to the 80’s horror mood. The synthesized music seems a virtual red carpet for Michael Jackson’s dancing thriller zombies. The effects are creative, though not very believable yet that isn’t important in this fun under-produced film about playing a VHS tape that opens the door of hell. I would say that not all will “get” this one. It took me two sits to actually finish it. Still, if you can shut the world out and just enjoy low budget horror with a somewhat silly story, this is your movie. To you and fans like you (like me), I recommend it.

7/10