Saturday, October 20, 2012

Munger Road (2011)

Overall, I thought Munger Road was rather entertaining, if amateur.  Sure, it's pretty much a retread of two types of movie: teenagers horseplaying and falling prey; and a cop chasing a long-time nemesis--but it still managed to hook me for a pleasant evening of independent horror film.  So go out there and support independent film   

The plot is pretty standard, with some interesting variations.  A group of teens (two couples) decide to take their chances by visiting the notorious, haunted Munger Road on  the outskirts of their city, in the middle of the night.  At the same time, we follow a police story about an equally notorious killer who has just escaped.  I couldn't help but think of Halloween with this killer-on-the-loose as Michael, and the cop as Dr. Loomis.  In any case, the oscillation between the two intervening plots helps keep the pacing up and the story interesting.

At first I thought the perspective was going to stay predominantly through the teens' handheld camera, but, luckily, we stay in the omnipresent third-person camera most of the time.  The handheld camera is used a couple of times for some nice little horror-film antics, though. 

The acting was above average for an indie horror flick.  I enjoyed the genuine fun everyone on set seemed to be having with their roles and interactions.

So, again, it's a retread of movies we've seen before.  But, with above-average acting and some nice thrills, it is worth a watch.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Tall Man (2012)

I wonder if I would've enjoyed The Tall Man more if I hadn't thought it had something to do with Phantasm.  Perhaps the is the first case where eschewing trailers, synopses, etc. backfired, because I kept waiting for something supernatural: for the crazy spiked orb to appear; for the funeral director; for grave-robbing; for something that either signaled to me that this was a remake or the fifth installment of the quadrilogy.  In the end, I realized that this didn't really have anything to do with Phantasm other than the fact that there was a character named The Tall Man.

Aside from my own self-imposed confusions and preconceptions, the plot takes three distinct turns, all of which are welcome individually and collectively.  It begins as a straightforward suspense-thriller about a small ex-mining town, called Cold Rock, in Washington state, where children are disappearing.  The town suspects a figure known as The Tall Man.  Then the film turns into a psychological thriller; and finally into a dramatic moral-dilemma piece.  I won't give anything away by expanding on any of these genres, but I will say that Pascal Laugier (notorious writer-director of Martyrs) did a great job showcasing his talents as a storyteller.

Most notable, visually, is the locale used for the film.  One really feels the gloom and inescapable despair of the deteriorated small-town, U. S. A.  I've seen plenty of films with this setting, but Laugier gives us a beautiful depiction, using all sorts of details: children playing card games atop torn-out vehicle bench seats, for one example.  And there's domestic drama just as we see on episodes of Cops!  Transition shots of natural Washington state are not only breathtaking but also effective at imbibing a sense of isolation on the audience.

I am not a Jessica Biel fan--never have been, not even in the Texas Chainsaw remake; not even in Seventh Heaven.  But Biel shines brightly in The Tall Man.  I was blown away by her acting.  And her looks weren't used at all (as in Texas Chainsaw) to make up for bland acting.  In fact, she's pale and ratty and dressed in unflattering clothing pretty much the entire time.  All other characters were mere flora and fauna, dismissible--well--solely there to support Biel's role.

Though this film has horror elements, you could watch it with anyone who loves suspense-thrillers, as it never really strays too far into mystical horror elements.  But it's still welcome for horror fans as a highly entertaining piece of cinema.  Here's to Pascal Laugier and Jessica Biel for delivering something of worth to the plethora of films out there.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, October 1, 2012

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

Beyond the Black Rainbow arrived just in time to be added as the second movie in a Friday Night Double Feature, following The Tall Man.  As usual, I knew nothing about this movie, save for the facts that it was sci-fi, an 80s throwback, and mind-bending--tags added by Netflix.  Thus I expected something trippy and oldschool, but I didn't expect an above-average arthouse-style mind-explosion!

What I took away in terms of the story was that there's a girl who has been held captive in a 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque facility her entire life, and there's her psychiatrist who has been doing some really far-out stuff with her.  That's all one needs to know for the plot, and I think the Netflix envelope says as much.  All of the plot's complexities and subplots and twists will steadily make their appearances, enveloped within a panoply of cerebral, dreamlike effects.  It's safe to say this is a movie most will agree that one must be in the right frame of mind to watch.

The visual elements of this movie are incredible.  Absolutely incredible!  Rich colors √† la early Argento--Suspiria, for example.  During sequences of artistic mastery, the pacing is slowed way down, and we are subjected to stunning, stupor-inducing visuals.  At times, you will mutter what the...? but your bafflement, your questioning will trail off because you will be sitting on the edge of the couch, wide-eyed, unblinking, taken hostage by the meticulously edited effects.  There are even a few righteous scenes of bloodspraying that aptly pay that 80s homage.  Even if there wasn't a plot, I would've loved this movie just for the experience it delivers.

The acting is phenomenal.  The cast is minimal: really just the psychiatrist (Michael Rogers) and the patient/captive (Eva Allan).  From start to finish, Rogers shines, albeit blackly, as an obsessive maniac with a violent bent, and Allan shines as the tender, beautiful innocence upon which the former character is subjecting his demented plans (wait till you see the sketches!).  The initial counseling session is properly paced to establish the tense emotions of the two characters that will soon burst forth and send the movie spiraling into a myriad directions.

Overall, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a great movie.  Very well put together; and a great experience for the viewer.  It is, however, one of those movies one must be in the mood for.  I can see it being relegated to boring, confusing, or even pretentious by those not in the right mood--and I don't (necessarily) mean dropping acid.  When you have time and you're not sleepy (because some of the sequences are drawn out in the manner of a Ti West film) and you're in the mood for an artistic, psychological, visually-stunning cinematic experience, just pop this little treat in and enjoy!

Rating: 4/5