Thursday, August 30, 2012

Silent House (2011)

By now you probably know this is a remake of the Uruguayan film La Casa Muda.  Without hesitation I can affirm that the original is by far one of the best horror movies I've seen.  Minimalistic, technically impressive, subtle, confusing in the manner of a Lovecraft tale, and just plain creepy.  By the time the credits rolled, which are in themselves a sort of epilogue, I was thoroughly bothered in that way all horror fiends crave.  So when I heard there was an English-language remake, I was thrilled; and due to my awareness of its subtle nature, I made the appropriate decision to wait for the BluRay instead of going to a crowded cinema.

Unfortunately, by the time the credits rolled on Silent House, I wasn't nearly as impressed.  In fact, I was quite disappointment with almost all of this version's departures from the original.  At the same time, however, I don't know that it needed to be a repeat of what Michael Haneke did with Funny Games--a shot-for-shot remake of the original--because I like to experience reimaginings.  Silent House, for me, was three different films in one: the first third being extremely satisfying; the second third being an eyeroller; and the final third being a complete let-down.  But let's focus on the positive first.

The film sticks with the original's one-take setup, which still impressed me the second time around, especially since the action takes off nearly right away.  This is no easy feat with a film that has such a simple plot, setting, and cast.  Unless you went to film school, are an amateur filmmaker, or just a cinematography nut, you don't tend to realize all the little things that stitch a move together into a cohesive story.  Things such as scene/shot transitions, point-of-view, segue stock footage (trees, streams, highways, planes landing, etc.) are heavily used and easily overlooked, but they all go together to give a sense of elapsed time within the actual runtime of the film.  So, yes, when it comes to a one-continuous-take movie that is 90 minutes long, and that stays in the POV of a single character, it's no easy feat indeed.

Elizabeth Olsen, whom I've never seen before, nailed her role.  I mean, nailed it!  I would watch any horror movie with this actress.  And, as I've mentioned, this is a demanding role being that the whole film rests on her shoulders √† la Ryan Reynolds in Buried (which is a good thing because the father and uncle characters are terrible).  I can't say I've ever seen a horror actress exhibit a sense of fear and dread quite this intense before.  There were many times I realized I was mimicking her actions: holding my breath being my most frequent response.  And that's a definite token to how great her performance was.  She was able to bring me into the film, into the silent house, if you will.

And now the negative stuff, which will inevitably include "spoilers" (deliberate quotes).  This version chooses to go with a visual entity (entity is my word for antagonist/monster/killer/stalker/etc.; not necessarily a metaphysical entity); and not only this but the entity is shown on-screen right away.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine, even with creature features.  We, the audience, stop fearing that which we've seen.  It would have been better if the film had chosen to ride it out a bit longer, instead of choosing to do this lame attempt at recreating the magic of the first in-house reveal in The Strangers.  Because, man, until this point in Silent House, I was so literally creeped out, wondering what was going on that my wife nearly scared me to death when she decided to come downstairs and ask me to turn the subwoofer down.

The other negatives revolve around the scares and the wrap-up.  A lot of scares employ the something's-there-then-a-character-blocks-the-frame-for-a-moment-then-it's-gone method, or vice-versa.  This is uncalled for in a movie of this type--of any type really.  It's insulting to the audience.  Although I can say that there were a few times the scares were setup to be predictable and then drew out past the moment of predictability, effectively raising the audience's pulse.  One of the best scares in the movie occurs at the beginning, when Olson is under a table and a glass bottle rolls across the floor.  (What occurs next is the actual good scare I'm referring to.)  If the film had maintained this type of form, I'd have been sold.

Then there's the wrap-up.  Oh! after all that disappointing middle layer, we're given no icing and no cherry on top.  Instead we're given this bizarre genre mix that is out-of-place and too far of a stretch to wow or emphiphanize (I think I made that word up) the audience.  The film is going, going, going, then it just turns and rapidly spits out what seems to be several different attempts at an ending.  Then, finally, one official turn and The End.  Then credits--but not cool credits like the original.  And I'm sitting there lamenting over what could have been a great film.  So, my final assessment is tough because it's really 3 dips into different genres: it begins as subtle psychological thriller, then haunted house, then home invasion, then killer, then survival, then mystery, then supernatural, then back to psychological.  And if you're into that, so much the better.  For me, I'd be delighted to re-watch only the first 20 minutes of this one.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ATM (2012)

I just bought a new TV--my largest yet, at 60 inches--so, naturally, I was excited to watch the first movie.  Unfortunately ATM didn't release in BluRay, but whatever.  I've been watching DVDs for years, and I honestly don't think a clearer picture would've saved this movie from its persistent mediocrity.  Now, that's not to say it isn't worth watching.  It's just mediocre from start to finish, with some glaring flaws I couldn't look beyond.

The first cringe-inducing element of the movie was the forced chemistry of the two male leads, Corey and David.  Their first interaction occurs at their adjacent cubicles in their workplace (a financial institution which I thought was a setup for some social commentary on all of the economic crises).  I've seen plenty of bad acting and terrible on-screen chemistry, but this is the worst since the first Saw installment.  The dialogue between Corey and David is written in the manner of a Judd Apatow movie, but these two cannot execute the comedy like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, et al.  I could tell I was supposed to laugh, but it was so forced and flimsy and, well, awkward, that I could only feel sorry for the actors watching themselves in hindsight (surely they can tell how bad and unnatural it is).

The second is the implausibility factors of the plot.  When it comes to a survival flick, especially if it's a single-setting setup, it is understandably difficult to find ways to ensure continuity and suspense.  I'll just point out two things I couldn't get past.  The first is the unnatural and forced way in which our triad ends up in the ATM booth.  From Corey's insistence that David give him a ride home to the fact that he needs food to the fact that he needs to stop at an ATM--it all seems poorly thought out.  I can feel that the film is groping at straws to get these three to an obscure ATM booth.  But whatever.  I tried to excuse all the things by telling myself the film would pick up once they were inside and the killers shenanigans commenced.  And the second and most glaring flaw occurs when the antagonist pulls David's car up to the door (so as to trap them in) and uses a nearby hose to flood the booth.  As soon as David notices the car at the door, he is able to open the door about 5-6 inches.  So, once the water begins to fill the booth, why doesn't someone open the door--maybe even prop it open with the flimsy aluminum trash can?  Why doesn't the water push it open?  And as far as I can tell our characters aren't suffering any mental breakdowns that would limit this strategy.  

The third is the insulting of the audience's intelligence with what is made out to be the epiphany of the film.  Throughout the movie, we constantly get the perspective of the ATM camera and we see that the antagonist is very meticulous as to how close to the booth he gets.  The leads constantly question why he won't come near them.  But we, the audience, know that it's because he doesn't want to appear on camera.  And almost every camera-perspective shot shows David doing something destructive or violent.  So, yeah, we get that it is going to look as if David is the culprit.  But the film decides to go back and show all the clips we've just seen and really amp up the fact that it all looks as if David is actually the killer.  Yes, we got that.  Thanks.

The fourth and final is the antagonist's motive.  Or lack thereof.  Perhaps I missed something, but this seems to be one of the stock of movies in which the killer is an obsessive-compulsive with no apparent motive.  It's worked for some movies, but with the chips already stacked against ATM, it seemed like another shortcut.  I have to question whether or not the filmmakers went back and watched the final product and thought, yes, this is a good film that people will like.  Because, for me, this is mediocre and does nothing for the survival-thriller genre.  Yet, at the same time, I was compelled to stick it out for the wrap-up; and despite the finish being anticlimactic, I can say that I still had a decent time.  So here's to a good try and a chance to learn from our mistakes.