Friday, September 6, 2013

Jug Face

Title: Jug Face
Release Date: 2013
Rating: 3 out of 4

You know, I really wanted to like this movie. From the credit sequence I thought it was going to be some pretty messed-up stuff but it was a lot more sedate and boring than I expected. It didn't live up to my expectations, which usually aren't very high, but this billed itself as a different kind of horror movie -- one that could be appreciated on a cinematic level. I mean, I still gave it a pretty high rating because it was well acted, and well made, and it did hold my interest all the way through but in the end it just didn't deliver what I like in horror.

The film revolves around a small community of back-woods hillfolk who participate in a death cult based on appeasing "The Pit" which is a Lovecraftian hole in the ground with some murky water at the bottom. This is actually less stupid than it sounds! There's a troubled girl, a touched prophet, star-crossed lovers, mean parents, human sacrifice, and at least three scenes where people are disembowled. I don't want to give too much away because, to be honest, there isn't much substance to it. If I reveal more of the plot I'd probably be ruining the movie for you.

I wanted more explanation about The Pit, or at least, what the people who worshiped it thought about it. I wanted to know why they had a lot of modern conveniences but washed their clothes in the river with washboards. I wanted to know why, in 2013, these people made moonshine instead of growing pot. This was more of a character-driven drama with horror elements, and if that's your thing you will like this. If you want something deeply disturbing or intellectually compelling, I'd look elsewhere.

But hey, at least the movie explained what a Jug Face is.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Shadow People

TITLE: Shadow People
SCORE: 3.5 out of 4

I am getting really tired of the "fauxumentary" style. By this I mean a film that splices regular movie footage in with obviously fake "documentary" footage. It takes you out of the film and unless you film the regular movie specifically like a TV-movie and have "reenactment" warnings at the bottom its totally incongruous.

I guess some filmmakers feel that it amps up the suspense. Using low-fi video and handcam for select shots does indeed have a tendency to build suspense, but that is just using the techniques of a documentary film to make your film more realistic, and thus scary. Unless its specifically a found footage movie and plays by all the rules of one, adding actual documentary-style scenes into a fictional film is ridiculous and confusing, and this movie suffers from this heavily. Its torn between being a found footage fake documentary and a regular feature film, this confuses the audience member and is distracting (especially when they're different aspect ratios -- yeeesh!!)

Aside from its narrative troubles, this makes for a tight and taught little thriller. "Shadow people," of course, have existed in popular urban lore for a few decades now -- something other than ghosts and demons, those beings that seem to exist just out of the corner of your eye and disappear quickly when looked at head on. At least, those are what shadow people are in the real world; in this film they are much more malevolent paranormal beings - in fact they KILL PEOPLE!!!! Ahhhhhhh!

These shadow people conform much closer to "the watchers" that people report during incidents of night terrors and sleep paralysis -- beings present in their rooms, eerily watching over them. But then they also stalk them during the day like a vengeful spirit or perhaps an MIB would... this film is very novel in its approach to a boogeyman that already has some mythos built up in the real world. I have no doubt that this film could have real impact on the kinds of things people actually report going bump in the night.

Humorously it also parallels the very real success of radio legend Art Bell, who's Coast to Coast show was primarily politics-based until the Oklahoma City bombing, when classic anti-government rhetoric became unfashionable, he started shifting his show to the paranormal, with a handful of topics being classic staples of discussion - including shadow people! This shift in formats led to a major rise in listeners and propelled the show into mainstream American consciousness. Unlike the character in our film however, Mr. Bell did not become personally obsessed with the subjects of his late night talk show.

Our main character, Charlie Crowe, is more like a John Keel type -- someone who stumbles onto a dark mystery and can't let go, letting the mystery consume his whole life. Of course, Mr. Keel makes a very good living writing his various scary books on possibly real things -- which is another problem of this film. Let me explain...

When you use a documentary style, you bring the film into our world - the real world of consensual reality. And here we have a fairly common paranormal phenomena and our film is devoid of any Brad Steigers, Whitley Striebers, Nick Redferns or or John Keels here. Just some dusty notes from an old sleep disorder study and the diary of a teenager to tie this whole thing together. Yet this revolves around a late night talk radio show -- where are the paranormal investigators?! If this were a straight film we might suspend our disbelief and be happy to think "in this movies' universe, this is a new phenomena," but we aren't afforded such a luxury.

But for its faults it is a very entertaining film and it does its job on the horror side of things - it left me feeling spooked and unsettled. Like many films I review, I wish this had been given another editing once over before  it went out for release. However it does have snappy dialogue, exposition that doesn't bog down too badly, and without need for a lot of splatter the minor effects present in the film are very very effective. There's also very little lag or pacing problems.

Still makes no sense that a wannabe Fox Mulder doesn't show up on the scene though, or why seemingly real footage is mixed with obvious film footage without any explanation... This is why I feel like I have to detract points.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Chernobyl Diaries

TITLE: Chernobyl Diaries
SCORE: 3 out of 4

Hi! It's been over a year since my last review but here I am, still alive and still watching horror films. You thought I grew up, huh? Nope I just got too busy with dumb stuff like divorces and graduate school and such.

Anyway, so here we have Chernobyl Diaries. Our principle characters are doing some big "grand tour" after college graduation, or something -- I don't really know, but its in Central/Eastern Europe rather than Western Europe. Makes sense cause that would be a lot cheaper and that's what I'd do if I had any money to travel at all. After stopping in Prague and Kiev and probably Budapest and some other places they find themselves in Russia, about to go to Moscow.

Instead, the cheeky instigator of the bunch convinces them to do an "extreme tourism" package that involves touring the area hit by Chernobyl and nearby villages. It is led by ex-military Russian guy "Uri," who is surely "strong like ox" and "wery experienced!" (Ok he doesn't say that but he's still a ridiculous stereotype) Our four Americans are joined by a British couple who are on their honeymoon for this trip that is guaranteed to be safe and fun. The British dude has a neckbeard and a hipster keffiyeh so we can be sure that he is a total douche and not to be sad if he is killed. This all happens rather quickly, and they're all in an econo-van on their way to see the mutated sights only 12 minutes into the movie!

Stopping at a check point into the "exclusion zone" we become aware that Uri might not be quite on the up and up and this whole trip might not be exactly safe. As the instigator's weinerly lawful-good broseph counterpart (Chris, I think his name is) says, "it looks fuckin' sketchy, dude." He is quickly admonished and told to "enjoy, man!" Since he is such a weiner he obliges.

The van sneaks into the area with our young adventurers and their "tour guide," they stop and look around and encounter a very weird mutated fish thing. That's probably a good guidepost as to when build-up suspense stops and the horror starts and it's not even 20 minutes into the 98 minute film. Economy of plot is reaching golden heights here. The young westerners aren't exactly beloved, but I didn't really feel as indifferent to them as some other films, and I certainly wasn't hostile to their existence and wanted to see them horribly murdered like is sometimes the case. I think where a lot of films like this go wrong is that they spend longer than 10 minutes introducing the ensemble. They spend some time looking around at some empty buildings, and then Uri's van is sabotaged somehow, in a place supposedly empty of people... and we begin our decent into the real expressionist nightmare.

This film does a great job of turning abandoned apartment blocks & other soviet architecture, as well as forests of leafless trees, into eerie specters of creeping dread. The sickly, desaturated color processing and hand-cam documentary filming style also help the mood quite a bid. The extended shots of black nothing during the night sequences & occasional way-too-dark shots of formless shapes in unlit rooms did not help though, perhaps the owls in the audience will enjoy them but in my mind the sentiment is "don't show the monster," not "don't show anything at all."

I quite liked this; it kept me on edge and wondering what was happening and what was going to happen. While basically formulaic and predictable, as the details unfolded things were very interesting and unexpected. Screaming 20-somethingers terrorized in the woods might not be very original, or truly terrifying to a regular horror fan, but I think it earns extra points for using an unusual setting well and not wasting a bunch of time on backstory no one cares about.

Chernobyl Diaries is not the kind of intense experience a horror fan would relish watching alone in a dark room, I would recommend it as fare for a party or a movie night with friends. It's not without it's charms and is probably worth viewing at least once. It feels like a literal thrill ride once it kicks into gear and is certainly enjoyable with pizza, beer, and perhaps something scarier to put on afterwards.