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.

february the blaccoat's daughter oz perkins emma roberts

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.

february the blaccoat's daughter oz perkins kiernan shipka

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

 

I watched Train to Busan on an actual train to Busan

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(Oh, like you wouldn’t.)

So, I just got back from a trip to Korea. Knowing it was possible to make a day trip from Seoul (2h 25m by express train), I couldn’t resist the opportunity. I angled my tablet towards the window to avoid the mortification of looking like the cringeworthy tourist I was.

This is a better post than ‘sorry for not posting for forever’.  At least one person must have known what I was doing, especially as I was wearing a pretty ostentatious Frankenstein hoodie. So here is a badly-edited post containing some utterly pointless photos of an actual KTX train, as used in the movie!

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random review: All Through the House (2015)

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dat creepy opening shot.

dat creepy opening shot.

The presents are wrapped; everyone’s asleep. Is there a better way to celebrate the embers of Christmas Eve than a mince pie, a weird black forest gateaux-flavoured liqueur, and an ’80s throwback titspoitation slasher? If there is, fuck you, because it’s too late to come up with an alternative.

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random review: The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

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I’ve never fully trusted people. And, over the past year, I’ve learned to trust the ones around me a lot less.  It’s why it’s now so hard to surprise me unless you do something nice.

It’s also why a key early scene of Nicolas Pesce‘s The Eyes of My Mother holds little suspense but much discomfort for me. A young girl Francisca (Olivia Bond, later Kika Magalhaes) is present at the murder of her mother (Diane Agostini), a former eye-surgeon from Portugal. When she asks her killer Charlie (Will Brill) “Why us?”, he replies, “You let me in.”

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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 31: The Stomach (2014)

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It’s it! I did it! The final film of this year’s marathon!

[I’ve a feeling you’ll likely see more horror posts from me before next year]

I cheated again this year – another short! And what a short. Writer-director Ben Steiner‘s The Stomach is equal parts bleak family fable, gritty neo-noir and grisly body horror. Packing two hours’ worth of backstories and interpersonal relationships into just 15 minutes, it’s no surprise that a feature-length is in the works – yet it never feels rushed or overcrowded.

the stomach 2014 horror short

Unlike Frank (Simon Meacock)’s stomach. The poor man, a medium who literally goes with his gut to talk to those in the afterlife, is ready to give up his gift. The work has taken its toll – physically and mentally – but his brother Tom (Ben Bishop) begs him to finish the day’s sessions before they agree to get Frank an operation that will replace his stomach. But back comes Mr. Pope (Peter Marinker), a recent client who’s not pleased with his service…

the stomach 2014 short horror

For such a short film, I genuinely cared about what happened to these characters. It’s a bittersweet fraternal story: the brothers have such chemistry and Frank looks so close to death, it’s hard not to feel for them both. It’s also a tension twofer, between the rough and grimy threat of Mr. Pope and the unpredictable forces of the ghostly beyond. Which, given that the tension starts straightaway, it’s probably a relief that it only lasts a quarter of an hour.

4.4/5

And that’s it for this year’s horror-a-thon. See you next year!

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 30: The Undertaker and His Pals (1966)

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Things I learnt from watching The Undertaker and His Pals:

  1. An opening trippy, wavy-visualled montage does not mean you’re getting a surreal film.
  2. Women look incredibly sexy when being knifed. But to avoid tastelessness, just expose their bra (make sure it’s a push-up; they’ll be lying down)
  3. Any victim will scream and shriek with uninterrupted rhythm and pitch when being pinned down and literally having their intestines poked by a number of gloved hands.
  4. Despite spending their day with unengaging corpses, undertakers can be stylish, too.
  5. There’s always a market for gourmet meat but, as always, the younger the better.
  6. Grinding a meat grinder is as easy as flipping a needle on a record.
  7. Beatnik music never gets old.
  8. Motorcyclists make the most durable serial killers because they always wear a helmet.
  9. Male can shriek just as good – if not better – than their female counterparts, if only to cause others to drolly utter the line ‘He made quite a noise.’
  10. T.L.P. Swicegood is a wonderful film director’s name.
  11. Some statues just had it coming.
  12. The humble rooftop plus a serial killer’s apparent dyspraxia can save a Final Girl’s life.
  13. If a movie is bad in most other respects, if the players themselves are having believable, chemistry-ridden fun, then on balance there’s enough enjoyment to have it on in the background of a Hallowe’en party.

3.6/5