Movie review: The Endless

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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 – The Endless 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.

END.

– Antony Yee

Catch the screening of The Endless at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Screening times and tickets available below:

FRIDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER – 10:30 PM
FRIDAY TICKET

SATURDAY 16TH SEPTEMBER – 12:00 PM
SATURDAY TICKET

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Movie review: Kfc

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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.

– Mad Moon

Catch the screening of Kfc at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Screening times and tickets available below:

FRIDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER – 08:30 PM
FRIDAY TICKET

SATURDAY 16TH SEPTEMBER – 08:00 PM
SATURDAY TICKET

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The lure of Dracula

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Ever since Max Schreck transformed into Count Orlock in the now infamous silent film, Nosferatu, directed by F.W.Murnau in 1922, the subject of Bram Stoker’s Dracula has graced the screens across the ages.

Like the titular character from one of Gothic literature’s finest creations, Dracula seems to be eternal, forever gracing the celluloid art form, whist adapting and transitioning across the years.

With the latest news coming from geek tyrant that It director, Andy Muschietti and Bram Stoker’s Great Grand Nephew teaming up for a project involving the prince of darkness as a prequel, entitled Dracul, I thought I’d take a quick snapshot of this enigmatic character and what draws us to him year-on-year.

Notably, it would be Universal who would elevate Stoker’s creation into the limelight with Tod Browning’s Dracula on 1931.

Starring Bela Lugosi, who’s interpretation would be the catapult for the look and feel that his character would bring to the screen and would initiate a further four sequels before Abbott and Costello turned his image into a comical adaptation.

It would take a further 10 years before a production company would bring Count Dracula back into the darkness with Hammer Films 1958 version starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

Hammer would use their new-found success and blood red recipe to push the Dracula series into a total of 9 films, with the afore-mentioned Lee appearing in 7 of these movies. Interestingly Dracula wouldn’t appear in their first sequel, Brides of Dracula directed by Terence Fisher.

During this time, numerous other production companies would try their hand at the subject matter, including Blood of Dracula, an attempt from producer Herman Cohen to repeat the success of I Was A Teenage Werewolf, the latter would appear in the It Mini Series made in 1990 as it was the height of pop culture Stateside during the 50’s and would see the Loser’s Club watch it at the cinema.

As the Hammer recipe grew stale, Roman Polanski would inject some much-needed zest with The Fearless Vampire Killers in 1967 and a blatant parody of the British film company’s vision.

Following this Jesus Franco would add some Spanish flavour with Count Dracula in 1970, starring Christopher Lee again in the titular role, before Blaxploitation movement would see an African prince lured into the land of the dead in Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream before Andy Warhol would dabble as well introducing his own visual style with Blood for Dracula in 1974.

Five years later, Universal would try to re-invent the fable and bring some much-needed sex appeal and casting Frank Langella as Dracula.
This also coincided with another version of Nosferatu coming to the screen, directed by the enigmatic Klaus Kinski entitled, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, and has its own cult following as a result.

A brief interlude in the comedy realm would see Duncan Regehr take on Dracula in The Monster Squad, which comes across as a haunted version of The Goonies.

And then, he would pretty much stay dormant until, he would be moulded once more for Francis Ford Coppola in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, and Anthony Hopkins, in the early 90’s.

Mel Brooks would craft his comedic touch with Dracula, Dead and Loving It by 1995 and starring Leslie Nielsen, before the shouldn’t be comical, but tragically is, Dracula 2000, presented by Wes Craven and starring Gerard Butler.

It’s only saving grace during this timeframe is the simply brilliant, Shadow of the Vampire, a quirky portrayal of the making of Nosferatu that would depict actor Max Shreck as a real-life vampire, awesomely played by Willem Defoe.

By the mid-2000’s Count Dracula would find himself morphed into the Stephen Sommers universe with Van Helsing starring Hugh Jackman, a movie, which in my mind is probably best forgotten.

Another film director auteur would try his hand at the subject in 2013, when Dario Argento would provide us with Dracula 3D, but would be pale in comparison to his earlier work.

The last time, we saw Dracula grace our screens would be in the under-whelming Dracula: Untold starring Luke Evans, which left us wondering if there was life still in this age-old tale?

This may all disappear in the coming years, if Muschietti and Dacre Stoker’s project sees the light of day.

Dacre Stoker has delved into the world of his lineage before with his novel, Dracula, the Un-dead, so he is no stranger to the subject, and one can already see comparisons with Stephen King’s creation Pennywise. A character that feeds on the fear of the innocence.

Stephen King would also seek inspiration from the Count in his own tale, Salem’s Lot, so it certainly bodes well with the announcement of this latest pairing.

I for one can’t wait to see how they re-vamp Dracula for a modern audience that will horrify and delight the masses.

Bring it on.

 

  • Paul Farrell

 

Movie review: Kuso

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“What the fuck did I just watch?”

It’s hard not to view the directorial debut from Flying Lotus without uttering these words into the mix.

Kuso is a film best described as an experimental, avant-garde piece that suits the twisted mind of it’s artist.

His music that blends hip-hop and electronic into a stylistic and fresh approach to the scene that has had people both gripped in either love or despair, so it should come as no surprise that Flying Lotus carries this across onto the visual canopy of film.

When the film premiered in Cannes, there were reports of people walking out of the movie in disgust. The numbers of which may have been grossly overestimated, but when viewing Kuso, you can understand the temptation to turn away.

Whilst I too felt the compulsion to revolt in the comfort of my chair when watching the film, I felt compelled to see it through and challenge myself not to resort to the knee-jerk reaction to what was being laid bare.

Flying Lotus flings everything at the viewer not only to confront our visual senses but also to shed light on the grotesque and ugly of society.

The film is essentially broken into 4 vignettes that are interspersed throughout the post-apocalyptic narrative following the mutated survivors of an earthquake in Los Angeles.

Labelled as a body horror that would have the likes of Cronenberg and Lynch proud.

We’re thrust into a world with a talking, singing boil; inter-dimensional creatures getting stoned in an apartment, and a large bug that lives inside a doctor’s anus set to cure a man from his fear of breasts; a kid who is prone to self-defecating and feeding his faeces to a creature in the forest; and a woman who eats concrete and steered by God to travel down a hole in search of her missing baby.

The end result is a mishap of the strange, vulgar, and wonderful.

It’s not for the faint of heart and could steer the hardened viewer away from the screen.

While it may suit the fans of experimental and challenging films, I challenge the average viewer to step outside their comfort zones and witness a spectacle like no other.

But be warned, some of the images may scar you. It’s been awhile since a movie from this genre has warped the senses and disturbed the soul.

 

  • Paul Farrell

 

Catch the Closing Night Event screening of Kuso at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Screening times and tickets available below:

SUNDAY 17TH SEPTEMBER – 08:30 PM
SUNDAY TICKET

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Movie Review: Prevenge

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Driven by the voice of her unborn child, seven month pregnant Ruth embarks on a homicidal killing spree to avenge the recent death of her husband.

This slasher black comedy is the brilliant directorial debut of its star Alice Lowe. Seen in various low budget Brit flicks particularly the absolutely outstanding Ben Wheatley classic “Sightseers”, she cements her role as that crazy woman you wouldn’t sit anywhere near on a bus.

Prevenge” is a low budget low key thriller that appears influenced by the days when Hammer Horror ditched the monster creature features and produced a couple of contemporary horrors, see “Straight On till Morning” if you haven’t already. It’s the real life monsters that are in fact the scariest, and in this case; pregnant widows.

Partly reliant on what appears as a largely improvised or bare bones dialogue script it’s the editing, cinematography and the understated music that’s the real driving force here. Music from ex-Unkle members now Toydrum, the synth atmospheric score creates an unsettling edge complimented by Lowes insanely real performance.

Naturalistically shot, clearly using available light, the cinematography places the audience deep into this gritty grainy story whether they want to or not.

The supporting cast are excellent too, with the female supports getting the biggest slice of the corpse. Jo Hartley (This is England, The Mimic), Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones, The Moorside), & Kate Dickie (The Witch, Prometheus), the standouts.

If I did have one quibble, it would be that the demises were mostly one note. A bit of gore-induced variety wouldn’t have gone astray.

I absolutely applaud Lowes tenacity in making this film whilst being 7-8 months pregnant herself. Her drive, or axe to grind, very apparent in getting this beautifully crafted horror comedy out of her system.

There’s a message here deep at the films core…don’t piss off Alice Lowe…EVER!!

  • Myles Davies

 

Catch the Sydney Premiere of Prevenge at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Screening times and tickets available below:

FRIDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER – 08:30 PM
FRIDAY TICKET

SATURDAY 16TH SEPTEMBER – 08:00 PM
SATURDAY TICKET

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Movie Review: Killing Ground marks new territory in Aussie horror

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Australians have been producing quality horror films for some time now, whether you look at the films of yester-year with the likes of Long Weekend, or Turkey Shoot, to more modern scares with The Babadook, Wyrmwood, The Tunnel, or Wolf Creek.

There’s a range of psychological emotions that come with each of the afore-mentioned movies with one thing in common…the ability to heighten your senses by scaring and entertaining you.

It’s part of the reason that as a film lover, (and to isolate that down further) a fan of the horror genre, that I’m proud of the quality movies that are being produced on this Southern land that I call home.
And it’s also why I’m a huge campaigner of the films that are being produced here in Australia.

So with eagle eyes, I’ve noticed a recent ripple in the genre on our homes soil, with the much-touted Killing Ground.

Directed by Damien Power, who has been turning heads with his short features for the past few years, most notably with Peekaboo, and A Burning Thing, which starred Nashville’s Clare Bowen.

Killing Ground would be Power’s feature length debut and it certainly packs a punch.

Utilising two of Australia’s strong identity components in the bush land and the sun.

Firstly, I’d like to look at the first element…the bush.

Australia is notorious for its ever-rolling landscape, with is a strange mix of the wild and beautiful thrust together in co-existence.

It’s an area that has been explored before with the afore-mentioned Wolf Creek, where director Greg McLean highlights the fear within Australia’s red centre.

With Killing Ground, Power takes that same initiative, but thrust the viewer into the bush land, centring on a couple, choosing a romantic getaway at an isolated spot known for its walks among the fauna.

All gets flipped over though when said couple, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) unwittingly stumble on a crime scene and have to resort to their wits in order to survive.

Meadows is fast crafting a name for himself in the genre following the Cairnes brothers movie, Scare Campaign, and carves a decent performance in Killing Ground as Ian, a doctor by trade, but when push comes to shove, becomes indecisive and ultimately only thinks of himself. It feels like a natural response coming from this character and tears down the walls of predictability with Ian’s reactions or lack thereof highlighting his plight.

Equally, Harriet Dyer’s journey of Sam bends a strong character arc that shines brightly by the films conclusion and is enjoyable as a result.

In order for the film to be successful though it does hinge on the antagonists to be brutal, savage, and fearful.

And this maybe my only criticism of the piece, from what is essentially a well crafted film.

The highlight, hands down, is Aaron Pedersen’s portrayal of German. The menace and savagery that he brings to the table is haunting and Pederson delivers a character that is embedded in dark mind that can be turned on and off with horrifying ease. He was a delight to watch and it was a shame to see his comeuppance come so swiftly, when it does arise. (Although, again it feels like a realistic moment when it does occur).

As a result though, the film relies on the unhinged Chook (Aaron Glenane) to carry out the proceedings of hunting down our protagonists, and unfortunately this is where I feel it falls flat.
Chook is unbalanced, and clearly motivated by his sexual appetite, his character never feels threatening enough. Yes, he’s a crack shot with the rifle and that’s plenty to be fearful of, but he’s bumbling approach to life, dampens the threat a little.

It’s a shame as it feels like so much attention was focused on the other characters that with a bit more work on this would have made for an excellent climax.

Speaking of which, the ending to the movie feels like it takes a bit of a stretch, and maybe because I had high hopes, I was left wanting.

Yes there is a resolution and one that does satisfy with our central character’s journey, but that satisfaction is left a little empty as the threat level diminishes.

I say all this, but it negates the films strong points. It’s a well-crafted slow burner of a thriller that propels you along with its split timeline narrative and allows the horror to be drawn out in a compelling way.
Damien Power certainly has a gift for spinning a thrilling yarn both as director and writer of Killing Ground, and this effort is definitely one to be proud of.

I look forward to seeing where his talents take him next.

 

– Paul Farrell

 

How Annabelle and the Conjuring universe is connected to the Manson family murders

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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 Conjuring 2, 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.

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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?

 

– Paul Farrell

 

The rise, fall, and stumbling rise of M. Night Shyamalan

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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…

Unbreakable

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…

Signs

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 Village

The one trick pony revealed

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 Happening

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…

After Earth

The forgotten failure

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.

Wayward Pines

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.

The Visit

The reawakening

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.

Split

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.

  • Paul Farrell

Movie Review: Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

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The first sequel to the Universal Dracula franchise would be released just five years after its predecessor.

In the last outing we saw the demise of the titular character at the hands of Professor Van Helsing, (played once again by Edward Van Sloan, and the only returning character to the franchise) who interestingly enough is on trial for the murder of the Count.

That in itself is something I’ve often pondered about. In a world where vampires and werewolves are the stuff of legend, if they were to exist, how would one prove it after they’ve been through such an ordeal and essentially disposed of the evidence?
Anyway, I digress.

Dracula’s Daughter is not only a sequel, but the start of a trend for Universal in order to keep their booming business going when your lead villain has been dispatched – by introducing an offspring.

We would see this repeated again with the likes of Son of Dracula and Son of Frankenstein.
In this instance the Dracula bloodline flows down to his daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska, with a suitably melodramatic performance from Gloria Holden (The Life of Emile Zola).

Her portrayal of the female vampire with a craving to be human (an act that she hopes will come true with the destruction of her father’s body) served as an inspiration to Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned.

The notion of a vampire’s desire to be human has often been looked at in films and novels throughout the years, but as far as I know, this is the first instance of it on the silver screen.

When Countess Zaleska burns the body of Dracula, with the help of her manservant, Sandor, she discovers that the curse has not been broken, so resorts to an alternate method of psychiatry instead.

In steps Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger, Saboteur) who may just have the answer she needs. Garth entices her to confront her demons head on, but her desire for blood proves too strong and she attacks a girl named Lili.

Broken and lost, the Countess feels her only option is to remain a vampire, but decides that Dr. Garth would prove a suitable companion in the after life.

So she resorts to kidnapping his true love, Janet (Marguerite Churchill, The Big Trail) and luring him back with her to Transylvania.

Dr Garth is willing to give up his life for the sake of Janet’s freedom, and all seems doomed for the Doctor, when the manservant Sandor puts a halt on the proceedings and kills the Countess in a jealous rage with an arrow through her heart.

Before he is able to exact his fury further, he too is brought down, when he is shot by a policeman.

~

Critics have been somewhat split in their reviews of Dracula’s Daughter, some citing its lush cinematography and praising both Director Lambert Hillyer’s work and the performance from Holden. Others say that it pails in comparison to Dracula.

I for one, found it strangely mesmerising and almost hypnotic with some of its lesbian overtones and this is in part down to Holden’s captivating presence on screen.

And like other critics, I too noticed a similarity to Sunset Boulevard in its themes, a film that I’m a great lover of and perhaps why I find myself drawn to this movie, despite it not carrying the same weight as Dracula.

I applaud its effort to push the story into a whole new direction and to offer some alternative narrative to the tried and tested monster storyline.

For this alone, I believe that Dracula’s Daughter its place alongside the movies that made Universal pictures a force to be reckoned with, and its perhaps a shame that it has been lost in the shadows of time due to the overwhelming impact that both Dracula and Frankenstein had on the industry.

– Paul Farrell
Lead Surgeon

Movie Review: XX (2017)

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Horror has a new voice and it’s all woman.

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…

The Box

XX_The-Box

…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

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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.

Next up…

Don’t Fall

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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

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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.

 

  • Paul Farrell
    Lead Surgeon