Blair Witch Review

People seem to forget it nowadays but when The Blair Witch Project came out, it was a cultural landmark. Nothing else like it had been created before, and it then ushered in the “found-footage” trope that has been prevalent in the early part of the 2000s. Some people loved it, some hated it. Myself, probably in the middle (although it has been a while since seeing it). Twenty years on, does the new Blair Witch carry on the legacy?

Blair Witch stars James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid and is directed by Adam Wingard. the film follows the brother of Heather from the first film (McCune) who collects a set of friends and a documentary filmmaker to venture into the woods to see if they can find his sister.

In the original, it’s widely known that the cast were just coming into their careers and were genuinely scared of their surroundings. The new cast feel like they are more acting rather that reacting to the things around them, making it feel a little more staged. It follows a more conventional style of filmmaking with stock characters (promiscuous girl, wacky black guy, weird locals), giving us tropes we recognise so we can focus more on the woods and action rather than them.

The film is set up like a found footage movie, but updated to modern times. Drones, little headpiece cameras and an all-matter of gizmos such as GPS and walkie-talkies are brought in, which is an interesting addition. These people are actually going into the forest to look for something, not messing about with a camera. Little bits of the equipment get used here and there, but to no great effect other than some new visuals. The first half of the film is all shaking cameras and no real coherency, which eventually started to give me a migraine. It does calm down in the second half, so it’s half redeemed. When the original was made, the marketing convinced so many people that the film was real, that we were watching the last known recording of the three filmmakers. Now that we know that it was all basically fabricated, the sequel was a bit of a non-starter. We know it’s fake, we know it’s made-up, and no amount of people holding cameras or devices is going to convince me otherwise. It is basically a beat-for-beat remake of the original, but without the clever marketing.

Sadly, the spectre of most horror films nowadays, the jump scare, it used to full effect. Most of the time it’s not even anything remotely frightening, just loud camera glitches or microphone pops, which really get irritating after a while. After getting jump-scared by two of her friends, the main female lead says “Can people please stop doing that!”, almost reading the audience members minds. Again, the second act brings it together, with an excellent mix of some Cronenberg-style body horror, a genuinely tense “hearing-monster-walk-around-you” set-piece, a little glimpse of what could be a witch and an ending with a reveal which is novel and interesting. Good horror should leave it open-ended, and the second half does deliver. We even see what those stickmen are eventually used for, and it’s clever and fun.

Looking back at the whole of the Blair Witch, you can almost see the twenty years of horror that it’s tried to keep up with. You obviously get the nods to the original, but also little flashes of things like the VHS series and The Descent. The new stuff it brings to the table is superb and lends a lot of richness to the lore of the Blair Witch, but the basic retread will put of people who didn’t like the first one. If you hated the original, you will hate this, but if like me you were impartial or liked the original, you might get a kick out of it.

Score: 5/10 An abysmal first act leads into a slightly stronger ending.

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Martyrs Review

Preface

Cinema as a medium is great. I don’t just mean for the fantastic stories, the heartfelt emotions and all the rest, but I think one of the main reason people love cinema is spectacle. So many people have seen The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film, not because they were looking for some rich story or characters, but mainly for the increasingly horrid spectacle put on screen. And now, a review for one of the worst I’ve seen, Martyrs. It’s been remade and is slated for an October release, so I wanted to review the original.

Review

Martyrs stars Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi and is directed by Pascal Laugier. The film follows Anna (Alaoui) who tries to help her friend Lucie (Jampanoi) who was psychically and psychologically abused as a child.

I heard about Martyrs on a list of “Horror Film For Beginners”. Martyrs was listed as one of the last films to watch, under the title of “only for the hardcore”. So naturally I went and watched it, to see what could deem a film only for those brave or stupid enough to go and watch. A damn, what a film.

Martyrs starts off so clichéd. Young girl, history of abuse, orphanages, friends in need, if you’ve seen practically any horror film from the last two to three years, they’ve used at least one of these tropes, it’s one of the those perpetual bread and butter’s of horror cinema. After the opening though…argh, I don’t want to spoil it. I don’t want to divulge too much, because this is a horror film that is built on its story.

The horror switches throughout. You’ll be scared of the dark foreboding atmosphere at the beginning, but that is dropped as soon as the credits finish. It goes to gore, then to body horror, isolation and finally existential. By the end you’ll just have a bottomless pit in your stomach through the constant revelations and turns. The film just keeps going and going, there isn’t even a break in the despair, even after the film is over. The film is only 94 minutes long, but through the constant horror it feels much longer. You think it’s about to end but then something new appears and it drags you back in, making you wish it was over.

Most horror films, there is a reason behind the madness. Someone is looking or revenge, survival against the odds or just general curiosity. While there is a little bit of explanation at the end (which makes you want to watch Martyrs again to see the clues), for most of the film nothing is explained. It makes the horror even more crushing, as you don’t know why things are happening.

While there are several cast members, the main character is Anna, played by Morjana Alaoui. I can’t even start to comprehend what she as an actress had to go through while making Martyrs. Anna goes through several gruelling scenes, some so disturbing you would be forgiven it was real. Credit to her and the make-up and effects team to showing the growing despair and disgust that the one location of the film (Yep, it’s all done in one house) ends up revealing.

Martyrs goes into an exclusive club of mine for being a film I had to take a break from. The other two films were horror, but I had to pause them for being truly scary (When A Stranger Calls and Dark Water if you’re interested). Martyrs, due to that ever-present horror, exhausted me. And while I never enjoyed myself while watching it, I was pleased that I watched it. if you end up going and watching it, you will have seen one of the most bizarre, fascinating and horrifying films ever created. It’s not a film that I can see anyone truly “enjoying”, but it’s something that everyone should see at last once.

Score: 7/10 It will haunt you for the rest of your life.

The Shallows Review

My last review, Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates, I talked about films that no one had an inkling were going to be good. Mike And Dave was the perfect example of a film no one cared about so they just made a terrible film. The Shallows on the other hand…

The Shallows stars Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada and Sedona Legge and is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. The film follows Nancy (Lively) who gets stranded while surfing due to a great white shark circling the reef she is stuck on.

I know I put three names up on the introduction, but for the entire run-time Blake Lively is the only human on-screen. The actor with the second-longest screen presence is a seagull, who even features on the end credits. The majority of The Shallows is just Blake Lively against the elements. Lively as an actress has never been a big box office draw, with only a few large films and mainly television work, but here she helms one of the best horror films of the year (not as good as The Witch but better than Friend Request or that stupid Ouija prequel they’re making).

The film is rather formulaic, but that works in its favour. It’s not held hostage by a silly gimmick like 3D or found footage, it’s just an isolated area, with a ticking clock (the reef Nancy is stuck on is submerged during high tide) and a big-ass shark. What more could you want? Like most films about deadly sea creatures, The Shallows owes a debt to Jaws. The film is shot very similar, with the first two-thirds only hearing splashes and seeing ominous shapes in the water. During the final climax we see the shark and it’s pretty good CGI. The film goes a bit mad during this final part as Nancy and the shark go man-to-man (or should that be woman-to-fish?), but the film has earned it’s fire-riddled finale and has delivered its promise. It’s a shark movie, and it gives you a damn shark.

The most memorable (and scariest) bit in Jaws is the opening. A girl get’s eaten, but we hardly see any of it due to the scene taking place at night. We can’t see the terror so it makes it more scary. The Shallows takes the opposite approach, while still delivery scary results. When Nancy is first attacked, the camera stays on her face, before moving down to her shark-bitten leg once she gets out of the water. And as a medicine student, she attempts to keep her leg from falling apart with makeshift tourniquet and metal splints. More attacks later in the film give us dismembered legs and rogue jellyfish. The reef that Nancy get’s stranded on has fire urchins, with venomous results if they are stood on. The Shallows puts the pain front and centre and it’s gruesome but also one of the best things about the film. There is a tonne of blood, so if you’re squeamish then it’s not a good one to watch.

Lastly, the film looks stunning. Credit to the cinematographer Flavio Labino for capturing the beautiful Australian coastline. While there were some odd “Surfer Shots”, almost like a GoPro advert, but this is soon dropped for the excellent tense storyline.

The Shallows is an old-school thriller. The director’s other work is Non-Stop and Unknown (both unabashed B Movies) and The Shallows is definitely part of that same group, while still being one great ride. With a summer filled with flops and dull slogs, it’s refreshing to get a well-shot, well-acted, suspenseful thriller with a run time that is only 86 minutes long. If Alfred Hitchcock directed Surfs Up, it would probably end up something like this.

Score: 8/10 The best film of summer 2016.

Ghostbusters Review

And now for one of the most talked-about and controversial films of 2016. It’s trailer was one of the most disliked in YouTube history and it has had a torrid affair with fans on one side and filmmakers on the other, mud-slinging like their life depended on it. But let’s try and cut through all of that to the film. It’s Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon and Chris Hemsworth and is directed by Paul Feig. A reboot of the popular 1984 film of the same name, the new film follows an all-female crew who have to save New York from invading ghosts.

Let’s be upfront, I wasn’t looking forward to Ghostbusters. The trailer was very poorly put-together, it looked like a lot of the charm had been taken out and to top it all off, I really disliked director Paul Feig’s earlier work. Things like Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy are very poor films, so it was with great scepticism I went to Ghostbusters. How wrong I was.

The cast is the greatest thing about the film. I was always okay with the idea of a female Ghostbusters, and the four actresses are funny and work well with each other. They are not just straight re-treads of the old characters (apart from maybe Leslie Jones, the only non-scientist and token black lady of the team) and while none of them are as stand out as Bill Murray was, they do a good job. The surviving cast members of the original Ghostbusters turn up, but I felt it was a little forced and would have worked just as well without them. Chris Hemsworth though as the not-too-bright secretary Kevin is one of the best characters in the film. He has the funniest lines and it’s nice to see a change of pace from Hemsworth’s work in Thor and The Avengers.

Again, the trailer showed a few jokes and many of them were received poorly by fans. And while there are quite a few duds near the beginning, after a good 20 minutes the jokes start getting really good. I laughed a lot near the middle of the film, but towards the end, as the film moves more from comedy to action, the jokes fizzle out.

One of the main complaints was the CGI ghosts and after seeing the film, I can sympathise. The ghosts are a bit too clean, they looks more like plastic dolls which loses their scare value. A lot of the original ghosts and demons were animatronics, and the CGI from thirty years ago makes them oddly creepy. Here, they are a bit too processed, but they sometimes still manage to be spooky. One sequence involving mannequins looks like it would be right at home in an episode of The Twilight Zone and is effectively sinister and humorous.

The pacing is also rather off. The new film mirrors the original in the way that the squad forms and starts to take down ghosts, but there is hardly any build up to the final fight. The original (sorry I keep comparing them but it’s necessary) had that team-building but then had a montage of the team catching several ghosts from all over the city. In this version, the team catches one ghost, let’s go free and then it’s off to the final encounter with the big bad guy. It seems a little rushed, hopefully they put more of it in a sequel if they decide to do more.

In the end, the new Ghostbusters defied my expectations. It has several great jokes, the characters are interesting new additions to the series and it actually manages to be suitably chilling at times. It may not reach the heights of the original, be it easily surpasses Ghostbusters 2.

Score: 7/10 Surprisingly enjoyable. No need for mass hysteria and boycotts.

The Neon Demon Review

Yes, back to films that’s I’m actually looking forward to. After his hits Bronson, Drive and Only God Forgives (the latter one being in my top 5 favourite films), I was thrilled to find out that Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn was bringing out a new film this year. Would it face up to his previous success, or get lost in all the Refn nonsense?

The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee and Keanu Reeves and is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The film follows Jesse (Fanning) who heads to L.A. to become a model. The film follows her monumental rise to the top, which is resented by other models she works with.

With a Refn film you know you’re going to get two things, excellent cinematography and a beautiful musical score. The Neon Demon doesn’t disappoint on those two fronts. Cinematographer Natasha Braier captures several outstanding shots, many of which will stay with you long after you finish the film. Her use of neon light creates some brilliant contrasts between light and shadow and is pretty integral to understanding a lot of the visual metaphors that expand the narrative.

The score by frequent Refn collaborator Cliff Martinez is on a par with the rest of his work and helps create this odd sense of beauty and foreboding. Twinned with Braier’s cinematography, it makes just looking and watching The Neon Demon a joy. Sia also makes an appearance on the soundtrack, playing over the end credits of the film. Her song, Waving Goodbye is a good addition to the film and ends it perfectly.

The film, like the rest of Refn’s most recent work is an 18. I don’t want to spoil it here but…stuff happens. Like, really messed up stuff. Bone Tomahawk made me squirm a bit due to the graphic things it was depicting on screen, The Neon Demon had my jaw open during the final act. It’s a film that obviously is going for the shock factor and doesn’t pull any punches. Refn is on record as having a violence fetish and this definitely has his stamp of over-the-top exploitation all over it.

The weirdness is throughout the film, but is most evident in the acting. The acting can feel a bit stilted, but I think that’s what the film is going for. English isn’t Refn’s first language and the majority of the speaking cast are actually models, but the off kilter dialogue and long pauses add this deceptive layer to the story. Everyone has an agenda, everyone has something to hide and something they want and it all spills over during the second half of an orgy of excess and debauchery.

While Elle Fanning might be the head star, the film is stolen by Jena Malone as her friend and make-up stylist Ruby. Her bubbly charm makes her one of the only trustworthy characters in the whole of the story and she commands the screen in two of the most provoking scenes in the entire film. Keanu Reeves does his thing as a seedy motel owner that Jesse stays at and Fanning does well as the innocent schoolgirl with big dreams, but Malone tops them all as the reason to go watch The Neon Demon.

To really enjoy The Neon Demon, you need to just go with it. It’s a film that you have to put a little bit of effort into. Paying attention to certain points and visual cues means you will get a lot more enjoyment out of the end experience. It’s a Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella fairytale wrapped up in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles with a moral about beauty and fame. Be warned, if you want an enjoyable film, this might not be it. It is though one of the most exhilarating.

Score: 8/10 Easily the best-looking film of the year.

Alien Series Collection

Preface

The Alien franchise is known as one of the defining series in both science-fiction and horror. Being passed from director-to-director and catapulting many of the then unknown actors and actresses into the mainstream, it deserves it’s place in film history. So I decided to review all of it.

  • Prometheus
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • Alien3
  • Alien: Resurrection

Review

Prometheus

The prequel set nearly 30 years before Alien, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron. While many (including I) first disliked this film, on a second viewing it grew in standing. The sets are beautiful, with Iceland and Spain being used for the endless landscape shots of planet LV-223. The built sets, such as the ship Prometheus and the gigantic head statue with the black vials are some standouts of recent set design. Noomi Rapace (from the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is tremendous as Dr Elizabeth Shaw, especially since this is her first main actress role in an English-language film. Michael Fassbender as android David is another spectacular role for the actor, who is strangely charismatic and sinister simultaneously.

Harry Gregson-Williams’ score merges seamlessly with the awe of the world, highlighting certain scenes like David in the Orrey or the Space Jockey as being great points in the film. While it doesn’t answer many of its questions (much like Alien didn’t) it still stands as a singular film, and stands well.

Score: 8/10 A certain highlight that doesn’t get as much love as it should.

Alien

Released in 1979, with Scott directing and starring Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. A massive group effort, with script writer Dan O’Bannon and designer H.R. Giger working with Scott to create a truly terrifying film. Giger’s design for the xenomorph, with it’s odd steampipe design is one of the most revered monsters in all of movies, and the chest-burster scene is a memorable and scary entrance. The set design, also done by Giger, especially the Space Jockey and Nest are impeccably created and totally deserved the Oscar they won.

The film is shot like Jaws, very few open shots of the monster. While it makes the film tense, it’s a bit of a let-down, especially because of the exquisite design. It’s slow paced and the final showdown feels rather anti-climactic, but apart from that, it’s rather well made.

Score: 7/10 Greatly influential and rather scary.

Aliens

James Cameron took over directing for the 1986 sequel, with Weaver returning, also starring Lance Henricksen, Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton, as well as Carrie Henn. Set 57 years after the first film, it sees Ripley return to the planet LV-426 from Alien, along with a platoon of colonial marines to exterminate the xenomorph menace once and for all.

The marines featured can be seen as creating the stock types for army grunts in all other war films (the black sergeant who loves cigars, the diminutive but badass girl, the comedy “wacky” tech nerd) and hopelessly misjudge the situation with a cocky attitude that quickly dissolves in the face of the perfect predator. Weaver builds off the rather lacklustre characterisation in the first film, working with Carrie Henn’s adorable Newt, who set’s a high bar for least annoying child actor ever.

Filled with expert set-pieces like the Powerloader fight, the tunnel escape and several raging gun-battles as well as some of the most quotable lines in cinema (there are so many, and most of them aren’t really suitable for a family friendly site like this). Aliens builds on the success of Alien by doubling the size and scope, moving from horror to action and moving up in score.

Score: 8/10 A fine sequel that is better than the original.

Alien3

Released in 1992, Alien3 once again stars Sigourney Weaver and introduces Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton and Pete Postlethwaite and is directed by David Fincher (his first feature film). Set another 20 years after Aliens, the emergency pod from the Sulaco marine ship crashes onto a mining planet and penal colony Fury 161. An Alien egg crashes down with them, sending the mining site into disarray.

While Fincher is on record as saying he hates the film due to not being allowed full control over it, for a debut it’s rather well done. The dialogue and acting is sometimes over-the-top and comical (it seems all convicts in the future are cockneys) but the film features several excellent characters such as de facto leader of the prisoners Dillon (Dutton) whose constant quoting from religious scripture lends the film a nice sense of gravitas. The dark brown and grey colour palette becomes a bit dull and the CGI Alien is rather poorly merged within the film, but a fast-paced finale involving Ripley and the inmates trying to guide the Alien into the mining pit brings the ending up from a drab middle.

And the trilogy concludes by reinforcing the notion that runs throughout the entire series; the Alien always wins.

Score: 7/10 Give it a chance, it’s surprisingly alright.

Alien: Resurrection

You just can’t keep a girl down. Set two hundred years after her death at the end of Alien3 , the film follows the clone of Ellen Ripley who is brought back to life by Weyland Yutani to harvest an Alien foetus from her DNA. Featuring Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film follows a set of mercenaries who after coming aboard the Weyland Yutani ship are attacked by Aliens.

This is seen as the worst Alien film in the franchise, but it still has some standout scenes. Brad Dourif as crazy scientist Dr Gediman, who gauges the Alien’s intellect through a series of tests is an impressive moment, showing how clever the super predator is. An underwater pursuit of the heroes by Aliens is another well-made scene and shows the Aliens working as a team to catch their prey. This film also features the Newborn, a xenomorph with human traits. While the human eyes look rather silly, the rest of the appearance, which looks like Slimer crossed with Skeletor, is rather disturbing and creepy.

The film feels rather like the first Alien, ordinary working people trying to make a living while facing off against an enemy too powerful for them to comprehend. But the switch from comedy to horror to action feels rather awkward, while Sigourney Weaver looks thoroughly bored again as Ripley, only there to pick up a check.

Score: 5/10 It’s ridiculous but has some superb scenes.

Friend Request Review

I wasn’t looking forward to Friend Request. I remember seeing the trailer and shaking my head in disbelief at how poor the film looked. But after doing an entire module on horror films this university year, I thought I may as well go along and see how it delivered.

Fried Request stars Alycia Debnam-Carey, Liesl Ahlers and Connor Paolo and is directed by Simon Verhoeven. The film follows Laura (Debnam-Carey) who after an altercation with an odd girl, Marina (Ahlers) at school is harassed online by a supernatural presence.

When I first saw the trailer, all I could think was Friend Request was going to be a cheap rip off of last year’s cyber-themed horror film Unfriended. Unfriended‘s gimmick was that it all took place on a computer screen and I thought this looked like it was just going to take the themes that Unfriended had done and redo all of them. And for a while, I was right. The film takes the idea of online/social media addiction as being the cause for why the characters don’t just switch off their laptops and phones, it creates a downward spiral. But slowly, Friend Request tips it’s hand and reveals a much more thought-out and interesting back story, it’s just hidden behind stupid jump scares and loud noises.

The film works when it’s giving us glimpses of how and why the hauntings are happening. While eventually it does turn into an exposition dump, in the beginning Friend Request manages to only give glimpses at an explanations, making the audience piece the puzzle together by themselves. We have links back to old ritualistic cults, orphanages, mutilated children, your staple horror clichés, but it somehow works. It’s a mash up of Ringu meets M.R. James and manages to be a horror film with gothic sensibilities. It falls down when it panders to the mainstream horror crowd by throwing a face up accompanied by loud musical sting like the score writer has just fallen on every note on his keyboard. It didn’t need these moments, the films was spooky enough as it was, it’s just cheapened it by having easily telegraphed moments of “be scared because NOISES!”

Following on from the gothic themes in Friend Request, the film does boast some rather well done animation sections. Marina, the girl with a mysterious past who sets the plot in motion is an artist and puts her creations online. At certain points the film enters these animations and they actually add to the sense of uneasiness. They are stylistically similar to The Judderman or Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Is was an interesting deviation whenever the film would enter animation but unfortunately it doesn’t stick around for the second half, being dropped after the first half hour.

There are some other faults with Friend Request. All the actors, who despite playing sophomores all look over thirty, it’s quite funny. There is also a side-plot about a couple of police detectives who are investigating the odd disturbances. It could have been an interesting theme, similar to Arbitrage, to see two detectives trying to pin down what it actually that is that is stalking the students, epically once the stalking moves from the supernatural into something a lot more concrete and human. But once more, it get’s dropped before it is fully explored, with both characters leaving at the moments where they could have added something more to the story.

And just a small thing to finish, the ending is actually really imaginative as well as being a sequel bait to a franchise. However as soon as you start thinking about it, it doesn’t hold up to much logic, even in a supernatural horror film.

To wrap up, Friend Request wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. When it’s going good, it’s actually quite interesting and effective, but it’s push to go for the wider audience mean that that goodness is usually squandered by silly jump scares. It’s not as good as Unfriended and it isn’t as clever as Cyberbully (two films that do the cyber-horror genre well), but if you’re looking for a spooky film to watch in the cinema, then this will do.

Score: 6/10 It’s been done better, but for now it’s sufficient.

Cyberbully Review

Preface

For my retro reviews I like to broaden out what types of films I choose to review. Some are old classics that I want to write down my take on and some are complete unknowns. And since I did the short film Qalupalik, I’ve been wanting to branch out into different sorts of films. So for this one, I chose a television film. I introduce to you, Cyberbully.

Review

Cyberbully star’s Maisie Williams, Elle Purnell and Wilson Haagens and is written and directed by Ben Channen. The film follows teenager Casey (Williams) who is tormented by an anonymous culprit online.

Television films always get a bad rap. There is an idea that the word “television” means that it’s cheaply made and isn’t worth your time. It’s not always true, there have been several great “made for TV” films. Studio Ghibli, the guys behind Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro made Ocean Waves for television and that’s my favourite Ghibli creation. But anyway, back to Cyberbully.

I did mainly choose to watch this film because of Maisie Williams. She’s been on a roll since her breakout roll in Game Of Thrones and her performance in last year’s The Falling, a British horror film was nominated for a Clemwood Award. Here in Cyberbully she shows her tremendous range as an actress. At the start she’s carefree and happy, talking to her friend’s like a typical teenager, but soon descends into worry and fearfulness over the messages that the anonymous hacker is sending her. The last ten to fifteen minutes, where Williams breaks down into tears is a extremely effective stab at high traumatising drama and is reason enough to give Cyberbully a watch.

The film is done in real time, which is not a very well explored creative choice. The most well known films to use real time are Hitchcock’s Rope and the Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda (remade as Silent House in America). The real time adds to the sense of immediacy and there are several long takes that Williams takes in her stride. The whole film is set in Casey’s bedroom and for the majority of the film it is just her and her laptop.

While the film’s title evokes ideas of teenage trolls and online bullying, the film instead goes for a more ghostly approach. It reminded me of last year’s Unfriended (although Cyberbully did come out before it) but it works a lot better here. Unfriended had small moments of downtime but mainly relied on jump scares. Cyberbully has a jump scare, which doesn’t really fit, but the rest of the tension/terror is built up through the actions of the anonymous hacker and Casey stooping to his level. It feels like something that Hitchcock would have made if he knew what laptops and the internet were.

The script was written by the director Ben Channen and David Lobatto and to give it sense of authenticity Channen asked both his own daughter and Williams to read through it and take out anything that felt fake. This does mean that the early part of the film where Casey is talking to her friend Meg sounds believable, similar to The Spectacular Now. The rest of the story has many twists and turns over who the anonymous hacker is, and while some moments feel predictable (a moment about someone else who Casey was in contact with is signposted early on), when it looks like the film will fall flat with a reveal it pulls the rug out from the audience and turn’s the story on its head.

Cyberbully is an incredibly taut and on edge thriller. Cyber-based suicides are an all too common story nowadays, and Cyberbully cuts right to the problem with online hate. It’s very easy to find, so if it sounds like something that you would enjoy, then Cyberbully get’s my recommendation.

Score: 9/10 Tense and topical, a very good film.

The Witch Review

The Witch has been getting very mixed reviews by many different people, some praising it, calling it one of the best horrors films of recent times, while others saying it’s boring and nothing happens during the run time. After a friend showed me the trailer, I decided to go along and see for myself.

The Witch stars Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie and Harvey Scrimshaw and is written and directed by Robert Eggers. Set in the 1630s, the film follows a family in New England encountering evil forces in the forest next to their farm, not knowing whether they are real or imagined.

While the film is labeled as a horror film, The Witch doesn’t really fall into that category. Horror is more to do with disgust, what The Witch is, is what I like to call a terror film. There are only a few brief moments of blood and mutilated bodies, what we have here is building of tension to an almost unbearable degree.

Most of the shots in the film are long takes, mainly just focusing on the surroundings. The film is set in New England during the winter, so everything has a grey/brown colour to it. Everything around the family is dying, which adds to the sense of foreboding. There are many times when the film focuses on the forest and it’s amazing what the rustling of leaves and the creak of trees can make your mind think up.

The film’s subtitle is A New England Folktale, which says a lot about the film’s story. At the end of the film, on-screen text reveals that all the events in the film were based off several true events and dialogue was taken straight from the record (that’s means the dialogue is all thou’s, thee’s and thy’s, get used to having to decipher Old English). It’s a mishmash of different ghost stories and they all fit perfectly together. The whole story reminds me of stories I was told in my home town about the woods, it does what The Blair Witch Project was doing with its use of the story and setting. The film’s story plays off the idea that this could all be in the characters heads, or creeping paranoia or childish games, until we are as confused and scared as the character’s are. It’s a good way of creeping out your audience without anything scary popping up on screen with a loud bang.

Many movie-goers will see that last point as a deal-breaker on whether they want to go see The Witch. Yes, there are no jump scares, or loud musical stings to jolt you out of your seat. This might have been why it’s been labeled as boring by some critics. Sure, it’s a slow build, but that’s its charm. It doesn’t need to rely on the tired and overused gimmicks of films like Sinister or the Paranormal Activity franchise. It builds to a terrifying conclusion, still holding up its ideas of it being an illusion or reality.

The film covers a lot more than just the horror/terror side of the story. It brings up several themes and has many parallel connections, things like sexuality, religion, persecution, pride, puberty and paranoia, all are explored to some degree within the film. It feels more like a game of chess, with each move of a character to a certain place has some significant meaning to the story or to their development.

Many movie-goers who like their Sinister/Paranormal Activity/Insidious types of films will be disappointed in The Witch. It takes a while to get going, and doesn’t have the same set-piece style scares that those franchises rely on. But for a more thoughtful, methodical terror piece that will haunt you long after you leave the cinema, The Witch is a solid recommendation.

Score: 9/10 A slow build leads to a startling, terrifying film.

Silent Hill Double Review

Preface

As you might have gathered from my other forays of video games turned into movies (Hitman: Agent 47 and the Tomb Raider films) I love video games. And with one of my university courses this year focussing on horror, I recently got back into one of the most interesting game franchises ever, Silent Hill. And since it’s one of the many franchises that has been adapted, I thought I would take a break from actual work and bring you another double review, Silent Hill and Silent Hill: Revelation.

Review

Silent Hill

Silent Hill stars Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Jodelle Ferland and is directed by Christophe Gans. The film follows Rose (Mitchell) as she tries to find her daughter Sharon (Ferland), after she loses her in the town of Silent Hill.

Games like Hitman or Tomb Raider, while they have some semblance of story are not the most cinematic of games. Silent Hill however, is very focussed on narrative and that’s one of the films strongest points. It’s a straight adaptation of the first game’s story, with minor points from the rest of the series thrown in as little Easter eggs for the fans. The major change in the story is changing the main character from male to female. Gans says that he made this change as when he was writing the film, the main character’s emotions and dialogue had more in line with a woman than a man. To be fair, the main character from the game, Harry Mason, hardly had a personality to begin with, so Gans would have had to create a background for whoever the main character was and Radha Mitchell does great as terrified mother Rose.

Gans does a good job of capturing the iconography of the series; the radio static, the misshapen Freudian monsters and the beautiful detail as the haunted town peels away into the “Otherworld”. This is another one of the films strong points, with CGI blending seamlessly with the built sets, creating a flaking snowfall effect to both bring in and take away the dark world.

The film does have several problems however. A lot of the cast seem to be hamming up the script (despite the original Silent Hill already having a lot of camp in it), with Sean Bean’s atrocious American accent being the cherry on top. Along with this, the film is very American in its horror, meaning the horror is mostly all gore and blood with no deeper meaning. Silent Hill was created in Japan, and a lot of their horror stems from psychology, but here a lot of that has been stripped backed for a more in-your-face approach. And just as a fan, why is Pyramid Head here? He’s a (spoiler alert) Freudian/Jungian manifestation of the main character from Silent Hill 2, him being in the film is a total undermining of his symbolism. But in fairness it is pretty good visualisation of the infamous monster.

In conclusion, Silent Hill has a few slip ups, but overall, it manages to capture the atmosphere of the game very well.

Score: 7/10 A good enough example of a video game film done right.

 

Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation stars Adelaide Clemens, Sean Bean, Kit Harrington and Malcolm McDowell with directing duties being moved over to Michael J. Bassett. The plot follows Heather (Clemens) who on her eighteenth birthday is called back to Silent Hill, with the town holding dark secrets about her past.

You won’t find a good Silent Hill film here. You won’t find a scary horror film here. You won’t even find a good film here. What you will find, if you ever decide to watch Silent Hill: Revelation, is something that flips from being incredibly tedious to unintentionally hilarious.

Where to start? Well, at the beginning. The film just starts in the middle of a conversation, with no build up to introducing the main characters or back-story to get us up to speed from what happened since the last film. I rewound the film several times because I was sure I had missed a few minutes of the film before realising that the film just begins abruptly.

Sean Bean’s American accent appears again and is terrible, but Bean is only the start of a selection of bad performances. Adelaide Clemens as Heather does nothing but scream and pout and Kit Harrington once again shows that the only good performance he can give is in Game of Thrones. Malcolm McDowell shows up for a couple of minutes in a dress and overacts his heart out. Sure, the script doesn’t help, with endless exposition and dialogue so wooden is basically a tree.

Quite a few of the monsters are done practically, but the effects are so poor you can tell it’s a guy in a mask. The rest of the monsters are created with cartoon levels of CGI which just adds to the “so-bad-it’s-good” quality of the film. Pyramid Head shows up again for no reason, becoming a good guy and helping the protagonists out at the end, which makes no sense.

The film was made for 3D viewing, so there are lots of moments when stuff is meant to be jumping at the camera. Since all I’ve seen is the normal version of the film, the spectacle of a blade being jabbed at the screen or blood flying at me doesn’t work and just makes the viewing experience worse.

It’s not like the film doesn’t try. There are a few moments when the snow is falling in the streets and enough of the plot and characters from Silent Hill 3 that it feels like a film that everyone involved thought it could be a good film. The fact that it tried and failed is fascinating to watch.

The ending is what really got me though. The film has the gall, the sheer temerity to not have one, but three sequel baits, with several characters from the series turning up. A sequel will never be made, which is good but also sad. This is one of the best series to adapt, but the people making it don’t know anything about Silent Hill.

In conclusion, Silent Hill: Revelation is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. That sounds like praise, but then you remember that it was meant to be a horror film.

Score: 1/10 A slow-motion trainwreck of a movie.