Currently making the rounds at the festival circuit and turning more than the occasional head is this glorious short from independent film director Michael Wong. Wong has a beautiful eye for detail with his short feature, The Tattooist, a movie that is rich in colour and texture, where the images leap off the screen and buries into the back of the audiences visual core.
In order to make a decent short, you have to go one of two ways, focus on narrative or provide a visual treat for the senses. Both are really hard to pull off and to execute well. Wong in this instance chooses to go with the latter by luring the audience into the dark and twisted mind of an ink specialist, who harbours a disturbing secret.
Whether it is within the tattooists’ mind as he imagines these harrowing depictions of brutal torment and gore that is reminiscent of Eli Roth’s Hostel movies, or genuine insight into these torture chambers, where he imprisons his victims is down to the audiences interpretation. Either way, Wong provides a window into this disturbing underbelly of a tattoo parlour that taps into our fears of the uncertainty and sometimes taboo views associated with such places.
It’s an abrasive and voyeuristic vision that Wong delivers and in doing so makes him a director to keep a firm eye on.
Here at the Surgeons School of Horror there
are some key elements that make up a good sequel.
It stays faithful to what was
set up in (the spirit of) the original.
It offers something new that
adds to the original. It needs to feel right and makes you say, “Yeah, that
fits!” without contradicting it.
And the tipping point in
shifting from a great sequel into an awesome one is that it must stand on its
own as an individual film.
Highlander 2 for example completely ignored the rules as to why they were immortal in Highlander 1 = Bad movie.
From LA is a literal rehash of Escape From New York = Bad movie.
Where as Aliens explored and expanded the mythology of the xenomorph whilst
making a film that stands alone, which is fantastic and feels like it sits
comfortably within the universe that Ridley Scott set up = Great movie.
So, where does Happy Death 2U fit into this equation? Well, lets take a quick snapshot of our original review from its predecessor:
Murdered on her birthday, college student
wakes up to find that she is stuck in a time loop in true Groundhog Day style and must relive the day all over again and can
only break out of this vortex by finding her murderer.
It was a cool premise with some black
comedy thrown in to boot to keep the viewer connected. Sure it had its flaws,
particularly with continuity left, right, and centre. At the time I found it
hard to connect with and treated it as a fairly middle of the road movie but it
resonated with the younger generation who understood the humour and the college
satire that was injected into the lead protagonist, Tree’s plight.
So with a successful first outing, Director
Christopher Landon and producer Jason Blum felt that there was enough material
there to warrant a second trip into the time loop with a sequel.
So going back to our rules for what makes a
successful sequel how does it fair.
Does it stay faithful to the original? Yes and no. Yes, because it does keep up with the rules applied with Tree finding herself, trapped in a time loop again and it amps up the comedy element this time around more successfully I felt. No, because it loses the horror element and steps firmly into sci-fi territory which may lose some of the original fans… but having said that and to use our Alien / Aliens analogy again, the original movie was a sci-fi horror, where as the sequel was more of a sci-fi action movie, so there’s no reason that you can’t shift genre and still make it successful.
Does it add anything to the original that feels right? Hell yes! And this is HDD2U’s trump card. Where fans of the original maybe disappointed with the shift in genre, the writers stay within the boundaries of believability by throwing in the McGuffin of Carter’s roommate Ryan, who has invented a reactor that sucks Tree into said time loop with the added parallel universe jump to he mix. Tree still has to hunt down a killer, but this time around is faced with a few complex life choices.
So, does it stand on its own as a stand-alone movie? Not really, as it heavily relies on the original to tie things together.
The name of the game is fun in this movie. Whilst it steers away from the horror element, there is enough humour and drama in the mix to make this an incredibly entertaining feature that not only supports the original, but may even surpass it in some people’s eyes. Oh and stick around for a mid credits scene that potentially opens up the universe even further.
The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival is once again showcasing some excellent features this year, especially in the horror genre. Alongside the glorious, hard-edged, rape revenge film, Revenge, comes the debut directorial feature from Dominique Rocher, The Night Eats The World.
The film embodies Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend with its token male
protagonist, struggling with isolation in a post-apocalyptic world over run by
zombies, but there the similarities lie.
Set primarily within the confines of a
Parisian apartment block, our lone figure Sam (played by Anders Danielson Lie,
who is simply divine in this movie in creating his character with charm,
charisma, coupled with this awkward mix of inept social skills) wakes up in an
apartment room, after seeking refuge from a house party, only to find the
afore-mentioned apocalypse has hit and it would appear that there are no other
survivors… at least not human ones.
Whilst The Night Eats The World is a bit of a slow burn, audiences are rewarded with the attention to Sam’s character and as the film plays out we warm to his quirks. Sam is clearly a guy who struggles at the best of times to mix with people and would prefer to be holed up on his own, without the company of others. So it’s with some sense of irony that his wish comes true with the zombie outbreak, but through it all, his sense of isolation is heightened and he realizes that even he seeks companionship, which at one point he finds in a zombie trapped in the lift.
Despite his growing agoraphobia, Sam must break down his barriers and leap out into this strange new horizon, if he has any chance to survive in the ‘new world’.
It’s Sam’s anxiety about what may lay
beyond the comforts of his four walls that makes this such a refreshing film to
It also contains a feeling of warmth and
humour, which juxtaposes the climate that Sam is faced with. This too provides
a rich attraction to the movie that allows The
Night That Ate The World to stand out and claim its own identity in a
Director Dominique Rocher offers a quirky
and delightful take on the zombie genre, by offering a slice of humanity,
whilst shining a spotlight on how crippling anxiety can be.
It is a beautifully paced movie providing
ample time for the main protagonist to shine, with dramatic moments to pulsate
and keep the audience entertained.
When released in the States back in
September 2018, Hell Fest crashed out
to a poor box office despite what promised to be a great premise with something
that was reminiscent of Tobe Hooper’s The
Funhouse, (a forgotten gem) albeit with a more distinctive teen-slasher
vibe in this instance.
There is a phrase that ‘Monsters don’t
always lurk in the shadows, sometimes they hide in plain sight’, and what
better way to hide and stalk your prey than in a nightmare entertainment theme
park, built to scare and delight its customers.
As the teens enter The Dead Lands, an area
of the theme park where the workers are allowed to physically touch you in
their attempts to up the scare ante, a masked figure known as ‘The Other’
begins to circle and focus on his prey and inevitably picks them off one by
Fest contains all the hallmarks of what should be a
fun ride which it is including some brutal kills that have you grimacing in
your seat, so why did it bomb and not resonate with its cinema going audience?
Most critics citied its lack of originality
and that it fell to formulaic tropes within the genre with most of the
characters presented as two-dimensional representations of what most horror
fans have seen before. Although I did find Bex Taylor-Klaus’ performance of the
wayward and rebellious Taylor, fun to watch.
I do find it hard to defend Hell Fest
though, as it does appear to tread old ground and you never really feel
connected to the characters. It’s a shame because director Gregory Plotkin’s (Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension)
sophomore outing has a great playing field to draw out the horror and offer
some unique approaches to the genre, but fails to deliver.
Whilst Hell Fest is a fun ride, the ride itself becomes all too familiar all too quickly and the thrills whimper out with barely a flicker on the scare-ometer. And hey, it was awesome to see Tony Todd on screen as the theme park’s barker, despite his screen time being way too small.
Now that the paint has dried and a few weeks has passed since Velvet Buzzsaw was unveiled on Netflix, it seems a good time as any for this Surgeon to dissect Dan Gilroy’s third movie from the director’s chair.
Gilroy’s debut, Nightcrawler was a disturbing vision of a violent, voyeuristic underbelly of US society as depicted by the media, so there was much anticipation ahead of his third outing.
Teaming up once again with stars Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal, Velvet Buzzsaw promised to be another dark and twisted journey into the recesses of the art world, both of whom excel in their respective parts; Gyllenhaal as Morf Vandewalt (great name by the way), an art critic who’s mind begins to unravel as the true horror behind Arts latest discovery Vetril Dease unleashes an evil that threatens the fabrication of materialism and expression to its foundations and rip it to shreds; and respected gallery owner Rhodora Haze, who is every shadow of perfection, but has a her own demons lurking within.
Having shuffled off this mortal coil, Dease’s work is discovered by Josephina (who also works for Rhodora, and coincidentally is having an affair with Gyllenhaal’s Morf) in his apartment and seeking a chance to lift her profile, nabs the lot in search of fortune.
And therein lies the rub.
Every character it seems is in search of their own personal glorification and with each stride to ‘perfection’, they fall deeper into the labyrinth of sin and despair. None more so than Toni Collette’s Gretchen, who gets so bitter and twisted as she distorts and manipulates her grounding in order to establish a firm footing within the Artistic community.
Interestingly though, it’s only those that feed off the creative types and promote their material in order to meet their own ends, are the ones that get popped off one by one. Some, in glorious fashion.
The artists themselves are deeply affected by Dease’s paintings but instead of utter destruction, it only empowers them to go and create again. As if to explore their own passions and free their souls to be reborn, or thrive once more.
The only other exception is Coco
(everyone’s assistant) who is basically everyone’s pawn and unfortunately is
the discoverer of most of the victims.
So far so bloody fabulous. Gilroy does a stellar job at tapping into the heart of the savagery embedded in the Art world, and there are hints of Altmanesque style of direction, as he weaves a multi-layered character narrative.
Ultimately though, where Gilroy succeeded with Nightstalker with its transcendence into hell, with Velvet Buzzsaw, he seems to get lost in the vortex of disillusionment. The more Gilroy subjects his characters to the turmoil within their own psyche, the more fantastical and hyper realistic their world becomes, alienating the audience as a result.
Velvet Buzzsaw like most works of art is subjective to the perception of its viewer or audience. Some may find it a stroke of genius that embodies the ugly psyche of the human mind; others will declare it a façade. When you lift the veil on the mania and manufactured lifestyle that the characters lead, all that’s left is circles in the sand… but then again, maybe that was Gilroy’s point.
It’s been a couple of months now that Sandra Bullock’s Netflix vehicle was released and was strong enough among the Surgeons team to elevate it into the Top 5 horror movies of 2018, but not all of us had such a positive attraction to the film.
Until recently, Bird Box had remained on my Must Watch list and embarrassingly kept
being pushed back when I found time to delve into a film. So, why did I keep
doing this? What was propelling me away or not enticing me into the
post-apocalyptic world where supernatural entities lead people to commit
Truth be told, I just found the concept
uninteresting and perhaps too dark or deep. So every time I came to watch the
film, I shied away to watch something else more upbeat or stimulating.
It doesn’t bode well to have these thoughts before watching a movie, but I still wanted to clear my mind and come into this fresh, but I was enticed by the fact that it was directed by Susanne Bier, who was behind the awesome The Night Manager.
Our first introduction to Bullock’s
character, Malorie Hayes is a stern and strict one as she gives two children
specific instructions of a troubled journey that lay ahead. It’s an interesting
choice, as it doesn’t allow you to warm to her straight away. It does allow you
to warm to her as you realize that our first window into her soul is a truly
human one. As stark as it maybe it propels you through the narrative with her
and Bullock’s performance on screen is one of the best I’ve seen in a long
In fact all the performances are significantly on point with all support acts given their chance to have “their moment” on screen, but particular nods should go out to Trevante Rhodes (The Predator), Sara Paulson (American Horror Story), John Malkovich who hams it up in a fantastically melancholic role, and Tom Hollander (Taboo).
Box is also beautifully shot with cinematographer
Salvatore Tottino exploiting ever inch of the canvas to project his vision.
Throw in a cracking score from the
brilliant mind of Trent Reznor and you can fast see why my fellow Surgeons were
chomping at the bit, especially with the split timeline narrative to provide
the lead-up to the ordeal that Malorie faces in her blindfolded attempt to
navigate the river to find sanctuary in a treacherous land that has been torn
The narrative has to hang together on
Bullock’s character and her performance, which it does… just. She weaves
together a tumultuous tale of survival and eking out every possible emotion
along the way, but ultimately the narrative does plod along and despite
everyone’s best efforts feels strained and a fairly predictable outcome despite
its best efforts to challenge your thoughts and opinions.
Bird Box has all the ingredients to make an incredibly powerful movie with strong performances all round, especially with Bullock leading the charge. It boasts a director at her pique with a cinematographer who can tweak out the most stunning images, but like the creatures that invoke the fear, it is all fluff and no substance. Whilst the ride is enjoyable, it doesn’t leave you with any strong connection to the movie.
One of the more recent entertainment trends has seen people seeking a higher thrill or adventure in order to stoke the fires of curiosity and challenge their intellects through ‘escape rooms’ designed to fulfil these needs. Often used as a means of office or work related events to boost morale and establish solid foundation for teamwork. For any British readers out there, it’s hard to shake the image of these adventure seekers within The Crystal Maze shouting out, “I’ve got the crystal! I’ve got the crystal!” But I digress. It seems inevitable then that the movie industry would latch onto this craze and string a dark narrative behind them to lure in the cinema-going public. Essentially what is in offer is a film that has similar traits to Saw or more appropriately Cube following a group of six strangers who in this instance sign up for one of these Escape Rooms only to realise that the stakes are high and very real. And so we see them face challenge after challenge in a fight for survival and where humanity is put in the line and deeply questioned.
Initially enticed to the event by a strange looking cube which had this writer instantly thinking of the puzzle box from Hellraiser. Now that would have been interesting to see a group of people in search of the ultimate thrill by luring out the coenobites in a battle of ecstasy that would tear open their souls in order to reach their satisfaction… if only.
Instead, we’re presented with a series of events that feel all too familiar and despite the threat being all too real, never puts the audience on edge. There are moments where we are taken on the ride and witness the characters plight, but it’s hard to emote any sense of empathy towards them as the focus is more on the danger presented in each room rather than on any depth in personality and any attempt to do so is incredibly formulaic.
The one standout set piece was in the drug infused room that leaves its occupants intoxicated with a highly venomous poison that disorientates and fucks with the mind. This scene does a lot to heighten the loss of control that the characters face and the panic that ensues.It was a pleasure to see True Blood’s Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) on screen again and the lead protagonist (Taylor Russell) holds her own in a rewarding performance too.
Escape Room could easily serve as a companion to Blumhouse’s The Belko Experiment as it equally pits a group of people in a fight for survival. Whilst it offers a few thrills along the way, it never lifts the danger component to an extreme level and as such bobs along without much fanfare. It’s an enjoyable movie but never really challenged my senses enough to connect with the characters plight.