Friday, 28 June 2013

Dark House (2009) Review

Here is a real underrated gem of a film. Led by the infamously creepy Jeffrey Combs and Meghan
Ory, Dark House is a good old fashioned ghost story with a schizophrenic twist. This was a low budget horror, and the majority of criticisms have been too crucifying towards its subsequently endearing cheesiness.

True is the general consensus, judging the majority of the characters as bubbleheaded and lacking in depth as the next death fodder. Tacky humour, corny performances... cliché behaviour? Generically stereotyped characters? Nothing new there. When do victims behave differently in this genre? There would be no longevity to the plot. This was the first film in which I'd ever seen actress Meghan Ory. In comparison to the series Once Upon a Time, I still maintain her acting in Dark House is superior.

What shone for me, was the highly convincing performance from Diane Salinger. Playing the psychotic role of Ms. Darrode, a knife wielding bible-basher. Who, after wreaking massacre-havoc in her children's foster home, returned from the dead to haunt the scare attraction residing there in present day.

I've never seen a horror film set in a scare attraction environment before which I thought was an interesting concept. Genuinely haunted haunts? Sadly the soundtrack and setting were generic, and generally unintimidating, but did not impair the film.
The technical inaccuracies during the virus scenes were amusing as opposed to anything. Though I can understand why criticisms are so enraged, regarding something in an otherwise silly environment, given Rebecca Black's Friday spawned so much hatred. Lighten up, people.

For what it is, Dark House is fairly well paced and enjoyable as a horror. There are the few ubiquitous jump scares to be had, but Dark House is not nightmare worthy. If you are looking to be left traumatized from a film, I would suggest looking elsewhere (unless incidentally, crazy old women are a phobia).

Obviously, the lack of realism is where most criticisms are concentrated. The realism of a Trojan virus extending to a ghost sat spinning around in a chair with a matrix backdrop is about all you will encounter. If you can manage to put any nerdish sensibilities aside as far as special effects are concerned, and adopt a more lighthearted approach, you may well enjoy this film.

Rating: 7.5/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Monday, 10 June 2013

Dead Silence (2007) Review

Dead Silence happens to be one of those horror films where I find I can put aside the ghastly resolution to the plot, in favour of its visual elements. The cinematography and stylistic elements of this film are, without a doubt, where an incredible amount of effort and attention to detail has been channelled. The story centres around a curse upon the fictional Ashen family, tormented by the ghost of the vengeful doll fanatic and talented ventriloquist, Mary Shaw.

James Wan indeed puts particular emphasis on the colour red, reminiscent of the Saw films (one to three) he directed/produced, all of which are equally as carefully crafted. Incidentally, Billy the puppet from Saw, is incorporated into the set of Mary's dressing room.

Dead Silence is stunning. Everything down to the tattered curtains, and the FX fog, were eerily perfect. The sets with the abandoned theatre were beautiful, especially Mary Shaw's dressing room at the back. Her conceptual drawings for creating her living dolls were positively macabre. As was the living doll boy product. Mary Shaw herself was a formidable villain. Ghosts of the decrepit old woman variety have always frightened me.

Charlie Clouser, who has also worked with James Wan on the soundtrack for Saw, has produced yet another a distinctly unique and memorable accompaniment to the film. This soundtrack has been a favourite for years, and it possesses the most unnerving quality. A childlike blend of nightmarish music box tunes, choral vocals and sinisterly gentle off-key piano music.  Even the more calmly tempered tracks are addictive. Particular tracks I noted for their excellency were Dad's House, He Talked, and Funeral. You should probably go and listen to them for the good of your own health. The main titles music is vastly overused in many Halloween attractions across the globe. Mainly because, it's brilliant.

If anything could come close to being the aesthetic bible of ventriloquist doll horror films (alongside Puppet Master), Dead Silence would be it.  All of the dolls featured are the absolute manifestation of what one would acquire, if you reached into the back of a pediophobic's head and pulled out a toy collection. Aside from Billy, the clown doll was a particular favourite. Plus the tension built with it sat on the rocking chair as the protagonist was forced to approach, was brilliant. As was the scene in the motel with the ominous red flashing lights. As Billy was propped up against the window, Mary Shaw herself just discernible behind the curtains. Like the Grudge, the subtle appearances of ghosts who are barely visible among the sets and shadows, are the most impressive for psychological effect.

Ultimately, however, the ending fell flat. The protagonist was gratingly weak, and there could have been a better conclusion thought out to kill him more logically. Totally nonsensical was it, that after everything, he decided to throw the towel in and scream. If the crucial continuity rule is to refrain from screaming, why on earth would he decide to do it? Admittedly, it would be creepy to have Mary Shaw tailing you for the rest of your life. But, she's potentially harmless given you keep your mouth shut. Or so states the related Mary Shaw nursery rhyme. And surely she would make the most entertaining permanent roommate.

10/10 for visual value.
4/10 for plot.

Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Purge (2013) Review

Image from here

From the trailer, the Purge promised an interesting concept. What would happen if, in an attempt to reduce overall crime rates, the government introduced a 12 hour yearly period where all crime was legalised? Of course, realistically, this would not be feasible. If the majority of the population who committed these sort of atrocities were remotely capable of self restraint, maybe. But what are the chances of that?

Although there is mixed reception towards The Purge, the execution of this idea wasn't as substantial or satisfying as I imagined. Engaging with this film was extremely difficult, as there was no consistency to the plot. If you had seen the trailer, from the beginning it becomes instantly predictable how the following hour or so is about to be spent.

In fact, within the trailer, you've probably seen all there is to the film in it's compressed worth. Everyone already has the knowledge that the house will be accessed by these mysterious masked killers. Anything else?
Not really, to be perfectly honest.
To justify an hour and a half's worth of a film, you must witness these characters' utter stupidity and genuinely unrealistic reactions to their situation, following up to the house being invaded. Which, in itself, kills any potential tension. Watching the characters act illogically from square one, to perpetuate the storyline with their contradictory decisions, made for a most frustrating experience.
Talk about making a meal from a crumb?

Lena Headey’s character, Mary, was cyclically idiotic in particular. If someone had threatened your own childrens' lives, why on earth would a sudden urge to be moralistic about sparing them come over you? It wouldn't. And her character demonstrates this on more than one occasion.

There would also be no ignorance or complacency about an intruder in your home. Not on an established annual night such as the Purge, when, the risk of being murdered in the most brutal fashion without consequence is present. Yet, all the characters seem to conveniently ignore the presence/absence of an intruder wandering about their home. Of course...

Given that a deliberate air of jealousy and unease was created between neighbours and Lena Headey's character, it was about as subtle as a brick to the face in terms of foreshadowing an attack. Following onto this point, is how equally nonsensical James (Ethan Hawke's character) was in his actions. Why would you knowingly arm your own house with a faulty security system that could be breached?
However, I had the (horrendously drawn out) pleasure of seeing him die, which unfortunately did not go for every character, like I had desperately hoped.

The main villain, credited as the Polite Stranger failed to leave a threatening impression for some reason. Though, this could be put down mainly to the fact he didn't actually have much screen time. Which was a shame. Perhaps this film would have worked better from the killers' perspective.

Since the flaws in the film's coherency were so polarising, very little of my attention was drawn to much else in terms of mise en scene. However, the extremely inconspicuous remote controlled doll (which incidentally managed escape characters' attention to the point of startling them), was actually quite pretty.

Ultimately the absolute illogic of the story is the Purge's downfall. There's no reason a more realistic/gratifying storyline could not have been born from this concept. Since cheap jump scares were resorted to, a cheap and generic brutal-death-to-all resolution could at least have been incorporated.

Rating: 2/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis