Category Archives: Horror

Review – Prometheus 3D (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

With the exception of American Gangster, the last decade has been a poor one in terms of quality films for Ridley Scott, the three-time academy award nominated director/producer. Kingdom of Heaven, Body of Lies and Robin Hood are just three of many terrible movies that he’s created, even if he has made lots of money from them. Prometheus continues this downward trend, even though it is a return to the theme of his highly successful revolutionary 1979 movie Alien.

Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) with the captain of the Prometheus vessel, Janek (Idris Elba).

Prometheus is the prequel to Alien. In 2089, archaeologist love-birds Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes II: A Game of Shadows, The Drop) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green – Brooklyn’s Finest, Devil, Black Dog, Red Dog) discover a star map among several unconnected ancient civilisations. Believing that they can discover the origins of humanity, they join a crew on the space-vessel Prometheus bound for the moon where they hope to unearth the answers.

Piloted by David (Michael Fassbender – X-Men: First Class, Shame, 12 Years A Slave), a haughty human-looking android with supreme amounts of knowledge, the spaceship arrives at their destination. After being given a telegrammed video by the elderly Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce – The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, Iron Man III), the patron of the trillion-dollar expedition, and a speech by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron – Monster, The Road, Snow White and the Huntsman), a Weyland Corporation employee sent to monitor the mission, the crew set off to investigate the nearby mysterious site.

They are told to avoid contact with any unknown substances. But with some people falling behind, and other members of the crew deceiving others, the humans do come into with the unknown substances. And to dire consequences.

Charlie, Elizabeth and David exploring the cave to find the origins of humanity. Will the statue in the background give them their answers?

The premise on which Prometheus is based is not a bad one and there are some good, refreshingly 1980s-style sci-fi horror moments to keep one in suspense. In 1979, these were innovative, but now the Alien vs. Predator genre has become so abysmally cliché that all of the horror in Prometheus looks samey and unoriginal.

And as is typical of the above-mentioned genres, little of Prometheus’ dialogue or plot makes any sense. (Even Ridley Scott has admitted that the movie leaves some questions unanswered, which suggests that tying up loose ends was not half as relevant to him as making a fortune.) The very beginning of the film (which I have not mentioned) bears no relevance to the rest of the film; with the exceptions of Elizabeth and Charlie, the reasons and motives of the various crew members aboard the Prometheus expedition are unclear or not mentioned at all; and the very end of the movie is as biologically possible as mating a bear with a piranha and producing a wolf.

Worse, Prometheus gives us virtually no insight into the origins of Alien. For a movie that is a prequel to the series, it is inexcusable. Imagine if Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins had not explained the origins of Batman? What would have been the point in it? The same questions must be asked here.

As Prometheus’ storyline nosedives, the cast do the same. All of the actors have poorly-explained, two-dimensional characters and none of them have any chemistry between them on set. They create such little empathy that viewers are unlikely to care when they start to drop off. Even Noomi Rapace, who was brilliant as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish versions of The Girl With The Dragon series (aka The Millennium saga), struggles in Prometheus to keep audiences interested (despite spending a percentage of the movie running around wearing not much more than a tankini). Only Michael Fassbender, as the emotionless and enigmatic robot, has the ability to maintain viewer’s concentration. But Fassbender’s character has too many holes to be plausible.

Wounded, Elizabeth is limping round the Prometheus vessel in little clothing to find some help.

Actors and characters aside, at least Prometheus has some decent sci-fi-style special effects. They are not spell-binding, though, because one has seen similar CGIs in God knows how many other movies in the genre before. What is a pity though is that the 3D is so pathetic. For a movie like Prometheus, there should have been more effort put into the 3D aspect of the film to make it worthwhile.

All-in-all, Prometheus is another appalling film to add to Ridley Scott’s recent movie-making collection. Almost nothing works in the film, from the storyline to the cast to the 3D. For a director/producer of Scott’s capacity, whose diverse range of films over the years have been of high quality, it is simply not good enough.

(PS. Read my review of 2014’s Exodus: Gods And King for more on Ridley Scott.)

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Review – The Woman In Black (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 2/5

For years now, the horror genre seems to have lost its way. Few horror films, such as Audition, Martyrs and The Orphanage, have been genuinely scary. More often than not, horror movies have been poor excuses for comedy, such as Jennifer’s Body and The Wolfman. The Woman In Black continues this worrying trend for a genre that’s in a crisis.

Arthur approaching the derelict Eel Marsh House. Who would want to go in there during the day, let alone stay overnight?

The Woman In Black is based on the book with the same title by Susan Hill, which has also been adapted to the theatre. The film is set at the turn of the twentieth-century. It is about Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter I-VII(ii), Kill Your Darlings), a young lawyer and single parent, following the death of his wife, Stella (Sophie Stuckey – Driving Aphrodite, The Dark, Comedown). Arthur is on his final warning at the solicitor’s firm he works for. Consequently, when he is given the task of managing the estate of Alice Drablow, who owned Eel Marsh House, a mansion in the middle of nowhere in the gloomy north-east of England, he cannot say no.

The estate is old and slowly rotting. No-one has lived there for years. Those who dwell in the nearest village, except for Daily (Ciarán Hinds – The Debt, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John Carter), who befriends Arthur, urge Arthur to stay away from Eel Marsh House. The villagers believe that the estate is haunted.

Arthur, though, is determined to see his task through and goes to Eel Marsh House to do his investigation. But whoever goes there sees the woman in black. And whenever she’s seen, children die mysteriously soon afterward…

The movie’s plot is as original as The Wolfman and Fright Night. Alike those laughable films, The Woman In Black has merely a few instances of the shock-factor. One would think that a creepy horror thriller would hold its audience in suspense, as The Shining and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer did so well. But, akin to Jennifer’s Body, The Woman In Black hardly makes the adrenaline pump.

Daily (Ciarán Hinds), sitting in his armchair in his home, listening to Arthur tell him about how he has seen the woman in black over a glass of whiskey.

The Woman In Black’s storyline is made to look even worse because it makes as much sense as John Carpenter’s (abominable) The Ward. By the end of the film, amongst many failings, one knows little more about the woman in black than when he/she started the movie. Viewers are aware that this dead woman has an eye for vengeance, but what drives her? Why does she appear every time a child dies in the local village? (Indeed, why would she limit herself to that small place when she can terrorise all of England or the world?) One cannot help but ask oneself why director James Watkins (Eden Lake) did not at least try to explain the woman in black’s motives.

The plot’s poverty is reflected in the acting (even if the script gives them little chance to shine). Daniel Radcliffe hardly plays better here than he did in the Harry Potter series. He shows little emotion when trying to be affectionate towards his infant son, or when he is grieving for his deceased wife. This entails that viewers cannot feel anything for Arthur when he has to temporarily leave his son to go to Eel Marsh House. Radcliffe is also unable to shirk off his type-cast in The Woman In Black. As a result, whenever phantoms go near Arthur, one secretly believes that Harry – I mean Arthur – will simply pull out the Elder Wand and zap the dark ghosts into oblivion. This undermines Radcliffe’s attempt to be a professional solicitor in this movie.

Similarly, the quality of the acting from the supporting cast fairs equally badly. The usually reliable Ciarán Hinds performs below his normal standards as Daily. Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds, Island, Albert Nobbs), Daily’s wife, appears little in the film, and when she is given screen-time she plays a two-dimensional mentally unwell person. And the rest of the cast, the villagers, merely play one-dimensional unwelcoming, superstitious freaks, meaning that the audience cannot relate to them or take them seriously.

Arthur holding an axe, scared, as he goes upstairs to investigate where the noise is coming from in the abandoned estate.

Just like the acting, the make-up and special effects in The Woman In Black are neither poor nor noteworthy. The woman in black, herself, just looks like a gaunt and hideous doll behind a blurry veil, whilst the dead children look like they have life in them. Additionally, the costumes and the hairstyles don’t look plausibly like they’re from the early-1900s either, which gives viewers more reason to view this movie with contempt.

Over-all, The Woman In Black is (yet) another pitiful horror film. It has few redeeming features, save for a couple of scary moments to justify the movie’s place in the genre. The Woman In Black is not as risible as other recent, aforementioned horror films. But the movie’s inadequacies are symptomatic of a genre that’s in dire need of a revamp.

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Review – Red State (18) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

When one arranges a one night stand with someone they have not met in person via the internet (especially from a dodgy website), one is never certain if he/she is going to be a victim of a scam or something worse. Red State, whilst not about the pros and cons of adult-dating websites, illustrates the potential risks involved.

Travis, Jarod and Billy-Ray reading a message from Jarod's phone. The thee of them are so happy that they are (finally) going to end their 'loser status' by breaking their virginities.

Red State is loosely-based on the Westboro Baptist Church, which Louis Theroux has done two documentaries on. Set in the ‘bible-belt’ of America, three social misfits – Travis (Michael Angarano – Almost Famous, 24: Day 6, Noah’s Ark: The New Beginning), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun – Love At First Hiccup, Chalet Girl, Neighbourhood Watch) and Jarod (Kyle Gallner – The Haunting in Connecticut, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Jennifer’s Body) – have organised, via an internet chat-room, for the three of them to enjoy, together, the pleasures of Sara (Melissa Leo – Frozen River, The Fighter, Predisposed). Little do they know, though, that Sara is a part of the Five Point Church, a cultist Christian sect. After driving to her caravan, Sara uses this as an opportunity to capture the three teenagers and bring them to the church to be ‘tried’ for homosexuality, a crime punishable by death for this sect.

The cops soon learn that the church has the boys. Led by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman – The Big Lebowski, Monsters, Inc., The Artist), the cops intend to take the compound by storm, leading to a bloody confrontation.

Red State is a strangely gripping, highly unpredictable film, and has some surprisingly intelligent humour (which would have been so much funnier had not all of the jokes been used in the trailer). At 88 minutes, the movie is short, so audiences are unlikely to lose focus; especially, since the last half an hour is virtually a shoot out.

Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) addressing his congregation, who hang on to his every word as if he is Jesus's modern day reincarnation.

Whilst gunfire and explosions uphold (or regain) the attention of the viewers, it is the acting of two members of the supporting cast, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks (From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill I & II, Argo), that make Red State worth watching. After her Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter, Leo gives another fantastic performance as one of the mad members of the church. As Sara, the fanaticism in Leo’s eyes is frightening, as is her belief in the cult. Parks, playing Pastor Abin Cooper, also plays very well, even if he is not spectacular. The passion he shows for the ideals of the church (without bursting into laughter) could easily make one believe that he is crazy in real life.

The rest of the cast are pathetic. The acting from the three social oddballs is atrocious, and the dialogue between them is just as bad. The amount of swearing, before and during captivity, is disgraceful. That the dialogue between them may reflect the language used by teenagers in ‘middle America’ or elsewhere is not the point. As a consequence of this, and their general performances throughout the film, viewers are unlikely to feel any empathy towards their characters.

Indeed, audiences are unlikely to come away feeling empathy for any of the characters, regardless of what they may think of the acting. In Red State, no-one is portrayed as a ‘good guy’, even the cops that are sent in to deal with the hostage situation. As one watches the melee unfold, one is likely to wonder if events like this actually take place in America, or if this is just a gross and gory exaggeration of the truth; for this film does not shy away from graphic bloodshed.

A man (Cooper Thornton) given a 'fair trial' for the 'crime' of homosexuality before the members of the church.

Although one may find the amount of violence a trifle unnecessary (not that that is grounds for criticism), one will almost certainly feel that the film needs better production. The choreography is appalling to the point of amateur, since many of the scenes jerk into place rather than smoothly link. Just as sloppy are the special effects, which appear painted in as an afterthought by the director, Kevin Smith (Dogma, Clerks II, Zack & Miri Make A Porno). The music may not be awful, but it is certainly nothing noteworthy either.

Over-all, Red State is an oddly enjoyable movie. Many aspects of the film are pitiable, but the performances of Melissa Leo and Michael Parks save the movie from near disaster. That there are people in real life who believe in similar ideals as zealously as members of the Five Point Church gives Red State some chilling realism. Moreover, the film may even have a (strong) message: don’t arrange a one night stand on the internet without knowing who you’re getting into bed with.

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Review – The Skin I Live In (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

For a psychological thriller to be worth its while, it invariably has to venture into disturbing realms to the extent that one wonders what sort of a person came up with the ideas. This was arguably the case with Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Darren Aranofsky’s Requiem For A Dream and Black Swan. The Skin I Live In, despite being very different to the above-mentioned films, successfully takes us once again into this unsettling territory.

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) giving the classic 007 pose.

The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) is a Spanish film, based on Thierry Jonquet’s book, Tarantula. The movie centres round Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas – The Mask of Zorro, Shrek I-IV, Puss In Boots), a genius but deeply troubled plastic surgeon, who specialises in (unethical) skin repair and enhancement. After his teenage daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez – Shiver, Cowards, The Pelayos), is raped by a boy her own age, called Vicente (Jan Cornet – The Night of the Brother, Camino, Red Lights), Robert decides to kidnap Vicente and punish him. But what does Robert plan to do with Vicente? Does the former wish to use the latter as his laboratorial guinea pig? Or does Robert have something more distressing in mind?

The plot is intelligent and absorbing, with a very unnerving twist. (Don’t worry, no spoilers in this review.) Yet, the storyline suffers from a general lack of clarity. First, one has difficulty knowing which year he/she is watching. Scenes may roll into one another smoothly, but the film skips regularly back and forth over a six year period in a confusing way. Second, one is never sure of Robert’s intentions, even by the end.

Moreover, there are some loose-ends in the plot, and other parts of it are left without purpose or proper explanation, such as the sub-story near the beginning about Robert’s half-brother, Zeca (Roberto Álamo – Football Days, Take My Eyes). Arguably, the reason for the lack of clarity is because the director, Pedro Almodóvar (Talk To Her, Volver, Mina), has gone for a more artistic-style of film, like Lost In Translation and The American. This means that there is relatively little dialogue throughout The Skin I Live In. Instead, one has to figure out the message of the scene via, at times, ambiguous expressions and body-language, particularly from the main character, Robert.

Robert after finding his daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez), raped.

Playing Robert, the James Bond-/George Clooney-esq Banderas is without doubt the star of the film. In a superb display, Banderas exemplifies an intelligent, stony-faced man filled with tragedy, spite and (perturbing) ambition. No other member of the cast comes close to his level of performance. Marisa Paredes (All About My Mother, The Devil’s Backbone, Mina) may not do a bad job playing Robert’s mother, Marilia. But Marilia lacks the depth of Robert’s personality, which is revealed when she is given the chance to explain herself during a heart-to-heart with the gorgeous Vera (Elena Anaya – Talk To Her, Van Helsing, Room In Rome). Similarly, Elena Anaya, Jan Corbit and Roberto Álamo suffer from the same problems, and aren’t given ample time to express themselves. This, just like aspects of the plot, is to the movie’s detriment.

The quality of some of the acting lets the film down; yet, the same cannot be said for the music. It might sound unconventional and strange, but apart from the one scene with techno music (which is completely out of place) the music achieves Almodóvar’s ambition of giving the scene an ominous and tense feel. (One strike at high a piano key every few seconds; one hit of the drum over the same amount of time; and regular short, sharp notes from string-instruments are not classic ways of building eeriness or tension. Then again, it makes a refreshing change from tacky horror films, like Scream and The Eye, which adopt unbearably long notes from string-instruments, followed by a sudden crescendo to make viewers jump out of their skin.)

Robert's captive, Vicente (Jan Cornet), chained to a wall and drinking from a bucket.

Just as the music sounds odd throughout The Skin I Live In, so too are the aesthetics. Robert’s stunning mansion-cum-residency for his ‘patients’ is filled with large paintings of naked people, with unnaturally round heads and no faces. Just by seeing these, one gets the impression that Robert has some weird tastes long before the film comes to its mentally repelling and horrifying conclusion.

Ultimately, The Skin I Live In has its drawbacks and could have been less confusing. Nevertheless, Antonio Banderas performs brilliantly; and the unconventional nature of the film and the unusual storyline make for psychosomatically disturbing viewing. To Almodóvar’s credit, the film is not just a spin-off of an Aranofsky movie, and adds something new to the genre. Still though, just like with other psychological thrillers, by the end of The Skin I Live In one is likely to question the (in)sanity of the man who put this film together.

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Review – 127 Hours (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

‘Caught between a rock and a hard place’ – we’ve all heard the metaphor at some point in our lives. Usually, it is adopted at a moment of indecisiveness or prevarication. For some of people, the phrase may even define their personality. But in July 2003, Aron Ralston discovered its literal meaning and 127 Hours brings to light his remarkable story in great detail.

Aron, played by James Franco, enjoying a stroll in the Grand Canyon. Little does he know that a slight loss of balance is going to change his life forever.

In the summer heat, Aron Ralston (James Franco – Spiderman I, II & III, Your Highness) goes for a cycle and a hike in the Grand Canyon. Since Aron is a guide, he knows the terrain well. He climbs, jumps and walks around as if he owns the place until a small slip sends him tumbling several metres down a narrow gap in the ground. Worse, a boulder falls with Aron and virtually cements his arm between it and the rocky wall. Aron is stuck and very-much alone. He has little food and water, and no means of contacting the outside world. For one hundred and twenty-seven hours (over five days), Aron remains there until the fear of death forces him to make the painful sacrifice of cutting off his trapped arm with a mere pen-knife (and no anaesthetic!) so as to carry on living.

The plot may sound uneventful as more than an hour of the film is based round a man stuck in a still, but frightening situation. Yet, that is far from true. One watches with anticipation what Aron will do in an attempt to move the bolder. Indeed, some of the innovations he comes up with are very intelligent. That he does these things without the use of a hand makes them all the more impressive.

However, 127 Hours would not be half as decent if it were not for James Franco. Franco illustrates here that he has matured as an actor since his semi-pitiful displays in the Spiderman movies. In this film, it is almost solely up to him to keep the audience stimulated for over ninety minutes, and he easily achieves this. Franco superbly portrays Aron before and, especially, after the fall. The all-too-real look of horror in his eyes when he initially realises the depth of his predicament is one that few will forget in a hurry. The different stages he goes through, before doing the unthinkable, are also very interesting.

Franco’s performance is utterly realistic and the tribute for giving him this platform must go to the director, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, The Beach, Trance). One scene in particular, although gory to the point of making one want to vomit (unless one is used to watching the Saw series), is done exceptionally well and with graphic detail.

Aron feeling down and helpess as he can’t move the boulder that has trapped his right arm.

Yet, Boyle also lets himself down a bit. One needs to be brave to make a film like this (especially if he/she wants to make a handsome profit); but, unfortunately, Boyle lacked the courage of Rodrigo Cortés, the director of Buried (which is literally about Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for ninety-odd minutes with a lighter and a mobile phone.) By putting in music and other noises whilst Aron is jammed, Boyle takes away some of the realism in 127 Hours because this would not have happened.

Another criticism of the movie is that one never gets a sense of just how long, boring and lonely it must have been for Aron during those one hundred and twenty-seven hours. One may see the sun rise and fall a few times, or watch Aron gradually run out of water or reminisce over and over again about the mistakes he’s made in his life; but this only captures the length of time he was stuck there for on a superficial level.

Nevertheless, despite these flaws, 127 Hours is entertaining and Franco’s acting fully justifies the nominations that he’s been lined up for. The movie is also truthful and has a nice pseudo-religious dimension to it. Above-all, 127 Hours shows us that, even when caught between a rock and a hard place, mankind’s resilience is extraordinary.

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