Movie review: The Wind

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On paper, Emma Tammi’s directorial feature debut ticks all the boxes for a movie that suits this particular scribe’s tastes.
It boasts a strong cast of actors placed in a psychological predicament in a harsh and isolating environment, where they must face their demons if they are to survive their ordeal.
When dealing with such an ideological set of circumstances, it requires a fairly weighty plot and background for the characters to wade through, which is a tough gig for any director to pull off let alone attempting to do so on your first outing.
The characters are either going to slide through their troubles, barely skating on the surface, or be sucked down into the murky depths and bogged down by the intensity of their plight.

If you choose the latter, you fall prey to losing your audience, and this is where I found myself as I ambled across the terrain laid out in The Wind’s storyline.
In order to build tension, Tammi develops a slow burn, allowing the characters to breathe in and assess their situation but the slow changes in gear can and will frustrate some.

To the film’s credit the cinematography is sublime and Lyn Moncrief is able to capture the sheer beauty that only the American West can convey on the silver screen with some simply stunning shots on show.

Catlin Gerard (Insidious: The Last Key) is sensational as Lizzy, a strong-minded frontier woman, dealing not only with the loss of a son in childbirth, but also adapting to the Wild West alone with her husband, but then forced into that uncomfortable situation when a new couple arrive as neighbours.
It is here that the notion of civility creeps back into their world once more and yet the isolation that their environment offers belies their situation.

The problem lies in the ambiguity of Lizzy’s plight, because the moments it kicks in, really do kick in and you start to question, is she actually experiencing a paranormal event or has cabin fever struck sending her to the brink of madness?
Whilst Tammi decides to leave the answer to this question up to audiences’ imagination, the building blocks that she creates in her deeply atmospheric world are not strong enough to form a solid foundation and are a little too vague.

The Prognosis:

Strong performances and powerful imagery create enough style to hook you into a psychological and tormenting land, but it lacks enough substance to establish the powerful and lasting effect that the director was aiming to achieve. 

Movie review: The Lodge

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Those who have followed my musings for the last few years will know that, yes I am British and that my love of horror movies has no bounds.
With those two elements combined it’s no wonder that I have strong attachments to Hammer Films and the wonderful movies that they produced throughout the 60s and 70s and often starring the late greats Sir Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
Since those golden years I’ve watched with a keen eye, the resurrection of this much-loved company under the guidance of their CEO Simon Oakes.

This journey has seen them admittedly stumble along finding a unique voice in a plethora of genre movies and make their mark once again.
2010 would see their first full length feature in the brilliant, Let Me In. Despite the film’s strength it was married by the masterful Let The Right One In, a Swedish version of the story released the year before that sent ripples through the community and has become a modern classic in some circles, because of this Hammer found itself in the shadows still.

Their next two features would cause a minor stir with The Resident and Wake Wood, which still pose strong stories but failed to click with a wide audience.
This wouldn’t occur until Woman In Black hit the screens and proved to everyone that hallways can be scary, if atmosphere is played in a certain way.
With that release, Hammer had struck a chord and not surprisingly look to replicate this again, unfortunately the sequel couldn’t match it’s predecessor and The Quiet Ones also released the same year, did not connect or resonate with its audience.
Even Dame Helen Mirren couldn’t stop this downward trajectory that Hammer was facing four years later with the woeful and messy plotline delivered in Winchester.
Was Hammer’s magic wearing off?
Could they invoke that mystery once again?

With the release of The Lodge, I would argue that they can and hopefully turn things around once more.

Whilst it still isn’t at the levels of Let Me In and Woman In Black, falling marginally short in its execution and this is purely down to predictability and in my opinion, not allowing the true horror of the situation unfold to the psychological  steps it could have gone to.

Having said that, writer/directors Veronika Franz and Severin Flava (Goodnight Mommy) alongside fellow scribe Sergio Casci have produced a remarkably disturbing film that turns the notion of gaslighting on its head with a suitably modern twist.

The most compelling part of the narrative is the way that characters are portrayed so that the audience is never quite sure who it should pay allegiance to.
Each of the participants display positive and negative sides of their personalities which ebb and flow throughout the film as they tackle both spiritual, mental and physical ordeals.

The picture paints a story of a fractured family which sees the father, Richard (Richard Armitage) leaving his wife, Laura (Alicia Silverstone) for a much strikingly similar looking but younger, Grace (Riley Keough).
The fact that Richard and Laura have children, Aidan (Jaedan Martell – IT, IT chapter two) and Mia (Lia McHugh) only makes the situation more complex, especially as they see the mysterious rival to their mother.
From here on, the kids look at how they can make life difficult for Grace and a potential situation arises on a winter retreat to the titular lodge.

The Prognosis:

Hammer Films have produced a colourful film in a stark landscape built on a tide of emotions indicating a return to form.

The performances are compelling with all the actors showing a range of emotional turmoil and delivered by a creative team who continue to push the boundaries of the psyche.

– Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

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Before Leigh Whannel and the Blumhouse team reinvented and reinvigorated the Invisible Man franchise for the modern generation with their 2020 adaptation, I would have argued that no one could have stepped into Claude Rains shoes as the doomed scientist, Dr. Jack Griffin.
In Fact he would reprise the role once more with American comedians Bud Abbot and Lou Costello in Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man further associating himself with the iconic character.
Rains became synonymous with the Universal horror franchise with his dignified gentlemanly manner which also saw him in The Wolf Man movie and The Phantom of the Opera.
HG Wells’ novel would inspire 7 feature films under the Universal umbrella, none could match the original film however, but something must have stirred the creative flow to keep the infamous production company revisiting the story.

There would be a seven year gap between the original 1933 release and a sequel, so perhaps the time lapse was too big a call for it to truly lift off from its predecessor but for me The Invisible Man Returns never quite lands the mark.
This view may have raised eyebrows from some, particularly as the film boasts the magnificent Vincent Price as its lead, whose physical presence is only seen for about a minute of screen time.
The rest of the movie, the renaissance man is either wrapped up in bandages or providing his sultry tones to the piece.
As much as Price adds much needed gravitas to the narrative, it never encapsulates the viewer beyond the tale of redemption.
As such there is no real audience connection to the characters and their one-dimensional storyline, that essentially sees Price as Geoffrey Radcliffe, a man accused of murder and sentenced to death for a crime that he didn’t commit.
In steps Dr Jack Griffin’s brother, Frank, with the invisible formula and gives it to Radcliffe so that he can escape and prove his innocence.
Quite why Frank does this is neither mentioned, nor followed up again. The rest of the movie plays out as a crime thriller, where Radcliffe tries to uncover who the real murderer was.

The Prognosis:

Not a patch on the original, which personally is because it steers away from the science and the side effects that ensue from substance abuse.
It’s only saving grace is the presence of Vincent Price, even if it is merely in voice alone.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Faceless Man

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The Faceless Man is an off-beat independent horror movie that is a boiling pot of subgenres with the Ozploitation era embedded firmly on its sleeve. Like any low-budget film it has its flaws but let’s focus on the positives first, because if anything this film has a lot of heart and is prepared to face one of life’s greatest fears head on.

For his debut feature, writer/director James Di Martino decided to tackle the subject of cancer as the faceless entity stalking its prey and pushing them to the edge of sanity. 
It’s a bold approach in a playing field that deserves a higher quality offering than what is on offer, but you can only work with the resources and materials you have at hand.
Despite this, Di Martino still manages to eek out some spectacularly eerie moments peppered with some decent and dark humour along the way. 

The tone of the film is deliciously macabre in places and these moments will resonate highly with any fan of the genre and even delivers great character actors in Roger Ward and Andy McPhee who do not disappoint in their respective roles.

The story centres on Emily (Sophie Thurling) as a cancer survivor in fear that she may fall sick once again who is driven by paranoia and a past that haunts her.
So when presented with a weekend away with her friends, she sees it as a way to get away from her troubles, but fate has other plans in store.

The Prognosis:

Characteristically speaking, Di Martino provides a suitably quirky and unsettling movie which suffers a little from some performances and too many right turns in the plotline.
What it does promise is a director with a vision, who with the right tools could produce some decent storylines in the future. Definitely a name to look out for.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Haunt

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Arguably, nobody has been able to inject fear into the world of haunted horror attractions since Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse back in the 80s, but in a world where what is old is new again, it comes as no surprise that someone would look to breathe new life into this well trodden sub-genre, after all, who doesn’t like to see scary attractions ripped at the seams along with the unwitting victims who dare to venture beyond its walls?

We’ve seen some half decent efforts in recent years from the likes of Blood Fest and Hell Fest, but I think it’s pretty fair to say that the latest production from Eli Roth takes a damn good stab at twisting it into a bold new direction.

In the wake of extreme haunted houses such as McKamey Manor, where people voluntarily subject themselves to extreme bouts of torture, Haunt casts itself into a world where the fine line between pleasure and pain is well and truly in dark territory.

As you can expect from a Roth production, the kills are bloody with the gore level amped up to the max, which normally I find hard to bare, but in this instance I was along for the ride and if anything felt those moments not only cranked up the tension, but left you feeling unnerved in a satisfactory way. 

The masked villains were also suitably camp and added to the heightened sense of agitation and wrath that is dealt out on the victims foolish enough to enter their domain and play their game. Herein lies the rub however, as the victims themselves are indeed foolish and fall prey to two-dimensional characterisation, so much so that we are beyond caring about what happens to them, which is a shame as Haunt was ripe for potential. Too much style and focus was paid to the villains and the set pieces, ala Saw that the writers neglected the one essential ingredient. You gotta add depth to the main characters, to build that connection with your audience, so that when the pendulum swings, we give a damn about whether or not they live or die.

By the time the conclusion starts to come into sight, the writing pushes into the ridiculous where certain characters appear to withstand death blows in order to avoid meeting their maker. 

The Prognosis:

With a little bit more care and dedication to character depth and background, Haunt could have been a modern classic. Unfortunately, the film rests on imagery and admittedly some gnarly death scenes, but without the prime quality cut steak, you’re just left with gristle.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Wretched

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I gotta say that before I begin to cast my thoughts on the film, I am definitely not of the right demographic age-wise. The film is aimed primarily towards Gen Z and with that zest for life comes the rekindled imaginations of yester-year. 

Much like Disturbia did for the Millenials, The Burbs for the X Generation, and Rear Window did for the Baby Boomer generation, we have a protagonist predominantly placed in his home where he witnesses foul play going on next door. In this instance, we follow Ben, “a defiant teenage boy” who has been sent to stay with his father during the summer. His parents are currently going through a divorce which lends some weight as to why Ben has started to go off the rails. During his stay, Ben slowly discovers that all is not as it seems in this marina town, and not only that but appears to be possessed by some weird demonic witch like creature from the woods that we later learn to discover is a cross between Black Annis and the Boo Hag.

There are some genuinely decent moments in here for the hardened soul and the creature fx are believable enough to blend into the landscape, but the fear itself is often all too “twee” and never stirs the heart.

Despite this, the performances and characters are engaging enough for you to care about Ben’s plight with some decent twists in the mix, that on face value surprise and delight, but on closer inspection, doesn’t necessarily add up. Sometimes the MacGuffin is enough to change or suspend disbelief that you forgive its faults, but here they jar and the smoke and mirrors are left in plain sight, shattering any vague illusion that the director was hoping to achieve.

The Prognosis

Another sugar coated saccharine sweet horror film that lives in the shadows of exceptional movies without offering an ounce of originality.

If you like fluffy, light hearted horror, then by all means give this a whirl, but from this writer’s perspective, The Wretched struggles to lift itself above a mediocre horror… just.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Bloodline

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It’s taken a little while for this Blumhouse Productions feature to reach Australian shores but it finally gets the straight to Home entertainment treatment, but don’t let that deter you. At its beating heart is a cold, psychological drama that delves into the lengths and breadths of what a family will do to stick together no matter what the cost.

The surprise here comes with Seann William Scott’s performance of Evan Cole, a psychopath lurking as a school councillor. Scott is so  removed from the “Stiffmeister” personna that we have become accustomed to through the American Pie franchise, as he produces a deeply disturbing personality, devoid of emotion except love and anger. Evan’s killer instinct is awakened shortly after the birth of his new-born son and to satiate his blood lust, he seeks vengeance for the troubled kids that come to see him to discuss their trauma. Slowly, he combines a kill list of rapists, and abusers, tracks them down and kills them. Think Dexter, but without the quirky feels.

Some of the stripped down emotions make it hard to believe the relationship that Evan has with his wife, Lauren (Mariela Garriga) and at times this can feel rigid and disconnected, leaving us to question how they got together in the first place. Despite this, their loyalty to one another is what is on the table, as Evan’s curious night time habits start to impact on their lives. Even more so, when a curious detective enters the scene suspecting foul play when some of the read bodies are uncovered. 

At first Lauren puts Evan’s behaviour down to becoming a new parent, but soon feels isolated from her husband. It’s here that Lauren starts to rely on Evan’s mother (Dale Dickey – True Blood) who moves in to offer some nurturing support. This comes across as a typical mother-in-law relationship scenario that starts off as stifled but soon becomes a much-needed companionship, but there’s something not altogether right with her. Can she really be trusted and how solid are the foundations in this family? Can love truly conquer all obstacles?

The Prognosis:

There are some great dramatic moments and conflict, both externally and internally that fuels the tension and creates the division between all the relationships involved that puts everything to the test.

This dramatic thriller doesn’t necessarily push new boundaries, but its a solid little flick that will do enough to entertain and surprise you with a highly convincing turn from Sean William Scott to unnerve you to the film’s conclusion.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Sweetheart

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Beneath the surface, Sweetheart is essentially a retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, except in this instance we have a young lady stranded on an island who cries monster.

The premise is a simple one that shows Kiersey Clemons as the afore-mentioned young lady, Jenn, who washes up on an island as pretty much the sole survivor from some kind of boating accident… the details on this aren’t exactly clear, but they don’t have to be. The only background from her past that we are provided with is that Jenn hasn’t exactly been truthful or forthcoming with those deemed closest to her, and therein lies the rub. 

But hold on, I’ve cast myself ahead too much.

For the majority of the movie Jenn is on her own on this island in what initially starts off as a tale of survival and we witness some heart to her character as she tries to aid a fellow survivor who has been fatally stabbed by some coral. From the audience’s perspective, this allows us to warm to her and already we are on her side, wishing her to survive. This is amped up more so when the mysterious sea creature arrives and its entrance is a cracker. 

From here the film tauts Jenn against this sea creature, which could easily have drifted in strange dark cloud territory ala Lost, but instead gradually introduces the monster as a force to be reckoned with and Jenn has no option but to pull from whatever little resources she has in order to survive, including the odd cadaver or two. 

Admittedly Sweetheart has a short running time falling just shy of the 90 minute mark, but director J,D. Dillard crafts out enough tension to fill that time whilst also allowing for moments to breathe and develop the character further. Clemons is a natural in her role and harnesses every facet of her character as she is forced to endure a gruelling battle of endurance that in some ways reminded me of Dillon’s confrontation with the Predator. 

The creature itself is convincing enough but once it is revealed loses some of its initial menace, but having said that, we are so invested in Jenn’s plight by this point that any slight flaw is forgivable.

The Prognosis:

We’ve seen tales of survival before but Sweetheart stares at typical concepts in the face and delivers a gritty and alternate take that peppers along at a decent pace with a solid performance from Clemons to keep us grounded.

If you’re looking for an entertaining journey to while away your isolation, this could feel some time without disappointments

A fun little movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously..

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Hostage

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If you’re familiar with Australian cinema, you’d be aware of the Ozploitation movement that peaked in the late 70s and 80s, and that director Quentin Tarantino projected these movies back into the limelight in the early 2000s by declaring his love for the subgenre. 

Embedded right in this timeframe that projected a mix of sexploitation, bikers, horror and action upfront and in your face comes the 1983 feature Hostage based on the true story of Christine Maresch, who is forced to endure a life of crime under the dominant hand of her husband Walter – a man that embodies narcissism.

Watching this film now, it lends itself easily to the #metoo movement as Christine is subjected to rape and torture in a land foreign to her own when she follows her husband and daughter to Germany in order to make an honest go in life.

When we first meet Christine, she’s a happy-go-lucky, larger than life character, who is working at the circus, where she feels free and in her element. Here she meets the dark and mysterious Walter and falls for his rugged yet caring nature, only to discover that he holds a sadistic side with pursuits in Neo-Nazi activities. This itself can feel a little obvious by today’s standards, but the brutality of his treatment is still hard to bear and we long for Christine to find a way out of her turmoil, which goes steadily from bad to worse.

The hardest hitting moment comes when she ends up in Istanbul and receives a tumultuous confrontation with some unsavoury characters at a petrol station. The scene is edgy, sharp, and filled with vitriol that was synonymous with the Ozploitation scene, but its Walters ill treatment of Christine that is the most uncomfortable to watch and is more relevant today than ever.

The film is peppered with some upbeat sounds from composer Davood A. Tabrizi, who manages to tweak every ounce of action and thrills into his score, casting the film forwards with some much needed pace at times.

The Prognosis:

Hostage is a film that is indicative of its time but despite its place and setting has enough fuel and fire to ignite a still unsettling scenario that resonates with the viewer.
Its character is the major selling point and its two leads in Kerry Mack and Ralph Schicha do enough to engage the audience beyond the ‘based on a real story’ setting.

One for the Ozploitation enthusiasts but I highly recommend this to anyone with and interest in Australian cinema.

  • Saul Muerte

Hostage is available to view now via Video On Demand

Movie review: Color Out of Space

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H.P Lovecraft’s influence is fundamental to modern horror, it can be seen most strongly in the DNA of countless Stephen King stories, John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness & In the Mouth of Madness), Event Horizon, the video game Bloodbourne and the Alien series, its influence is often met with varying success but direct adaptations have been few and far between.
For years there has been talk of a Guillermo Del Toro helmed At the Mouth of Madness that seemed to ultimately stall thanks to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus stealing it’s philosophical fire.
Stuart Gordon was probably the most successful, or at least prolific adaptor of H.P’s work with Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dagon, all adaptations of Lovecraft short stories (Dagon being an amalgam), but these all held a considerable helping of cheese, camp and tongue in cheek that, for the most part, enshrined their cult status (how appropriate).
Recently though there must be something contaminating the well water because within the last 6 months we had 3 films massively inspired by the H.P Lovecraft; Underwater, The Lighthouse, and the most faithful of the 3, Color Out of Space.

We start at the edge of a river, west of the fictional rural town of Arkham, Massachusetts, as the young Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur) performs a ritual of healing.
Here she meets Ward (Elliot Knight), a surveyor taking water readings.
In the original story Ward was our nameless narrator but in this tale he has far more involvement with the story developing a bit of an attraction to the aspiring young witch.
Six months ago Lavinia’s father Nathan (Nicholas Cage) moved his family to this country house so that his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) could recover from her mastectomy.
Rounding out the family is Brother’s Benny and the young Jack (Brendan Meyer & Julian Hilliard respectively).
The whole Gardner family have been struggling with the adjustment, Nathan has been trying his hand as a tomato farmer and raiser of alpacas, Theresa is struggling with her financial consolation business thanks to the shitty internet connection, Benny has been smoking weed with the local hermit Ezra (Tommy Chong) and Jack is self-isolating taking solace in the family dog.
The change in their lives is dwarfed entirely when a meteorite crashes in their front yard one night with a flash of light and colour never seen before on this earth.
What follows is a slow descent into insanity as the cosmic colour spreads transforming the landscape and life around it and warping the minds of the Gardner family.

This is Director Richard Stanley’s feature length return to our screens since the disastrous ‘Island of Dr. Moreau’ which was filled with all of the meddling and power struggles that this film feels utterly devoid of.
Stanley’s vision is what we are seeing.
Now this is a relatively low budget indie flick ($12 Million budget) sometimes you can feel it but for the most part I think they make this film feel so much bigger.
It is a really gorgeous looking film with a mostly excellent use of CGI, particularly when it’s used to create the near alien landscape that this quaint little farmhouse transforms into, sharpening colours and extending the mutations surrounding them.
Fans of gooey body horror will be pleased with a lot of the practical effects used here as well, one particular change in the family is deeply disturbing and honestly heartbreaking.
You can certainly feel the influence of other films of its ilk (The Mist, From Beyond, The Thing) but it has a strong enough identity and a visual flair that the homages never feel like all this film has to offer.
It is a deeply creepy film as the characters are separated yet so close to each other, lost in the fog their minds have become, where time has lost meaning and they just don’t notice how wrong things have become.
The Composer, Colin Stetson, has created a truly beautiful score that compliments the growing mutation and helps make the titular colour, a pinkish purple, feel more than a colour, more than a sound.

Pacing wise Color Out of Space may lag a little in the second act but that eerie feeling never goes away.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a wholly serious film and a big part of that is thanks to Nicholas Cage.
Now the Nic Cage we get in the first half of the film is a dorky and daggy Dad, feeling relatively restrained compared to his recent output but once the alien insanity starts to spread Cage turns up the dial with gusto.
I would say there’s almost a little bit of Jack Nicholson in the Shining, where the character already feels a little unhinged when we first meet him so when the jump happens it doesn’t feel like that big a change, having said that though he is still a lot of fun and there are many ridiculous lines he spouts off that you couldn’t even comprehend another more self-serious actor taking a stab at.
The rest of the cast are really complimentary, bringing to life this struggling family beset by a greater force.
This is Joely Richardson’s second eldritch horror outing after the late 90’s Event Horizon, and as Theresa she brings the balance that makes her and Nathan’s relationship feel a lot more believable, struggling to spark their intimacy after her operation.
And the trio of kids, who really take the main stage after Mom and Dad drive off for medical help, give really good performances developing a believable sibling dynamic that carries most of this film.

The Prognosis

For the most part I really enjoyed this film, it’s a kaleidoscopic quagmire of madness with a brilliant score, fun performances and excellent goo.
It might not fully land it’s ending which for me is a hard blow to recover from, reducing it from my favourite Cosmic Horror film to just one of the better ones and like most of the Lovecraft adaptations of the past this will not be for everyone but it’s a hell of a ride if you’ll brave the eldritch horrors of the Color Out of Space.

  • Oscar Jack
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Color Out of Space is available to view via Video On Demand
from Wed, 6th May