Month: April 2015

The Babadook

A widowed mother has been battling with the pain of her husband’s death and raising her emotionally troubled son on her own. One night during story time, the son picks a book off the shelf that the mother has never seen before. It starts out as an innocent nursery rhyme, but quickly turns violent and only fuels her son’s obsession with monsters. Soon the mother starts seeing and feeling a sinister presence all around her and it’s driven by pain and death.

I was drawn to this Australian film because I had seen it on so many top 10 of 2014 horror lists. Many people even had it as their favorite horror film of 2014. I always try to avoid reading reviews for movies until after I see them because I want to be able to form my own opinion about them. I was able to mostly avoid reading reviews for this film, but it was hard not to hear all the hype surrounding it.  This one definitely lived up to the hype. While it is not the scariest film I have seen it was definitely original, creepy, and gave me goosebumps on multiple occasions. If I had done a top 10 of 2014 list, this movie would for sure have been on it.

There were so many successful elements to this film. One of them was the acting. Both Essie Davis, who plays the mother, and Noah Wiseman, who plays the son, were brilliant. You really believe that Davis is the grieving wife who, even after almost seven years, just can’t get over the horrible accident that took the life of her husband. Wiseman’s character, throughout most of the film, is quite possibly the most annoying kid in the world. His character is very disturbed and clearly in need of some help, but of course his mother just brushes it off and pretends that everything is normal. The mother most likely adds to his behavioral problems by projecting her own issues on him. What amazes me the most is the transformation that both characters seem to take during the film. The mother goes from being rather meek and doing what she can to get by, to slowly losing her mind and becoming more aggressive to the point of even being violent. The son also transforms to being almost unbearable, to this sweet child that will do anything to keep his mother safe.

Another successful element is that the Babadook is some unknown entity that creeps it’s way further and further into the lives of this family. You never really get a good look at it and you never really know what the Babadook is, but that adds to the eeriness of the entire film. I’m sure others have made this conclusion, but I saw the Babadook as being a representation of the mother’s grief. Throughout the film it is clear that the mother is trying so hard to avoid speaking or even thinking about her husband’s death. It is mostly apparent in the fact that she has never celebrated her son’s birthday on the actual day (the husband died in an accident while driving his wife to give birth to their son). Her grief is something that has always been right on the edge and when her son is screaming “don’t let it in” they are not only referring to the Babadook but also telling her not to let her grief in. Once she lets the Babadook in she is letting her grief consume her and slowly drive her mad.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Even the ending, which may seem strange the first time you see it, is a representation of this woman’s grief. I interpreted it as her finally confronting her grief after realizing that her love for her son is more important than dwelling on an accident she had no control over. She defeats the Babadook after the confrontation because it no longer has control over her; she has control over it and has accepted the past. The reason it is kept in her basement is because, as the book says, “you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” Her grief will always be something present in her mind, but it will no longer take over her entire life.

[END SPOILER]

This film was really one of the best movies I have seen in a while. It had amazing acting, a creative storyline, and it still was able to give me the heebie jeebies. I also really loved the fact that it was a horror film with a deeper meaning about how people deal with grief after the death of a loved one, which is something I think many people can relate to. Using a very creepy character from a children’s storybook that comes to life is quite possibly the most horrifying way to represent grief in a film. I would recommend this film to everyone. It is definitely a film that I think would appeal to even non-horror fans just because of the deeper meaning. And be sure that you don’t watch it alone.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

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Unfriended

Laura Barns was a regular high school girl. One night, she partied a little too hard and someone caught it all on film. Then someone posted the video online for all to see. After the video was posted, Laura started getting anonymous messages online saying horrible things to her, even telling her to kill herself. Shortly after, it became too much for Laura, and she shot herself in the face. That too was caught on video and posted online. A year later, all her friends meet on Skype to talk about random things, most of them not even knowing it’s the anniversary. They soon realize there is an unwanted guest on their Skype call, and this guest is there to cause as much mayhem and death as possible until they discover who posted the video of drunken Laura Barns.

I’ve had the night to think about it, and I’m still really conflicted on how I feel about this movie. There are many things I really like about it. This film was made by MTV, who lately has been working on a few projects that focus on serious social issues affecting today’s teens. There are scripted shows that focus on a teen questioning their sexual orientation, a teen who is intersex, and even a show that displays the consequences of posting too much personal information online for crazies to find. With that in mind, I really liked that they brought to light the effects of cyber bullying and how people are more vicious when they can hide behind their computer. I also enjoyed that these privileged teens who did horrible things not only to Laura, but also to each other, got what was coming to them and had all their secrets exposed.

Another aspect that I really like was how it was filmed. The entire film is shot so you are looking at the main character’s computer screen. That way you can see everyone that is in on the Skype call, but you can also see this character go on various websites that help to unfold much of the story. It was surprisingly successful in doing this because you have the basic dialog that most movies have, but you also get to see what the main character is thinking by what she looks at online during the conversation. What makes this film such an achievement to me is primarily because it was filmed in one continuous, real-time take. The director revealed that when they began filming, they were trying it in longer 10 minute takes. The lead actress, Shelley Hennig (Teen Wolf), was actually the one who suggested doing it in one take in order to keep the energy of the film up. Not only is it incredible to me that they achieved doing it in one take, but I also love that it was one of the actors who suggested it instead of the director. [On a totally unrelated note, when you see all the tabs Hennig’s character has open on her computer one of them is an episode of the MTV scripted show, Teen Wolf, which she is one of the starts of.]

There were two things that make me feel like this movie isn’t as good as I expected it to be. First, since these people were on Skype, there was a lot of the screen freezing and choppiness that happens when you move around too much on Skype. This annoys me when I’m on Skype, so it made it difficult to watch for 82 minutes straight. Although, this definitely made the movie more realistic than it would have been if everyone’s Skype worked perfectly, even when they’re running around the house with their computer. Another thing that got to me is that I didn’t care about the characters. With the exception of Hennig’s character, I felt that all these people were so horrible that they really deserved whatever they got. It makes it less scary when you aren’t afraid for the characters’ lives.

As I said before, I’m really torn on whether I felt this was a good movie or not. I enjoyed it, which doesn’t take much for me, and I liked the social commentary on being careful about what you put out on the internet. It worked as a way to teach teens to be more compassionate when it comes to cyber bullying, and it effectively demonstrated that whatever you put on the internet is there forever. That alone will give it some extra points because that is a huge issues with today’s kids. It also was filmed in a really unique way that definitely drew me in. One thing that would really have made this a better movie is if the teens weren’t such despicable creatures, making it hard for you to care about them or their fate. Either way, it was an interesting movie that I would recommend people see.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

The Houses October Built

Every October, various haunted houses and corn mazes open up all over the country. Their sole purpose is to scare the living hell out of you. In this film, a group of childhood friends decide to make a documentary about the scariest, most extreme haunts in the United States. Along their journey they hear humors about one specific haunt that is the most intense scare a person could ever have. As they journey to find this elusive haunt, things start to happen that lead them down a dark path they may not be able to come back from.

The main premise of the film is how back in the day, a basic haunted house where people jumped out at you and said “boo” was enough to scare the pants off most people. I myself am a total wimp. I went to the same haunted corn maze two Halloweens in a row and it scared me to death both times. These days people want the more extreme kind of haunt where the actors go past the point of what may be considered legal in most places. I have even heard stories of haunted houses where you have to sign some kind of waiver before you even go in so that if any physical or mental harm comes to you there can be no legal action taken. While I don’t know if places like this truly exist, it is the kind of place mentioned in the film that these people are dying to experience.

Intermixed within the film are interviews with supposedly real owners and actors at various haunts. The people being interviewed tell stories about extreme things that have happened at haunted houses, even murderers and sex offenders being hired as actors and using the job as a way to find new victims. While I have heard of plenty of crimes committed on Halloween, I’m not sure how valid the claims are that crimes are committed within haunted houses. This does bring up a fear that I believe many people have before entering a haunted house. You know the actors are technically not allowed to touch you, but what if a serial killer really was hired at a haunt and hid the remains of their victims within the sets.

The two aspects mentioned above give you the two extremes. On the one hand, people want something that is so outrageous and horrifying that they will never forget it. On the other hand, there is always the chance that the people in your friendly neighborhood haunted house are much worse than what they appear to be. In that way, this film makes sure that it covers all the potential fears a person may have before entering a haunt. They even show the different kinds of scares you get in various haunted houses and how it has evolved over the years. It starts with your more basic evil clowns and creepy dolls then moves into more shock horror with people being gruesomely tortured before your eyes, culminating in the ultimate scare where you are the victim of an all too real haunt.

Looking beyond the story alone, one of the aspects of this film that made is so believable was the acting. This group of people had such amazing chemistry and genuine reactions when they were going through the haunted houses that it made the entire story that much more believable. The few characters that you see from the haunted houses were great as well. Even the more silent ones, like the iconic porcelain doll, really know how to creep you out. The various masks and makeup that were used on the haunt actors was quite effective as well.

In my opinion, this film did not get as much credit as it deserved. While the ending was a bit lackluster, like so many horror movies, the overall storyline was very interesting. It seems likely that the kind of people that would appreciate this film the most are those that love Halloween and love to be scared. With excellent acting and a fairly unique topic for this fake documentary, it was hard for me to not enjoy the movie. It is the kind of movie that will be a favorite when Halloween comes around each year.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Honeymoon

The story starts innocently enough. A young couple, Paul and Bea, just got married. They decide to spend their honeymoon at Bea’s family cabin in a secluded area near a lake. Since it’s before tourist season, the place is pretty much deserted. One night, Bea vanished from their bed. Paul finds her naked and bruised in the middle of the woods. From that point on Paul notices there is something seriously wrong with the woman he loves.

This film has several good elements that could have made it a great movie. The two leads, Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful), I already love from their past work and know they are amazing actors. While they were both excellent in this, there was something that really got to me during the entire movie. For those of you that don’t know, Rose Leslie is from Scotland and has a very thick accent, and Harry Treadaway is from England. In this film, they did American accents. Treadaway did a perfectly fine job, but there were times during the movie where I could hear Leslie’s Scottish accent come through. I know it must be hard to fake an accent for that long, but she is an actor and this is part of her job description so it ruined the illusion a bit for me.

I enjoyed most of the storyline. It was slightly reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As the film progressed it made you wonder what was real and what wasn’t, adding an extra element of mystery to the point where you begin to wonder if Bea is really Bea. This aspect of the film I found very interesting, and it held my attention. It was when the climax of the film came around that it lost me a bit.

(Don’t worry, I won’t give anything away). In the climax of the movie, it seemed like you were watching a different movie than you started with. It goes from psychological thriller/mystery to a weird, gross out movie that had scenes that were almost hard to watch. The hard to watch scenes weren’t used to get a point across like in some more successful horror films. This film seemed to add the scenes in more as an afterthought trying to make you squirm. They don’t even really explain what is happening in those scenes or why this has happened to the once happy couple. On a higher note, I will say the very last scene has some pretty great (yet simple) special effects makeup.

This movie really could have been great. It had all the right tools at it’s disposal. Unfortunately, the storyline took an odd turn that left me scratching my head, wondering what the hell I just saw. The one redeeming quality is that the two leads are wonderful and easy to root for, and the very last scene is really rather stunning visually. I won’t say you shouldn’t see this movie, because it was still entertaining, but I will say that you shouldn’t set your expectations too high. That will only lead to disappointment.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10