Month: September 2015

The Green Inferno

A group of college students venture to Peru to stop a logging company from destroying the rain forest and slaughtering a native tribe. After what seems like a successful trip, the plane the students are traveling home in crashes in the middle of the “green inferno.” Shortly after their crash, the coeds encounter the tribe they were trying to protect. Unfortunately, the tribe sees them as the enemy. It’s not long before the group realizes the tribe has a sinister plan for the crash survivors.

Eli Roth really knows how to make a cringeworthy film. His niche over the years has definitely been films that are not particularly scary, but they are incredibly suspenseful with lots of blood and guts. There were multiple instances in this film that made my skin crawl. The practical effects for those scenes looked absolutely amazing. There is one particular scene where you see lots of dismemberment and everything looks so lifelike it makes the scene a bit hard to watch. Despite the few scenes where there were large amounts of gore, I will say I’m surprised there wasn’t more gore. Especially from the previews, it seemed like the film was going to a be non-stop blood fest. You really only see maybe two or three deaths that are on the more gruesome side, while the others are hidden or done off-camera. While this bothered me at first, I’m realizing now that it may have been more due to the fact that Roth is maturing in his film style. The focus become more on the fight for survival as opposed to the horrific deaths.

Another aspect that shows Roth is growing in his range as a writer/director is the complexity of the story and the characters. When the film starts you think you know who the good guys and bad guys are. The students are the good guys, the loggers are the bad guys, and the people of the tribe are innocent bystanders. As the film continues these lines blur. You end up hating people you never expected, and others that you thought were bad people become heroes. The biggest blurred line relates to the tribe. While they are viciously killing the college students and eating them, none of this would have happened if the loggers weren’t encroaching on their land and killing their people. I also couldn’t help but wonder if the tribe would have done this to the group if they hadn’t been wearing the same jumpsuits the loggers wear. With the exception of a couple of the students, the tribe is almost the most innocent party in all this even though they are the cannibals.

When it comes to the part of the film that I didn’t like, it is hard to explain without giving spoilers. I will do my best not to reveal too much (I hate spoilers). As a whole, I thought the acting was very well done. Lorenza Izzo (Aftershock, Knock Knock) was great as Justine. The only person I thought made me cringe thanks to her acting was Sky Ferreira (Putty Hill). She played Justine’s sassy, sarcastic roommate in the beginning of the film. Her delivery was just so dry and forced that it pained me to watch her. Another issue I had related to the actors, but not necessarily the acting, is that three members of the group that travel to the rain forest were Chilean. If they had somehow explained how three people from Chile all ended up as students at the same school (maybe some special foreign exchange program) I wouldn’t have minded much. It just seemed odd, especially since they were all from the same country instead of different ones.

Another thing I didn’t enjoy in this movie were some rather random things that happened throughout the film that seemed out of place. Again, I’m trying not to give too much away. At one point there is a particular character that you grow to hate more and more as the film goes on. At one point he does something sexual while in captivity that I assume is there to make you hate him even more, but just makes absolutely no sense when considering what else is going on. This is also, I assume, supposed to be one of the many humorous moments that they add in throughout the movie. Generally I love when horror films add a bit of humor, but this scene came out more as creepy and out of place than funny. One of the death scenes even came about in what was meant to be humorous circumstances, but it made the scene very cheesy for me. The one thing that bothered me the most was the very last scene that comes in a bit after the credits start rolling. I won’t go into too much detail of the content of the scene, but it was an odd choice. It felt like an afterthought. I don’t believe it is something that would or could ever happen in real life, and it appeared to be forced in to give the option of a sequel.

After how long it took for this film to come out I am so happy to have finally seen it. I’d say that as a whole this was a successful project by Eli Roth. There are obviously aspects of the film that did not work within the context of the story. There are even times where it detracts from the story a bit (especially that last scene during the credits). Looking past this, the film is still fun, intense, and will make your skin crawl. If you’re on the squeamish side, consider yourself warned.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Advertisements

The Pyramid

A two person documentary crew travels to Egypt to film an archaeological team. These archaeologists have discovered an ancient pyramid shrouded in mystery. The archaeologists and the film crew decide to venture into the depths of the pyramid. They soon regret their decision when they become trapped in its labyrinthine tunnels. What’s worse, something is stalking them in the dark depths. This pyramid may soon become their tomb.

There are many things I enjoyed about this film. Considering the fact that I studied archaeology in college, and it’s something that I love, I may be a bit biased about the story. I love the idea of following archaeologists into a site that has yet to be explored. The rich Egyptian mythology and burial customs throughout the film also made things very interesting. Towards the beginning of the film I definitely became concerned, because they kept referencing technology they were using on the dig and how this tech was also used on Mars. I was worried that they were going to turn this film into an aliens-built-the-pyramids conspiracy type story. Much to my relief, that never happened.

The fact that the film didn’t leave any loose ends also made me exceptionally happy. The writers did a great job of explaining what was happening so that everything made sense throughout the film. The only thing that was never truly explained was why this particular pyramid only has three sides while every other pyramid has four. This is clearly a unique pyramid with a special purpose, but why only three sides? Although it was never explained, once they are inside the pyramid you don’t even think about the shape so it wasn’t too bothersome.

Two other successful aspects of The Pyramid were the special effects and the set design. The CGI was wonderfully understated. It was restricted to only the living things within the pyramid, and done in a way that made sense for the film. Those in charge of special effects clearly paid attention to things like anatomy, evolution, the type of environment these things live in, and Egyptian mythology. The sets that made up the inside of the pyramid were also quite beautiful. Again, there was clear attention to detail here. They researched pyramids enough to know what would be found within the structures, such as the apex of the pyramid and the burial chamber, as well as where they would be found.

While the overall story was fun and interesting, there were several aspects that brought this film down. One thing that bothered me a great deal was the style in which it was filmed. It starts out as a found footage style film so the only camera angles are the ones provided by the cameras the characters have. Once they become trapped inside the pyramid, the filmmakers decided to drop this in favor of typical camera angles.  It’s clear that they decided to use both the found footage style of filming with more traditional filming once inside the pyramid so they could utilize many angles during the more intense scenes, but it made the film confusing at times. You are expecting two different points of view from the character’s cameras, then all of the sudden there are other angles. At first I was left feeling confused on which character was operating that camera, until I realized they had simply changed with filming style. It was an unfortunate decision that ruined the effect of the film by combining two filming styles (that should not be combined) as opposed to one style.

The Pyramid definitely made me jump multiple times, yet I feel it is a shame that the film relied so heavily on jump-scares. The simple fact that the film takes place in dark, underground tunnels where you are being stalked by some evil force gives the film plenty of intensity and a feeling of claustrophobia. Add in the toxic air issue and the claustrophobic feeling becomes even more pronounced. Having a few jump-scares to enhance this feeling makes complete sense, and is entirely necessary to keep up the excitement. However, having jump-scares around every corner actually detracts from the intensity and takes the film in more of a hokey direction.

Another disappointing aspect of this film was the acting. While part of this was simply due to the performances falling flat, it seems like a lot of it also had to do with the writing. I had stated before that I appreciated the writers explaining everything that was happening in the movie. While I stand by this statement, I believe the information was also conveyed in a way that felt very unnatural and forced. These people are fighting for their lives, but they have to stop what they’re doing to talk about some archaeological information. The acting did not help to make these situations feel any less forced. On an individual level, I was very disappointed by Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story, True Blood). I usually find him to be a great actor, but he was so monotone throughout the entire film and he just seemed like he was sleepwalking through the film.

Knowing that this film has not been well received, I can say that I probably enjoyed it more than most critics. This could be due to my love of archaeology and mythology. This is a film with many flaws, and any critic can spot that. Despite this, it is still a fun watch. Likely someone who has an interest in ancient history and mythology would enjoy it more than other viewers. If you are that kind of person, I would definitely say that this film is worth a watch. Even if you decide it’s not your cup of tea, just remember that it’s only 89 minutes long.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

The Visit

A single mother has not seen her parents since before her kids were born due to a falling out. After several years of silence, her parents finally reach out. They want their grandchildren to come visit for a week. The kids go to stay with the grandparents they have never met on a rural farm, and the granddaughter decides to make a documentary about their time together. While everything seems normal at first, the kids soon realize that something is very wrong with their grandparents.

M. Night Shyamalan is back. After a couple hits, followed by several misses, Shyamalan has finally done a film that I can genuinely say I enjoyed watching. I believe what made this film so successful is that he went back to the roots of filmmaking, and I mean he really did. Olivia DeJonge (The Sisterhood of Night) plays Becca, the granddaughter who is putting together the documentary about her grandparents. Shyamalan uses Becca to show the filmmaking basics, having her go through the various steps of putting a film together while also explaining different filmmaking terms. This method made this film more successful because of it’s simplicity. The film was also successful because it was downright creepy. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was very scary, with the exception of a few jump scares, but it definitely gave you the feeling of unease and even panic.

The acting in this film was definitely the highlight for me. DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) were great as the grandchildren, but I have to say the grandparents stole the show. Peter McRobbie (Lincoln) played Pop Pop and was spectacular. What was probably the most interesting part of his performance was how subtle he portrayed his character’s odd behavior. Most of the time McRobbie’s character acted relatively normal, but then you would notice him doing or saying something that was off. If made you gradually realize that he wasn’t all there. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have Deanna Dunagan (Dimension) who played Nana. Her issues becomes apparent much more quickly, and Dunagan does an excellent job making us believe it. Her performance is most striking in the moments where Nana seems completely lucid, but then quickly falls back into her odd and extreme behaviors.

One of the things that Shyamalan is famous for is that he always has a twist in his films. This film was no exception, but it was a much more subtle twist. Sadly, I was able to figure out the twist long before it was revealed. Despite this I still thought the ending was done really well. Me knowing what the twist was didn’t take away from the intensity of the ending at all. The fact that the twist was so simple, but still shocking and frightening, is another example of Shyamalan going back to basics to make this film a hit.

After seeing this film, I am very relieved. Ever since I saw the initial trailer I have been concerned that this film would be a rip-off of The Taking of Deborah Logan, which came out last year (and was one of the favorite horror films of 2014). While the films were similar in their documentary style and the fact that both dealt with deteriorating mental states in the elderly, I’m happy to say that in most other respects they were very different films. If you liked The Taking of Deborah Logan, you will probably enjoy The Visit. If you used to love M. Night Shyamalan, but have been jaded by the several recent flops he’s done, give The Visit a chance. It will keep you at the edge of your seat, it has a great twist, and it has a healthy dose of humor thrown into the mix to keep things interesting.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Extinction

Several years ago a zombie outbreak devastated the human race. In the secluded, snowy town of Harmony three survivors live as close to normal lives as they can. As far as they know, they are the last people left alive on Earth. In one house lives Jack (Jeffrey Donovan) and his daughter Lu (Quinn McColgan). Across the street lives Patrick (Matthew Fox). The two men loathe each other and refuse to interact, despite the fact it has been years since they saw another human being, or a zombie. The men must attempt to put their differences aside in order to survive a new threat. The zombies have evolved, and they are now deadlier than ever.

The overall premise of this film I enjoyed. While there are horrifying monsters that become a threat later in the film, much more of the focus is on the relationship between Jack and Patrick. It is hard to imagine going for so long without human contact, when you have someone who lives right across the road from you. Their hatred is so fierce that even the end of the world won’t break it. The only thing that brings them together is their joint desire to protect Lu. Zombie movies that focus on human nature rather than the monsters are always interesting, when done correctly. The problem with the story line arose whenever there was a flashback. The film frequently used flashbacks to show tidbits of what happened when the virus initially broke out. It also reveals how these two came to hate each other. The problem is that things are revealed so slowly, and in fragmented pieces, that through most of the movie you get more and more confused until the final flashback.

The three main actors did an excellent job. I especially enjoyed Matthew Fox (Lost) as Patrick. He did an amazing job showing the effects of not interacting with other humans for nearly a decade. He is dirty, drunk, and is hearing voices. I was also pleasantly surprised by Quinn McColgan (Non-Stop). Her character was at the point where she was starting to question their solitary life and wanting more freedom to go out in the world. This can be a tricky thing to portray without sounding whiny or just generally being annoying. With the exception of a couple stupid things McColgan’s character did, she did a great job of showing that she wanted that freedom while still remaining likable. Then, of course, there is Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice). What was especially interesting about his performance is that he was the polar opposite of Fox’s character. Looking at him, you wouldn’t even realize it was the end of the world. His appearance is always nice and clean and he keeps his and his daughter’s life as normal as possible.

The special effects left something to be desired. Most of this became apparent with the sets. I understand they wanted this snowy area to look even more desolate and cold. I also understand there were a few cityscape scenes that could not have been done without CGI. That being said, the snowfall that was added in with CGI was incredibly distracting. It pointed out to me that this was a work of fiction even more so than the mutated zombies did. I’m sure the filmmakers had their reasons for choosing to add so much CGI snowfall, but I think the film would have been more visually appalling without it.

The evolved zombies are another story. They used a combination of actors and CGI, which is fine. My problem with the zombies is that the evolution doesn’t really make sense. Supposedly they adapted to their environment, but there are several problems with that idea. The first one being that they live in a snowy world, and they don’t have a stitch of hair anywhere on their bodies. How do they not freeze to death? Another problem is that for some reason the zombies evolved to be blind and rely solely on their hearing. That would be fine and dandy if they were in a dark, cave-like environment, but they’re not. The evolution of their ears is also incredibly odd to me. The ears look like bizarre, toothy mouths that open and close. The zombies may look cool and scary, but they are entirely nonsensical.

I appreciate this film’s attempt at being more than your average zombie flick. They tried to create something with a deeper story focusing on the survivors, while also updating the zombies into something more terrifying. Unfortunately, it just fell a bit flat. The survivor story aspect was at times confusing and the zombies not only didn’t fit their environment, but they simply weren’t in the film enough. The acting was definitely the high point of the movie, but it can only carry a film so far.  This is one of those films where I’m not thrilled by it, but I don’t necessarily hate it either. It’s just average.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10