Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Film Review: Wolf Creek 2 (2013)

Wolf Creek 2 (Review)
Australia/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...one of the most exciting horror films in recent memory."

Psychopathic marksman Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) ravages the Australian outback...

Wolf Creek 2 is a really simple horror film. The story begins by introducing Mick Taylor with a mind-blowing sequence. Then, it introduces us to a young German couple backpacking through the outback. After some gruesome fun, we're introduced to a friendly Brit, Paul (Ryan Corr). Regardless of who the story focuses on, the story is basically Mick Taylor trying to kill them. Fortunately, it's well-paced and well-balanced with different "brands" of horror. It leads to a great ending, too.

Getting past the hollow story, Wolf Creek 2 is a gruesome throwback horror film. There's some genuine tension build through dialogue, great suspense during the many chase scenes, and some ridiculous violence. And, it all blends very well to create a consistent and balanced horror film, as previously mentioned. I especially enjoyed the thrilling chases; there's also a pinch of disturbing torture, if you're a fan of that. Mick Taylor is to thanks for the brutality and tension of the film, but we also get to thank him for the black and cheeky humor.

Although none of the characters are particularly in-depth, the acting is good all-around. Ryan Corr does well in showing fear and pain, so that's something. John Jarratt, on the other hand, steals the show with energetic and irreverent performance; a performance you hate to love, but you have to. The music is mostly run-of-the-mill thriller music, but I loved the use of its licensed music. The film also looks great; loved the scenery. The special effects are mostly superb, I loved the gore and makeup; some of looks out of place, though. Director and co-writer Greg McLean may have a weak and hollow story, but he sure knows how to build suspense and execute thrilling set pieces.

Overall, Wolf Creek 2 is a great horror film. In fact, I think it's one of the most exciting horror films in recent memory. It filled to the rim with tension, suspense, thrills, and gore, and it's covered in a throwback style reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other similar classics. Well worth purchasing for those that do not mind a hollow story and horror movie logic.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, some nudity.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Film Review: Haze (2005)

Haze (Review)
Japan/2005
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime Instant Video
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"...a film with nightmarish visuals that you can interpret for yourself."

A man (Shinya Tsukamoto) wakes up in a claustrophobic concrete maze and subsequently attempts to escape and recollect the moments prior.

Haze is a very short film, or at least the original 25 minute cut that I viewed for this review is short. So, I'll try to keep the review short. The story follows this nameless man as he moves through this bizarre maze. He experiences nightmarish visions and brutal torture. He attempts to recover his memory and find out why he's trapped. Is he a war prisoner? A victim of a sick pervert? A victim of a cult? What we get is a story and visuals that I believe are open to interpretation -- and I loved that aspect. The ending is very effective and haunting in this manner.

This is far from a traditional Japanese horror film, like Ju-on and Ringu. It's a film that builds an ominous and engaging atmosphere. It's a film with nightmarish visuals that you can interpret for yourself. It's a film with minimal story and character that has more contemplative value than most feature length films nowadays. The maze itself was a little complicated to follow, I don't really think it follows the rules of gravity. It still effectively creates a dreadful claustrophobic feeling, though.

Shinya Tsukamoto is good in showing pain and fear, and his monologues sound genuine and natural. The film is as dark in cinematography as it is in subject-matter. Sometimes it's hard to see what's going on, which is why I got momentarily lost in this maze. Some of the shaky camerawork was also occasionally nauseating. I like the industrial sounds its uses for music; I'm a big fan of Silent Hill, so I love these sounds. Director Shinya Tsukamoto, who also plays the lead, does well in crafting the horror in this film; the focus on atmosphere, visuals, and psychology is refreshing.

Overall, Haze is a great short horror film. The horror is very refreshing, especially for the region. The story and character, despite being minimalistic, are engaging and thought-provoking. It's all-around a very effective horror film. There are some technical aspects I did not like, though. Definitely worth seeking for fans with an open-mind.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Film Review: Stitches (2012)

Stitches (Review)
United Kingdom/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...this one might leave you in stitches."

Six years after being killed at Tom's 10th birthday party, irreverent clown Stitches (Ross Noble) returns from the dead to exact vengeance on Tom (Tommy Knight) and friends.

Stitches is a very simple slasher/black comedy. The story continues to follow Tom during his 16th birthday. Of course, he reluctantly has a big birthday bash when his mother leaves, filled with sex and alcohol, and Stitches eventually shows up. Consequently, Stitches targets and kills any of Tom's friends who attended his 10th birthday party -- most who are partly responsible for Stitches' death. After several gory kills and plenty of wordplay, Stitches ends with a decent ending -- no complaints on my end.

This is by no means a horror film that's supposed to scare you, or at least I didn't think so. It's more of a fun horror film. The over-the-top gore and violence is ridiculous, and a treat for fans of special effects. There isn't a shred of suspense leading to the kills, but the execution is ridiculously funny. The humor is mostly irreverent and black, with a few jokes and some slapstick. But, it's mostly reliant on wordplay and puns. Unfortunately, the wordplay and puns are really hit-or-miss and used way too often.

The roles don't demand much from any of the cast, but they all perform competently. Ross Noble is the only standout, though. Otherwise, the film looks and sounds like a standard slasher. It doesn't do anything on the technical side to stand apart from other genre offering. Well, aside from the gore, at least. The special effects are great, blending practical and computer to deliver a bloody treat for gorehounds. Writer and director Conor McMahon crafts a very fun and bloody slasher -- you can just tell it was a fun film to make -- it doesn't try to be more than what it is, and I can appreciate that every now and then.

Overall, Stitches is a fun slasher. It's not the type of "fun" you'd want to have with your children or younger siblings, more like the offensive, "adult" type of fun. It's very black and extremely violent -- not realistically violent, but very violent. If you like horror-comedies, this one might leave you in stitches. (I know, I complained about wordplay and ended with a cheesy punchline, sue me. Actulally, please don't.)

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, some sex and brier nudity.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Film Review: Haunter (2013)

Haunter (Review)
Canada/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...it's mild in all of its genre elements."

Lisa Johnson (Abigail Breslin) is a teenage ghost trapped in her home and living the same day over and over. Lisa eventually begins to unravel the mystery surrounding her death, while trying to help Olivia, the current resident of the home, avoid her own.

Haunter is creative and interesting, or at least it begins as such. The formula -- living the same day over and over -- becomes tired and repetitive after the first act. Lisa then attempts to find out more about her death, but really doesn't do much investigating. She gets help from Olivia, but Olivia has a very minor role in the film, so the character is practically obsolete and serves more as a convenient aid for the mystery. The film comes full circle way before the ending, yet Haunter still manages to drag its feet to the finish line. The ending itself is understandable, but there isn't much explanation to how it happens.

Haunter is a decent horror-mystery-thriller film. The suspense it creates is mild. The jump-scares help in capturing your attention if you've drifted off, but they're not really scary. The mystery is interesting, but the nonexistent investigation makes it difficult to fully captivate. In fact, that's one of the problems with the film: it starts off interesting, sure, but it never really hooks you. And, that becomes a bigger problem when the story continuously repeats itself, pounding you over and over with a simple mystery like if it's the Black Dahlia investigation. The best way to explain the film is as mild -- it's not a full-blow mystery, a heart-pounding thriller, or a terrifying horror film -- it's mild in all of its genre elements.

Although most of the supporting cast is decent, I thought Abigail Breslin was mediocre. Breslin's dialogue and delivery feel very unnatural and insincere. I was expecting more due to the fanbase hype, but Breslin disappoints, especially as a leading lady. The film looks fantastic, though, I loved the cinematography. I also really enjoyed the music and how well it compliments the film. Together, the cinematography and music create a decent atmosphere -- an atmosphere much more engaging than the actual story. Director Vincenzo Natali does well on the technical side, but his direction quickly loses steam after the first act and has trouble recovering.

Overall, Haunter is an ambitious yet familiar film. I don't fault it for being familiar, not at all. I do fault it for being disengaging, repetitive and occasionally boring, though; I also fault it for Abigail Breslin's disappointing performance. Otherwise, it does offer some entertainment value, such as the atmosphere, cinematography, and the music, and a very solid introduction. I recommend a rental, a purchase for fans of the lead or genre. (at a low price, of course)

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Film Review: The Seasoning House (2012)

The Seasoning House (Review)
United Kingdom/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a bleak and effective thriller all-around."

Angel (Rosie Day), a young deaf and mute girl, is forced to prepare young girls who are kidnapped and forced into prostitution in a bleak brothel.

The Seasoning House follows Angel. The first half of the story jumps from past to present often to tell us Angel's background, and to show us how the brothel operates. It was interesting, but I felt some of the artistic choices slowed the film down more than it should have. The second half of the film focuses on Amy as she takes revenge and attempts to escape the brothel. I had mixed feeling about the ending -- some aspects are too contrived and familiar, while others are great.

So, I liked the story in The Seasoning House -- it's bleak, effective, and interesting. However, there are many scenes were everything seemed to move slow -- it feels like everything is moving in slow-motion for no particular reason. The film would've been a slow-burn anyway, but this stylistic choice cuts into the flow. There were a few times during these scenes were I drifted momentarily.

The Seasoning House becomes more of a traditional thriller during the second half of the film. It becomes very violent and very bloody. In fact, I was actually surprised at the level of violence this film reaches; at least one scene had me cringe. If the first half loses you, this second half will shake you up. The vicious violence is accompanied by great suspense and tension, too.

The acting isn't very demanding for most of the cast. Rosie Day, who doesn't speak, does well through facial expressions, though; really, most of her performance is squeaking like a stereotypical Japanese girl. (I'm very okay with that. *wink, wink*) The cinematography is a little cluttered, but the dark and bleak atmosphere is well developed. The music is good, too. Director Paul Hyett, in his debut film, does well in building up the film and delivering a bloody and suspenseful climax; there are some glaring pacing issues during the first half, though, and some uneventful areas in the plot.

Overall, The Seasoning House is a very good thriller. Despite my issues with the first half of the film, I think this is a bleak and effective thriller all-around. The style is too ambitious and comes off as unnecessary, but the film redeems itself during the latter half. Definitely worth watching for fans of bloody revenge-thrillers.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, drug use, sex and nudity.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Film Review: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

From Dusk Till Dawn (Review)
United States/1996
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...creative, sexy, and action-packed."

After a deadly bank robbery, brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino) head towards the Mexican border with hostages...

From Dusk Till Dawn starts as a traditional crime film. The brothers -- Seth, a professional criminal with restraint, and Richie, a violent and often spontaneous criminal -- kidnap a small family heading to Mexico in a RV. After the dipping and dodging the authorities and some small family disputes, the group end up at a strip club in Mexico. Here, at its climax, the story takes a bizarre turn. This strip joint ends up being a den for vicious vampires. The latter half of the film follows the survivors at the club as they attempt to survive the night. The ending is great -- the final scene leaves some room for sequels, which I think will please those who enjoy this film.

From Dusk Till Dawn is great. The first half may be traditional, but it works very well. It develops the Seth and Richie characters well, and features some tense and suspenseful scenes. It also works amazingly in showing restraint -- if you don't know the premise before hand, the climax will be surprising. The latter half is creative, sexy, and action-packed. (If you're a fan of Salma Hayek, have a bottle of water nearby and try not to faint.) The action scenes are well executed, and the practical gore effects are amazing during these scenes, too. There is also some humor spread throughout the film; I laughed out loud a few times. There are some slow moments, but it moves at a fair pace most of the time.

The acting was mostly good. George Clooney is as charismatic as ever, even as a criminal. Quentin Tarantino is usually hit-or-miss with his acting -- fortunately, he hits it this time. Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu, who play the teenage kids of the kidnapped family, are the worst part of the acting -- they're bad, even by b-movie standards, especially the former. Otherwise, the film is up to standard. Shot very well, great music, and fantastic special effects -- fans of old school special effects will enjoy them the most. Director Robert Rodriguez nails it with his distinct vision; most importantly, Rodriguez aims to entertain, and he succeeds.

Overall, From Dusk Till Dawn is a great film. The story is creative and the climax is unforgettable. The suspense is genuine, the action is great, and the special effects are impressive. There are some pacing issues and some of the acting is surprisingly bad, though.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, nudity.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Film Review: Nightmare Detective 2 (2008)

Nightmare Detective 2 (Review)
Japan/2008
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a frightening horror film that's difficult to get into but rewarding to complete."

Haunted by nightmares of her classmate, Yukie Mashiro (Yui Miura) seeks out Kyoichi Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda), who is capable of entering other people's dreams...

Nightmare Detective 2 continues as Mashiro tries to convince Kagenuma to help her. Mashiro's friends had suffered from similar nightmares and have ended up dead, and Mashiro fears she may be next. Reluctant at first, Kagenuma eventually agrees in order to alleviate his own nightmares -- in order to understand his mother's death. But, this case takes a larger toll on Kagenuma, taking him into the darker corner of the dreamscape. The story is often convoluted, partly due to the storytelling, as well as the general concept. However, it kept me interested and engaged to the end. And, the ending was good, too; actually, it was a surprisingly-effective emotional ending.

Far from a traditional Japanese horror film, Nightmare Detective 2 delves deeply into a nightmarish and original concept. I have not seen the first film, but was perfectly capable of soaking in the gist of it; however, as previously mentioned, there is some confusion to be found, as well -- the film is drenched in ambiguity. On one hand, it's somewhat confusing and often difficult to sink you fangs into; on the other hand, it adds to the overall engagement of the story, as well as the ominous atmosphere. On that point, this slow-burn horror film is a slick blend of jolting jump-scares, great suspense, and nightmarish visuals. In other words, it's a frightening horror film that's difficult to get into but rewarding to complete. I have very few complaints with the film: it often moves at an unnecessarily slow pace, it loses some momentum towards the end, and the ambiguity is just slightly overwhelming.

The acting is great from the entire cast. Yui Miura is good, and Ryuhei Matsuda is great. The film is shot well; some scenes are a little too dark to see, but it's mostly very stylish. The music is also great; I especially loved the ominous track that played during the nightmare sequences. The English subtitles in the Netflix Instant stream are great. Director and writer Shinya Tsukamoto is very stylish and great at building horror; some of the writing could've used some fine-tuning, but the direction is overall great.

Overall, Nightmare Detective 2 is a very good Japanese horror film. It's a different experience, and it is complicated and ambiguous, but it's also surprisingly scary, engaging, and even somewhat thought-provoking. It's definitely a film that warrants a second viewing. In other words, it's a frightening horror film that's difficult to get into but rewarding to complete -- maybe more with more viewings.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence, and some disturbing visuals.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Film Review: Erased (aka The Expatriate) (2012)

Erased (aka The Expatriate) (Review)
United States/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...contrived to the point of being unintentionally humorous."

Former CIA agent turned technology expert Ben Logan (Aaron Eckhart) and his estranged teenage daughter Amy (Liana Liberato) are on the run after Ben is erased from the system.

Erased follows Ben and Amy as they try to find out why Ben's information was erased and why they're being targeted by expertly-trained hitmen. So, Ben fights, shoots, and runs through his pursuers, all while the pair investigates this conspiracy. That's really about it, though, as not much happens. The conspiracy details are interesting, but not fully utilized. It also sort of just ends -- it's not a terrible ending per se, but it is abrupt and underwhelming.

The biggest flaw in Erased is its lazy and contrived writing. The only way the film moves forward is by Amy's irrational actions -- whether it's screaming up a storm for a miniscule reason or ignorantly disobeying orders. There was one scene with Amy towards the end where I actually laughed. The plot contrivance is so ridiculous, I laughed. And, the story is completely reliant on Amy's stupid actions, it makes for many roll-your-eyes moments. A side note for Amy: she's also ridiculously annoying, complaining during every other scene for any reason.

With that out of the way, Erased does offer a decent conspiracy plot. Well, it feels more like a subplot since the film mostly focuses on Amy's stupidity, but I digress. It's not a phenomenal or mind-blowing conspiracy, but it was interesting enough to keep me hooked. The film doesn't skimp on the action, either. Some great close-quarter-combat, great shootouts, and thrilling chases. They do get a bit repetitive, but they're fun and redeeming for the film.

Aaron Eckhart is great -- I think he fits the super-soldier role well. Liana Liberato overacts this role; considering her decent performance in Haunt, Liberato disappoints with this over-the-top, melodramatic acting. The film looks great. The music is mostly forgettable; some of it did stick out, though, feeling out of place. Director Philipp Stölzl captures the action well, but writer Arash Amel's screenplay is too contrived -- its riddled with way too many plot contrivances.

Overall, Erased, also known as The Expatriate, is a decent film. I liked the conspiracy elements of the film, but felt the story was heavily flawed. It's contrived to the point of being unintentionally humorous. However, action fans may find the action redeemable enough for at least a rental.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Film Review: Madhouse (2004)

Madhouse (Review)
United States/2004
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...offers some decent horror elements."

Psychiatric intern Clark Stevens (Joshua Leonard) arrives at Cunningham Hall Mental Facility to fulfill his medical school graduation requirements, but finds himself fighting his own sanity...

Madhouse is a procedural psychological horror film. The story follows Clark Stevens as he meets the patients and staff, and completes his tour. He also meets a potential love interest. When a violent murder occurs, Clark begins to investigate all of the possibilities. Was it an inmate? Was it the staff? Or is the hospital really haunted? As more violence occurs, and as his visions become more vivid, Clark begins to question everything, including himself. This tightly-packaged, moderately-paced, and clichéd-riddled horror film leads to a messy and predictable ending -- the predictable part I can forgive, but I wonder how something so simple and cliché can become so convoluted.

So, as you can see, Madhouse is nothing new -- the plot plays out and ends like every other film in the genre. But, it's not a terrible thing. The setting, albeit familiar, is spooky and effective. The patients are also very creepy -- the mental illness is ridiculously over-the-top, but it managed to be eerie, regardless. This is a film that relies more on suspense and visuals for horror than anything else. The suspense can come off as weak and fabricated, but the imagery is surprisingly chilling and consistent. There's also some wicked gore. So, despite being so generic and procedural, at the very least, Madhouse offers some decent horror elements. The ending even delves into the slasher genre, as many horror films tend to do when they're out of options. In fact, the final act really felt out of place, illogical, and irrational -- I didn't really enjoy it.

The acting is also decent. Occasionally coming off as wooden and boring, Joshua Leonard delivers a serviceable performance. The supporting cast, particularly those that play the mental patients, are great. In general, the acting was good for a 2004 direct-to-DVD horror film. The cinematography and music are by-the-books; nothing really special or noteworthy, simply competent. William Butler directs and assists in the writing, and I think he does well in creating horror through imagery; but, there is a severe lack of ambition and originality in the story.

Overall, Madhouse is a good horror film. It has some very eerie visuals, some decent suspense, an ominous atmosphere, and surprisingly decent acting. But, the plot is too familiar -- too cliché and too generic -- to really recommend hunting this film down. If you have Netflix Instant, then it may be worth viewing on a night in, especially for fans of the genre or setting. Maybe if I saw this film in 2004 I'd be surprised by the climax, but, by now, this twist is burned out.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and gore, some partial nudity and sex.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Film Review: Banshee Chapter (2013)

Banshee Chapter (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...most of the jump-scares work thanks to some carefully crafted suspense."

Journalist Anne Roland (Katia Winter) tracks the disappearance of college friend James Hirsch, who was investigation the government's Project MKUltra.

The story continues to follow Anne as she retraces James' steps prior to his disappearance, which includes investigating his sources. Particularly, a source who acquired a drug used in Project MKUltra. This source being foul-mouthed, anti-social author Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine). So, Anne, along with Thomas, decide to get busy and solve the mystery. Looking back, it's not really an in-depth story, but it is distinct for the genre. The ending took a bit to fully understand, and a little clarification research was required afterward, but it was generally decent.

The Banshee Chapter is a very good horror/thriller film. The film is mostly traditional filmmaking, with some mockumentary and typical found-footage horror blended in. The horror is mostly reliant on loud-noise jump-scares and some spooky visuals. Fortunately, this is a case where most of the jump-scares work thanks to some carefully crafted suspense. A few are duds that fall flat, but most will jolt you. These are jump-scares, though, so they may not be as scary if you watch the movie a second time around -- one of the major flaws for jump-scares. Banshee Chapter is also well balanced and paced, it ended before I knew it.

The acting was all-around good. Katia Winter is good as the lead, although the role doesn't demand much. I thought Ted Levine was really good, though. The film looks and sounds great, too. However, despite only having a few found-footage sequences, the camerawork is reminiscent of the found-footage genre; in other words, it occasionally gets unnecessarily shaky. Director Blair Erickson does well in crafting suspense and delivering jolting climaxes; the story is good, too, but could've used both clarification and more depth.

Overall, I really enjoyed Banshee Chapter. It's a very good horror film. The blend of traditional, found-footage and mockumentary is great, the story is interesting, and the suspense and horror is well crafted. There is room for improvement, though, and the jump-scares may be less effective upon further viewings. Worth watching for fans of the genre.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.