Sunday, 21 January 2018

HORROR MOVIE REVIEW: VERONICA


7/10

Based on a real criminal case from 1991, VERONICA is the story of a girl besieged by a demon only she could see, and her desperate efforts to protect her family. Growing up too quickly 16 year old Veronica has to look after her two young sisters and a baby brother. Her father is deceased and her mother is constantly at work, sleeping in late after the night shift. They live in a derelict apartment block, but the apartments are large and oddly shaped, which adds to the creepy settings when the story gets dark.

Trying to reach out to her dead father Veronica and her two best friends arrange a séance with a Ouija board. Coinciding with the solar eclipse their game turns dangerous when something “from the other side” seems to slip in to our world. As things start spiralling out of control Veronica tries to do what she does best – keep her family together by any mean possible. But is that new challenge just too hard to bear?

The cult director of Spanish horror cinema Fernando Navarro (REC movies), returns to his horror roots after the second sequel to the REC franchise was more of a comedy than horror. There’s no hint of humour in VERONICA, where the the light and the detail are so real you can almost smell the dusty city the characters live in. An electronic soundtrack is reminiscent of the films of the eighties and the monstrous creatures that inhabit the film are always a little out of focus, out of sight, as if no matter how hard we try we can only see them from the corner of our eye.

VERONICA re-invents jump scares, making them effective again, and there are a few in the film. The simplicity of the story is its strongest point. Plot-wise Veronica does not have much going for it – there’s nothing new for those who had seen Conjuring and Insidious movies. But what it lacks in originality in replenishes in heaps by the authenticity and the atmosphere.


VERONICA could have been something truly special if it was created in post-Conjuring world. As it is, the movie is a curious horror piece from Spain that is convincing, solidly made and very scary.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

MOVIE REVIEW: THE SHAPE OF WATER

6/10

It’s the 1960s. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) works night shifts as a cleaner at a secret government facility. She cannot speak because of a childhood trauma, but it does not stop her from having friends: another cleaner – chatty Octavia (Zelda Fuller)  and a gay neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins). When a strange sea creature enters the facility and is held captive, Elisa can relate to his situation – she is as much of an outsider and a sort of a prisoner in her own skin. When the amphibious man is about to be exectuted Elisa has no other choice but to plan a daring escape. It is time for both of them to break free. But what is the price they’ll have to pay?


I can say many wonderful things about the film – the Alexander Desplat score is a marvel, the acting of everyone involved is top notch (Zelda Fuller is a scene stealer) and the cinematography is breathtaking. But however amazing the visuals of THE SHAPE OF WATER are, underneath it all is a very simple story. Don’t get me wrong, this is a visually inventive, well acted and engaging film, but did I find the plot predictable? Yes, oh yes.  In particular, it strikes as being generic to those who know Del Toro films well. The love between the two outcasts, the psychotic villain and a sea creature – it’s like the cast of HELLBOY decided to participate in a much smaller project.

THE SHAPE OF WATER is an unapologetically violent (Del Toro has a definite fascination with disturbing facial wounds) and at the same time is full of weird erotics that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. It is also a relatively compact movie with only a few locations, and has a theatrical vibe to it. 

THE SHAPE OF WATER has many ingredients (including musical). The creature’s design, that took 9 months to develop is majestic, but for me personally is heavily inspired by the design of E.T. (just like ET’s, his body lights up from inside upon touching). The story itself is also reminiscent of the Spielberg classic movie. Many of the aspects of the plot seem improbable or illogical even for a fantasy film and the horrible Russian accent of the Soviet spies seriously affected my enjoyment of the movie (details like this, in my opinion, should be done right or not at all. There was no particular reason for these characters speaking Russian in the first place. 

To sum it up, THE SHAPE OF WATER intrigued me, engaged me and frustrated me all at once. But I must stop complaining. Maybe this is what a good director should be getting out of the viewer? 

Thursday, 28 December 2017

5 CHRISTMAS THEMED HORROR MOVIES TO BINGE ON THESE HOLIDAYS



The Christmas come and gone, but there’s a way to prolong the atmosphere. Here’s my 5 favourite Christmas themed horror films that will plunge you into the dark world of Santa impersonators, dark carols and blood on snow.

5. BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006 remake)

The original BLACK CHRISTMAS of 1974 predated HALLOWEEN by four years and was officially the first movie featuring a prank calls killer. There were so many of those in the years to come! But here I wanted to talk about the 2006 remake,a flim with cheesy gory fun, inventive kills, dumb victims and a killer twist!
The plot is simple – several hot female students are haunted and being dispatched one by one by a killer called Billy who had killed and ate (!!!) his mother many years ago on Christmas Day. Now he has escaped the mental hospital and is back to his old tricks. Crawling between the walls he relentlessly stalks his victims and in his imagination, by killing them, he turns them into the members of his future family.
The story is predictable, but there are few surprises in store. While the identity of the killer is never in question, there’s one WTF moment towards the end that I didn’t see coming. 
The clever set pieces are the strongest part of the film. The murders are inventive, with tricky cinematography. The kills are gory, but the gore is somewhat less on the screen than is implied. The weakest part is the suspense and some annoying personalities, but they all are dispatched before you know it. 
The BLACK CHRISTMAS remake is too shallow to be a horror classic and even with the geeks it has a bad reputation. It has outstanding production qualities, clever cinematography, and an interesting twist that I never saw coming.
Above all this film is just very entertaining and in my department it’s a job well done!



4. SILENT NIGHT (2012 remake)

Satirical, clever and scary this SILENT NIGHT remake is light years better than the original. A killer Santa anyone? Wearing a plastic mask and a fake beard this ogre-like killer punishes the sinners of the small town on Christmas day.
The main focus of the film, however, is on the local police constable Aubrey. Jamie King in the role is a breath of fresh air as a grief stricken detective who fights her inability to act in stressful situations. All the other characters are bordering on satire, including a miscast Michael McDowell, who looks too upper class and out of place as a small town sheriff.  None of the victims are particularly good people, apart from Aubrey’s father, and the reason why he is targeted by the killer will not be revealed until the very end. 
SILENT NIGHT at its core is a cop-movie, and it produces a good mystery where you don’t expect one. There is plenty of tension and horror on display and the kills are out of control brutal, with buckets of blood thrown at the viewer. The faults? All the victims are totally expendable, hard to care for, which is really a good thing, because they are being taken out in a pretty gruesome manner.
The movie improves when it is watched again, and is one of my favourite slashers of all time. A solidly made, suspenseful film, it has as much ability to shock you, as to make you laugh.



3. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

Getting to the top of the list we may be going into the territory of much better quality movies from a critical point of view, but these movies are actually much more fun.
RARE EXPORTS tells the story of a young boy who faces off with a demonic re-incarnation of Santa, but the film has a tone of a dark fantasy (similar to Gremlins) rather than horror. In the plot, an excavation site uncovers the ancient burial site of a demonic ogre Joulupukki, a creature from Finnish folklore who inspired the modern Santa. At the same time children around the countryside start disappearing… To stop the monster’s awakening and protect the children, including his best friend, little boy Pietari has to come up with a crazy and outrageous plan…
To say more would be a spoiler. 
RARE EXPORTS is a film from Finland, and reading the subtitles turned many viewers away. However over the years it earned itself a sort of a cult status.
RARE EXPORTS has a great sense of adventure, it has very little violence and there’s no gore, but it is scarier than SILENT NIGHT and BLACK CHRISTMAS put together. It is a bittersweet story of growing up and accepting the truth that Santa is not real… Or not quite what it’s meant to be.

2. KRAMPUS (2016)

KRAMPUS is as close to being a family horror movie as is possible. Written and directed by Michael Dogherty whose upcoming project is 2019 GOZILLA movie, it is a tale of a family terrorised by KRAMPUS (an evil demon who comes instead of Santa for Naughty families) and the army of his demonic servants.  Mostly done for laughs this satirical tale has many jump scares and is famous for its inventive monsters done with puppetry and practical effects, instead of CGI. 
New Zealand WETA STUDIOS did a fantastic job, each one of the creatures including Cherub, Christmas Bear and Gingerbread men deserve a movie of their own.
While KRAMPUS is mostly played out for laughs it still delivers plenty of horror, with family members, including children, being taken one by one straight to hell. The finale offers you to make a choice, and depending on what ending you want it can be a dark or a happy one.
KRAMPUS turns intense when you least expect it to and the monsters are so cool it seems strange this flick was under the radar for so long.
KRAMPUS is now available on NETFLIX, so it is about time to give this great movie some justice.

1. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT (2017)

Here is the newest entry, and probably the most original Christmas horror film I have seen. It is also full of satire and dark humour (just like all of the above entries, why is that do you think?). 
In the story a young boy seeks the attention of his babysitter as his parents are out for Christmas dinner. Soon enough a stranger calls and some intruders break in. The kids have to survive by any means possible… 
seem familiar? You are wrong! Half way through, the movie makes a 180 degree turn, and this is its strongest and the weakest point. 

YOU BETTER WATCH OUT is a blend of HOME ALONE and Michael Heneke’s FUNNY GAMES. It is as funny as the first and as harrowing as the second. The young cast is fantastic, especially Levi Miller (last year’s PAN) who is at the centre of it all. By the end of the film you may feel that you have watched something you had not signed up to, but without a doubt YOU BETTER WATCH OUT is one of the most original horror flicks of the year.

And what is your favourite Christmas movie (horror or not)?
Please let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL: RADIANCE



6/10

Here is an unusual love story. Misako is a film interpreter, who writes a visual description for visually impaired moviegoers. Masaya is a famous photographer whose sight has almost completely deteriorated.

She is an artist, he is a critic. When their personalities collide something special is born.

The director Naomi Kawase has excelled at making documentaries, and her latest film RADIANCE, whilst being fiction, has adopted the documentary style. The ever shaking camera struggles to find focus, but it is a perfect approach to the story about visually impaired people. By the end of the film you get a little taste of what it’s like to not be able to see the world clearly or even see it at all.

The story is slow and the dialogue is minimalistic, apart from the scenes where the visually impaired viewers criticize Misako’s work, and when she and Masaya go head to head over scene interpretations. The romantic plot unfolds naturally and the chemistry between the characters, while fragile, is genuine. Their raw and vulnerable relationship is what holds the film together.

Kawase has created an interesting movie that celebrates endings rather than beginnings. Just like the characters of the movie struggle to find the right words to describe a scene, the director is searching for the meaning of loss, delivering her message in one word in a near perfect finale.


RADIANCE is a Japanese film, therefore is slow to unfold. Add the unusual visual style – and it can test the patience of an unprepared viewer. There are also multiple subplots (one of them includes Misako’s dementia suffering mother) that never find a proper resolution. The film could have benefitted from a tighter storytelling, but the end result is a somewhat dreamy exploration of life and love and the beauty of all things that are bound to end.