Movie review: Piercing

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Back in 2016 director Nicolas Pesce made a hefty entrance into the genre scene with a shocking and disturbing view on trauma and the impact on the psyche with stunningly brutal and hauntingly evocative scenes.

Where The Eyes of My Mother left a significant impression, his more recent venture that looked to resurrect The Grudge franchise fell remarkably short of its desired outcome.

Sandwiched between the two films stands Piercing, a film equally as disturbing as its predecessor but willing to add a touch of light in the darkness with a dash of humour thown into the mix along the way.

Based on the novel by author Ryū Murakami, who also penned Audition, we centre on Reed (Christopher Abbott) a new father struggling to fight the horrific compulsion to stab his infant daughter with an ice pick.
Not only is this fucked up but an indicator of just how dark Pesce is willing to push the boundaries of taste.

To prevent himself from carrying out the unthinkable, he hatches a plan to hire a prostitute to enact his dark desires.

Part of the beauty of this film is projected through the way Reed methodologically acts out how he imagines the night to go with some nicely supported sound effects. It also establishes how unhinged and removed from reality he has become that verges on the fantastical.

It’s not long however before the pendulum swings as Reed’s murderous scheme begins to unravel along with the arrival of Jackie (Mia Wasikowska), a prostitute who also harbours a dark fantasy embroiled in twisted behaviour.
This shift in direction tips Reed off kilter and we’re treated to a glorious encounter that constantly sees the balance of power switch between these star-crossed sadists.

The Prognosis:

Pesce manages to deliver another depraved dive into a wretched psychological world that puts two disturbed individuals together.

The delicate balance between salvation, sacrifice, and satisfaction is always at play, which keeps the audience guessing.

It’s a visually stunning piece that sheds light once more on the impact that trauma has on the individual and the actions that they undertake to find reprieve.

– Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Invisible Man’s Revenge

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Rounding out the quartet of Universal’s Invisible Man movies throughout the 1940s, The Invisible Man’s Revenge was a return to ‘form’-ula…in a good way.
Also returning to the series was Jon Hall, but he would not be reprising the role of Frank Griffin Jr.
Instead he would be playing Frank’s twin brother Robert Griffin, a man who escapes from a mental institution that he was incarcerated in after killing two orderlies.
Talk about polar opposites and proof of the flexibility to Hall’s work as an actor, although oddly Robert has no knowledge of the invisibility formula of his brother or grandfather for that matter. 

Once he is free, Robert seeks vengeance on the Herrick family who found their fortune from diamond fields that he helped to discover.
The Herrick family propose a share in the estate as a means to appease Robert, but he pushes things further, demanding to marry their daughter, Julie.
Their response? Drug him and get him out of their way.
This only angers Robert further and he plots his revenge.
In steps Dr. Peter Drury (John Carradine) who happens to be working on the formula for invisibility and with it, Robert’s key to claiming what he believes is owed to him.

The plotline is a little more convoluted than previous instalments and while it does some time before the cloak and dagger of invisibility lays the scene, the direction and delivery are more impactful due to the care and dedication devoted to character development.
Robert Griffin’s descent into madness and retribution is amplified by the back story delivered and Jon Hall’s depiction.
Likewise the supporting cast are on point, notably from Carradine and Gale Sondergaard as a cold-hearted Lady Irene Herrick.
Furthermore, the despair of Griffin’s fear of Brutus the dog, places a nice conclusion to the tale.
We are what we fear and if we place emphasis on those fears it will ultimately be our ruin.

The Invisible Man’s Revenge would mark the final time that the tale would be told with a dark edge with the next appearance coming in the Abbott and Costello movies.
It would be nearly 75 years before Universal would look into the black heart of the Griffin family with The Invisible Man starring Elizabeth Moss.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Lords of Chaos

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Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund has been slowly carving up a career looking at suitably unhinged characters and the psyche of the human mind throughout the few feature films he has heralded so far.
These in turn were built on the shoulders of numerous music videos, working with talents such as Prodigy, Metallica, Madonna, and Rammstein, so it was of little surprise that in 2018 he would turn his attention to some music roots closer to home albeit with his neighbouring country, Norway and the birth of the black metal scene that surfaced in the early 90s.
Metal has always been synonymous with horror films, so it seems fitting to have a film that circulates these two themes as the cornerstone of its narrative. 

From the get go Åkerlund throws in the caveat that the story is about truth and lies, allowing him as the creative to have free license around the events that unfolded between Euronymous, Varg and the Black Circle.
As he weaves in the real-life characters who strive for infamy whether that is through music or political empowerment, inner turmoil surmounts to a place that can only result in destruction.
The question remains for those not familiar with the history, is whose destruction will it ultimately be and at what cost?

Watching Rory Culkin’s performance as the narrator and mastermind behind Mayhem, Euronymous, I’m once again reminded of the strength of his performance as an actor as he sways from likeable, annoying, disturbing, and back to likeable again with chameleon-like ability on-screen.
In many ways, Culkin is the centrepin of the film, resting on the need for the audience to engage with his actions, whether it is with disgust or delight as he attempts to carve out a trajectory that will transport him into fame and beyond. 

The true horror of the piece lies within the extent to which all the characters will go to in order to not only outperform but shock each other for the cause.
The further they descend into hell, the murkier the original cause becomes and no matter how much Euronymous tries to salvage the situation and maintain control, anarchy has already been unleashed and too many fractured actions will inevitably splinter the group.
The focus primarily being between newcomer Varg and his ambitions to direct Norway away from christianity and toward Odinism. 

The delivery of the film is also nicely off cantor, so that feeling of unpolished actions resonate strongly, especially as the characters are always on the brink of implosion, which invariably brings about panic or stupidity and Åkerlund never shies away from exposing those moments of mindlessness.

The Prognosis

There are moments of pure joy, anarchy and Mayhem throughout the film that highlights the plight and peril of a deliberately disorganised association’s attempt to resurrect a new medium into the world, only to stare at the horror and destruction that unfolds around them in the process.
The damned will be doomed.

There is no salvation.

Just the remnants of what once stood before them.

Burn the walls down and cut away at life’s obstacles and you fear exposing the frailty of humanity beneath it all. 

Director Jonas Åkerlund manages to do this while providing an engaging storyline, supported by some great performances, grounded in the reality of the environment and all the more harrowing that it is based in truth… and lies of course.

  • Saul Muerte

Lords of Chaos is available to view via Video On Demand
or buy from Umbrella Entertainment.

Retrospective: Invisible Agent

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Positioned as a wartime propaganda film in order to build up the morale of US Citizens, Hollywood took another look at HG Wells’ Invisible Man, this time instead of mobs hunting down Griffin’s invisible formula, it would be the S.S.

The story picks up with the formula back in family hands, that of grandson, Frank Griffin Jr. played by John Hall in what would be his first outing as the cloaked man.
Hall had previously impressed Universal for his support role in Eagle Squadron and was more than fitting to take the lead role embedded in the world of espionage. 

Interestingly, the formula doesn’t have the negative impact on the psychosis as per the previous films, which is more than likely to keep a more upbeat, positive outcome with ample heroics for Griffin Jr to outwit and outsmart the S.S.

Sworn to make allegiance with the US government following the attack on Pearl Harbour, Griffin Jr discloses his secret to invisibility and from here on he is sent on a mission to where he parachutes behind enemy lines.
He is soon aided by Maria Sorenson played by Ilona Massey, who receives equal billing and rightfully so as the femme fatale figure seemingly playing with the hearts of both Griffen Jr and GS Karl Heiser. 

Cue mishaps and mayhem as they weave their way in and out of situations to evade capture in the manner that the 1940s movies excelled at.
None more so here thanks to script writer Curtis Siodmak.
Equally the leads are ably supported by stable actors, Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre as the villains of the piece. Lorre’s performance is by today’s standards highly controversial and an example of the whitewashing in Hollywood as he plays Baron Ikito, a Japanese officer.
He delivers his usual sound Peter Lorre performance, but you can’t escape how uncomfortable it is that he is portraying a character who is not of his own race. 

Despite this, Invisible Agent is a great addition to the Invisible Man series and although it is different in tone, it has great substance in its style and has powerful performances providing a great yarn to boot.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Darlin’ (2019)

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It’s somehow fitting that my #moviesimissed choice of the week comes from a work inspired by the late great author Jack Ketchum, a tour de force in the genre, shaking up the boundaries that have shaped horror.
Ketchum’s mentor as he was finding his voice was Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, (the subject of our latest podcast at the time of writing) and would enter the scene with his controversial novel, Off Season, a tale that would take form based on the legend of Sawney Bean, the clan leader of a band of cannibals living in Scotland during the 16th Century.
This in turn would spawn two sequels, (Offspring, released in 2009, and The Woman 2011, directed by Lucky McKee and starring Pollyanna McIntosh) and follow the lives of these cannibals. 

The Woman would centre on one member of the tribe, captured by a family on the brink of humanity, guided by their oppressive and domineering father, Chris. Chris tries to domesticate the woman by caging her up and raping her, vilyfying her very nature. The tale was a harsh but vital look at women who are subjected to violent suppression from the hands of a volatile male figure. It rightfully stands as a dark look at the lengths and breadths that humanity can turn to when steered by the misguided.

Where Darlin’ picks up, the woman and her teenage daughter (Lauryn Canny) are still living on the edge of society when the daughter, known as Darlin’ in the film, is taken into hospital and another form of rehabilitation begins. In this case though, it comes under the guise of religion, when she is harboured by a Catholic boarding school, and again is domesticated or bred as a public image for the school. The grooming process is exactly as it sounds, where The Bishop (Bryan Batt) preys on the girls who board there. 

The rest of the story focuses on Darlin’s rehabilitation into society and wrestling with her inner nature and the ways of catholicism. As much as she conforms to the religious ways, the kernel of her makeup lies dormant throughout the story waiting to unleash at any given time.

It was great to see Nora-Jane Noone (The Descent) on screen as the troubled Sister Jennifer who is equally dealing with an internal conflict about her upbringing and the impact that the school had on her as a child, conflicting with her beliefs.

The Prognosis:

McIntosh was clearly inspired by her previous role as The Woman and the writings of Jack Ketchum to have further developed the story on screen again and proves more than accomplished in her (as yet) only turn in the director’s chair.
While Darlin’ walks a predictable storyline and is not as brutal as its predecessor, the threat is still present with ‘The Woman’ on the outskirts threatening to strike at any given moment, which hides or glosses over any flaws contained within the narrative.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: Sea Fever

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They say that movie themes come in waves, and recently we’ve seen a stirring towards mankind’s fear of the ocean.
Where Underwater trended towards more action fare, and The Lighthouse skewed more towards psychological avant garde, Sea Fever is ironically more grounded in its descent into the murky depths of the brine.

Director Neasa Hardiman has carved a remarkable career so far with hard hitting British series’ Scott & Bailey and Happy Valley, so she’s been attuned to gritty drama and with two of her leads Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott she finds actors who know their mettle, crafting subtle nuanced performances that equally tap into intensity. 

In her sophomore feature outing in the directors chair, Hardiman hones her virtuosity further, in this deeply engaging tale of a fishing trailer crew who embark into an exclusion zone where they encounter a parasitic infection. 

The film’s release is indeed timely as the crew are forced into isolation as they come to terms with this new life form that infests them one by one whilst scrambling to defend themselves from this unknown entity.
The story is told from the point of view of introvert Siobhan (Hermione Corfield), a scientist who has been studying faunal behavioural patterns given the opportunity to join the crew.
Corfield also more than holds her own adding the heart and mind of the film that adds weight and a voice of reason amongst the insanity.
A loner from the outset, Siobhan is further isolated from a superstitious company, especially upon learning that she is a redhead, a bad omen among fishermen.
The tide soon turns however, as the crew search for her expertise throughout their encounter in the hopes that she will be their guiding light.
The heightened sense of distrust, lack of patience, lethargy and sadness intensifies the tension further, which tempers the notion of cabin fever amongst them all and us as the audience.

The Prognosis:

This pandemic horror under the guise of a monster film harbours an intense feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia fueled by the necessity to survive.
The creature effects when used are refined and intricately well played out for what is essentially a low budget feature.
Not surprisingly there are nods to similar sci-fi films such as Alien and more notably The Thing, embedded with a Lovecraftian vibe at times, but Hardiman also bends the subject with her own voice and tone that allows the characters and the storyline to breathe in a claustrophobic world, churning out a thrilling and encapsulating narrative.

  • Saul Muerte

This film is currently available to rent via Sydney Film Festival until June 21.

Retrospective: The Island (1980)

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Forty years ago following the highly successful Jaws and to some degree The Deep, Hollywood was still keen to tap into the mind of their creator, Peter Benchley and create more scares from the ocean. Fortunately Benchely had not long produced a novel called The Island. 

Starring Michael Caine still riding high from the fame that film success brought during the 60s and 70s, and David Warner, who equally had shown his acting chops through Straw Dogs, The Omen, and Cross of Iron, which detailed the strength on display in the cast.
The concept would show Caine as a journalist, Blair Maynard, who gets a scoop on some boats that have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, and is lured by the mythology surrounding it. Maynard is a workaholic with his eyes on getting the latest newsworthy revelation. He also happens to be divorced with split custody of his son, Justin and decides to drag him along with him despite false promises of taking him to Disney World. He gets more than he bargained for however, when his plane not only crash lands on a remote island, but also he is commandeered while on his fishing boat by a hoard of pirates. It’s here that the movie takes a notable shift in tone and becomes a story of survival as Maynard tries to escape his captors, but also rescue his son who has been subjected to their ways as a means to lure him into their tribe. 

Upon its release however, The Island sank heavily at the box office and caused film critic Leonard Maltin to cast his lowest rating, a BOMB, on the film, and bagging both director Michael Ritchie, and Michael Caine with Raspberry nominations for their contribution.

So, what went wrong? Was it a case of misdirection? Misinterpretation?

Or just a plain misfire?

The first thing that struck me upon revisiting this film was that the plotline was incredibly messy, and there were too many themes at play that by the time it settles on the island in question, we’re beyond caring too much about the plight of Maynard and Son. It comes across as an incredibly convoluted dream jumping from hard-hitting news theory with a mystical twist into a family drama and then into survival horror.

The father son relationship feels forced too and doesn’t ever gel, which is partly down to the set up, as they are supposed to be estranged. The issue is that the script needed to offer a kernel of a connection for us to want them to be brought together throughout their turmoil. Justin’s leap into the arms of Warner’s island leader, Nau, is all too quick and with it any strip of humanity is buried, even when into the film’s conclusion.

It’s fair to say that this isn’t Caine’s finest moment either, casting his Maynard as a cross between Charlie Croker and Harry Palmer, which doesn’t work and leaves the character either too cold or jovial in the wrong places.

It’s not clear the tone that Ritchie was going for as there are moments that it could go dark, but he’s also striving for that sense of adventure and the danger that comes with it, and in doing so ends up a little lost at sea which probably accounts for why this film has been forgotten over time.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Invisible Woman (1940)

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In 1940 Universal Pictures bookended the calendar year starting with The Invisible Man Returns and then ending with The Invisible Woman.
While the former took on the tone of a crime thriller, the latter took the series in an entirely different direction, comedy.
This would also be an indication of Universal Classic Monsters future, leaning away from the macabre and into humour.

With The Invisible Woman it is indicative of its time when it comes to the bawdy comedy at hand with a little bit of screwball rom com in the mix ala Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, also released in the same year.
Here the two leads that are at odds with one another are wealthy lawyer Richard Russell (John Howard) and Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce), a feisty, smart and determined department store model.
When we meet Kitty, she gets fired from her job for basically speaking her mind and with the promise of money learns of a wild scheme by local scientist, Professor Gibbs (an ageing and always excellent, John Barrymore) who claims that he has invented an invisibility device.
Gibbs in need of a guinea pig gets one in Kitty, who is surprised to see that the mad professor’s invention actually works and what’s more, she can turn it to her advantage and seek revenge on her misogynistic former boss. 

Before long, we’re headlong into a crime caper with a mob boss, Blackie Cole (Oscar Homolka) seeking to use the invisibility device for his own gain. Kitty must use her guile and new-found abilities to stop Cole in his devious plans. 

The Prognosis:

The Invisible Woman is definitely a film for its time and even though some of its subject still resonates today, the style and mode of its delivery may be stifling for some.
I for one welcome this old-school, nostalgic road trip that the 40s delivered to the silver screen enjoying it all the way and for a third instalment, I personally connected with this one more than The Invisible Man Returns.
It would be interesting to see how it would have been handled as a dark comedy. At the time of writing, Elizabeth Banks is set to direct a new version of The Invisible Woman and being a veteran of the comedy and horror scene, it will be interesting to see if she plans to marry these two genres for a modern audience and continue the trend set by Whannell… and it does bode the question, Will we see the return of Elizabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass?

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Mercy Black

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A little over a year ago now Mercy Black was released on Netflix without any notification and little fanfare, and in doing so, remarkably, it sparked the intrigue of an audience eager to lap up new media from a company that was seriously threatening the “standard” format of film distribution (or so some would have you believe).
Equally shedding light on the movie was that it was produced by Blumhouse Productions, a company who by now have more than proved that they are capable of knocking out some hard-hitting and engaging horror.
Fast forward to present day though, and it isn’t even listed under the Netflix viewing. My surgical senses are tingling that we may be staring at a movie that didn’t hit its mark, but I’m a glutton for punishment and will always find myself delving into the genre for a taste of the unknown, even if I may regret those actions.

It didn’t take me long to find out that I should have taken heed of my reservations.

Mercy Black paves the story of Marina, who as a young girl stabbed a fellow classmate, supposedly as a sacrifice to awaken a ghost so that she could cure her mother’s illness. All of this is told through the use of a series of flashbacks as a device for the audience to piece together. Unfortunately, this just muddles the impact that this supposed apparition has and fails to haunt or scare. 

What is perhaps more troubling is that we pick up the story some 15 years after the incident took place, learning that Marina has been in a psychiatric facility.
Now released back into the general population, she moves back into her old home with her sister, Alice and her nephew, Bryce. I mean.you gotta have some quirky kid in there right?

The rest of the movie follows Marina attempting to settle back into a lifestyle and community that are only too aware of the story behind Mercy Black and how the mythology has bled beyond the folklore and into the ‘known’ world.
Marina continuously questions where her illusions end and reality begins and we as an audience are supposed to be content in being taken along for the ride and the dots are all too familiar and obvious to resonate.

The prognosis:

Definitely should have trusted my instincts.

Mercy Black is simply lazy writing and rests on tried and tested scares that are all too obvious.

It’s the same as there is a kernel of horror embedded deep in the true stories that inspired director Owen Egerton, but he gets lost in the formula rather than produce the unnerving and disturbing imagery from the child killer origins.
Sometimes real life can be just as horrific and mind-bending at the depths that humanity can go to. For me the true psychology comes from how messed up that would leave someone and I would have loved to have seen them go there in the storytelling. 

Movie review: I Trapped The Devil

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Built as a supernatural horror film, I Trapped The Devil pits a highly interesting premise for a directorial feature debut, and Josh Lobo’s passion project certainly aims high in what is essentially a strong drama-led piece. 

The premise follows a couple, Matt and Karen who pay a visit to Matt’s brother Steve, a man who is clearly troubled following the death of his wife, Sarah. Steve is also harbouring a secret… he claims to have imprisoned the devil himself in his basement, but is this a figment of his imagination as he slips into the recesses of a depraved mind, or has he somehow managed to actually ensnare the prince of darkness?

For a film that is weighted in dialogue and exposition on the realms of power, control, action and inaction, it requires someone with the acting prowess to pull off the gravitas of the piece. So, one of Lobo’s masterstroke is in the casting of mumblegore alumni, AJ Bowen (You’re Next, The Sacrament) as Matt, who molds his character to the scenario and makes the predicament a believable one, and produces genuine reactions arising out of his performance. He is also ably supported by Scott Poythress as Steve and Susan Theresa Burke as Karen, and the trio provide enough of a hook to keep you engaged during the grittier moments. 

Too often though, there are gaps in the drama and these wallowing moments in the film feel stagnant at times, as though we’re sinking into a quagmire of gloom. Visually this can be hard to connect with the storyline and sends the audience adrift as a result. 

With a bit more experience I feel that Lobo could generate more ambience out of those lull moments, but in this case, he papers over the gaps with music to stimulate or invigorate mood.

The prognosis:

The shifts and changes in drama are the strongest component in this film with a superb cast and Lobo ably plays with the psychology and past of three characters and how they interplay with one another when thrust into a strange and surreal situation, ramping up the tension.

It does suffer from the downbeats in the movie though and as such can be a struggle to watch.

  • Saul Muerte 

I Trapped The Devil is available to view via Video On Demand
or buy from Umbrella Entertainment.