horror

'The Hallow' movie review

 
hallow poster.jpg
 
A family who moved into a remote mill house in Ireland finds themselves in a fight for survival with demonic creatures living in the woods.
— imdb synopsis
 

Set in contemporary rural ireland, a young couple Adam and Claire move into a disused mill house in the centre of an ancient forest, where Adam (A british conservationist)has been tasked with selecting trees to be felled by a logging company.

During his innitial survey (as a viewer we later discover it’s his third visit) Adam selects trees for felling and stumbles upon an abandoned house where he enters with his infant son strapped to his back. Once inside he happens upon a deer which has been murdered and propped by a wall. Upon closer inspection Adam notices black fungus growths eminating from the skull of the deer and proceeds to take a sample of it. He brings it home and we witness that this fungus seems quite violent in nature.

At this point is where I began to have problems with the movie. Would you bring your infant son near a dead animal which could have died any number of ways and expose him to potential danger? Indeed having seen this fungus dribble down from the ceiling into the babies cot they do nothing about it. This set the scene for any number of idiotic decisions by the parents to randomly leave their child when a hint of danger was called for in the script.

To say that the main protagonists where characters is being generous. As the setup goes you have to guess that Adam is there working for a logging company it is only briefly hinted at and then confirmed in the very last scene of the movie as the credits roll over top of it. It’s difficult to keep your interest when the world of the story isn’t exactly explained clearly.

I can understand the need for mystery and having an ambigious beginning can work but when characters are as wafer thin as these I felt you needed to clarify the world so at least we care enough to watch.

Which is its biggest problem. I just didn’t care. The characters don’t have to be likeable to be watcheable they just have to have ‘character’. Adam is perhaps the worst of the pair, given the most screen time and guilty of being pig headed to the detriment of his own child. That setup would have been interesting if it indeed had have been setup as his character from the get go. As it stands it just comes across as stupidity and totally throws you out of the movie.

When we join them they are in a battle with the strange neighbour who wishes to warn them about the dangers lurking in the forest telling them to ‘stay away’. If the danger was so great why didn’t he say more? Why does he just need to speak to Adam, he could have easily given his warning to Claire. Indeed later on in the movie he presents her with a very elaborate book on the forest including its dangers (Designed very similarily to the book out of the evil dead). And this is after they have been attacked. Surely you would just up sticks and leave. Especially as there isn’t any compelling case given for them to stay.

Very little makes sense in the world of the movie. Light at one point frightens the creatures away when it is used again they don’t fear it, then at the end daylight kills them. Consistency of its own rules is a problem. The other is the fact that we aren’t exactly told what the creatures are. I’m guessing they are a type of demonic faery when Adam mentions that his own son is a ‘changling’ but that isn’t entirely clear.

The creatures design themselves are quite good. I really liked the fact that most of the effects involving them where practical which made them tangeable and real. The forest location is great and the lighting is suitiably errie. The special effects are quite good too. There are a number of effective set pieces with the creatures so that’s a plus. So the only real flaw is the script.

In the end I just didn’t care. I felt myself bored with the movie as there wasn’t enough there to invest fully in it. Forgiving the familiarity of certain shots borrowed from other better movies, I just couldn’t forgive the motivations of the characters and that alone hurt my enjoyment of it.

** out of *****

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'The silence' movie review

 
the silence poster.jpg
When the world is under attack from terrifying creatures who hunt their human prey by sound, 16-year old Ally Andrews (Kiernan Shipka), who lost her hearing at 13, and her family seek refuge in a remote haven.
— imdb
 

Recently netflix have been doing more and more original content. With varying degrees of success, some better than others but all, at least, with an emphasis on content that you wouldn’t see a major movie studio investing money, especially not in this climate of comic book movie overkill. Its a least refreshing to see a studio investing in other material that isn’t cartoony comic book superhero extravaganza. An adult orientated adventure where there could be genuine stakes and not a falseness primed on the possibility of a ‘reboot’ if they don’t hit the ‘right demographic’.

In truth, their brave decisions don’t always work out. And this is the case with ‘The Silence’. An intriguing premise that actually pre-dates the far superior ‘A quiet place’. Some have said that netflix have copied a format that worked when in reality they were working from a book by Tim Lebbon called ‘the silence’ Released in 2015. So it begs the question of who was copying who here. The setup almost identical even down to a girl who is deaf and a family in jeopardy from blind creatures that hunt by hearing alone.

Without trying to spoil anything I will say that there are some effective scenes namely one where a car is parked on a side road. But the main problem here seems to be the fact that Director John R. Leonetti hasn’t embraced the material. A potential for scares and tension that ‘ A quiet place’ mastered. It didn’t help that the creatures in ‘The silence’ where a type of hybrid bat that wasn’t set up in a frightening way. They seemed far too simple to kill. Setting aside the obvious plot holes or the fact that we didn’t really get to know the main protagonists aside from their limited family dynamic, the plot just didn’t really engage.

The start had potential and they could have gone in a number of different directions (I haven’t read the book so I can’t say whether this closely mirrors the plot of the source material) instead taking it down a tired path that held very little tension. With, at times, some very shoddy CGI creatures and potential setup that didn’t result in a satisfying conclusion we have a feature film that has potential but falls flat and lifeless.

The ending where they meet a group of religious fanatics, again had potential but how that concludes was just as unsatisfying and worst still irritating because it just.. well ends on a weird abrupt note. Three or so minutes later and we have an epilogue that feels rushed and out of place. Either they ran out of money or the screenwriter had sequel squarely in his mind. Either way potential ruined. There could have been hints of ‘The road’, a harsh climate where having a family is dangerous in itself.

But that isn’t the case we are instead delivered a type of B movie with quite large plot holes. Not that ‘A quiet place’ didn’t have plot holes either, it did. There was just enough ingenuity and tension to suspend your disbelief so you could get on board with the story. It also help immensely that you actually got to know the family in the movie. In this, the criminally under utilised Stanley Tucci is hand cuffed into a nothing role where he is given very little bar a few minor scenes to play with.

In the end ‘The Silence’ is a pale photocopy of ‘A quiet place’ where the original stands head and shoulders above it in execution. Which is a shame really as the story had potential.

** out of *****

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Hereditery movie review

 
Hereditary movie poster - imdb

Hereditary movie poster - imdb

 
After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
— imdb
 

**Warning there will be spoilers**

From the very first opening minute there is a creepy atmosphere to the psychological horror 'Hereditary'. We are introduced to Annie played with great conviction by Toni Collette who is just about to bury her mother. We get the distinct feeling that Annie didn't particularly see eye to eye with her and is struggling to grieve for her loss.

Through the course of this we get introduced to her slightly strained family. With her put upon husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and her estranged son Peter (Alex Wolff) and Strange daughter Charlie (The underutilised Milly Shapiro). The creepy conotations build slowly - this movie is definitely a slow burn so if you like your horror fast paced it might not be for you - where we witness Annie creating life like miniature dioramas replete with tiny people and furniture. A production design that is used again and again in both setting and cinematography. At times it appears the characters are living in a real life doll house and we are viewing them first hand. Its a clever and weird device.

The movie is quite atmospheric and tension slowly builds. At first you aren't sure where the movie is going, building up the supernatural elements slowly. Only when Charlie is horrifically decapitated by her brother Peter by accident - a scene that's brilliantly handled - does the movie show any real momentum. From here there is some terrific scenes with Annie as her downward spiral where it is heavily implied that she had a breakdown of some sort and has never quite recovered all of her mental capacity. In one shocking revelation she admits to her son Peter that she never wanted him as a child in fact she tried to abort him on numerous occasions but failed primarily because her overbearing mother wanted him and not her herself.

As tensions rise and the family unit deteriorates old secrets rise to the surface and home truths that are pushed from the surface come back to haunt you and that trust that was once there suddenly evaporates and you can never really get it back. To say any more would spoil the movie.

I would say that Hereditory is two thirds of a great movie with the final third the least satisfying. When you learn the 'truth' of why the supernatural occurrences are happening it deteriorates ever so slightly into parody. Not to say that its bad, its not it just didn't have the same level of tension and the final reveal is a little bit on the silly side which might raise a few titters more than shock.

But still there is much to be enjoyed about Hereditary if, of course, you enjoy slow burning psychological horror. From a purely performance stand point Toni Collette is terrific and gives a powerful performance. All in all I quite enjoyed 'Hereditary' while not perfect it is worth watching.

**** out of *****  

 

Annihilation

 
ANNIHILATION-POSTER-SMALL.jpg
 
A biologist’s husband disappears. She puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she’s expecting. The expedition team is made up of the biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist.
— imdb
 

Warning possible spoilers ahead *

Having been a fan of Alex Garland I eagerly anticipated the release of 'Annihilation'. From the trailer I was expecting a slightly colorful and intriguing intellectual 'Aliens' mashup. Although taking trailers at face value will usually guarantee disappointment and with this trailer, to a certain degree, that rationale applies here.

This is not to say that the movie is bad per se just more intellectual and slow moving than anticipated which isn't necessarily a bad thing either. But having said that I can see that there's a lot of plot holes in the movie some involving setup and others motivation.

From the outset we witness a character in turmoil, Lena, played by Natalie Portman - a very talented actress - who is missing her husband after he sets off on a top secret mission into 'the shimmer'. 12 months later he reappears, walking back into Lena's life, who has misplaced her grief putting everything into her job with very little of herself remaining to 'live'.

Kane, Lena's husband is a ghost of his former self, apparently traumatized from his ordeal in 'the shimmer'. This is when he rapidly becomes sick, coughing up blood and is rushed to hospital. En-route the ambulance is intercepted and Lena et al are taken to a top secret facility across from the shimmer. So far so good.

From here the plot begins to get a little bit sketchy for me. Here she meets Dr. Ventress, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who interrogates her about her husband and what he has told her about his experiences in the shimmer. Dr. Ventress appears to be the controller of this operation, a psychologist by trade, who informs Lena that they are about to embark on another operation into the shimmer despite all other operations failing including sending in drones. In other words they have all previously failed and people have died along the way.

What follows next doesn't really make much sense to me. This 'death' mission is headed by a rag tag group of women with varying occupations: biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist (The last occupation I gleaned from Imdb as I never heard it in the movie itself). They enter the shimmer, armed with weapons (Even though most of them are academics with no military training) and seemingly very little else to investigate the shimmer.

From this point I wondered why they never wore any sort of 'hasmat' type suits. They are going into an unknown area possibly of alien origin without any idea of what the air quality would be like. We were already informed no drone made it back through the shimmer and all communication ceases once inside.

They appear, as a group, not to be too concerned even when strange happenings appear around them. They are attacked at one point by a rabid crocodile, the next scene they suggest someone should 'stand guard'. Strangely this means the guard is stationed over 2oo meters away on the ground when everyone else is high and dry up on a look out platform (?!). This set up just appears to be there to create a false sense of tension and a set up for another attack.

The hybrid animals are interesting but the cinematography lets this down for me. It appears muddy with blown out highlights that are very distracting at times. Aesthetically I found the production design good for the most part up until the ending which we will get to later. 

Very little actual scientific detecting is done with in the shimmer. It appears whomever packed their backpacks decided to leave major equipment behind like night vision goggles and rubber gloves. At no point is there a concern for 'cross contamination'. With the stakes so high for humanity you would think they would have all the equipment necessary at their disposal. Which brings up another question who exactly is running this operation? It appears that Dr. Ventress is in charge, a psychologist who wouldn't know a mutated cell if one punched her in the face. With a big military presence we assume this operation is run by them. So strangely they are not accompanied by any army. It seemed like a setup to have an all female cast at the center of the story without any regard for 'story'.

Not that an all female cast makes a difference. It doesn't. They could have easily included a few female military personelle  and dropped one or two of the existing characters as they added very little to the movie at all. They just appeared there to make up the numbers and scream occasionally or bicker amongst themselves. The biggest disappointment for me is the characters. They are incredibly one dimensional. At times it appeared that the actresses were struggling to add 'life' to them. As portrayed Dr. Ventress appeared to be depressed half the time. It didn't help that they seemed to be given the direction to be stilted with their responses to each other.

When we do get to the finale we witness an area very much like 'Alien' with its chitinous living interior. Having spent so much time giving us colourful highlights to be subjected to an Alien hive felt like a misstep. Not that it looked bad, it didn't. It just felt like very lazy production design.

Some will be very disappointed by the ending and what happens after. To me it was at least interesting. I can't say that it was entirely successful, however. There seems to be a jump in logic where the final image will have you wondering why this should end in a cosy embrace. 

Overall there are some interesting ideas if you can get past the obvious flaws there may be some enjoyment. However, if you don't enjoy slow moving sci-fi movies you wont enjoy this either.

** & a half out of *****

 
 

Alien: Covenant review

 
 

Synopsis

 
The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape.
— imdb
 

As one of those people who grew up watching - and enjoying - the first two of the Alien movies (The third I really enjoyed visually with its grimy, grungy atmosphere but it lacked some aspects in story which where somewhat fixed by the release of the 'assembly cut' which made it a better iteration but still not perfect. The fourth movie lets just say it was very 'meh'.) I could appreciate the opening title sequence for what it was. A resetting of tone back to the traditional roots of the 'Alien' movies with its riff on Jerry Goldsmiths opening title score for 'Alien'.

However, after this brief interlude we appear back into 'Prometheus' territory with its sterile white backgrounds and talk of 'god' and 'creation' with a very appealing turn by Michael Fassbender as the android with aspirations of being a type of 'creationist' himself as he talks with his 'Father' played with intensity by Guy Pearce. It is the 'setting up' of David as a villain if we didn't already gleam that from the first movie 'Prometheus'.

 
 

I seem to be in a minority of those that quite enjoyed 'Prometheus' upon its release. While far from a perfect film it did, however, offer a visual feast for the eyes that carries on into 'Alien: Covenent'. Even though the story was lacking it did at least offer a somewhat different approach to the material.

We are firmly back in 'Alien' territory with bulkheads and long corridors, moody lighting and an ensemble cast of characters. It is these characters - mostly one dimensional - that join us on our journey to Origae-6 a habitable planet that has been ear marked for a settlement of colonists aboard the ship. A tragedy strikes aboard the ship and 'mother' is forced to wake the weary crew seven years before arriving to Origae-6. In a blink and you miss it cameo James Franco's character dies horribly in stasis setting forth the angst that Karen Waterston's character portrays for most of the running time.

The crew intercepts a transmission from another habitable planet which is closer to them so the newly appointed captain - played by Billy crudup, not relishing seven more years in stasis - sends a landing party to take surface samples and to survey it as an alternative colonising site for their mission.

 
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From here the atmosphere builds with a terrific looking setting as a back drop. The inevitable infection happens which sets in motion a tense sequence involving small alien hybrids that are menacing in their intensity and blood letting. The culmination of which sees the crew stranded from the mother ship with only the android 'David' for company who may have sinister intentions for them.

 
 

It is here that the movie will either lose momentum for you or have you intrigued. We spend a long time in cinematic terms visiting with 'David' as he proceeds to teach 'Walter' the new upgraded version of himself to play the flute - played admiringly with menace by Fassbender - who makes playing both roles seem effortless.

When the inevevitable set up happens and David's plan is revealed (Spoiled bizarrely by the teaser prologue released a week before the film opened) there is a race against time to abandon the planet and regroup with the mother ship.

 
 

The tension rises again when the full 'Alien' finally reveals itself and tries with all of its prowess and skill to thwart the escape. It is a skilled sequence that was somewhat sullied by showing a portion of it in the official trailer. I don't quite understand the necessity to do that. It seems to be a current trend in the marketing departments for big tent pole movies.

In essence Alien: Covenant is a hybrid movie not quite a full 'Alien' movie nor 'Prometheus'. It is a bastard child that tries to mesh the best of both movies and doesn't quite succeed. However, where it does succeed it does so quite well. In other areas you may feel slightly aggrieved as it plays as a 'best of' compilation from other 'Alien' movies without adding enough new things to the mix to make it truly great. For instants, I would say that the movie isn't scary. Gone are the long lingering build up of tension scenes. Instead there is fast cuts and quick kills purely for shock value. Ultimately, you need to build tension in order for these shock kills to really hit home. Without that its just some quick blood letting without context.

There seemed to be a few odd editing choices, ending scenes abruptly either for rating or time - the shower scene immediately springs to mind as one scene which does this - to the detriment of the movie for me. I will be interested to see if a directors cut of the movie improves on some of these scenes. 

 
 

There is hope for the franchise as the end coda does potentially set in motion an interesting story for the next installment. I am hopeful that Ridley Scott may build on this and hopefully try to create tension aswell as spectacle as I don't believe they are mutually exclusive.  

Ultimately like Prometheus before it Alien: Covenant is not perfect but it is very worthy of viewing on the big screen and does offer some interesting sequences. Good but had potential to be great.

Trailer below: