Into the Storm (2014) – Film Review

Clumsily written and populated with forgettable characters, ‘Into the Storm,’ released in 2014, has little to offer beyond its admittedly prodigious CG effects. Taking heavy inspiration from the exemplary tornado blockbuster: ‘Twister’ from 1996, ‘Into the Storm’ plays it fast and loose with its story, jumping from scene-to-scene without much thought as to how well everything connects or even functions, this is especially clear when looking at the film’s visuals, which rarely stick to the found-footage style its camerawork is trying to emulate.

Plot Summary: In the span of a single day, the small town of Silverton, Oklahoma is ravaged by an unprecedented onslaught of tornadoes, forcing residents to abandon their daily duties and seek shelter as fast as they possibly can. But as the entire town is at the mercy of the destructive cyclones, one group of storm-chasers ride directly into the storm, risking their lives to study the phenomenon and procure that perfect shot…

Directed by Steven Quale (Starfire, Final Destination 5, American Renegades), ‘Into the Storm’ not only takes (perhaps a little too much) inspiration from ‘Twister’ for its plot, but also many real-world events. Specifically, a catastrophe that occurred in Dallas County in 1986, where there were several reported occurrences of multiple tornadoes striking the same county over a roughly one-hour time-period. And whilst the image of a tornado of fire may sound like a creation ripped straight out of a campy 80s action flick, the cyclone of flames is in reality, just one of the many seemingly absurd moments in the film that were actually based on real life events, at least, according to screenwriter John Swetnam.

While disaster films have always valued spectacle over character, ‘Into the Storm’ is on another level, as the entire cast of Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Arlen Escarpeta, and Alycia Jasmin Debnam-Carey are all immensely dull to watch, not necessarily because of their performances, but because of the screenplay. As aside from the single-minded storm-chaser: ‘Pete’ portrayed by Matt Walsh, who has at least something resembling a personality, most of the characters feel as if they are made out of wood, exclaiming cringy jokes and unnatural lines of dialogue that come across as nothing but forced. It seems many of the actors even tried to make their characters more interesting where they could, as supposedly there was a fair amount of improvisation on set.

Despite ‘Into the Storm’ apparently also being a found-footage flick, it’s rare that the cinematography by Brian Pearson actually appears like one, from vast wide-shots to intimate close-ups, many shots are completely devoid of harsh movements and always retain flawless quality regardless of which character is filming or what device they are filming on. Moreover, with much of the film’s narrative relying on the idea of the film itself being a documentary, various interviews are featured near the beginning and end of the runtime, yet this potentially stimulating concept is soon spoilt as a result of the film’s structure, which is fairly disorganised. The only aspect of this found-footage approach that comes across effectivity is in the final scene, as the film utilises archive footage from news stations that covered a real EF5 tornado that hit Oklahoma in 2013.

Although the original score by Brian Tyler is expectedly quite bland, there are still a few tracks such as: ‘Into the Storm,’ ‘Fate,’ and ‘We Stay Together’ that back-up many of the film’s exciting moments successfully. But the issue here isn’t within the score itself, it’s the fact that there is a score to begin with, as every second ‘Into the Storm’ attempts to be an intense and realistic disaster epic, its simultaneously sabotaging itself by bombarding the audience with a loud, non-diegetic soundtrack, often distracting from the destructive chaos on-screen with its whirling violins and blaring brass horns.

When it comes to realism, some film buffs have questioned whether certain events within the story could occur in real life, such as whether a tornado could actually lift an aircraft off the ground as depicted in one scene. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that the CG effects during these scenes are certainly the finest element of: ‘Into the Storm,’ as along with its voluminous set-design, which perfectly displays the incredible force of nature that a tornado is with cars, trees, and billboards thrown in every direction, are magnificent in their sheer scale alone. Even if the film would’ve benefited from the use of a few more practical effects to even out its enormous use of CGI, harkening back in a way to the classic disaster films of the 70s like ‘Airport’ and ‘Earthquake.’

All in all, ‘Into the Storm’ is essentially just a visual effects showreel that lasts over ninety-minutes. As although the film boats some exhilarating yet feasible moments of peril as director Steven Quale crafts plenty of riveting set-pieces ranging from crashing trucks to golf ball-sized hailstorms. Due to the film’s lack of compelling characters, inconsistent filmmaking, and truly awful lines of dialogue, such thrills soon become monotonous, and by the end of its runtime, ‘Into the Storm’ winds-up as either an unimaginative disaster flick, or a near-remake of: ‘Twister’ depending on your perspective. Final Rating: 3/10.

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John Wick (2014) – Film Review

Proving he still has what it takes when it comes to more physically challenging films, fifty-year-old Keanu Reeves triumphantly returned to the action genre in late 2014 with ‘John Wick,’ an exceptional neo-noir action-thriller brimming with incredible stunts, thrilling action sequences and an unexpectedly high number of attractive shots. And while few films within the action genre are known for their intricate stories or layered dialogue, this included, there’s no denying the dexterity that went into its filming, certifying ‘John Wick’ as a name that will be heard for years to come.

Plot Summary: After retiring from his career as a deadly hitman to marry the love of his life, legendary assassin: ‘John Wick’ finds himself alone once again when her sudden death leaves him in deep mourning. But when a gang of Russian mobsters led by the arrogant mob-prince: ‘Losef Tarasov,’ break into his house in order to steal his prized 1969 Mustang, killing his newly adopted puppy in the process, the last gift from his wife, ‘John’ decides to come out of retirement to track down those that wronged him…

Despite having a smaller-budget than many other action films, directors Chad Stahelski (a former stuntman from a kick-boxing background) and David Leitch, who actually goes uncredited due to DGA regulations only allowing for only one director to be credited, manage to do a lot with very little. Not only in terms of action, but also world-building, as ‘John Wick’ swiftly establishes a seedy criminal underbelly beneath New York City, complete with assassins, mobsters and a contract killer hotel known as ‘The Continental,’ without ever relying on large dumps of exposition from disposable side characters. This fluidity even continues into the film’s screenplay, as the film tells its simplistic yet entertaining story with total proficiency.

Quickly becoming one of his most iconic roles, Keanu Reeves truly shines as ‘John Wick,’ as despite Reeves having given his fair share of weak performances in the past, ‘John Wick’ is certainly not one of them, as Reeves’ preparation for the role included eight-hours of weapons and martial arts training every day for over four-months, which he put to great use as Reeves performed over 90% of his own stunts. And although ‘John Wick’s characterisation is minimal, it’s enough to make his inclination for revenge understandable, as what remained of: ‘John’s peaceful life following his wife’s death is unjustly ruined. The rest of the cast, including the late Mikael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo and Ian McShane, all portray their characters well even if many of them simply feel like cogs in a machine, serving their purpose within the plot before then vanishing.

Bathing many of the film’s early scenes in greys and whites before then implementing more colourful visuals through expressive greens and blues as ‘John’ begins to reimmerse himself in the criminal underworld he’d escaped many years ago. The colour palette of: ‘John Wick’ may be grim, but the film never descends into unattractiveness, as the cinematography by Jonathan Sela in addition to the film’s dramatic lighting further enhance the many car chases, fistfights, and shootouts ‘John’ finds himself within. Additionally, the film continues to play into its neo-noir style through its subtitles, with each line fading on-screen in a slick font with specific words even having their colours altered to increase their impact.

Moreover, Tyler Bates’ original score considerably helps build tension during many scenes throughout the film, as pulse-pounding tracks such as: ‘Assassins,’ ‘Shots Fired’ and ‘Warehouse Smackdown’ are endlessly energetic without ever distracting from the story, along with the titles themselves being a clear indication of the excitement that is to come. Aside from the more action-oriented tracks, the soundtrack also boasts the perfect theme for: ‘John Wick’ himself, as ‘On the Hunt’ captures the relentless nature of the character flawlessly.

Unlike the shaky camerawork and constant quick-cutting that make action flicks like ‘Taken’ and ‘Alex Cross’ nearly unbearable at times, ‘John Wick’ thrives when it comes to its action, as every gunfight and fistfight is fast-paced and kinetic yet never bemusing. This is heavily due to the film’s fight choreography being just as comprehensible as it is exhilarating, with each reverting moment having a clear rhythm as ‘John’ never wastes a bullet nor performs an unnecessary move. Furthermore, ‘John Wick’ even features a good portion of humour within its action sequences, adding small visual gags which amusingly poke fun at ‘John’s brutal efficiency.

In short, ‘John Wick’ delivers on exactly what anyone would expect to see from a film like this, as the action is thrilling and the body-count is excessive, plus most of the filmmaking surprisingly is better than average for the action genre. And although it’s true that later films in the ‘John Wick’ franchise are much flashier, I find that the sequels often get bogged down by their continuous attempts to introduce as many new characters and locations as possible, as well as constantly pushing the limit of what ‘John’ can actually survive. So, in many ways, ‘John Wick’ is a film that proves there really is beauty in simplicity, as the admirably lean screenplay propels the film’s galvanising action forward with only the barest of narrative essentials. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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Fury (2014) – Film Review

Five years after Brad Pitt first entered the realm of fictional war stories with 2009’s ‘Inglorious Bastards,’ Pitt returned to the genre for: ‘Fury,’ a gritty action/drama following the valiant actions of a battle-hardened tank commander and his loyal men as they undertake a treacherous mission. And although the film frequently invites far too many comparisons to the military classic: ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ ‘Fury’ is still a tightly-knit story of brotherhood with some excellent performances and a suitably unflinching depiction of war to carry it through to the end of its two-hour runtime.

Plot Summary: April, 1945. As Allies make their final push towards the European Theatre, grizzled tank commander: ‘Don Collier’ commands a Sherman tank and his devoted five-man crew on a daring mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered, outgunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, ‘Don’ and his men seemingly face overwhelming odds as they attempt to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany…

Rather than being based on a singular veracious story similar to most films set during the second World War, ‘Fury’ is actually based on a collection of true stories from many real life army veterans who spent most of their time during the war inside tanks. But primarily, the film’s storyline parallels the story of American tank commander Staff Sergeant Lafayette G. Pool, who personally destroyed over two-hundred and fifty-eight enemy vehicles before his tank was eventually destroyed in late 1944. According to writer and director David Ayer (End of Watch, Suicide Squad, Bright), it was his family’s heavy association with World War II that drove him to write and direct ‘Fury,’ wanting the film to be as true-to-life as possible to pay respect to his grandparents, who both served as officers during the historical war. Ayer also wanted the film’s characters to exhibit a level of exhaustion, as at that time, when the war was nearing its end in Europe, every remaining solider was left fighting with hardly any supplies.

Before production began, the entire cast of: ‘Fury’ underwent a rigorous month-long training course to further cement them as their respective characters, the final test of which included manning a real tank during a combat exercise. Brad Pitt, who was much older than the rest of the cast, ensured that he participated in all of the same physical training his fellow actors did. Pitt’s dedication to his role is also evident throughout the film, as ‘Don Collier,’ or ‘Wardaddy’ as he is nicknamed by his platoon, continuously remains a burley and resilient character without ever losing too much of Pitt’s natural charisma. However, the other members of: ‘Don’s crew portrayed by Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña, and Logan Lerman aren’t quite as noteworthy, though the film does attempt to integrate a number of scenes which humanise the soldiers, a few members of: ‘Don’s crew inevitably feel like less interesting recreations of battle-burned stereotypes.

The set-design, set-dressing, editing, and especially cinematography by Roman Vasyanovn, all greatly amplify ‘Fury’s grim appeal. Having nearly every location the characters visit be represented through either scorched fields, shattered farmhouses, or isolated German towns (which were actually built from scratch by the production crew). Furthermore, ‘Fury’ pulls no punches when it comes to displaying graphic violence, as arms, legs, and heads are all repeatedly severed in pursuit of pushing the film’s primary theme, that being the overplayed yet still impactful: ‘War is Hell,’ which is only enhanced by the film’s dingy, trench-ridden colour palette.

Contrarily, the original score composed by Steven Price is slightly lighter in tone, as tracks such as: ‘Refugees,’ ‘The Apartment,’ ‘Crossroads,’ and ‘Norman’ all create a contrast to the film’s distressing visuals, often riding the line between hope and tragedy as a result of the soundtrack’s electronic pulses and grand orchestra. Still, whilst the score does leave a strong impact on the film, there is a distinct lack of memorability throughout the original score, not too dissimilar to much of Price’s other work, e.g. ‘American Assassin’ and ‘The Aeronauts.’

In addition to filming on-location in Hertfordshire, England whenever possible, ‘Fury’ also strives for realism through its use of genuine tanks from the time-period. Most notably, the Tiger I tank, making it only the second time in history that an actual tank of that make has been used in a feature film production, with the tank itself being borrowed from the Bovington Tank Museum, which is coincidentally also located in the United Kingdom. Additionally, many of the costumes that appear in the film were acquired from real World War II clothing exhibits all over the world, keeping in-line with David Ayer’s admirable fight for total accuracy of the time-period.

In summary, while ‘Fury’ may offer plenty of fantastic performances and visceral action set-pieces, the film’s overly long runtime and absence of any incredibly likeable or unique characters ensures that the film never manages to live-up to its larger ambitions, which in some ways could also be attributed to David Ayer’s lacklustre writing, as Ayer’s screenplays often leave something to be desired, in my opinion, anyway. Nevertheless, ‘Fury’ is unquestionably worth a watch, even though I’ll always stick with ‘Inglorious Bastards’ for my simultaneous fill of Brad Pitt and World War II insight. Final Rating: 7/10.

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The Voices (2014) – Film Review

This obscure horror-comedy released in late 2014 will certainly make for a divisive viewing, as while ‘The Voices’ does feature an inspired use of colour and set-design alongside a stand-out performance from Ryan Reynolds, the film is also far more disturbing than much of its marketing would lead you to believe, swerving from absurd moments of humour to visceral moments of gore in a heart-beat. The resulting film essentially becoming a parody/throwback of/to classic horrors like ‘American Psycho,’ and is a far-cry from a realistic study of psychosis for better, and for worse.

Plot Summary: After working a nine-to-five job at his local bathtub factory, the mentally ill: ‘Jerry’ finds comfort in returning home to his beloved pets: ‘Bosco’ and ‘Mr. Whiskers.’ Until one day, with the help of his psychiatrist, ‘Jerry’ decides to pursue his office crush: ‘Fiona.’ But when their relationship takes a sudden, murderous turn leaving ‘Jerry’ with the corpse of his co-worker, he tries desperately to strive for normalcy, only to fall deeper into instability…

Early in the pre-production of: ‘The Voices,’ director Mark Romanek, best known for the 2002 drama/thriller: ‘One Hour Photo’ was attached as the film’s director, before Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums, Radioactive) later took over as the head of the project. And whilst ‘The Voices’ does feel like quite a large shift from Satrapi’s usual work, its hard to know exactly which director would’ve excelled with a screenplay as original as this one is. As while ‘The Voices’ does share some similarities to other serial killer flicks, many of the film’s ideas are just brimming with personality, as everything from ‘Jerry’ showing symptoms of OCD when cutting-up the bodies of his victims, to ‘Jerry’ living above an abandoned bowling alley, the film just has such a unique appeal.

Ryan Reynolds really gets a chance to shine portraying the film’s mentally ill protagonist, as whilst ‘Jerry’ does commit many horrible acts over the course of the runtime, Reynolds manages to capture the idea of: ‘Jerry’ being a man forced down a road of violence. He is a distinct serial killer in the sense that he desires companionship and happiness, and doesn’t receive any pleasure from killing. So when its eventually revealed what happened to him as a child, you can’t help but sympathise with him, invoking a level of emotion that many murderous characters struggle to achieve. But unfortunately, the film’s side characters portrayed by Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Jacki Weaver, all feel quite thin as a result of them only being in the story to serve as ‘Jerry’s potential victims.

Maxime Alexandre handles the film’s cinematography well, as the camerawork throughout ‘The Voices’ remains fairly creative. The film’s visuals are most impressive most however, when it comes to the film’s colour palette, set-design and set-dressing, as with nearly the entirety of the story being seen through ‘Jerry’s perspective, the film displays the true extent of: ‘Jerry’s delusions through its use of colour/sets. For example, when not on his prescribed medication, ‘Jerry’ views his apartment as very clean and organised, giving the location a much more comfortable feel, whereas when ‘Jerry’ does take his medication, he sees the grim reality of his soiled home.

The original score by Olivier Bernet is similar, never reaching into full on horror, but being a mixture of cartoonish dreamlike tracks such as: ‘In the Woods’ and ‘Jesus Dad,’ before then moving onto more upbeat tracks like ‘Don’t Mess with Milton’. A seemingly ironic track focused around the fictional woodland town of: ‘Milton’ where the story takes-place, claiming the town to be nothing but a friendly and welcoming place.

The main aspect of: ‘The Voices’ that I feel could make or break the film for many is likely to be its comedy, as whilst it is revealed fairly early on that many of the film’s bizarre moments such as: ‘Jerry’s pets speaking to him or ‘Jesus’ appearing on a forklift are all taking-place within his mind, much of this strange humour is very hit-or-miss. However, an interesting yet small detail regarding the talking pets is that Ryan Reynolds actually voices each one of the animals himself, with each pet having a different accent, furthering ‘Jerry’s delusions. In fact, Reynolds actually modelled the voice of: ‘Mr. Whiskers,’ a.k.a. ‘Jerry’s cat, after a Scottish friend he knew for over twenty-years.

Overall, while ‘The Voices’ is overflowing with both charm and wit, it also has many issues. From its quickly altering tone and many jokes that fall flat, the film is far from a perfect horror-comedy. But it does redeem many of its faults through its great performances and eccentric style, all playing into the film’s quirky personality. And its due to all of this that the film feels as if its made for a very niche audience, yet for those ‘The Voices’ does appeal to, there is a fair amount to enjoy here. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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Non-Stop (2014) – Film Review

Although ‘Non-Stop’ has been heavily overshadowed by a number of other films within the thriller genre, being mostly forgotten amongst the strew of critically-acclaimed films that released in 2014. I personally feel this high-altitude thriller is one of the better stories set within the confines of an aircraft, utilising Liam Neeson’s action expertise to craft a compelling mystery with occasional moments of excitement, even if the film is noticeably lacking in both realism and memorability.

Plot Summary: While on a flight from New York to London, ‘Bill Marks,’ a worn and alcoholic air marshal, receives an anonymous text message, informing him that unless one-hundred and fifty-million dollars are transferred into an offshore account within the next twenty-minutes, someone aboard the plane will die. Now finding himself in the middle of this deadly cat-and-mouse game, ‘Bill’ desperately searches for the suspect, unintentionally implicating himself into a hostage crisis unfolding at thirty-thousand feet…

‘Non-Stop’ is actually the second of four films directed by Jaume Collet-Serra that feature Liam Neeson, beginning with ‘Unknown’ in 2011, then ‘Run All Night’ in 2015, and lastly ‘The Commuter’ in 2018. And whilst Collet-Serra’s other films also contain a central mystery, ‘Non-Stop’ certainly has the most interesting location of the bunch, using its tight and claustrophobic setting of an aircraft to great effect as the film never cuts-away from the plane itself, even when ‘Bill’s contacts his superiors we the audience remain inside the aircraft with the characters, adding to the suspense. The film also attempts to integrate themes of airline safety and security into its story, which are intriguing though they are never fully explored, nor is the terrorist’s motivation when its finally revealed.

Liam Neeson leads the cast as ‘Bill Marks,’ giving his standard action film performance as a mostly straight-faced action hero. But just as he is in the ‘Taken’ franchise and every other explosive blockbuster, Neeson is an easy protagonist to root for, and ‘Bill’ is given a fair amount of development for what is required. Julianne Moore also makes an appearance in the film as ‘Jen Summers,’ who similar to the rest of the supporting cast of Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll, Jason Butler Harner, Nate Parker, Omar Metwally and Lupita Nyong’o, is given limited characterisation and is mostly in the film to serve as a potential suspect, but I suppose considering this is the basis for the story, it would’ve been an enormous challenge to development the huge array of passengers and crew aboard the flight.

The cinematography by Flavio Martínez Labiano is serviceable for the most part, as whilst the film features a few attractive shots and focus-pulls throughout its runtime, the majority of the film’s camerawork focuses on hand-held shots, which aside from lending themselves effectively to action sequences and scenes where the plane experiences turbulence, do become a little monotonous. ‘Non-Stop’ also features a couple of scenes that were filmed entirely within a single take, most notably, from the moment ‘Bill’ begins his announcement to the passengers about his phone inspection, through to the moment he duct-tapes a suspect’s hands together, there isn’t a single cut.

John Ottman’s original score does suit the film well, with tracks like ‘Non-Stop,’ ‘Welcome to Aqualantic’ and ‘Reluctant Passenger/Blue Ribbon’ having a nice fusion of synth sounds, percussion, strings and brass, adding-up to simplistic yet competent soundtrack. Constantly pushing or creating the tension in a simple and confined environment while simultaneously fitting with the modern set-design of the plane and ‘Bill’ as a reluctant hero forced into action.

But with 95% of the film taking-place within an aircraft, the set for the plane itself was certainly a crucial detail to get right. Luckily, ‘Non-Stop’ does succeed here, as despite the set having to be built slightly larger than a standard commercial airliner to accommodate for equipment and Liam Neeson’s 6’4′ height. The set does feel like a real plane, having both sleek business class and first class areas as well as lavatories and a crew rest compartment, all of which are very crampt and dimly lit, as the story takes-place over the course of one night. This realism is even more impressive considering that the aircraft and airline are clearly fictional, as the aircraft type is never referred to yet its cabin interior and flight deck layout doesn’t match any real aircraft design.

So, even though films like ‘Red Eye’ and ‘Flightplan’ have taken the enclosed setting of an airplane and made it work before, I still believe ‘Non-Stop’ has slightly more entertainment value. As whilst some viewers may find the story’s absence of realism quite frustrating at points, the film distracts from its over-the-top ideas and bland side characters through its tense and fast-paced narrative, making for a thrilling mystery for those that can suspend their disbelief for a few elements. And with Liam Neeson and the rest of the cast helping ‘Non-Stop’ to collect plenty of air-miles for enjoyability, I’d say the film is worth a watch. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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As Above, So Below (2014) – Film Review

Co-written and directed by John Erick Dowdle (The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Quarantine, Devil), ‘As Above, So Below’ is certainly an interesting found-footage flick, as while at a first mention the film may just sound like another a stereotypical horror, this claustrophobic delve into the caliginous Paris catacombs does actually have some depth hidden beneath its generic exterior. But unfortunately, even with the story’s intriguing religious imagery/influences, the film soon plummets into clichéd mediocrity, mostly as a result of its bland characters and weak scares.

Plot Summary: When a team of explorers venture into the miles of twisting catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris, all in search of the historical: ‘Philosopher’s Stone,’ they encounter far more than they bargained for when they realise they have entered into the first of the nine rings of: ‘Hell,’ where visions of their past sins begin to relentlessly torment them…

From a quick glance at the film’s visuals, its understandable why many would see ‘As Above, So Below’ as just another found-footage horror, only this time capitalising on the daunting real-world location of the Paris catacombs, which hold the remains of more than six-million people in the small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone-quarries. But the film’s setting does heavily relate to the story of: ‘Inferno,’ a short poem written by Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the fourteenth-century, focusing on the tale of man who journeys through ‘Hell’ guided by the Roman poet Virgil. Even the film’s title plays into this central idea, as the words: ‘As Above, So Below’ are derived from “On Earth as it is in Heaven,” which is a line from the ‘Christian Lord’s Prayer,’ which begins with “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven…”

Even though their characters are immensely mundane, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert and Ali Marhyar are all serviceable in their respective roles, delivering the usual screaming, ventilating and panicking performances that occur in most found-footage films. However, while the film’s protagonist: ‘Scarlett’ is portrayed well by Perdita Weeks, the character herself is noticeably very unlikable, mostly due to her constant obsession with the ‘Philosopher’s Stone,’ which she places all of her friend’s lives at risk for without question, and its never made clear whether we should actually be rooting for her to survive or not.

The cinematography by Léo Hinstin is more of the usual for this subgenre, providing the viewer with plenty of shaky and out-of-focus shots as the characters make their way through the almost pitch-black burial ground. This doesn’t distract from what is easily the film’s most impressive (and most ambitious) filming tip-bit however, which is that the film was actually shot in the Paris catacombs themselves, not in a sound-stage. In fact, this was the first production ever to secure permission from the French government to film within the catacombs, which would have been quite a challenge as the series of narrow, winding tunnels with centuries-old skeletons arranged on the walls would’ve had little room for equipment/crew. Yet this does payoff as the film utilises it’s location extremely well, always placing its characters in tight areas to insight a feeling of claustrophobia in the viewer.

While the film doesn’t feature a complete original score for obvious reasons, one of the strongest aspects of found-footage flicks, sound design, is actually an area where ‘As Above, So Below’ is lacking. As despite the film’s many attempts to feel impactful when the characters dive into water or are nearly crushed by a collapsing celling, a vast majority of the sound effects don’t sound as if they are coming from within the catacombs, usually sounding quite evident they have been added in post-production on account of the absence of echo or density.

With a large portion of the film’s narrative being based on Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ the film’s basic structure revolves around the characters heading further and further into ‘Hell,’ with each character facing a vision of a personal sin from their past. These rings (or levels) in order are ‘Limbo,’ ‘Lust,’ ‘Gluttony,’ ‘Greed,’ ‘Anger,’ ‘Heresy,’ ‘Violence,’ ‘Fraud’ and ‘Treachery.’ But outside of the film’s previously mentioned religious symbolism, after the characters leave the initial catacombs, each ring is represented purely through dark empty caverns, which become quite repetitive after a point.

Altogether, despite the Paris catacombs being a very compelling setting for a modern horror film, in addition to much of the film’s religious influences making for quite a unique story. I’d still suggest other claustrophobic horrors like ‘The Descent’ and ‘The Thing’ before ‘As Above, So Below,’ as not only does the film eventually devolve into the standard horror formula without much experimentation, but if you’re unaware of any of the religious-context, then I could definitely see the film being fairly forgettable. In all honesty, I feel this film may have been better-off as non-found-footage, as I think this would’ve allowed the film to better explore its story and themes. 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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Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Film Review

Exceeding expectations in more ways than one and combining the star-power of both Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is an explosive summer blockbuster which reimagines the comedy classic: ‘Groundhog Day’ into a thrilling sci-fi flick to fantastic results. Directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity, American Made) and based on the Japanese manga: ‘All You Need is Kill’ by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ or ‘Live Die Repeat’ as its now more commonly referred, manages to succeed in nearly every aspect an exciting science fiction film would need to.

Plot Summary: When an alien race invades Earth and releases an unrelenting assault unbeatable by any military unit in the world. ‘Major William Cage,’ an officer who has never seen a day of combat, is unceremoniously dropped into the front-line. Getting killed within minutes, ‘Cage’ now finds himself thrown into a time-loop forcing him to live-out the same battle over-and-over again. But with each reset, ‘Cage’ learns to defend himself with the help of Special Forces soldier: ‘Rita Vrataski,’ who together, hatch a plan to defeat the creatures, permanently…

Taking inspiration from sci-fi war epics such as: ‘Aliens,’ ‘Starship Troopers,’ and ‘Independence Day’ in addition to the previously mentioned: ‘Groundhog Day.’ ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ may have initially had disappointing box-office returns when it released in 2014, but mostly through word-of-mouth, the film has since continued on to become a modern science fiction classic, keeping itself distinct through its signature ‘resetting the day’ idea and couple of amusing moments in between its action-packed story.

For a large majority of the film, Tom Cruise actively plays against his usual type, as ‘Major William Cage’ is essentially the complete opposite of his character: ‘Ethan Hunt’ from the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, with most of the character’s screen-time being spent dying continuously in horrific (yet also somewhat comedic) ways, alongside his genuinely cowardly and untrained demeanour. Cruise also bounces-off his co-star Emily Blunt very well throughout the film, with Blunt portraying the complete opposite of Cruise’s character as ‘Rita Vrataski,’ a hard-as-nails solider who is a skilled as they come. And whilst a romantic subplot can sometimes derail a film’s story, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ manages to pull its off mostly due to the chemistry between its heroic duo.

Although the film’s cinematography by Dion Beebe does heavily rely on hand-held camerawork, this hand-held approach does remarkably add to many scenes within the film. Replicating the chaos of the constant war that surrounds ‘Cage’ as he tries different tactics in an attempt to survive on the battlefront, not to say that the cinematography doesn’t still allow for the occasional attractive shot however. Much of the film’s CG visuals are also up-to-par, excluding the ‘Exo-Suits’ of course, which are actually practical costumes for the most part. This was done so the suits would appear more real to the audience, which does stop the film from feeling too CGI-heavy during many of the film’s action sequences, even if the suits did weigh between eighty-five to ninety-pounds on-set.

The original score by Christophe Beck is certainly no where near as memorable as the film itself, being a mostly typical soundtrack for a action blockbuster with little charm or even a slight sci-fi twist to help the score stand-out. This unfortunately, even applies to the best track of the score: ‘Solo Flight,’ which does at least utilise what sounds like metal-clanging audio effects to add a little more impact wherever it can.

The film’s main issues mostly revolve around two particular areas, firstly, the designs of the alien creatures known as ‘Mimics.’ As whilst the CG effects that bring the creatures to life do look superb, the creatures feel a little too similar to video-game enemies, as their different breeds are only distinct by colour, being either red or blue, with the remainder of their design being almost identical. While this is slightly redeemed by their unique sound design, it can become difficult to even tell the creatures apart when they are in large groups. My other complaint with the film is with its final act, as whilst the narrative throughout most of the runtime remains engaging and rousing. The film’s final portion ends-up becoming a little more generic after losing its signature time-looping concept.

Since even my first viewing of: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ I’ve always been impressed by this science fiction flick, as while the film isn’t flawless and does still suffer from its cloned creature designs and weak final act. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is still a far more enjoyable and enthralling sci-fi than many may initially think. Even though the film didn’t thrive at the box-office on its release, it seems with its recent change in marketing to ‘Live Die Repeat’ many more sci-fi fanatics have now stumbled across this underrated gem, and with a blockbuster as riveting and surprisingly clever as this one is, I feel it can always be praised further. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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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 overall. 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 character’s 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, weapons 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 overreliance 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 to 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 its central concept to carry it through its narrative. Final Rating: 4/10.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – Film Review

The second outing of the revamped: ‘Planet of the Apes’ series and in my opinion, the best of the most-recent trilogy. ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ takes-place a decade after the previous film, now taking the story into an apocalyptic world where humans and intelligent apes co-exist. Featuring another spectacular performance from Andy Serkis as ‘Caesar’ as well as a much larger role for the vicious ape: ‘Koba’ this time around (now portrayed by Toby Kebbell), this thrilling and propulsive sci-fi blockbuster is sure to keep most viewers gripped to the screen.

Plot Summary: Many years after ‘Caesar’s escape from captivity and the outbreak of: ‘Simian Flu’ that followed, the clan of intelligent apes and chimps now resident within the Muir Woods just outside a derelict San Francisco. Living a peaceful existence amongst themselves until a group of human survivors journey into their territory in order to find a solution to their colony’s lack of power, soon leading both sides to consider the possibility of war…

Now giving directorial control over to Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In), Reeves would write and direct both this film and the following entry in the series: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, allowing Reeves to really give a sense of continuity within the story and style (not to say the sequel doesn’t retain continuity from the first film). Yet what makes this sequel stand-out when placed against the first entry in the trilogy is its narrative focus, as ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ continuously builds tension throughout its runtime, with much of the film leaning on the two species as they balance on the brink of a war that could desolate both parties.

Andy Serkis leads the motion-capture cast of apes once again as ‘Caesar,‘ developing his character even further after the first film as ‘Caesar‘ now cares for the clan of apes alongside his newly-found family, and just like the first film, Serkis once again manages to make an animalistic ape a far more interesting and likeable character than would initially seem possible. Its the criminally underrated actor Toby Kebbell who shines most within the film however, as the sequel provides the war-mongering ape: ‘Koba’ with a much larger role, having the ape serve as the film’s main antagonist. In addition to the apes, the film also features a number of human characters portrayed by Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman, who are all great in spite of their limited screen-time.

Whilst ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ did feature plenty of attractive shots, Michael Seresin’s cinematography is actually an improvement over the previous entry, as the sequel manages to utilise its dim lighting and overgrown/dilapidated cityscape of San Francisco to fantastic results. The cinematography also helps add too much of the film’s action, as despite the film only containing two action set-pieces, both scenes manage to feel like an excellent payoff to the large amount of build-up before them. Yet personally, I believe one of the most impressive aspects of the film has to be its practical sets, from the overcrowded ‘Human Colony’ to the decrepit streets of San Francisco, nearly all of the film’s sets are breathtaking in both size and detail, with the ‘Ape Village’ being the clearest example of this superb craftsmanship.

Capturing the bleak and ominous tone of the story flawlessly, the original score by Michael Giacchino is also continuously brilliant, and personally I think very underrated. As immediately from the stylish opening sequence which informs the audience of all of the events that have taken-place prior to this film, the backing-track titled: ‘Level Plaguing Field’ really elevates the scene’s overall emotional impact, with later tracks like ‘Past Their Primates,’ ‘Along Simian Lines’ and the 1968 country-rock song: ‘The Weight’ continuing this trend. 

Although it could go without saying, the visual effects throughout are the film are fantastic, while still perhaps not as pristine as ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’s effects, the CG visuals do still hold-up very well since 2014 and contain an immense amount of detail in areas. In fact, the company that created the apes, Weta Digital, were even brought-back to bring to-life a variety of other animals for the film including: deers, horses and even a grizzly bear, each sharing the same high-level of detail.

To conclude, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is another remarkable instalment in this new series, upping the stakes and visuals from the previous film alongside continuing the story in a meaningful and entertaining fashion. This science fiction sequel is certainly worth a watch, and whilst I would recommend watching the entire trilogy in order to experience the full story of: ‘Caesar’ as a character, if you have limited time or perhaps don’t usually enjoy sci-fi, then I’d say the middle chapter of this trilogy is truly the most exciting and memorable of the three. Final Rating: high 8/10.

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