Ghost Stories (2017)

ghost1.jpgThere are some genuinely creepy moments, and old-fashioned scares, in this horror anthology movie- indeed, for awhile I was pleasantly reminded of those old Amicus movies that I loved years ago. Initially I was wrong-footed by a titles/prologue sequence that seems to break the fourth wall and suggested that the film was a found-footage/pseudo-documentary piece- it’s only after this that the film settles down into a traditional film format that I was able to relax into it. I don’t know if this distracted others or if it was just me, but there’s something wrong with all this and it handicaps the film somewhat- I’m surprised the film-makers didn’t revisit it (there’s stuff going on in camcorder footage of a Jewish celebration and ensuing family discord that seems to have no impact on subsequent events at all).

Once the film slips into traditional horror-story territory it improves no end, and after seeing so many American horrors,  it’s lovely to see UK characters and locations in an old-fashioned horror story, in which very real, very ordinary people get caught up in genuinely unsettling situations. The film and its three seperate tales (albeit they are not quite as seperate as we are led to believe) are structured around the investigations of Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman, who co-wrote and directed the film with Jeremy Dyson). Goodman has devoted his career to exposing phony psychics and fraudulent supernatural claims. A childhood hero of his, Charles Cameron, who has been missing for years, suddenly contacts Goodman and tasks him with three cases of ghostly goings-on that cannot be explained: a night watch-man’s terrifying experience in an abandoned asylum, a young man’s car accident deep in some creepy woods and a father being haunted by the malevolent spirit of his unborn child. 

The tension during the horrific tales as they unfold is very well done- the film is not at all gory but is genuinely creepy and certainly it’s a refreshing nod to old-school horror films, where mood and atmosphere is superior to graphic excess. Other than that off-putting opening I really enjoyed the film and its ‘twist’ at the end, while perhaps not completely surprising or convincing, certainly honours the feel of those Amicus anthologies. Its a great old-fashioned ghost movie, and there’s nothing wrong with that- indeed, I’d love to see more of this kind of stuff. In just  the same way as science-fiction and fantasy films have become too persistent with graphically ‘wowing’ us by literally showing everything onscreen in CGI spectacle, so have horror films been persistent lately in graphically detailing all their gory horrors onscreen. Suggestion is sometimes a more powerful tool, no matter the CGI trickery that film-makers possess today.

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Bird Box (2018)

bird1Netflix ends the year on something of a high, as this apocalyptic thriller is pretty solid stuff. Bird Box is based on a 2014 novel I have never heard of, and follows a reluctantly pregnant woman, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) on a journey to salvation over a five-year period during what is essentially the End of the World. Alongside Bullock, the film contains a pretty heavyweight cast (Trevante Rhodes, Tom Hollander, Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich) with a fairly high-profile director, Susanne Bier at the helm. I appreciate Netflix Originals might always have a hard time escaping a stigma of ‘straight-to-video’ and ‘tv movie’, but projects like this really should help break that. Besides, it also suggests that movies like this, which aren’t necessarily box-office gold by any means, can yet get made in a cinema environment dominated by noisy blockbuster franchise stuff- indeed, I think some mixed reviews of this generally stems from people expecting it to be something it isn’t (i.e. a huge ‘event’ horror blockbuster). Its really a character-based thriller rather than the graphic apocalyptic horror some might expect- although, that said, the early scenes of society crashing down are pretty graphic and convincing.

The talent involved both in front and behind the camera certainly suggests that Netflix might be onto something, and that perhaps something genuinely great might be in the offing someday. Bullock is very good in this film, with an interesting character arc and an involving performance, clearly taking the project very seriously.

Very often I was watching this wishing that The Walking Dead series (by now having descended into self-parody) had taken this route- I always like the dramatic tension of taking desperate characters and putting them in an enclosed space with a very real external threat. In The Walking Dead, the outside threat of the zombies has become almost a routine turkey shoot, we don’t feel the threat or smell the decay or the fear of, well, the walking dead overcoming everything. At least in Bird Box the apocalypse is horrible and scary, and wisely doesn’t explain everything. There is an awkward moment when one of the characters expresses what he thinks the unseen monster/s are and explains he did his research on the internet, but on the whole the film manages everything superbly well. I like the threat being unseen and unknown and largely unexplained- its the physical and mental results of that threat that drives things forward and I think leaving it unexplained helps. It could be demons, it could be aliens, in the end, it doesn’t matter.

 

2018 Review: August

August saw some news breaking regards the circumstances of Johann Johannsson’s passing, a commentary on the birthday of the late Chris Whitley, a note regards the death of Neil Simon, a new Blade Runner-inspired book, and all this-

Mission Impossible: Fallout – Film of the year, simple as that. I suppose that will depress some people no end, but as far as summer blockbusters go, like the previous entry, this is pretty much definitive.

Big Bad Mama – Funnily enough, years from now, when I look back on this years viewing, I think Big Bad Mama will be one of the most memorable entries of this year. It was a blast from the past, wildly nostalgic of that 1970s era of film and television with a great cast- afterall, this one has Captain Kirk and Captain Dallas sharing the screen. How could it possibly fail?

Extinction– A pretty frustrating movie, as I recall.

Ready Player One–  As disappointments go, this one is up there with Black Panther. A very vacuous CGI-fest, it seems to have the best of intentions but I suspect the book simply ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, so the film collapses under the weight of hype and expectations.

The Camp on Blood Island – Another Indicator boxset of Hammer obscurities. It just can’t fail. This was the first n the box and a pretty entertaining flick.

Yesterdays Enemy – Surprisingly modern in approach, this is an undervalued/forgotten gem, seemingly an apology for some of the more dubious racial sentiments of the Blood Island film which preceded it.

The Age of Adaline – Ouch.

Loving Vincent– A beautiful, unique-looking film.

The Stranglers of Bombay – Likely the weakest of the third Indicator Hammer set.

It – Oh dear, another disappointing film. I think this post had the most comments of any post this year.

Lady Macbeth – Still have mixed feelings about this, not wholly successful but worth a watch, certainly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri –  Hey, this was brilliant. One of the films of the year. For once a film lived up to the hype (which is the trouble, I suppose, of coming to films late, whether it be disc release or later rental etc).

Cardinal Season Two – Entertaining thriller from Canada, ensuring interesting locations and, hmm, that Rocketeer bloke.

Murder on the Orient Express – My discovery of the charms of Agatha Christie continues.  This was a beautiful looking movie, even on HD streaming. Can only imagine what a Blu-ray or 4K UHD possibly looks like- ravishing, probably.

Only the Brave – Considering what has been going on in California a few weeks ago, I imagine this film will have long legs. Maybe some of these true story/biopics are a little too respectful or have little to say other than recounting the events? I mean, sure, that’s fine I suppose, but it’s surely an opportunity for some valid opinion or artistic viewpoint informing on those events?

15 reviews? Is this some kind of record?

 

 

2018 Review: July

July was marked by me starting a number of lengthy posts analysing BR2049 that took up far too much time and nobody read. I got a third one nearly ready to go but never posted it. I figured I’d return to it sometime as I enjoyed doing them (any excuse to rewatch BR2049 is officially A Good Thing in my book), but it was taking too much time to justify, and besides, there’s sure to be actual books about it coming out soon or similar stuff up on the internet already.  Surprisingly, really, I didn’t do too bad with new reviews in anycase:

Mission– French sci-fi must be an acquired taste, it was pretty sour to me. Funnily enough another Mars adventure, The First (which I reviewed a few days ago) was coming up that was much classier/serious than this silly nonsense- maybe my high evaluation of The First owes much to how daft this was.

How It Ends – An ironic title, as it turned out.

Calibre- Scottish Deliverance.

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season One– This was a great period horror series, I was a bit late catching up with it but glad I did.

Wind River – One of the best films I’ve seen this year, I think.

The Foreigner – A pretty fun, low-demand thriller that was more entertaining than I expected.

Resolution – This was fantastic, alongside its sequel/part two which follows next. A low-budget Lovecraftian sci-fi/horror that is genuinely disturbing and fascinating.

The Endless – Follow-up to Resolution, which it accompanies on Arrows excellent double-bill Blu-ray.  Not quite as good as the first film, but really, both are better than most sci-fi films coming the mainstream route. Anybody who got a kick from Annihilation would enjoy these two.

Eight reviews then, two of which were tv shows that take longer to watch for obvious reasons. July also unfortunately marked the passing of author Harlan Ellison and artist Steve Ditko, both of which I wrote posts about. I also wrote my first 4K review, which was a rewatch of the first Deadpool movie. Busy month, all told.

Mandy (2018)

mandypicI came here by way of Johann Johannsson’s strange, dark and intense score (the last one that he recorded, I believe, prior to his passing). Otherwise, I would have likely given it a wide berth, if only because of Nic Cage’s involvement. I used to like Cage’s work but his increasingly manic OTT-style wore increasingly thin over the years. I think his Crusader Elvis in Season of the Witch was the final straw.

Anyhow, spoilers ahead- I don’t usually like to raise any with films still fairly ‘new’ but I can’t help it with this one. So anyway, here we are. I suppose an easy shot would be one of style over content, but that’s clearly the intention here- the story is a paper-thin b-movie plot and its the colour-saturated, gaudy 1980s-era VHS sensibility that raises this into something that is either, well, genius or trash. Johannsson always had a gift for knowing what suited the film project he was working on, and he nails it here – so much so that I’ll give the film the benefit of doubt and declare it brilliant. His music score drips grim darkness and dread and colours the film as intensely as the cinematographer and all the work likely done in post to make the image such gorgeous madness.

Madness is the key word here, and I’d suggest that this films director should go and make a Lovecraft film next. Watching Nic Cage’s lumberjack woodsman descend into madness during this film was an experience indeed- more so because Cage somehow stayed fairly restrained throughout. He didn’t play it overboard and slip into farce- instead we can sense the pain torturing him and by the end he’s slipped into some other universe entirely. I almost expected the film to cut to a shot of him dead and his car wrapped around a tree, revealing the true insanity of the final shots as he drives under blood-red skies with his wife alongside him on the seat.

In some ways, particularly in its style over content (or style is content), the film reminded me a great deal of The Neon Demon, but this film is far, far superior. For what it is, its almost perfect.  There. I really enjoyed a new Nic Cage movie. The world really is going to hell in a handbasket.

And we really lost something so special with Johannsson’s passing. This film sounds so remarkable and strange, what bizarre wonders did he have yet ahead of him? Alas, we will never know, and that just adds another level of pain and darkness to this strange insane film.

Beyond Skyline (2017)

beyondFrom the sublime (The Tree of Life) to the ridiculous- I was never a fan of the original Skyline film from 2010,  so perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised by this belated sequel. This is balls-to-the-wall CGI madness with a b-movie cast that throws everything at the screen (gigantic self-repairing spaceships, Giger-ish aliens, martial arts action, lots of guns, lots of explosions and plenty of splashy gore) with a mad frenzy that’s almost intoxicating. We’ve all heard of fan-service, but I think this film needs a new description, let’s call it geek-service. Its as if the films sole purpose is to make teenage geeks wet themselves in dizzy excitement. Pretty girls, alien robots yanking living victims brains out of skulls (and dropping them into alien suits, hey-presto zombie army), giant robots battling each other like some Alien Street Fighter Turbo video-game (Round One! Fight!). Trouble is, anyone over the age of, say, 17, need not apply, you’re too old/sophisticated to ‘get it’.

Some decades north of 17, I’m clearly not the target audience so it’s perhaps unfair of me to nail this turkey to the mast. I’m sure this has its fans but while its possibly more fun than the first film (I can’t remember, having tried so hard to forget it, what actually happened in that first film, other than an alien invasion spoiling someone’s day) it’s really too long, feeling almost like two films stitched together. Its also unashamedly franchise-building with an eye on future films or possibly a tv series (there is a cynicism to some of it that leaves a sour taste, or maybe that was just the script).

I suppose I’ve seen worse…

 

Night of the Demon (1957)

night1First of all, an admission- this wasn’t the film I was expecting. I’d seen that Indicator was releasing a great old British horror film titled Night of the Demon, and somehow got my wires crossed with another film (it may have been The Devil Rides Out, but I was certain the film I was thinking of was in black and white, and I know that Devil Rides Out was in typically gaudy Hammer colour, so anyway, it remains a mystery- anybody have any suggestions?). Well, as it turned out, contrary to my expectations, I hadn’t seen Night of the Demon before.

Well, lucky me. This film was brilliant. A genuinely unnerving British horror film from 1957 that somehow passed me by in all these intervening decades until Indicator’s superlative Blu-ray dropped through my letterbox. I have to say, if I’d watched this thing as a kid, it would have scared me shitless and scarred me for life (then again, that lamentable 1941 Arthur Askey flick The Ghost Train scared the willies off me as a kid – but admittedly scares me for different reasons when forced to watch it these days: Night of the Demon seems to have aged better).

It should indicate the qualities of this film that it made me uneasy throughout, and actually made me jump a few times. Sure, some of the effects have dated and the titulat demon likely gets titters of laughter from foolish young ‘uns today more accustomed to CGI stuff, but that’s what suspension of disbelief is all about. You have to work with films of this vintage and make allowances, and in this case that effort gets richly rewarded. Like The Blood on Satan’s Claw, this is a really great British horror film, and I can’t wait to rewatch it- this one really is a classic.

Oh, and this edition has enough different cuts of the film to qualify it for some kind of Blade Runner award; bravo, Indicator, another excellent release.