The Great Villain Blogathon: The Frailty of Villainy 

Introduction

When deciding what to write about for the Great Villain Blogathon Frailty jumped out immediately. The reason for this is not that there’s nothing necessarily unique about the antagonist(s) within the narrative, nor in the fact that there is some role reversal, but rather in how that comes about and the approaches to it.

That is what makes Frailty such an interesting film to examine in this topic. The mandatory SPOILER ALERT applies that if you have not seen this film you should cease reading now as the film will be discussed in depth.

Frailty 

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For a horror film to thrive its villain(s) need to be effective, for the villains to be effective they need to have a potentially horrific foundation upon which to work. This is a film that offers quite a bit of solid ground to tread upon for not only does the paradigm of the narrative shift fairly often, but in terms of its crafting there are fascinating things to consider. Frailty, for as vague as it may sound, is exactly the title this film needs for whether it’s the frailty of life, the human spirit, religious belief, sanity, and even reality; any weakness, any fissure, any breaks can have dire consequences. Frailty examines such consequences.

This is one of the more frequently overlooked turns by a director/lead actor (Bill Paxton), a fact underscored by his untimely death earlier this year. When you include the fact that it was a first feature film credit for both he and screenwriter Brent Hanley, then the unlikeliness of the creation of what Roger Ebert rated a four-star film is multiplied.

Another thing that jumped out at me was that this is not unlike a story I would’ve written in my late teens or early twenties, thematically speaking. However, if one takes a look at an early draft one can see a majority of an excellent script in tact that was improved to increase surprise and pay-off, and build mystery.

The film gives the sense of Biblical verses clashing without getting into pulpit-pounding, even with all the talk of God, angels, and demons it remains character driven. In true-to-theology fashion fear and disbelief the two most common reactions these characters have to Biblical figures hearing messages from angels. The talk of “are we destroying demons or killing people” in family may get over but the director’s voice could come through in a less obvious in a clip fro the show Davey and Goliath where the discuss the notion of God making people do things or something happen in a very thoughtful way. The allusion to the story of Abraham and Isaac is very properly included and underscores the Old Testament sensibility of the film.

frailty

There is built on a bed of lies a dramatic shell game of names, and antagonists. Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) comes into the FBI building wanting to see Agent Doyle (Powers Booth) who is in charge of the God’s Hand case, a rash of serial killings linked by notes claiming that “God’s hand was at work.” When Fenton finally gets to see Doyle he starts weaving his tale of how his brother Adam is the God’s Hand killer, and has recently committed suicide. Doyle is doubtful, which sets up the necessary and well-handled element of doubt in this story, but agrees to listen for a time. This disbelief is reflected in the flashback with Fenton as faith and disbelief go hand in hand. He flashes back to when he (Matt O’Leary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) were kids and how the story of the case really started with their father (Bill Paxton). As wild as the story is, at critical junctures gets satisfactory corroborations from others, such that Doyle keeps listening.

In this frame you have the introduction of an unreliable narrator, which a classic literary and cinematic device, but that’s not the only trick in store just perhaps the most surprising one of all. The biggest twist of the proceedings is that the man who presents himself as Fenton is actually Adam all along.

Crafting a Villains and Shifting Them

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In this film, as you may be able to tell above, plot and character are very closely intertwined such that the changes in the story invariably alter how the audience may react to characters. The film in its flashback gives you what you think is a protagonist you can root for, one whose fighting the good fight. Well, you do have him in Young Fenton. He doesn’t believe the story his father is trying to sell him and who his younger brother seems far too eager to believe. But this tale is tragic in a sense. Young Fenton will not save the day, he will survive his childhood (barely) but he will be dead within minutes of the film having started.

In a world where you’re unsure if anyone is honest is where the line between villain and anti-hero is a little blurred, where demons may or may not exist; there is an additional onus on the casting not only for the adult versions of the characters but who plays their younger versions. Three out of the four are of vital importance and cast with the utmost precision.

 

The hard to properly attribute truism that every villain is the hero of their own story is very applicable to this film. For this film to communicate effectively with its audience all the actors had to connect with their characters and understand the world from their character’s truth. It is only in this way they can hope to be dimensional human beings, rise above caricatures, and have a far more primal, deeper impact on its audience. Having a talented actor such as Bill Paxton directing the film certainly helped the cast and allowed them to expand the potential of their roles: it brought Matthew McConaughey his best performance prior to his McConaissance; a deft turn from Powers Booth; a well-earned ‘Introducing’ credit for Matt O’Leary who is spellbinding; a deceptively good pre-Peter Pan turn from Jeremy Sumpter; and a chillingly effective, and convincingly convicted self-directed role for Paxton.

Yet, to minimize Paxton’s directorial effect to just performance would be wrong. A grasp of narrative and material is needed to successfully shift the audience’s view of a character, or at the very least to successfully pull of a story twist. Furthermore, there are plenty of great visuals that drive home whether its Young Fenton fearfully stepping back into the dark, Young Fenton standing between Dad and the ax, Young Fenton seeking light and water through the knothole, the odes to Hitchcock — Young Fenton’s dismembered head against negative fill, and the dolly back-zoom in at the end — and graceful dissolves that may have impressed Truffaut.

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Also, for the perception of the characters to change frequently the circumstances of the story have to change, which means that the story cannot hinge on just one big twist but have quite a few; and this one does: Fenton kills dad not the demon he’s meant to, which the audience both doesn’t necessarily expect and is glad for, making him momentarily heroic. Adam finishes the kill that dad can’t complete, sending not just a momentary jolt through the audience but breaking the relief that may have come over the audience. We know things are not yet resolved or over just because dad is gone. The twists come until the very end when we learn that Adam is the Sheriff in Meat, Texas.


In this film you go from identifying Fenton to watching his downfall, the zealous end of a patriarch’s life, and the transformation of Adam from complete innocent into acolyte. His typically quiet observance of events as a child make him a hard one to read and that foreshadows his ability to tell the story from another perspective so convincingly. Not that it’s entirely unforeseen either after Young Fenton has killed dad the frequently mentioned promise to buried in the Rose Garden is made. Young Adam’s angry assertion that “I promise to God I’ll bury you here,” show’s the switch flipped in him perhaps more so than when he followed through on dad’s destruction of a demon.

Another brilliant touch in Frailty is that as you follow Adam’s tale (whom we believe to be Fenton), an twists unravel, you realize you’re witness to his methodology. Every demon on his list presents a new challenge. FBI Agent Doyle presents quite a few. However, with Fenton being the demon prior it got the ball rolling and allowed him to concoct his tale, and Adam figures out a way to change the names in the story of his life well enough such that he can lay the appropriate traps to get Doyle’s attention, tell his story with just the right breaks such that he could lead the Agent to his future burial place.

What’s perhaps most impressive in Frailty is that it manages to be deft in a film that deals with a zealotry — or a metaphysical plot depending on your viewpoint. Fenton’s transition from suspected-demon to full-blown serial killer is mostly offscreen. We are witness to only the inception but not the road traveled thereafter. What we may interpret merely as Adam being an obedient, agreeable child is confirmed to be his truth as he saw (or believed he saw) the same things his father saw.

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In the end it is Dad Meiks who spends the longest run inhabiting the role of the antagonist in the film. He may have a soft spot for Fenton inasmuch as he does not destroy him after he claims an angel told him he’s a demon, but he still dehumanizes him by locking him in the newly built cellar, starving him in the dark, and only gives him water through a knothole. With him occupying that position and Fenton being his victim its clear where we’ll identify for a majority of the tale. When all is said and done it would have come as no surprise if Fenton had killed himself. However, that was to be another twist, another lie Adam told. He did destroy Fenton and made it seem as if it was he who killed Agent Doyle, hence the ruse of the name when asking to see him.

Conclusion

If Frailty was but a spectacle of twists and upended expectations it would not have the staying power it has had since its release in 2002. Clever writing also can only do so much. It is the sensitive, humanizing, layered portrayals these characters are given by their actors that makes them relatable and identifiable. The performances ultimately makes it possible for the characters to occupy disparate roles throughout, and engender pity if not sympathy. For a villain is ever more effective when you can see where they’re coming from and understand the world from their vantage point, and Frailty makes it such that that happens. You will likely not agree with them, but you will understand them, and that makes the visceral reaction far more palpable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mini-Review: Excision

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!

Excision

What is most successful about Excision is that it is a study in character from the inside out. Which is to say that the fantasy/daydream segments in this film may be too numerous, but the purpose they do serve is to show how the inner-monologue of a disturbed, delusional character come to the fore and affect her everyday life. There are a few dichotomous splits in character: a struggle between adoration and mutilation (both their own versions of body worship), a fight against authority, a struggle between a libertine attitude and a theistic construct. Perhaps, what’s most intriguing about Excision is watching the journey, granted I did figure where the journey would end at some point, but it seems like a basic virginity plot with a very socially awkward lead, but as it progresses you see so much more is going on here. Through all the serious and horrific observations you make there are also some laughs to be had, and many great performances notably AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter and Jeremy Sumpter.

8/10

Mini-Review: Hiding

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!

Hiding

Hiding in some ways reminded me of Beautiful Wave in as much as we see a teenage girl do a lot of brooding with minimal backstory given to the audience so it becomes tiresome. The good news is that this film is quite a bit better than Beautiful Wave. The bad news is that it still doesn’t end up being good. It concerns this brooding girl (Ana Villafañe) who is in witness protection and there’s a given that she’ll be found and there’ll be this dramatic showdown. What really matters is how do you get to that point and sadly much of it seems like they’re just trying to fill time. She is interested in two guys at her new school and has similar, nearly mirrored scenes with them, at times. There’s a psycho jealous cheerleader (Kelcie Stranahan) who does a lot of digging into her on a delusional whim, there are flashbacks some of consequence and some not; all with an an annoyingly unnecessary excess of camera jiggling. Many characters make really bad or dumb decisions, and we don’t necessarily have enough affection or interest to let that slide. The best part of the film is unquestionably Jeremy Sumpter‘s supporting turn. He remains a heinously under-utilized and under-valued talent.

4/10

BAM Best Picture Profile: Peter Pan (2003)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

Peter Pan (2003)

While I didn’t really post explications that I can easily access for the BAM Awards back in 2003, this was a year wherein I lost my nominees and can only find winners) I was able to quote myself from an unusual source nowadays, my IMDb reviews:

There should be a rule that bars people from remaking a story when the definitive edition has been made. While I loved the much maligned ‘Hook’ and Disney’s version PJ Hogan created the perfect version of this tale. It uses more from the book than ever and even improves on some elements. The proper theatrical conventions are kept like Hook and the Father being played by the same actor and also the proper ones were done away with like a woman playing Peter’s role.

This is the way the story of Peter Pan should be told The imagery is balanced between fantastical and realistic. Every single character is perfectly cast, especially Jeremy Sumpter as Peter. The special effects were so amazing and unique I was actually surprised to see that Industrial Light and Magic did them. The film flows beautifully with scenes that seem as if they are pulled straight from my dreams.

This is a story that has always been very dear to me and I feel that people are making way to much of this film. Peter’s escape embodies a fear all children suffer from at one point or another: growing up. This is the essence of the film and the conflict is heightened by the fact that Wendy loves Peter and for him to love her back he knows he’d have to grow up. One day we know we must grow up. As children we envy Peter’s being but know that our destinies are more those of Wendy, Michael and John. As adults we find Peter’s dream of perpetual childhood beautiful but as we see his heart breaking because he cannot change who he is and live with the Darlings, so do ours. For that is our plight. There is not an audience this film can’t play to for that very reason.

It’s a heartwarming, swashbuckling, funny, adventurous, to say that its an experience doesn’t do it justice. This film is truly a dream come true.

It’s impossible not to like this movie. Open your heart, shut off your brain and watch Peter Pan the way it was meant to be seen.

Yes, I included that in its entirety even though there are some aspects I’d caveat or amend today. One of the amendments would be about stopping remakes. My point was that there’s a crystallization of a narrative in a certain form, to me this version of Peter Pan is it. It’s conscientiously still a storybook version but more real than prior versions, darker and more dramatic.

The second statement above that would need clearing up was the “shut off your brain” segment. While I still agree that Peter Pan is more a visceral than intellectual experience I wrote that as a knee-jerk reaction to some of the over-analysis of certain production decisions I read at the time. In terms of the intellectual aspect this version perhaps places the most emphasis on the tension between Peter and Wendy and the inner struggle each faces; Peter’s clinging to childhood and Wendy’s realization that she needs to go towards adulthood. Furthermore, the Hook/Pan dynamic, to borrow a trite modern colloquialism, the “frenemy” status exemplified by Sumpter and Isaacs is brilliantly portrayed.

Quite a few of my selections I believe were directors going where they were not necessarily expected to, and PJ Hogan hadn’t done anything in this vein yet. That’s for sure.

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

One history of the BAM Awards-related note. I used to in the days before streaming and on demand selections call the end of the year on-or-about Christmas. I believe Peter Pan’s release date was 12/27. Based on the conception and the strength of the trailer I extended the deadline that year and it became the first last-minute title to claim the number one spot.

This was and is a story I have a long history with. There was never a version quite like this one, and I don’t anticipate there will ever be one like it again. It’s something rather special. I knew that from the moment James Newton Howard’s “Flying” began (Another BAM note is that I erroneously eliminated it from scoring contention because of the classical cues used, when most of what I loved was original work).

Peter Pan
, in the face of being written off by many, won a slew of BAM Awards in one of the most dominant showings ever, and I can explain why further if need be, but I think my case is made.

Children in Films Blogathon: A Revisionist Look at the Juvenile Award

When I learned of the Child Actor Blogathon at Comet Over Hollywood, I had two ideas for it almost right away: the Jackie Searl spotlight and this one. Not too long ago I argued for why the Juvenile Award should be re-instated. In this post I will follow up on that notion to augment my case. It’s one thing to quickly cite who won while it was around and state it never should have left, it’s quite another to show you who would have had they never gotten rid of it. Now I have decided to illustrate that in three ways, including some omissions found when it was instated (it’ll make more sense when we get there, trust me). First, I will list the young actors who since the end of the award (after 1961) were nominated for an Academy Award.

These actors obviously, had there still been a Juvenile Award, would have won that. While on occasion they were awarded the prize, more often than not they didn’t have a realistic chance. Regardless, their nomination was deemed prize enough it would seem, but I disagree and as you will see there have been plenty of instances where the Juvenile award could have been handed out either in addition to or in place of the nomination.

Based on Academy Award nominations from 1961-Present:

Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Fox Searchlight)

2012 Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
2010 Hailee Steinfeld True Grit
2007 Saoirse Ronan Atonement
2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine
2002 Keisha Castle-Hughes Whale Rider
1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense
1993 Anna Paquin The Piano
1979 Justin Henry Kramer vs. Kramer
1977 Quinn Cummings The Goodbye Girl
1976 Jodie Foster Taxi Driver
1973 Tatum O’ Neal Paper Moon
1968 Jack Wild Oliver!
1962 Patty Duke The Miracle Worker
Mary Badham To Kill a Mockingbird

Personal Selections

Super 8 (2011, Paramount)

In 1996, when I was 15 and the young actors of the day where my contemporaries, I started making my own award lists. Being young myself at the time I wanted to recognize young actors where most awards excluded them more often than not. These selections reflect those that were my among my BAM award selections that were eligible and the Academy bypassed. Prior to 1996, I thought of significant performances that were worthy of noting and would’ve had a strong case for the Juvenile Award had it been around.

2012 Rick Lens Kauwboy

This one is highly unlikely as Kauwboy wasn’t shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film prize. However, the fact that it was the official selection for The Netherlands did make it eligible.

My young actress choice last year, Sophie Nélisse, was a year off from the Oscar calendar but also a strong possibility for Monsieur Lazhar.

2011 Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Riley Giffiths Zach Mills, Gabe Basso Super 8

It figures that both the best young ensemble, and perhaps individual performance, of the past 25 years got overlooked. So they are all honored here.

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Bill Milner and Will Poulter Son of Rambow

A slight wrinkle here from my original selection. Since the Academy set precedent of awarding tandems, why not do so here as well?

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Freddie Highmore Finding Neverland

My 2004 winner was one where I was awarding a film from 2003, due to my stand on release dates, which is different than the Academy’s. Having said that I then had to factor in both my nominees and who the Academy would be more likely to pick and decided if they chose anyone it would have been Highmore.

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay It Forward

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station

1997 Joseph Ashton The Education of Little Tree

Here’s another interesting case: my winner was in a TV film which the Academy would never honor. Then two more nominees were either shifted due to my interpretation of release date rules and one erroneously in my revisionist phase. That leaves two eligible: Dominic Zamprogna in The Boy’s Club and Joseph Ashton in The Education of Little Tree. Some people besides me actually saw the latter so I’d put that one up as a winner.

1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy
Lucas Black Sling Blade

Michelle was my actual winner in 1996. Sling Blade in my awards was shifted to 1997 due to its release date. It being an Oscar nominated film make it a more likely retrospective candidate.

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

This section marks personal selections prior to my picking extemporaneous year-end awards.

1994 Elijah Wood The War

I recall watching E! and hearing there was some buzz being stirred by the cast/studio for Elijah. I knew it would never happen, but it was deserved buzz.

1992 Maxime Collin Leolo

I have since expunged them but for a time I did backtrack BAM Award to back before they started. Some of these picks reflect those findings.

1991 Anna Chlumsky My Girl

1990 Macaulay Culkin Home Alone

Say what you will, but you know if the award was around that this would have happened.

1988 Pelle Hvengaard Pelle the Conqueror

1987 Christian Bale Empire of the Sun

1986 River Phoenix Stand by Me

1983 Bertil Guve Fanny and Alexander

1982 Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

1979 Ricky Schroeder The Champ
David Bennent The Tin Drum

1972 Nell Potts The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

Who Should Have Gotten One But Didn’t

No Greater Glory (1934, Columbia Pictures)

I honestly almost scrapped this section. However, looking back through young nominees I noticed the discrepancy that some young nominees did not get a Juvenile Award while there was one. So I figured while I was at it I’d list a few notable performances that didn’t get recognized. Those that “didn’t need one” since they were nominated as in their respective categories against adult competition have denoted those with an asterisk.

1956 Patty McCormack The Bad Seed*
1953 Brandon deWilde Shane*
1952 Georges Poujouly Forbidden Games
1941 Roddy McDowall How Green Was My Valley
1936 Freddie Bartholomew Little Lord Fauntleroy
1934 George Breakston No Greater Glory
1931 Jackie Cooper Skippy*

BAM Award Winners: Best Performance by a Child Actor 1996-2010

While the diversification of the Young Actor categories began in 2010 with a split created between Lead and Supporting Roles each category was unisex until the following year. So aside from semantical changes there have been quite literal changes to this category through the years. This post chronicles the years in which there was only one category where young leads, regardless of gender, could hope to get in. To view the nominees you can follow the hyperlinks in each individual year.

2010 Kodi Smit-McPhee Let Me In

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Will Poulter Son of Rambow

2007 Freddie Highmore August Rush

2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Ivan Dobronravov The Return

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

2002 Haley Joel Osment Edges of the Lord

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay it Forward

1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station (Central do Brasil)

Central Station (1998, Sony Pictures Classics)

1997 Jena Malone Bastard Out of Carolina

Bastard Out of Carolina (1996, Showtime)

1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy

BAM Award Winners: Young Actors

From 19962009 I had been satisfied with having but one category in which to honor the talented youths on film. This was one of the only places to honor them alongside their counterparts who are of age. In 2011, and perhaps more so in 2012, the nominating process became more difficult than ever as the talent pool seemed to be, if not the deepest ever, then one of them. Suddenly, I realized that I would have been eliminating people based on the size of their role and not on the quality of their performance. People like Janina Fautz in The White Ribbon and Billy Unger in You Again would be shutout of the nominating process. One of the benefits of creating your own awards is the ability to improvise.

Looking at the films and performances I’d seen I was able to create two new categories: I was able to make unisex categories for lead and supporting performances and one for ensemble work by youths, which seemed equally overdue. The goal in the 2011 awards was parity, meaning male and female lead and supporting categories and ensemble. This was achieved.

These categories have always been of great importance to me, not just because I was 15 when I started picking these awards but because youth performers are and have been greatly overlooked and under-appreciated and deserve some recognition. Especially when you consider that the Academy used to have a Juvenile Award and stopped awarding it.

UPDATE 2012: To venture even further away from negative connotations, I have decided to rename this post to remove the ‘child actor’ moniker, which to some can be seen as a slight. It’s a symbolic and semantical gesture, but no less significant for that. The group of categories and individual category names will be adjusted as necessary in the 2012 awards. Previous year will retain the same verbiage, but this post and future winners will not.

UPDATE 2013: To give each of the Youth Categories their due and for browsing convenience this post will act as a jump station to the new posts created for each of five youth categories, plus an additional post for the 1996-2009 winners.

Best Youth Ensemble

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Child Actor 1996-2010

The Best Horror Films of 2012

I was better at tracking my views, and it was a better cinematic year overall in my estimation, so this list has expanded to 15 selections this year.

15. Absentia

Absentia (2011, Constellation, Phase 4)

This is a case of faith rewarded. The beginning is a little rocky but I saw something in it that made me stick with it and I was rewarded several fold. The film really picks up in all aspects of production as the details of the narrative start to fall into place. It’s most certainly worth a look.

14. The Hidden Face

The Hidden Face (2011, Fox International Productions)

Fans of cinematic frames should rejoice at this film, which I will grant will likely grow from a revisit. It’s a very well orchestrated and constructed, twisted tale.

13. Cold Sweat

Cold Sweat (2010, Dark Sky Films)

Bring out the skeletons from your collective sociopolitical closets and great horror can be found. Cold Sweat really takes that premise and expound on it moreso than many other Argentine horror films I saw in a row this year. It’s expounding takes some suspension of disbelief but is quite effective.

12. Silent Night

Silent Night (2012, Anchor Bay)

This film has tremendous fun with its premise. Evil Santas of all shapes, sizes and styles should be on the comeback trail because there really is a tremendous amount of latitude there if you’re willing to trek it. Steven C. Miller makes his first of two appearances on this list and having seen two of his films I’ll be on the lookout for more. This film features some great supporting turns. It was also filmed in Manitoba, who seems to be positioning itself as a new hotbed of production in the Great White North, and I can see why based on the locales used here.

11. Excision

Excision (2012,  Anchor Bay Films)

Excision, moreso than any other film on this list, has a possibility to have its reputation blossom over the years to come. This film very much inhabits the mind of its protagonist. This film does not fear exposing the the delusions of its main character opaquely, slowly revealing a plan of action that unfolds with precise and exacting horror. The film also features a number of great performances and very well-cast players including AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords and Jeremy Sumpter. It is definitely the one film on the list that warrants warning the faint of heart or stomach not to apply.

10. Whisperer in the Darkness

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011, HPLHS)

While I can’t say this is as successful as The Call of the Cthulhu in transcending it period-mimicking trappings; it does again choose the right time period and cinematic style for its Lovecraft adaptation. If the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society continues blending old-style cinematic ethos with mythos they’ll have hits for years to come.

9. The Monitor

The Monitor (2012, Grindstone Entertainment Group)

Here’s one you could pigeonhole as psychological horror. It features two very strong lead performances by Noomi Rapace and Kristoffer Joner. It hints at a rather big twist early and delivers on more to follow to keep things intriguing. Mind-play, particularly in the horror genre, is under-utilized and can be highly effective and is used quite well here.

8. The Aggression Scale

The Aggression Scale (2012, Achor Bay)

You can call it a crime thriller if you like, and I’ll spend minimal time on this point, but I will address why I consider it horror. I don’t feel it’s a stretch. Any film that deals with home invasion can be considered horror if it plays towards that realm. Home Alone, which I compare this film to, never allows itself to be taken too seriously, this film ups the stakes, maims and kills people and is serious in tone, so: horror. Just because the villains are unmasked, in organized crime and have clear motives doesn’t make it less horrific.

The Aggression Scale also functions in large part due to the fact that it builds its character, in fact, quite a bit more than its situation at first. When things start coming to a head the two converge and the escalation of narrative intensity is quite great.

7. The Possession

The Possession (2012, Lionsgate)

I had better tracking of films and more horror watched this year, so the likelihood of another possession tale ending up on the list was actually lessened unless it was little better handled than last year’s pick. The Possession most certainly is. The Possession concerns itself less with differentiating details though Judaism, Dybbuk boxes and the like are new, as it does with character development, and that’s what makes it effective.

6. ParaNorman

ParaNorman (2012, Focus Features)

In some ways, I can’t help but feel that this film’s balance keeps it lower here than it should be. ParaNorman splits time between doing a lot of things, and it does so in a horror milieu but isn’t always a traditional horror film. However, since it’s excellent at whatever it does it belongs. ParaNorman not only tackles feeling like an outsider, a child coming to grips with death himself, and in essence that tired phrase coming-of-age, but in horror terms it also more effectively draws a distinct parallel between protagonist and antagonist by having him experience the anguish and isolation of the victimizer when they were victimized. However, especially since it’s ostensibly designed for kids, ParaNorman never sugarcoats the wrongdoing of its antagonist; it explains, it even empathizes but never forgives it – it states the obvious: you’re not getting out of it what you think you are. The zombies feeling persecuted and being persecutors is also a great touch such that reversals are near-constant.

I had yet to write about it so I could further discuss what ParaNorman does in other regards, but that’s about as succinctly as I can cover the horror angle.

5. [REC] 3

[REC] 3 (2012, Magnet Releasing)

Yes, [REC] 3 went somewhere I wasn’t expecting it to either, but I rather enjoy it nonetheless. In this film there are thematic expansions and new veins of thought explored if not literally picking up pre-exisiting narrative threads, which is all fine by me. It all comes down to how it’s done.

4. Intruders

Parallel narratives can be a double-edged sword. I’ve seen this film twice and it really works in both viewings in one I was naively accepting and offering no guesswork, in the second I knew it all and enjoyed it nearly as much as the first time. It’s a bilingual tale with a sensibility many horror fans will be familiar, one that’s uniquely Spanish even in the English portions of the film. It’s a different kind of approach to apparitions that I enjoyed.

3. Sinister

Sinister (2012, Blumhouse Productions)

You’ll note that this is the only title on this list in which any footage is even found, not that I’d consider this film a found footage approach per se. What Sinister does is take the concept of malevolent celluloid a step further than most and build a story around the film and not strap it diegesis or camerawork to a narrator-cum-camera. Sinister also interestingly works again with a male protagonist, oft times alone who is very expressive and his fear allows us to fear. Silence or gasping is scarier than incessant screaming. That’s just one thing Sinister understands so much better than many other films.

2. The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black (2012, Hammer Films))

There’s just something about Gothic horror tale done well that will affect me like few others do. There’s a primal hearkening to the sensitivities ingrained in us. The pitfall of the subgenre is that its been done to death and knowing tropes and protocols makes it hard for a style so old hat to work. However, there are some tweaks, techniques and approaches that dress up this old favorite and make it more effective than most.

1. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Lionsgate)

It’s one thing to deconstruct a genre, however, it’s another entirely to reconstruct it following said evisceration and build a beautifully grotesque new prometheus in its stead. It’s the second half of its master plan that put The Cabin in the Woods over the top.

BAM Awards: Best Actor Winners

Once again I am sticking to the “Live Era,” here (meaning I made my choices at year’s end). This is the third such article I’ve posted chronicling my choices in my personal awards (here are links to Best Actress and Best Picture).

2018 Kodi Smit-McPhee Alpha 

2017 James McAvoy Split

2016 Leonardo DiCaprio The Revenant

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2015 David Gulpilil Charlie’s Country

Charlie'sCountry (2013, Entertainment One Films)

2014 Brendan Gleeson Calvary

Calvary (2014, Fox Searchlight)

2013 Johan Heldenbergh The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012, Tribeca Film)

2012 Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln

Lincoln (2012, DreamWorks)

2011 Michael Shannon Take Shelter

2010 Bill Nighy Wild Target

2009 Colin Firth A Single Man

2008 Sean Penn Milk

2007 Leonardo DiCaprio The Departed

The Departed (2006, Warner Bros.)

2006 Nicholas Hoult Wah-Wah

2005 Philip Seymour Hoffman Capote

2004 Jim Caviezel The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ (2004, Newmarkey Releasing)

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

2002 Christian Bale Equilibrium

Equilibrium (2002, Dimension Films)

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Kevin Spacey Pay it Forward

1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense

1998 Jack Nicholson As Good as it Gets

1997 Billy Bob Thornton Sling Blade

1996 Nick Nolte Mulholland Falls
Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

Mini-Review Round-Up: July 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

The Theatre Bizarre

Recently I’ve been seeing quite a few horror anthologies. Part of the reason behind that is just to familiarize myself with a few more of them and the voices involved in creating them. The second reason, to be perfectly honest, is that due to their episodic nature they are conducive to fractured viewing, which makes them easier to schedule. However, I did see The Theatre Bizarre all the way through in one sitting.

This one, like many horror anthologies, is a bit inconsistent in its quality, which is to be expected when different directors handle each segment. In my estimation, the highs are rather high and the lows are rather low. There are some interesting and at times daring attempts. It’s always hard to gauge them as a whole because this see-sawing in quality is not unusual at all. However, for fans of the genre I do think it’s one worth checking out, your feelings on the whole piece or a particular segment may be greatly different than my own. In the end, I really liked more of the installments than I disliked so it’s worth a watch.

6/10

Cold Sweat

One thing I thought was particularly interesting an effective about Cold Sweat was the implementation of antagonists who just could not let go of the past in a very villainous way. At the start of Cold Sweat there is archival footage that gives you a brief overview of the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary factions at play in Argentina in the 1970s, then you get a very specific incident chronicled. You know this will all come back into play, you just don’t know how. Now, using overt political symbols in horror has been done, most commonly with Nazis in all likelihood. However, the circumstances and players of each countries political past (and seedy underbelly) are all somewhat different, and the refracted ideologies, and reverberations thereof, can still be felt at current, in one way or another. So it is rather fascinating to find this angle in this film because it lends a specificity to the film and a voice; a stamp of a national cinema. Coincidentally, I saw another Argentinian (co-produced with Spain) horror film soon after this one that implemented many similar threads. The horror setpieces and manipulation of given tropes in this film is quite effective, but it its this backdrop of sociopolitical commentary, past and present, combined with the narrative that makes this such an intriguing film.

8/10

Hiding

Hiding in some ways reminded me of Beautiful Wave in as much as we see a teenage girl do a lot of brooding with minimal backstory given to the audience so it becomes tiresome. The good news is that this film is quite a bit better than Beautiful Wave. The bad news is that it still doesn’t end up being good. It concerns this brooding girl (Ana Villafañe) who is in witness protection and there’s a given that she’ll be found and there’ll be this dramatic showdown. What really matters is how do you get to that point and sadly much of it seems like they’re just trying to fill time. She is interested in two guys at her new school and has similar, nearly mirrored scenes with them, at times. There’s a psycho jealous cheerleader (Kelcie Stranahan) who does a lot of digging into her on a delusional whim, there are flashbacks some of consequence and some not; all with an an annoyingly unnecessary excess of jiggling. Many characters make really bad or dumb decisions and we don’t necessary have enough affection or interest to let that slide. The best part of the film is unquestionably Jeremy Sumpter‘s supporting turn. He remains a heinously under-utilized and under-valued talent.

4/10

Goon

For my thoughts on this film please go here.
10/10

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 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

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 zombieism, 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