Mini-Review: Detention

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Detention

To accentuate the positive first, I cannot, nor can anyone in all likelihood, accuse Detention of being unoriginal or predictable. One of its few perks is that it does not ever make it obvious where it’s going next, and in its own insane way does manage to link everything together in the end. However, the film seems to think it’s a lot more clever and funny than I find it to be. It’s part (sub)genre-hopping horror/sci-fi and mostly comedy but the comedy portion is very forced, nearly all of it. Few and far between are the jokes that work for me and rarely did jokes strike me as genuine reflections of character. Instead the characters always seem to be in a state of limbo between being a stand-in for a horror archetype and a human vessel for a punchline.

I can see how the film has produced divisive reactions, and I always prefer a film that strives for divisiveness. When all is said and done, attempting to please everyone creates tepid cinema. Truly universal stories, at their core, come from a very personal place – so, I can easily see how this might be someone else’s cup of tea, but it’s not mine.

2/10

Rewind Review: Frozen (2010)

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Frozen (2010)

Frozen is a suspense/horror film which speculates on what may happen if three twenty-something friends were caught on a ski lift overnight. Despite playing to favorable and classically hyperbolic reactions at Sundance this film, despite its promise, is deeply flawed. There are spoilers herein.
The three protagonists Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan (Kevin Zegers) are well set up in the beginning portion of this film, however, that beginning is too protracted and talky especially considering the plot and the nature of it.

The concept of the film is not the film’s downfall. The fact that these three get caught on the ski lift overnight is, in fact, a good concept which is not fully explored and those parts which are explored aren’t very well executed. One means for escape is never attempted and the first attempted was bound to fail based on how it was done. Joe jumps from the lift, abandons his snowboard but still tries to land on his feet, which was bound to break his legs.

Considering the film is called Frozen, the most the characters ever suffer is low-grade frostbite and not hypothermia as you might expect and furthermore the deaths are not due to the elements but wolf attacks. This acts sort of as the opposite of a deus ex machina, wherein the characters’ destruction is brought about by a seemingly divine, or demonic, plot element randomly thrown into the mix.

So far as the cast is concerned the expression “two out of three ain’t bad” comes to mind. Emma Bell seems to be trying too hard in this part and goes over-the-top in her more emotional scenes. Kevin Zegers isn’t there very long but is serviceable when he is there leaving the standout and ‘the glue’ as Shawn Ashmore who did quite well but even his best efforts can’t keep this thing together.

After being trapped conversations the characters are engaged in are far too distracted from the situation to be believable. They seemingly forget the very real situation they are in for much too long. Breaking some of the backstory – filling up with quiet or renewed panic would’ve been better.

The characters in this story were placed in a situation with really only three outs and they only tried two. They could’ve been put in a slightly more advantageous situation. Despite the claustrophobia and occasional tension the film does build it is all torn down by the missteps along the way.

Despite a well-intentioned effort at a different kind of suspense tale Frozen is tepid at best.

4/10

61 Days of Halloween: The Awakening

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Awakening

I will elaborate on this point in a separate piece, but this film is a testament to my theory that drama is the foundation of all other genres. To be brief, even if this film fails to affect you with its creepy atmosphere, it is an effective character piece that delves into psychology as well as the supernatural.

When telling with a ghost tale, especially one that deals with characters who have been so greatly impacted by the sightings, or even suppositions thereof, the acting needs to be up to snuff. This film brings much more than that to the table, there are four top-notch performances, one of each “award type” both lead and supporting.

Rebecca Hall, in the lead, is someone I personally I have seen far too little of since Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and she carries this film brilliantly with a fine double-edged performance as a now skeptical ghost hunter. Dominic West plays a character who also has a facade, as seemingly everyone in this film does, his stoical demeanor is matched by his private pain in this work. Imelda Staunton, is nothing short of riveting. Then there’s Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran on Game of Thrones, where he’s shown flashes of his capability) whom steals scenes and redoubles the impact this film has.

This is a film that eases into its narrative, it never gives its answers away too easily and stays nebulous about some things. Its timing of reveals is perfect and just when you think you’ve lost it, or it’ll flatline, there’s always one more turn than you expected.

10/10

The Awakening featured in the BAM Awards the year it was released, and the Best Horror Films of the Year. It is available on Netflix Instant (US).

Mini-Review: Trollhunter

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Trollhunter

It’s a found-footage mockumentary about a group of college students who meet a real-life troll hunter and follow him on his exploits.

There are some very smart things and concepts in this film that are never fully realized. There’s a silly, short tag to the entire mess. At some point the pace just never picks and it galumphs along at an agonizingly slow rate and then no real payoff to boot. It’s hard to quantify this but it may have been the most boring cinematic experience I’ve had this year.

4/10

Mini-Review: I’m Not Jesus Mommy

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

I’m Not Jesus Mommy

Here’s another one of those movies you just happen upon and then you look into it and you realize that the idea is so outlandish, and could end up being either brilliant or a disaster, and based on its premise that you absolutely have to see it.

Perhaps what’s most unfortunate about the film is that both in its title and in its synopsis it divulges what is truly revealed in the third act, however, intimations to the fact in question are made well before the revelation.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this film is despite a rather flat, blank performance by its lead actress and clearly video cinematography is that it has a strong first act. It mixes in some themes that I don’t necessarily expect to see touched upon at all and rather well. Then there’s a time jump, now this is where the excessive amount of restraint comes into the mix, where the plot really begins plodding. There’s some sort of plague about, the world is a really crazed place. However, vague allusions as to why are all that’s ever made. Similarly, visual motifs come into play that are also unclear, but the real issue is that the near cessation of incident.

Unlike some who have seen it, I have no issue with the fact that this film handles what is potentially such a polemic, sacrilegious premise with utmost seriousness of tone. The issue seems to stem from, at least in part, a bit of reticence to fully commit, and it’s a shame.

The music, the lack of dialogue and the edit set the stage but there’s virtually no show upon it. I would see another work by Vaughan but what is most aggravating here is that it seems there was the courage and commitment to take a potentially ludicrous idea, treat it seriously and make it a film. However, the follow-through to make the film as shocking and effective as it could be doesn’t seem to be there. The film does become somewhat memorable for the previously alluded to fact but that’s rather dubious.

4/10

Mini-Review: Absentia

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Absentia

As per usual, and as I say quite frequently, I went into Absentia knowing very little and that’s the way I prefer it. I knew it was a low-budget horror film and what the basic synopsis was from Netflix. That’s about it. Only later on did I learn more details like the budget was purportedly $70,000 and funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign.

All that stuff is great to know after the fact. Knowing it before you see something can be a double-edged sword. Essentially, either the movie works or it doesn’t. What the budget is, whether exorbitantly high or incredibly low, does not make it immune from, or more deserving of, criticism.

As for the film I really enjoyed it a great deal. It tells a tight-knit simple horror story that gives you just enough information to keep things going but never gets ahead of itself, and the idea is a low-concept production of a rather high-concept idea at the bottom of it. However, the curtain is only barely raised on the horrors being uncovered by these characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was shot rather in continuity because it certainly was doable and the performances across the board got much stronger as the film progressed, and even rather impressive at times. The score is really good and there are good twists to it. This is definitely a Netflix gamble worth taking.

8/10

Mini-Review: Exit Humanity

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Exit Humanity

Exit Humanity is a horror film that has a rather interesting take on the zombie subgenre. With the proliferation of such a genre one must contend with both fatigue and differentiating one’s own story from the crowd. In these aspects is where the film is most successful, and that’s without including the fact that this is an alternate history tale of the postbellum south. The story is an introspective one that is more concerned about those left behind after a plague of zombism, and isn’t so concerned with making the walking dead of this tale a metaphor. Yes, there is a somewhat different spin to the cause and the history, but that ends up being more a narrative necessity than a focus.

With a fairly original take the film is setup to succeed and does, but only barely. Where the film struggles most is in terms of balance. The score is really good but at times only in isolation, at times it’s too intrusive and too intense. There is some wonderfully florid voice-over, but at times it’s too much, and at other times the scene would’ve been better demonstrated visually than through monologue. The film does have its twists and turns that are rather surprising, but after some of those unusual decisions some quickening of pace is needed so that it doesn’t feel aimless.

The film never really lost me as a viewer, however, it had me reeled in at times and let go just a little bit due to some of these inconsistencies. I don’t want to over-accentuate them because I do still like the film, but feel it easily could’ve been something truly special had certain edits been made. It’s worth watching for fans of the genre for sure. I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if some professed greater admiration for it than I do, especially considering some of the touches it employs such as animation, colored shots and top-notch make-up effects.

7/10

Mini-Review: The Thompsons

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Thompsons

Essentially part of the criteria for falling through the cracks in one year is cognizance. The release date on video for this film was 12/31, which made it a tough one to acquire and view before the end of the year.

This film reaches an honorable and rare duality of being a sequel that one could watch without having seen its predecessor (The Hamiltons) and that continues the trajectory of a series properly. This sequel builds upon its own vampire myth, which is one whose origin is genetic rather than viral. What this film does infinitely better than its predecessor is build mystery, and suspense but also has reveals and significant plot points at a persistent pace. The necessary information, both new and old, is relayed quickly enough such that the raising of stakes happens early and often. You also have here a rather unusual paradigm wherein humanity is the outside world and you’re purely in a vampiric world. What The Thompsons does is firmly establish a foothold for the Buthcer Brothers’ concept in the genre, one that should be supported by those who like seeing new takes on old creatures, and specifically, want vampires to be brutal.

8/10

Mini-Review: Penumbra

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Penumbra

What Penumbra attempts to do is something I can definitely appreciate. How it goes about trying to do it is what I really have a problem with. It overplays its hand in some regards and is a bit too broad in the portrayal of its protagonist, her dialogue a bit too blunt; not to mention the scenes that set-up the gotcha ending that only play more annoyingly once everything is revealed. It’s an interesting examination of the Spanish-Argentine dynamic but many other recent co-productions layer horror, colonial antagonism and modern Latin America’s socioeconomic climate better than this does, combine that with its failings as a horror film and it becomes quite bothersome indeed.

4/10

A Visit with M. Night Shyamalan

Introduction

For 61 Days of Halloween, as well as for my posts categorized as Shyamalan Week (these usually lead up to, or surround, one of his new releases), I usually do some posts that are formatted a bit differently.

It’s with that I commence discussing M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit. As per usual with Shyamalan, I go in depth and may reveal plot details you’d rather not know, so spoiler alert. Forewarned is forearmed.

The Visit (2015)

The Visit (2015, Universal)

The Visit has a simple set-up: two kids, aspiring filmmaker, Becca (Olivia DeJonge), and her irreverent younger brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), are going to spend a week with their grandparents (Peter McRobbie and Deana Dunagan) to get to know them as they are long estranged from their mother (Kathryn Hahn). It’s a scenario that allows for a stripped-down, character-driven relatively shoestring take from M. Night Shyamalan, and it’s also a perfect vehicle for found footage.

As do a lot of other found footage premises, so what makes this one work?

Auteur Theory

M. Night Shyamalan (2015, All Rights Reserved)

Knowing a director’s work can be a double-edged sword, to Shyamalan for me; I feel it always works as a benefit. Here what ends up occurring is that you’re put in the mindset of a Hansel and Gretel (Not the witch-hunters) tale immediately through the set-up that’s reinforced by the marketing but it ends up being the first of the film’s misdirections.

Shyamalan works some of his common touches better in this film than in many of his others including the ones with the most similar occurrences.

In no particular order they are:

  • Mom’s full story about the fight that lead to her leaving home, along with the fact that she is a single mom is reminiscent of The Sixth Sense.
  • In this film the tale of sports-related trauma is more organically folded in and involved the climax than in Signs.
  • When Grandma is stalling to tell the truth about her relationship with her daughter the tale she tells in its place, that sounds like lunacy, is not unlike The Lady in the Water.
  • The inclusion of Sundown Syndrome, a strange and fairly rare affliction, is also a recurrent theme most notably employed previously in Unbreakable.
  • Lastly, Pop Pop’s tale of the white creature with yellow eyes he saw at the factory reminds me of the creature in The Village.
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Way back when, I forget if this was on At the Movies or in an article, Roger Ebert exclaimed that M. Night Shyamalan’s Pennsylvania was beginning to be a cinematic analog of Stephen King’s Maine. Here Shyamalan goes to Masonville, PA. Even as someone who lived in the state for four years it’s still a marvel to me how vast and expansive to me. It’s certainly a larger in-state playground than King has.

There are all touches that delighted me, and there’s a sort of active engagement, what-next urgency to my viewings of his films (most of them) that have me rapt regardless, like a kid listening to campfire story.

So far as his dovetailing he’s not only filmmaker who does so, and that’s also like a King story. With regards to the moviegoing public there seems to be a strange phenomenon with Shyamalan where certain people keep going to see his movies though they may not necessarily want to. It’s like sports fandom: you believe your team hasn’t been good in years, and maybe never will be again, but you still won’t give up your season tickets.

Performance, Tonality and Character

The Visit  (2015, Universal)

It manages to successfully shift tones and close-out all aspects of its narrative appropriately. It’s unquestionably both comedy and horror (the inclusion of Hahn and Oxenbould was a hint even beforehand). However, unlike many horror/comedies it does not struggle in either aspect and it does find equilibrium.

It excels mostly because Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould are both inordinately exceptional and achieve the unique tricks of appearing natural as if the camera is just rolling, being believably awkward when the moment demands it, and also entirely inhabiting their characters.

They have many memorable moments: the companion coerced confessions, freestyle rapping, and Oxenbould when snapping out of freezing in a rage are dream takes for an actor and director both.

The Visit (2015, Universal)

DeJonge’s interpretation of Becca is that of clearly intelligent girl without a note of falsity or petulance, heartbreaking in her embittered memories of her father. These two are really the glue that holds the film together.

This is not to discount Peter McRobbie and Deana Dunagan. They provide some of the needed laughs as well, all the necessary scares which are very effectively delivered, and even one heart-rending moment. Their feat is also not limited as their physicality is a triumph for both.

With a cabin fever aspect to the story, and a lack of a supernatural element, character is at a premium and remains so. The characters are explored even more than the plot is built but both are slowly revealing themselves sometimes it’s even subsumed in seeming temporary nonsense.

The Visit (2015, Universal)

Even in the conclusion where Tyler is allowed to do his closing freestyle rap (Shania Twain, bitches!) and Becca is looking into the mirror, her former aversion to such and the trauma that started that behavior were previously established. We see the growth and progression of both.

Newfound Footage

The Visit (2015, Universal)

This film takes a few tired found footage tropes and injects some life into them, as well working a few tried-and-purported-to-be-true ones better than prior acclaimed films of the technique.

Incessant documentation is a new reality that is becoming more accepted by society with less and less backlash with each passing day, therefore one of the past requirements of this technique is already passé.

In differentiating itself from the newer brood of the found footage approach it both doesn’t ignore the cameras to its detriment nor does it obsess over the “Why Are We Filming This?” Conundrum.

With regards to the past it does at times it seem to echo The Blair Witch Project with dramatic moments in corners. It also takes what was the entire basis of at least two Paranormal Activity films, distills it into one chilling scene; and thus condemns the former to the purgatorial state of anti-cinema wherein it belongs for all eternity.

Conclusion: The Visit Twists

The Visit (2015, Universal)

The Visit is a film that deals with creatures both real and imagined, the real being people, the ghosts of this tale being figurative. It’s a film where I was not waiting for a twist but rather reveals, but this one is successful because it was just sitting there waiting to be discovered like some others, but is highly organic and intrinsic to the plot. Furthermore, little morsels of prior information that seemed meaningless before ring true after it.

Another way for a viewer to ruin their potential enjoyment of a film is to be expecting a twist and constantly trying to ferret out what it is. What would happen if there was none? It’s like going to see an adaptation of a book and constantly be referring to your mental checklist about which favorite parts were included and which were edited out. It occludes you from focusing fully on what’s before you because you’re worried about parallel problems.

How many given endings can a story really have in cinematic terms? In most movies, especially Hollywood releases, you know how things will go. You’re there for the journey.

The Visit (2015, Universal)

Previously I discussed how at least Shyamalan is consistently giving us something to talk about, something a lot of people can’t even claim, which is noteworthy at the very least. I still want to discuss, and watch, and I wanted this visit to continue and enjoyed it greatly.