I knew I wasn’t going to stop watching this movie the second I saw a mid-Atlantic-accented, scruffy Daniel Radcliffe drink, chain-smoke and compel a group of reporters to “beat the shit out of each other” for an interview with him. Continue reading
Because I like lists, and sympathise with the tourist dilemma of “Bollocks! We only have 5 hours to spend here – what do we do first??”, I’ve decided to compile a big fat list of awesome things to do in Salem. Yes, this list could have been shorter, but the number 66 is cool, so shut your face (and click “Continue reading” to read more!):
Some pretty catchy creepy piano music opens this movie about a dinner party from hell. Would You Rather (available on Netflix UK) opens with Iris (Brittany Snow) searching for a job to help pay for her brother’s bone marrow treatment, and settle the debts their parents left behind when they passed away. She’s a sweet kid, soft-spoken, holding a door open for a lady in a wheelchair and helping her through, so we instantly like her. Her brother’s doctor, Dr. Barden (Lawrence Billard, Jr – yay, Bob!!) notices her money woes and introduces her to Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs – yay, Weyoun!!), who has an “opportunity” that might result in some much-needed cash – the same opportunity that Dr. Barden won the previous year. So, you know…with that endorsement, there’s nothing to be afraid of, right? Right?
Iris gets suitably dolled up, says bye for the night to her depressed brother and arrives at a ginormous mansion for the world’s most deviant episode of Come Dine With Me. The rest of the guests (which include John Heard, Eddie Steeples, Sasha Grey and the riotous June Squibb) mingle, but have no idea what’s in store for them. Dinner is then served, which is a measly, grisly-looking, fake prop chunk of medium-rare children’s toy steak. News flash, poshos: Adding asparagus and a jus does not make a dull lump of meat anything but. Even chavs know what a jus is. And asparagus? Bitch, we have brie, grape and cranberry sarnies as a standard in the local Tesco. This is nothing special. I bet these pretentious fuckboys call chips “frites”. Without adding the fucking “pomme”, because they’re just not pretentious enough, I guess. Anyway, I wouldn’t feed that to a dog that’s the reincarnated spirit of everyone horrible in the world ever. And there’s only the one fucking course. There isn’t even any dessert! It’s main course only, then straight to the “entertainment”…
…Which encroaches onto the main meal. Our first hint that something might be a bit off about this dinner party is when Iris mentions that she’s a lifelong vegetarian (well, then you should have fucking told them earlier so that they could have planned ahead – I have to do this all the time). Rather than grill her about why she’s probably pro-choice or douchebaggingly eat a steak in front of her, Shepard goes one up and offers her $10,000 to eat all the meat on her plate. After some hesitation, she does, though I’m surprised she doesn’t vomit. Shepard then notices that The Dad From Home Alone isn’t drinking any of his wine, and when he answers that he’s a recovering alcoholic (probably from all those times he kept forgetting Kevin), he offers him $50,000 to drink an entire decanter of Scotch (won’t that kill you?). He does, and it’s that plus Shepard’s shameless laughter that clue the group in that something’s a wee bit sadistic here.
After the plates are cleared, Shepard offers everyone a one-time chance to leave. Everybody is fucking stupid and stays. Shepard then announces the evening’s main activity – a parlour game called “Would You Rather”….but with a bit of a twist. One person is fitted with some headgear, and is offered the choice of electrocuting themselves, or the person to their right. Before the game begins, Kevin’s Dad is full of scotch and says “fuck you” to everyone, but when he tries to leave he is shot dead.
Understandably, everyone’s freaked out, especially as there are a handful of armed guards behind them. And so begins a series of relatively restrained Saw-esque torture porn episodes, each more creative and horrific than the last, including eye-ball slicing, whipping and holding one’s breath underwater.
It’s grim stuff and there are some moments of tension, but the film never really strays beyond one-set, B-movie filmmaking. Some of the imagery, especially in the opening credits, is quite stylish, but the design looks cheap (especially that aforementioned meat). Acting is decent, but beyond Snow’s sympathetic performance, most of the other characters aren’t given much to do but look scared and then cry out in pain while sitting in a chair. One standout (unfortunately, negative) is Grey’s performance; not sure what went wrong here, because she’s a capable actress, but she delivers her lines like her mouth is sharting out the words while trying to do an impression of Anna Paquin. What the fuck. Especially as her silent acting’s quite effective – her wry glances and emotional acting, especially when her character breaks facade, are compelling to watch. Robin Lord Taylor (i.e., arguably the best thing about Gotham) is uncomfortably convincing in a short role as Julian, Sheperd’s spoiled, Joffrey-esque, rapist creep of a son, but impressive eye-bag-owner and theatre veteran Jonny Coyne is poorly utiilsed as the family butler Bevan; when he does have lines, you’ll wish he had more of them.
To pull something like this off, you need a good script with sharp dialogue, and a charismatic actor for the Shepard. Would You Rather has neither. When Shepard speaks, it’s like a used car salesman wandered into a stately home and started giving weak arguments for the death penalty. Neither he not the dialogue are engaging enough to push Shepard’s agenda when asked, “Why are you doing this?”.
This results in a movie that’s just a slightly less gory excuse for torture porn. There’s no social commentary on wealth disparity, or the callous treatment of people in need, or even the fact that an educated young woman is driven to participate in a murderous party game run by powerful, untouchable freaks because she cannot afford the life-saving medical treatment her brother desperately needs. It’s just creative torture game after creative torture game, and even with that, there’s no commentary on us as the voyeur or anything even remotely profound. This film does exactly what it says on the tin, with no ambiguity or real shocks or twists. Ir’s like if Drax decided to make a movie.
Yay! Richard Ayoade directed a thing! And it’s as brilliantly bonkers as he is! Based on the novella of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Double is a charmingly unsettling descent into probably madness, sort of like if somebody took you on a really surreal date to a desolate restaurant but held your hands as you both marvelled at how pretty the half-smashed-in neon lights were.
Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a self-proclaimed “wooden boy”. Pathetically doormattish, he’s ignored at work, glossed over by his aging mother, and barely acknowledged by Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the girl he has a crush on. He seems to have all but fully accepted his lot in life (or lack thereof). “Meek” is a gross understatement. He is passive to the nth degree. Of course I can identify with Simon, because I, too, feel invisible and unimportant at times; people frequently don’t realise I’m there in a queue (even if I’m standing in front of them), and others behind me get served first. At a train station in a crowd, I’m the person that people brush by and run into, as if I’m not even there, or that I just don’t matter. So I’ve felt to be of very little value and function to the world. But maybe not to the extent that people have stopped recognising me at work after 7 years of working there…
Which is where it starts to go so terribly wrong for Simon. The day after witnessing a suicide/jumper in his Soviet-esque housing estate, a new employee named James Simon (er, also by Eisenberg) starts work in Simon’s division, but nobody – except Simon (and James) can see that they look exactly alike. But that’s where it ends. Simon is more confident, more successful with women, better-respected at work, and even admired by Hannah. In a sense, James is just more “visible”, and it’s from this point that Simon’s place in his own world seems to be disintegrating.
Much of the direction and humour bear Ayoade’s trademark awkward restraint, and played to the same pitch-perfect comic effect as with his on-screen appearances. Eisenberg’s acting comfort zone is the ideal springboard for this, and uses it elicit some massive, pitiful laughs, such as a scene in which Simon tries to overhear a conversation in a loud diner, but a nearby radio is blasting a vintage Chinese pop song. He tries to turn the volume down, but the dial breaks off in his hand. Unsure of what to do, he just keeps the dial in his hand and just timidly folds his hand back against his chest.
Almost all of the film is in Eisenberg’s hands, and he effortlessly spins both characters’ journeys into two quite brilliant performances. Also no stranger to muted roles in an wildly offbeat film is Wasikowska, who imbues Hannah with just enough melancholic charm to make the audience sympathise with her. And what’s also great about this movie is that, while there is a love story, this isn’t the central part of the film, so there’s no fallback on cliche-ing Hannah’s character with some manic pixie dream girl trope to drive the story along. It’s more about the character’s journey of self-discovery….on his own.
Arguably, the most striking thing about this film is the imagery. The film is beautifully and meticulously shot, with every frame carefully arranged like a bloody work of art. It’s sort of like if Wes Anderson and David Lynch adopted a baby and raised it in a film school. And occasionally Terry Gilliam came to visit. The sets, colour palette, lighting and deliberate geographical ambiguity all evoke a 1980s Soviet/police state, and gradually transform the haunting, bleak tone from curious to quirky to shudderingly menacing. Like Diary of a Madman, but cinematically. Though the plot is linear and quite straightforward, it’s a film that politely requests repeat viewings for some of its elements that are more open to interpretation. It’s such a compelling, bizarre little film that it’s made me wish I’d bothered to have done a ratings system. Maybe something like 11 pumpkins? Out of 10.
Wow, this movie was terribly-made. Caricatures rather than characters. Weak plot, including a flimsy B-storyline that goes nowhere. Cheap sets and even cheaper gore. Abysmally clichéd and unsympathetic characters mouth-farting out flat and boring dialogue. One-note acting. Hilariously OTT music that seemed to have scurried away from a low-rent Dario Argento remake.
I don’t care if there are spoilers; this movie’s so bad you’ll thank me for sparing you it.
This Australian tortue porn follows a young man who’s kidnapped by a scorned crush on Prom Night. Held captive by her and her creepy, paedo dad, our perma-tanned, self-harming surfer dude has knives hammered info his feet, a love note forked into his chest, and a hole drilled in his skull. Despite making a string of implausibly idiotic decisions (such as running up a tree and staying there in full view of his rock-throwing captors), he sort of half-escapes with the kind of adrenaline only a trepanned moron can muster. Like a good boy, he even drives (with his hole-y feet) back home to see his mum rather than, you know, a hospital.
But nobody’s watching for plot or characterisation. People are here for the gore which, along with the the melodramatic acting, makes the whole thing unintentionally funny. But there are moments when the violence is over-glamourised to the point of accidental self-parody, like shots lifted from other generic films.
The end result is a movie with unlikable characters that feels like a charmless chore to watch at times. You’ve got to wonder how these torturer types think they’re going to get away with it. And I mean the filmmakers, not the psycho teen killer.
Well, this one was fucking weird. To call this horror might seem a bit of a stretch at first; it’s more of a surreal action thriller. It’s not really a slow-burner as the tension is more grounded in reality, and the movie doesn’t make a horror-esque shift until well into the duration. But I’ll leave it at that, because the less you know about the plot, the better effect it has.
This one has some pretty nifty names attached to it – such as director Ben Wheatley, who recently helmed acclaimed Doctor Who episodes Deep Breath and Into the Dalek, and will be capitalising on the menacing half of Tom Hiddleston‘s face in upcoming ’70s-set horror High Rise. Great acting comes from three stars I like to watch out for: Phone Shop (yes)’s Emma Fryer, Utopia‘s Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley, who I’ve loved in everything he’s done since Spaced, and I try to go out of my way to see whatever he’s popped into.
I don’t think I’d watch this again if you paid me, but not because it was bad. Without revealing too much, I’ll say that tension is abound in this film, from all-too-familiar domestic tension from a toxic relationship, to strained friendships and financial problems. So when the external tension starts building up, along with some pretty gory and emotionally disturbing (beyond WTF) imagery, it got to the point where I was forcing myself to sit through it for the sake of just getting it over with. And the ending? You’ll need a strong stomach. It’s fucking grisly stuff.
The characters live quite insular but moderately comfortable lives, but their physical isolation ups the eeriness factor while setting an increasingly bleak tone. There’s a fair bit of imagery borrowed from The Shining (notably title cards), and there are some other spoiler-y horror homages that crop up later on. Most chilling of all is the music; it’s very overdramatic, quite odd, extremely surreal – and it should feel out of place in fairly normal scenes, but somehow it doesn’t. It’s a very stylised chiller, but uncomfortably steeped in plausibly miserable horror, and even with the smatterings of dark humour, you’ll be so short of breath mouthing “WTF?!?” into a closed hand that you’ll need to watch something very nice afterwards.
More than halfway through my horror-a-thon (I wish I’d chosen a better name for this), and today’s movie was the Kevin Smith-helmed Red State. The controversy around of how this got distributed is almost more interesting than the film itself. Distributors attending the Sundance screening felt cheated because Smith announced he was never intending to shop it around for distribution deals – he was going to tour it himself (it is, after all, a film festival, not a movie convention booth). The resulting media furore labelled Smith as an imploding liar, and even bizarrely compared him to the movie’s central character – er, a hateful extremist gun nut preacher.
Guess they were too busy wanking off to cash cow numbers to have sat down and actually watched the film, then…
…Which stars a typically Smith-esque cast of thoroughly unlikable characters – some more so than others. Unnamed Southern State high-schoolers Jarod (Kyle Gallner), Travis (Michael Angarano) and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun) respond to a group sex ad by a local woman (Melissa Leo). They soon realise this wasn’t what it seemed when the beer she’s plying them with is laced with some kind of pretty powerful sedative (so powerful that it managed to get into bottles she’d just opened while handing it to them?). They wake up and Jarod is in a cage in a local church – one that has a reputation for being frizzy cunting twatmoustache bastards who spend their days protesting gay people’s funerals. We’re then treated to a long-arse deliberately boring hellfire, homophobic, finger-pointing sermon from Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), and some disturbingly pleasant banter among the congregation as if nobody’s aware that clingfilm-ing an innocent gay man to a cross and shooting him at the top of the skull is the same as a church bake sale.
The rest of the movie plays out in what appears to be real time, when a scuffle ensues and some people are shot dead. It’s not so much a horror than it is an action thriller, but that doesn’t make me dislike it. I will say that, as a horror fan, there’s always some weird twisted part of your brain that’s curious about what sort of on-screen violence at which you’re going to be peering through your fingers, but the villains are so utterly hateful and despicable, and their real-life counterparts (they’re not the WBC) so hateful and despicable, that you’re rooting for no violence at all, for the kids (even though they’re horny, entitled little creeps) to escape unscathed.
Smith’s script touches on culturally-relevant issues (which I didn’t think he had any interest in doing): religious extremism, domestic terrorism, sexual repression as a weapon, homophobia, gun control, freedom of speech abuse, and ineffectual law enforcement. That’s a lot to cover in less than 90 minutes, but he manages to stick a finger in each pie (why does that phrase sound so sleazy?) without sacrificing too much.
But what takes us out of the horror style and clogs the pacing a bit is the addition of a second storyline, about an ATS Agent (John Goodman, who provides the film’s best performance), who’s ordered to investigate the church’s compound on a possible series of firearm violations. While the commentary is interesting, it just adds an unnecessary layer (irrelevant to the religious extremism themes), and takes the action away from the cat-and-mouse chase in the church. What’s odd is that his story starts in the early hours of the morning following the kidnapping, so I’m wondering how much chasing there’s been in the multiple hours between getting kidnapped/drugged and the ATS storyline beginning. It felt like this was added just to give the film a proper ending.
Because of all this, characters are a wee bit paper-thin, and it feels like the movie baits us into pastor-esque finger-pointing and keeps switching the target on us; do we feel sorry for the pervy little kids? How about the church’s children, who didn’t do anything, or the pastor’s granddaughter Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé), who’s trying to save them, but doesn’t utter a word of remorse for the part she’s played in murdering innocent people? The church’s members – the pastor especially – are just so thoroughly evil I was hoping that there would be an pansexual task force using the power of interracial orgies to implode their tiny brains to smithereens.
The execution of the themes is arguably a little heavy-handed, but I think that’s needed here. It’s a welcome commentary on how the WBC and others of their ilk have been exploiting a broken constitutional system for far too long (“guns? free
hate speech? sign us up…for JESUS!”), and nobody’s been shouting out a consequence of their horrific influence at equal volume. People like them are a vile, repugnant waste of oxygen, and we need more voices countering their attempts to legitimatise their bigoted, misinformed, and damaging views.
Maybe you can call this porn for forward-thinking, global individuals. Because the scariest thing about this horror is that these hellfire-preaching, homophobic, intolerant, gun-wanking psychos might seem like caricatures, but they exist. That’s terrifying enough.
Hey, kids! Want to see a sickeningly disturbing movie that’s so downright unsettling you’ll actually do that involuntary movement where you put your hand over your mouth in horror? We Are What We Are is for you! Directed by Jim Mickle, this marks a pretty stark change of direction since Stake Land. And while this movie also takes itself seriously (and also has a bit part for Kelly McGillis), it has every right to, given its subject matter: cannibalism.
And not the schlocky, Cannibal Holocaust/Wrong Turn kind. This is dripping with American Gothic, from the beautifully-shot Catskills setting, to the (very) vintage clothes that Frank Parker (Bill Sage) expects his children to wear for dinner. Indeed, the slightly anachronistic atmosphere in the Parker household (vinyl records, broken-down furniture, questionable hygiene practices, no technology – not even a fucking TV), lends a suitably ghoulish quality to the film.
We start out with the family’s mother, Alyce (Odeya Rush) collapsing after bleeding from her mouth. She hits her head as she falls, then literally drowns to death in a ditch. We’re then introduced to Frank, a God-fearing alcoholic, who’s weak from fasting as part of their yearly traditional family ritual. Despite the mother’s death, Frank insists on continuing with dinner, but now that Alyce is gone, it’s up to the girls to take over, which involves both slaughtering and cooking this year’s victim. At the dinner table, Frank coos that their mother would be proud of such a well-made dish (which looks a bit like soggy lamb stew), and reminds everybody that God has compelled them to do this for generations, otherwise they would all get sick and die.
But happily family time is soon under threat when a big storm causes massive flooding, washing hundreds of years of human bones into the Parkers’ creek. This does not bode well for the Parkers, especially as they apparently did a shit job covering up their latest kidnapping, and new cop Deputy Anders (Kurt‘s son Wyatt Russell) is eager to solve that recent missing person case…
The movie’s a slow-burner, and is probably more effective for scare-seekers if they don’t know about the cannibalism, because the first act is all stunning scenery and character development, and then things only start to get creepier in the second. But the slow-burn is sort of like cooking oatmeal – steady and tense at the beginning, then wildly explosive at the end. The contrasts between the serene geographical setting and the sinister family dynamic get starker as the film progresses.
At the heart of it is some damn fine acting; in particular, Julia Garner, who plays the middle child Rose. Caught between her older sister’s age (when family comes first no matter what), and her little brother’s (too young to understand what’s really happening), it’s unclear to us or to herself if she truly supports this tradition, and the moments in which her broken, terrified spirit is wavering, well, it’s just utterly heartbreaking to watch, and it’s a hell of a performance.
Gore is evenly seasoned (sorry) throughout the film in eye-poppingly gruesome fashion, and those moments are as well-timed as tension-rousers as a punchline is to a joke. Speaking of, there’s almost none of that in this movie; it’s a pretty bleak affair. It’s a story that’s told in a linear, almost documentary-style fashion, and is a bizarrely fascinating portrayal of a royally fucked-up family, even without the added potential-incest weirdness in the dysfunction. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a film that’s told from the perspective of the cannibals, but it’s hard not to feel sorry for the children, who have a firm grasp on why this is all so wrong, and the clashses make for some tense and unsettling viewing.
Luckily, the dreamy imagery, tender moments of closeness among the siblings, and a genuinely sweet moment with older sister Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Anders are welcome respite from the constant dread. Resonant, too, is the score, by Stake Land composer Jeff Grace, and adds a melancholic feel.
Available on US Netflix at the time of writing, you might want to watch something light afterwards. Because nothing’s going to prepare you for that ending. I promise you.
Oooh, I love uncomfortable humour, especially in the darkest of moments. But you’ve got to have impeccable comic timing to pull it off. Fortunately, Irish slasher comedy Stitches has the eminent Ross Noble in its case list. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to be very funny for very long; most of his scenes are played for visual gags rather than his dialogue (which is boring).
After a dreamy opening credits in which Stitches’ make-up has its own dedicated designer credit, we’re introduced to Richard “Stitches” Grindle, a grimy clown who lives in a grimy caravan right on the precipice of a dodgy cliff. He’s awkwardly banging uglies with his girlfriend, then slips out to go do a kids’ birthday party.
The kid has the worst mum ever, because she not only lets Stitches take the wrong amount of money out of her hand, but she also lets the foul-looking bastard into her house. This is after she cuts a tiny cake with a massive knife mere centimetres away from a pushing-and-shoving group of small kids, then shoves it blade-side-up in the dishwasher, and leaves the dishwasher door open, because you know, health and safety is for plebs?
Stitches is heckled by the kids – they chuck scoops of ice cream at his props, and pour cola into his top hat. And you would too, because Stitches is utterly shit and half-arses every act he does. The birthday boy, with doe egging on from his friends, harmlessly throws a football at him, but it happens to catch Stitches at just the wrong split-second moment in the middle of an act, and he slips, trips and falls backward, impaling himself in his left eye. But we’re not done yet! Still standing (um, that would have killed him instantly), he fumbles about like a character getting ready to run away in Scooby Doo, sloooooowly draws the knife out of his eye (spraying birthday boy Tommy), threatens to kill the kid and then promptly accidentally impales the same eye again. And dies.
From his treehouse, little Tommy spies on the funeral using his telescope, but catches sight of a bizarre clown death ritual with some fucking inspired macabre, Burton-esque visuals. They catch Tommy eavesdropping and bellow to him that “a clown that doesn’t finish a party can never rest in peace” and that “a joke is never funny the second time around”.
Fast-forward 6 years to when the kids are now of acceptable on-screen killing age. Tommy is a responsible young man, meek and bullied, and on anxiety medication. This, and the kid (Tommy Knight)’s muted acting gives the first two acts of the film a surprisingly melancholic heart, so it’s refreshing to see a movie not skirt around the fact that an incident such as this would scar a young child for life. He hasn’t had a birthday party since the incident. He’s clearly never forgotten that day, and it’s getting worse, as he’s now seeing clown faces in everything, even in a weird out-of-body vision in school involving testicles being yanked off his friend’s body and twisted into a balloon animal to roaring applause.
Two of Tommy’s friends convince him to have a massive rager for his upcoming birthday and invite tons of people (i.e., potential slasher victims on a mass scale), and from here on in we get the stereotypes of party teens and the types of cliches that these kids have grown up to become. The party setting is lazy, but it keeps the background chaos and location constant, and serves as a stable background for Stitches’ inevitable revenge killings.
And boy, are these killings inventive. They’re cheap, and they look cheap – everything’s done on a black background (even if they’re outside in a large garden, and an exploding man’s head full of balloon gas suddenly becomes blank-faced upon zooming out), but they are deliberately comical to make up for it. “Splatter” is an understatement.
There’s some wild, Rube Goldberg-esque choreography for some of these – in one, an umbrella is shoved through someone’s neck and out through their eye socket, popping the eyeball out, which falls into their gaping mouth; they then fall back down on their back, causing the umbrella to open fully and splatter blood everywhere, like an horrific jack-in-the-box. If this film had a bigger budget, it would be truly sickening, but it’s so cheaply, cartoonishly done that it’s honestly like something out of an old Tom & Jerry short.
It’s too bad that the movie’s promise for some black humour is randomly dropped, and the movie chases after jokes cheaper than the look of the balloon animal Stitches makes out of some poor kid’s intestines. Shots of an early kill are intersected with similarly set-up shots from a sex scene in a nearby room. Then we finish the scene with the line “taken from behind”. Sex jokes in a scene in which the victim is female? Hmm.
Then we’re objected to the pretty nasty murder of a cat. On paper, it might sound funny (it’s killed 9 times), and it’s clearly a soft toy being grabbed by the leg and swung and slammed against a chair over and over, but it’s just one of those cardinal rules of horror that you don’t show an on-screen kill of something vulnerable. And the cat never hadn’t even done anything to Stitches (apart from playing with his red nose that he uses to sniff out his victims). Then there’s a creepy paedo rape joke, then a fat joke, etc, and then it all starts to get a bit stupid from there.
Even the clown lore starts to get tiresome. Given that the plot is thin and the characters are boring cliches, maybe it would have been better to have made this into a video game in which the various pyrotechnical ejecting of blood could be fussed over. A man of wit, Noble was never a physical comic, so he’s criminally wasted in a role that anybody could have taken.
It’s fun for the visuals – and they are horrifically creative – but don’t expect much else. Especially if you’re a medical student wondering why people seem to be walking and talking after what should have been fatal head injuries (judging by the fantastical displays of blood erupting from their heads).