There are some films where the director and writer make choices that make you go: “These guys are invested. They are deliberate. They are proper film-makers, and they know what they’re doing”.
And then sometimes you realise “nope – it really was an elephant with a paint brush all along”.
And that was exactly what went through my mind when I watched Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Or Puppet Master 23 (or whatever number the franchise is up to now).
Although it IS easy to mock such a long-lived series, it does play on a sort of primeval fear of being sliced by a small sharp blade moving very quickly (and in this case – where the “monster” stands at a foot tall, it has to do a LOT of fast slicing). But that’s pretty much it for the scares.
As a horror fest it very much falls into the gore category – and not a lot of it clever. In fact, some of it is pretty tasteless in a “I bet you believed this was hardcore when you thought of it, but it’s really pretty effing stupid. And your execution is even worse” kind of way.
The movie does start off with an earnest attempt at dialogue between characters where the acting is decent and the direction very considered – everyone gets their own clean shot all the way through, no dirty frames or unnecessary camera movement.
But then you realise they are not being minimalist, they’re just being frickin’ basic.
Starring Thomas Lennon (a perennial “oh THAT guy” actor if there ever was one) as Edgar – a recently divorced lead character who decides to sell a creepy doll he finds in his recently deceased brother’s bedroom. You assume the brother was killed in the previous film, but it’s hard to tell as the order in which the films have been released don’t go in a linear in-film timeline. Plus, some of the sequels are considered “non-canon” and others re-boots…
Anyway – Edgar – a 45-year-old comic book artist is soon pursued by incredibly hot twenty something girl-next-door archetype Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), because if these films can’t be the deluded projections of middle-aged straight men, why make them? (We also get to see her breasts in a make out scene later, so in case you had any doubts…)
Together Edgar, Ashley and the best friend character – played by Nelson Franklin – go to a puppet convention to try and sell their doll at a hotel that was the site of a notorious Nazi murderer getting shot by police for reasons I can’t really remember (because – upon rewind – it wasn’t explained…)
Anyway, from there all the puppets come to life and blah blah blah, you can guess the rest. At one point one of the characters suggests to all the surviving hotel patrons (after the initial puppet attack) that they split up and lock themselves in their various hotel rooms until the authorities arrive. Not only did the writer write that, he also had every character think it was a good idea…
The movie also has great slabs of missing moments that forces you to fill in the blanks, NOT in a cool “we’re challenging the audience to be engaged” sort of way, but because the film-makers have no idea how to make a movie. Or they ran out of money. Or both.
Speaking of “oh that guy” moments – it also stars Michael Pare as a detective. For any child who grew up watching American film & TV in the 70’s, he is Eddie from Eddie and the Cruisers and the John Travolta wannabe from The Greatest American Hero. Yes, that’s how old he is. He was trying to be a knock-off of Saturday Night Fever John Travolta, not Pulp Fiction John Travolta. Truth be told it was his voice that gave him away. Although his face has had some pretty good work, considering he’s older than Tom Cruise!
Speaking of which Barbara Crampton is also in the film, who is no stranger to 80’s B-grade horror flicks, and appears to be making something of a comeback of late with this movie, Replace, and Beyond the Gates.
The Littlest Reich is a 90 minute stretch you won’t get back, unless you’re into gore for gore’s sake, or teenagers wanting to have a sleepover/video night.
Apart from that – if you’re a fan of dolls in horror – be sure to check out the excellent podcast on the subject which can be found here!
Cruising down the freeway, with music blaring on the car stereo, we are introduced to Jax, as she sings along in a slightly off-key manner and seemingly without a care in the world.
But who is Jax? Why is she drifting through the desert with a devil-may-care attitude?
This beautifully shot short film, which has been making a mark on the festival circuit and setting tongues wagging enters into the viewers world with an aimlessness that echoes the ever-expanding landscape which marks its setting, somehow lures you in and with each passing frame, we discover more and more to Jax’s complex character.
With Academy Award nominee, Colin Campbell at the helm, this film is in safe hands as he crafts together a story which unfolds smoothly and each reveal feels natural as a result.
Writer Rakefet Abergel has a firm grasp on her creation of the titular Jax, and it should come as no surprise that she takes on the lead on-screen too.
Her shift from naivety and innocence, to a strong, dynamic confidence is a believable one, and in many ways the viewer is left feeling sympathetic to her plight, which is a testament to Abergel’s craftmanship.
A well crafted story that hinges on Jax’s character.
Thankfully both writer and director have the make up to produce a complex figure that is definitely not who she seems.
The journey is an enduring one but with a destination is well worth the wait.
Jax In Love is still doing the festival circuits at the time of writing.
Do yourself a favour. If it’s in your neighbourhood, check out one of the following festivals and catch Jax In Love and many more:
Aka: The other horror movie released alongside It this past week.
Is John R. Leonetti the polar opposite of Mike Flanagan?
Where the latter has been going from strength to strength, knocking out three pretty solid movies in 2016, with Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Before I Wake, Leonetti has struggled to transfer his impressive skills as a cinematographer to the director’s chair.
After helming mediocre material with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2, Leonetti had the chance to redeem himself with what on paper looked like a winner in Annabelle.
Unfortunately, he missed the mark by an epic margin and failed to deliver the scares. So much so, that when it was announced that there would be a prequel movie in the works, people were left scratching their heads, but Annabelle: Creation director, David F. Sandberg proved those naysayers wrong.
Leonetti would follow up with Wolves At The Door, a harrowingtale of the Sharon Tate murders, which should have been a confronting film of one of the most notorious crimes in Hollywood, but once again rode the line of safety and never offering anything new or stimulating to lift it above the ‘norm.’
With horror movies breaking records in the light of the recent It movie, there is a high expectancy to bring the goods and offer something compelling.
On paper, Wish Upon already sounds like a weak proposition with its premise of a girl who discovers an ancient Chinese box that can reward you with 7 wishes but holds a heavy caveat that with every wish, a blood pact must be served.
There’s further promise with some strong support players in Ryan Phillippe and Sherilyn Fenn, but instead of produced what could have been this generations answer to The Craft, we’re provided with a feeble attempt within the teen horror market that would barely make an impact on the small screen.
Joey King (The Conjuring, Independence Day: Resurgence) tries her best to carry this film as the lead, Clare Shannon, but ultimately she was let down by a poor plot that left us sadly wanting.
It’s little wonder that the International market were left pondering what to do with this film once it had tanked in the States, and one can’t blame them for trying to sneak it under the radar by riding on the coattails of It.
There are worse movies out there, but we’re now used to seeing high calibre efforts on the big screen and in order to impress, genre filmmakers need to lift their game and not rest on their laurels.
Here’s the thing about the golden age of drama we’re currently living in: it has put movies on the back-foot. Which would be a really good analogy if The Endless were a boxing movie.
But it’s not. It’s not even a horror movie – but we’ll circle back to that.
Back to high end TV drama and their ability to craft complex story-lines and characters over a solid (but not too long) period of time. It’s clear these days movies (with their relatively short 2-3 hour sittings) are losing ground as a “competing” format.
It did have cinematic-ness in its corner (which is a real word, no need to look it up) until CGI balanced that ledger too. Sure as a science and an art-form computer imagery is still evolving, but if done right, big screen special FX can be just a mouse click away for even the tiniest micro-budget film.
So what do these two developments have to do with The Endless – the latest offerings from Indie filmmakers Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson?
Well for a start it has the 5D aesthetic of an Indie offering (although no doubt it was shot on a much bigger gauge) but towards the end it has surprising quality special FX for a movie that initially looks so sparse, it almost feels like a found footage film!
And secondly it is an adjunct to Moorhead and Benson’s 2012 effort, Resolution. By that I mean The Endless takes place parallel to the events in Resolution (and literally about a block away from it).
So yes – TheEndless is a cross-over film. And this brings me to an interesting thing film has done to “push back” against the serialised superiority of TV drama. And that’s franchising, i.e. Movies that aren’t sequels per se, ‘cause not all sequels respect or even acknowledge films in their own canon (James Bond much?) but rather ‘share the same universe’.
Marvel are the current bar setters of this trend, and movie studios everywhere are following suit (lack of originality will ‘always’ be a universal constant with Hollywood).
But it also appears independent filmmakers don’t need an excuse to franchise off their own bat. Which would have helped to know in advance when events from The Endless crossed over into Resolution.
But on with some actual review stuff! The Endless centres around 2 cult “survivors” (played by Moorhead and Benson themselves). They are brothers trying to subsist in an ‘ordinary world’ that cult living failed to prepare them for.
The younger brother especially (Aaron played by Aaron) feels rudderless and out of sync, and retains more good memories about the compound they grew up in, and as such convinces his older brother Justin (played by Justin) to go back and visit for a day or two.
This is after they mysteriously receive a VHS tape featuring a woman who used to babysit them there (played by Callie Hernandez of Blair Witch and Alien Covenant fame).
And this is where the first confusion sets in, as all the characters we meet ‘appear’ to be roughly the same age. Throw in the fact that the boys themselves seem to have left the compound in the 90’s (if news footage of them exiting is to be believed) yet they themselves look to not have aged a day in 20 years.
Yet continual references by Justin to his younger brother that there appears to be a “spark” between him and their former sitter seem odd, as Hernandez looks several years younger than both of them. Yet no one makes any attempt to explain these discrepancies in any sort of story-telling capacity; and so you’re left confused. No doubt this is a deliberate ploy from the filmmaking duo who brought us the Bonestorm segment from VHS Viral, but unfortunately it does tend to come across as if the film is gleefully disappearing up its own mythos (something re-enforced when it crosses over into Resolution).
Now despite all this, The Endless does evolve at an intriguing pace and is a sci-fi page turner that has the courage to be both sparse and visually spectacular where it needs to be. Something ‘is’ going on at the compound, and you ‘do’ want to see it to the end.
The movie’s central theme is time, whereas Resolution was story. Where & when they cross over – once you know what’s going on – does work.
But is it a horror film? Not by a long stretch. Is it worth seeing? Definitely.
The beating heart of writer, director Le Binh Giang’s debut feature, Kfc is laid bare with no holds barred and all guts, no glory.
At least not for the characters portrayed in this gritty, violent, and sadistic world, we find ourselves in.
With a short running time of 69 minutes is certainly not to be scoffed at as Le manages to cram enough twisted, blood-fuckery to warp the mind and melt the soul.
Straight from the off-set, we’re provided with the confronting images of violence and mayhem that will flow through the narrative like a gushing artery, with a guys casually talking with a motionless figure before ripping up a coke can and stabbing them in the neck with it.
Said character is mowed down outside of his abode by a passing vehicle and from here-on-in, we’re sentenced down into a whirlpool of loathing and disgust that leaves the head reeling in response to the grotesque that is on display.
That’s not to mention the necrophilia doctor and his accomplice that deliberately hunt for their victims in their ambulance by smashing into them and dragging their bodies away to be defiled and cut to pieces.
In some ways this film reminds me of Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, minus the beauty of Rio.
There’s no shying away from the brutality of Kfc, but does paint a similar picture of the rough terrain and gang mentality, where only the most deranged will survive.
The films focus is on a trio of sadists, who inflict their cruelty on the world around them without any inflection of emotion, which only adds to the haunting carnage that they leave in their wake.
And it’s only when emotions play a part and brim to the surface with themes of love/lust, anger, and revenge that these three accomplices fall apart.
The energy of the piece propels you forward and there’s enough material to keep you engaged without feeling too violated.
Le Binh Giang manages to craft a cyclical tale with some key observations on how parentage and society can have a serious negative impact on the way we carry out our lives.
Anarchy and chaos will reign but only for a period of time before something or someone else comes along to wipe you off the streets and a new world of pain will begin.
The director apparently wasn’t able to graduate from the University of Ho Chi Minh, due to the extreme violence in Kfc, and although it may not be suited for the faint-hearted, it certainly offers up a fresh take on the body horror genre and could very well propel Le Binh Giang onto greater things as a result.
As discussed in our latest podcast on Annabelle: Creation, the Conjuring universe is certainly expanding and this latest entry into the world feels like the first to make its mark.
Cinematic universes are fast becoming the next big thing – you can’t create a movie these days without looking beyond the movie that is being produced in order to explore untapped story potential.
Annabelle: Creation is no exception and a lot has been resting on the shoulders of this film to succeed in order for The Conjuring Universe to leap ahead with its grand plans.
Already committed to the franchise is ‘The Nun’ spinoff, heading to cinemas mid-next year, plus a stand-alone film centered on ‘The Crooked Man’ from The Conjuring2, plus a third outing on the supernatural investigations led by The Warrens.
Overseeing this universe from a writing perspective is Gary Dauberman, who not only has cast his vision across the numerous films slated, but contributed towards the much-anticipated It movie, due to be released in the coming weeks.
What is notable however in Dauberman’s writing is his fascination with the occult and those that practice or delve into the dark arts.
Despite its obvious flaws, Annabelle’s beating heart centred upon ‘Satanists’ and that of a woman from an undisclosed cult projects her twisted soul into the titular doll and thereby exacting its demonic will upon the afflicted family.
What has this all to do with the Manson family murders, I hear you cry?
Well, sandwiched in-between the release of Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, Dauberman worked on a little movie called Wolves At The Door, a tough, hard-hitting drama horror based on the Sharon Tate murders.
Those who are unfamiliar with this case, there were 5 victims in total, murdered in the home of Sharon Tate, wife to director Roman Polanski at the time and who was 8 months pregnant when she was killed.
The murders were carried out by four of Charles Manson’s ‘family’ by climbing into the estate and carrying out one of the most brutal and documented crimes in Hollywood.
It’s a dark subject and perhaps due to its historical context makes the viewing all the more harder to take on-board despite its lenient running time.
The connection doesn’t just stop with this movie though, as a more obvious relation is at play in Dauberman’s writing in the form of this guy.
Eric Ladin’s detective character, Clarkin was last seen in the Annabelle movie, charged with overseeing the murders that took place at the start, and would be called upon by Mae to discuss the ‘ritual’ behavior that was carried out.
“Crazy people do crazy things sometimes.”
A line that he mentions in passing to sum up all the horror that has unfolded and would be repeated again in Wolves At The Door, when Clarkin is again called in to investigate a break-in that has all the hallmarks of satanic beliefs and the precursor to the Sharon Tate murders.
His appearance may be minor in both films, but is there more to be uncovered in this character?
Does Dauberman have any plans to explore this character further? Could we expect another spinoff following Detective Clarkin’s investigations?
With the expanding universe, anything’s possible, right?
Like me, you may have believed that The Sixth Sense was M. Night Shyamalan’s directorial debut, such was the impact that movie had on his career and the horror genre.
Before this movie awakened our senses and Shyamalan became known as the director with the twist endings, he would take the helm with two other features, Praying with Anger, and Wide Awake.
The former would see Shyamalan write, direct, produce, and star (a sign of things to come) in a self-reflective story about an Indian American, who was raised in the States who goes to India to study, and a conflict of Western and Native culture collide.
Clearly, there is a lot of the director’s love and labour thrown into this project as he covers every aspect of the production process.
Six years later (1998) Shyamalan would venture into his sophomore feature with Wide Awake, a comedy drama starring Denis Leary, Dana Delany, and Rosie O’Donnell.
Once more faith, and religion (a reoccurring them in Shyamalan’s work) would play a part in this story, as a 10-year-old searches for answers around life and death.
Another signature that would return for the third movie and the film that would put Shyamalan’s name on the map would be to tell the story through the eyes of a young boy, capturing the essence of innocence in a ‘brave new world’.
The Sixth Sense
The blessing and the curse
The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and thrust Shyamalan into the spotlight.
The Sixth Sense has been referenced and parodied on numerous occasions, and cemented itself firmly into pop culture.
Starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, and career defining performance from Hayley Joel Osmont.
Despite all the accolades thrust toward the movie, because of its ‘surprise ending’, it falls into the trap of lost magic, once the reveal is apparent.
People may have been keen to re-watch and scrutinise every aspect for the clues set up along the way, but essentially, you could never capture THAT moment again with repeat viewing.
It’s a strong contender in Shyamalan’s canon of work, but arguably not his finest hour for this writer.
Personally, I don’t feel he has managed to top his follow-up movie…
The elevation of success continues
Bruce Willis would once again work alongside Shyamalan following the success of The Sixth Sense.
This time Samuel Jackson and Robin Wright, rounding out a stellar cast that would accompany him.
Shyamalan’s ode to the comic book genre has been labelled as one of the best superhero movies of all time and you can clearly see the director’s love for the subject.
Unbreakable is a wonderful shot and beautifully told story that pits Willis’ David Dunn, a man who discovers that he is as the title suggests, unbreakable when he is the lone survivor of a train crash.
Dunn pits his strength and wits against Jackson’s Elijah, his polar opposite in that his body is prone to fracturing easily and in my mind, one of the best things about the film is the way Shyamalan’s narrative leads you to believe and identify with the reasons that Elijah resorts to villainous behaviour, a topic that many have tried but failed to convey.
Shyalaman’s third success would come in the form of…
The last hurrah?
Signs would complete Shyalaman’s hat trick of successes before his fall from grace.
Once more faith is put under scrutiny when Gibson’s Father Graham Hess is struggling to identify with his religion after the loss of his wife.
It’s his acceptance of that grief that shoulders him and ultimately his family through an alien invasion that threatens their way of life.
With each movie Shyamalan has released his formula had been pretty consistent, but audiences were starting to wisen up to his craft.
His next feature would break the camels back and see a downward trend in Shyamalan’s fortunes.
The one trick ponyrevealed
I’m gonna ask a question here relating to The Village, which in my opinion has received unfair criticism towards it.
If Shyamalan had not been the director, would we (the audience) have been so scornful?
Too many people had become familiar with the directors trick of adding a surprise ending that when said trick arrived in The Village, there was a sense of being let down.
“Oh, is that it? WTF!!”
However, if you take Shyamalan out of the equation and simply look at the movie on its own merit, it’s actually a lot stronger than our immediate reactions warranted.
Joaquin Phoenix returns as Shyamalan’s latest muse, this time portraying Lucius one of the next generation of a secluded villagers that we’re led to believe darkens back to days of yore, such is the existence that the inhabitants lead.
Believing that their secret is set to be exposed, the Elders are rescued by a stroke of luck when a blind girl, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) ventures out into the outside world to retrieve some much needed medicine.
As I said, I liked this movie. Agreed not Shyalaman’s finest hour but it’s a solid movie.
Any fans of the directors work that found themselves sitting on the fence of uncertainty about Shyalaman’s directing prowess, would find their confidence drift further with his follow up film…
Lady In The Water
The fall from grace
There’s no doubt in my mind that Shyalaman is a smart man.
His intelligence brims to the surface of all of his movies.
But like another smart man once said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’
And with his recent run of successful movie hits, one can’t help but thing that Lady In The Water is an example of how the directors vision had left his vision firmly in the clouds.
You have to commend him for the effort portrayed in infusing a fantastical world based in reality, but Shyalaman is so absorbed in his own creation and egotistical views that he fails to see the bigger picture, and because of this, he loses his audience in a convoluted mess of a fairy tale.
What makes it worse, is the now notorious self-casting of the writer come to save us all.
It feels so egotistical that and the delusion is worrying sign for a director/writer who had shown so much promise.
And as if he were hell-bent on destroying his career, Shyalaman decides to kill off a character within the plot who just so happens to be a movie critic.
If Lady In The Water has one saving grace, it’s that Giamatti’s performance keeps the narrative bopping above the surface, but not even the addition of a good cast in support, notably Bryce Dallas Howard as the nymph, Story, and Jeffrey Wright as Mr Dury can help save this film from drowning in a pool of its own vomit.
So, where to from here?
His first box office disappointment and Shyalaman chooses to push on regardless with…
The film that limped across the line.
With a point to prove, Shyalaman would turn his attention next to a B-Movie horror with smarts.
But The Happening was hardly a victory.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, who himself criticised the film and Zooey Deschanel, an actress who usually sets the screen alight with her strong performances.
With a promising start, The Happening does hold promise, but the audience once again finds themselves lost in the lack of plot structure and smothered by the overbearing message on environmentalism.
By now, we’ve reached the mid-way point of Shyalaman’s career thus far and the feeling I get as I survey his filmography is that he’s a man with grand visions and ideas, but he’s not necessarily going to execute them effectively.
Case in point…
The Last Airbender
Dead on arrival
Based on the successful kids tv series on Nickelodeon, The Last Airbender should have been a success given its strong following, and this could be in part why it received a fairly strong opening weekend at the Box Office.
But the first movie that Shyalaman would attempt from a story that wasn’t his own would prove to be another failure for the director.
This film to me feels like a move from a guy who is lost in the world and with no sense of direction or where he is going.
Which is understandable considering his recent run of poor performances.
With a central character who displays no personality whatsoever and a script that clearly doesn’t connect with the writers ethos, The Last Airbender is a film that doesn’t even register on the Richter scale and doesn’t stir any emotion at all.
This is Shyalaman’s lowest point in his career.
When you reach rock bottom there’s only up though, right? Right?
An interesting response from Shyalaman during this time was to put on his producer hat and support another movie released in 2010 called Devil.
This film was actually quite good and showed promise, but importantly saw a success under Shyalaman’s name but this time not as a director.
That particular journey had still needed to right itself and was by far from finding solid ground.
Instead we’re treated to…
This movie was essentially a passion project of Will Smiths.
Based on an idea that he developed, After Earth would also star Smith’s son Jayden and produced by Smith himself alongside his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith and Shyalaman.
The latter of whom feels like is still in self destructive mode, clambering up the sides of the hole of failure, which he pretty much dig himself.
As if he didn’t learn his last lesson, Shyalaman plummets into another disappointing film by tackling a story that is not his own.
Ironically, the director had lost faith in himself. Ironic in that faith is the very subject that fascinates this director when approaching storytelling.
Will Smith would describe After Earth as his most painful failure and there’s a reason that most people have tried to bury this movie from their minds, which falls just short of being the worst post apocalyptic sci-fi film of all-time.
No one can take Battlefield Earth off that mantle.
The much needed reprieve
Although his next move saw Shyalaman only serve as director for the pilot and serve as Executive Producer, the choice was an important step in his career.
By turning his attention to a different medium, (a tv series), Shyalaman would be able to realign himself once more.
Take stock and arguably bring him back into contention as an auteur once more.
This could very well be the turning point that Shyalaman was searching for in his climb back into the realms of success again.
On face value it struck me as just another found footage horror, with the protagonists played by sibling kids, Becca and and Tyler (Olivia De Jonge and Ed Oxenbould who both deserve high recognition for their performances in this) who go to stay with Nana and Pop-Pop, grandparents they’ve never seen before, which automatically sent signals off for me.
The plot line is a little clumsy in places as Shyamalan stumbles his way through telling a story on new-found confidence, albeit a little shakily.
There is another strength in the tale though to allow Shyalaman to stride forward in his tale, as the right ingredients are in place to propel the story forward with fear and trepidation combined with a genuine care factor for the central characters involved.
My only niggle was the slight arrogance from Shyalaman from the role of Becca.
She speaks intelligently enough but it just dips slightly into the level of annoyance and too many scars are on display still from Shyalaman’s previous outings.
This aside, it plays along nicely enough with a reward that doesn’t feel forced.
It’s a strong sign of things to come.
The return to form?
By the time I came around to watching this the word was already out and the spoilers had hit the net.
The audience reaction was… divided and yet I intended to come into this film with an open mind.
The pace and build up was faultless and thrust the viewer headlong into the ordeal that the 3 kidnapped girls face.
James McAvoy is simply outstanding displaying so many diverse personalities, although we only ever see 8 of the 24 in the film.
Perhaps because this would have been too confusing and the audience would have been lost.
Maybe Shyalaman has learnt his lesson after all?
Also making an impact on the screen in films such as Morgan and The Witch is Anya Taylor-Joy who delivers another defining turn as one of the kidnapped girls, Cassie, who has her own skeleton in her closet which becomes integral to the closing scenes of the movie.
There are some moments that he action is a little scattered in places but overall Shyamalan delivers a solid movie with the promise of an Unbreakable / Split crossover in the near future.
This news has got fans salivating at this prospect but also has film lovers in a frothing frenzy of anger at the idea of another movie being released by the director.
Has Shyamalan burnt too many bridges in his audience trust?
Is he bouncing back from redemption? And does have what it takes to another another successful feature?
Love him or hate him, I’ve come to admire his appetite to keep challenging himself and delivering compelling stories.
Each story he produces takes him in a different direction and he seems fearless to take on his visions.
Yes he may not land with every punch, but there’s not many other directors out there in the mainstream that continue to offer something new to the scene and to produce conversation with every project that he overseas.
For good or Ill, I’m glad to see someone like Shyamalan still producing in the film industry.
And I’ll have to hang my hat on that unpopular statement.
Xx is released on Blu-ray and DVD today, so I thought I’d write this review and share my thoughts.
Warning: contains spoilers for those who’ve not seen it yet.
I soooo wanted to like this movie.
So long now, women have been forced into the shadows unable to have a voice (with a few exceptions) so when I heard that four female directors would team up to deliver a collection of short horror stories for a feature, I was beyond excited about shifting that ‘male gaze’ with a much-needed feminine skew.
I have to say though, I was let down, although only marginally.
Features that contain short stories rarely work in my opinion.
Some come out stronger than others and the overall feel of the feature as a whole is a little unbalanced as a result.
Unfortunately, the weaker of these stories occur at the beginning of the movie.
So, let’s scrutinise this further by examining the shorts in question.
First up we’re presented with…
…which was also written by Jack Ketchum, who has 4 Bram Stoker awards to his name, so he is no stranger to the dark world, but with all due respect to him, I was kind of hoping that these collections would be 100% female orientated.
Not just with the writing but with the writing too and his addition mars this ever-so-slightly.
The Box presents a mysterious story centred around a mysterious red box that a guy is holding on a train.
A boy, Danny asks what’s inside and when he peers in an eerie transformation occurs, where he won’t eat anything anymore.
One by one the other family members succumb to this strange ‘virus’, all except the mother played by Natalie Brown (Channel Zero: Candle Cove).
The family end up starving to death, and the mother is left wandering the tubes in search of the man with the box and an answer to the mystery to no avail.
The Box has a cold heart at its core, and whilst it’s interesting enough leaves the viewer feeling a little empty and therefore struggles to pick up any energy moving forward, which it does attempt to do with the more light-hearted….
The Birthday Party
Which stars the wonderful Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures) and it’s refreshing to see her on screen again.
Here she plays Mary, a housewife struggling in a troubled relationship
With her husband, David.
When she finds her husband dead on his home office, she struggles to hide this from her daughter, who just coincidentally is having her birthday party that day.
A sort of warped version of Weekend at Bernie’s, The Birthday unfolds with a comic lilt and is great insight into the vapid world of the social elite told from a mother struggling to keep up with the Joneses and all appearances to be pristine.
Written and directed by Annie Clark from St Vincent, this short feature would be best served as a single entity rather than absorbed in this group.
It’s certainly not a horror film despite it shedding light on a much heightened side of society, but by sitting alongside its fellow shorts here, it feels and makes the complete picture incredibly disjointed.
Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin, the third instalment feels like a nod to old school horror, and is quirky enough to stand out here, but rather than push the feature on in a stronger direction, it limps towards the finish line.
Set in remote desert, four campers encounter a creature that kills them one by one.
It has its funny moments of banter in the dialogue, but the care factor for the characters are low and because of this lack of engagement it’s hard for the viewer to empathise with their plight.
With more room to breathe and a possible feature in her hands, director Benjamin could still be someone to look out for as it does feel that she has more to say, and there’s enough in her writing that makes me willing to listen.
Onto the final instalment…
Her Only Living Son
Thank God for Karyn Kusama.
Just when it feels like XX is dying out with a whimper the director of the brilliant The Invitation comes along with the final offering and you can certainly see that she owns her craft and her skillet is a lot higher than her female counterparts.
Her Only Living Son is a glorious tale of a mother who soon discovers that her suspicions about her son being the spawn of Satan are true.
I have to commend the performance from Christina Kirk as the matriarch caught between the love of her son and knowing that she must prevent the evil from seeping into the world before it’s too late.
It feels like Rosemary’s Baby told from the view of the baby reaching adulthood and that despair of being caught between doing the right thing as painful as that decision may be.
Thankfully Kusama’s story elevates Xx back up to a semi-decent level.
It’s not the best of features and it certainly struggles in places, but it does have its strong points too and by the very nature of its existence, it will have an important place in horror film history.
IN THEIR THIRD appearance together for Universal Pictures, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi have the routine down pat.
Lugosi oozes maniacal glee as the Poe-obsessed surgeon with a torture chamber in his basement.
And Karloff, (who was billed with just his surname for this picture, which goes to show how symbolic his name had become in the industry) plays a fugitive on the run from the police.
The film begins with an actress, Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) hanging on for dear life after a car accident.
Her father and her betrothed seek the help of a retired surgeon, Richard Vollin (Lugosi) to pull her through.
Vollin then develops an unhealthy infatuation towards Jean, who is indebted to him for saving her life.
Vollin attempts to sway her much to the reluctance of Jean’s father.
A crazed plan only comes to light for Vollin when a chance encounter with Edmond Bateman (Karloff) seeking refuge with a proposed operation to change his appearance.
Bateman’s words hang firmly in the mind of Vollin when he mentions how being ugly may have led to him doing ugly things.
In what Bateman hopes will be a transformation for good, Vollin seizes upon this and turns him into a disfigure monster followed by a promise that he will aide him in exacting revenge on the Thatchers.
The conclusion of the movie centres on a dinner party which soon descends into the basement of torture, where one by one the guests face the likes of the pit and the pendulum, and the shrinking room.
It is Bateman’s tortured soul that wins the day though, as he searches for a good heart within and turns the tables on the fanatical Vollin, forcing him into the shrinking room and in turn his demise, but not without inflicting a fatal bullet wound in the process.
Upon release the movie received poor box office receipts, which is a shame, as I found the narrative and performances to be one of the strongest outside of the ‘monster’ features.
Both Lugosi and Karloff are particularly strong in their respective rolls, but it was deemed the subject matter of torture and disfigurement (themes that would be welcomed today among cinema-goers) too strong for the audience.
The following year would see Universal Pictures change hands, and the proprietors were less interested in the stories of the macabre and The Raven’s poor performance was evidence enough for them to make this decision. It not for long.
AT FIRST WHEN Universal first posed the concept of a shared Universe, now known as the Dark Universe, in order to release a string of movies that would link all their classic monsters together, I wanted to say that it was a bold approach, but it’s not exactly new.
As a fellow horror enthusiast pointed out on a social thread, Universal were the originators of the crossover worlds with the likes of House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.
They were though, wanting to relaunch this product into a modern world for a contemporary audience, but there are a few things that prove as an obstacle to completing their vision.
And with these obstacles, Universal find themselves navigating a minefield of troubles which leads the picture to snag on every component along the way and unravel before our very eyes.
So let’s take a look at these obstacles, starting with the elephant in the room, otherwise known as…
I’ve been reading a lot about this in the past few days and something that strikes me a little is that people are very quick to point their fingers at Mr. Cruise, citing too much involvement and interference on his part.
But here’s the thing, whether or not this is true, the buck has to stop with Universal and their director.
They decided to cast Cruise in this vehicle and with that you have to expect him to bring some weight and opinion to the piece.
He is known for getting hands on with every project that he takes on, including all the stunts that he performs himself.
So why so surprised when this turns into a Tom Cruise project?
Director Alex Kurtzman may have handled big picture projects as a writer, but prior to The Mummy, he has handled only one other feature at the helm, People Like Us.
So was this a case that veteran actor, Cruise took advantage of this and began to steer said film instead?
Perhaps more questionable is that the script itself is so disjointed and incoherent that you wonder how someone like Kurtzman, (who also wrote this movie) with the vast amount of writing credits to his name managed to make such a botch job of it.
Which comes to the second point.
Lack of character.
Sure enough we are presented with a back story to Princess Ahmanet, but at no stage do we engage with her or identify with her plight.
This basically means that her level of menace is weakened and the fear element is lost – the anchor of the PG-13 rating on it and like the Mummy, the film spends most of the time restrained and unable to break free.
By the time that she does, it’s all too little too late.
I really had high hopes for the female Mummy component and seriously wanted her to kick arse, but when it did happen, it was fleeting and reduced to a whimper.
The supposed transformation of Russell Crowe
So restricted were the creative team behind The Mummy that even Russell Crowe was reduced to a feeble example of Mr Hyde.
On paper, this casting sounded perfect as we have seen portray some notably dark characters on screen before.
Instead we’re present with a gruff version of himself with yellowy eyes.
Sure, I get that they may have wanted to go with a more subtle approach, but why do this if the whole point is to let the monsters loose?
“You can be my wing-zombie anytime.”
While it was good to see Nick Morton (Cruise) spa with his buddy Vail at the beginning of the movie, which highlighted his recklessness, and I know I might be sounding fickle here, but it kind of got my goat, when they started riffing off An American Werewolf In London and have Vail come back as a zombie-buddy.
Even more so in the films climax, when they walk off into the sunset, ready for their next adventure.
The question is, will there another adventure?
Going off the poor box office receipts, you’d be forgiven to think that Universal would scrap their plans, but my overall feeling is that they’ll give it another push to win over their audience, which means there would be a lot riding on their next feature Bride of Frankenstein in order for them to see any payoff.
If the dominoes are now set in place for the crossover stories to take hold, then maybe, just maybe the producers will be free to flex their writing muscles and let the narrative go into some bold, new territory.
Ironically for their Dark universe to truly see any reward, Universal need to consider living up to the brand they’ve living by and take it darker.
As such, The Mummy was a mess that was placed too far into the light feel-good category for it to have the impact that horror fans were craving for.