Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

             Jessica Tyler Brown
             Christopher Nicholas Smith
Directed by:  Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Summary: In 1988, young sisters Katie and Kristi befriend an invisible entity who resides in their home. (via imdb). 
Generally speaking, with sequels, and in particular, horror sequels, the law of diminishing returns leads you to honor the old adage of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). You expect the story quality to be less and the jump scares and gore to be more. Luckily, the directors of this film, who also directed the critical hit Catfish (read that review here), did it smartly, and have released a very smart and true sequel. 
As with all sequels, there are a few continuity foibles and maybe it doesn't tie up all loose ends (spoiler alert - where's the house fire?), but it does enough to satisfy and deliver on the promise of more chills and scares.
Without spoiling anything, when you add children at risk or acting creepy in a horror film, it always seems to amp up the tension and the skin crawl factor. As with the other two installments, there are a number of scenes that will cause goosebumps in even some of the more hardcore horror fans. It's a lean movie, without any real slow or overly exposition heavy scenes, other than those that explain the use of professional video cameras in the late 80s, which weren't overly popular or affordable. There are a few moments that defy "why are they still recording this?" logic, but if you can let those go without focusing too much time to it, you'll enjoy the movie. 
I like that this, and part 2, aren't straight sequels per se, because they deal in a bit of the prequel world, especially 3, so it's not as cookie cutter as one would expect. All in all, I enjoyed it immensely, and found it to be a satisfying conclusion (for now) to the series. I would give it a 7 out of 10, bordering an 8.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Grave Encounters (2011)

Stars - Sean Rogerson
             Juan Riedinger
             Ashleigh Gryzko
Directed by:  The Vicious Brothers
Summary: Lance Preston and the crew of "Grave Encounters", a ghost-hunting reality television show, are shooting an episode inside the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, where unexplained phenomena has been reported for years. (via imdb). 
I've spent the better part of my life reveling in the joys of the scary movie. And, in all that time, there have only been a handful of movies that have ever truly scared me. This one raised goosebumps and had me on the verge of a sleepless night, right up until the end. Now, I don't want to spoil it if you are planning on seeing it, so if you want to avoid spoilers, skip the next paragraph.

Last warning... OK, in the last few minutes, the lead character is stumbling around in the labyrinth-like hallway. He stumbles into a dead-end room and finds a pentacle with candles and a Necrinomicon like book. It instantly took all the chill out of the movie. It was an extremely unnecessary touch that almost ruined the movie for me.

Back to the review... Yes, it's not an entirely original premise. Found footage is popular right now, so it's that. Paranormal stuff sells, so it's that. But, it is done well, and the characters behave (mostly) realistically. This is the first film from The Vicious Brothers, and I'd like to see what they do to follow this up. They have a lot of potential, and it would be nice for them to live up to it. The lead, Rogerson, does a great job playing the host of the TV show within the movie. I recommend this movie for a great scare. It definitely gets the job done. I give it a 7 out of 10. It could have been an 8 or higher without that one scene.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

American Horror Story (2011 TV)

While this is a film review site, I will occasionally write about a few TV shows, especially those that strike a nerve with me. When I first heard about the FX series American Horror Story (Wednesdays at 10:00 pm EST), I was immediately intrigued. Then, the unique ad campaign drew me in further. It definitely looked different and noteworthy. 
I unfortunately missed the pilot during its first run, but thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to catch it finally, and, wow. It is weird and creepy and confusing, but whatever else it is, it's definitely going to be a must watch. My best description is if The Shining met Twin Peaks and had a baby who grew up to marry Hostel and have its own baby. There's some next level stuff going on here.
It features some great performances from the likes of Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott and Frances Conroy among others. I'm excited to see horror make a comeback in serial television, and I hope this one takes off. It's now added to my DVR. I recommend it for the horror fans out there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Thing (2011)

         Joel Edgerton
          Ulrich Thomsen
Summary: At an Antarctica research site, the discovery of an alien craft leads to a confrontation between graduate student Kate Lloyd and scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson. (via imdb). 
Okay, I don't know who's been writing summaries on imdb lately, but this is yet another underwhelming description. The long and short of it is that this is a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter masterpiece, also, confusingly, named The Thing, which is in turn a remake of a 1951 sci-fi classic, The Thing From Another World. I was a bit worried when this was announced, especially when they announced the director, who is handling big time chores for the first time. 
I am happy to report that not only does this film honor Carpenter's film, it enhances it. The  movie is set in 1982, shortly before the beginning of the other. What we get to see is the parts only hinted at and inferred in the original (remake) version. It looks so much like a 1980s film (in a good way) that it makes me question if the producers have somehow mastered time travel. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is, in turns, charming and badass as the paleontologist brought in to study a found alien artifact. I don't want to get into spoilers, but if you've seen the '82 version, you can kind of guess what happens. It also ends exactly the way fans of Carpenter's film would hope.
All in all, the child is equal to the sum of its parents, both outstanding achievements of their respective times. If I have any gripes at all, it would be that there wasn't a lot of mystery for me going into this, as I knew what to expect from the creature. Also, although the effects were good, they still prove that CGI is less than practical effects when things are happening that practical effects can do just as well. Seriously, watch the '82 and then watch this. I think you'll agree.
I thoroughly enjoyed this take on the story and especially how well it homaged and tied into its progenitor. I give it a 9 out of 10. Go out and see it when it hits a theater near you.

UPDATE - It's easy to get caught up in the swell of things when you walk out of a screening high on the theater experience. It's also been a while since I watched the '82 film. So I've mulled it over a bit and then popped in the Carpenter version, and I have a few new things to say.
#1 The CGI is really not as effective as the practical effects. It's even more amazing to see what they were able to do in '82 without any computer aided imaging. The claustrophobic, shut off from the world, feeling is a lot more prevalent in the earlier film too. Part of it is that if you saw '82, you already know almost everything that's going to happen before it does. Some of that escaped my mind in the intervening years, but that leads me into the next thing...
#2 I have to give big kudos to the prequel for its attention to detail. They had the daunting task of making sure that everything we saw when the Americans visited the Norwegian camp is explained and accounted for in the prequel. That, they did an excellent job of. I'm sure if I spent several hours overanalyzing the sequences (as I'm sure some basement dweller somewhere will eventually do) I would be able to point out the differences, but it seemed pretty seamless to me. 
All the above has altered my score some (for the worse I'm afraid), but I did still enjoy it, and will definitely watch it again. It takes a big man to admit he's wrong, but luckily, I'm a big man. Revised score 7 out of 10, mostly for the CGI. The amazing work of nearly 30 years ago not only holds up, it surpasses.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Catfish (2010)

         Ariel Schulman
          Henry Joost
Directed by:  Ariel Schulman & Henry Joost
Summary: Filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost document a story involving Ariel's brother, Nev, a 24-year-old New York-based photographer, and Abby, from rural Michigan who contacts Nev via Facebook, asking for permission to make a painting from one of his photographs. (via imdb). 
This supposedly real life documentary (its veracity is doubted in many circles thanks to some idiosyncrasies and details portrayed in the film not lining up right) was billed as a horror thriller thanks to its intense and creepy trailer, but that's not what you get. And aside from the annoyance I felt at being duped by the trailer, it is an engrossing, and oddly endearing film. This will get a little spoilery from here on in, so if you still want to be surprised by the twists in the movie, stop reading now.

Everybody good? Ok, so Nev strikes up an online friendship with a little girl named Abby. Abby, 8, is a gifted painter, and Nev becomes drawn to her and her family, especially her older sister Megan, with whom he develops a personal relationship bordering on love. The only problem is, that although these people exist, Nev has never actually spoken with or corresponded with any of them. Instead, the matriarch of the clan is leading multiple lives online. Things come to a head as Nev starts to discover that things aren't what they seem, and the filmmakers travel to meet Abby and family in person.
Now, if this were the film advertised, this is where all hell would break loose, and we'd find out we're watching a found footage movie. There are the makings of a very dark and scary movie here, but in this case, things work out okay. 
The mom, Angela, confesses to her multiple lies as we watch, and that's where the tale gets really interesting as we see the lengths she went through to try and keep it all from unraveling. It's a sad story, and you really do feel for this poor woman who is obviously just trying to escape into fantasy to avoid her hard life.
This works as a warning that you can never really know who you are corresponding with online. I actually recommend this be watched with teenage kids to help underline the dangers of internet anonymity. 
It's a good film, if marketed poorly. I give it a 7.5 out of 10

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Flickist Recommends

         Joshua McIvor
          Jack Taylor
Directed by: Christopher Smith
Summary: The story revolves around the passengers of a yachting trip in the Atlantic Ocean who, when struck by mysterious weather conditions, jump to another ship only to experience greater havoc on the open seas. (via imdb). 
This kind of flew under the radar of most moviegoers. Partly because it looks like a straight horror film, which lessens the audience, and partly because it wasn't a huge studio release. As a horror fan, I can attest that it satisfies on that level, but the basic story and the way it's made lends itself to other audiences as well. There's more to it than your average horror film. It's an intriguing, if complicated, tale. I can't dig too deep into the details without giving away plot points and twists. 
The acting is believable and touching and the atmosphere is tense and moody, lending to the fear the cast feels. I give this movie a 9 out of 10 and recommend that you rent it today. It's definitely worth the trip.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 40: A MUST SEE Movie for Every Horror Movie Lover

Give this kid a treat.
The must see list for horror film fans is long. But there is a recent film that may have been overlooked. Trick R Treat is more than a horror film, it's actually a compendium of several vignettes spliced together by common happenstances and an over arching subplot consisting of Sam, the spirit of Halloween, doling out his own brand of justice against the offenders of the holiday's customs. Don't smash the pumpkins. Don't take down the decorations early. And so much more. It has a plethora of guest stars ranging from Oscar winner, Anna Paquin to Dylan Baker to the always great Brian Cox.
It has the feel of a television holiday special, but with some good gore, effects, and a less than family friendly vision of the day. Each of the small stories stands well on its own, but the ways they tie themselves together make sit feel less like the Twilight Zone Movie and more like Pulp Fiction. It's a well made, well paced, well shot, well acted and well told story. It has made a huge spot for itself on my annual must-watch Halloween movie list. If you haven't caught it yet, remedy this sad situation immediately. After all, there's only thirty days left until All Hallow's Eve rears it's pumpkin shaped head. That's it for the 40 day challenge. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I have writing it and rewatching these movies. Until the next challenge, happy viewing!

40 Days of Night(mares) Day 39: Horror Movie That Should Be Seen On a Big Screen

I like when a horror movie can work on you on more than one level. It always draws you in a bit more when you're confronted with smaller fears first or other situations that are relatable and make you feel for the characters. For example, The Strangers has an opening sequence with no horror in it whatsoever, where we realize that Scott Caan's character just asked Liv Tyler's to marry him, and she said no, and they're going to a remote house for a romantic weekend. The scenes are so uncomfortable, it almost makes you happy when the bad guys show up that you can get away from that feeling.
Not for nothing, it's one of
my favorite posters too.
That's why The Descent is a such a good experience too. For those that don't know, the movie centers on a group of friends who make annual extreme sports adventures. This year, they decide to go spelunking in a cave no one has ever explored. There a couple of times early in the movie where a character will become trapped while trying to shimmy through a crevice. The fear is palpable and believable. No one knows where they are. They can't call for help. And the thought of being trapped like that and the inevitable horrible death that would follow is scary in and of itself, and that's before the mutant-inbred-cannibal creatures show up.
So, why should this be seen on a big screen? Because when those stuck moments come up, the enormity of the screen becomes pivotal. It's just as terrifying a situation on your home TV, but that expanse of screen somehow has the effect of making the claustrophobic feeling even more intense.