Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Psych: 9

TITLE: Psych: 9
SCORE: 1.5 out of 4

This film straddles the line between psychological thriller and supernatural thriller, but its perch is precarious.  The obviousness of the later reveal renders large portions of the movie as tedious set-up to what you know is going to be a grim and meager payoff. Then the movie forgets itself and tries for something half-clever, but leaves us with a muddled ending that tries for ambiguous and lands somewhere short of comprehensible.

The plot is basic, and lifted from countless predecessors (such as Session 9, a movie with a nearly identical set up and many other obvious similarities): a young single white female starts a job doing tedious filing work for the psych ward of a hospital which has been closed down. She thinks this will be relaxing but actually the spooky setting and long hours alone start to fray her nerves. She picks up smoking again, her marriage starts to deteriorate as does her mental health as she becomes plagued by paranoia and nightmares. Slowly her past is unraveled as she begins to have therapy sessions with a psychiatrist who is occasionally around, apparently tying up loose ends or something...

This character study is "added" to by a serial killer subplot which acts as the catalyst for the final, and not quite understandable, denouement. The film presents two mutually exclusive possibilities for the events that unfold before us, but these possibilities are also each internally inconsistent and don't hold up to scrutiny. The third possibility is so vague and barely realized that I'm not sure I even know what it might be.

Its not a stinker; the production values are fairly high and the acting is good for indie horror standards. Unfortunately, the film also suffers from some of the common afflictions that come with a small budget - a cast of six characters, a total of four sets, hardly any establishing shots, and so on. I think a really good film will transcend its budget - and tell a story where these things don't really factor in at all; in fact many of the best horror films have had notoriously tiny budgets and its because of being innovative with constraints its part of the art of film-making.

All in all its mostly a retread of very tired psychological thriller tropes, lacking any spark of originality, done cheaply without much concern for artistry or cinematic depth. There's just barely enough meat on its bones to make it not terrible, but obviously that's not much of a recommendation.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Virus X

TITLE: Virus X
SCORE: 1 out of 4

I can't recommend in good faith that anyone watch this film. There are many problems with this film; for one, the basic plot is barely even half-cooked. A rich old lady has some sort of cure-all 'vaccine' to H1N1 but the virus never did anything scary so she hires scientists to develop a super-amped version of the virus. Of course they test these new strains on humans in poorly lit underground cells. As luck would have it, strain X turned out to be the really really nasty one.

So, of course, things happen and the virus gets out of control. But everything happens at a very slow pace, and the performances are either too melodramatic and exaggerated to be believable or too sedate and blank to be worth mentioning. Who are any of the characters involved in the virus program - including at least a half-dozen patients? I don't really know. I don't really care. There's a doctor. There's a guy who seems more like a fighter character in a video game than anyone who should be in a super-science lab. There's some alright gore but much of it is of a regrettable form in which people puke up what kind of looks like poop.

Lots of blue lighting, tilted angle shots, shakey-cam; the cinematography was uninspired to say the very least. The make-up effects were very nicely done, but that can't really carry a film. The whole thing was a wooden exercise in pointlessness. It was a story that takes maybe an hour to tell stretched out to film length and a mildly clever "twist" ending tacked on. Its not quite contemptible, but its no treat.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


TITLE: Finale
SCORE: 3 out of 4

This is a well made and visually striking supernatural tale of a family unraveling the pieces of a young man's life that led up to his apparent suicide. The role of the mother is a stereotypical uptight Christian, consistently in dour long dresses and prominent cross-wearing. Fortunately, the actress, Carolyn Hauck, transcends the cliched trappings and delivers a stellar performance. She comes across as a clever, instinctively canny mom, yet also delivers a profound sense of frailty, as she is inflicted with night terrors and disturbing episodes of sleep-walking -- she pulls this off very convincingly. Her guilt, paranoia, and obsession are really what carry this film. While most of the cast is quite capable, she definitely comes away as the strongest.

Anyway, It quickly becomes apparent that her son, "Sean Michaels," (I suppose the production team never heard of Shawn Micheals, but this had me laughing every time they said the name -- which was frequently!), dabbled, or was possibly quite deeply involved, in black magick and left-hand path occultnik stuff. Yet it soon becomes apparent that his death was not the end of the dark troubles he unleashed.

Early on, the film suffers from being over-stuffed with montages of "found footage" of SHAAWWWWN MICCHEAALLS as a happy go-lucky college kid before he turned all dark and evil. This grainy boring nonsense is contrasted with scenes of Mother Helen wracked with guilt, pouring through his crazed notebooks and hunting for clues. Although a devout Christian, she seems unable, at first, to sense the obvious evil black magic trappings that surround her son's death. I'm not sure if this is quite believable or not; why do people in horror movies seem to never notice that there's ghosts or demons or Satan or whatever involved in the events that happen to them? I mean, if I found my son's secret stash of stuff and it was notebooks with crazy William Burroughs cum Aleister Crowley type scribblings and creepy newsprint cut-and-pastes as well as 16mm footage of secret ritualistic sex orgies - ya know I might just suspect that he could have been fucking around with black magic!! (I know, call me crazy...)

Well anyway, it fortunately doesn't take too long before she suspects something spooky is afoot and that's when the movie starts to really pick up. There are a lot of very creepy sets and unsettling visual effects, and some quality gore. The plot is fairly bog standard and predictable, aside from getting a little complicated at the end (and a little too light on the exposition about just what the kooky culties were up to), but the strong characters and captivating visuals kept me from yawning. I have to make a note, however, of the exceptionally cornball performance of Elizabeth Holmes, who's idea of acting sinister is apparently to channel Pearl Forrester from MST3K...

All in all it was quite good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I recommend it and its on Netflix streaming, so if you have that, you have no excuse not to watch it!