61 Days of Halloween: Case 39

Case 39 is a film with tons of squandered potential that earns the rare distinction of Film Most Deserving of a Remake Due to Lack of Execution. Unlike others in the past like Captivity it does not, however, come even close to being good for a number of reasons. It should also be noted that this film was in the can for two years and likely to remain undistributed- not that something like that always matters (Blue Sky) but it should be taken into consideration.

To borrow a journalism term this film buries the lead, which is to say that it does not tell the most compelling story it has to offer. It decides to tell the tale of a well-meaning social worker who thinks she is doing this child a favor and saving her from abuse. As time goes by it turns out the girl is demonic. The more compelling tale would be to follow this girl’s life with her “parents” then the scene in which she is taken away has an added layer of emotion and becomes even more poignant, frightening and impactful. However, you cannot punish a film for what it should’ve done. What it did do wasn’t that great either.

It gets off on the wrong foot right away by trying to introduce too many things in the early going. There is Emily (Renée Zellweger) and her work, then we see a little about her personal life and meet Doug (Bradley Cooper); we see her working one of her other cases which comes into the mix later, Diego (Alexander Conti) and there are a few meetings with Lilith’s (Jodelle Ferland, who is rather good in this part) family when there could be fewer. Edward’s, Lilith’s father, tight-lipped attitude prompts Emily to contact Detective Barron (Ian McShane) to try and look into their history. All this before Lilith is taken out of their custody, which would not be an issue if the film had measured its pace.

Instead once Emily has custody of Lilith she starts to jump to the supernatural conclusion far too soon and the only reason that would happen is because there is a concern about running time. While strange things had occurred things hadn’t gotten to a supernatural state just yet. Either the build had to be more consistent while bringing these people in or there needs to be a slower escalation of the Emily-Lilith conflict.

So it all becomes a question of reaction, or rather overreaction. A similar thing happens when Doug, a psychologist, has a session with Lilith. It is a disconcerting and somewhat cloying standard horror scene. As an audience, we can read between the lines and see she’s messing with him but Doug walks out of the encounter saying he feels “shaken” but he looks like he saw her head spin around the reaction is far too big for the scene we just witnessed. The only function it serves is to fuel Emily’s fears.

Then Emily’s approach to the final confrontation is all wrong. She is told that Lilith can only be killed in her sleep, which she hardly does at all. What that factoid is based on is beyond me. Her first approach is very hands-off and then although we get some very good intercut flashbacks what finally does it ends up being too easy a solution especially after having seen examples of her strength not moments before.

The concept this film tries to prey upon is that you are never safe from this demon if you are on her radar as she doesn’t actually kill you but rather makes circumstances more conducive to your death. It doesn’t quite succeed in that regard either. There is the aftermath of a gruesome scene which isn’t shot to its potential. The most effective onscreen kill is likely the hornets, however, their CG-ness is rather apparent throughout.

Inconsistency abounds in this film from pace to logic to effectiveness and even the performances aren’t immune, most of the times they are victimized by the script though. Case 39 has promise in many areas but never comes close to realizing it in anyway shape or form and ends up being a wasteful disappointment.

4/10
 

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Rewind Review- Midnight Meat Train


Midnight Meat Train is a very interesting film. While it was a limited release film last year, it certainly got the attention of horror film buffs. It was widely speculated and hyped, in part by Barker himself, as the most faithful adaptation of a Clive Barker work in years. Ryûhei Kitamura seemed certain to handle this difficult task with aplomb.

The story is ripped from the pages of Barker’s seminal short story trilogy The Books of Blood, and this is one of the most evocative pieces in said collection. So there was a lot to live up to, and for the most part it does. This film owes much of its success to its faithfulness, both in narrative and tonality, to the short story – which is a rare feat. Seldom, if ever, has Barker’s knack for mixing the mundane and the preternatural creations of his nearly unparalleled imagination been so deftly captured on celluloid. Fluorescent, washed-out lighting and long dialogue-free sequences also add greatly to the film’s impact.

The creative use of flashbacks in sync with the sound of the shutter closing as Leon (Bradley Cooper) has his breakdown in front of his girlfriend (Maya- Leslie Robb) is the cinematic apex of the film. A close runner-up is the first kill which is shocking, literally jaw-dropping and thus, great. Mahogany played stoically by Vinnie Jones is one of the better horror villains to hit the screen in quite some time and proves a silent villain is always most effective.

The ending is as shocking in its reveal and nearly as well-executed as it was in the text, and for that it deserves kudos and watching. The only real issue I had was that the mood and overall impact of the film, not just the kills, were dampened by the repeated use of CG blood, which made those scenes more like comic books and less like film. I just wish a few shots were framed or blocked differently so that they didn’t feel CG was necessary or better yet had they gotten creative and taken a risk with practical effects. Typically, CGI does play better on DVD but blood it seems will never work.

Ultimately, it is a very effective piece which is why any undercutting of the effectiveness and sheer brutality of it is hard to forgive. Its grade would be much higher without the two or three instances of digital blood.

7/10

Review- The Hangover Part II

Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galiafanakis in The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros.)

If you read my review of The Hangover you’ll know that I was quite a fan of the original installment of the film. It even cracked my Top 15 Films of 2009 list. It remains, regretfully for the follow-up, as one of the best comedies of the past few years.

Part of what works so well in the first, and what I didn’t quite articulate then, is that when you’re dealing with a story wherein your characters seemingly irrevocably messed up their life in the course of one night of binge drinking and partying and did crazy things, add to that they cannot recall what they did and you can have almost anything happen as long as it hangs together when it gets explained. This should be an extraordinarily freeing experience for writers and filmmakers instead it became a case of variations on precisely the same thing.

As the trailers for the film started rolling out I started to get a Home Alone 2 vibe form it, meaning that while it may be funny it would be essentially the same film but relocated. Little did I know just how many things would be pretty much the same as they were the first time around and what compounded that is that it wasn’t even that funny. At least Home Alone 2 was the rare film in the course of my life that made me cry from laughter.

One perfect example of how identical they decided to make this film is that the one new character who they bring along with them on their night of partying, Teddy (Mason Lee), is the one who vanishes and must be located. So it’s the same triad as the first time. Doug stays behind and does damage control. So the dynamic is similar but a little more unbalanced than it seemed last time. Zach Galiafanakis has been the one who has most benefited from the first film career-wise and it seems like the film was designed to give him even more moments both organic and inorganic than prior. While Helms is still very funny he seems to have fewer chances to take over scenes.

There were long passages of this film where I barely made a sound, which is rare for me in a comedy but to be fair this film does have its moments. Two very noticeable ones are musical in nature, one is original to this film a parody of Billy Joel’s “Allentown” and the other which rehashes a cameo from the first in a very humorous way.

While one cameo which was sort of a re-run works another, that of Nick Cassavetes as the tattoo artist, just falls completely flat. As unpopular as he is now, Mel Gibson would’ve been funnier in the part, which was how it was originally cast.

In the film there are a few things that spring to mind that kind of make you wonder a bit too much and over-thinking is the enemy of a comedy. Firstly, Alan recites many random factoids about Thailand throughout and one of them ends up being a key event. So kudos to an extent for giving us expository information without us necessarily knowing it. There are two other head-scratchers, however, that are harder to overlook: one being how avoidable the chaos that ensued was this time. Second is the consequences a few of the characters face are a bit too serious too be laughed off lightheartedly and takes away some of the intended comedy.

Practically all the complaints listed above are story-related, which is in and of itself a shame because you do have the same talented core doing their best in this one also but this time they have substandard, stale material that they cannot coax enough laughs out of to salvage this mess.

The sad reality is that pretty much everyone who saw and enjoyed the first film, which were many, went out to see it opening weekend and gave the film a record opening (for an R-Rated live-action comedy) so there will be a third film. Hopefully the mistakes of this installment are learned from and addressed.

5/10