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!

Manuscripts Don’t Burn

*Note – review based on a free copy provided by Amazon

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Cover Your Tracks

A difficult film to appreciate, this is at times slow, awkward, detached, confusing, and has an almost documentary like vibe to it. With that said, it is clearly well made from a technical perspective, and tells an important story. Apparently based on true events, the film follows the intertwining stories of a group of ‘intellectuals’ – writers who speak out against the lack of freedom of speech in Iran, and the various people who try to silence them. The main incident over which the groups collide is when a bus of 21 of the intellectuals is purposely attacked in an attempt to silence them all in a single swipe, and make it look like an accident. This attempt goes array, and the writers attempt to make this event public through their words, while the other side attempts to cover their tracks.

Some Sort Of Morality

Rather than simply killing the intellectuals, there is some sort of morality play going on, where old friends attempt to take a non-violent approach to the silencing. Obviously, the manuscripts telling of what happened must be found and destroyed, but all of this is approached in an excessively slow burning, convoluted manner, with kidnapping, torturing, and other apparently pointless asides. I have no idea if this really is based on true events, or if it is, if this is how the events actually transpired – it all seems like some incredibly inept attempt at being in control, and in fighting for justice. The story also appears to jump around in its narrative, there are a high number of redundant scenes, and there are a few pieces where voiceovers and actual dialogue begin to merge. I can’t honestly say if it is well acted or not because I haven’t seen any of these actors before, and the range of what is shown is extremely limited. The fact that much of the film is shown from the side of the soldiers sent to do the dirty work must be an attempt to show that, hey, even these guys are human (one of them has a sick son), but we don’t get any insight into these characters and so cannot feel any sympathy or any other emotion for them.

I’m sure there is a much more engaging, stronger story in here somewhere. I would love to say that this is authentic and honest, but it is something I don’t know enough about, and the film certainly hasn’t made me want to learn any more. If you are interested in Middle Eastern Cinema, or indeed the conflicts and injustices going on there, then you may get more out of this.

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Have you seen Manuscripts Don’t Burn? Did you enjoy it more than I did? Let us know in the comments!

The Last House On The Left (1972)

Over 10 years before the Elm Street series began, Craven was already creating fear, disgust, invention and controversy, particularly with The Last House on the Left, a notoriously banned film which, like most banned films, is graphic more in theme than content. For its time though, it was heavy stuff; rape, murder, mutilation, torture, sadism, revenge, chainsaws…

The film begins calmly enough, with two teenage girls going out together to a rock concert, we watch them getting ready at one of their houses with one set of parents telling them to be careful, have a good time etc. After looking for pot before the concert, the girls are kidnapped by a group of sadistic escaped criminals including Krug (the leader), and his apparent girlfriend Sadie. The girls are raped, tortured, and eventually killed in a number of drawn out, brutal scenes. Craven directs these scenes in a plain, cold manner, so that they are almost unbearable to watch – this is particularly effective due to the lack of gore, close-ups, and other typical techniques overused in totrute porn today – it doesn’t feel exploitative even though we know it is. It helps that the performances of the unknown cast are excellent – to the point that uit doesn’t feel like acting. After the deaths, the killers seem to realise what they have done and there seems to be some sort of confusion in their eyes, if not remorse. In a Bergman-esque twist, the killers’ car breaks down and they look for help at a nearby house which just happens to be the Collingwood home, where the parents of one of their victims live. The Collingwoods have meanwhile called the police as their daughter did not return home, and they unwittingly invite the maniacs in. It isn’t long before each group recognises the other, and the tables are turned with the parents wreaking bloody revenge using a variety of dentistry and DIY tools to full, gripping effect.

Like The Hills Have Eyes, it is fascinating to watch how a middle class family with strong morale values etc can quickly become executers when provoked – to see how any person can become a monster in the ‘right’ circumstances. There are no happy endings here, no moral justification, just revenge pure and simple. The film is set up in every way to disturb – from the infamous trailer, the Texas Chainsaw style ‘based on a true story’ effect, and the scenes of torture and murder themselves. Krug and co. are thoroughly evil and take great joy in the pain of others, but they quickly change face when faced with a gun or chainsaw. The film is almost entirely grim and grainy although there are some funny moments involving the cops and a chicken farmer – these scenes have become infamous amongst fans and critics of the movie. My personal feeling is that it makes the carnage all the more awful, knowing that the usual source of Salvation is a bumbling non-entity – it exemplifies that great Craven message – YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN.  There is some average acting of course, aside from the main players, and it is understandable that many will find this, and the scenes involving the cops particularly jarring. Many today will still find it unbearable. This should definitely be seen, but do not expect a bright affair, or even for your blood-lust to be satisfied – you will be uncomfortable throughout.

This double disc edition has since been improved upon by a 3 disc set, but this edition has plenty of extras including intersting docuementaries featuring Craven and cast and some shorts. For fans of the genre, and for fans of Craven this is an important piece documenting the extreme lengths film-makers were willing to go to provoke a reaction, to stir things up, and to horrify. If you want to check out the remake, which ups the gore, budget, and overall quality it is certainly one of the better remakes of recent years, but still pales in my opinion, to the stinking realism of the original.

Let us know what you thought of the movie – does it still retain the power to shock, or is it more tame that a flaccid sock?

*Review originally written in 2004

Saw IV: Go Saw This Now!

Saw IV is the 6th sequel in the series of Saw series. Sawriously. This time round The Saw Man has captured a collection of do-badders and placed them in an abandoned fairground, forcing them to take part in a series of fiendish traps based around fairground rides. This time though certain parts of Saw’s past life are tantalisingly revealed; how he was an orphan, sold into a travelling circus troupe where he learned to hone his abilities at tricks and stunts and traps. Growing up was tough as his only friends were freaks who could bend themselves into 10 inch squared boxes, dwarfs, acrobats, giants, and other unsavoury types. Eventually a bearded lady joined the group and they fell in love. Unfortunately just before they were to be wed, doctors informed Saw that he had Cancer (due to over exposure to clowns) and that he could not be cured. Devasted, his fiancée decided to leave him for the strong man. Saw began to get angry and hate the world. Over time the bearded lady realised she truly loved Saw and told him that she wanted to marry him. He was over-joyed, but that night there was an accident in the circus. Due to a contrived series of events, an audience member accidentally knocked into the cannon as it was firing a trapeze artist out. Instead of flying into a net, he flew into the bearded lady, in one side and out the other, leaving her with a giant man shaped hole in her middle. She died in Saw’s arms, choking on her blood and beard. Saw began to hate the world, watched people wasting their lives, and wanted to show them true pain whilst giving them a chance at redemption as that chance was beyond his own grasp. Naturally the people he has been selecting in this and the previous films have all been connected to his wife’s death in some way.

There is a group of about 10 characters here, mostly annoying, and ranging from drug addicted teen to corrupt big wig, from disgraced sportsman, to college dropout. They wake up together chained to dodgem cars. After a few moments of screaming and arguing and working out who each other is, Saw plays a tape with one of his usual riddles. ‘I want to play a jest’ he says. Each of the cars is rigged with dynamite, the dynamite covered with knives and stabbing weapons. The people must bump into each other as many times as possible within two minutes. Whoever did the least damage in the two minutes remains locked to their seats while the other nine are released. They move on while the loser explodes. The survivors move on to the next group. Over the next two hours we are treated to gore, frights, laughs, and some ingenious set pieces as the group are whittled down to bits. Coincidentally one of the traps involves whittling- the group enters a new room and each find someone hanging from a hook. They have to whittle, or skin their person until only flesh remains. Whoever is last gets chopped up by a giant scythe. We see a trap on board a ghost train, with acid dripping from the ceiling, and bullets flying from the walls; there is a hall of exploding mirrors; a deadly lava filled maze; a terrifying roller-coaster with loops and turns, but no harness; it all ends with the survivors climbing inside cannons to fire themselves out of a window to safety. If they miss they will smash into a brick wall and be trapped forever. If they escape they will be scarred for life with cuts and burns, but will at least be alive.

Unfortunately this was the last Saw film until Saw V. It has some of the best moments of the series, but is quite confusing. At times I didn’t know who was a baddie, or why anyone would set up such elaborate schemes and I began thinking I was watching Scooby Doo instead. The next film toned down the story and upped the blood content as it is simply 90 minutes of a man in a blender.

Best Scene: When they all had to climb up the big slippery slide while blood was poured down onto them. It was funny when one of them slipped down the slide into the grinder at the bottom.