The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Film Review

Upon its initial release, the original: ‘Blair Witch Project’ blew many audiences away with its realistic depiction of found-footage horror, subsequently leading many audience members to believe that the events they were watching on-screen actually took place, making for a truly petrifying experience. However, now, many years after its first appearance, the film’s reputation has significantly altered with both critics and audiences alike, as ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is definitely a film that lies outside of the usual horror clichés.

Plot Summary: When three student filmmakers travel to Burkittsville, Maryland, in attempt to produce a documentary based around the local urban legend: ‘The Blair Witch,’ they mysteriously disappear after traveling into the nearby Black Hills Forest, leaving only their footage behind to be discovered one year later…

Whilst ‘The Blair Witch Project’ wasn’t the original found-footage horror film, with the infamous exploitation flick: ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ first introducing the horror subgenre in 1980. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was the first film to popularise the found-footage concept, as this film was at one point in time in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ for the largest box-office ratio. As the low-budget film only had a budget of around £45,000 and made back over £189 million, quickly spawning an inconsistent horror franchise despite the film’s only partially complete backstory for its creature and setting.

The three main cast members of Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams (who all share their real names with their characters), are all tremendous throughout the film. As while their character’s don’t receive nowhere near as much development as they should considering how much screen-time we spend with them, each one of the actors do give the impression they are becoming more tormented and frustrated the longer they remain in the Black Hills Forest. The main reason the film’s protagonists don’t receive much characterisation, however, is actually due to the film’s production itself. As with the film not focusing very heavily on story, the actors were given no more than a thirty-five page outline of plot-points rather than a full screenplay. So, as filming continued, the cast just played-out various scenes, only having little knowledge of the mythology behind: ‘The Blair Witch’ and improvising the vast majority of their lines.

Practically the entirety of the cinematography by Neal L. Fredericks is exactly what you’d expect from a found-footage horror, featuring an abundance of both shaky and out-of-focus shots, further adding to the idea that just behind the lens is a group of amateur student filmmakers (with some scenes even being shot by the cast themselves). In addition to the hand-held camerawork, the film’s visuals are also quite distinctive when it comes to its visual quality, as throughout the duration of the film, many shots remain incredibly grainy and occasionally even switch to a completely greyscale colour palette, which again, whilst adding to the realism of the film being a no-budget student documentary, does ensure the absence of any genuinely attractive shots.

Although its only heard during the film’s atmospheric end credits, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ does actually have an original score composed by Antonio Cora, but obviously being a found-footage horror, the film mostly aims to please with its sound design. As the sounds of crackling leaves and chirping birds are heard continuously, with many of the eerie branch-cracking sounds heard at night even being made by the director and his friends simply walking-up to the cast’s camp-perimeter and then tossing around twigs, rocks, and branches in various directions.

The main aspect that many will either adore or despise about ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is its previously mentioned focus on realism and minimalist storytelling, as while the film does utilise its forest setting very effectively throughout the runtime, many who may be expecting a thrilling final act or possibly even a glimpse at ‘The Blair Witch’ herself will be greatly disappointed. As a result of the story’s constant emphasis on realism, the film never actually provides any evidence of the supernatural, with many of the film’s tense moments mostly relying on the darkness of the woods or the belligerent quarreling between the characters.

In conclusion, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is certainly a fascinating horror film even if it isn’t always a successful one. As to this day, this found-footage indie flick is a very divisive film for horror fans, with a 86% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has the highest-rating of any film that was also nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Picture. So, even with the cast’s impactful performances and ‘The Blair Witch’ herself being an intriguing urban legend, this is one horror that really depends on your personal taste. For myself, while I find the film far from perfect and considerably less compelling than many other iconic horrors, I can appreciate what this experimental piece of filmmaking (and its marketing) was trying to accomplish, and for that, I feel its worth at least one viewing for any fan of the genre. Final Rating: high 6/10.

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Happy Death Day (2017) – Film Review

Another horror flick from production company Blumhouse Pictures, ‘Happy Death Day’ released in 2017, does at least extend-out of the usual range of Blumhouse horrors to become more of a horror-comedy than just a straight-forward teen slasher. But similar to the rest of their associated franchises e.g. ‘Insidious,’ ‘The Purge’ and ‘Paranormal Activity,’ both ‘Happy Death Day’ and it’s sequel definitely have their fair share of issues, with some being far more severe than others.

Plot Summary: Waking-up in the dorm room of a boy whose name she can’t remember after a night of heavy drinking, self-centered college student: ‘Tree Gelbman’ intends to continue her trend of avoiding her birthday, but little does she know that later that night on her way to another party, someone is waiting to murder her. Only after being killed, ‘Tree’ awakens in the same dorm room, soon realising she is being forced to relive her brutal night of murder over-and-over again until she discovers her killer’s identity…

‘Happy Death Day’ similar to many other day-repeating stories in the past, takes most of its inspiration from the comedy classic: ‘Groundhog Day’ from 1993. Yet unlike many of the other films that are inspired by this beloved comedy flick, it becomes clear over-time that ‘Happy Death Day’ is quite derivative of: ‘Groundhog Day.’ As the film’s story not only utilises the comedy’s plot without much innovation (only throwing a killer into the mix). But the film even steals the main point of the narrative, that being its main character and their correlating character-arc, using the time-looping concept to in a way punish the protagonist for their cruel behaviour towards others.

In spite of this however, the protagonist: ‘Tree’ portrayed by Jessica Rothe, is by far the best element of the film. As while ‘Tree’ does go through a character-arc that is all-too-familiar as previously mentioned, Rothe makes a fantastic first-outing as an actress through her very enjoyable performance. Then of course, there is the killer, whose identity remains a mystery throughout most of the runtime. Known as ‘The Babyface Killer,’ the killer’s outfit is actually the mascot of: ‘Bayfield University’ where the film takes-place, and although the costume itself is far more goofy then intimidating, the mask/costume was actually designed by Tony Gardner. The costume designer behind the now-iconic: ‘Ghostface’ costume from the ‘Scream’ series, which does help redeem to the killer’s undoubtedly petty motivation.

The film’s cinematography by Toby Oliver isn’t anything amazing overall, but does still back-up the story effectively in a variety of scenes. Whether that’s through its use of wide sweeping-shots when the characters are in an intense chase, or when more shaky hand-held camerawork is used to reflect ‘Tree’s break-down when she first realises she is stuck in her current crisis. Yet similar to much of its story, the film never leans enough into a more outlandish/experimental nature when considering what the film could accomplish with its cinematography.

Talented composer Bear McCreary handles the film’s original score, which isn’t very distinctive from most of his other work within the horror genre. But despite the score’s lack of memorability, it still does feel as if there is a decent amount of effort put into it, as the soundtrack actually has quite a lot of range even if some of the tracks don’t always fit with the tone of the film. This also goes for many of the songs used throughout ‘Happy Death Day,’ as nearly all of the film’s song choices massively differ in both genre and general popularity.

But still, the biggest problem ‘Happy Death Day’ suffers from is the inconsistency of its tone. As although the film does attempt to have scenes featuring both scares and humour alike, many of the film’s jump-scares and jokes range in quality, and occasionally even cancel each-other out. Additionally, the film also takes an unusual approach to its violence, as while ‘Tree’ dies countless times throughout the film in a number of different ways. The film never allows for any creative or darkly amusing deaths due to its lack of any blood or gore. Yet this wasn’t always the case, as the original screenplay for the film did actually include more violence, so much so in fact that it would have gained the film a higher age-rating, with plenty of scenes having much grislier deaths that were later altered by director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) during pre-production.

Altogether, whilst the signature performance from Jessica Rothe does help to make ‘Happy Death Day’ a far more enjoyable viewing, in addition to the film’s idea of a protagonist being repeatedly murdered having plenty of potential for a horror-comedy. The film just doesn’t do enough with its story, feeling almost as if its a little restrictive on-itself, never delving enough into being either funny or freighting respectively. So, if you desire an amusing horror-comedy to stick on one evening, maybe just go back to your more accustomed choices over this mediocre slasher. Final Rating: 5/10.

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The Babadook (2014) – Film Review

Surreal, engrossing and truly terrifying during some scenes, ‘The Babadook’ is in my opinion, one of the best modern horrors released in quite some-time. Through its excellent filmmaking, astounding performances and horrifying yet also intriguing creature, ‘The Babadook’ attempts to do something different with its horror, going-about its story with far more depth than many other films within its genre, soon becoming an experience that’s just as immersive as it is disturbing for anyone who stumbles upon it.

Plot Summary: Following the sudden death of her husband in a car-crash, the now-widow: ‘Amelia’ struggles to cope as a single mother, as her son’s chaotic behaviour and constant paranoia of monsters makes her friends become distant and even her sanity begin to fade. Until one night, after the pair read a mysterious pop-up book titled: ‘Mister Babadook,’ they soon discover a malevolent creature has manifested itself into the dark corners of their home…

Directed by Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale), ‘The Babadook’ is a horror film that has much more to offer beneath its surface, with themes of family, grief and trauma throughout. Based on the short film: ‘Monster’ also directed by Jennifer Kent, ‘The Babadook’ actually takes much of its inspiration from one of Kent’s real-world friends, a single mother whose son was traumatised by a monstrous figure he thought he saw everywhere in the house. So Kent imagined a scenario in which this creature was real, eventually leading her to create her short film, before then wanting to expand on the idea further.

The main area ‘The Babadook’ excels where most modern horrors fail is the characters. Only featuring a main cast of two terrific actors, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, with Wiseman only being six-years-old at the time of filming. The mother and son of the film are both compelling characters for very different reasons, as the mother: ‘Amelia’ struggles to cope as a single parent. Alienating her friends/collogues and becoming more lonely and sexually-frustrated as time passes, mostly due to her son: ‘Samuel,’ who continuously struggles with anxiety and his absence of a real father, which makes it challenging for him to mix with other children. This all adding-up to making the film just as effective as a family drama as it is a supernatural horror.

Although Radek Ladczuk’s cinematography isn’t quite as impressive as the film’s magnificent editing, which allows for plenty of quick visual storytelling in addition to giving the film a level of style that I personally didn’t expect. ‘The Babadook’ does still feature a number of attractive shots, which are enormously enhanced by the film’s dread-inducing lighting. As not too dissimilar to the horror flick: ‘Lights Out’ from 2016, ‘The Babadook’ himself only appears within the shadows. So with nearly the entire runtime being set within a dark run-down house (usually also at night), the creature could be lurking within any shot, and occasionally, even is…

Slightly fairytale-esque in parts, the original score by Jed Kurzel may not be a stand-out horror score up-there with the likes of: ‘Halloween’ or the original: ‘Psycho.’ But the score is still a fair amount more creative than many other modern horror scores, with tracks such as: ‘Trippy Television’ and ‘It’s Only a Story’ giving the film a very dreamlike feel, sounding almost as if they were composed for a Tim Burton project at points. That is, before the soundtrack becomes a little more of the standard horror affair with tracks like ‘The Playground’ and ‘Re-Writing the Story,’ despite these tracks still helping to build tension throughout.

Immensely creepy throughout the film, ‘The Babadook’ himself is a very memorable and frightening presence in spite of his fairly goofy name. As every one of his appearances is always elevated by his bone-chilling sound design, which is very uncanny in a similar fashion to the original score. The only major issue I take with the film is the lack of encounters the characters actually have with the creature, as while many of his scenes are extremely well-executed, ‘Mister Babadook’ just doesn’t have quite enough screen-time for me. However, this problem also extends to nearly all of the film’s side characters, as ‘Claire,’ ‘Robbie’ and ‘Mrs. Roach’ all feel under-utilised within the narrative, even though the story’s main focus is very clearly the mother and son relationship.

To conclude, ‘The Babadook’ is a brilliantly-crafted horror, mostly as a result of its atmospheric cinematography/lighting and masterful editing, alongside its great performances and array of tension-filled moments. Whilst perhaps not for every horror-addict due to its sparse amount of jump-scares and very low body-count. Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is certainty a horror flick I’d recommend to most, and considering Kent has stated that the film will never receive a sequel, its clear the film was a true passion project that won’t fall into the trap many successful horrors do of milking themselves into a over-blown franchise. Final Rating: 8/10.

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The Bye Bye Man (2017) – Film Review

Simply from the laughably atrocious title of the film alone, I’m sure many can guess why 2017’s ‘The Bye Bye Man’ fails so miserably as a horror flick. Coming acorss more as a student film project rather than a feature that actually made its way into cinemas (mostly due to its amateurish acting and filmmaking alike), ‘The Bye Bye Man’ is an incredibly lacklustre and mindless horror down to even its last few painful minutes of screen-time.

Plot Summary: When three college students move into an old house just off-campus, they unwittingly unleash a supernatural entity known as ‘The Bye Bye Man,’ a dark creature that preys upon any victim that discovers its name. Now, withholding this knowledge, the group attempt to keep the existence of: ‘The Bye Bye Man’ a secret whilst also trying to save themselves…

Despite the film’s title implying otherwise, the actual antagonist of the film hardly appears in-full throughout the runtime. In fact, the story on which the film is based: ‘The Bridge to Body Island,’ actually has a much more complex mythology for the creature than the film itself. Originally being born albino in New Orleans in 1912, who eventually ran-away from home and began murdering people and cutting-out their eyes and tongues, which he would then sew together and bring to life using voodoo. The original story of: ‘The Bye Bye Man’ is far more interesting and disturbing than what appears in the film, which is nothing short of undeveloped and even fairly boring in terms of both his design and his abilities.

Relatively new actors Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas and Lucien Laviscount, unfortunately, all lead the film with quite poor performances. As while the cringy and often moronic writing certainly doesn’t help, their performances are lacking in both urgency and charisma, so it becomes quite difficult to care about them once the supernatural occurrences begin. Surprisingly though, the actor behind: ‘The Bye Bye Man’ himself is Doug Jones, known for his fantastic creature/character performances such as: ‘Abe Sapien’ in the ‘Hellboy’ series, and ‘The Amphibian Man’ in ‘The Shape of Water.’ Yet even though Jones may seem like too much of an accomplished actor to be in such a minimal role as this, with talented actress Carrie-Anne Moss also making an appearance, its possible that at one point in time the screenplay for this film may have actually contained some creative ideas.

James Kniest’s cinematography is another area in which the film lacks, as the bland camerawork only allows for a couple of visually interesting shots throughout, usually resulting in the film having a very flat and occasionally cheap look. However, one shot the filmmakers must have been pleased with is the shot of a large industrial train traveling at night, as this shot is continuously reused at multiple points. But what’s confusing here is that this shot’s inclusion is never explained, nor does it having any bearing on the plot whatsoever, only appearing at random within the protagonist’s dreams and once in the real-world nearing the end of the film.

The film’s original score by The Newton Brothers isn’t memorable in the slightest, simply being a standard piano/strings-focused horror score with the exception of the track: ‘The Bye Bye Man,’ which feels very out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film’s soundtrack. As the creature’s main theme sounds like something ripped straight from an episode of: ‘Goosebumps.’ Also worth a quick mention is the film’s corny use of the recognisable ’50s song: ‘Bye Bye Love,’ which is just far too on-the-nose for me.

From its constant jump-scares to its many typical horror clichés (e.g. a group of college teens, creepy scribbled drawings, an old foreboding house, a protagonist who looks-up the creature’s origins in a library), the film is teeming with much of the usual problematic writing that floods many modern horror screenplays. Only this time, the film has simply nothing else to set itself apart from others within the genre. The only aspect of the film that could’ve been remarkable would’ve been ‘The Bye Bye Man’ himself and his ‘Seeing-Eye Hound,’ made from pieces of his victims. But as already mentioned, the film does nothing with its antagonist or his hound, only utilising the dog creature to stand alongside ‘The Bye Bye Man’ through some truly abysmal CG effects.

In conclusion, ‘The Bye Bye Man’ is one of the last films I’d recommend to any horror fanatic. Completely absent of any likeable characters, an intriguing/threatening antagonist or any sense of an eerie atmosphere, its hard to believe that the film has any positive reviews at all. And yet somehow, it does. All we can do is hope horrors such as this fade into obscurity and never receive a sequel, prequel or anything else of the sort, as this genre has already suffered enough in recent years with the likes of: ‘Truth or Dare,’ ‘Chernobyl Dairies,’ and ‘The Gallows,’ just to name a few. Final Rating: 1/10.

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The Purge: Anarchy (2014) – Film Review

This sequel to the original: ‘Purge’ film released just a year earlier is a slight improvement over the first, yet still doesn’t fare much better, as while ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ does deliver more on what its initial film set-up, now focusing on a small group of characters attempting to survive the night of chaos and murder out on the desolate streets of Los Angeles. ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ doesn’t do enough with this new perspective, and it soon becomes quite evident that it isn’t going to be enough to save the film from its return to weak filmmaking and storytelling.

Plot Summary: As another year’s ‘Purge Night’ commences, two groups of survivors unintentionally intertwine after being rescued by a mysterious stranger out on a mission. Now stranded and in desperate need of a vehicle, the group agree to stick together in order to survive against the many ‘Purgers’ out for blood…

Once again directed by James DeMonaco, it’s clear from the larger-scale that ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ is aiming for that the film is trying to please the audience members that were dissatisfied with the first entry in the franchise, ditching the small-scale home invasion story in favour of becoming more of an action-focused thriller that further explores its disturbing world. Yet even with the many themes of: ‘The Purge’ series still present, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ manages to feel like a bigger waste of potential than the first film. As in spite of the fact we get to see how many different Americans spend their murderous night, the film still feels quite restrained, never delving enough into each baleful group of: ‘Purgers’ or their violent deeds.

Frank Grillo leads the cast this time around as a character only known as ‘The Sergeant,’ who has easily become the most beloved character in the series since ‘The Purge: Anarchy’s initial release, soon becoming the only character to return in a later ‘Purge’ film. However, whilst I understand why most viewers resonate with his character, I did feel much of his characterisation was lost as a result of a large amount of his dialogue (including his backstory) being cut during post-production. The sequel’s cast also includes Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul who both give decent performances, as well as the other two cast members of Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez, who are both about as irritating and dim-witted as horror characters come, having nothing but scene-after-scene of the two making moronic decisions following their many sessions of obnoxiously loud panicking.

Unfortunately, returning cinematographer Jacques Jouffret doesn’t innovate much on his style of cinematography from the first film, relying very heavily on hand-held camerawork now just with slightly better lighting due to the many street lights above the characters’ heads. Although there are still a few interesting shots, the only real aspect of the film that manages to stand-out stylistically is the film’s end credit sequence, which combines footage from both of the ‘Purge’ films released at the time in addition to shots of fire, bullets, blood, firearms and the American flag, all key visuals of the series.

Nathan Whitehead’s original score is similar to that of the first film, only this time being much shorter in length, mostly consisting of a series of tracks that lack anything overly distinctive about them, being utilised within the film exclusively to help build tension. That is with the exception of the track: ‘Commencement,’ however, without a doubt the best track of the entire score, as this impactful and brooding track plays when ‘The Purge’ first begins, making for one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Whilst this was also an issue in the original: ‘Purge’ film, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ carries over the same problem, suffering repeatedly throughout the runtime as a result of its many awful CG effects. Most notably, the heavy over-reliance on CG blood, which looks dreadful in nearly every shot it’s featured in. That being said, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ does also take on one of the previous film’s best elements, that being the many frightening (and occasionally also iconic) masks. From skulls, to blood-stained hockey masks and even a simple white bag, nearly all of the masks seen during ‘The Purge’ franchise manage to add a little personality and character to each film’s signature psychopaths.

Sadly, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ is another lacklustre entry within ‘The Purge’ series, even though I do feel a similar plot to this one could be executed well, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ somehow manages to feel more disappointing as it tries to be more ambitious. Whilst the film is perhaps the best entry in the current series (which isn’t really a compliment), mostly due to Frank Grillo’s entertaining performance and the film’s continuous feeling of rush helping to propel the film forward as the group attempt to live through this yearly night of violence. ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ still relies far too heavily on the central concept of: ‘The Purge.’ Final Rating: 4/10.

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The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) – Film Review

A twisted and unique indie horror that is certainly not for the squeamish, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ utilises it’s simple concept and individual location to the best of its ability, immersing its audience into its grim setting almost as if they are performing the autopsy themselves alongside the film’s characters. Whilst the film may still suffer from a couple of the same issues that plague many other modern horrors, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ manages to overcome most of its faults to evolve into a compelling slice of low-budget horror.

Plot Summary: While investigating the murder of a family, a small-town Sheriff and his team are puzzled with the discovery of a mysterious body buried underneath the crime scene. After bringing the corpse of the unnamed: ‘Jane Doe’ to family coroners: ‘Tommy’ and ‘Austin Tilden’ for a cause of death, the pair soon discover the corpse is harbouring a dark secret…

Directed by André Øvredal (Troll Hunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ may be slightly lacking in terms of budget, yet the film always manages to use this to its advantage by setting nearly the entirety of its story within the walls of the ‘Tilden Morgue and Crematorium.’ Through which, the film constantly retains its eerie atmosphere and even a partial feeling of claustrophobia. In addition to also keeping its audience entranced within its narrative through its signature mystery, as the questions of: “Who was ‘Jane Doe?” and “How was She Killed?” remains on every viewers’ mind immediately after the opening scene.

The main father and son duo portrayed by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch both do a great job throughout the film, with the writing also contributing to the film’s engagement as their characters receive a decent amount of characterisation. Easily the most challenging (and respectfully most impressive) performance of the film has to be the corpse herself: ‘Jane Doe’ however, as while there were some prosthetics used during production, it may surprise many to know this role was actually portrayed by actress Olwen Catherine Kelly for the majority of the film. As André Øvredal felt it was necessary to have an actress in the role to help connect to the audience on a human level, eventually leading Kelly to be cast due to her knowledge of yoga, which helped her minimalise both her breathing and her slight body-movements.

The cinematography by Roman Osin is overall admirable, implementing a number of attractive shots during the runtime. However, the film’s cinematography is still best utilised when it comes to the many gruesome close-ups, as the film never shies away from the ‘Autopsy’ part of its title, displaying nearly every part of the autopsy from the initial exterior examination through to the interior examination, securing this film’s position as not one for the faint of heart when its comes to blood/gore (or nudity for that matter). The lighting throughout ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ also benefits its story, as the film’s array of tense moments are only enhanced as a result of the morgue being shrouded in shadows.

Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans handle the film’s original score, which in spite of its complete lack of memorability does help add to the film’s foreboding tone and blood-curdling atmosphere. As the score feels more like ominous ambience rather than a standard horror score, with the track: ‘Hair Cut’ being the clearest example of this. The film also places a heavy emphasis on the song: ‘Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sun Shine In,’ a classic 50s song which repeatedly plays over the overly-static radio within the morgue, resulting in the song quickly becoming one of the film’s creepiest aspects.

Whilst ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ does avoid many of the usual horror clichés, the film unfortunately still suffers from the most common problem in horror, jump-scares. Despite relying far more on its atmosphere and occasional chilling visuals to place its audience on-edge, the film still feels the need to spread a variety jump-scares throughout its tight runtime. In particular, within the film’s final act, which is when the film loses much of its originality in favour of becoming more generic and predictable.

In conclusion, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ is a fairly underrated gem in the realm of modern horror, surpassing many other films that attempt many similar ideas but usually end-up feeling quite tasteless, such as the overlooked film: ‘Anatomy’ from 2000, or the bizarre 2008 indie flick: ‘Deadgirl.’ So although not completely perfect in its execution, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ still delivers on its set-up of a tense and engrossing tale that also manages to make time for its characters in the process, and even though I personally don’t find Øvredal’s filmography impeccable, I do believe this director has talent, and projects like ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ prove he can be a worthy contributor to the horror genre. Final Rating: high 7/10.

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The Purge (2013) – Film Review

The first instalment in the now-iconic horror franchise, the original entry in ‘The Purge’ series is a fantastic idea quickly ruined by its poor execution. As whilst the film’s main concept of one night a year where all crime is legalised is both a terrifying and intriguing notion, the entire series (in particular the first film) seem to explore the horrific world its story is set within in all the least interesting ways.

Plot Summary: In the near future, America celebrates ‘The Purge’ once a year, a national event in which all crime is legal for twelve hours. On this night of chaos and murder, a wealthy family soon find themselves hostages for harbouring the target of a murderous syndicate after he gains access into their fortified home…

Directed by James DeMonaco, this director has actually taken on every instalment of: ‘The Purge’ series from the original film through to the latest entry: ‘The First Purge’ in 2018. According to DeMonaco, the idea for the film first came about during a moment of road-rage when he and his wife were cut-off in traffic by a drunk driver, resulting in DeMonaco wishing you could have one free murder a year after witnessing the driver’s complete lack of regret. While a creative and disturbing concept by itself, ‘The Purge’ series has also captivated many through its many themes. Although mostly focused on in later films, the various themes of this horror franchise could be interpreted by viewers in a number of different ways, from political to psychological.

Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane portray the main family of the film: ‘The Sandins,’ who unfortunately, with the exception of Ethan Hawke as the father: ‘James Sandin,’ all give relatively weak performances, portraying the family as excessively mundane throughout. However, this is also heavily due to their characters, as nearly every character within the film is written as either very peculiar or very cliché, with the son: ‘Charlie Sandin’ having a medical problem which he takes medication for, in addition to having a strange character quirk for building and driving a remote control car attached to a disfigured baby doll, which ‘Charlie’ uses to navigate his way around the house. But due to how specific the latter is, he (and his sister) end-up seeming like nothing more than plot devices to put the rest of the family in further peril.

Aside from one or two shots, the cinematography by Jacques Jouffreet is unsurprisingly quite bland. Mostly unitising mid-shots and close-ups, ‘The Purge’ never really attempts to do anything overly-inventive with its cinematography, usually relying on rough hand-held shots. Alongside this, the lighting throughout the film is immensely dark. As after the murderous syndicate cut the power to the family’s home, the remainder of the film’s runtime is spent in near-total darkness, which can become a little irritating after a point as the constant dark corridors make the characters even harder to follow than they already were, as the cinematography doesn’t allow the viewer any understanding of the house’s convoluted and confusing layout.

Even though many modern horrors lack an ingenious score, the original score by Nathan Whitehead is fairly uninspired. As in spite of the soundtrack helping to build-up a tense atmosphere during a few scenes, the original score simply isn’t memorable in the slightest and is barely distinguishable from any other generic horror/thriller soundtrack, despite the huge list of tracks the film has to offer. However, the excellent costume design of: ‘The Purge’ does help redeem the weak score, as the many different ‘Purge’ masks and costumes make for some memorably-creepy visuals.

The most obvious issue ‘The Purge’ has been criticised for is its focus on being more of a home invasion thriller than what most would imagine (and desire) a ‘Purge’ film to be, as the original film is actually extremely contained, being set nearly entirely within the family’s home and relying on only a small group of characters. While director James DeMonaco has stated this was mostly due to the film’s small-budget and lack of shooting days, you can’t help but feel the film isn’t exploring its chaotic world as effectively as it could whilst watching. Of course, being a modern horror, ‘The Purge’ is also littered with jump-scares throughout, many of which are very predictable due to the build-up to each one, eventually making them feel nothing but tedious.

Whilst I personally don’t feel ‘The Purge’ series improves much even throughout its future entries. There are still some aspects I enjoy within this modern horror, from its interesting ideas and themes to its decently entertaining performance from Ethan Hawke and array of menacing masks and costumes, ‘The Purge’ does have great potential, but I simply feel it was just never fully-realised. While this horror series does have a devoted fan-base, I’ve never quite understood its appeal. As for me, ‘The Purge’ franchise will always have its intriguing ideas spoiled by its dull filmmaking. Final Rating: high 3/10.

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Maniac (2012) – Film Review

Directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2, I Lived, Amityville: The Awakening) and shot almost entirely through a first-person perspective, 2012’s ‘Maniac’ is a unique and extremely innovative slasher that has been enormously overlooked by fans of modern horror. As while the film does admittedly have its issues, the impressive visuals and timid yet creepy performance from Elijah Wood surely make-up for most of them, quickly resulting in a discomforting dive into the sadistic mind of a serial killer.

Plot Summary: After working his day job at a mannequin restoration store, the mentally ill and isolated: ‘Frank’ takes to the dark streets of Los Angeles as a serial killer with a fetish for female scalps. But when a young artist asks him for help with her new exhibition, ‘Frank’s obsessions begin to consume him…

Although it takes a different approach to its story, ‘Maniac’ is actually a remake of the classic 1980 slasher of the same name. However, this is one of the rare occasions where I believe that the remake is possibly an improvement over the original film, as while the ’80s flick does feature plenty of over-the-top gore, the film never manages to elevate itself from being just a fairly straight-forward slasher, and although it’s maybe not always successful, the remake does attempt to further develop ‘Frank’ as a character as well as exploring themes of mental health, parental ignorance and identity loss throughout its runtime.

Elijah Wood, best known for his role as ‘Frodo’ in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series, portrays the serial killer protagonist: ‘Frank’ as awkward and almost quite dry at points, making ‘Frank’ feel incredibly deranged when he interacts with other characters. Most notably, the artist and photographer: ‘Anna’ portrayed by Nora Arnezeder, who is a clear contrast to ‘Frank’ in the way she portrays her simplistic yet likeable and innocent character, completely unaware of: ‘Frank’s dark deeds as she grows closer and closer to him. The performances are slightly dragged down by writing throughout the film, however, as whilst the dialogue is decent for the most part, the film does still have the odd unusual line.

As previously mentioned, the remake of: ‘Maniac’ is also shot nearly entirely through P.O.V. shots, and its this cinematography by Maxime Alexandre that really makes the film stand-out from many other slashers. As whilst watching the film, you can’t help but feel the tension as ‘Frank’ goes on dates or has conversations with women who we know will soon meet a gruesome fate, as the audience is fully aware of his sinister intentions, the film almost makes you feel hostage to ‘Frank’s mind. That being said, the film does sometimes take you out of the experience when it leaves the P.O.V. format for a few seconds. While I understand why the film does this (as it’s usually at crucial points within the narrative). I personally feel keeping the audience restricted to looking through ‘Frank’s eyes would’ve made the film more compelling, especially since we don’t even see ‘Frank’s face until twelve minutes into the film.

Serving as a great throwback to the classic ’80s film its based on in addition to adding too many of the film’s best moments. The original score by Robin Coudert or ‘Rob’ as he usually goes by, is a synth soundtrack. Utilising electronic waves, this underrated score is certainly a high-point of the film, with my two favourite tracks: ‘Doll’ and ‘Haunted’ both being incredibly memorable in their own right, almost feeling as if they were ripped straight from any of the iconic horrors of the 1980s.

Extremely violent and disturbing throughout, ‘Maniac’ truly pulls no punches when delving into the mind of its serial killer, meaning many viewers may be put off by the film’s extremely gory deaths and unnerving murder scenes. As ‘Frank’ disposes of his victims with little remorse, as dark memories of his mother during childhood fuel his violent actions. This is also where many of the film’s more bizarre moments come into play, as although it may surprise some viewers, ‘Maniac’ is partly an art-house film as well as a slasher, as the film’s themes as well as ‘Frank’s broken mind is usually displayed visually throughout the film in a variety of ways. This unfortunately, does lead onto the film’s weakest aspect however, as during many of these anomalous scenes, the film’s editing can become quite erratic, sometimes even placing cuts mid-conversation.

In conclusion, I deeply enjoy ‘Maniac,’ as even through the film is quite problematic in areas, mostly in regard to its unusual editing choices and occasionally lines of strange dialogue. ‘Maniac’s memorable original score, intense violence and of course, captivating cinematography through its use of P.O.V. The film stands as definitely one of the better horror remakes in recent memory. And although I probably wouldn’t recommend ‘Maniac’ to everyone, if you’re preferred realm of the horror genre is gory slashers, then this inventive flick is certainly not one to miss. Final Rating: high 7/10.

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It (2017) – Film Review

Finally, after many years of waiting, horror and literature fans alike got their wishes granted in mid 2015 as director Andy Muschietti (Mama, It: Chapter Two) signed on to direct a reboot (or readaptation) of one of Steven King’s most iconic and beloved horror stories, this, of course, being: ‘It.’ And due to its excellent cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung and incredibly memorable performance from Bill Skarsgård as the demonic clown ‘Pennywise,’ ‘It’ is certainly one of the better Steven King adaptations in recent years, even with the array issues the film still suffers from.

Plot Summary: In the summer of 1989, a group of unpopular kids known as ‘The Losers’ Club,’ band together in order to destroy a shapeshifting monster known only as ‘Pennywise,’ a creature which has been terrorising their home town of: ‘Derry’ for decades and can disguise itself as whatever it’s victim fears most…

Following the film’s incredibly successful release in 2017, ‘Pennywise’ has quickly become a modern horror icon despite only having about four minutes of dialogue in the entire film. But its easy to see why this is, as not only does ‘It’ share the familiar fun tone of classic films of the 1980s such as: ‘The Goonies,’ ‘The Gate’ and ‘The Monster Squad,’ yet ‘It’ also manages to adapt the novel’s antagonist: ‘Pennywise’ fairly closely from the original source material, resulting in a mostly entertaining novel-to-screen transition.

The main cast of: ‘The Losers’ Club’ features Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs and Wyatt Oleff who all share pretty great chemistry with each other, as alongside the film’s terrific writing, the children truly feel like an actual group of kids, with the group constantly cursing and sharing in plenty of quippy banter with each other. In addition to the younger cast, ‘Pennywise’ is this time around portrayed by Bill Skarsgård, and while I have always loved Tim Curry’s cheesy yet menacing portrayal of the iconic clown. Bill Skarsgård is a stand-out aspect of the film for sure. Capturing the eerie qualities of the character as well as his unworldly nature perfectly, truly embracing the idea that ‘Pennywise’ isn’t just a psychotic murderer dressed as a clown, but something far stranger…

The cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung is surprisingly brilliant for a modern horror, featuring a number of attractive shots which blend extremely well with the film’s story. The film does have one recurring shot which is quite irritating, however, as during many of the scenes where ‘Pennywise’ appears to his victims, the film utilises a shot in which the sinister clown approaches the camera straight on, sprinting directly towards the screen, and while I understand what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with this shot, I feel it only comes off as fatuous and appears extremely out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film’s visually enthralling camerawork.

Admirable yet flawed, the original score by Benjamin Wallfisch ranges from being your typical horror soundtrack to eventually becoming more emotional for the more character-focused scenes. The main issue I take with the original score are some of the tracks which feature deep bass-like sounds, as I feel these tracks really don’t fit with the film’s tone or time-period. Regardless, the tracks: ‘Paper Boat’ and ‘Derry’ do serve the film’s story delightfully well, with one of the film’s final tracks: ‘Blood Oath,’ also being a beautiful send-off for these characters before their inevitable return.

From ‘Pennywise’s uncanny appearance to the abandoned house ‘It’ lives within on ‘Neibolt Street,’ many of the film’s designs are also pretty memorable despite their limited screen-time. These fantastic designs are dragged down by the film’s poor CG effects, however, as the film always seems to resort to CG visuals during many of its more tense moments, which can take away from their impact. This is also where ‘It’s most substantial problem comes into play, as ‘It’ has really split audiences down the middle when it comes to its focus on horror, as while the film does have a few eerie scenes and creepy visuals, this adaptation seems to be more focused on being the coming-of-age story the novel mostly is. Although some viewers may be disappointed by this, desiring a narrative based more around the story’s darker elements, I feel the film’s distracting CG effects and constant barrage of jump-scares are made-up for by its interesting delve into its themes of childhood fears and growing-up.

In my opinion, 2017’s ‘It’ is a solid Steven King adaptation, as while certainly let down by its weak CG visuals, over-reliance on jump-scares and occasionally inconsistent tone, the film still is a pretty enjoyable watch throughout its two hour runtime, mostly due to the film’s great performances and general memorability, and with ‘It: Chapter Two’ turning-out to be an underwhelming experience for most. I’d say it further proves that this film is the direction to go when it comes to adapting King’s work. Final Rating: 7/10.

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The Open House (2018) – Film Review

Netflix has always enormously ranged in quality when it comes to their original films and the horror genre, as despite films such as: ‘The Ritual’ and ‘Gerald’s Game’ displaying some great promise for the streaming service, many horror duds like ‘Cam,’ ‘Eli,’ ‘Rattlesnake’ and ‘The Silence’ just to name a few, leave ‘The Open House’ feeling like just another bland and (sometimes even moronic) entry into this ongoing trend.

Plot Summary: Following a recent family tragedy, an athletic teenager (Logan) and his mother (Naomi) find themselves besieged by a threatening force when they temporarily move into a new house currently up for sale…

By far the worst element of: ‘The Open House’ is its writing, as in addition to the film’s extremely dim-witted characters and bizarre misdirections. ‘The Open House’ almost feels as if it has a disconnect from reality at points, as the main antagonist of the film, ‘The Man in Black,’ lurks within the mother and son’s home unbeknown to them, usually hiding in their basement. Yet somehow, also manages to navigate through the house without ever being seen, even going-up and down the single staircase to the basement constantly. The closest ‘The Man in Black’ ever comes to being found is through the noises he makes at night, and although these moments do give ‘The Man in Black’ the perfect opportunity to depose of his victims, he never does for reasons that go unexplained.

Dylan Minnette and Piercey Dalton portray the main duo of the film: ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi Wallace,’ a mother and son broken apart by the recent death of their father/husband, and although neither of the two actors give a truly bad performance throughout the film, none of the characters ever really feel that likeable or interesting, this even continues on to the supporting cast of Sharif Atkins, Patricia Bethune, Paul Rae and Aaron Abrams. Who all attempt to give each one of the small-town residents a distinct and out-of-touch personality, which usually fall quite flat. ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi’ also suffer from one of the biggest issues for horror characters, that being their nonsensical decisions, as during many points within the story, the characters don’t react to situations how most people realistically would, sometimes even missing very obvious signs of danger.

Surprisingly, the cinematography by Filip Vandewal does allow for a number of attractive shots. Whilst still fairly dull overall, usually not really adding much to any of the film’s tension-filled moments (what little there are) through the film’s strong over-reliance on its static shot-reverse-shot formula during many scenes. ‘The Open House’ does at least attempt to use a variety of wide-shots and focus-pulls to make effective use of its isolated yet beautiful location in the snowy mountains of Ohio, despite the story itself barely utilising this location aside from a scene nearing the end of the film.

The original score by Joseph Shirley is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, being the usual generic and sometimes even overbearing strings score composed for the majority of horror flicks. From the opening scene to the end of the film’s credits, every track is very forgettable and is barley distinct from each other. So much so, that it seems that the soundtrack is barley even findable online, as it actually took me quite a while to locate the score afterwards.

Another poorly-executed aspect of the film is its many misdirections, as already mentioned, as despite hinting at numerous different paranormal events throughout its runtime, ‘The Open House’ is actually a mostly grounded modern horror. As whilst the film constantly alludes to supernatural occurrences, the film then always undermines itself by completely ignoring them. This also isn’t just limited to the paranormal aspects, however, as the film also introduces a variety of loose-ends which the film never ties-up, and whilst some could see this as setting-up a layer of mystery, I personally feel its just lazy writing and bad red-herrings. This is most notable when it comes to the character of: ‘Martha’ portrayed by Patricia Bethune, who repeatedly refers to her dead husband throughout the film and always acts very unusual. Yet nothing ever comes of his, and by the end of the narrative, her character is almost completely forgotten about.

All in all, ‘The Open House’ is a truly dismal Netflix Original, with some weak performances, a forgettable original score, atrocious writing and an enormous amount of clichés. Aside from the occasional piece of decent cinematography, ‘The Open House’ simply feels like a ‘nothing’ experience, as for me, these kinds of low-effort and low-budget horrors are only dragging the genre down further than it already has been in recent years. Final Rating: 2/10.

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