Sunday, August 10, 2014

Horror Film Review

Infected (2012):  If you suffer from insomnia and aren't a fan of sleeping pills, then this zombie flick is for you. would think it impossible to make a film featuring an undead apocalypse so mind-numbingly dull.  Sadly, one would be wrong.   OK, I better get this over with before I fall asleep trying to write it.

Remote cabin in the woods.  I'm shocked.  Instead of a group of young friends hell-bent on partying like it's 1999, it's some middle-aged dudes with their adult children getting together for a weekend of hunting.  And drinking, of course.  There's grumpy Louis (Michael Madsen) and his indifferent son Andrew (Tom DeNucci) who looks too much like Zachary Quinto.  There's the world-wise Dr. Dennehey (William Forsythe) and his world-naïve son Jeremy (Kevin DeCristofano).  There's uptight Seth (Johnny Cicco) and also three women whose relationships with the menfolk aren't terribly clear or, if I'm honest, terribly important.  Well, except for Louis' pregnant fiancé who you'd naturally think would survive and is present simply to add tension.  Nope and nope.  Oh, yeah.  Sorry.  Spoiler.

It seems there's a new flavor of Lyme disease that causes the afflicted to fall desperately ill...and then transform into shit-house-rat-crazy cannibals.  So not technically zombies.  Would the film have been better if they were?  Hell, no.  Anyway, while collecting firewood, Jeremy is set upon by a hungry grandma and becomes her supper.  It's pretty much downhill from there.  Dr. Dennehey is grief stricken and starts blasting, manages to get bitten and then spends the rest of the movie making notes on his own descent into madness.  Louis get bitten but doesn't turn (no explanation).  Seth, however, does.  One of the women has her eyeball chewed out by the Jeremy-munching grandma.  Eventually, Louis, Andrew, Louis' fiancé, and another woman make a break for it in the doctor's Jeep.  Then we get a voiceover.  It's Louis explaining how the whole world's now infected, only he and Andrew survived, but survival camps have sprung up so by golly there is hope.  The last ten minutes focus on a now buff and badass Andrew traveling the countryside in a Mad Max-inspired truck scrounging for supplies and fellow survivors. 

The sheer tonnage of problems in this film are astonishing. Why do some infected folks go full nutso cannibal and some only partially nutso cannibal?  One scene shows an obviously infected father comforting his pre-teen daughter.  He eats her, leaving only the spinal column and skull (what, did he eat all the other bones?) and then calls his ex-wife to argue about alimony and such.  Er...that's not how it's supposed to work.  Again, no explanation.  That's another point:  killing kids.  They broke the unwritten, don't-kill-kids rule not once but twice. 

Other problems include the doctor's notes on his own transformation.  Nothing is done with it.  So why did they bother?  The camp is protected by a couple of guards and one of those counter-weighted bars on the road. No high fences, no walls.  No sense at all.  Madsen may or may not have been drunk or stoned throughout the shoot.  Hard to tell.  He alternates from inaudible pontification to shouting silly things.  It nears high camp at times.  One last thing...other than the Evil Dead remake, this may be the most humorless zombie flick ever made.  Evil Dead got away with it because it was very well made.  Infected...not so much. 

The Skinny

Acting:  Forsythe is hammy, Madsen chews on the scenery like a starving rabid dog, and the rest are slightly below average. 
Story:  Lyme disease, eh?  Sure.  Why not?
Direction:  Some interesting camera angles can't make up for the glacial pacing. 
Production Values:  There's a cabin and some woods and a $2 million budget.  I'd love to know what they spent it on. 
Gore/FX:  The eating of the eye bit was fairly gross.  Average amount of blood.  I didn't notice any CGI. 
Scares:  Nope.
Ending:  Unsatisfying would be an understatement.
Verdict:  Should you see Infected?  Only if you can't sleep and have run out of Ambien.

Rating:  1 out of 5

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Horror Film Review

Unidentified (2013):  Found-footage fare about evil aliens, high states poker, and the Down Syndrome mafia.  Sound interesting?  Sound quirky?  Sound like something that may hold your attention for 90 minutes?  Oh, only if it were so.  Try to follow this...

Uber nerd Jodie (Eric Artell) tags along with brother-in-law Nick (Eddie Mui) on his trip to Vegas.  Joining them are Nick's friends Jeremy (Parry Shen) and Dave (Colton Dun).  Much to the great annoyance of the other three, Jodie decides to record their odyssey.  We first think it's for his YouTube channel but later learn it was at the behest of Nick's wife Janelle (Beth Alspaugh).  Why?  Because Nick has a gambling problem.  So why would Janelle let him go and why would his "friends" take him to the gambling capital of the universe?  The only answer I came up with was that it's in the script. 

Anyway, Dave set up a poker game for Nick that's just a tiny bit off the Strip.  They borrow a few grand from a loan shark for Nick's stake.  Why do something so stupid?  Easy...Dave says that Nick's sure to win.  Why?  Because the poker game is exclusively for folks with Down Syndrome.  Dave, not the pointiest arrow in the quiver, assumed these people were less intelligent.  Needless to say, Dave was catastrophically mistaken.  Owing money they don't have, they try to quietly check out of their hotel but are set upon by the loan shark and chased out of town.  With Jeremy driving, they eschew main roads and wind up in the desert.  A freak lightning storm strikes.  A bolt zaps the car, frying the battery.  While waiting for dawn, Jodie wanders off.  They find him, zombie-like, staring at the horizon.  He has a giant cyst on his back filled with black goo.  Of course they just have to drain it.  Gross.  They get lost, night descends, and soon the four increasingly hysterical friends realize they're not alone in the dark.  Then there's running and hiding and the inevitable encounter with bug-eyed aliens who are not very nice, not very nice at all. 

The guys don't get lost in the desert until the film is nearly two-thirds over.  So a slow start, then.  There is such a wealth of logic-defying decisions made by these characters that this review would end up novel-length if I attempted to discuss them all.  It's the same with any horror film wherein a group of friends travel together to a remote location, I suppose.  At least they didn't end up at a cabin in the woods.  Beyond questionable character decisions, the filmmakers themselves made choices that at the time must have seemed clever.  Case in point:  At the end, the alien craft blasts off and the camera (along with a most unfortunate Nick) get sucked up into its wake.  How far, you ask?  A few hundred feet?  A few thousand?  Nope.  To the edge of space.  Many footage minutes of an uncontrolled descent follow.  Then, through a cracked lens, we see a bearded gent pick up what is obviously an indestructible camera.  I'm sorry, you drop anything from a couple hundred thousand feet and you're going to end up with something extremely flat and extremely dead. 

The Skinny

Acting:  Not as awful as I feared, if I'm honest.  Artell as Jodie is goofy and likable.  Shen as Jeremy is quite funny when sharing his constipation woes. 
Story:  They could have created a more plausible explanation for a midnight desert excursion.  And while Area 51 isn't mentioned, aliens in the Nevada desert isn't exactly shocking.
Direction:  Single camera perspective shoots can be notoriously difficult as you are allowed to show only a narrow window of action which can consequently wreck havoc on the narrative thread.  Despite the rest of the film's many flaws, they succeeded in this one aspect.
Production Values:  Well, they did film in Vegas and they did film in the desert so there's no problem with realism.  Lighting and sound quality were suspiciously good.
Gore/FX:  Not any blood per se, rather there's black goo.  Oh, and we see what happens when a human body reaches the edge of earth's atmosphere.  Ouch.  The CGI doesn't suck
Scares:  There are.  I know...could've knocked me over with a feather.
Ending:  Oh, the usual.  No closure, left hanging, most everyone dead. 
Verdict:  Should you see Unidentified?  I can't recommend it.  It left me bored and bemused, baffled and befuddled, bitter and... You get the idea.

Rating:  2 out of 5

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Horror Film Review

Buck Wild (2013):  Goofy zombie flick from Texas that, shockingly, revolves around hunting.  A bit of tongue-in-cheek, I wager, as that state is known for its preponderance of firearms which should theoretically place the zombies at a disadvantage.  For the most part, however, the subtlety of satire is eschewed in favor of out and out silliness.  And it kind of works.

Four friends travel to a remote lodge in rural Texas for a weekend of relaxation and deer hunting.  They are:  "everyman" lead friend Craig (Matthew Albrecht), his womanizing best friend Lance (Isaac Harrison), scaredy cat friend Tom (Dru Lockwood) who may or may not be gay, and Craig's slightly psychotic cousin Jerry (Jarrod Pistilli) from New York who talks like Clint Eastwood but looks like Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Lodge owner Clem (Jason Harris) falls ill after he's bitten by a chupacabra, a mythological dog-like critter from Mexican folklore.  Jerry snaps the critter's neck and then shoots Clem, a lot, but Clem won't die.  Lance goes missing, the guys split up to search for him, and Tom gets himself captured by a group of local hicks led by Billy Ray (Mark Ford), a self-proclaimed "bad ass" who wears a feather boa and speaks with a British accent.  Don't ask cuz I don't know.  Jerry rescues Tom, sort of, and Craig finds Lance...sort of.  Anyway, after a number of misadventures, including one where Tom kills the fat guy who tormented him at Billy Ray's with a frozen fish and another where undead Lance, temporarily lucid after eating a bag of marijuana brownies, gives Craig love life advice, the guys wind up barricaded in the lodge while zombies mass outside.  The final confrontation is fairly epic, of course, not everyone survives. 

I found myself liking this film even though every neuron in my brain screamed at me not to.  I liked the running gag of Tom constantly losing his clothes as well as the bickering between Craig and Jerry over the Godfather trilogy.  Without the chemistry among the friends, this would have been a very different and crappier movie. I have a few complaints, the main one regarding a grenade.  In the first act, the friends have a run in with Billy Ray's crew at a gas station.  Billy Ray flashes a grenade tied to his belt to prove he's a bad ass, so for the inevitable final confrontation, I expected that grenade to come into play.  Poetic justice and all that, but it didn't.  Missed opportunity.  I also didn't care for the sudden shift in tone from silly to serious with regards to Tom's fate.  Too jarring and out of place.  Although when I think about it, I have a feeling that scene must be an inside joke of some kind.  Good for the filmmakers, a head-scratcher for the rest of us.

The Skinny

Acting:  Oh, you know.  Fair to middling.  Lockwood stands out a bit more than the rest.
Story:  Chupacabra zombie virus in Texas.  Not what you'd call ordinary.  I like not ordinary.
Direction:  Some neat stuff from director/writer Tyler Glodt who also plays the macho yet ineffectual Officer Shipley.  Despite it being a meteorological impossibility, I enjoyed the backlit zombie horde emerging from the fog. 
Production Values:  Cheap, yes.  Will you feel cheated?  Not in the least.  The budget wasn't that low.
Gore/FX:  Copious blood, most of which finds its way onto to Tom.  One evisceration shot that's not too graphic.  Decent zombie make up.  The chupacabra itself is a puppet.  A nasty gross puppet, but a puppet nonetheless.  No CGI as far as I could tell.
Scares:  Mmm...not really.  Maybe a slight one in the barn.
Ending:  Driving a pickup into the sunset...with a surprise in the back.  So, yeah...clichéd. 
Verdict:  Should you see Buck Wild?  It's goofy fun with buckets of blood, zombies, and a half-naked guy running around.  Really, what else do you need? 

Rating:  3 out of 5

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Horror Film Review

The Last Days (2013):  Post-apocalypse flick from Spain that depicts what may be the strangest affliction I've encountered in all my years of movie going.  No zombies, no cannibalism-inducing virus, no alien invasion, no thermonuclear Armageddon.  So what, then?  Folks are scared to venture out of doors, and if they do, they die of fright.  Or something. Unfortunately for us pragmatic science nerds, the physiological mechanics of the ailment aren't explored in any kind of detail.  While this oversight fails to appreciably affect the narrative per se, not knowing the "why" drives me fucking crazy.

Ensconced for months in an office building with his coworkers after the bizarre ailment sweeps Barcelona, Marc (Quim Gutierrez) assists with the tunneling project that will allow them access to the city's subway system.  He's desperate to return home to his girlfriend Julia (Marta Etura) and blackmails the company hatchet man Enrique (Jose Coronado) who procured a portable GPS unit.  (Cell phone towers are out but the satellites are still functional.)  Tunnel complete, the two men set off for Marc's apartment but encounter a number of obstacles, not the least of which are fellow survivors.  I did enjoy the grizzly bear in the church scene.  Not something you see every day. 

Julia's not home.  Marc thinks she might be at her shop in the mall but Enrique insists on going to the hospital where his father is in hospice.  They find the hospital to be a smoldering ruin.  Enrique is devastated and slightly suicidal.  Marc goes on to the mall alone, finds Julia's sister Andrea (Leticia Dolera) who explains that Julia had gone to see her doctor.  From the building across the street from the doctor's office, Marc sees her.  And she sees him.  The problem?  Underground access isn't possible.  Tunnel collapsed.  Yes, you guessed it.  Marc has to go outside and cross the street in order to reach the woman he loves.  Did I mention she's pregnant?  Yeah, you can already see where this is going.  I like to call it generational immunity.  Scientifically questionable, but a convenient plot device. 

The chemistry between Marc and Enrique is magnetic, and while they may have begun their journey as wary rivals, they develop a respect for each other that's just shy of real friendship.  It's fascinating to watch.  Julia, on the other hand, is the opposite of fascinating to watch.  A rather annoying character, if I'm honest.  She's either laughing or crying.  Her sister Andrea was more interesting, but of course she just had to die.

Here's my major complaint:  A person can stand in a glass-walled room and be perfectly fine; however, if that person takes a car from an underground parking garage and drives outside, he dies.  For the love of God, why?  It's these lapses of logic that drag The Last Days down.  The filmmakers may claim artistic license, but by that same token, they could have used artistic license to explain it.  Just make some shit up.  We'd probably buy it.

The Skinny

Acting:  Gutierrez and Coronado nail their performances.  Quite groovy.
Story:  I'm almost 100% certain agoraphobia has never been utilized as a catalyst for a global calamity.  Weird, but...okay.
Direction:  Many opportunities for disaster, including the use of interspersed flashbacks.  All disasters were, however, deftly averted. 
Production Values:  The five million euro budget was used to maximum effect.  Filmed in Spain and Catalonia, it has that certain...European feel about it.  Not cheap, but also not Hollywood gloss either.
Gore/FX:  A dribble of blood here and there.  Nothing to make you upchuck your popcorn.  A great deal of CGI for the wide shots of Barcelona.  I've seen worse.  I've seen much worse.
Scares:  One, sort of.  Nothing to worry your dry cleaner.
Ending:  Truth be told, it confused and confounded me.  Why did the kid have to go?  And why have only one kid?  It's one of those times I'd love to have a chat with the screenwriter.
Verdict:  Should you see The Last Days?  Si.  If you can ignore the scientific silliness, it's worth it for the Marc/Enrique dynamic.  If you're agoraphobic, you may want to pass on this one.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Horror Film Review

The Returned (2013):  Spanish zombie flick, in English, filmed in Canada.  Yes, muy loco, eh?  Anyway, it's a drama set in a post zombie apocalypse world where they've learned to suppress the affliction via drug injections.  I know, it sounds like a rip-off of the mostly decent British TV show In the Flesh.  These "aftermath" stories seem to be gaining popularity.  For that you can confidently blame/credit The Walking Dead.  As I am not a great fan of aftermath tales, The Returned caused me no little trepidation.  My concern, as it turns out, was not without foundation.  By the by, what follows is chockablock full of spoilers.

The film focuses on Kate (Emily Hampshire) and her husband Alex (Kris Holden-Ried).  She's a doctor, he teaches music.  He's also one of the returned.  Kate's position ensures a steady supply of the drug; however, since it's concocted from the spinal fluid of the afflicted who didn't survive, and since the number of those dying is dwindling, supplies have begun to run dangerously low.  Never fear!  The government is working on a synthetic version which will be ready any day now.  Uh-huh.  Panic ensues.  The returned are rounded up and places in secure facilities "for their own safety."  Right. 

Seeing the writing on the wall, Kate and Alex flee the city for the mountain home of friends Jacob (Shawn Doyle) and Amber (Claudia Bassols).  Unfortunately, these besties are anything but as they steal Alex's remaining supply of anti-zombie juice and bolt.  Turns out, they forgot to mention Amber is also a returned.  Resigned to his fate, Alex chains himself up and awaits the inevitable.  There's much sobbing and lamenting.  Kate's got the gun and does what's necessary.  At this point, I must ask a question:  Did you see the film The Mist?  The one based on the Stephen King story?  Remember the ridiculous ending?  Yes, the government came through in the end and got the new drug to work.  Too bad Kate and Alex weren't watching TV or listening to the radio or checking their phones or...  What an annoying way to end a film.  Contrived and manipulative.  Although to be fair, this is somewhat ameliorated by Kate's subsequent decision to hunt down and kill Jacob and Amber.  Now that's realism, folks.  It's what I would do.

The Returned is slow and cerebral.  It spotlights prejudice and forces you to question how far you'd go to save the one you love.  That is to say, it's not a horror movie.  It's a drama.  Zombies just happen to be a convenient (and wildly popular) conceit.  Not the first time filmmakers used the undead to make a sociological statement.  Hell, look at Romero's films. The only problem, though, is that those most likely to watch a zombie flick will avoid The Returned like the plague.  Why?  No running and screaming and munching on a scale they're accustomed to.  And then there's the ending that will make you want to punch your flat screen.

The Skinny

Acting:  I can't fault any performance, and boy, I really wanted to.
Story:  We've seen it before but probably not in such a dramatic context.  Close but not quite in the realm of soap opera.
Direction:  Ponderous.
Production Values:  You know how films and TV shows shot in Canada have that certain look?  Yeah.  Like that.
Gore/FX:  There are one or two scenes of acceptable, if not too-quick, carnage.  If CGI was used, I don't remember it.
Scares:  It's the same in English and Spanish.  No.
Ending:  Since it's no longer PC to say retarded, I'll stick with annoying.
Verdict:  Should you see The Returned?  If you're a zombie nerd like myself, it may be worth a look simply as a curiosity, or if your goal in life is to watch every zombie flick ever made.  Otherwise, go watch The Walking Dead or In the Flesh.  These are aftermath stories you can (sorry about this) really sink your teeth into.

Rating:  2 out of 5