capsule reviews, cinema, film reviews, films, horror, horror movies, Movies, November, Phantom of the Theatre, summer camp, The Curse of Sleeping Beauty, The Haunting of Alice D, The Monster, The Piper, The Purge, The Purge: Anarchy, The Remains, The Secrets of Emily Blair, weekly reviews
With November rapidly coming to a close, what better time to do a little housekeeping and catch up on the various films viewed in this extremely chilly month? For your perusement, gentle readers, I now present the films screened in the second week of November. Grab some leftovers, pull up a seat and take a peek at the cinematic goodies below.
A lowly piper and his sickly son come upon a hidden village with a rat problem and a leader who’s kept his people in line by pretending that a war still rages directly outside their peaceful hamlet. It’s no surprise to learn that the people end up being 1000 times more evil than the rodents but they sure get a run for their money.
Powerful, grim and often unpleasant Korean retelling of the classic Grimm fairy tale is not for the faint of heart (or anyone with a rat phobia) but it is exquisitely made and filled with moments of unexpected beauty and genuine sadness (along with a little out-of-place silliness). I really respected and often enjoyed this modern fairy tale but I can’t imagine watching it more than once.
Phantom of the Theatre
This tale of murdered acrobats coming back to haunt a recently renovated theatre looked good (aside from some truly awful CGI, especially fire-related effects) but never caught a spark (pun intended). Overly melodramatic, way too long and possessed of a twist that brought to mind nothing so much as bargain-basement Scooby Doo, this was technically okay (CGI notwithstanding) but was also a pretty primo example of “been there, done that.” If anything, it often reminded me of similarly empty, loud, big budget American multiplex fare, with all of the negative connotations that come with that parallel.
The Haunting of Alice D
I’ll be honest: I really hated this indie horror film and could find no redeeming qualities, whatsoever, so I’ll try to keep this short and sour. A co-ed group of shitheads head to the lead misogynist asshole’s childhood home, which used to be a brothel owned by his terrible ancestor (Kane Hodder, being Kane Hodder), and run afoul of murderous spirits. Amateurish, unpleasantly sleazy (lots of implied sexual violence, for one) and with a truly ugly look, this was pure tedium from the first frame to the last. The wastelands of the 2016 horror scene are littered with picked-over carcasses and this is one of the riper ones.
I never saw this franchise-starter when it first came out and it turns out I didn’t miss much. Tedious, obvious and so heavy-handed with the social commentary as to be completely leaden, this story of a family-man trying to protect his loved ones on the one day of the year where any crime is legal has a few good action sequences and some decent performances but it never rises above its limitations or does anything interesting with its core concept. Consider this a missed opportunity for something much darker, nastier and more subversive, ala Crossed.
I absolutely loved every single minute of this smart, outrageous and impossibly twisted little sleeper and happily nominate it for one of the year’s very best horror films, hands down!
Four American camp counselors show up at a Spanish summer camp and prep it for the arrival of the children, setting off a chain of events that leave them fighting for their survival. To say too much would be to spoil some of the best, most genuinely surprising twists of the whole year (I’m talking multiple awesome twists, not just one or two, friends and neighbors), so I’ll let all you fine folks discover the glory for yourselves. Suffice to say that Summer Camp is purely amazing, however, and earns my highest recommendation possible. I honestly wish that everything I watched was as good as this damn film.
The Purge: Anarchy
I disliked The Purge, so fully expected to dislike the sequel, Anarchy. Surprise, surprise: I ended up loving it. Anarchy is absolutely everything a good sequel should be: bigger, better, more bad-ass and an expansion of the original film’s concept, mythos and universe. Check and check plus, right down the board.
Frank Grillo is a relentlessly kickass antihero, the action sequences are all pretty damn sweet (nothing as vanilla as the first film) and the social commentary is handled in a much smarter, more subtle manner (for the most part). This wasn’t quite as good as the ’80s classics but it was definitely in the same wheelhouse as Class of ’84, Death Wish 3 and Escape From New York: I, for one, was fully on board.
Aggressively average, with spotty acting and zero surprises or scares, The Remains is another prime example of paint-by-numbers horror filmmaking in calendar year 2016. This is yet another “family moves into a house with a past and gets haunted” films and certainly isn’t terrible (I’ve seen much, much worse, trust me) but also does nothing whatsoever to distinguish itself, despite some flirtations with a truly creepy dollhouse. One of those films that I keep getting confused with other, similarly-themed films, which is never a good sign.
The Secrets of Emily Blair
I’ll admit: I knew this was going to be bad, going in, but I still held out hopes due to the presence of Colm Meaney in the cast. After all, that dude is awesome in pretty much anything, so it would at least have that going for it, right? If I could go back in time and slap myself in the face, I’d do it: no amount of Colm could save this rampaging crapfest about a woman who gets possessed by a demon and has to rely on her dipshit fiance and his priest buddy (Colm, natch) to save her.
Genuinely bad, cliched and ruthlessly dull, this became so stupid and silly, by the finale, that it was almost as if the filmmakers decided to go for broke in the hopes of illiciting any interest, whatsoever, from the stupified audience. It didn’t work, of course, but not for lack of trying…I guess.
The Curse of Sleeping Beauty
A young man who suffers disturbing dreams and sleep paralysis receives notice that he’s just inherited his reclusive uncle’s creepy estate and everything on the grounds. Aside from lots of antique furniture, tons of impossibly terrifying mannequins and what must be a simply tremendous heating bill, the “everything” part also seems to include the enigmatic “sleeping beauty” from his dreams, aka the legendary Briar Rose. Alas, the “everything” part also seems to include a curse and an age-old, Middle Eastern demon, so the poor guy is gonna be kind of busy for the foreseeable future.
Right off the bat, The Curse of Sleeping Beauty surprises with some truly gorgeous cinematography, fantastic visual effects and creature designs (reminding of nothing less than a DIY Pan’s Labyrinth, at points) and a genuinely intriguing and original (if occasionally cluttered and chaotic) storyline. At times, the film is actually scary (anything with the mannequins ranks with the year’s best pure horror moments), which is more than I can say for many films I screened this year. Despite some rough going, at times (this is still very much an indie film, if a remarkably accomplished one), I really enjoyed this, from start to finish: a true sleeper, in every sense of the word.
I’ve never understood the derision heaped on filmmaker Bryan Bertino: while The Strangers was a thoroughly decent (and surprisingly popular) home invasion flick, his much-maligned Mockingbird was, without a doubt, one of the most genuinely disturbing horror films I’ve ever seen and the mark of a true, unique voice in the field. Or it was complete and total crap, depending on critical consensus.
This brings us to Bertino’s newest film, the character-driven monster flick The Monster (formerly There Are Monsters, which actually makes more sense, in context), and one of my picks for best films of the year. The film is pure class from start to finish, with an emphasis on real emotional heft, character building and drama that you just don’t get enough in genre films. At times, the interaction between Zoe Kazan’s destroyed mother and Ella Ballentine’s jaded daughter are almost too painful to watch: both performers deserve the highest accolades possible for what are, easily, two of the year’s best performances.
The film looks gorgeous, the creature design is smart and scary, the mood is consistent and there are honest-to-god scares, not just pre-manufactured jump cues. This, gentle readers, is what I look for in a good horror film: Bryan Bertino hasn’t let me down, yet, so I’m going to continue hitching my mule to his wagon and see where the trail leads. I highly recommend you do the same.