The Wailing

Before I saw The Wailing I had seen it described as one of the scariest Asian movies of the decade – that sort of widespread feedback is enough to get me excited and wary at the same time, and by thirty minutes in to the movie I was wondering if I had accidentally selected another Korean movie with the same name, a comedy caper which was nevertheless entertaining. That’s what most of the reviews don’t tell you – The Wailing isn’t just a horror movie – it’s a comedy, it’s a drama, and it’s a tragic character study which will suck you in and spit you out if you allow yourself to be swallowed.

There’s a certain cultural divide you have to be prepared for when going into most foreign cinema. Sometimes an Asian film can be straight enough and universal enough to be fully understood by any viewer, and sometimes there can be quirky moments or pieces of dialogue or character traits which seem alien. Most of the time if the film is good enough, interesting enough, these can be overlooked or even enhance our viewing and become something a Western viewer looks forward to. When you watch a film with a certain historical or political context, or in the case of The Wailing, with numerous instances of Asian folklore, it can become a little overwhelming. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost in places while watching The Wailing – coming from someone who considers themselves a seasoned viewer of Asian Cinema. I feel like I can’t give an adequate synopsis of the plot due to this, and also due to wanting to avoid spoilers/mystery. All you need to know is that it’s about a small Korean town/village policeman and father who is investigating a mysterious sickness which has been sweeping through the town, coinciding with the arrival of a Japanese man.

The film has received universal acclaim from critics and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it too, even if I didn’t absorb everything I could have on first viewing. I suspect more of the puzzle pieces will become clear on a second viewing, possibly uncovering more of the Asian folklore and nods to Christianity. The film passes two and a half hours long and I feel like some of the early scenes could have been saved to get the film closer to a 120 minute run time. 150 mins plus is a long time for a horror film to retain scares and dread and threat and that opening half an hour or so almost feels like a different film, with bumbling keystone cop antics at loose character info eventually giving way to the procedural, the macabre, the horror. Mystery and myth intertwine and a father who seems careless and distant is forced to reevaluate his life and priorities in a race against time, but deception and intrigue seem to thwart him at every turn. Is it scary? There are moments, set pieces, both early on and towards the end which will scare or chill, but once the main plot picks up steam it is that sense of unearthly dread and tension which will get under your skin. The film is so well acted, so beautifully crafted, that it should unnerve even the most hardcore horror viewer – just don’t go in expecting jump scares and knife attacks. Expect the unexpected, expect provocation, and expect lots of reading up on the film after watching. I expect you’ll love it.

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Big Driver

Rape is arguably the most difficult subject to tackle on screen, never mind in literature. The horrific act is something which has long been used in stories – particularly in the visual medium – as a turning point in the narrative; the character survives and generally seeks vengeance or justice. There is a whole history, mainly in horror, of the rape revenge stories with increasingly, depressingly violent or graphic, or inexplicably titillating scenes of sexual violence which lead to further acts of violence against the perpetrator(s). Stephen King tackles the issue knowingly in his novella of the same name, from a collection which largely deals with issues relating to women or relationships. The written story is done with a level of tact and a lack of detail of the event, instead spending most of its length on the lead character, depicted before and after the event as a strong, singular women who just happens to be led into the wrong place at the wrong time. Indeed, King even acknowledges the cinematic tropes as the lead character refuses to be a victim and seeks out some of the aforementioned movies as part of her recovery, planning, and justice. The film, while it doesn’t linger on the event, shows enough to possibly put off a large section of the intended audience.

Big Driver stars Mario Bello (who is excellent in the role) as Tess – a successful crime writer who lives with her cat and the voices in her head – a device King often employs. She is invited to speak at library fan meeting and is advised to take a short cut, idyllic drive home off the beaten track by the event organiser. If you’ve seen any film in this vein before, you’ll have already connected the dots – one flat tyre and ‘helpful’ trucker later and Tess has been raped and left for dead in a sewage pipe, along with the rotting corpses of past victims. She survives, heads home, and begins connecting her own dots as she seeks vengeance.

If you’ve watched any rape revenge movie before, then you know what you’re going to get here. Thankfully this one didn’t feel like exploitation, at least to me, and the worthy cast give full-blooded performances. It’s a Lifetime TV movie so you have any idea how extreme the content will be. The direction is sound, nothing eye-catching or out of the ordinary here and the story, while attempting to offer some moderate twists in the narrative and contemplation on guilt doesn’t really offer anything new. This will be mainly for King fans, or any fans of the cast – as it stands it’s a worthwhile watch for those groups, but it’s not one you’re likely to remember or watch again.

Resident Evil

*Originally written in 2004

What had the potential to be one of the greatest zombie movies ever is let down by poor studio choices – mainly distancing itself as far from the games as possible. However, it remains a solid action movie if not the terrifying, emotional, complex horror it could have been. Admittedly, truly bringing the game to life for a two hour movie would be an extremely difficult process, and those making it could easily have made a mess, mangling the characters and story. It has always been my opinion that the games should be made into feature length TV movies or a high budget series. This way everything would fit in, and the budget would not need to be great. Of course this is just a pipe dream, and what we have is not as bad as some make out, with many good points.

The film starts with an outbreak at the Umbrella facility. Chaos ensues, and everyone appears to die. We then meet Alice, a woman inside an eerily empty mansion at night. She does not know who she is, and only has flashbacks of her life. Soon a group of marines enter, assuming she is a civilian, and along with the other survivors they try to work out what happened to the facility. They quickly find out that everyone has been turned into zombies by an evil computer program and worry about how to escape. Alice is not what she first appears to be, and neither are some other survivors.

The main problem with the film is that there is little fear created, and it is insanely watered down, with little gore. Fans of the series are used to high tension, jumps, threat and bloodshed, but this is simply not present here. Most of the marines are wiped out in a room which shoots high powered, cutting lasers, while only one is killed by a zombie. The Licker effects are okay, but there are no Hunters, Spiders or Tyrants. As well as this, most of the marines get small roles, look similar, and we fail to feel anything for them. Now the good points; Jovovich is very good in the role and there are a few decent twists, like the game. The way her mysterious past is revealed is clever and well-balanced alongside the escape plot. The star though is Michelle Rodriguez, giving an excellent, physical performance akin to Vasquez in Aliens. The action scenes are dealt with well, especially those involving the dogs, sets and lighting feel authentic for the series and the direction is solid. The film makes a good attempt at creating an original story, and it is left open for a sequel. Of course, us fans would have loved to see Wesker’s antics and our favourite STARS members being picked off. Maybe one day the games will make truly great movies, but why complain when we still have the games. Obviously a let down for fans, but still a pretty good action film.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Resident Evil!

The Visit

Okay, okay, Mr. Shyamalan – I enjoyed The Visit. Even the corny humour and the pre-requisite twist worked for me and while there is absolutely nothing ground-breaking or new here, it’s a perfectly entertaining horror movie that I still struggle to find a target audience for – is it form regular horror fans? Is it for kids? Does it matter? I have no idea.

Shyamalan jumps on the found footage band-wagon with The Visit – the conceit being that our two lead characters want to document meeting their grandparents for the first time. This is the 21st Century, and our two leads are tweens, so this is perfectly believable. Less believable is the fact that they are sent off on their own, across country, to meet their grandparents without having the faintest idea what they look like or without their mum dropping them off. The film wouldn’t work if those things happened of course, but it’s a silly setup nevertheless. The grandparents seem lovely, even if the generational gap means things are awkward, but they all seem to get on. There are house rules, such as going to bed early and not leaving your room after 9.30, and not going in the basement, but we accept those because old people are weird. Time passes, things get weirder, and twisty twist time comes.

The twist becomes more apparent as the movie progresses – it’s Shyamalan so you know shenanigans are afoot. Mercifully, the twist isn’t left to the final moments but revealed fairly early, setting up an interesting finale. There are some inspired moments which allow the faintest dread to creep in – playing under the house is jumpscare bait, but fun, and the cleaning the over sequences recall our childhood Hansel and Gretal fears. I won’t go so far as saying there’s supposed to be any deeper level of generational paranoia going on here – the fear of aging, of the mentally ill, or of dying for example – the set up seems too silly to allow such thoughts. You will be left with questions – spoiler alert – why is this couple living at the house after all this time and why do they consent to the kids coming? You can’t throw around ‘they’re crazy’ as an answer for everything.

The film works because the four leads are all believable and watchable. Even the son (Ed Oxenbould), with his annoying raps somehow comes off as funny to me when there’s no good reason he should. Olivia DeJonge gives a nice twist on the final girl trope, while both Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are effective pre and post twist. How the kids aren’t destroyed mentally after this is a wonder – maybe they’ll crop up again as Shyamalan experiments with his own Extended Universe. So yes, I enjoyed it in spite of myself – it’s silly but feels like a good popcorn flick – light scares, some laughs, and a twist which most likely won’t catch anyone off guard, and a return to commercial success for someone once hailed as the next big thing.

Train To Busan

By now if you haven’t seen Train To Busan you’ve probably at least heard of it – breaking box office records and hearts at a furious pace. If indeed you haven’t seen it, you need to set aside a couple of hours, right now, and watch it – Train To Busan is the horror movie of the year and shows that there is still plenty of life left in the shambling undead genre providing you have the right people behind and in front of the camera.

Train To Busan gets right what many horror films get wrong – character. Too often character is sacrificed for plot, or worse, for kills. I love a good beheading or stabbing as much as the next horror fan, but sometimes we want more – more substance, more feeling and care. Cannon Fodder is all well and good, but the impact when someone we actually like, or actively dislike bites the dust is more powerful and the memory of their death and the associated emotional weight stays with us longer. There’s an old belief/saying/remark that I generally accept as containing a lot of truth – that the best horror films are often made by people who don’t make horror movies. While that’s not true across the board, it does sometimes take a person outside of the genre to bring something truly unique or horrifying to the butcher’s table. While Yeon Sang Ho was no stranger to dark material, it would be difficult to classify his previous work as strictly horror – his debut animated feature The King Of Pigs an unsettling look at violence, class, bullying, masculinity, and the follow up The Fake is an equally divisive, unflinching depiction of religion and abuse of power. Train To Busan was the director’s first Live Action movie, and although he filmed it alongside the animated prequel Seoul Station, it depicts a level of character building and command of genre usually reserved for the greatest directors.

At just under 2 hours, Train To Busan covers a lot of ground and gets off the ground within moments – we meet the ‘bit of a dick’ protagonist – a divorcee who apparently cares more for his job than his young daughter. As her Birthday present, she wants to visit her mother in Busan and her dad reluctantly agrees to take her. As they get on the train we pass by several other characters – a working class tough guy with his pregnant wife, a superior wealthy business men, estranged elderly sisters, and a school baseball team with their own interconnected dramas. Just as the train is setting off, a young, sick, injured woman collapses into one of the carriages and the fun begins as she decides to take a chomp out of one of the train workers. The way the ‘virus’ spreads here is more akin to 28 Days Later where a serious bite will result in death and ‘turning’ in a matter of seconds. Within minutes the train is in chaos, with factions being formed, people being slaughtered, some hiding, some fighting, some locking others away to their doom, all while the train scurries along to its final destination.

The pace with which the virus spreads is matched by the plot pacing and direction. There is rarely a moment to breath or relax without some new twist or threat emerging. The characters from different backgrounds all react to the carnage differently, yet all want to survive. The arguments here are of course reminiscent of NOTLD and Day Of The Dead with each voice and ego demanding to be heard and refusing to accept any other opinion as valid. There are a number of terrific set pieces, from scrolling beat-em up fight scenes through zombie filled carriages, to white knuckle tension filled moments as one group tries to lock out another, to the seeming safety of arriving at another station only to find it completely overrun too. Indeed, most of the excitement and scares of the film come from the pacing and the character driven plot, rather than jump-scares or gore.

While the film has its bloody moments, it isn’t overly gory or off-putting for newcomers. Seasoned horror fans will enjoy the action and invention, while new fans will likely be sucked in by the story which is frequently heartbreaking. The performances from top to bottom are great, something vital when you are relying so heavily on character, and most of the writing is on point too. You’ll have fun guessing who, if anyone, will make it to Busan, and the energetic nature of the film will have you thirsting for a rewatch. This is a highly entertaining, game-changing zombie film which reinvigorates a genre bloated by the procession of Walking Dead episodes and clones and frequently equals the heights that the best of the genre has to offer while encouraging those unfamiliar with these types of movies to get on board.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Train To Busan!

Don’t Blink

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There is a lot of (valid) huffing and puffing in the horror community bemoaning the lack of originality in the genre. Mainstream horror, and mainstream movies in general simply don’t take the risks of old ending up in a greatly reduced gene pool and endless remakes and clones. On the flip side, indie film-makers and lower budget movies tend to feature more creativity, more refreshing ideas, while sacrificing box-office stars and eye-watering effects. Somewhere in the middle there is a line, where a middling budget and recognizable faces collide with ideas which intrigue and where writers and directors want to tell an interesting story without pressure to top the charts. Don’t Blink falls within this category and centres on an idea which had me hooked the moment I heard about it.

Remember that Halloween episode of The Simpsons where all the advertisements come to life and rampage through Springfield until the gang comes up with an ironic jingle called ‘Just Don’t Look’ to dispel the troublesome giants? It’s something I’ve always used in arguments against celeb culture, reality TV and beyond – if you don’t want something to exist, simply don’t pay attention to it and it will go away if enough other people do the same. It’s naïve, but it does work. What has this to do with Don’t Blink? The film’s premise is simple – a group of friends head out to a cabin hotel in the woods countryside only to find the place empty. There are no signs of any struggle but plenty of hints that something has gone badly wrong. Without warning they begin to disappear too. It shouldn’t be a spoiler to say this, but essentially what is happening is that if nobody is looking at you, you vanish. You cease to exist. Poof! Gone in an instant. The moment I read about this – the fact that there’s a movie about people basically dying if they are not seen – and my imagination went into overdrive, thinking up a hundred cool scenarios.

While the movie plays loosely with slasher tropes, it follows more in the footsteps of Final Destination, though without the gore or kills . What it does have is intrigue, suspense, and uncertainty. There are a few known names in the cast – Mena Suvari, Brian Austin Green, Zack Ward, but it was Joanne Kelly I was most excited to see after being sold on the idea, having been a fan of her from Warehouse 13. The rest of the cast are an assortment of interesting characters and performers and the film does spend time allowing us to learn about the various inter-relationships and insecurities of the individuals. As the film progresses and the numbers dwindle, these fears are heightened and you’ll be second guessing motives and survivors. Paranoia births slowly, comments and side-remarks are traded, sides are formed and arguments become violent. If you enjoy movies which make you question how you would act, then you’ll have a ball with this.

‘Hitchcockian’ has become an over-used term, but the film definitely plays out like an old school mystery and thriller with the viewer struggling for sense and reason alongside the characters. The director toys with us, dropping several red herrings. The camera tantalizes at several moments, spinning slowly around the characters and begging us to watch carefully to see if someone has disappeared or merely stepped out of shot for a moment. As much fun as the cast and director are clearly having, some viewers may be frustrated at how open-ended the film is. As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, this isn’t something I generally have an issue with – I’m happy to form my own opinions and conclusions based on what we are shown – but fair warning to viewers who like a tidy ending with all questions answered. It’s a film which reveals more with re-watching and it has quickly become a personal favourite. Horror fans striving for originality should open their eyes to this little gem.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Don’t Blink!

The Devil’s Rain

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In the 1970s, there was a cultural rekindling of interest in Satanism, and in devil worship. Thanks to hits such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, along with the rise in popularity of Anton LeVey, many musicians, storytellers, and filmmakers began to capitalize or express enthusiasm for the topic. The Devil’s Rain feels like an attempt to cash in on all of this and to generate an American version of a Hammer style horror film, without the regal quality.

We are thrown into the middle of things with little clue of what the hell is going on. This is less In Media Res, more In Media Mess. There is an alarming amount of exposition in the opening exchanges, yet it’s useless as none of it makes sense and the people don’t talk like any actual person would, with plenty of ‘in the name of Satan’ and ‘old mine shaft’ talk. The creepy intro sets a suitable tone though, with ‘evil’ music and droning voices being quite effective. On the plus side, the opening scene does feature some guy’s face being melted away, but rather than focus on this we also get a voodoo doll, a mysterious book, some prophetic rambling about ‘this is how it always starts’, and a magic protective amulet. The movie sets these things up as if they are and will be significant – they’re not… much.

The film features Ernest Borgnine, the least likely evil doer in history, as some sort of immortal satanic warlock priest. For generations he has been trying to acquire a mystical book which will give him… even greater powers? A local family apparently keeps this book, all until William Shatner decides to foolishly challenge Borgnine and is promptly defeated and converted. Enter Tom Skerritt, an outsider of the family, appears out of nowhere and attempts to save the day. It’s all very weird, the editing is jarring, little makes sense, the atmosphere and tone shifts wildly and dubiously – we get a hilarious scene featuring Shatner running away from hooded goons one moment, Tom Skerrit teaching a dull science class the next, but it’s not without some scares and tension which may affect a younger or more susceptible viewer. Naturally, there’s a twist ending too.

For such an old film, it’s interesting that so many well known faces turn up – Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, and even Anton LeVey himself turn up and some point. John Travolta makes a cameo, but you probably won’t notice him as he isn’t dancing – if he was it wouldn’t be any less bizarre than what does transpire. The performances aren’t bad… they’re just there – Borgnine actually is a charming, eye-sparkling villain, Skerritt is stoic, Shatner isn’t full Shatner yet. With all this criticism you’d be asking yourself why to watch – it’s a cult film, and it’s a little camp, and it’s interesting that it even exists. If you’re a fan of cult movies, of the curio, of horror in general, it’s worth seeing once to say you’ve seen it.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Devil’s Rain and if you feel it’s more enjoyable than what I have said!