Archive for March, 2013

Room 237 (2012): Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Director: Rodney Asher
8.5/10

I went to a midnight screening of Room 237 while at Sundance. Seeing as The Shining is my favorite film of all time, I was ecstatic to find a documentary about it. While it wasn’t exactly what I expected, Room 237 is an amazing look at one of the most cryptic films of our time.

Of all Kubrick films, The Shining is arguably the most widely viewed. It’s a great scary movie, but there are so many contexts lurking beneath that transcend the genre. It’s a bewildering experience viewing the film for the first time, and trying to pick up on all the subliminal clues seemingly placed around every corner. Room 237 does a great job of revealing some of these hidden messages, though it never forces any one speculation on the audience. For anyone who thinks that The Shining is more than just a horror film, this documentary is a must see.

Hearing people’s interpretations of movies is always entertaining. It gets taken to a new level in Room 237. Most people’s thoughts were normal enough – for example, that Jack represents a minotaur in his maze, or that the film is about the Native American genocide. Some of people’s answers to the film’s deepest secrets, though, are absolutely insane, but in the best way possible. One man went so far as to claim that Kubrick made The Shining as a confession to faking the moon landing. Asher compiles all of these theories very well, giving them visual context when possible while always remaining ambivalent. The editing and flow of the film is wonderful and engaging. The music used is moody and fun, though so relaxing that I found myself falling asleep a few times (it was 1 in the morning, after all).

Because of its complexity, this is the kind of movie you can watch again and again, just like the masterpiece it is about. Room 237 is a fun mystery, but it also reminds us of why we love cinema: it, like all art, has endless possibilities. For any movie-lover, I recommend Room 237 very highly. It’s a beautiful love letter to the silver screen.

 

Evil Dead (2013): Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Director: Fede Alvarez
Writers: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas
7/10

Without a doubt, “Evil Dead” is one of the most anticipated horror films of the year, perhaps even the decade (so far). I was beyond excited to have the chance to attend a pre-screening last night. The theater was packed, full of people from all walks of life, all ready for an extreme experience. We all got exactly what we wanted.

It’s impossible to review this film without drawing comparisons to the original. While not as fresh and purely horrific as Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic, this remake is a wild ride in its own right. There’s more of a story this time, with more human characters: Jane Levy plays a heroin addict who, aided by her friends and absent older brother (Fernandez), holes up in her family cabin so she can try to quit for good. Of course, they find the book, and chaos ensues.

After the release of the red band trailer, everyone knew this movie was going to be brutal. I can say with confidence that, even though the filmmakers had to cut it for an R release, the film will live up to expectations. The violence in the film is unrelenting, original and loads of fun. The Deadites use every possible household item to mutilate themselves and their still-human friends. I was particularly impressed by the lack of CGI as well – most of the effects are practical, which makes them so much nastier. The death scenes are certain to go down in horror history, and are the best I’ve seen for years. For sheer creativity, this film does extremely well.

Now, to put the original and the remake side by side. The characters are mostly new, but their fates are similar to those suffered by people in the original (and, without giving spoilers, I can say the reversals used are great). Though there’s no Ash, I found Jane Levy’s character to be very likable. References to both Evil Dead films can be found throughout, too – there’s the possessed hand, the cellar door, and even a nod to the chainsaw, to name just a few. This update is much more serious than the trilogy, but that doesn’t stop it from being just as fun. The screenwriters also decided to add some more substance to the Necronomicon, which I thought was a great touch. Overall, the update has the same level of intensity as the original, with some newer additions that make it easier to set the two apart. It’s missing the great 80’s vibe, but it’s still as much fun.

Of course, the film is very flawed. The dialogue is terrible, some of the cliches are used a little too often, and there are certain cheesy moments that are hard to ignore. I was a little disappointed by the ending, but at the same time loved what they did with parts of it. Still, by horror film standards, “Evil Dead” succeeds.

It’s not the most terrifying film you’ll ever experience, as the poster promises, but it’s a ton of fun and absolutely disgusting. A fantastic homage to the originals, while also setting itself apart from its predecessors. Definitely worth seeing, for any serious horror fan.

Evil Dead Pre-screening

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2013 by smuckyproductions

I’ll be going to a student screening of Evil Dead tonight – look out for the review tomorrow. Unbelievably excited to have this opportunity.

The Other: Book Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Author: Thomas Tryon
Published in 1971
9/10

Since I don’t have a recent book to review for today, I thought I’d discuss a classic. “The Other,” written by an actor-turned-author, is a fantastically written supernatural thriller with great twists and wonderful atmosphere.

Twins Niles and Holland Perry live on a sprawling farm in 1930’s Connecticut. Their grandmother has taught them to transport themselves into other’s minds, in order to imagine what can be seen through their eyes. One hot summer, strange things begin to happen surrounding them: family members die violently, objects vanish, and sanity dissolves as the twins’ secrets drive the Perry family to ruin.

What really makes the novel fascinating is the evocation of place. Tryon brings the Perry farm to life fully, through beautiful prose and  extreme detail. It’s easy to be lost in the world the novel creates – it’s romantic, peaceful, and at times eerie beyond belief. The characters are given the same care, each one fully fleshed and visualized. “The Other” pulled me into its universe, and I loved every moment I spent there. This intense illustration makes it all the more terrifying, then, when Tryon introduces the horror behind the charming veneer. And there is plenty of horror that shows its head by the end.

The story takes turn after turn into ultimate darkness. Most of the novel is very quietly creepy, but the morbidity of some moments shocked me. The twists are sprinkled throughout, coming at the most unexpected moments. Some may see them coming from a mile away, but I always found myself taken by surprise. As a thriller, “The Other” is marvelous.

I’m surprised to find that “The Other” isn’t mentioned more when discussing horror classics. It’s a fantastic novel, with great characters and plot turns. Though it’s short, it is completely involving and at times, even brilliant. I recommend it, and put it high on my list of favorite horror stories.

Excision (2012): Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Director/Writer: Richard Bates Jr.
Starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords
7/10

When I was at Sundance, this film had already generated a lot of talk. Whether people liked it or not, everyone agreed on one thing: it was gruesome as hell. It became one of my most anticipated films of 2012, and it took me forever to find it.

“Excision” is a psychological horror-comedy told from the perspective of the main character, Pauline (McCord), a teenager who is repulsive in almost every way. Stuck in a pastel house with an overbearing mother (Lords), Pauline fantasizes about becoming a famous surgeon. She becomes more delusional and disgusting with each scene, as she works toward a final goal: to cure her sister’s cystic fibrosis.

Overall, the tone is similar to “Heathers” and “Ginger Snaps,” though “Excision” tops them both in terms of violence. Pauline seems to be on a quest to do as many repugnant things as she can before the film’s running time goes up, and she does a damn good job of grossing you out. Most of the time I found myself laughing in sheer disgust. The film’s more serious moments are handled just as well, though, particularly the heart-stopping ending. It’s funny at times, but Bates forces you to acknowledge the true darkness of the events by the end.

The characters are what make the film both entrancing and hard to handle. Pauline is a little too much of a smart ass at times, but she’s fascinating to watch. Her sexually charged, gore-filled dreams are the real treat of the film – gorgeously shot, full of trippy violence that is both beautiful and hideous. Lords plays the hell out of Pauline’s mother Phyllis. The dynamic between them is all over the place – hilarious, disturbing, and heartbreaking all at once. Cameos by the great Malcolm McDowell and John Waters, among others, just add to the fun.

Technically, “Excision” is done well. The color palette is vibrant, echoing 50’s motifs, which is a perfect dichotomy to the imagery. The dream sequences, as I said, are very impressive. Bates executed (no pun intended) a strong vision for the film, and the style is very confident, especially for a directorial debut.

It has its flaws, of course – Pauline is at times unrealistically nasty – but the film is loads of fun, and the ending is absolutely horrifying, guaranteed to haunt you for a while. As a horror film it works terrifically, and even transcends its genre a few times. Definitely recommended, if you’re in the mood to be grossed out, and maybe moved a little along the way too.

The Ritual: Book Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Author: Adam Nevill
Published in 2011
8/10

I came across this book by chance in a Barnes & Noble one day, and the cover alone convinced me to buy it, a decision I definitely don’t regret. “The Ritual” is a wild, harrowing ride, well-written and full of creepy-as-hell imagery. From the first sentence, I was hooked, and couldn’t stop reading until I had reached the pulse-pounding ending.

“The Ritual” follows four college friends who reunite for a camping trip in Sweden. Tensions rise quickly between the four, as personalities clash and they loose their path. You guessed it – they get lost in the cold, unforgiving woods, and soon find themselves stalked by an unseen creature. Hunted and starving, the group struggles to survive as the forces of nature close around them.

There are many aspects of horror at work in this book, which makes it hard to classify. The main villain is an unstoppable Norse god, and a backwoods vibe is introduced by characters closer to the end of the novel. One could almost split the book in two (already done by the author in the formatting), one being a survival horror with a monster as the main threat and the other a Texas Chainsaw-esque occult thriller. This mix of genres makes the book engaging and original. The switch is jarring at first, but Nevill smooths it over well, and keeps the same elements at play throughout.

Nevill’s subtle but shocking way of writing the creature’s appearances is what makes the book so terrifying. He gives the reader little – a quick glimpse of a shape, an unnatural sound in the distance – and this ambiguity keeps the creature frightening until the last page. I found myself jumpy and paranoid after reading certain scenes, though I was far from the woods. Nevill’s prose doesn’t overplay the horror of the story, which makes it all the more frightening. It’s hard to find a truly well-written genre work, but “The Ritual” certainly is one.

Without giving away too much of the story, I can certainly say this novel is worth a read. In today’s industry, saturated with vampire and zombie stories, it’s a breath of fresh air. The story moves fast and is tense, at times terrifying. I look forward to Nevill’s next work.

Stoker (2013): Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2013 by smuckyproductions

stoker-poster-us

Director: Park Chan-Wook
Writer: Wentworth Miller
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
7.5/10

“Stoker”, directed by the mastermind behind “Oldboy” and “Thirst,” generated plenty of buzz before its early March release for a number of reasons – great trailer, great cast, great crew. I was fortunate enough to see it at a pre-screening, and the experience was definitely worth the wait in line.

The film tells the dark, twisted story of the Stoker family. After India’s (Wasikowska) father dies, her uncle Charlie (Goode) comes to stay with her mother Evie (Kidman). His appearance is surrounded by strange and mysterious events, which build up to the ending that may not be exactly shocking but is certainly chilling enough. India, as Charlie brings her into his world, begins to learn what it means to be an adult (something revealed in the gorgeous opening sequence). The mystery is not shockingly unique, but it takes the tropes and uses them to the fullest extent. The suspense is high, and the twists will certainly cause goosebumps.

Watching “Stoker” is like witnessing a moving painting. Park Chan-Wook’s sumptuous style influences every shot, and he crafts each frame with the care of a sculptor. I found my breath taken away several times by the sheer beauty of the cinematography. I’m a sucker for color schemes, and “Stoker” uses them to the fullest extent, pairing pale greens, blues and yellows with rich blood-reds. The visuals evoke the perfect mix of Southern Gothic and decadence, blending together to make a crisp and engaging atmosphere. If there is one reason to see “Stoker,” it is to give your eyes a treat. I would go so far as to compare the cinematography to that of a Kubrick film.

A surprising bit of brilliance can also be found in the sound design. As India is constantly hyper-aware of everything around her, the design must pay special attention to detail, bringing out every footstep and movement of even the smallest objects. The film uses this to establish her character, and also to give the audience a sense of unease. In the more gruesome scenes, the sound design becomes downright disturbing.

The performances are wonderful as well. Wasikowska brings India to life in an almost transcendent way, and even when she’s not speaking, we know exactly what’s on her mind. Kidman is also transformed as the beautiful but rather unstable Evie. Goode can be a little too blank at points, but it works most of the time. The supporting characters are fantastic as well.

The script, however, is rather flawed – there are certain pieces of dialogue, especially in the first third of the film, that become cringe-worthy. That being said, parts of the script are kind of brilliant, particularly Evie’s monologue about parenting that is hinted at in the trailer. I find the flaws excusable, considering that it is Miller’s first effort, but it may detract from the visuals and story for some.

As a sensory experience in general, it’s hard to get any better than “Stoker.” It has its flaws, but the visual and auditory aspects are incredible. As a thriller, it works well too, building tension and delivering twists that will satisfy. The ending leaves it ambiguous, and will promote discussion, though I won’t say about what. I recommend “Stoker” for any fans of beautiful works of cinema, or anyone who just wants a good old-fashioned mystery.