Extinction (2015)

Post apocalypse fiction has always been my jam – since I was a kid and wasn’t aware it was even a genre. Nowadays, every third movie, book, or video-game is set in some post apocalyptic universe while back then you maybe got one release a year. It’s saturated beyond the point of return, but it doesn’t stop creatives churning them out. Most now aren’t very good and have fallen into an endless loop of recycling, but every so often I still dip my toes in to see if there is anything fresh. 2015’s Extinction is a low budget affair featuring Matthew Fox as one of three survivors of some little seen zombie related event and deals with standard survivalist and philosophical themes. You probably haven’t seen it, but if you’re in the mood, maybe you should.

The film opens with a bus packed with civilians being escorted by the army to a safe haven – we aren’t shown or told why. Before long, the bus is attacked and Matthew Fox’s Patrick, Jeffrey Donovan’s Jack, Valeria Verau’s Emma, and a baby escape the carnage. We flash forward nine years and baby Lu is now a precocious child, living with her father Jack. Patrick lives next door, but the two men are at war due to some unspoken occurrence in the intervening years. Emma is dead. It seems to be permanently winter, and while the zombies are gone they haven’t seen another living person. Jack tries to keep up a normal life of brushing teeth and teacher Maths to Lu, while Patrick gets drunk and tries to contact the outside world with his radio, sometimes heading into town to scavenge. As this is a horror movie, you know they won’t be alone for long.

Those looking for a standard zombie fest will be disappointed – the film only has a couple of brief attacks before the climax and so the film is more about guilt and forgiveness as flashbacks and events fill in the gaps and attempt to reconcile the protagonists. The zombies here are more like the creatures from The Descent – blind mutants which Gollum around the place and rely entirely on sound to find their prey. The brief attacks are basic enough gags you’ve seen before, but the climax does allow for a certain amount of tension provided you’ve bought in to the characters and story. It ends with your standard siege, with the survivors walled inside their home as the creatures tear their way inside. Director Miguel Angel Vivas uses these moments to show off his ability – a few nice panning shots of the creatures inside the walls of the house are well done, while the quirk of the creatures being blind pays off.

There is one major negative and one major positive. The film doesn’t have the money to really pull off what it wants to – some of the effects, particularly in showing off the devastation of the world, are cheap and pull you out of the story. A few moments when characters are travelling on snowmobile or are attacked look too fake. It’s a pity, because when they rely on make-up and physical performers for the final scenes, those look perfectly acceptable. The major plus is having a great trio of actors to tell the story. Fox is great as always, able to sway between drunken despair and action man status effortlessly, while Donovan conveys fear, anger, and hopelessness with a deft care. The stand out may be Quinn McColgan as young Lu – the child who has only ever known winter, a world with only two men, yet still dreams of exploration and other kids. Good child actors are a rarity, but McColgan holds her own – not only convincingly portraying the character and delivering her lines with emotion, but paying attention to the story when she isn’t speaking – a trait which often goes noticed when the camera isn’t focusing on you as a performer. McColgan was of course by this point an experienced actor, so it’s hardly a surprise.

So who is this movie for? Most horror fans are going to go for the mainline films or the very well reviewed indies, while your standard movie fan won’t go out of their way to catch it. Fans of the cast should find it a decent showcase and for anybody interested in a slow-burning story with some slightly unusual creature action this is better than most VOD fare. If more money had been thrown at it, it would have reached its full potential.

Let us know what you thought of Extinction in the comments!

Resident Evil 2

*Originally written in 2004

Like Alien and Aliens, if the first Resident Evil was all about atmosphere, the second is all about action. The film takes off from exactly where the first film ended, with Alice waking in a hospital of some sort, alone, walking out into the city street with a shotgun to find that Raccoon has been decimated. Cars are overturned, on fire, bodies are strewn, and there are no signs of life. This, like the first had potential. Unfortunately it does not live up to expectations, but still manages to be decent.

Residents of Raccoon City are trying to flee, but are being stopped by soldiers who will shoot anyone who approaches. They are trapped, and the zombie infection is spreading quickly. As night approaches, the survivors try to find refuge, led by Jill Valentine – STARS member and character from the game series. She takes a reporter, a taxi driver and others into her protection. Also sent in are an elite group of ex-criminal marines who are mostly wiped out – the survivors Nicholi and Carlos join Jill’s group and later meet Alice, who seems to be different than before. Dr. Ashford is outside the city, and via cameras watches the survivors. His young daughter is still alive somewhere in the city and he phones them with an offer – if they can rescue her, he will airlift all of them to safety. However, an evil army dude has other ideas, and the powerful NEMESIS has been sent in to kill all remaining STARS members.

The film has a fair amount of action, but unfortunately the director decides to use that useless fast cut yet slowed to blur style which is one of the most awful inventions in cinema and means we rarely see what is going on. The introduction of a few game characters is good, but they do not get the emotion from us that they do in the games, and in truth the script does not give them the chance. The taxi character is completely pointless and from the start we want him to die, though he did get a few laughs in the screening I attended. Alice has become super-human and her relationship with the Nemesis is the main reason for watching. It does get better towards the end, and a few twists at add some quality. I was almost misled towards the end when the copter crashes in Arklay, that perhaps now the characters would find a mansion and the real Resident Evil would begin. Something else happened though, setting up another sequel which again looks to have potential. Jovovich is good again, but because of her new found power we feel less for her. The renegade survivors could be better in any subsequent film, and Fehr and Guillory are both okay. With some better editing and direction this would have been better. Still, it’s worth seeing for fans of the series.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Resident Evil 2!

Friend Request

No spoilers – not really -but there’s a trend in recent horror movies where they have a decent idea or interesting set-up, go through the requisite jump-scares (fair enough) but then they have no clue how to end it. It’s like they get to the last page of the script and have no clue what’s supposed to happen. You see this in so many movies, and you see it in Friend Request. An alternate opinion is that you know exactly how it’s going to end based on roughly the first ten minutes. That’s exactly how I felt with Friend Request – I knew within the first ten minutes exactly what the final scene was probably going to be, even though there was enough potential to take it in different directions. Even though that final scene and the last pieces of set up don’t necessarily make sense, but they kept painting themselves into a corner….

Simon Verhoeven (no relationship to Mr. Robocop) directs this modern pseudo techno-horror movie. The opening scenes introduce us to Laura, a more or less popular University student going through all the usual stuff millennials apparently go through – posting selfies and pictures with their friends, drinking, clubbing, studying. She is a sweet woman, nothing special – in other words she could be you. Feeling sorry for one of the loners in her class, she strikes up a friendship with a girl called Marina. She’s a little odd, artistic, but soon becomes very clingy and angry to the point that Laura has to unfriend her. Marina kills herself on camera, and Laura feels guilty. Things get weirder when someone apparently takes over Laura’s profile, posting videos of the suicide and causing the police to sniff around and people to begin unfriending her.

Things start out well enough – I liked the set up of the suicide from the outset before briefly flicking back in time, and all of the online stuff was authentic. The friendship in the little group felt genuine, but none of the characters have much time or writing spent on making them feel human. There’s the best friend, the boyfriend, the geeky one, the funny one, and the other one, but they’re merely there to set up the kills and jumpscares. The scares are by the numbers but effective enough, at least at the start. Once you’ve seen one you have an idea of what is coming and they lack any tension beyond waiting for the boom and appearance. There’s isn’t enough exploration of the mythology behind it all and it eventually becomes too procedural like The Ring remake as the survivors race to appease the evil stalking them.

Verhoeven doesn’t direct with any notable flair and as mentioned the writing is precisely what you would expect from a teen-oriented modern horror movie. There is the bewildering inclusion of some keystone cops antics, with a pair of detectives who don’t seem to give a damn about what is going on and who I imagine were supposed to be there for comic relief but add nothing beyond wondering why they are there. There isn’t a lot of gore to be found for anyone worried about or looking for it, the performances are fine with talent such as Alycia Debnam Carey doing what she can. I’m surprised this made such little money at the Box Office – less than 10 million doesn’t sound right- but if that’s the case then this clearly isn’t something audiences were looking for. It’s better than the numbers suggest, it’s worth streaming, but the central ideas of cyber-stalking and internet addiction which are worth exploring through a horror lens aren’t fully realized. As is the case with many of these types of films – there’s a better film here, but it’s not the one we’ve been given.

Sh*t I Watch – Wolf Creek Season 1 and 2

Greetings, Glancers! I know it feels like I keep saying this recently, but we’re back with another entry from one of my long-standing series. Wolf Creek was a film I liked to a certain extent when it was first released, though my opinion on it was probably soured by the horror community’s over abundant love for it. At the time it just felt like a perfectly watchable addition to the ‘trip gone wrong, oops here’s a psycho’ sub-genre. It didn’t bring anything new but the main character of Mick was refreshingly smug. With the sequel, Wolf Creek 2, it explained more of Mick’s character and presented another group of hapless travelers in Australia with a series of bloody endings. Both films were torture porn with a self-mocking smirk, a fun time but nothing out of the ordinary beyond a charismatic lead villain. My wife enjoyed them too, but since that time she has moved away from a lot of the horror stuff we used to watch. It’s almost like she was just putting up with them until I put a ring on it.

Jump forwards a few years and Greg McLean decided to return to the outback and good old Mick, not with a third movie, but with a small screen outing. Wolf Creek Season 1 is a spin off from the films, and while it does loosely mention events and characters from the series, it’s its own thing. You don’t need to have seen the films to see the series, and vice versa. Within the opening scenes of the pilot episode, you know pretty much all you need to know about Mick, and about the show, and while the series as a whole does try to fill in his backstory and possibly explain his murderous intentions, it is more simply a female driven, wonderfully no holds barred, revenge story.

We open with an All American family on some sort of camping trip in the outback. They seem like your typical family – a bit of arguing, but clearly nothing out of the ordinary – Mom, Dad, athletic underachieving daughter, and cute son. Enter John Jarratt’s infamous Mick, the sly killer always ready with a racist quip, and a variety of guns and blades. Mick has this was of being charming and dangerous at the same time – lulling his audience with his Oz ways but simultaneously making you wary. You know there’s something wrong with this guy, but you cant honestly believe it. It’s not a spoiler to say that, in the middle of sharing the family’s food for the evening, he snaps and kills them. Pleasingly for a TV show, there is no shying away from the violence – mid conversation he slams a knife into Daddy’s leg before opening up his throat (in front of wife and child, naturally), then as mummy and son hold hands he throws another knife straight through mummy’s face. Son tries to run, but gets a bullet in his spine. When he goes stalking after daughter Eve (singing as he goes), the brutality finally hits home. Before going further, let me just say that Lucy Fry is a fucking beast. Her performance here, and in the series as a whole, is deserving of all the nominations and plaudits, and if she doesn’t become a superstar in the future it will be a damning slight for the human race.

Without giving away too many other spoilers, the rest of Season 1 sees Lucy, in classic Hitchcock style, trying to track down Mick to kill him while at the same time avoiding the cops. She learns more of his history as she goes, there are numerous side-plots about the cop who has been working Mick’s case for years, various locals with their own criminal or heroic pasts, and Mick himself who quickly realises that someone is following him for a change, and tries to turn the tables. The first season is only six episodes long, but this feels right. It never reaches the point of feeling bloated or unnecessarily stretched, but the various interweaving stories in the end are side dressing for the main event. While we end up caring about some of the others involved, in the end all we want to see is Eve and Mick standing off. Eve shows herself to be quick-witted and resourceful, a horror heroine in the vein of Ripley, Sarah Conor, or Sydney, and she plays the long game instead of rushing in. Fry and Jarrett have great chemistry, even though she don’t appear together too often, and on their own each is addictive and entertaining.

Credit should go to the writers and directors for continually thinking up great one-liners or speeches for Mick to chew on, and for shooting Australia in all its gorgeous, barren beauty. You’ve probably heard me talk about my love for sunrises and sunsets and twilight in movies, and Season 1 and 2 smash this look and atmosphere head on. Both series are among the prettiest I’ve seen in recent years – all the more so because there is little or no CG or false trickery going on – what you see is what the actors saw and felt.

Season 2 then concerns a new group. It isn’t readily apparent at what point in the Wolf Creek timeline any of this takes place, but again it’s not overly important. In classic sequel tradition, we up the ante by increasing the cast numbers – think Aliens or The Hills Have Eyes 2. We follow a group of people from various countries and of various ages going on a coach trip. We have a German couple and their daughter, a Canadian couple trying to salvage their marriage, a couple of tourists suffering from unrequited love, a psychologist, an ex soldier, a gay couple, a party boy, a bus – whatever the bus equivalent of a train spotter is. Through the six episodes we get to know this group, love them or hate them, and watch them get picked off by you know who. Yes, thanks to an unintended insult at a roadside cafe, Mick is back – this time taking charge of the coach and everyone inside. If there’s one thing Mick hates, it’s foreigners, and after driving his prey into the middle of nowhere he begins dispatching them with remorseless glee.

If I have any criticisms about Season 2, it’s that they have turned Mick too much into an unstoppable killing machine like Jason Voorhees. There are a number of teams he should quite easily have been killed, or at least slowed considerably, but there he is moments later back and badder than ever. Couple that with a few silly and unlikely decisions by our protagonists or others they meet along they way, and we have something which feels more contrived and cartoonish that the first Season. That being said, it’s still great stuff. Most of the cast are good and the time is taken to get to know their strengths and flaws. There is still a lot of up close and personal violence, with gruesome practical effects, and Mick is as rewarding and funny as ever. The story sometimes hints at a wider or future plot, but whether or not a third entry in the show or movie series will be made remains to be seen. With lead actor Jarrett accused of some serious crimes from a few decades ago, I can’t say much being done until is name is cleared (if it is). Would Wolf Creek work without him? It’s hard to see it happening, as Jarrett completely embodies the character, and all of his ticks, smirks, his voice, his stature, and of course that laugh – without those you would have a very different prospect on your hands.

Who’s it all for then? Fans of the movies should feel right at home, and anyone with a love for horror should get on board. If you like your horror violent and without holding back, then you’ll get a kick out of this, but it’s also funny, beautifully shot, and well acted and written, even if things do get a little silly the further down the line we get. My wife loved it too, and she has been avoiding the horror scene for a while now, unless it’s a creature feature. Horror is making a splash on the small screen in recent years, but it feels like this show flew a little under the radar. If you like horror, then you have no excuse not to seek this out and enjoy a bloody good time.

Let us know what you thought of the series in the comments below!

Eaten Alive

Tobe Hooper sure likes them weirdo, murderin’ yokels. As if he couldn’t get enough of all the dead skin wearin’, chainsaw totin’, blood suckin’ hicks in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre he takes us back into familiar territory with Eaten Alive – the loosely factual based story about an unhinged hotel (?) owner with a swamp instead of a backyard, and a croc instead of a dog. After the success of his breakthrough film it appeared that Hooper was safely giving the audience more of the same – but is it as good as its predecessor?

No is the short answer. There are many reasons why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is held in such high esteem and many horror films are not. That doesn’t mean Eaten Alive isn’t worth watching – for horror fans it’s fairly close to essential viewing given the director’s pedigree, and it stars a varied cast making some interesting choices. The film starts with a lead character fake-out a la Psycho or Scream – a young woman called Clara is a somewhat reluctant prostitute working in a small town brothel. Her reluctance causes her boss to chuck her out, and she is advised to walk to a nearby hotel for the night. Lets back up – the film actually opens with a nice crotch shot as Robert Englund utters the Kill Bill inspiring ‘my name’s Buck and I like to…’ you get the idea. It’s not often that Englund gets to play a ladies man, but here we assume he has the stamina and libido of an adolescent rabbit, casting off Clara before having a threesome, before picking up a girl in a bar. The film takes place over the course of a single night – a few hours – so that Buck fella must hella fuck.

Clara finds her way to the hotel, run by the muttering unhinged Judd (Neville Brand), who recognises her as coming from the brothel. Ol’ Judd isn’t a fan of such things so he grabs his handy scythe and dispatches of Clara, feeding her to his pet crocodile. The remainder of the film is Judd’s night being disturbed by additional visitors – Buck and his girl, the local Sheriff, a bickering husband and wife and their daughter and dog, and Clara’s father and sister hot on her trail. There are quite a few comparisons to be made between this and TCM – there is a similar low grade, dirty look to the cinematography, although at times there are bizarre saturated reds and backlights. Both films feature women in peril, both feature an unhinged man using a farming tool to murderous ends, and both films are incredibly noisy, with screams and shrieks and a buzzing atypical score. The scares here don’t work nearly as well though and there is a more voyeuristic, lurid tone with plenty of boobs on display and a little more blood. The crocodile never feels like a threat and is mostly used as a disposal unit, and Judd pales as a villain in comparison to any of the TCM family.

Where the film at times surpasses TCM is in its performances. There are some truly WTF moments when it comes to the acting and some strange choices which hurt overall, but Hooper is in command of professional actors this time around. TCM’s heroine Marilyn Burns appears here too in a role that largely recalls Sally from that film. It’s the characterisation which lets the film and the performances down – Burns plays a wife and mother who moves between hating and loving her husband and giving him drugs? She is wearing a wig when she first arrives and it’s unclear if she is supposed to be some sort of criminal. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for her then when Judd kills her husband and ties her to a bed for who knows what. Roy, her husband, is played by William Finley who gets the lion’s share of bad moments, wailing and stretching and overacting to the point of underacting. At first he is confident, then he has an inexplicable breakdown, before turning into some attempt at a vengeful hero. Judd all the while stumbles around the hotel, muttering and groaning to himself. Neville Brand has a great voice for Cinema, a deep, low tone which instantly grabs your attention, but it isn’t put to use here – hi mutterings mostly indecipherable. He’s never less than manic, hopping about on one good leg and displaying a range of tics but like his pet you imagine that a good stiff boot in the nuts would put him down easily enough.

The better performances come with Mel Ferrer and Crystin Sinclaire as Clara’s siblings. Ferrer aches with loss and guilt and a touch of manic desperation himself, while Sinclaire is the spitting image of Hilary Swank. Sinclaire doesn’t get a lot to do, but she has a confident presence and allure which makes you wonder why she never became a star. The Sheriff, as played by the ever familiar Stuart Whitman, adds his own brand of tainted understanding. Rounding out things are a young Kyle Richards as the annoying, screeching child who is chased under the house but won’t scream when there’s actually someone there who can help her, and Buck’s pickup Janus Blythe who brings another layer of amusing sleaze – both decent performances. The performance and appearance of the croc is underwhelming – it’s hidden for most of the film, but when it does pop out it doesn’t look the best – think Jaws but cheaper.

I never got around to seeing Eaten Alive until recently – it wasn’t the easiest movie to get a hold of and it never struck me as a must-see. For some reason I always assumed it was a cannibal movie and combined with it being hard to get a hold of I assumed that all meant that it probably wasn’t very good. There is an Italian cannibal movie with the same name, so somewhere along the way I merged the two in my own mind. It’s worth seeing, both as a follow-up to one of the greatest of all time, and as a quirky slice of Southern grime. Just why is there a hotel out there in the middle of nothing? Why does Clara have to struggle through a bushy forest to find her way to it – isn’t there a path? Should we assume Judd has been killing all of his guests? If he remorselessly wipes out several in this single night, then we have to assume he has done it before giving him a probably high kill rate and surely then the authorities would have been knocking on his door years before? In any case, it’s not a film you’re supposed to question – it’s played more to make you uncomfortable rather than outright scare you, and there has always been something about crazed loner hicks which has both entertained and put me on edge. While there isn’t anything a dedicated horror fan won’t have seen here before, it’s exactly the sort of film a dedicated horror fan should still get a kick out of.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Eaten Alive!

Ring 0

*Originally written in 2004

If you enjoy real, fill your pants atmosphere in films – that creeping feeling of dread usually reserved for coming face to face with your own personal phobia, then watch this and prepare yourself – the final fifteen minutes may well be the most heart-stopping, chilling fifteen minutes you will ever witness.

Just a warning though; it is slow paced, even more so than Ringu, a complaint many people seem to have with these movies, and the first time I watched it I wasn’t sure if it was leading anywhere. My problem was that I was watching it and comparing it to Ringu in my mind. The last few scenes changed my mind. The next time I watched, my mind was clear, and it scared the wits out of me. The few scary moments before the final scenes are pretty good, employing classic ‘should I look behind me’? techniques much like the previous films, but before I get to the final scenes, I’ll explain everything else.

The film begins in modern day Japan – someone has heard a rumour about a videotape with a curse… then we flashback thirty years or so and meet the Evil Spirit Sadako… only to find she is a beautiful young woman, a talented actress though shy, and misunderstood. Sadako Yamamura is part of an acting school, and her first role is a few days away. She keeps to herself, but the attentions of Toyama infuriate the other girls, who can’t understand what he sees in her when he could have any of them. The girls get jealous, and a number of deaths occur mysteriously. The story also follows a journalist who has traced down Sadako – she is the widow of a man who died, also under mysterious circumstances at the hands of, she believes, Sadako’s estranged mother. Sadako’s mother was famed for her supposed supernatural abilities, and killed herself a short while ago. The journalist wants to find out the truth, and finds Sadako just before opening night. Paying one of the jealous girls to mess with the audio equipment, hoping to get a reaction from Sadako, the play begins to go wrong, and in a Carrie-like scene, everyone blames Sadako. Then the fun really begins…

Up to this point, the film is equal parts chilling, beautiful, and to a certain extent confusing. The acting has been very good from everyone, especially Yukie Nakama who drags out our sympathy. Toyama is the only person who trusts Sadako, and tries to defend her, eventually leading to one of the most tragic scenes I can recall seeing. Every scene is shot trying to balance beauty with the creation of fear, a wonderful irony considering Sadako’s own birth and life – she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and is capable of great beauty, but all she seems to do is scare and kill.

I’ve probably hyped the film too much now, but the final scenes in the forest and Sadako’s old home are really that good. Terrifying, and directed brilliantly – watch for the way the forest suddenly changes colour from green and full of life, to that Sepia tinge used in the first films to show both the past and the afterlife. And watch in the background for a long haired figure in white floating past the trees. One of the most underrated horror movies of recent years, mainly because it can seem confusing at first glance, and because very few questions are actually answered. The point is, the questions are there to be asked, for us to work them out ourselves – we become like the journalists in each of the movies, drawing ourselves closer into the tragedy and threat of Sadako’s life until we cannot escape.

Wake In Fright

For the longest time, Australia has been known more as an exporter of beer, singers, and Television, even though they have a wide, varied, and interesting home-grown cinema. Even though there have been a number of breakthrough hits or films which have brought attention to the country – Mad Max, Wolf Creek, and of course Crocodile Dundee, it remains a mysterious uncharted land for your average cinema goer with a slew of undoubted classics of multiple genres passing far under the radar. Wake In Fright is arguably the foremost of these – a film which received critical praise upon release but a muted commercial response and which has found subsequent acclaim with each new generation of viewers.

I should get the notorious elements out of the way first, as they may be the deciding factor on whether you watch or not. The film does feature live and active violence against kangaroos, with some scenes of a drunken hunt. We see them being chased by dog, by car, shot, wrestled with, and stabbed – it’s understandable if you want out at this point. The filmmakers defended the footage by saying it was part of a real hunt and later became disgusted by it that they feigned a power outage so it would end. The hunt is just one of the symbols of machismo which the film explores, surrounded by drinking, fighting, a give no fucks attitude, and a disregard for anything resembling cultured humanity.

It’s the descent of an otherwise decent man into this male pack mentality which takes up most of the film. John is an affable teacher in the Outback but who wants more from life – an escape from Australia and a more cultured and worthwhile existence. During the Christmas holidays he heads towards Sydney and his girlfriend, stopping off in an outback town known as The Yabba. The locals are overbearingly friendly, casing John as an outsider and keen to involve him in their customs – namely, drinking, eating, and gambling. John as an intelligent educator views himself as better than them, treating these experiences as an off-putting but nevertheless interesting excursion on his way to civilization, but the effects of alcohol and the lure of a huge gambling win to fund his escape to London set him on a downward spiral. Trapped without a penny to his name, he must rely on the charity of the locals and pay them back by getting involved.

The film takes a different approach to the ‘fall of the civilized man’ sub-genre which populated the early 70s. Rather than some extreme event twisting the protagonist towards violent revenge, John is led by smiling faces and helping hands towards what would appear to be man’s natural state. He isn’t forced or forcibly coerced but knowingly succumbs to a societal peer-pressure however horrendous the result. This is all convincing thanks to a terrific lead by Gary Bond and a host of buffoon locals and drunks, most notably a fantastic lost performance by Donald Pleasence. Pleasence veers between funny, charming, extremely creepy, displaced, and at home often within the same scene, often with just a glance and a facial expression. Few films have a power to fill you with unease quite as much as this, and upon rewatch it’s not clear why or how these feelings come so powerfully. There is nothing overt in the first 30 minutes, nothing grim or harsh or violent or frightening. Certainly Kotcheff’s direction has a lot to do with it with plenty of rapid camera moves and spins and frantic close-ups of shouting and claustrophobic masculinity. More likely it is that the film, through its many combinations of writing, direction, score, performance and more, has tapped into a fear which many men have – a fear of the alpha, a fear of not being part of the pack or possibly worst of all, the fear of being part of it – and enjoying it.

The film starts out with a wonderful shot, evocative of Once Upon A Time In The West of all things – just an empty landscape which stretches on forever, a railway track yearning for the horizon, and a single building on either side. The camera does a creeping 360 and we see, impossibly, that there is nothing else for miles – we may as well be at the end of the Earth. It’s the only glimpse of beauty we get as the camera spends the rest of the film closed in and up close. As hopeless and vast as the opening shot is, and as much as John desires to escape from it, by the end he and us want nothing more than a return to its simplicity. Wake In Fright is one of the finest Australian movies ever made and one of the best films of the 70s. It’s depressing that so few film fans have seen it or even know it exists, but it should be spoken of in the same breath as Straw Dogs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Taxi Driver as an example of striking, unforgettable 70s Cinema.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Wake In Fright!

Tag

What do Battle Royale, Final Destination, Mulholland Drive, The Walking Dead, Existenz, Lost, 8&1/2, Forrest Gump, and Primer all have in common? On the surface, not a lot, but Sion Sono cares not for such concerns and instead finds his own connections in weaving this absurdist film about a person becoming unstuck in time and reality while being stalked by a powerful, murderous force. If you’re looking for a linear plot A to Plot B film, you’d be better placed heading out to the latest blockbuster but if you’re keen on something shape-shifting, ambiguous, and hypnotic you have come to the right place.

Sion Sono is no stranger to wiping out huge swathes of people. If you’ve seen Suicide Club you’ll know he’s a fan of sudden shocking moments, usually involvement mass death, and sometimes focusing on school girls. Tag starts out with a knowing homage to his previous work, as its already infamous opening scene sees two school buses filled with teenage girls sliced into pieces in an instant, leaving a single blood-soaked, bewildered survivor. That’s not a spoiler as it has made up various trailers over the past couple of years and has popped up on a variety of horror and extreme cinema sites, as well as happening in the opening minutes and being the catalyst for everything that follows. Our protagonist flees, running from what seems to be a sentient wind which cuts into any poor soul she begs for help. There’s nothing like killing around fifty people in the first six minutes of your movie to put a smile on my face.

From there it only gets more interesting, or weird, or off-putting depending on your preference. Describing in detail anything else that happens, plot-wise, would be bordering on spoiler territory and likely be futile. This is Sion Sono having fun; for his own pleasure, at our expense, at life in general, and finally because he’s good at it. It’s his art horror film – lots of stylized shots, close-ups of faces, floating feathers, leaves, panty shots, and a lot of running. Merged with these are frequent outbursts of action and violence which are often funny and can be shocking, even with the somewhat dodgy visual effects.

I don’t think there is any deeper meaning here beyond what one character says on our behalf – basically life is surreal and is often beyond our control, so just get on with it as best you can. It helps if you look good in a Wedding dress and if you imagine The Walking Dead theme tune accompanying your every move. Sono dabbles in issues like fate, AI, the passage of time, futility, mortality, so by all means you are free to read the film on any level you desire. In my mind, the broken mind of a tortured cynic, it’s all meaningless except for taking it at its most superficial level – as another entertaining film from the crazed brain of Sion Sono.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Tag!

The VVitch

Few horror films of recent years have seen the acclaim that The VVitch has received. Maybe only The Babadook has reached those heights, and of course The Conjuring movies from a moneys perspective. It’s often a crutch when a genre film receives such adoration – fans expect greatness, it’s hyped as the greatest thing since Regan turned her head 360, and many are left disappointed. We know these things, so it’s always prudent to ignore hype, good or bad publicity where possible, and watch the film on its own terms. I dream of living in a fascist state where we are forced to consume entertainment on Day 1 with no spoilers. Or like things used to be in the good old days, dagnammit. Speaking of the good old days….

The film is set in the grimy, desolate wilderness of New England in the 1600s. A Puritan family is expelled from their village for some religious reason, and is forced to squeeze out an existence on the outskirts of a nearby mammoth forest. One day, their newborn baby seemingly vanishes during a game of peekaboo with daughter Thomasin, kicking off a series of unnatural events which causes the already fractured family to suspect one another of witchcraft and fall apart. As far as plot goes, there isn’t a lot on the surface, but the rites of passage, fear, and sexual tension bubbling underneath barely scrapes the surface of everything else going in.

The debut by Robert Eggars is one of the most startling in recent years, showing an assurance and skill most directors never achieve. Eggers wrote the story too, so his familiarity with the characters and with tone already places him at an advantage for telling the tale, but he makes the whole experience so visionary and cinematic too. While the Witch itself only appears in a few scenes, her presence is ever-felt – in the wind, in prayers, in shadows, in the characters’ whispers, and via the woods themselves as a metaphor. Eggers shoots with a looming distance – these small, inconsequential people on the verge of massive and ancient unknowns, giving their existence over to one God while a more malevolent opposite stalks them with efficient glee. The film is shot in near darkness and like Kubrick before him, he went for an authentic approach with respect to lighting, using only candles and the stars. Likewise, costume and soundtrack are sparse, and the casting sees British stalwart Ralph Ineson playing the frustrated patriarch over Anna Taylor-Joy in her breakthrough performance. The performances are worn and ruined wonderfully, the casting picking English talent with distinct features and voices who have an authentic air of having ‘been through some shit’. While the score is sparse, it is also punctuated by a sound design filled with air and the burden of silence and space.

Horror fans looking for blood and guts or obvious scares may be disappointed, but those of us who also enjoy a story expertly directed and descending towards the enraptured layers of hell will adore this. Anyone who has lived outside of suburbia or who has walked through the countryside at night will understand the inbred fear of darkness and the unknown when the sun lays its head – modern technology and knowledge has taught us that there is little to fear, but hundreds of years ago when light was your only protection and a Bible verse your only armour, isolation and darkness and weather were all-pervading issues of concern to overcome. Throw in a murderous supernatural enemy and things go from bleak to apocalyptic. Eggers harnesses these fears and this atmosphere perfectly, creating a film experience unlike anything else in recent memory.

Ring 2

*Originally written in 2004, so apologies for the quality

The fear and utter dread continues in Part Two of the Ringu trilogy, set one week after the events of the first film. The girlfriend of Takayama tries to solve the mystery of his death by finding his ex-wife and son, and in doing so brings herself deeper into Sadako’s life than anyone previously had.

The movie is at times frustrating and confusing, at others ingenious, yet  the scares remain intact. For the first time we get the sense of Sadako as a tragic figure, rather than a relentless spirit with the sole purpose of seeking revenge on everyone. She had been alive down that well for a long time, and seeing the world from her eyes helps us appreciate the build up of rage. While the tension is lessened, the sudden jolt scares are increased – terrifying moments including the well scene at the end, one involving a mirror, and a scene with a treacherous journalist. Again the acting is flawless, but the most interesting part for me was the fact that minor characters from the first film get the top billing here.

The film is let down by its confusing explanation of the curse and how to stop it, or harness it, but this is a minor flaw. When you feel your stomach turning inside out, your breath catching in your throat as Sadako floats past doors, you know you’re watching an excellent horror movie. And when you turn off the lights, and imagine those nail-less fingers stretching for your ankles, you know you won’t be able to sleep easily for a while.