random review: February/The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

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One must make sure to be in the mood for an Oz Perkins film. It will be a slow-burn, scantily-scored, economically-timed piece of celluloid with richly complex characters navigating mysterious and perilous territory. By the end, it’s going to haunt you whether you liked the movie or not.

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I’ve seen Perkins’ catalogue in reverse order: first the minimalist Netflix Original I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. He’s remained a pleasant curiosity since I was a dumb uni kid thinking his character was odd-dorably relatable in Legally Blonde, and when I knew that he played a younger version of his father’s character in the Psycho series. I’ve always had a strange curiosity for the offspring of incredibly famous actors from the last century – whether they resemble them in appearance or career choices, or public personae (after a handful of clicks, I stumbled across the Facebook profile of Vincent Price’s great-great-grandaughter).

February, then (or The Blackcoat’s Daughter) was a movie that was getting enough buzz online and at festivals, but only ended up with a VOD distribution over a year and a half after it premiered – despite being produced by powerhouse production company A24, keeper of some titles you, idk, may or may not have heard of (Room, Spring Breakers, Amy, Moonlight, The VVitch). Odd, given Perkins’ pedigree.

february the blaccoat's daughter oz perkins  lucy boynton

The story nicely befits Perkins’ trademark slow-burn: two girls waiting for their parents to collect them from boarding school find themselves in the presence of, well…something not quite right. Rose (a coquettish Neve Campbell lookalike from her Scream days, played by Lucy Boynton) has deliberately delayed her parents’ arrival so that she can tell her boyfriend she’s getting an abortion. The much younger, shy, meek Kat (a compelling Kiernan Shipka), is so wholesome she doesn’t even have a cellphone, and instead perfects her puritanical habits of inoffensive piano-playing and sculpting impossibly perfect twin french braids. She’d probably make a great architect. Emma Roberts, Lauren Holly and the always-welcome James Remar do some great work in a parallel storyline.

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Without spoiling it, the plot progresses pretty quickly, despite many scenes in which very little appears to happen beyond slice-of-life character studies of these two girls. Some sequences are  needlessly repeated to plug the gaps in the film’s attempt at cyclical/interlocking storytelling, but on balance, it doesn’t detract. Unlike some other reviewers, I didn’t find myself scared but rather unnerved – or chilled. Perkins has a way of hiding unsettling elements in the foreground; it’s enough to linger after viewing and make you wonder if, in the slow-burn, safe ordinariness of your own life, that maybe something this otherworldly horrifying could happen to you, too.

3.9/5

 

random review: The Belko Experiment (2017)

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As someone who lost their job to ‘not a proper redundancy’ last Christmas, I found myself darkly amused by The Belko Experiment.

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source: wikipdedia

Helmed by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean and written by James Gunn, this office-based horror thriller ticks a couple of the workplace satire boxes: shiny steel coffin of a skyscraper with zero phone reception; insufferable coworkers (older perverts; impossibly cheery fat old ladies; quiet nerds; only black person is a security guard).

It begins ominously enough: Generic White Everyman Mike (GWEM) (Hush‘s John Gallagher, Jr) arrives at his completely-isolated high-rise office in the middle of No-one Can Hear You Scream, Colombia. The newly-hired, heavily-armed guards leave him somewhat prickled. Next up is a cursory introduction to new girl Dany (Melonie Diaz), whose unfriendly induction by her surrounding cubicle-dwellers makes Jawbreaker look like all of the cloying hug moments from New Girl.

Without warning, all the doors and windows are suddenly sealed. A creepy voice on the tannoy announces that the current group of 80 must kill two, or more will be killed at random.

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source: aceshowbiz

Much like those shitty fire drills at one of my last jobs (for which NOBODY ever trained us on where the fucking fire exits even were), everyone ignores it and a handful of people’s heads literally explode. And much like that job I legit declined an interview for a couple of months ago, the group  determines the the trackers implanted in their necks to be the culprit. GWEM, being the best plot-armoured imbecile that he can be, decides to take a boxcutter and literally try to extract it from the back of his neck because, you know, nothing important there. Thankfully, Creepy Voice instructs GWEM to quit his shit or he’ll make tracker go kablamo and everyone still alive decides they’d better start believing what’s going on.

Up pops Marty (Sean Gunn, who will forever be known to me as Kirk), who reminds everybody that the employment contract they all signed allowed them to ‘pretty much do whatever they want’ to them. I’d argue that’s flimsy writing logic, but anyone stupid enough to sign a contract without properly reading it is exactly the sort of pubebrain you wouldn’t root for in this kind of movie, anyway, which works for the fantastically-OTT gore. Exploding heads as punchlines? Yes, please.

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source: ihorror

A decent handful of bits in this film are darkly humorous if you’ve ever worked in an office. I once worked in a cubicle farm where my neighbour decided to block the last slivers of sunlight by lining up his length-of-service awards atop the sides of his cage. I’ve worked in places that let people work on long-expired contracts. I’ve worked in a place that underpaid me, then overpaid me. Corporate employers will do anything they can to fuck you, but the people who willingly stay in those places long-term will do anything they’re told, often under the naive assumption that their loyalty will pay off. But they’re just fodder. Expendable.

Disappointing, then, is the fact that they didn’t take the office setting and just run with it. Where’s the decapitation-by-scanner, the dismemberment-by paper-guillotine, or the drowning-by-water-cooler? It doesn’t have to be all You’re Home Alone Next, but when an arsenal of weapons is found, it feels like a groaning cop-out.

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It’s not like there isn’t fun to be had, though. John C. McGinley becomes entertainingly unhinged. Sean Gunn swears so much that you could make a drinking game out of how many times he says ‘man’ or some variation of ‘fuck’. Michael Rooker has three lines of dialogue. Tony Goldwyn looks less creepy than when I remembered him in Ghost as a kid. Bighead from Silicon Valley is in it. In your head, you can imagine them making a great ensemble cast in an early cut of the film.

 

Even at 84 minutes, it feels like a short film stretched too thin, and unsure of what tone it wants to take. Much like your typical corporate HR department, movie seems to skirt a flabby, non-committal line between hints of black comedy and trying to take itself too seriously – with neither likeable characters nor interesting dialogue to prop up either.

 

3.2/5

 

random review: Santa Clarita Diet [season 1]

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For me, Drew Barrymore‘s presence can always be relied upon to make a dull project bearable. It brings me great glee, then, to see her in something that is not only smile-inducing but is also a Netflix Original – properties that have continued to surprise in their diversity and willingness to take risks.

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Tangerine Nightmare: Favourite Drumpf memes

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Well, you did it, America. You elected an inexperienced populist spouting divisive, hateful rhetoric, a happily-admitting paedophile, a potato sack of farts. And, much like Brexit before it, I’m seeing Facebook posts from people who cannot believe that half their own country could be so stupid, misinformed, wilfully ignorant, foolish suckers to downright lies. I guess that sort of thing is catching.

Some eloquent spark noted that at least some good art will come of this pain. I’d like to think this includes some dank memes.  Here are a few of my favourites so far:

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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 20: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

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Not since M. Night Shymalan‘s The Visit has a relentlessly middling director made such a welcome return to form.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children doesn’t come close to Ransom Riggs‘s nuanced, wryly-humoured material (or the third of it I’d managed to read before seeing the film), but that’s the trade-off with a director whose style is so eye-poppingly oppressive that you have no choice but to repeatedly have it confirmed that you are, in fact, watching a Tim Burton film.

As the movie unfolds, you can play a game of spotting the trademarks: saucer-eyed, doll-faced young lead with ever-so-slight under-eye shadows (Ella Purnell), confident matriarch fantastically-dressed by Colleen Atwood (the always-nice-to-see Eva Green), pallid, awkward, muted, young Tim Burton male lead (Asa Butterfeld), high-contrast colours on everything, wildly imaginative monsters.

It’s the latter, along with Jane Goldman‘s decently-humoured script, that brings us back hints of ’80s grungegoth nostalgia. It’s the Tim Burton of old, and his best film since Beetlejuice. The sight of Samuel L Jackson gleefully tucking into a plate of children’s eyeballs is a, er…literal feast for the eyes. As is a fleet of uniquely-accessorised skeleton soldiers waging a war on violent slapstick against giant, blade-limbed monster-hunters. It’s a darkly comic, bafflingly wondrous spectacle of a film.

Not that it’s perfect. Under the goth-gloss lurk some pretty shallow characters, papery ghosts of the deep-backstoried versions of the book. Not that they’re given much to do or say other than be exhibits in their peculiarity to the film’s protagonist, Jacob – who, we’re told, bears life-saving powers that none of the other Peculiars have. So that’s his destiny mapped out for him. Not that restoring his character’s agency would make a blind bit of difference, because he’s fallen head-over-16-year-old heels in love with his grandfather’s permanently-teenaged ex, who doesn’t spend much of the film grappling with the unhealthy weirdness that Jacob is the spitting image of the boy she never got over. It’s a frustratingly unwelcome contrast to the closing scenes of the arguably-inferior Alice in Wonderland.

Enough of the movie is enjoyable. It’s light-hearted. It’s decently-paced. It’s cosplay-ready. Chris O’Dowd should genuinely win an award for converting his Irish accent to a flawless American one. White-eyed, sharp-fanged Samuel L Jackson is both hilarious and terrifying as the film’s single-minded antagonist. Fans of the book (who’ve completed the book), might be even more disappointed than I. It’s a trailer to the viewing experience of a vibrant painting, but not much else.

3.8/5

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 9: Cooties (2014)

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I imagine the actors in this were told to ‘scream funny’. You know, that comically-overdone sitcom scream where one’s back is stiff-straight but the arms are flailing, the chin is angled downward and the eyes are bulging. They run in one direction, stop, do the ‘sitcom scream’, turn, run again, do another scream, and the third turn is the whatever punchline is languishing in wait.

It’s even more disappointing than it sounds when you’ve got the likes of Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Alison Pill and Jorge Garcia playing characters who should be funny and/or interesting, in a scenario that is, by definition, stuffed tight full of tension. 

Wood plays Clint, an aspiring horror novelist and substitute teacher at a summer elementary school. On his first day, a kid who’s been teased for her bad skin lashes out by eating her bully’s face, and soon the school grounds are crawling with flesh-hungry brats. 

There are enough adults to satisfy the on-screen bloodlust that this genre demands (any bitten kid gets turned), and every incident gets slapped every which way with hip, commercial humour and in-jokes (some of which are truly funny), so I can see that it’s definitely going for the horror-comedy thing there. But the caricature characters are too flimsy to care about once they each get their exposition monologues, and the dated, off-kilter score and boring direction kill any sense of dread the movie might have accidentally found itself in. 

It’s a bright attempt at irreverent horror, and worth it to see Elijah Wood in a movie you wouldn’t normally see him in, but that’s a curiosity better fulfilled by his turn in the Maniac remake (if you’ve got the stomach for it). T’is a pity. I wanted to really, properly like this one, but I ended up only just…liking it.

2.9/5

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 8: The Collector (2009)

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I have a soft spot for horror movies that have at least one aspect of their plot intricately-planned. While The Collector wasn’t a box-office hit and featured bad decisions made by stupid characters who were played by wooden stand-ins allergic to charisma, I’d argue that it has the makings of a (very) low-key modern classic. 


Our one-note story follows a man who looks like Michael Vartan but isn’t trying to break into a house to steal jewels to win back his daughter’s mother (sob story alert!), only to find that a highly creative psycho has gotten there first, and has rigged the house with an inventive array of grisly booby-traps.

They’re not quite Saw-like which, frankly, makes it creepier – this isn’t in some dripping cave or seedy, foreign hostel – it’s all happening in your upper-middle-class suburban homestead: razor-wire, strung up like Mission Impossible lasers; a knife-tinged chandelier; a room full of enormous bear traps. Imagine if Kevin McAllister was just fucking done with Buzz’s bullying. 

Not Michael Vartan (Josh Stewart) spends the majority of the film trying to rescue the house’s gagged and bound owners, as well as keep his presence hidden from The Collector; between that and the plethora of perilous playtime props, it’s a good 80 minutes of solid nail-biting. Gore, if that’s what you’re after, is gruesome, plentiful and stomach-churning, and just teetering over the wrong side of gratuitous. 

As a horror entity, The Collector himself is arguably not scary enough on his own; his design is a little dull (Sam from Trick ‘r Treat grew up), and his mannerisms too pronounced and humanised. He handles his weapon, a hunting knife, in like a Juggalo thug fighting over alley piss space, and for a guy who intricately rigged a stranger’s house in no time, he’s too easily fooled by the simplest things. But this is a nitpick – a guy bigger than me is scary enough; add a knife and I’m sweating in fear. Throw in a series of Indiana Jones-style torture porn death gauntlets that require careful sidestepping under pressure? Fuck, I suck at Operation. I’d have shat myself to death. 
There’s a sequel, though, and I’d happily watch it. It’s on par with the Purge franchise: low-budget, simple/linear story, and competent filmmaking. In horror, that’s a surprisingly high bar.