Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Saw: The Final Chapter (2010)

Rating: D+
Experience Vitals: Netflix DVD.

I'm typically a bit forgiving with the Saw franchise because, argue if you will, it's been a pretty solid long-running franchise. Watch the first seven offerings of either Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street and I think it would be clear that the Saw films have remained comparatively strong. (Here come the pivotal conjunction!) But, that being said, this finale is not only an ultimate flop but a decidedly strange flop.

Halfway through the opening sequence, I assumed it had to be a dream, but, no, it wasn't; and it became clear that the movie intended it to be real and not a device of trickery toward a dreamlike intimations either. Of course, one has to keep in mind that this is another movie made for 3D (which explains the blood-splattered opening credits and various in-your-face elements), but the polished, almost fantastic opening scene didn't fit with the rest of the movie or the entire franchise's modus operandi for that matter. Maybe I missed something, but this opener seemed like more of the recent stock of thrills for the sake of thrills, especially found in 3D movies (I'm thinking of the Final Destination finale, for example).

From there the movie is just bananas. It reminds me of a postmodernism novel where the structure is a plot assembled around a pastiche of events related and/or unrelated events, which, I mean, no problem. I can deal with that, but it has to be done well. Saw VII feels largely unorganized, and I think the filmmakers were hoping to chalk it up to nascent instability and thus more frenetic and hastier than usual. Fine, but these traps were far more aggrandized than previous traps. Tedious, intricate traps, requiring time and precision, and certainly more than a single person, given the miraculous amount of time in which the traps are staged--not to mention the number of people involved. One thing I did like--though it was given away way too early--was the Ocean's 11-style infiltration of the holding cell toward the end. And other similar stunts lent the filmmakers some credibility for thinking beyond 3D-centric goodies.

As for the trademark Saw twist, this one is a reach but I do think it ultimately works. As usual, they reach back into a previous installment and grope for a character to revive (I don't feel this is giving anything away at this point). And it's easy to question how Jigsaw juggled all of these associates, but, then again, the franchise has done an excellent job of reasserting Jigsaw's prowess and intellect, so, yeah, I think it works. is it mind-bending? No. Does it wrap up the franchise well? Cyclically, maybe, but above all, this is a thin, sloppy finale.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

And Soon the Darkness (2010)

Rating: F
Experience Vitals: Netflix DVD

Because the film gave me so little, I will return the favor with a terse review: Unnecessary filmmkaing. I'm sure the 1970 original was intense, but after how far we (i.e. the audience, the people you make films for) have come, what's the point of this?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hausu (1977)

Rating: B
Experience Vitals: Netflix DVD.

(Credit for this pick goes to BC at Horror Movie a Day.) So, how to explain the movie, or, at the very least, how I feel about the movie? Imagine Evil Dead as a psychedelic acid-trip and you've got Nobuhiko Obayashi's House (Hausu). Well, no, that's not quite right. Imagine a Japanese screwball comedy crossed with a Japanese arthouse film, add in the antics of Evil Dead, and you're almost there! Like Mega Piranha, this one is made to be viewed with friends. This is a film made with one thing in mind: crowd-pleasing!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Buried (2010)

Rating: A
Experience Vitals: Netflix DVD.

There's a reason the name RYAN REYNOLDS is stamped in big block letters above the title of the DVD. Not only is he the only character you ever see, he carries this movie with so solid a performance he's the only character you need to see. And this could have easily been a bore fest, too, because, yes, it takes place inside a coffin for the entire duration of the film and the plot never deviates from the original setup. With this film the actor/actress has a lot of responsibility, and so it's a good thing Rodrigo Cortés locked in Reynolds for the role. Even if you're put off by the idea of monotony and redundancy, you should check it out. Believe me, I'm severely ADD, but the movie gripped me from the start and was over in what seemed like barely an hour. Within fifteen minutes Reynolds and the amazing camera work had me squirming in my chair from claustrophobia! Think of the tight tunnel scenes in The Descent, then amplify the feeling a few notches. At times I was afraid the film was getting too serious to be taken seriously, but I was relieved with a touch of humor (albeit black humor for the most part, given the situation) that not only lightened the mood but pulled me into deeper sympathy for Reynolds--so much so, in fact, that toward the end I found myself in the grasp of the movie's pathos.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Ceremony (2008)

Rating: A
Experience Vitals: Netflix Instant on Wii.

Movie Spotlight! Has anyone else heard of this one? I looked around and can't find many reviews. Just like yesterday's movie, The Perfect Witness, this is one I never would've found without Netflix. And it was a hit! I love these slow-burn psychological/supernatural thrillers. The slow-burn structure typically yields more character development/sympathy/empathy and intensifies the creepiness of the subtle horror. I admit that this one, like Lake Mungo, was able to creep me out without overdoing anything--indeed, because of not overdoing it! If you liked The House of the Devil and Paranormal Activity (I recently took a liking to PA, so don't be misled by the old review), you'll like this one. The lead deftly carries the movie through the banal, the creepy, the absurd, and a messed up ending. This one is to be watched late at night, alone, with the lights out.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Perfect Witness (2007)

Rating: B+
Experience Vitals: Netflix Instant for Wii.

The Perfect Witness is a small treasure I probably would have overlooked without Netflix's help, and by help I mean the fact that, for a year now, this movie has been shoved in my face every time I log into my account. So, finally, I took the bait, and I'm glad I did because Netflix was absolutely right on this suggestion. This is exactly the type of movie I like: psychological, but also smart (the two don't always seem to go together). It is a palatable execution of philosophical ideas without pretentiously eluding the viewer. Witness never tries to unnecessarily transcend itself. The tension steadily rises and the plot spirals out of control, all culminating in a superb ending. My attention never once waned. If for no other reason, watch The Perfect Witness to savor the performances of Wes Bentley and Mark Borkowski. Great suggestion, Netflix!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mega Piranha (2010)

Rating: A
Experience Vitals: Netflix Instant on Wii around 2300 on a Saturday night, 2 coffees and 1 Red Bull in, munching on gold fish (not a pun intended for the movie) that taste oddly like laundry detergent. Yes: laundry detergent.

How does one talk about a movie like this except to simply bring up scene after scene between laughter? "How about when...[laughing]?" "Remember how the...[laughing]?" "Can you believe...[laughing]?" And so on! A perfect blend of parody and camp and action--serious, large-scale action--all at a blisteringly fast pace, which is not only welcome but actually increases the comedic value of the film. Mega Piranha has to be seen to be believed, and I might suggest watching the big 2010 piranha-production, Piranha 3D, before watching this one because, in a way, Mega could be viewed as a sequel that picks up where Alexandre Aja left off. Also, the contrast of the two makes for a pleasant experience, too, as I feel they are both fine uses of the subgenre that Joe Dante started (not to discredit Jaws, here; I am thinking specifically in terms of scientifically jacked piranha). There is no possible way this movie could disappoint. Like Aja's take, it accomplishes well what it sets out to do. It is absurd, outlandish, preposterous, nonsensical, wacky, campy--but, above all, it is a blast! Like ThanksKilling, it is one to be viewed annually, with friends, savored over the years.

The Maze (2010)

Rating: D-
Experience Vitals: Netflix Instant on Wii, volume competing with violent dishwasher.

At times I felt as though I were watching a stage play. Here's a writer who doesn't have an ear for conversation, and a director who doesn't have sense enough to hear and feel the rigidity of the characters' verbal interactions. But it does have one thing going for it: it lives up to its title. It definitely revolves around a corn maze, and you can tell the filmmakers put most of their collective focus on the ending, which after spending such an extended amount of time in a superbly lighted, banal corn maze, just seems overreaching. But I did laugh once or twice and the unexpected Final Girl (that is, I expected the other girl to be our FG) stepped up at the end and delivered a solid performance.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Lodge (2008)

Rating: D
Experience Vitals: Netflix DVD rental watched at 0130 instead of being in bed, resting up for a full day at work; on favorite chair, munching on honey roasted peanuts and drinking Coke that is supposedly vanilla flavored.

There is another movie that started this way. I watched it recently, and I think it was Babysitter Wanted. The grim opening scene depicts a striking young girl who is bound and being tortured, only to be followed with roughly 85 minutes of mediocrity and pinholes of promise (Babysitter Wanted had the potential to be great, but it took a nosedive after the reveal). With the mystery unveiled at the beginning (The Lodge is not a red-herring type movie), the filmmaker has created the challenge of maintaining any level of suspense without deviating from the most conventional "camping misadventure" formula (which typically means supernatural elements or big-time shockers that connect the good and bad characters in some way one or both did not know). Unfortunately, The Lodge is content with staying mediocre, unlike The Farmhouse, where we know these people aren't right from the beginning but the movie steadily increases the viewer's uneasiness. So what were the pinholes of promise? In this one, I believe a lot could have been done with the jealousy and tension between the character triangle. The movie could have taken a very deeply psychological approach. If you can stay awake through all of the mundane chases through the house (the only set location, which doesn't have to be a mistake) you'll catch the ridiculous final frame.

2010: Top 10 DVD Releases

Another year, another list! This is the second annual Horror Dose Top 10 DVD Releases list, and though last year saw a drop in Horror Dose activity, I still managed to see most of the 2010-released movies I wanted to see (and, as goes with the territory, some released I didn't want to see). Keep in mind, the candidates for this list are for the most part limited to DVDs that released through Netflix in 2010, thus there may be some movies that technically released in 2009.

10. The Collector
9. Dread
8. Antichrist
7. Halloween II
6. Lake Mungo
5. Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever
4. Frozen
3. The Human Centipede: First Sequence
2. Dead Snow
1. The House of the Devil

Here's to a new year filled with great horror movies!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bloody New Year (1987)

Rating: C
Experience Vitals: Netflix DVD shipped to house roughly two months back and lost amidst bills and credit card offers, on a full stomach churning from late-night Mexican food, settled into chair around 2345 with, of course, Horror Cup¹.

I thought I'd ring in the new year with a New Year's-themed horror movie. Turns out there aren't a lot out there (please comment suggestions if you know of any), especially compared to, say, Christmas-themed horror flicks. But there was this one, Bloody New Year, and though it didn't stand up to the Thanksgiving-themed flick I had the privileged of checking out over Thanksgiving break (ThanksKilling; yes, that is the title!), it was still a real treat. Yes, it's that type of 80's movie--the one you invite friends over to watch and criticize and laugh at. All the cliché characters and situations are here. We get severed arms but you can see the character's tucked extremity inside their shirt. We get a harrowing sinking boat scene only to find that the boat's (more like the dingy's) terrified occupants are merely fifteen feet from shore! ("You know I can't swim, Tom!") And, to top it all off, this movie is a myriad genres and the "explanation" is well set against the 1959-1960 epoch of government paranoia. At the very least, if you're like me, you'll speak in an exaggerated British accent for the next few days!

[1] Horror Cup is a 16-ounce orange plastic cup with a jack-o-lantern emblazoned on the side, that I have used for various beverages during horror movies for ~4 years.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Devil (2010)

Rating: C+
Experience Vitals: BluRay from Blockbuster, watched in privacy of own home around 2200, fully awake and actually perhaps a bit too caffeine-stimulated.

I know: M. Night Shahm-uh-lawn, right? Steadily downhill since The Sixth Sense save for Signs, and all that, right? Well, yeah, me too, but Devil isn't too shabby, though of course--and maybe because of the fact that--it isn't directed by MNS; the story is written by him then transposed to a screenplay by someone else, let's see, uh, Brian Nelson, and finally directed by John Dowdle (Quarantine [watch the original, [REC], instead], The Poughkeepsie Tapes [this will never release]). And so but anyway, à la District 9's boasting of the name Peter Jackson, MNS's name is plastered everywhere for the marketing of Devil. Don't be fooled. But, also, don't be fooled by my praises either (if they are in fact bleeding through here) because, while it "isn't too shabby," it's not great either. Perhaps this is a good way to sum it up: I remember enjoying the movie, but I don't really remember the movie--and I watched it last night.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Last Exorcism (2010)

The first horror movie I've seen since The Human Centipede back in early October, The Last Exorcism is an excellent return to my cinematic love. Sure, draw up a Venn diagram of possession-genre devices and you're bound to see TLE overlapping with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Rosemary's Baby, et al., but TLE still manages to postulate some originality and an unique tone. There are no cheap, ready-made gimmicks, e.g. jump-scares, musical stings, etc., just good old-fashioned suspense-building, tension, and subtle chills. I've seen a lot of people thumbs-downing the ending, but I disagree just as I disagreed with the derision of The House of the Devil's ending. This is a fine film. Good eye, Mr. Roth!