Sunday, September 15, 2019

Cleaner (2007)

Former cop Tom Cutler (Samuel L. Harris) has retired into owning his own business, a small cleaning company specializing in crime scene and general biohazard clean-up. He’s taking care of his daughter Rose (Keke Palmer) by himself, for his wife was murdered when he was still a cop. The killer was himself murdered in prison, and Tom and his partner and close friend Eddie Lorenzo (Ed Harris) only escaped jail time of their own for organizing the murder because Tom made a deal with one Vaughn, the godfather of the city’s corrupt cops, though Eddie doesn’t appear to no that part of the deal.

It’s clear that this past is something Tom dearly wants to bury under meticulous cleanliness, avoidance of all his old cop buddies including Eddie and, the good old medicine of pretending the bad shit didn’t really happen. The time for pretending is quickly coming to an end, though, when Tom is called into cleaning up a crime scene that will turn out not to have been an official one afterwards. Worse, Tom hasn’t just cleaned up the remnants of a crime, the victim’s a guy who turned witness against Vaughn. At first, Tom hopes if he continues his well-worn technique of ignoring the situation and hoping it will go away, nothing will happen, but neither this little problem nor his past will quite so easily stay buried.

The 21st Century parts of director Renny Harlin’s career are full of surprises, unless you share the distaste for the man’s body of work most mainstream film critics seem to have quite independent of the actual quality of any given film he turns out. Probably because pretending only tasteful middle brow directors making tasteful middle brow films are worthwhile is still a rather big thing in those circles, a gospel given unto them by the sainted Roger Ebert. If your background is in exploitation and cult cinema like mine, automatically disliking Harlin’s usually interesting, sometimes ridiculous and nearly always (that nearly is obviously important) worthwhile body of work after his time as Hollywood’s second greatest action cinema director seems somewhere between insane and hypocritical.

For its first two acts, Cleaner is very typical of this phase of Harlin’s career by not being typical whatsoever. Instead of the slam bang action he would have made out of this material in the 90s, the film at hand is a stylishly (but not so stylish it becomes distracting), slick, and calm (some may say slow) movie that’s much more focussed on its actors doing proper grown-up acting, with Harlin doing his utmost to step out of their way. Given that this is mainly Jackson’s and Harris’s show – with some very effective help from Luis Guzmán, Palmer, and even Eva Mendes – and these guys could obviously be involving and interesting when shot by an idiot on a phone or Stephen Soderbergh, this is certainly the right approach to the material, also providing the film with a human grit it needs to counteract the visual slickness a little.

This works well for the film, until the third act starts, and the whole film breaks down a little. It’s not just that the revelation of what’s going on is more than a little clichéd, it is also obvious from pretty early on. The way to that “revelation” is rather too messy, also, so messy, in fact, that even Jackson and Harris have a hard time actually selling the whole affair in the end. It’s also deeply unsatisfying in how little the film seems to realize how cynical its ending, where the only crime that’s actually punished is the one committed out of love and where all corrupt cops can merrily ride into the sunset, actually is, and how much it actually undercuts the whole “family first” shtick it is apparently trying to sell.

But then, the first two acts really are rather good.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Three Films Make A Post: The horror is real

Hoax (2019): Welcome to plot twist land, a planet quite like our own, yet where the best way to bring a godsawful bigfoot movie (without any of the charms that make many a godawful bigfoot movie rather lovely) to a climax is to turn it into an even worse piece of hillbilly horror that seems to attempt to rip-off the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre for fifteen minutes or so but only ends up as the Hillbilly Cannibal Massacre Blues. Despite the presence of semi-regular okay genre stalwarts Brian Thompson and Ben Browder and a cameo by Adrienne Barbeau, there’s really nothing to recommend Matt Allen’s stinker, unless you’re really into unfunny humour, awkward plotting, character arcs that go nowhere and crap bigfoot costumes.

Gwen (2018): Quite a different kind of not good (in comparison to Hoax, it’s of course still a masterpiece, because it is an actual movie) is this beautiful looking film directed by William McGregor about the travails (and travails, and more travails) of the female members of a farmer family living near a Welsh mining town. It’s the sort of film that’s heaping doom and gloom, more doom and gloom and even more doom and gloom on its characters with such abandon, and so little thought as to make any of the doom and gloom stick dramatically, the Red Wedding feels subtly underplayed. It clearly does aim for a The Witch type of modern folk horror vibe but is too squeamish to actually fully to commit the supernatural route, and has little of the American movie’s sense of pacing and threat, nor much actual sense of folklore. In this one, everything’s dark and painful and patriarchal evil, but also weirdly vague (which is not the same thing as being ambiguous), and the misfortunes come down so thick on our protagonists, I started asking myself if all of this was meant as a parody of historically minded poverty porn. Alas, it isn’t.

The Quiet Earth (1985): This film from New Zealand directed by Geoff Murphy about a scientist (Bruno Lawrence) who wakes up one morning, perhaps being the last person on Earth, on the other hand, is a minor classic. Particularly the first third in which Lawrence’s character slowly explores the now empty world and goes a bit insane, is utterly brilliant, as is the brilliantly ambiguous last scene, all shot with a genuine sense of mood and place. The rest of the film, once a couple of other characters come in, isn’t quite as great, mostly because the love triangle is really rather conventional and pretty underwritten, and because the film does tend to hammer the things it wants to say about the contemporary anxieties of the mid-80s home a bit too hard. However, whenever The Quiet Earth seems to lose its way a bit, there’s one striking image or another putting it back on its feet again.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Past Misdeeds: Byzantium (2012)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Neil Jordan’s Byzantium (based on a script by Moira Buffini that doesn’t feel stagy at all despite apparently being based on a stage play by the author) is the kind of film that really needs quite a different writer than I am to be properly appreciated. A shot-by-shot analysis combined with a deep thematic exploration seems rather appropriate, but that’s neither a thing I do, nor a thing I’m particularly good at, nor a thing I am even usually interested in.

What I can do, though, is to swoon a bit about what I think is the best film I’ve seen to have come out in 2013. I might throw around words like masterly, even. Now, before anyone thinks I have been struck by a case of director fandom, I’m not even a total admirer of the body of work of Neil Jordan, because for every properly brilliant movie he makes (like the Angela Carter adaptation The Company of Wolves, obviously), there’s a piece of self-important dross that just isn’t as clever as it thinks it is in his filmography. And don’t even get me started on the waste of properly sexy history that is The Borgias or his other vampire movie, the execrable Interview with the Vampire. This fluctuation between the horrible and the sublime makes the director much more difficult to adore than someone who makes mediocre and brilliant films in equal measure. On the plus side, one gets the feeling that Jordan’s failures have never been caused by a lack of ambition or an inability to change.

Be that as it may, with Byzantium, Jordan takes not a single false step throughout nearly two hours of film – and this is a film that really needs the time it takes – with moment of subtly breathtaking filmmaking followed by moment of subtly breathtaking filmmaking followed by moments of not at all subtle yet still breathtaking filmmaking. This is a film that not just oozes style in a very deliberate way, knows which shots to frame like a painting and which ones not to, builds a non-realist mood of contemporary grime with as sure a hand as it does provide some beautifully gothic excess; it is also a film that does nothing of this without a good reason. In fact, there’s a calm purpose to every shot and every camera movement, all of it not just made to impress with its beauty but always bearing the weight of character, theme, and mood without ever making it look like a weight.

At the very same time, Byzantium never uses its visual style to overwhelm its actors, always giving them as much space as they need. And, given how great Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton and their supporting cast are, one can’t help but imagine them paying the film’s care back in style. While some of the basic character set-up might seem a little obvious, even clichéd, on paper, the actors as well as the script provide subtlety and life quite on the level with what Jordan is doing around them, with so many suggestions of complexity I soon forgot that not every idea here is new to vampire media of any kind. It is, after all, not just the ideas which matter but also how you bring them together and execute them.

Thematically, Byzantium is as rich as its visuals and its acting are. This is, of course, in part a story about growing up given an ironic twist by the nature of its main characters, as well as a story about the need to change even when you are supposedly changeless. Yet there are also undercurrents of moral failures perpetuating themselves cyclically, of the impossibility to keep one’s hands clean when one wants to survive as a monster or as a human being until one doesn’t even want to keep one’s hands clean anymore, as well as an exploration of the lies people tell themselves about their natures to be able to live with themselves. There is, obviously, also a feminist and even a class-conscious aspect to a story that shows the vampires as a boy’s club that really doesn’t want any of those icky girls in them, particularly not ones from the lower classes. Which somewhat comes with the territory of a group whose members have been born centuries ago and clearly want and need to control their environment as far as possible. In this context, the film’s women can’t help but represent change and a different way of life – everything the male vampires fear – to them, quite independent of who these women actually are, and how much of the way they have to lead their lives is a survivor’s reaction to the pressures coming from the men around them. One of the really masterful aspects of the film is that it contains all this and more and never feels overloaded or as if it were trying too hard.

Another aspect of Byzantium I particularly admire is its willingness and ability to change from its semi-realist mode into Gothic fullness and back again without selling any of it short. In fact, the film achieves some of its greatest impact by the collision of the two modes, and by never quite keeping them apart for long, as if both ways at looking at the world were in the end just sides of the same coin.

Quite surprisingly in a film this unashamed of its Gothic melodrama, it also has a sense of humour about it all, a sense of humour which – again - never diminishes the rest of what’s going on, particularly since it has a wonderful grip on the closeness between humour and horror, and a cast willing and able to sell this, too.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

In short: Nekrotronic (2018)

Given how much I liked Wyrmwood, the previous feature of sibling filmmakers director/writer Kiah Roache-Turner and writer Tristan Roache-Turner, I’m rather disappointed how little I got on with this horror action comedy about demon hunters for some reason called necromancers and demons under the soul-eating tutelage of Monica Bellucci fighting it out in Australia and on the Internet. There’s Ben O’Toole as the lamest Chosen One imaginable, a fighting sister duo (Caroline Ford and Tess Haubrich), a comic relief ghost of colour (Epine Bob Savea) and a plot that’s as busy as its is uninvolving, with characters that can’t even be bothered to have single defining character traits.

The neon colours (this is another movie that has fallen into a septic tank of The 80s) are certainly pretty, and the special effects, apart from the sub super sentai monster costume in the grand finale are the gloopy sort of fun, but the writing’s genuinely terrible: when the dialogue isn’t clunky exposition, it’s utterly brain-dead humour (the last line in the movie is “suck on this”, and that’s about as funny as this thing gets, alas). The film’s world – despite all of that exposition - never comes to any kind of life but exists as a series of stupid, sometimes mildly cool, ideas the film tries to hang a series of action scenes on. Alas, those action scenes are for the most part – the film does have a moment or two – as bland as they are loud. That air of blandness really is the film’s greatest surprise, given all the mugging and the shouting it does, but there’s never anything actually worth all the noise. Particularly bad are the attempts at aiming for serious emotional beats among all the terrible jokes, with little visible effort spent on actually preparing these emotional shifts, leaving the tear-jerking moments as artefacts from a very different film.

Honestly, I can’t imagine what went wrong here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Night Comes for Us (2018)

Indonesian Ito (Joe Taslim) has been working for the Chinese Triads as an international enforcer for three years now. But when he and his men are tasked with massacring a whole village, something in him changes, and he can’t bring himself to kill the last survivor, the little girl Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez). Instead, he kills his own men and flees with Reina to his native Jakarta, where he was a gang leader before he and his protégé Arian (Iko Uwais) had to hire themselves out to the triads to protect the rest of the gang.

There’s not much left of Ito’s old life. Most of his former friends and partners are dead or in jail. His former girlfriend Shinta (Salvita Decorte), his old friend and partner Fatih (Abimana Aryasatya), his frenemie Bobby (Zack Lee) and Fatih’s nephew Wisnu (Dimas Anggara) are really what’s left of his past relations. Ito’s not happy with getting them involved in his troubles, but he believes he needs all the help he can get to come up with enough money and resources to bring him and Reina out of the triads’ reach. For of course, the triads don’t take to Ito’s betrayal kindly, and have sent a veritable horde out to kill him and the little girl. Among them is Arian who doesn’t seem to be completely on board with the project.

Things are further complicated by the fact that the triads are using their search for Ito as an excuse to move in on Jakarta, eventually offering the local crown to Arian if he is willing to betray his old friends. Also involved is a nameless government killer (Julie Estelle), who actually may be on Ito’s side.

I’m pretty sure that once the production of Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us was over and done with, there was no stage blood left in Jakarta, for the film is an unrelenting series of incredibly bloody action sequences. There’s a bit of obviously Heroic Bloodshed inspired personal business between men involved too, but the emphasis here is really on inspired on-screen violence that attempts to be as gritty and icky as the film can get away with – which is apparently a lot when you can get a deal with Netflix for distribution outside of Indonesia.

Tonally, the action is focused on that most tricky kind of choreography: creating fights that look and feel brutal and realistic, sloppy and inelegant like real fights do (probably), with a side note of desperation. Tijahjanto’s direction is tight, with a preference for action taking place in enclosed spaces that add a dimension of claustrophobia to the physical threat and the general violent insanity going around. The film also does what the more hyperviolently gritty side of action and martial arts cinema seldom does (because the hyperviolence makes this sort of thing rather difficult), defining characters through their fighting styles more than by the things they say: so Ito’s a brutal street fighter who just takes hits in the face and is willing to use just about anything to kill you, the government operator is controlled and efficient even when losing a finger or two, Bobby’s an insane berserker, and Arian’s at once elegant, and treacherous, and so on.

Inside of its basic tenet of being as brutal as possible, the film’s action is surprisingly diverse, with a whole load of fighting styles, action styles, and set piece ideas that never really repeat themselves beyond the good guys (good by default, because the bad guys are definitely even worse) being outnumbered, so the film’s action never becomes monotonous despite being quite so unrelenting. The whole blood and guts style of the affair - Tjahjanto’s experience in gory horror is always visible – puts this in great contrast to the much more antiseptic mass violence in something like the John Wick films that go for the videogame approach to bloody violence that may like a bit of gore, but prefers to ignore how messy, unpredictable and downright unpleasant all this bloody murder and human bodies are. Which isn’t to say that The Night Comes for Us is pretending to be more or deeper than it actually is, it’s just curiously human for a film this brutal.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

In short: Daughter of the Wolf (2019)

Just after Clair Hamilton (Gina Carano) has returned home from military service to bury her father and take care of her estranged teenage son Charlie (Anton Gillis-Adelman), Charlie is kidnapped. The kidnappers do ask for a ransom consisting of basically all the money Clair has, but they still plan on selling Charlie off to someone even if they get the money. Their leader, only known as Father (Richard Dreyfuss, of all people now also in a low budget direct to home video career phase) we will learn during the course of the movie, has some rather personal reasons for the whole affair, as well as a pretty perverse sense of morality.

Fortunately for Charlie, Clair is well up for hunting a bunch of criminals through the snowy mountains, even teaming up with one among their number (Brendan Fehr) who has a bit of a conscience as well as the kind of tragic backstory that lends itself to a bout of redemptive action. There’s also a wolf pack hanging around the borders of the narrative, threatening, attacking, and sometimes helping, sometimes feeling like real animals, sometimes as if the film would turn them into creatures of myth any scene now.

David Hackl’s Daughter of the Wolf is a somewhat successful entry into the survivalist thriller sweepstakes, often making good use of the snowy woods of British Columbia and the action movie heroine talents of Gina Carano (who could kick your ass in real life, so is rather plausible kicking fictional ass). Carano’s a decent actress by now when she doesn’t shoot someone, too, so there’s never the feeling the whole film’s point is only about the violence. Of course, while it does have a somewhat thoughtful manner, and does put more than a little effort into building up the screwed up family values of Father, as well as giving most characters who would be only canon fodder in other films a bit of a personality and background, the characters are still very much stock types going through stock situations. And even though Hackl does a good job with action as well as dialogue scenes (not something to be taken for granted in the low budget action and thriller bracket), he doesn’t exactly make the material sing or feel real. It’s a workmanlike job, I suppose, elevated by Carano, Dreyfuss and the landscape to be never less than entertaining.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Stree (2018)

Warning: I am going to spoil a bit of the film’s backstory!

The town of Chanderi in Bhopal is cursed. Once a year, during a local(?) festival, a female spirit the town’s inhabitants only refer to as “Stree” – The Woman – roams the streets at night attacking and abducting young men who are out and about on their own, leaving behind nothing but their clothes. At least there’s an easy way to keep one’s home safe from ghostly visits. One simply has to write “O Woman, come tomorrow” on the wall of one’s house, and the apparently very polite ghost isn’t going to bother one. So it should be easy enough keeping the town’s young men safe for four nights a year, but as it goes, the ghost does find rather a lot of victims.

It certainly doesn’t help that there are notorious sceptics like young tailor savant Vicky (Rajkummar Rao) around. Vicky doesn’t believe in the ghost at all. Though, to be fair to the guy, he is rather more involved with romancing a mysterious, apparently nameless woman (Shraddha Kapoor), who does ask increasingly curious things of him. So curious, in fact, that his two bosom buddies Bittu (Aparshakti Khurana) and Jaana (Abhishek Banerjee) begin to suspect their friend’s beloved might be The Woman herself.

Horror comedies are a problematic proposition on the best of days, and I often have problems with the humour in Hindi movies (that’s not necessarily the humour’s fault, mind you, but rather mine), so I was very pleasantly surprised by Amar Kaushik’s Stree. As a horror comedy, Stree avoids all of the main mistakes bad entries into the genre tend to make, so the film does not use its supernatural menace for any slapstick business, having a bit of fun with the folklore surrounding her but always keeping her as an actual menace when she appears. Thanks to that, there are actual stakes for the protagonists.

I also found myself rather liking the particular version of the romantic fool the film presents, the film never overdoing it with the romantic part of the character nor the foolishness. Vicky’s a sweet idiot, and it’s certainly no surprise that he’d fall for our mysterious nameless woman. Pleasantly enough, once we get to know her a little, the good lady does turn out not to be just mysterious (the kind of mystery a sequel will probably solve) but also mildly bad-ass, and not the least bit of a damsel.

And, you know, a lot of the jokes here may not be terribly deep, but they are funny, usually character and situation based (subtitles don’t really do wordplay), and are well-timed. Which parallels the spooky bits of the film, none of whom will actually frighten anyone (I very much hope) but that do feel pleasantly spooky. The film’s worst part are the small handful of musical numbers, curiously enough for a Bollywood movie, which lack in charm and visual imagination despite Kaushik demonstrating he’s quite capable of showing both quite a bit otherwise.

All this alone would make for a pleasant horror comedy, but there’s also a mildly subversive subtext involved that adds some spice to the proceedings. The ghost, you see, belongs to a prostitute (about as low on the Indian class ladder as you can get) who is rightfully angry for an historical evil committed against her and her one true love, so our heroes do in the end not destroy her, but take away her power to do evil, while acknowledging the evil committed towards her. They make amends for the sins of the past, and turn the thing that haunted their town into its supernatural protector in the end. And wouldn’t you know it, the prophesied chosen one to bring this sort of thing about must – among other things – be the son of a prostitute himself, which is not at all the sort of thing you’d expect in a Hindi mainstream movie like this (and would be hard pressed to find in any mainstream western movies, when it comes to that). But then, Stree also tends to be rather playful when it comes to gender roles, not doing any deep deconstructions but clearly approaching the whole “man” and “woman” thing and their roles in a genre movie with a degree of freedom, so it has form with this sort of thing.

All of which adds a further very likeable dimension to a film I found pretty likeable already, turning Stree into a more than pleasant horror comedy.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Three Films Make A Post: Evil Gets Rebooted

Aurora (2018): Yam Laranas’s horror film about coastal inn keeper Leana (Anne Curtis) having to cope with a terrible ship catastrophe on a reef just outside her inn, and getting drawn into a desperate attempt tot salvage the corpses the coast guard pretends aren’t there, is an interesting film in the way it mixes elements of a very serious drama about poverty and how the ship catastrophe ripples out into causing all kinds of personal catastrophes for Leana (and others) with very matter of fact, and somewhat generic South East Asian ghost movie tropes. The film’s at its best when it focuses on the former elements, given Curtis – an actress with a pretty broad range – many an opportunity to shine. The most effective horror moments are really those that concern themselves with either the physicality of death or simply the mass of the dead on Leana’s doorstep; the more typically generic parts of the film are perfectly competent, but not more.

Through Black Spruce (2018): Speaking of genre films about poverty that are at their best whenever they are not focussing on the standard genre tropes, Don McKellar’s film concerns Cree woman Annie Bird (Tanaya Beatty in a performance that’s as complicated as the character she’s playing under a veneer of straightforwardness that’s clearly armour) travelling to Toronto on the trace of her missing twin sister, and the travails of her uncle Will (Brandon Oakes) coping with nasty people at home. It’s a slow, somewhat ponderous film, much more interested in drawing a portray of its First Nation characters by watching them closely in undramatic moments, interactions that breathe the frustration of being poor, brown, pushed to the side, and accepted as a symbol and a thing rather than a person, than in hitting the standard plot beats in the standard moments. Consequently, while there’s nothing wrong with the film’s more typically thrilling scenes, they do seem to distract from its actual strengths sometimes.

10 to Midnight (1983): For my taste, this is one of the lesser movies featuring Charles Bronson that J. Lee Thompson churned out. But then, my tolerance for scenes of policemen whining about the horror of having to respect the law they are supposedly protecting and the usual nonsense about the insanity defence as an easy out is pretty damn low. To be fair, the film does put some effort into giving Bronson an actual human motivation for faking evidence for once. What the film’s motivation for its desperately slow middle part is, I can’t really figure out, though.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Past Misdeeds: The Ghoul (1975)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Warning: this can't help but contain some structural spoilers and more knowledge about the fate of one or two characters than some readers may wish to have.

It's the more or less roaring twenties somewhere in England. Members of a party of (movie)-young upperclass people decide that a little car race would be a fun distraction, or rather, Daphne (Veronica Carlson), the most courageous of the bunch does and gets her friends Geoffrey (Ian McCulloch), Billy (Stewart Bevan), and Billy's sister Angela (Alexandra Bastedo) to indulge her. Soon, two adorable cars are racing through the increasingly foggy countryside, though Daphne and Billy (Daphne's driving, of course) are soon lost way out in front of their friends, because Angela has Geoffrey park for a bit so she can vomit. Yes, she's going to be that kind of heroine.

Daphne and Billy end up somewhere in the deepest, darkest part of the countryside, without fuel. Because she's that kind of girl, Daphne doesn't wait out Billy's aimless tromp in search of the 20's middle of nowhere British version of a gas station. First, she stumbles into the arms of a creepy guy named Tom (a young John Hurt, effectively aiming for the kind of creepiness Klaus Kinski specialized in when doing horror, krimi, etc) who'd really rather keep her in his creepy guy hut, but after a well-applied knee to the groin, she comes upon the manor of the former priest Dr. Lawrence (Peter Cushing). At first, Lawrence, who lives alone with his Indian housekeeper Ayah (Gwen "Secretly Hindu" Watford) and a gardener who will later turn out to be Tom, seems eminently helpful and friendly, insisting on Daphne staying at least until the dangerous fog has lifted like a sweet, if sad, old gentleman.

The longer Daphne stays, the clearer it becomes to her that something is not right at all in the mansion - and she doesn't even know that Tom will murder Billy rather sooner than later. Lawrence tells her a rather disturbing story about himself, his son, and his late wife becoming part of a depraved (says he) cult in India, which doesn't seem to have ended so well for anyone involved. Ayah acts secretive and threatening, and really, it seems as if Lawrence doesn't want his young guest to leave at all. It's all enough to even make a rather worldly and tough young woman like Daphne uncomfortable. But will she be uncomfortable enough to safe her from the horrible (or was it horribly obvious?) secret hidden in the attic?

For my tastes, Tyburn Production's The Ghoul is a rather underrated film. At least, I think it is much better than general opinion made me suspect it to be. My love for the Hammer movies Tyburn's owner Kevin Francis (son of Freddie, who directed The Ghoul) clearly adored may influence my opinion there a bit, of course, and it surely doesn't hurt the film that it was directed by an old Hammer hand in an atmospheric style quite close to the cheaper side of Hammer's films, written by an old and rather important Hammer player in Anthony Hinds, and features the great (not just) Hammer star Peter Cushing. However, even seen without nostalgic glasses - and I have seen too many bad films connected to the people involved to have any illusions concerning their perfection - I think the film has quite a bit going for it, certainly enough to make it well worth the effort tracking it down and the time watching it (repeatedly, if you're me).

One of the film's main attractions is clearly the fine acting ensemble. As already mentioned, John Hurt does an excellent Klaus Kinski impression while also later using the opportunity the script gives him to lift the mask of the creepy crazy guy for a scene or two and give some hints about why he is the creepy crazy person he is. I hardly think it's an accident it's connected to the Great War in a film where nearly everything the characters say or do seems influenced (perhaps caused) by it or by the British colonial past, as in the case of Cushing's Lawrence.

Cushing's performance for its part feels nearly painfully emotional to me. Cushing quite obviously puts some of the very real pain about the loss of his own wife into the role of Lawrence, which at times makes for a rather uncomfortable watch in the context of what is a lurid (in an at least partly old-fashioned way) horror movie in a tradition that doesn't usually involve feelings this raw. Apart from this aspect, Cushing provides Lawrence with a perfect mixture of dignity, raw nerviness and sadness that alone would make The Ghoul well worth watching.

Veronica Carlson's Daphne is a rather surprising female character for a film that models itself on the Hammer tradition in that she is an actual character with the same complexity and agency as the male characters possess, or really, more of it than at least her peers Billy and Geoffrey show. Not that any of it saves her, of course, but where this could usually quite easily be interpreted as Daphne being punished for her transgression of not knowing a woman's supposed place, The Ghoul turns out to be rather more of a mid-70s movie than you'd expect, for Geoffrey, who would be the nominal romantic lead in an actual Hammer movie (and still boring as hell) ends up just as badly as Daphne does - after the film gives him twenty minutes or so to give off ex-military upperclass officer bluster that very pointedly turns out to be no help at all in the end.

Angela, the film's mandatory survivor, may be as far away from a final girl as is imaginable. Consequently she doesn't find any hidden inner strength to help her survive in the end but is just lucky that a drama that begun a long time ago just picks a good moment to finally end. The film makes it quite clear this isn't godly intervention caused by Angela's virtue but sheer luck on her part, putting The Ghoul firmly into the field of 70s horror, where following society's rules won't save you.

The Ghoul is rather clever that way, for while it has obvious aspirations at being a Hammer-style horror film it actually works more as a collision of classic British Hammer-style horror with a more contemporary approach to terror, the sort of thing I wish Hammer had attempted themselves as consequently as it is done here. There are even several lines where Cushing states that these "modern times" (nominally the 20s) are rather confusing for him. One can't help but think Francis and Hinds felt the same but decided (for once) to build this confusion into the heart of their film.

And while the plot itself, with its not unproblematic mixture of post-colonial guilt and pulpy ideas about India, and its rather slow pace, might be The Ghoul's big weakness, Hinds does another interesting thing with the plotting, namely using his old Hammer-colleague Jimmy Sangster's favourite plotting trick taken from Psycho where a film's seeming protagonist turns out to not live through its first half. Which would, now that I think about it, then make Geoffrey the private detective, but I might be reading too much into it here.

In any case, The Ghoul is a film very much worth anyone's time, full of interesting ideas, moody moments, and the kind of luridness that must have looked rather old-fashioned in 1975 but can be much easier appreciated for what it is now, when the more contemporary luridness of 1975 looks just as old-fashioned, colliding with an ideological approach very much of its time.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

In short: Terrifier (2016)

Tara (Jenna Kanell) and her friend Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) are having a rather bad Halloween night when they encounter a creepy clown who is apparently called Art (David Howard Thornton). For Art is one of those crazy killer clowns (not from outer space) urban legends warn so much about, and he’s got his eye on Tara.

Perhaps Tara’s sister Victoria (Samantha Scaffidi) will come to the rescue?

Plot-wise, Damien Leone’s Terrifier is about as simple as things come. “Killer clown stalks and slashes a handful of characters mostly through one dilapidated building” is a simple set-up even for a slasher (most of which at least feature some backstory), and the film really isn’t interested in doing more than broad-stroke characterization. That does of course also mean it doesn’t fall into the trap of featuring forty minutes of supposed characterization that doesn’t elevate anyone above the slut/jock/etc level, a problem you’ll find in quite a few classic slashers, and provides the film with the opportunity to focus on the more watchable basics of the slasher film.

The film does do a couple of uncommon things with its very standard 80s slasher set-up: Terrifier doesn’t have a proper final girl but shifts protagonists so that really anyone’s a possible survivor or victim, cleverly undermining the one thing that’s absolutely certain in slashers apart from the gore. There are a couple of other surprising shifts from the way slashers usually operate too, but I don’t really want to spoil those for the first time viewer, and will just say that I chuckled when those scenes came up; anyone with even the slightest bit of slasher experience will know which bits I mean.

The gore’s of the gloopy, not terribly realistic sort that’s much more fun to watch than the “realistic” style, providing some neat moments of pleasant ickiness. Leone actually turns out to be too good a director to fixate on the gore, anyway, and while the film certainly is bloody enough to annoy or disturb certain people, there are quite a few accomplished suspense sequences too, as well as a couple of scenes that clearly enjoy going for the grotesque, as befits a film whose killer clown wears a natty little hat.

Speaking of clowns, Thornton is a nicely expressive creepy killer clown actor, filling the simple yet effective make-up and costume he inhabits with an air of menace as well as a sense of unpredictability.

So, if you only want to watch one killer clown movie this week, make it this one.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Cutthroat Island (1995)

Lady pirate (it says so on her wanted poster) Morgan Adams (Geena Davis) is having a bit of a hard yet adventurous time. Her (gentleman?) pirate captain father is murdered by his own brother, notoriously sadistic (so definitely non-gentleman) pirate Dawg Brown (Frank Langella, not Christopher Lloyd), and dies in her arms. Dear Dad has left Morgan something rather interesting, though, one of three parts of a treasure map leading to untold riches tattooed right onto his head. The two other parts are in the hands of daddy’s brothers, so Morgan will have to fight Dawg rather sooner than later, if she wants to acquire the treasure as well as her vengeance, that is.

Other problems coming up are her decided lack of reading and specifically Latin – solved by stealing the obligatory charming rogue (Matthew Modine) out of slavery – as well as a rather mutinous crew, a corrupt governor and his troops, betrayal, and all the special dangers of your typical treasure island.

Married couple Renny Harlin and Geena Davis were not terribly lucky when it came to get their own production firm up and running, losing quite a bit of money in the endeavour of DeLaurentiis style hubris at hand. Despite the critical drubbings it received beside the commercial one, I actually rather like Cutthroat Island, at least looked at from today’s perspective. It’s a bit of a curious film, trying to tell a swashbuckler style tale not with the flash and elegance of the swashbuckler but in the language Harlin as a director spoke best, that of 90s excessive mainstream action movies, a genre nobody ever confused as being elegant; and all the flash it has, it gets out of explosions and the sort of loudness one can find obnoxious.

So historically minded mainstream film critics were bound to dislike the movie automatically, for the class is and was as a rule unable to resist the opportunity to write about how a film doesn’t live up to the one they had in their heads beforehand instead of meeting it on its own territory.

And sure, as a swashbuckler, the film isn’t terribly good, what with its general lack of swashbuckling – even the fencing and the swinging on candelabras has the heft and the bombast of  90s action movies and never suggests anything Errol Flynn might have been involved with – the only intermittently witty writing, and Harlin’s love for explosions.

However, watching it as a mid 90’s Harlin movie (what’s more US mainstream action than that?), I found myself enjoying the film quite a bit. Like Harlin, I rather like explosions, particularly ones shot as enthusiastically as the ones in this film, and I have a lot of time for the way Cutthroat Island takes the elements of the classic swashbuckler and turns them into a loud and a bit crass 90s action movie spectacle, or really, a series of spectacles, because the film would really rather like its audience not to catch a breath and think about anything of the beautiful nonsense going on.

Also like Harlin (I very much hope), I have a very soft spot for Geena Davis’s short phase as an action heroine. She might not be the physically most convincing female badass but makes up for that with throwing herself (and her stunt double) into the action scenes, the one-liners (horrible highlight is certainly “Bad dawg!”), and the swagger. And oh, does she swagger. Plus, in the mid-90s, mainstream cinema had even fewer female action heroines than there are today, so simply watching her beat up men, and do the Die Hard thing of getting ever bloodier and bloodied yet still coming out on top in her fights in the end, would be pretty enjoyable in itself, even if the film’s very diverse series of action sequences were less fun. Modine as the male romantic lead does stuff, too, but this is really Davis’s show, and he’s the support. And isn’t that just lovely, too?

Of course, it would have been nice if the film had found a bit more time to flesh out its characters beyond one character trait (though Langella does his one character trait as fantastic as Davis hers, so there’s that), or get up to a more convincing romance, but then, these aren’t really things big loud US action movies were made for, so I’m fine with the situation.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

In short: Man on Fire (2004)

Creasy (Denzel Washington), an alcoholic ex-CIA killer with the mandatory traumatic past (therefore the alcohol) is hired to protect Lupita (Dakota Fanning), the child of US company exec Samuel (Marc Anthony) and his wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell). Despite there having been a rash of kidnappings of the children of executives of US companies in Mexico like Samuel, he really hires Creasy because he comes cheaply, and because Creasy’s old murder buddy Paul Rayburn (Christopher Walken) pushes the guy recommending people to Samuel a bit in Creasy’s direction.

After a bit of the expected “PTSD suffering guy can’t let anyone into his heart anymore” shenanigans, Creasy falls in replacement father love with Lupita (who, as played by Fanning, really is a particularly nice kid), so when she is kidnapped and apparently killed, he does of course go on a murderous rampage, killing his way up the long, long totem pole to the people responsible for her death.

At first, Tony Scott’s Man on Fire, written by Brian Helgeland, is a surprisingly effective retelling of the ole tale of a shut-off man of violence reminded of his humanity by a child, and then falling back into his old ways again to protect/save her. After some minutes of the kind of noisy visual bullshit typical of late period Scott, even the director seems to calm down a little about the whole thing, giving his excellent performers enough space to breathe life into the very clichéd set-up and even – gasp – using his love for all kinds of annoying technical tricks to enhance instead of destroy what the actors are trying to do. Why, for once in a Tony Scott movie, I even felt emotions coming on.

Alas, once the film gets going with Creasy murdering his way through the supporting cast, all of this stops. Scott loses himself, Washington’s performance and my attention through the use of all the phony visual nonsense he so dearly loved in this part of his career. So there’s an incessant barrage of whoosh-cutting, pointless superimposition of Washington’s face over Washington’s face (honestly, I have no idea why), a camera that randomly jitters and jerks, jumpy editing, micro-zooms, stutter and all imaginable kinds of pointless visual graft, all, I assume in service of keeping the audience awake through way too many scenes of Creasy torturing and murdering characters in various ways. As my imaginary readers know, I’m not exactly bothered by tasteless violence, but rather by the directorial assumption that this sort of thing used as much as in this film will somehow shock a viewer.

In fact, having a murder machine murder their way through personality-less goons can only keep one’s interest up when it is either very well staged (which is impossible with all actual action buried under all of Scott’s tacky direction ticks), carries some interesting resonance, or actually does something else needed for the film. In Man on Fire’s case, all the killing ever does is make the film way too long, until what should be a tight little 90 minute thriller becomes tedious two and a half hours of nothing but Scott editing into your face, which isn’t just an unpleasant time, but also time of your life you won’t ever get back.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Following the events of the last John Wick, our hero, sensitive mass murderer John Wick (Keanu Reeves, upon whose greatness as a person I am now apparently bound by law to sing an ode, even though he’s still not much of an actor, which seems to be rather more relevant to me when talking about him, you know, acting) is on the run, hunted by the same goofy cabal/cult running the international underworld he murdered oh so many people for. If the end of the second John Wick suggested to you that John has a plan to somehow fight back against The High Table, during the course of the film you’ll learn that he really hasn’t one apart from seeking the overlord of his now-enemies to…beg him to take him back in. Whoa.

On the plus side, on his way to there (and back again), dear John is meeting up with various old and new acquaintances (among them Halle Berry doing quite a bit of dog-based gun fu) and killing a whole lot of people in front of very sexy looking backgrounds.

So yeah, if you expected the actual story of Chad Stahelski’s third John Wick movie to go anywhere, you might very well be disappointed on finding the whole plot of this third film could very well have been squeezed into the first half hour of the fourth John Wick film, for all the way it moves the not-so epic story forward. It sure doesn’t help the plot that John is quite so much of a one-trick pony, never actually learning anything, never really changing, and so when he actually tries something different, he seems to make his new choices at random. People (and I am sometimes one of them) make fun of automatic Hollywood character arcs often enough, but for John Wick as a character, that would be an actual improvement.

However, while not much of actual import happens (John killing hordes of people is by now such a given pretending it might mean anything is preposterous), the film goes further in its direct predecessor’s attempts at building a cartoonishly-goofy yet also irresistibly baroque world made out of conspiracy theory, comic book ideas about organized crime that make the Kingpin’s organization seem plausible in comparison, and often eye-popping aesthetics. I do sometimes wish the film would use this world for more than creating mere backgrounds for its fights as if it were a level-bound videogame, but them’s the breaks.

Speaking of fights, the action sequences are of course the actual reason for the movie to exist, and for the most part, they do not disappoint, the series by now having progressed to a stage where animal-loving John inducing a horse to back-kick his enemies to death seems perfectly logical for the world it takes place in. It’s obviously silly as hell – I’m expecting he’s going to throw adorable killer puppies at his enemies in the next film – but presented with so much verve – often style, too – that it’s pretty difficult to not be on board with this sort of thing. Also damn great are Halle Berry’s dog kennel fighting style, and all kinds of absurd flourishes in nearly every action scene. The least impressive of them is probably the grand finale that sees John fight against a scenery-chewing Mark Dacascos, which depends a bit too much on an audience not noticing how awkward and stiff Reeves looks when compared to his sparring partner. But hey, at least John has been shot, beaten and cut so much at this stage, his slowing down and doing martial arts like Keanu Reeves does make some sense.

So, while John Wick 3: Electric Boogaloo is not quite as great fun as the second film, it’s also not the annoying waste of time the first one was, and still a very entertaining bit of movie videogame violence. Perhaps the fourth John Wick film will even get around to having a plot?

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Three Films Make A Post: He's not just in your mind...he's in your house.

The Vagrant (1992): This is the second and final feature film special effects guy Chris Walas directed, and, despite being a marginal improvement on his “sequel” to Cronenberg’s version of The Fly, if only by virtue on not pissing on a classic, it’s really no surprise to me his directing career didn’t go anywhere. Though, to be fair, Walas, didn’t write the script (that was Richard Jefferies), so it’s not exactly his fault that this supposed horror comedy only ever aims for the most obvious joke and eschews the social satire its set-up (Yuppie versus possibly imaginary vagrant! Intense homeownership!) suggests, instead playing out like a long, long, looooong episode of the “Tales from the Crypt” show. Walas’s direction, while certainly professional enough, doesn’t add anything of note, so it’s the job of Bill Paxton’s enthusiastic (if again puddle-shallow but what is he supposed to do, re-write the script?) performance to keep an audience awake to the end.

The Lightning Incident (1991): This TV movie by Michael Switzer featuring a cult that really needs to acquire and sacrifice our heroine’s (Nancy McKeon) baby for reasons of post-colonial shenanigans, isn’t terribly great either. A couple of times, it hits upon an effective moment or two – usually involving dream visions or very standard conspiracy tropes done alright - but the pacing is draggy and the filmmaking not terribly involving. Even though there’s a lot of material in the basic plot to make an interesting little horror film about colonialism featuring a heroine who is actually closer connected to the people she has to fight off than she knows and/or children paying for past sins of their parents, in practice, the whole she-bang sits awkwardly between classic pulp racism and a more complex treatment of the questions its script begs. The heavy hints of the film having ambitions on being a less exciting Rosemary’s Baby don’t help.

Rumpelstiltskin (1995): Finishing today’s trilogy of not terribly great 90s horror films is this example by Mark Jones, that finds a revived Rumpelstiltskin (Max Grodénchik) also doing some baby stealing, though in this case, to acquire a soul. Fighting against Rumps are the baby’s mother (Kim Johnston Ulrich) and the most horrible man alive (one Tommy Blaze). To nobody’s surprise, this is exactly the kind of movie you’d expect, with a bog-standard (fairy-tale background or not) quipping 90s supernatural horror villain in an okayish monster suit, murdering people with okayish special effects while doing nothing exciting whatsoever. Don’t even ask questions like how Rumps learned all the stuff about 90s pop culture he never stops referencing when he was transformed into a rock for the last thousand years, or how someone making a tearful wish in the presence of his rock is entering into a pact that sells a baby soul to him, or what the hell a Tommy Blaze is – nobody involved in this part of 90s horror ever cared about these kinds of questions, because all they were interested in were the quips (which are all horrible) and the effects (which won’t turn anyone’s head). Making an actual movie was just too much effort in the wild 90s world of Leprechauns, Wishmasters (yes, I know, there’s one good Wishmaster film) and Rumpelstiltskins.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Past Misdeeds: Sci-fighters (1996)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

It's the far-flung future of 2009, and what a time it is. What we see of the cities looks like Blade Runner lite, there's a high security prison on the moon (so I assume the economy's booming), and people carry little personal electronics devices quite like smart phones without the phone part around. Oh, and Earth has been hanging under a cloud of dust for nearly three months now, leading to an eternal night the locals call Econight, perhaps because The Eternal Darkness was already taken.

Anyway, back on the moon crazy murderer and rapist Adrian Dunn (Billy Drago) decides to infect himself with a mysterious (yes, of course it's alien) virus that seemingly kills him. Unfortunately, Adrian isn't quite as dead as people think he is, so once his body has been returned to his native Boston in a way one might find rather unhygienic and left lying around in the local spaceport, he rises from the dead quite exactly like Jesus, if Jesus had been an increasingly leaky, muttering and physically and mentally quite appalling Billy Drago; so, depending on your favourite parts of the New Testament, perhaps not quite like Jesus.

The newly reborn Adrian continues to do what he loves best, namely going around killing men and raping women in a city that doesn't seem to care all that much. Well, police detective - with a "black badge" that makes him some kind of institutionally condoned version of Dirty Harry or a comparatively harmless version of Judge Dredd - Cameron Grayson (Roddy Piper) cares once he realizes there's a dead virally active murderer around, particularly because he has very personal reasons to hate Adrian. In his quest to catch and preferably kill Adrian, and postpone what might very well turn out to be a viral doomsday, Grayson teams up with virologist Dr. Kirbie Younger (Jayne Heitmeyer) and her mentor Dr. Washington (Tyrone Benskin). Given the surprising powers of not-dying-from-getting-shot and leaking icky fluids Adrian develops, the shape Adrian's victims are in after a while, and the generally fucked-up state of the world he's living in, Grayson will need all the help he can get.

As far as direct-to-video SF/action/horror films go, Peter Svatek's Sci-fighters (whose title of course has sod all to do with the film it belongs to) is really rather good. Sure, the production design is mostly a much cheaper version of Blade Runner's, the world building isn't exactly deeply thought through, and the plotting is very much as archetypal an example of low budget SF/action with added body horror ickiness as you'll find, but Svatek's execution of the whole affair is much better than it needs to be.

It does - of course - help the film a lot that its four larger characters are played by Piper, Drago, Heitmeyer and Benskin who all had been around the low budget movie block for quite some time when this was made, and who all bring charisma and professionalism to roles that could in other hands have turned out pretty boring instead of somewhat sympathetic and slightly interesting. It's certainly no surprise that Drago knows how to chew scenery, or how to go into melodramatic bodily contortions when an infection with an alien virus calls for it (he does that sort of thing every day), but it's as much of a pleasure to watch here as it ever is; as is Piper's ability to keep his character vaguely sympathetic despite him being a bit of a prick.

Mark Sevi's script is sharing some responsibility for this general lack of suckiness too, for it does use the clichés it's working with sometimes quite well. The shared background between Adrian and Grayson is a smidgen more interesting and complicated than usual in these cases, and because its details beyond the most obvious ones are disclosed slowly over the course of the movie, it stays vaguely interesting throughout. Even the obligatory romance between Grayson and Kirbie is more interesting than these things usually are, with a slightly more grown-up idea of how damaged people like Grayson relate romantically. Why, the film even doesn't put the mandatory sex scene in where it would usually be placed, and ends the romance sub-plot at an open yet not all that hopeful point. In this regard, it's also rather interesting which character it is in the end who kills off Adrian, and who it isn't; let's just say it isn't "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.

Sevi's script does quite a bit more of this kind of thing, keeping inside the lines of low budget genre filmmaking of its day and age yet showing some thought, even some ideas of its own. I found myself particularly impressed by the way the film handles all that raping without giving the deeply unpleasant impression a lot of low budget films of all genres fall into - probably seldom on purpose, to be fair - that rape is kinda hot (and the best way to show breasts in a movie). In Sci-fighters, rape and rapists are clearly vile, an idea that is of course cemented further by Drago's performance and physical changes, as well as by the whole alien, terraforming virus angle that puts extra emphasis on rape as something unnatural and inhuman. This does of course also carry a metaphorical echo of the way many raped women feel afterwards, though I'm not too sure the film is having this resonance on purpose and not just by a more or less “happy” accident.

On the other hand, the film also has the heart to include little moments that suggest Adrian isn't as easily filed away as a monster (that is, something beyond and below humanity) than as a twisted and broken human being; if you ask me, that's a rather more horrifying thought than the completely evil Other could ever be.

Of course, all these slightly more clever bits and pieces which I'm not even sure are in the film on purpose are all just minor parts in a rather generic, competently filmed piece of SF action horror (a sub-genre that should have its own name), and are the kind of thing you realize more once you start thinking about a movie than when you're actually watching it. That's as it should be, for while the kind of film I (and I suspect anyone reading this) spend most of my time with is often rather more clever than people not involved in the joys of low budget genre films assume, a film like Sci-fighters lives and dies on its ability to deliver cheap thrills. Fortunately, it's good at that, too.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

In short: The Urban Legend of Sugisawa Village (2014)

aka The Urban Legend on a Village

Original title: Sugisawa Mura Toshi Densetsu

Three young men follow on the traces of a popular Japanese urban legend about a village in Aomori prefecture that disappeared from the maps after a villager murdered the rest of the population in a rather impressive killing spree. If you want more details about the urban legend itself, make your way here.

The guys actually manage to find Sugisawa village, but something the film will only explain much later happens, and only one of them returns home, bloodied and panicked and clearly dragging something supernatural with him. He tries to convince the sister of one of the lost men as well as another woman whose exact connection to the rest (girlfriend? friend?) never becomes quite clear to go to the rescue. Which might just turn out to be a horrible idea.

Directed by Yasutake Torii (if we do believe the IMDb when it comes to rather obscure Japanese productions), The Urban Legend is not exactly the sort of thing many people will go out looking for. Well, one of the female cast members is apparently an idol, so there will be a couple of fans coming in from that direction, but otherwise, the film is clearly cheap, slow, and will not be terribly exciting for most viewers. To get something out of its rather oblique storytelling, it does help to know the urban legend it is working from; a bit – well, actually rather a lot - of patience certainly helps too.

Armed with both of these things, I found myself somewhat enjoying some parts of the film. The obliqueness of the storytelling certainly adds a feeling of mystery (and probably confusion) to the whole affair, and makes what otherwise would probably too straightforward a tale a bit more interesting. The sound design with the incessant fake howling of fake wind in the background is cheap yet effective. From time to time, the director hits on a shot or two that’s actually creepy, and the – most probably budget-conscious – decision to show the reaction shots of actors to most of the supernatural happenings more than what disturbs them for most of the running time is not without its merits either.

Which is actually a bit more than I expected from the film going in, but I did enter with particularly low expectations, so make of this what you wish.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

Ireland in the 50s. Her father sends unhappy little Fiona (Jeni Courtney) to live with her grandparents in a small fishing village on the coast close-by to Roan Inish, a tiny island the family lived on in better times, before the death of Fiona’s mother, before “the Evacuation” (the film never explains the why and wherefore of that), and before the somewhat bizarre death of Fiona’s little brother Jamie on the day of said Evacuation.

Fiona is fascinated by the tales her family and others tell her of her family’s past on Roan Inish, of their supposed familial connection to selkies, and the death of her brother. Fiona herself encounters things that very much fit into a supernatural reading of the world, suggesting the idea that her little brother didn’t die, but was taken because the family left the island. During the course of the film, she will realize that the family’s return to Roan Inish might be all it needs to get her brother back, restoring a way of life clearly bound to make everyone happier to boot.

The great John Sayles’s The Secret of Roan Inish does tell this story rather less dramatically than all of this may sound – this is a family-friendly picture and not folk horror, so the selkies’ activity, even when they do something pretty terrible like kidnap a baby, is treated more as a natural part of the world the characters live in than a source of horror. That’s not a criticism, mind you, for part of what makes Secret of Roan Inish as charming and as interesting as it is, is exactly how willing it is to take on the worldview of its child protagonist, looking at the world – and here, a selkie is just as much part of the natural world as is a fish - with wonder rather than terror. Fiona, we are told, is not a child to frighten easily, after all.

Typical for Sayles, quite a bit of the film’s running time is taken up by flashbacks to (or should that be called enactments of?) the various stories about her family and their past Fiona is told. In a Sayles film, identity, and understanding of the past and what we call home and community, is often constructed out of the bits and pieces of stories, people becoming what they are not just through experience but through the way others in their community share their own experiences with them. Of course, Sayles is too intelligent a writer to not understand the vagaries of reconstructing Truth out of Memory but he also realizes that there’s a difference between historical and personal truth, and the truths Fiona discovers are all personal even if they are based on tales of her family history.

Because the film is slow, and quiet, and consciously unspectacular – none of which is meant in any way as a criticism of the film, for this is indeed the way this particular story needs to be told – the director has time and space enough to let the places Fiona inhabits breathe, suggesting a slower tempo, a greater closeness to natural rhythms of life. This, as well as how the film frames the family’s return to their traditional way of life as something equivocally good, could easily turn into a bit of back to nature kitsch (the only kitsch in this one is part of the sometimes really kitsch-Irish score) but Sayles never frames the story that way. This is not a film preaching universal closeness to nature and the past (and selkies) but one about the closeness to nature and the past of this specific group of people, in this specific place and time (this being a Sayles film, specificity when it comes to social and economic structures and pressures is a given anyway, even though this isn’t a film that’s about these things). It’s a rather refreshing approach when looked at in 2019.

Not only the film’s writing is sharp and involving in a quiet unassuming way, though. The film’s visual side (with cinematography by Haskell Wexler) has a calm and unfussy sense of beauty, never going for a postcard view of the Irish coast but seeming to accept the beauty and magic quite matter of factly together with those bits and pieces of the world that aren’t beautiful and magical. The same approach is used when it comes to the depiction of the fantastic aspects of the movie – magic here is just another part of nature, seen and treated with the same eye, yet still evoking a sense of awe and wonder.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

In short: Lethal Weapon (1987)

Having watched quite a few films written by Shane Black in the last couple of months, I very much saved the best for last, and have now come up with my own private theory (not to be confused with my own private Idaho) about him: Black is a much better writer when he has clear constraints to work in. At the early stage of his career when he wrote this, he just couldn’t quite indulge himself as he can do now most of the time - I assume one reason Iron Man 3 is as great as it is because there are constraints in working with Marvel getting in the way of most of Black’s flaws while helping his virtues as a writer - so he couldn’t indulge in endless variations of having characters mumble “life is pain” but instead had to show us this philosophy (as far as it goes) through the actual plot of the film. There’s also no room for his four-letter word based humour to become obnoxious – there are about half the fucks and bad jokes as in a contemporary Black film in Lethal Weapon, but here all those fucks are perfectly placed and not everyone seems to suffer from Tourette’s, and the jokes are expertly timed at moments when levity is actually useful to the film. Also very atypical for the writer today: the third act is as well constructed and as tight as the rest of the film.

Sure, the action scenes are somewhat more constrained in their dimensions then they would quickly become deeper into Black’s career, but they are tightly constructed and effective, and there’s nothing as lazy needed to set them up as to have a little girl crawl into a truck loaded with explosives. Things are still larger than life, mind you, they are just larger than life in a more effective manner. And the action on screen is great,  showing off stunt work as good as you’ll see it in a US film of any era.

But the human parts of the film work just as well, with leads that are just slightly larger than life (it’s a big screen they are on after all) but have human problems; and when their life is pain, it’s much more believable, and actually a bit touching, which always comes as a surprise in an action film. But then, Black’s script really does seem to know most of the time that the macho culture particularly Riggs breathes is not a healthy place to live.

Acting-wise, this is mostly Danny Glover’s show, who projects a plethora of nuances and feelings through posture and slight changes of the timbre of his voice; Mel Gibson clearly has no idea how to play a guy with Riggs’s problems (as if the first Mad Max didn’t exist) but does his best, even though he tends to default to bug eyes and is usually drawn in useable directions by a Glover who clearly is the Carl Weathers to Gibson’s Schwarzenegger, to stay in 80s action cinema that pairs an excellent black actor with a not that excellent white dude.

This thing is a classic of US action cinema for a reason.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Nightmare Cinema (2018)

Warning: if you’re very sensitive about these things, there are spoilers ahead!

One after the other, people find themselves drawn into a cinema where a mysterious projectionist (Mickey Rourke) shows films starring themselves. Cue episodic horror shorts by different directors, until things end on a decidedly unimpressive wrap-up. But then, Rourke is as boring a horror host as you can get for this sort of thing, so any part of the film involving more of him was bound to not be terribly interesting.

We start off with “The Thing in the Woods” by Juan of the Dead director Alejandro Brugués, in which we meet a woman named Samantha (Sarah Elizabeth Walters) who is apparently in the final stages of a slasher movie, having to fight off a slasher named The Welder in semi-comical manner. But is there more going on, and are we indeed witnessing a film from a different horror movie sub-genre than our heroine thinks she’s in? This one’s a fun little beginning to the film, using an audience’s genre-savvy to clever effect, including a fun plot twist as well as oodles of pretty cool gore. Brugués directs with verve and a clear knowledge of the particular sandbox he is playing in, coming up with a segment that feels fun and over the top in all the best ways. Plus, even in the age of the post-post-(post-?)slasher movie, he does come upon about some rather great slasher jokes.

Next up is Joe Dante’s “Mirare”, based on a Richard Christian Matheson short. It concerns the misadventures of Anna (Zarah Mahler) whose doting rich fiancée pays for a bit of plastic surgery to get rid of a somewhat unsightly bit of scar tissue on one of her cheeks. The grandfatherly plastic surgeon on call convinces her that a couple other “improvements” would be nice too. Of course, there are very different ideas of beauty floating around. Just look at Mickey Rourke! Sorry?

This one’s a pretty slight story whose style and twist (if you even want to call it that) could have landed it a room in a 90s horror cable TV anthology. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun little thing, though, and Dante, while certainly not at his best, still has a hand for pacing, the grotesque, and sarcastic if superficial commentary on contemporary social mores.

This is followed by Ryuhei Kitamura’s “Mashit”, and if you’re now asking yourself if it will contain some of the director’s trademark slow motion sword fighting, I can answer this with a resounding yes. How does that fit into a tale about possession at a Catholic orphanage? Well, how else would you stage a sword and knife fight between a priest, a nun and a bunch of possessed children? So yeah, this segment is about as tasteful as [insert grotesque contemporary politician of your choice here], but Kitamura plays the whole thing as such a loving homage to Italian gore horror (even the music is right), I as a lover of that sub-genre myself can’t help but be charmed. Plus, before that anti-money-maker of a scene, the director also includes some moody and creepy moments like the scene where the girl children rise from their beds synchronously, so you can’t really say Kitamura is only going for shock value here. Just once he does, he really does, which I found pretty damn admirable.

The following This Way to Egress by David Slade takes a turn from the awesomely tasteless and weird into the true Weird (and into black and white footage), telling the tale of Helen (Elizabeth Reaser), who – together with her two children – has come to the office of one Dr. Salvadore (Adam Godley) with a rather peculiar problem. She, as well as the audience, sees the people in her surroundings, as well as these surroundings themselves, transforming in disturbing ways that suggest decay and wrongness. Slade does wonders in creating the atmosphere of strangeness needed here, the disturbing feeling of things around you (and Helen) changing just when you aren’t looking, of having drifted into a place where you don’t belong anymore. He is ably supported by Reaser here, who puts a naturalistic face on the reaction to the unnatural, which makes it all the more unnatural.

Alas, Nightmare Cinema does end on “Dead”, the long, tedious and unfocussed tale of Riley (Faly Rakotohavana), who is clinically dead for some minutes after being shot by the same random crazy guy who just killed his parents. Afterwards, Riley does of course see dead people, among them his mum who wants him to die for under explained reasons. But in what I can only assume must have seemed like a good idea for a plot to director/writer Mick Garris, said random crazy guy is still alive and kicking and trying to kill Riley, so there’s also a bit of badly staged suspense added to the whole “I see dead people” shtick. Frankly, like most of what Garris directs, it’s a mess - badly paced, full of details that never come together, showing little visual style and feeling like one of the really bad episodes of one of those 90s cable TV horror shows Dante’s episode reminded me of in a more positive way. Which is no wonder since that really is where Garris comes from. I don’t want to be too down on the man, though, for while I still think he’s a mediocre director at his best, I do absolutely admire his ability to get projects like this (or “Masters of Horror”) off the ground, as well as his quality as an interviewer of genre heroes.

Apart from its final segment and the wrap-around (also directed by Garris, by the way), I had quite a bit of fun with Nightmare Cinema. I’d just recommend to stop the film before the Garris segment, which should leave the prospective viewer fully satisfied with the anthology film.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Three Films Make A Post: They’re watching…They’re waiting…They’re back!!

Visitors of the Night (1995): 1995 was of course peak alien abduction time in (at least US) popular culture, and once the X-Files (still beloved around these parts) opened the flood gates, TV movies like this alien abduction tale directed by TV veteran Jorge Montesi quickly followed. Despite featuring Canada’s finest Stephen McHattie in a smaller role, the film at hand sure is no X-File, but a tepid family melodrama about some nice bourgeois lady and her nice bourgeois kid troubles. Sure, there’s a bit of generational abduction business, and some suited government people are in the game as well, but the way this plays out, the film really rather would avoid the SF/horror trappings completely and go through a lot of family whining and hand-wringing about not understanding one’s teenage daughter. That you might actually use the fantastical elements to strengthen the family melodrama and vice versa seems to be beyond the film’s grasp or imagination, but then, the family melodrama itself isn’t exactly sharply written, either, so what does one expect?

Wretch (2018): How much anyone will get out of this very indie little horror movie by Brian Cunningham about the consequences an encounter with a supernatural entity during a druggy night in the woods has for three friends, will certainly have something to do with one’s willingness to just let a film unfold slowly and in its own way and pace. At first, the whole thing did feel a bit too muddily structured and ambiguous to me, but the film actually goes somewhere specific, and the at first obtuse looking way it gets there is a planned and proper approach, at least if you’re willing to follow the film where it leads. Which, as it turns out, is to one of my favourite supernatural entities, so that’s a bonus, too.

But the movie’s rather strong in other regards too: the acting, particularly by Megan Massie, is better than usual in this sort of thing, and the film does some great work starting out with rather typical character and relationship types but then complicating them repeatedly. Because this aspect of the film is so strong, it also recommends itself as a portrayal of destructive human relationships that is – unlike in the quite a bit more “professional” Visitors – indeed strengthened and made clearer by its supernatural element.

Roadkill (1989): Much less perfunctory and much more entertaining than Visitors and rather more playful than Wretch is this Canadian indie movie, that is so late 80s/early 90s Canadian indie, it involves the talents of Bruce McDonald, Don McKellar and Valerie Buhagiar while of course sporting a soundtrack by Nash the Slash and various Canadian luminaries. It’s the sort of black and white road movie that tonally and stylistically fits with the type of thing Jim Jarmusch or Aki Kaurismäki were doing at the time, including these directors’ use of the local and the specific, so it’s clearly part of a very particular international style of indie filmmaking, but also rooted in places and people the directors find in Canada and punk rock adjacent art. Of course, while it is taking efforts to demonstrate it is coming from a particular time and place, this isn’t mumblecore (this particular kind of filmic horror lurking in the future of none of these filmmakers), so there’s also a fabulist and imaginative streak to the film, and a personal sense of weirdness and peculiarity visible in basically every moment of its road movie tale.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Past Misdeeds: Night Wars (1988)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts presented with only  basic re-writes and improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Vietnam veterans Trent (Brian O'Connor) and Jim (Cameron Smith) never really left the war behind them. Particularly not the memory of the time when their platoon was betrayed by the eeeevil McGregor (Steve Horton wildly chewing scenery), and they had to leave their friend Jhonny (Chet Hood) - yes, that's how the film spells the name - behind when fleeing from his torture-loving hands.

More than a decade later, Trent and Jim start suffering from nightmares about the McGregor/Jhonny situation even worse than the ones they already had. Quite peculiar nightmares these are too, for wounds inflicted in them stay right with you when you're awake. And as our heroes will learn once they're convinced they are not just suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, this works the other way round too, so they are able to take items, weapons for example, with them from the waking world into their nightmares.

In utterly appropriate dream logic, Trent and Jim decide the obvious solution to their shared nightmare problems is to go kill Dream-McGregor and free Dream-Jhonny. Alas, before they can go and do that, they have to cope with a well-meaning veterans hospital doctor (Dan Haggerty) who understandably thinks they've gone crazy, and learn that Dream-McGregor has borrowed a few moves from Freddy Krueger.

To my perhaps ever so slightly twisted mind, the movies David A. Prior directed for his Action International Pictures (I'm not going to call it A.I.P. for obvious reasons) are a delight in their curious mixture of local filmmaking gone direct-to-video awkwardness, self-deprecating humour and often deft as well as daft high concepts. It's as if classic (or, depending on your taste "classic") Men's Adventure paperbacks from the 70s had gone to the US South, developed a degree of self-consciousness and decided to make strange genre mash-ups that just aren't satisfied with being one kind of movie at one time.

The sources for Night Wars' particular genre mash-up are pretty obvious: firstly, it's the dreary 'Namsploitation sub-genre concerned with bringing the boys back home, secondly, it's good old A Nightmare on Elm Street, which turns out to be a combination as ridiculously un-obvious as it is entertaining. Instead of your usual jingoistic affair, "bringing the boys back home" takes on a slightly different meaning when said boys - or really just one boy - are probably only still alive in the protagonists' dreams, and the usual story of winning the war after the fact turns into one of people trying to live through their guilt and trauma. Of course, this being a David A. Prior movie, living through one's guilt and trauma is done by shooting and blowing up nameless Asian henchmen in one's dreams, but hey, baby steps. Actually, this pinko communist is for once rather happy that these nameless Asian people are commanded by an evil, ranting American (even though the whole traitor "because the Vietcong pays better" angle makes little sense with its suggestion the Vietcong had much money to spare for anything); it at least spares us some really unpleasant stereotyping. In fact, most Action International films I've seen by now don't have their heart set on being racist at all, which is rather uncommon for the action and war genres in their US versions, and is of course quite welcome.

When Night Wars isn't showing us Asian American extras throwing themselves backwards in absurd death throes, or bamboo huts exploding (we can for once blame hand grenades), it gets around to a handful of creepy scenes too. Particularly the death of Trent's wife (played by Jill Foors) is rather effective, set up to be at once surreal and horrifying on a very basic human level, and does fine work with the way it turns something normal and pleasant into something horrible. That scene, and a handful of others, are as effectively dream-like as Prior can manage on his budget and with the overly bright lighting the film can't seem to escape even in dream sequences.

Of course, this being an Action International Pictures film, the neat ideas and effective moments are not enhanced by slick filmmaking. In fact, this late in his career, Prior's direction wasn't usually as raw and awkward as it is here, with slow and counter-productively staged action sequences, often little of visual interest shot even less interestingly, and acting so shoddy Dan Haggerty is the best actor on screen. Still, like with most Prior films, there's something deeply likeable about his approach. Watching even the shoddiest of his films, I never get the feeling a given movie's problems are attributable to laziness, nor to a lack of interest in the film by its makers but are side-effects of seat-of-your-pants regional filmmaking that can't always be avoided. Plus, while Night Wars can look unintentionally funny - a boy can take only so much of Dan Haggerty staring dramatically at a dozen alarm clocks, after all - it is never boring or lacking in interesting, if potentially misguided, ideas.

I'm quite sure that the film's unwillingness to explain why or how McGregor is some sort of dream demon will drive more than one viewer to conniptions because this very basic part of the film's set-up doesn't make much sense without any explanations, unless you want to read everything what's going on here as a metaphor for the protagonists' PTSD, which I find impossible to believe in an Action International film. Anyway, I for my part think this lack of clarity and explanation just enhances the film's mood of weirdness, as does the fact that Vietnam looks a lot like California, or as do puzzling moments like the scene where we realize that our heroes are shooting their guns in the real world too when they do so in their dreams; I'd like to have their very patient neighbours.

But then, I'd also like to own Blu-ray special editions of my favourite Action International Pictures films, so my needs and interests just might be somewhat special.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

In short: My Talks With Dean Spanley (2008)

Before I encountered this film from New Zealand directed by Toa Fraser, I didn’t even know there were any movie adaptations of the works of Lord Dunsany. It’s not the Pegana movie I secretly dream of, but it’s certainly a fine – and strange – little film. It’s taking place in a lovingly – and knowingly – reconstructed Edwardian Age. Fisk Junior (Jeremy Northam) a man of what was probably called great melancholy in his time, is haunted by the unspoken grief about a brother who died in the Boer War and the difficult relationship to his father, the elderly Fisk Senior (Peter O’Toole), whom he meets once a week, but with whom he doesn’t ever discuss anything of actual import to their emotional lives.

While on what goes for a spiritual quest when you are an Edwardian gentleman (that is, listening to the mindnumbingly boring lecture of a swami about reincarnation), Fisk Minor encounters the dean Spanley (Sam Neill). The dean has the somewhat peculiar habit of entering a kind of fugue state whenever he drinks Tokay, vividly remembering his past life as a dog; in roundabout ways, Fisk Minor’s fascination with this aspect of the man, and his obsession with getting the poor cleric drunk on Tokay to hear more about his life as a dog, will bring father and son Fisk together.

And really, if that description does sound intriguing rather than plain stupid to you, you’ll probably, like me, enjoy the film’s peculiar sense of irony, as well as its reconstruction of an Edwardian state of mind, and share in the special and unexpected joy of watching Sam Neill – in the most Edwardian language possible thanks to Alan Sharp’s tonally perfect script – reminisce about his time as a dog.

It’s really a lovely film, perhaps a bit too mushy and nice to its characters in the ending stretch - or I’m perhaps simply not quite as optimistic when it comes to radical change in people as the film is. It is full of lovely (that’s really the perfect word to describe this), sometimes wickedly funny, detail fitting to its time, and featuring a bunch of actors (Bryan Browne and Judy Parfitt are in there, too) doing justice to what really is a pretty damn peculiar project. That the film isn’t ever turning its plot wild and wacky is another of its virtues – this is one of those endeavours that take a preposterous thing, realize that one of the great things in the movies is to turn a preposterous thing into something tangible and real, and use it with dignity and love.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Between Worlds (2018)

Long haul truck driver Joe (Nicolas Cage) is at the end of his rope. Following the death of his wife and kid, he has lost whatever grip he had on life – it clearly wasn’t terribly tight to begin with - and turned into a (probably unwashed) alcoholic who’s bound to even lose his truck soon enough. And, as Joe will explain, a man without a truck isn’t a man. No, seriously.

Anyway, while at a rest stop, Joe saves a woman we will soon enough learn is called Julie (Franka Potente) from being choked to death. His rescue attempt was a bit misguided, though, for Julie wanted to be choked. You see, she can contact the spirit world, but only when she is suffocating. So says the script, and who are we to roll our eyes? And right now, Julie needs all the suffocation she can get, for her daughter Billie (Penelope Mitchell) has fallen into a coma following an accident. As you do in this sort of situation, Joe helps Julie by at first driving her to the hospital, and later getting on with some helpful hospital stairway choking. Lo and behold! It helps, and Julie seems to have gotten her daughters spirit back into her body.

She also gets Joe into her pants right quick, and things could be fine – as much as any relationship with a character played by Cage can be fine – with Julie having a new horrible relationship obviously doomed to crash and burn and her daughter being alright again. But as it turns out, Julie didn’t get the spirit of her daughter back into her body, but somehow opened up the body to the ghost that had been hanging around Joe, his dead wife Mary (sometimes played by Lydia Hearst). Of course, Billie manages to convince Joe soon enough she is indeed his wife, and he does what any rational guy played by Cage would do, and starts an affair (including very special sex techniques like reading poetry aloud during sex) with the spirit of his dead wife inhabiting the body of his new girlfriend’s daughter. As you can imagine, nothing can go wrong there.

You may or may not believe it, but that is indeed the plot of writer-director Maria Pulera’s Between Worlds, following a script that somehow must have convinced someone wearing a suit to provide enough of a budget to hire Cage, Potente and Mitchell and have enough money left to shoot a film that looks perfectly professional, if haunted by a tendency to stage everything in the most trashy way possible. The sex scenes alone, with Cage huffing and puffing, and mugging and reading poetry, and the director thinking it a great idea to intercut various sex adventures into one single scene of epic weirdness are a thing to behold; Dutch angles crop up; suspense is based on the big question of Joe being able to get his pants back on quickly enough.

And if all of this sounds to you like a Lifetime movie gone mad(der than typical), that’s what the film suggests to me too, just with a bit more (and perfectly unappetizing, because who the hell wants to see Cage do this?) sleaze, and a script that throws out bizarre and goofy ideas by the dozen. Whereas the modern Lifestyle movie defaults to camp as its tone, though, I never quite understood what tone the film at hand is actually going for. Am I supposed to take any of this seriously? Is the director? The actors apparently don’t know either, with Potente (who doesn’t work great with Cage here) looking as if she’s just barely holding off giggling fits, Cage doing that thing where he’s making perfectly sensible acting decisions for the bizarre material he is given about half of the time, but going all-out Cage-crazy for the other half, and only Mitchell seeming to be able to decide on a tone and keep to it. Is that what the filmmakers wanted? Who knows?

What I do know is that, even though the film obviously is a bizarre mess of curious ideas, dubious execution and Nicolas Cage cageing out, it is also highly entertaining. I might not have cared about the supposed psychological damage of any of the freaks on screen, and never found myself pondering the conundrum of a guy wavering between hot sexy times with the spirit of his wife in the hot young body of the daughter of his girlfriend and said girlfriend, but I sure as hell was always looking forward to the next bit of strangeness Between Worlds came up with. For like its male lead, the film may have a tendency to dubious decisions (some may call them “bad”) but those decisions are always interesting, surprising and genuinely entertaining. Also, in terribly bad taste, but who cares?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

In short: All Light Will End (2018)

Warning: spoilers, but that’s for your own good!

Writer Savannah (Ashley Pereira), fresh off her first, bestselling novel, decides to return to her former home for her brother’s graduation. There’s more baggage to that return than typical. Her mother committed suicide by hanging in the house she’s now returning to (and in fact, her estranged father and local sheriff doesn’t live there anymore), and she has terrible nightmares about her childhood. Well, I say nightmares, but actually, Savannah suffers from various vaguely defined psychological problems, among them the tendency to have a rather difficult time making out the difference between dreams and reality. At least she’s not going alone, for her boyfriend, her best friend and her best friend’s boyfriend are coming with. That, however, might not be as great as it sounds once things become a bit violent around the place.

While this is going on, the film regularly cuts to Savannah’s father and his two bumbling deputies who find various body parts around town while acting close to Wes Craven Keystone Kops.

At first, Chris Blake’s All Light Will End looks like a slickly filmed, straightforward little horror movie that’ll soon enough get around to drag out the old “the creature from the protagonist’s nightmare is real!” card. However, the film’s a bit more ambitious, for it turns out this is supposed to be an example of the twisty psychological thriller. Unfortunately, it’s a rather bad example, and once it finds its supposed stride as a thriller, the initially competent if not terribly exciting film turns to be way out of its league.

For a film that spends a – too long – scene at a therapy session and supposedly wants to base what’s happening on consciously induced psychological damage, the film seems to have little idea about actual human psychology (and in fact, some viewers might find its treatment of mental illness rather offensive), or how to plot this sort of thing without resorting to cheap gimmicks like that pretty pointless nonsense it does with the story’s timeline, wasting too many scenes on preparing an uninteresting twist. Time and place isn’t the film’s strong suit in any way, because for most of its plot to work (as far as it does work), it needs to be terribly vague about lots of things, mostly concerning time and space.

And look, I get how filmmakers may approach this sort of story thinking more about what would be cool to do on screen rather than what is plausible, but when you go that road, you really need to drag your audience over the wall of ridiculous nonsense you’ve built up with the power of sheer visual style and force. Alas, while the film is certainly slick to look at, it is no giallo or Brian De Palma flick, and never manages to convince the viewer (nor the actors, going by their vague and unconvincing efforts) of anything happening on screen.