Ju On – White Ghost

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It has been quite some time since I first watched The Grudge and loved every second of it. Since then I watched the original Japanese TV movies (which The Grudge is a sequel of even though it seems like a remake) and the director Takashi Shimizu’s own US remake. I haven’t actually watched the US The Grudge 2 (also directed by Shimizu) and US The Grudge 3 (not Shimizu) partly due to bad reviews and partly due to Part 3 sounding like a straight to video mess. And of course partly because I was burned out on J Horror by that time. Black Ghost and White Ghost had been popping up on my Amazon Prime Viewer for quite some time but I’d avoided them as they sounded like even worse straight to video cash ins, but I finally relented and gave them a shot. Made to honour the 10th Anniversary of the series, these are two stories which deviate from the main plot of the main series, but are they any good!?

White Ghost, like it’s partner and predecessors has a labyrinthine plot which unravels in a deliberately non-linear fashion – events at the start of the film may happen weeks or months after events shown at the end, and vice versa, and more than that there appear to be certain elements which transcend time – echos of events which have not yet occurred. The story follows a group of characters who come into contact with a curse – a man murders his family, an old friend investigates, and several randomers are drawn into the pit. As I said in my review for Black Ghost, it is definitely worth watching each movie twice to appreciate the finer points and attempt to bring together a timeline in your head. Ironically, I fond this plot even more dense than Black Ghost but it appears to be handled more professionally. There is a lot of leaping about from time to time to character to place and back again, but it is engrossing.

There is some fairly dark stuff at work here – the murders and the curse of course, but an unsettling lump of incest, pedophilia, and suicide, none of which are shied away from. It’s unusual for a film in the Ju On universe to dwell much on the events which kicked everything off – mostly it’s shown in brief flashbacks, but here we are front row witnesses to the slaughter. This one is less atmospheric than Black Ghost, but still has plenty of tension and has more jump scares. The actual character of the White Ghost is not on par with Kayako, but her appearances rarely fail to scare to the point that you are dreading her next pop up. A few of these moments don’t quite work, and end up being almost funny, but for the most part the scares are particularly effective. That strange shimmering effect I mentioned in the other review is present here too. Again the performances are good, the soundtrack works well, and there is a grimy worn out look to proceedings. I watched Black Ghost first, but the stories don’t link together in any way so feel free to pick whichever you wish. BG has the atmosphere, WG has the bulk of the scares, but both are well worth a go for J-Horror fans.

So, who would I recommend this to? Grudge fans obviously, first and foremost. This doesn’t fill in any gaps from the main series or provide any resolution, rather it seems to be a similar story set in the same universe. There isn’t enough time to form much attachment to the characters, the plot is convoluted and non-linear, and the scares don’t offer anything new. With all that said, I enjoyed it, I was a little scared in places, and the idea still intrigues me as much as the execution. You won’t lose much by sacrificing an hour – so if you find this on streaming, give it a shot.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of White Ghost and how it compares to Black Ghost and the other movies in The Grudge franchise.

Ju On: Black Ghost

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It has been quite some time since I first watched The Grudge and loved every second of it. Since then I watched the original Japanese TV movies (which The Grudge is a sequel of even though it seems like a remake) and the director Takashi Shimizu’s own US remake. I haven’t actually watched the US The Grudge 2 (also directed by Shimizu) and US The Grudge 3 (not Shimizu) partly due to bad reviews and partly due to Part 3 sounding like a straight to video mess. And of course partly because I was burned out on J Horror by that time. Black Ghost and White Ghost had been popping up on my Amazon Prime Viewer for quite some time but I’d avoided them as they sounded like even worse straight to video cash ins, but I finally relented and gave them a shot. Made to honour the 10th Anniversary of the series, these are two stories which deviate from the main plot of the main series, but are they any good!?

Black Ghost focuses on a young girl who has some sort of seizure and ends up in hospital. Her mum and dad have marital problems and the nurse looking after the girl begins to see, hear, and experience spooky things. In the grand Ju On tradition, this is only one piece of the puzzle and the film is split into interweaving chapters centering on a specific character. Each chapter may only be a few minutes long, generally less than 10, and as the movie progresses the overlapping becomes more pronounced. What does and will continue to put viewers off the series is its unwillingness to assist the viewer through the non-linear narrative; there is no Present Day marker, followed by 2 Months Earlier or any indication of date – the story jumps around and the clock keeps ticking, leaving it up to the viewer to work out the true sequence of events. Indeed, there may not be one true sequence as we have seen in the main stream of films that time itself is a loose notion and the sound of a dying character may be heard an investigated by that same character hours, days, or weeks before it actually happens. This lends a certain replay value to the movies – it is confusing and disorienting first time around, but a second watch smooths a lot of the edges while also serving to immerse you even more fully in a plot which doesn’t try or need to make sense – death is coming and there is no escape.

Discussion of plot aside, most will want to know if the film is scary. This sort of thing is subjective, but if you were creeped out by the originals then I don’t see why you wouldn’t at the least find unsettling moments here. The series has always relied on jump scares and atmosphere and we get both of these in the opening moments thanks to a school kid and a window. Black Ghost is more atmosphere heavy than laden with jump scares – cameras straining at some shadow just around the corner, something moving under a blanket or behind a curtain, and of course a soundtrack of gurgles, cries, and death rattles. The old familiar sound returns and while it still chills the bones, it doesn’t have the same impact without Kayako clawing her way towards the screen. In essence it is a retreading of the same old scares, but they are still effective especially if you are susceptible to such things, as I am. Adding to this atmosphere are a couple of notable additions – the performances are all strong, real, which is important given the actors don’t have a lot of screen time, though an argument could be made for there being too many characters for such a short running time. Finally there is a strange effect or glitch on screen in certain scenes; I assume this was not a fault of my streaming but a deliberate choice similar to the film glitches in The Ring. In some scenes there was a weird wavering around the edges of the frame akin to a mirage or some atmospheric refraction. That’s the best way I can describe unfortunately, a shaking around the edges as if something was trying to break through into our reality – there wasn’t any consistency which I could pick out – I assume it was added to make things more ominous or warn of an upcoming scare, but sometimes it happened when two characters were talking – no scare or sense of tension. oh yes, there is one truly excellent make-up/special effect towards the end.

So, who would I recommend this to? Grudge fans obviously, first and foremost. This doesn’t fill in any gaps from the main series or provide any resolution, rather it seems to be a similar story set in the same universe. There isn’t enough time to form much attachment to the characters, the plot is convoluted and non-linear, and the scares don’t offer anything new. With all that said, I enjoyed it, I was a little scared in places, and the idea still intrigues me as much as the execution. You won’t lose much by sacrificing an hour – so if you find this on streaming, give it a shot.

Blair Witch

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I’ve been a The Blair Witch Project fan and defender since day 1; I still think it’s terrifying. It was with both great interest and apprehension when I saw this sequel being announced – found footage has basically had its moment in the commercial sun for now so what more could this movie possibly add? Having said that, A Horrible Way To Die, The Guest, VHS, were all films I enjoyed so at least I was confident in the pedigree and talent involved. I see he has also just announced he’s remaking the glorious I Saw The Devil. Is there a German word for being both worried and excited at the same time? Whatever this is, that was me. Anticifearmeich? That’ll do.

We start, as we often do with these sorts of movies, by meeting the ill-fated group in the middle of a plot-building conversation. They have just received an odd email containing some blurry video clips which feature someone running, or possibly being pursued through an old house. The recipient of the email is James, the younger brother of Heather Donahue – one of the three people who disappeared years earlier near Burketsville. It’s the first new footage, or lead, in her disappearance in a long time. James is now an adult himself, and decides to allow his friend Lisa to document his research as part of a student film she is making. James, Lisa, and their friends Peter and Ashley prepare to embark on the same trail that Heather, Josh, and Mike set off on all those years ago – in search for closure or explanation or entertainment. This time though they are coming in more fully prepared – GPS, High Def cameras, cellphones, a drone camera, and even pulling in a couple of locals to help – Lane and Talia who sent the found footage in the first place and claim to be very familiar with the woods and their history. Unfortunately, the y don’t inform the local authorities or anyone else of their plans, or even bring some pebbles to mark their way. You know the moment they enter the woods that they won’t be getting out.

There is a sense of familiarity and inevitability in Blair Witch – both positive and negative. It is a true sequel, but it feels like a reboot. The scares and atmosphere are evocative of the original, but there isn’t anything new or interesting enough to terrify as the original did. There is plenty of meandering through the woods, arguments and tension, and before long the noises outside the tent start and all hell breaks loose. There are innovative moments here but they aren’t fully explored – the loss of time and the related paradoxes, the festering wound, the potential of the drone. Naturally these would be difficult to expand upon given the format and as they stand they provide a further air of mystery, but I would have liked a little more. I don’t have much to say about the characters – none of them are as irritating as many can be in this sort of film, but none of them stand out in any meaningful way. Winguard doesn’t get the opportunity to unleash much of his usual flair and wit until the final act, but there are mini scares and laughs throughout – if you were bored by the first, then maybe this one will hold your interest better.

Once we reach that final act we get into good old ‘picking off one by one’ territory. It approaches being pulsating, it is certainly exciting and mixes action and horror with claustrophobia and the fear of expanse. The film is more visceral and we see more violence on screen than anything covered in the original, though nothing is too extreme as the camera only glimpses or sideswipes the chaos. There is one criminal disappoint towards the end as certain things are revealed on camera – I’ve never been a full advocate of the ‘less you show the scarier it is’ school of thought, but it does apply aptly here. he stupid thing is that I’m happy with the idea of the reveal, but not the execution – there’s a multitude of ways that the reveals could have employed but they went for the most ridiculous and when it is for something so big it leaves a stain that can’t be removed from the film.

If you’re a fan of the original you’re going to see this, in fact I’m sure you probably have already. It hasn’t, and isn’t going to change the world like the original did. It wasn’t successful enough to get anyone interested in making another one, but it is another stepping stone in Wingard’s career. It’s a higher echelon found-footage movie but it doesn’t come close to matching the chills of its mummy or any of the true greats of the genre; it’s just another decent horror movie.

Society

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Neither of the people above are in this movie

 

I’ve always loved Society. I mean it’s crap, but it’s camp, cheesy, and wickedly bizarre. I think I first heard about it in some movie magazine in the 90s which had a bit about the most gory film of all time, and I think it put Society in its number one spot. I went hunting for the VHS the very next day. I remember being confused by it all – not by the plot, but by the lack of gore. Then I checked the magazine and it mentioned the final 10 minutes. Then I saw the final 10 minutes and laughed my ass off, so much so that my face became merged with my ass (SPOILER IN-JOKE).

Society is Brian Yuzna’s most well known film. Well, as a Director. He’s been involved in horror for decades now, Producing hits like Re-Animator and From Beyond. This is his first and finest attempt as a Director, a satire of the insular world of America’s rich, white, and privileged. Young Bill Whitney feels out of place – he may be some sort of very tiny jock at his school, but he hangs around with losers and although he has all the wealth in the world he goes to a shrink about the nightmares and paranoia he suffers from. When he receives a cassette apparently recording his family involved in an orgy of incest he fears he is both losing his mind and in danger from his family and friends. Before long Billy’s fears and proven to be true and he has to find a way to either expose or escape the carnage.

Billy Warlock of Baywatch fame, who must have been almost 30 at the time, plays the teenage Billy. I’ve always liked Warlock, but this isn’t a movie you watch for the acting. You’ll recognize plenty of faces, but no-one gets a lot of screen time. This is a film about the messy plot and the messier effects. There are plenty of hilarious moments involving hair-eating mothers, 80s fashion, and of course the closing moments. The effects are dated now but there is still a shlocky vibrancy and originality to them. I can’t call what happens gory, mostly it looks like rubber coated in ham and glossed in Saturday morning kids TV show gunge. It’s the idea of these folks getting together for orgies, whatever the reason, and the silliness of the creations which still make the film stand out – it’s all so ridiculous that you’re bound to laugh when you watch. It’s a film everyone should see once, preferably drunk.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Society if you’ve seen it, or if anything I’ve said above makes you want to watch!

The Green Inferno

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You know what the world needs? More cannibal movies. This mainstream return to this rarely spoken of sub-genre also heralded the return of infant terrible Eli Roth. Roth had not made a movie since 2007’s passable Hostel 2; that’s not to say he had not been busy – he had been writing, acting, and producing in the time between too. I’ve always had a hit and miss relationship with Eli Roth, and indeed with most of the new breed of horror directors. I wasn’t a fan of Cabin Fever – great idea but his handling of humour is, well, shite. I loved Hostel and while I enjoyed its sequel, it again sadly descended into farce for no reason. So, that was bad, good, bad – surely that meant I would enjoy The Green Inferno… right?

Wrong. The movie gets a lot right – it looks extraordinary and the gore and make-up are all wonderful to look at. The plot for me is neither here nor there – basically a greatest hits of films Roth has worked on or admired. Performance wise – no standouts or disasters. My problems are that it’s a little flat, there is again this immature need to insert comedy into it, and it really isn’t violent or bloody. I won’t say it’s frightening because I honestly believe this is a comedy at heart – an exercise in ‘lets point and laugh at these fools as they get picked off’ rather than something which makes me genuinely terrified at the predicament. You have to compare it with Cannibal Holocaust – that movie is truly sickening and while it also has laughs, it’s a film which will traumatize, scare, and scar. The Green Inferno is a film you’ll have forgotten about in a week.

The film begins with a couple of college friends doing a bit of Tarantino riffing – one of them – Justine – becomes interested in Social Activism thanks to a charismatic speaker. He wants to go to South America to protest deforestation. Justine says she wants to help, but is she there because she believes in the cause, because she wants to spite her daddy, because every entitled kid needs to go on a middle class backpacking adventure, or because she wants the guy? Whatever her reason, off she goes.

The group become viral online after a video of their almost fatal encounter with a local militia is uploaded – looks like their job has been complete, but on the way home their plane crashes deep into the rainforest. You know, the one they were trying to protect. Irony! Some of them are dead, some of them are not, but as they gather themselves a group of funky looking cats come out of the jungle and start eating and drugging the survivors. The rest of the movie deals with the survivors, caged, and watching hapless as their friends are killed, eaten, tortured, and subjected to various bodily examinations. Can they somehow escape this entertaining nightmare? Maybe, if only there was a fortuitously placed sympathetic child character running around…

I think Roth gets confused in exactly what he wants to portray in his films – he wants a message, he wants gore, scares, and laughs – great. His messages are often muddled or misinterpreted – Hostel had it, and The Green Inferno suffers from the same fate. The balance between horror and comedy always tilts towards the smiley side of the bridge and any horror is sacrificed in favour of gore. Getting this balance is always notoriously difficult, but there are easy solutions – don’t try to do both. Choose what you want – horror or comedy, and let the opposing side come naturally. It’s a movie about people eating people – perfect fodder for scares, but also perfect for some objectionable humour – it should come naturally so let it be. Critics reviewed the film with the usual platitudes about this being absolutely brutal and a gore-fan’s dream, but the reality is that the film is fairly tame; there is blood, but nothing to make you wince or marvel. The actual scenes with the tribe feel too short and I was readily anticipating the next gore scene rather than looking over my shoulder for someone with a fork in their hand and a ravenous look in their eye.

Having said that, Roth always manages to entertain. I tend to not have a problem with his characters or writing as the characters are meant to be caricatures – stoner, annoying one, other annoying one, heroine etc. I appreciate the throwback look, and callbacks to other movies – the cinematography and make-up here are the real winners ironically – you couldn’t pick a more beautiful place to be eviscerated and gobbled up. I’m still waiting for Roth to make something really special, and something all of his own. I’m hoping Hostel isn’t as high as he gets and I believe he has it in him.

Let us know in the comments if you have seen The Green Inferno and if it did sicken and disturb you, or if you found it boring and tame.

Goodnight Mommy

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*Spoilers beyond!

When your trailer is proclaimed as the scariest ever, you’d better back that shit up by making an equally terrifying whole. That trailer went viral in 2015, and as a horror fan it was a bold claim that I needed to verify. What I will say about the trailer is that it makes the movie look like something it isn’t. I didn’t find the trailer scary in the slightest but it did look ominous and interesting and had enough potential to make me want to see the whole thing. Now that I have seen it, did the final product live up to that potential?

Well…. no. Goodnight Mommy does have an interesting premise but misses out on creating any real sense of paranoia or dread. There is maybe a single page’s worth of dialogue in the entire movie, no real action appears until the final twenty minutes of an unnecessarily stretched running time, none of the ideas it purports are explored, and the whole thing is simply dull. We have meandering, lingering shots of empty rooms, the Austrian countryside, and people sitting, staring, walking, and we have unsympathetic and ultimately uninteresting characters leaping to conclusions and exhibiting behavior that seems to have no plausibility or reason. If we compare it to a movie such as, say A Tale Of Two Sisters, the difference in quality is vast. You could argue that it is an invalid comparison but it’s clear the makers desperately wanted to make something in that vein. A Tale Of Two Sisters makes use of its absolutely gorgeous cinematography and colour palette, and isn’t merely there to remind us that the family is isolated. The performances in Goodnight Mommy are sterile, while A Tale Of Two Sisters is visceral, and perhaps most crucially the Asian film is genuinely unsettling and scary.

Goodnight Mommy tells the story of two brothers who apparently live alone in a large house far from civilization, until one day a woman claiming to be their mother returns home from an operation. She is shrouded in bandages and seems to be grumpy and detached compared to when she left. The boys are left to their own devices but they begin to wonder if the woman in their house is an impostor – naturally they leap to the next logical step of torture (in fairness they do try to reach out to a priest, but he takes them home – knowingly). There is a supposed twist, but it’s unclear if the viewer was meant to know it before the official reveal or during one of the several unofficial reveals, or even during the first ten or 15 minutes of the movie where it is fairly obvious anyway. Several notable clichés are invoked such as the good old ‘outsider comes to the rescue only to be distracted at the crucial moment’ and the ‘almost escapes but is caught by something which would never happen in reality’. It’s muddled and plain and boring, and it isn’t redeemed by a better final twenty minutes. There are ideas, there is potential, and some of the scenes towards the end might even cause a hardened horror fan to cringe, but there isn’t enough to recommend. It’s a case of wanting to grab the filmmakers by the shoulders and scream in their faces ‘you’re doing it wrong! I know you’re better than this!’

By all means, watch this if you were genuinely creeped out by the trailer – I mean, check out the many many glowing reviews this has received by better people and clearer voices than me and mine. I can’t say I was disappointed by this as I wasn’t expecting much, but in the end this is a fairly tame thriller that both abandons and under uses its ideas. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie!

Hansel And Gretel

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I’d had this recorded on my box for about five years but finally got around to watching it in a futile attempt to make space. I’m glad I did because Hansel And Gretel is yet another unique and beautiful thriller from South Korea which, while not reaching the heights of Chan Wook Park or Kim Jee Woon, is still a film which raises many questions and merges stunning cinematography with ugly violence.

The film follows Eun Soo, a twenty something man who seemingly fears commitment or settling down with a family. In the film’s opening moments he is arguing on the phone with his girlfriend who is recently pregnant, while driving to visit his own sick mother. The argument causes him to crash his car, and he wakes up some time later in the middle of a dense forest. A young girl finds him and beckons him to follow her home, and as he is lost, hurt, and disoriented he has little choice. Upon reaching the house, things are a little bizarre and tense – the house is filled with kids toys, games, sweets, and chocolate, and the parents of the three children seem overly cheery yet nervous. Before long Eun Soo finds himself unable to leave the forest as if he is trapped by some mystical force, and a series of odd events make him question who the children really are and if he will ever escape.

Naturally I don’t want to give too much of the plot away; the film has twists and turns and constantly forces you to question who the victim is, what the motive is, what the reason for the situation could be, and how it will turn out for everyone. All is eventually revealed and in true Fairy Tale style we… well, we get an ending – decide for yourself if it is a happily ever after. The performances from the children are particularly good – again making you question their purpose, and the film cleverly holds back from anything too obviously supernatural until the final minutes. Special credit to Shim Eun Kyung as the eldest daughter for her mature performance. There is a dream-like quality to the film – from the sets to the cinematography, the music, and the moments where the characters seem to lose track of themselves, it does feel like stumbling into a modern, dark fairy tale where no-one can be trusted and everything is trying to eat you. The film lulls, enchants, and intrigues like all good stories should and each shot is set up to look pristine and artful. This isn’t a tale of woodcuts and creatures, more a child’s vision of an ideal world which engulfs and corrupts whatever and whomever it contacts.

Hansel And Gretel may be more difficult to get your hands on than other adult oriented fairytales such as Pan’s Labyrinth but it’s one to grab if you can find it and indulge in another dark fable which reminds us why we love such stories in the first place. Let us know in the comments if you have seen Hansel And Gretel!