Movie review: Truth or Dare

Here’s the interesting thing with horror franchises aimed at teens. They usually have a hook, they’re usually considered low brow garbage by everyone but the teens they’re aimed at, and within a generation they’re awesome (or at least the first film is).

The 70’s had Halloween. The 80’s – A Nightmare on Elm Street. The 90’s – Scream. The 00’s – Final Destination.

So, going through the checklist you have (gimmick wise): An inhuman killing machine masquerading as a man-in-a-mask / being killed in your dreams / being killed by a human killing machine, but in a REALLY meta way / and being killed by death itself.

All initially seen as silly entertainment, if not outright crap. All retconned as classics.

And this decade (albeit a bit late) is offering up Truth or Dare.

Let’s see if it ticks the boxes too… a contrived idea at its core? Check! In this case the world famous teenage party game Truth or Dare.

Is it garbage? Check – but will it STAY that way?

If it makes money (and it has) probably not, because a slew of sequels will likely be coming. Although this first film at least has the “decency” of ending in a way that’ll make that difficult (but not impossible… so…bravo there…?).

Anyway – story wise Truth or Dare follows a group of teenagers on a spring break type holiday in Mexico. The dynamic between them is the usual fare with a horny couple, a douchebag, 2 female best friends, and an unspoken love triangle with a boyfriend who’s with one friend; but has feelings for the other.

And in terms of tokenism they’ve even combined the Asian BFF and the gay guy into one. Which is both progressive and lazy when you think about it. (And in the best traditions of Hollywood, he’s 32 in real life! So definitely bravo there!)

Anyway, the lead girl – played by Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale – meets a guy at a bar and he invites her and her friends to get blasted somewhere that’s off-the-beaten track and NOT touristy. (‘Cause that’s cool kids!).

It’s the ruins of an abandoned mansion and once there he mentions they should play a game. A silly game made more fun with alcohol, so what’s the harm…?

And thus starts the movie proper as the kids all play a round of Truth or Dare. Once they do that, they are “locked in” to playing it for real (for reasons that DO get explained – so don’t worry) in the order that they played.

Of course, they don’t know that straight away, as the mysterious guy disappears into the night, and the teens all return to school life.

But then one by one they hear voices or are approached by people with Joker like faces to play Truth or Dare. If they refuse they find themselves dying in graphic suicidal ways. Should they tell a lie – same, or they fail the dare – same.

And before you think “well there’s the truth loophole, ie: just pick truth every time” the writers have figured a way around that, that is half “oh come on”, and half “meh – that’s fair”.

When watching this I was looking at it through the Final Destination lens. Ie: with a helpful serving of salt and willingness to be carried along by it’s internal logic. And for the most part it holds up.

But it’s still not immune to a handful of moments that plonk it into “that is so stupid” territory. Not least of which is the way (and reason) they get the lead girl and guy to have sex…

The Prognosis:

Will probably be seen as a landmark film by Millennials and Trillennials (which is the name I’m giving people who will be in their 20’s in the 30’s). But for the here and now, it probably would have been just as good (if not better) had they played spin the bottle.

– Antony Yee

Movie review: The Lodgers

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The promise of a good old fashioned gothic horror story stirred some keen interest in this veteran horror fan, but there still remained some trepidation after watching Del Toro’s Crimson Peak a few years ago, which was all style and no substance.

The fact that The Lodgers has yet to find a cinematic release here on Australian shores also had a whiff of failure about it.
Nevertheless, when I saw that it would get a screening at this year’s Irish Film Festival, I dusted down my long black coat and ventured out to Paddington to see if there was life in this old fashioned genre or not.

It certainly had promise, and all the hallmarks one would expect with a dark and desolate abode, remote and cut off from the world, where all that lies within are Rachel and her twin brother, Edward, who harbour their own secrets.

As the house falls into disrepair and their inheritance dwindles, the siblings are forced to face up to their prophecy, but will they reside to their fate or resist the inevitable?

The cast all hold their own with a plethora of familiar faces, ranging from David Bradley and Eugene Simon (both from Game of Thrones) and Moe Dunford (Vikings), but it is the troubled twins who steal the show as Bill Milner’s brilliantly disturbed Edward, who delicately hinges on the brink of sanity and despair, whilst Charlotte Vega proves to be a force to be reckoned with on screen playing out Rachel’s sexual awakening and curiosity as she struggles with her past and a potential future. Her captivating performance on screen could well prove Vega to be a rising star.

The film does offers some familiarity with Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw which should delight some fans of the genre. I also liked the use of water leaking into the house and into the twins lives as they try to shut out their past, only for the water to keep seeping through the cracks and getting closer every day showing that director Brian O’Malley has potential behind the lens.

The Diagnosis:

There are elements that promise to tighten the sphincter but too often the film falls prey to old horror tropes and when it looks like it might deliver, falls short in the process.

It’s a shame because with a bit more thought and effort, The Lodgers could have been elevated alongside The Woman In Black or The Others but instead languishes at the bottom of the flooded basement.

It’s watchable but don’t hold your breathe for any out and our scares.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Mohawk

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Firstly I have to state that it was refreshing to see a new stance on Mohawk tribe/s on screen that didn’t depict them as savages as they so often have been described in the history books by a predominately white racial view.

It must be also commended that director, Ted Geoghegan (who is no stranger to the horror genre) made the conscious choice of casting actors who have actually descended from Mohawk tribes lending the film to that more feeling of being ground in reality.

More recognisable these days as Destiny Rumancek from Hemlock Grove, Kaniehtiio Horn cuts a solid performance as Okwaho who brings a decent balance of strength and vulnerability to her role, as the rise in her characters’ take on the lead protagonist owes a lot to her prowess on screen.

Some characters fell easily into two-dimensional territory but again Geoghegan does enough to paper over the cracks and propel the story along with a dash of tension, gore and mysticism.

By the time the films climax comes around you don’t mind that Ezra Buzzington’s Hezekiah Holt is a hammed up embodiment of all things vile and putrid that lies embedded in white society. You want him to meet his maker and you’re willing for that brutal and bloody confrontation take place. Once again Geoghegan doesn’t shy away from pulling the punches.

The Diagnosis:
You can’t shy away from the fact that Mohawk feels like a made for TV movie, but that doesn’t stop Geoghegan from packing plenty of grunt force energy, surprises, and special effects that have enough blood and realism to tip this little gem on the right side of quality.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: A Quiet Place

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Here’s the thing with zombie like apocalypses. What happens to all the snorers?

From My Name is Legion to your basic Walking Dead – if you suffer sleep apnea or have half a bender (and when the world is effectively nuked, why wouldn’t you?) then how can you realistically expect to survive a night when sleep finally takes you? If they hear you chain-sawing, they’re gonna find you!

So straight away that’s an interesting twist on the twist that is the premise of A Quiet Place.

Specifically – what if the apocalypse you’re trying to survive hunts through sound and nothing else?
And by that we mean anything louder than a sneaky cheek squeak, and you’re toast. OH! Farting! That’s another one! Everybody does it. Eventually.
It’s an apocalypse…food is scarce… you’re down to your last can of beans and starving… it’s not an unrealistic scenario in a scenario that’s unrealistic (ish. We are still only 1 year into this presidency after all).

ANYway… A Quiet Place. Its set in generic country-town USA, and sometime after an unknown global catastrophe.
Although the time scale is hard to judge, as what has wiped out humanity in this case – you get the impression – was WAY swifter than your basic zombie attack.

So, for our leads – The Abbott family – finding viable supplies is not that much of a problem.
Stressing about other human survivors forcefully taking what’s theirs (something all writers automatically assume will happen when things go to shit) isn’t a worry either. Because what few pockets of humanity there are, give each other a LOT of space.

For when people congregate, they make noise. And as established above, noise is death.

In this case, fast and brutal death that will eviscerate you like a hangry landshark on steroids. To elaborate any more than that would be to miss the point.

For the joy of AQP is not in the minutiae of its premise (if you look hard enough there are holes, but when aren’t there in any concept film?) but in the preciseness of its execution.

It’s a brilliant and ridiculously simple idea that right from the start sets the tension to a certain level that does. Not. End. Because to be quiet is to hold your breath, and as an audience member, you find yourself doing this a lot.

It is tightly written, tightly directed and beautifully designed – especially audio wise. Which you would expect from a film that is about silence, but the way it is crafted here belies the experience of its director.

John Krasinski is no stranger to saying “action” on a film set, but in this case he had to write (well, more specifically re-write) a studio creature feature where he had to carry the Male Lead as well. PLUS direct his offscreen wife Emily Blunt into the bargain.

That’s a delicate balancing act, yet he has come away with a story that is smart, tense, and relentless; but doesn’t leave you exhausted.

Just in love with film, because this is a fantastic example how a neat sci fi premise, executed through a smart horror lens can cross over into a great movie-going experience.

The Prognosis:

Don’t Breathe was an impressive example of how silence can be a wonderful horror device. This is even better. And people who won’t like this film will do so for the wrong reasons. Everybody else will just “get it”.

Who knew Jim from The Office had it in him? I’d love to see if the guy from Chuck can do the same. Maybe he already has? You know – considering they’re the same guy…

– Antony Yee

Movie review: Thelma

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Last year, a little-known Norwegian movie created something of a stir.
Thelma plays out more like a supernatural thriller than an out and out horror, but don’t let that fool you as some moments are positively chilling.
At its heart Thelma is a coming-of-age drama as the titular character struggles with her independence from a smothering religious family whilst trying to connect with her sexuality.

On paper, this film could be easily dismissed but there’s a darkness that lies within Thelma’s soul that has been suppressed for so long that it yearns to break free and be unleashed onto the world.

At times feeling like a distant cousin to the X-Men universe. Where the TV series Legion, delved into the fantastical, Thelma beats along with intensity.

Much like the French horror movie Raw, which covered similar terrain in a refreshing way, Thelma doesn’t shy away from the pain and reality that comes with womanhood.

It’s this bold approach that allows Danish director, Joachim Trier to stylise an atmospheric and engaging narrative that hooks the audience in and is no doubt why the Norwegian production team felt confident about entering Thelma into the Foreign Language category at The Academy Awards.

Eili Harboe cuts a fine performance as Thelma and each subtle nuance and emotion is portrayed as she effortlessly guides her character through her metamorphosis. I’d be surprised to not see her go on to better things in the future.

It helps that her support cast are equally captivating and the way the audience oscillates between liking and disliking Thelma’s father and mother is a testament to their skills as actors and the continual shifts in storyline, eking out little nuggets of the past to gain a richer perspective of the family and the levels they have gone to.

The Diagnosis:
This is by no means a blood and guts horror movie, so fans of this side of the genre may find it disappointing, but if you like things more psychological, then Thelma is definitely worth a visit.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Insidious – the last key

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It’s interesting how a certain film – when it ends – you know that tonally it. Has. Ended.

All films can continue of course, as happily ever after is a myth no matter how you look at it. But there are certain movies that – when they become franchised – make you not only go “why?” but “how?”. Ie: It’s original ending has a decisiveness that makes it very clear This Story Is Told.

A great example is The Matrix. If they truly intended Neo to continue being a protagonist they wouldn’t have made him Superman at the end of the first film. It was a problem that painted the Wachowski siblings into a corner for the sequels, and what’s more they never got around it. Not satisfactorily anyway. (Fortunately, they covered over that crack by making both sequels so incomprehensively bad you almost didn’t notice the pointless 10-minute fight sequences).

Another example is Insidious. The franchise that colours the letters of its logo randomly white and red. (well…if they’re not random, then they spell out INDOS SIIU – which sounds like a Star Wars character. Probably a Jedi of some sort).

At the end of the first film it pulls a now very classic/hackneyed (depending on your point-of-view) trope of having the bad guy “come back” (after being dealt with) to kill off a character when everyone thinks the terror is over.

In this case a side character who was sweet, old and psychic.

They then decided to make this character the lead in subsequent sequels – which was a problem. A problem compounded when they set movie 3 & 4 in the past, thereby making an elderly actress (Lin Shaye) play a dead woman who inexplicably looks older the younger she gets.

It would have been an easy fix had they planned it through better, but who knew that their tact to focus the sequels on the adventures of an elderly minor character would be a stroke of genius? Because Insidious is one of those rare birds that gets slightly better with each sequel.

Although a lot of its success can also be attributed to the fact that in terms of how they construct their scares, this series is an absolute masterclass in the James Wan Way. (Or JWW for short – it’s the MMA of horror film making!).

So where does this leave us with Insidious Chapter 4: The Last Key?

Setting wise we get to learn more about Shaye’s character (Elise) as it opens on her family life in 1953. It’s not a happy one. As a young girl she lives with her younger brother Christian, mother Audrey and father Gerald. Gerald is a security guard at the prison next door – the one that carries out executions of its death row inmates. Regularly. And for a budding psychic like Elise, what better way to hone her craft than being fed a steady stream of floating electrified (and terrified) souls who were more than likely NOT very nice people in life?

Things escalate when Elise encounters a being that is something other than fried convict – her first demon – who she calls Key Face.

Key Face then does something very bad that, safe to say, scars Elise for life. That is when we fast forward to present day, which – for the afore mentioned reasons above – has to be a little before present day, as Elise was (will be) killed in 2010. It’s weird that none of these characters will ever get to use an iPad. Sorta like how the best mobile phones the people in the Matrix will ever use are Motorolas…

But I digress.

Elise and her ghost busting crew of Specs and Tucker are approached by a man called Ted Garza. He resides in Elise’s former house and sure enough, weird stuff of the paranormal kind have been plaguing him of late. And Elise – in a bid to confront her demons (literally and figuratively) agrees to go back and help him sort it out.

As a ride The Last Key twists in a satisfactory way whilst continuing the fine work of the last 2 sequels. The scares are finely crafted and (to differentiate them) a tad more relentless this time round.

The JWW use of shadows and sound effects are on full display here, and (has been the case with the others) this film ties itself into the first one, although this time it does imply that the series MAY be gearing up for another change in direction. How? One word. Nieces.

And officially a 5th Insidious IS in the works, although it may not have creator Leigh Whannell’s hand on the typewriter. (Mind you, if you were responsible for a 4-film franchise that has grossed over $536 million to date, you too could probably afford to delegate a little).

The Diagnosis:

Certainly The Last Key was able to unlock a profit margin well over 10 times its modest budget of 10 million, and if you can read anything into that, it would be that these guys have the keys to a money making kingdom that is… INDOS SIIU.

– Antony Yee

Movie review: Still / Born

There’s something uncomfortable about the co-existence of newborn babies and demons. Something wrong. Something taboo. That’s what makes this film so deliciously frightening. Director Brandon Christianson blends purity with terror in this devilishly delightful film.

Young mother, Mary (Christie Burke) gives birth to twins but only one of them is alive.
While looking after her remaining child, Adam, she thinks that a supernatural entity, has chosen her child and will stop at nothing to take it from her.

I anticipated Still/Born to be a cheap and nasty horror. I actually found myself jumping on multiple occasions and having to watch an episode of Friends to get to sleep. After watching countless horrors these effects are rare for me. I think this is thanks to an excellent performance by Burke. She is flawless in her portrayal of a mother coming to terms with the grief of loosing a baby. Her slow but evident decent into insanity is nothing short of chilling.
It’s a shame the film doesn’t quite hit the mark at the end and there are moments where you wonder what the intention and overall twist might be. Nope, no twist. Perhaps that was the point? I’m not sure it was a point well made.

The film explores postnatal depression and the helplessness new mothers experience.
Viewers are constantly wondering if the demon she fears is real or simply a result of her illness.
Horrors that deal with mental illness have to be crafted carefully.
Christianson hits the nail on the head with Still/Born. Postnatal depression is handled with care and shines a bright light on the stigma surrounding the illness.

The Diagnosis:

The film is not groundbreaking or one I’d reserve a Friday night for but it certainly is a chilling and unsettling focus on real issues with a supernatural flavour.

– Breana Garratt

Movie review: Long Weekend

Celebrating 40 years this year is this little known gem of a movie.
Scribed by Everett De Roche, who produced some cracking screenplays for classic ozploitation flicks such as Patrick (which also celebrates 40 years this year), RoadGames, Razorback, and Snapshot. (The latter of which is due for a DVD release in April)

The film centres on a couple who are going on a camping trip for one last attempt to reconnect. As the story unfolds though, the couples marriage problems are the least of their concerns as director Colin Eggleston crafts an intricate tale of ecology.

At first it would appear that we are facing a typical story of a couple forced to unite against some strange, psychopathic local, which has been predominant in recent Australian movies like Wolf Creek or Killing Ground.

Instead we see Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia’s (Briony Behets) blatant neglect and destructive behaviour towards animals and the environment become so paramount that Nature fights back.

Now, we’re not talking about some trumped up science fiction narrative like M.Night Shyalaman’s The Happening, but a well structured slow-burner of a movie that eats away at the core of what is left of the lead characters humanity.

Some may feel that the characters grate too much and admittedly their flaws as people can find it difficult to connect with them, but it only makes their plight when things turn dire all the more pleasurable as you seriously hope that they receive their comeuppance.
They are so caught up in their own lives that they fail to see the bigger picture around them and the tangled web of paranormal and paranoia that surrounds them with every fateful action they take.

The Diagnosis:
The pace may turn you off as well as wishing that Nature acts more swiftly in dispatching the characters, but stick with it as the labyrinth of despair unfolds.
It’s a cracker of a movie which has as much relevance today as it did back in 1978 about the world and humanities destructiveness.

 – Saul Muerte

Movie review: Annihilation

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Annihilation is an all female-led science fiction film about guilt, biology, and the human tendency for self-destruction. So I guess its no wonder Paramount dumped it on Netflix after loosing sleep over its box-office appeal.

It copped some controversy after being caught up in a battle between the studio and director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) for being “too intellectual.” While financially the studio’s fears were confirmed, visually its damn lucky they didn’t water it down. This is a film with a cool plot and some downright lush visuals.

Natalie Portman is Lena, a cellular biology professor who is recruited along with four others to study a quarantine zone in a swampy corner of America called The Shimmer. Lena’s reasons for accepting the mission are more personal than scientific: her military husband is the only person to enter The Shimmer and come out alive. You just know this is going to be a twofold journey: a trek through an alien landscape, and the dark emotional landscape of the protagonist.

The first scene we’re given after entering The Shimmer is the inside of a tent which feels like an odd and underwhelming decision by the director. But when Lena emerges from the tent and announces she remembers nothing since passing through the shimmery wall, it feels like the perfect way to introduce this strange new world.

Without giving too much away, something is seriously not right within The Shimmer. As the scientists begin to join the dots, the film shifts gears into “thriller” mode. But don’t get too excited; while there are some excellent tension-filled scenes – one in particular involving a bear-creature that echoes screams of agony from its latest victim – Annihilation never crosses fully into the horror genre. It’s an enjoyable ride, but nothing to write home about.

It’s the ending that’s the kicker. Garland tackles some complex conceptual territory (at least for this High School Science flunker) that will probably require a debrief with a mate, or at the very least a quick Google. Up until this point Annihilation was lingering dangerously close to being mediocre, but the last few scenes cement it as a Sci-Fi classic.

The Diagnosis:
So is it as amazing as you’ve heard? Probably not. Should you see it? Absolutely.

 
– Ellin Williams

Movie review: Veronica

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Veronica. Went into this film after reading articles about people who couldn’t sit through the whole thing.
Too scary. Too terrifying. Based on a true story. Too real. Mummy hold my hand… that kind of thing.

So, maybe I’m the exception. Maybe I watch too many horror films and I’ve become immune to the horrors of a Ouija bored (slightly concerning).
However, I was no where near having to switch it off. Far from it. Veronica had me glued to the screen from start to finish. It’s what horror film dreams are made of.
I’d run off into the sunset with this film if I could. Finally, a horror to arrest the recent run of iffy films on Netflix. Your horror film prayers have been answered.

The Spanish horror directed by Paco Plaza ([rec])is set in 1991 Madrid. Sandra Escacena gives an eerily intense performance as Veronica, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who cares for her siblings while her mother works round the clock at a local café.
Veronica rounds up a few pals for a Ouja board sesh during a solar eclipse in hope of contacting her late father. Then, things go haywire. DUN DUN DUNN.

It’s not an original story. It’s conjuring-ish, exorcism-esque you get the idea.
However, Veronica is a thematic patchwork. An exploration of the inner landscape of a teenager who has lost her father and has had to grow up all too quickly.
She is pulled and pushed by different forces throughout the film, not only by the spirit haunting her but also the fatigue and parental solitude forced upon her by her mother.
The demon acts as a specter for unwanted maturity. Her innocence and stunted growth are highlighted when we discover that Veronica is yet to have her first period. This symbolism is carried throughout in various scare-rific ways.

In one of the most chilling scenes in the film, Veronica imagines herself being eaten alive by her brothers and sisters.
A terrifying metaphor for how working class families had to disassemble in order to function.
Good luck getting that creepy image out your head for the next three days. Opt for vegetarian snacks.

The cinematography in Veronica is beautiful. Plaza and his team stay away from the stark, realist lighting of most modern horror films.
The lighting gives us a phantasmal mix of the surreal and reality. I find films are more chilling when they feel real. Veronica feels real.
Its in Spanish too, how real can you get? Plaza has hit the nail on the head with highlighting that Veronica is a true story.

The Diagnosis:
See? Horror films aren’t always small budgets and cheap scares. Veronica is certainly not profound or ground breaking but its nice to know that some good old fashioned metaphors lurk beneath. Veronica has meat on its bones.


– Breana Garratt