Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Possession (2012)

The first dud of 2013!  I'll be honest: I turned this one off with about 10 minutes left; so unless anyone out there can convince me otherwise, I will not be watching the last 10 or any other minutes of this movie.  But don't take that as an embittered, angry disdain for the film--I'm not that emotional over it.  In fact, it's the opposite.  I am completely unmoved by it.  Writing a review of The Possession feels tantamount to writing a review of Coke (the drink).  I've had the drink a million times, and chances are you have too--what's to say?

Watching this one reaffirmed one of the major reasons why I loved The Last Exorcism, because the latter film took an exhausted genre and breathed some life back into it with some simple twists.  Having recently watched The Apparition, and being familiar with other Hollywood exorcist-genre retreads like The Haunting of Molly Hartley, The Haunting in Connecticut, and The Unborn,  I knew going into this that it was going to be in a similar vein.  But I didn't realize just how unoriginal, formulaic it would be.  If one were teaching a class in genre formulas, this would be a great exemplar.

From the opening shot it neatly follows the rules: (a) use FX to show that there's something threatening about an object; (b) setup a backstory that puts a plausible strain on a young child (in this case, divorce); (c) quickly run through a montage of scenes that depict said child exhibiting increasingly aberrant behavior; (d) setup opposing forces: the father who knows something is wrong, and the mother who doesn't believe him; (e) show a research scene; (f) and, of course, the exorcism itself, which the filmmakers must know will not come close to the exorcism scene from 1973.

Typically I would talk about cinematography, acting, thrills that stood out, and so on, but I've got nothing further to share.  I'll give it one star for simply being a horror movie.

Rating: 1/5

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sleep Tight (2011)

The first horror movie of 2013!  And it wasn't too shabby at all.  In fact it's a pretty tight little thriller (I'm trying to limit the use of "taut thriller" in order to establish at least some sense of originality around here).  Hailing from Spain and helmed by Jaume Balagueró--one of the masterminds behind [REC] and [REC] 2--Sleep Tight is definitely worth a watch, but not a rewatch.  It's like a really great piece of gum.

The plot reminds me of something like Roman Polanski's Repulsion, with the psychological aberrations shifted from the woman to the man, from prey to stalker.  On the psychological side of things, we the audience aren't dragged down a rabbit-hole of mental breakdown in the usual fashion, but, rather, the psychological aspect remains simple: this guy César is unhappy and wants everyone to be unhappy, especially the vibrant, young, fresh, and (most importantly) eternally optimistic Clara.  So, he has resolved to bide his miserable time trying to make Happy Clara crack and become Unhappy Clara.

Again like Polanski (Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby), the setting is very limited.  Aside from a few scenes in a hospital (which help to give some depth and validity to the character's madness), every frame takes place at the apartment building.  While not as restrictive as, say, Buried, which takes place entirely inside a coffin, having so much of the film take place inside the apartment enhances the purpose of the film tremendously for the viewer.  You feel the banality and misery that César feels working there, doing the same things day in and day out.  You get a sense of suffocation and claustrophobia--that subtle feeling that comes from wanting to take a step outside for fresh air and not being allowed to.  And you don't get a lot of extraneous fluff (unnecessary characters and subplots or lengthy sequences for runtime padding)--the camera, the story sticks with the contrast of the two main characters.

The roles are simple and well fulfilled: Luis Tosar plays the perpetually unhappy César, and Marta Etura the carefree, beautiful Clara.  The contrast, especially with the use of English-language music, is well depicted.  The set design of César's flat versus Clara's flat; the drab gray coat César must wear for his job as a sort of concierge-super versus the fun, artsy attire Clara appears in.  The only acting-related irritation I experienced was the interaction between these two when their paths would cross in the lobby of the apartment building in the mornings.  The best I can explain my irritation is this: it seemed too obvious that Marta Etura was an actress in a movie and thus aware of the fact that she was supposed to act like she had no idea César was a creep who was "stalking" her.  But the good news is that these on-screen interactions didn't take up much of the film.

In the end, Sleep Tight was an above-average, though not extraordinary, thriller.  Since we get more focus on these two central characters, with limited exposition, the film gets creative with showing us how, exactly, this guy is acting on his obsession with making Clara unhappy.  And, really, they couldn't have picked a better opening scene, because I was really caught off guard and hooked into sticking around to figure out what's going on.  What ensues is a film that is well thought out by a writer who takes time thinking creatively about what can be done with very little.  This is one of those films where small seeds are planted in the beginning that grow and are intelligently used to bring the film to a close.  A great start to the new year!

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012: Top 10 DVD Releases

Once again, we have had a year in which there were only a handful of horror hits, and a mother lode of dreck (eventually prompting me to create a new "dud" label to quickly sort them all out and caution friends when asked which movies one can skip).  Even while creating this list, I selected the top 4 within seconds, but then spent about 20 minutes mulling over the bottom 6.  At one point I even contemplated publishing a Top 5 to make things easier on myself.  But it's tradition; so, I give you my Top 10 DVD Releases for 2012!

But before I get to the list (if you haven't spared yourself my dithering and scrolled down already), let me just say that, though I didn't get to spend as much time working with this blog as I would have liked, this does not signal the decline of the Horror Dose empire!  One of my new year's resolutions for 2013 is to amp up the action here at Horror Dose.  I'm a busy guy, but that's no excuse for skimping on the blog (I, too, loath seeing all the "Review forthcoming"s).  So, instead of overloading myself with trying to watch and blog about movie after movie, I'll go for quality over quantity.  This year I plan to stick with watching and properly reviewing and engaging in conversation about recent releases.  Sure, undoubtedly, I'll watch all kinds of films from all kinds of countries and decades; but as far as this blog is concerned, I'll focus more energy and attention on the latest releases.

Now--for real this time--I present to you my top picks from 2012.


The Candidates*


The Top 10 

#10. The Road

The Road is a little piece of horror fare from the Philippines that I took a chance on while surfing through the Netflix Instant catalog.  (Come to think of it, this list is comprised of DVDs, BluRay, and Netflix Instant, so I suppose the title "Top 10 DVD Releases" is a bit of a misnomer.)  This one barely made the list, competing fiercely with Absentia, The Pack, and Excision. But despite the overly convoluted weaving of storyline that bloats the film's plot, it has enough of the subtle thrills I enjoy to push it into my 2012 picks.


#9. The Tall Man

Even though I was extremely confused for most of the movie--(admittedly a self-induced confusion: I had thought it was another installment of the Phantasm franchise)--I found yet another enjoyable offering from Pascal Laugier, notorious mastermind behind the 2009 French film Martyrs.  This one is a psychological-mystery-thriller more than a straight horror movie, but the tension is often thick due to some skillful composition and audio engineering, and it boasts not one, not two, but three distinct plot twists that keep the film engaging from start to finish.


#8. The Innkeepers

Ah, my good friend Ti West.  The guy who gave me The House of the Devil, which I picked as #1 for the 2010 Top 10 Releases.  When I heard he was at work on The Innkeepers, I could barely focus on anything else.  And though I tried not to expect another House, I couldn't help but expect too much.  Yes, I admit, the first watch was a let-down.  But I watched the bonus features, including the film with commentary from Ti West and the two main characters; and in the end, I walked away with a strong appreciation for the work West is doing.  I think he will continue to be an inspiration for aspiring filmmakers, and I continue to hold onto hope for the next feature-length release (yes, I am aware of and have watched the short piece of West's featured in V/H/S/).


#7. Chained

I did not expect to like this movie, but surprise-surprise it was highly enjoyable--as twisted as that sounds for a movie of this ilk.  I've heard it likened to Bereavement, and I think that's a pretty good comparison.  But despite having seen and enjoyed Stevan Mena's piece, I found Chained to be equally deserving of viewership, not a cheap knockoff or plot retread.  Some may deride it as highly implausible--but, hey, so are over half the movies in this genre we all love so much!  In the end, Chained has a lot of heart behind it--the same passion for horror films I found while watching Deadgirl.


#6. The Woman

I just mentioned Deadgirl at the end of my blurb for the preceding pick, and the memories of Deadgirl abounded while watching The Woman, based on a novel by Jack Ketchum (if you're familiar with his books Offspring and Off Season, you'll find this to be, I think, the prequel).  The Woman is a perfect balance of black comedy and vicious tension-building.  While not my usual cup of tea, I enjoyed The Woman enough for it to make the top of the bottom 10.


#5. Silent House

It's a rare thing for me to pick an American remake of a movie I thoroughly enjoyed (La Casa Muda) for my top 10 list, but this was a strong film with a strong lead.  Despite the film losing steam toward the end, and finally going to pieces with a desperate attempt to provide a twist, the first two thirds and the acting of Elizabeth Olsen must be seen by everyone--horror fan or not.  The tension of the first 30 minutes is some of the best I've ever seen from an American horror film.


#4. Juan of the Dead

Usually, I loath watching movies for the first time with other people around.  Especially with horror movies, I like to watch alone in silence to amplify the intended effect.  But I took a chance with this highly-anticipated Cuban zombie-comedy, and watched it for the first time with a group of horror-loving friends.  To my surprise, Juan was not only a hilarious social commentary of Cuban life, but also a film that screams to be watched with a crowd.


#3. Some Guy Who Kills People

Aside from Skew, this is the only movie I reviewed that rewarded me some communication from the director.  Unlike Skew, however, I loved Some Guy (that sentence sounds weird without seeing the punctuation!).  The black humor here is dead on, and who cares about any of the other aspects of the film.  If you like horror movies and you like to laugh, you can't go wrong with this one.


#2. The Cabin in the Woods

When I watched this I thought to myself, this will undoubtedly be #1 on my top 10 list.  But, of course, that was before I saw what is actually my #1.  In truth, my #2 and my #1 this year are neck-and-neck, but whenever I think about the two movies, I tend to favor the winner.  Be that as it may,  Cabin is the ultimate horror-movie lover's dream of a film.  Parodic, comedic, packed with references and allusions, and with a delightful, skillfully unfolding backstory.  The only people I've talked to who didn't like it, I no longer consider true fans of the genre (or possibly movies in general).


#1. Lovely Molly

Alas!  The #1 pick of 2012 goes to Lovely Molly.  Edouardo Sanchez (best known for The Blair Witch Project) nails it with this one.  A lot of people I've talked to think I'm crazy for giving this one a place so high on the list--let along the #1 spot--but I can't help it.  Molly won me over from start to finish.  It has everything I love in horror movies: solid acting (especially from first-timer Gretchen Lodge), subtlety, and taut pacing.  It's currently available on Netflix Instant, and I urge any self-respecting horror-movie lover to watch it immediately.

*Obviously, this list doesn't include all the releases of 2012.  If anything is missing that you feel should be brought to my attention, please leave a comment!