Month: December 2015

Goodnight Mommy

In a secluded home in the Austrian countryside nine-year-old twin boys wait for their mother to come home. When she does finally arrive her face is covered with bandages from plastic surgery. The twins notice that their mother’s behavior has been different since she came home. Soon they begin to wonder if this woman is even really their mother.

One of my favorite aspects of this film was the acting. Lukas and Elias (also their names in the film) Schwarz were excellent. When you consider the fact that this film was the twins first acting role, their performance is even more impressive. I know I’ve said this before in past reviews, but it is always risky with child actors in horror movies. They can often seem more annoying than anything else. The Schwarz twins avoided that by appearing to be relatively innocent and self sufficient in their environment. Susanne Wuest as their mother did an excellent job as well. Having most of your face covered can often make it harder to show different emotions when acting, but she shined through the bandages.

This film had many visual elements that made it stand out. I loved that they had this beautiful, modern house pushed up against a forest with nearby corn fields. It almost didn’t make sense, but when the mother came home and closed all the blinds it was like there were two separate worlds: the nature outside and the house of mystery on the inside. The cinematography throughout the film only added to these beautiful sets. There was also quite a bit of interesting play with light and dark. The light from outside versus the dark inside the house was the main way this can be seen. There is even light and dark used with the twins. Pay attention to what the twins are wearing. Elias is always wearing a lighter colored shirt than Lukas is.

Now that I have gone over what I liked about the film, I unfortunately must turn to what I didn’t like. This may be something that happened to a smaller percentage of viewers (which I’m guessing since this film got an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I figured out the big twist less than 10 minutes into the film. It was so obvious to me from the moment their mother came home. Because of this, the rest of the film moved rather slowly for me. I kept waiting for the film to reveal what I already knew. It was really disappointing because the twist is actually a fairly interesting one, it just wasn’t executed very well. The filmmakers made it stand out from the very beginning so it took the surprise and suspense away. The last thirty minutes of the film did a bit a redeeming. It was very intense and there were multiple scenes that made me cringe.

It’s unfortunate that I don’t have more things to say about this film. The acting was great, it had a lot of visual interest, but they gave away the twist too early. Knowing the twist at the beginning of an hour and a half long film makes it feel incredibly dull. While the ending made up for this a bit, it wasn’t enough for me to truly fall in love with the film. I may have been able to write more about the film if I divulge the way it ends, but everyone knows I hate spoilers. The acting and visual effects make this film at least somewhat worth watching, but I would probably only really recommend it to people who tend to be oblivious to the clues leading up to the big twist.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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Nightlight

Covington Woods is known for being a place where people venture to commit suicide. Robin (Shelby Young) recently lost her best friend who killed himself in these woods. Despite that, she still decides to go into the woods at night with a group of the popular kids to drink, tell scary stories about the forest, and play flightlight games. Everything starts out innocently enough, but strange things begin to happen that the friends can’t explain. There is something evil waiting for them in the dark depths of the forest, and it’s out for blood.

When I first heard about this film it seemed like a scary concept. Found footage films generally scare me quite a bit, and most towns have at least one area that is known for suicides. This film definitely had intense moments and a few good jump scares. Sadly, I felt more disappointment than anything after finishing the film, and there are many aspects that took away from what could have been a really scary story.

The acting was quite disappointing. The only performance that didn’t feel forced and unnatural came from Mitch Hewer (Skins). The only downside to his performance was that there were multiple occasions where his English accent came through. It wasn’t just a word or two where he lost the American accent; it was full sentences where he went from sounding like the average American teen to an Englishman trying to hide his accent. The other three leads gave such lackluster performances that I found myself not caring about the well-being of their characters. Shelby Young (Days of Our Lives) I found particularly annoying. This was likely due not only to her acting being unconvincing, but her character also just did so many idiotic things throughout the film. That likely has more to do with the writing, but it still bothered me.

One thing that made me dislike the movie the most was how it made it unclear what the source of the evil was. In the beginning, when the teens are telling scary stories, they talk about people being possessed in the woods and what to do (or not to do) in order to avoid the evil spirits that lurk in the forest. These stories, and some of the events later in the film, lead me to believe that the evil in the forest is some kind of demonic presence. Later, it is implied that maybe Robin’s friend who had killed himself in those woods was doing this to the teens in order to punish them. Robin even addresses the evil as Ethan (her friend who committed suicide) many times. The film goes back and forth between implying the source is demonic and the source is Ethan. At the end of the film it felt like that question was never really answered. Personally, I fell like it makes so much more sense that there is a demonic presence making everything happen instead of Ethan. Maybe the filmmakers meant for you to interpret it how you see it, but it just came across as confused.

When it comes to the scares, this film did a fairly good job. As I said before, found footage films always tend to scare me just because it feels like you are seeing things from the point of view of the victims. On top of that, this film did a good job of doing the more subtle jump scares. This means it relied more on spooky noises and catching small glimpses of the evil. It is always so much scarier when you can’t see what it is that’s after you. There is really only one scene where you get a full view of the evil, and of course, that is one of the least-scary scenes in the entire film. I would go so far as to say the full view of the evil landed more on the cheesy side rather than scary.

Despite all the negative things I have said about the film, there are a few things that I enjoyed. I felt like it was an interesting idea, there were definitely times where I jumped, and it had a really cute dog in it named Kramer. There were just more parts that I didn’t enjoy that outweigh the good. The biggest disappoints were the acting and the tragically large plot holes. I can see this being more entertaining for teenage audiences, but if you are like me and need a bit more substance then you should probably skip this one.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10

Killer Rack

Betty (Jessica Zowlak) has low self esteem. She gets treated poorly at her job and by her boyfriend. The common theme Betty notices in all this is that she gets overlooked because she doesn’t have big boobs. She decides to get breast implants, hoping they make her life better. Little does she know that the plastic surgeon worships H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods, and this surgeon plans to implant more than silicone into Betty’s breasts.

This film really took my by surprise. I won’t lie, when I first saw the trailer I was not expecting much. What I got was a hilarious satirical film that not only knew how to make fun of itself, but also knew how to make fun of the entire horror genre in the best way possible. There are even several scenes where the filmmakers purposely introduce stereotypes you would commonly find in horror movies. For example, when you first meet the detectives investigating a mysterious string of murders they are introduced as the older cop who is a week away from retirement and the rookie who just got married and is trying to have a baby with his wife. If that isn’t a stereotype setting them up for disaster, I don’t know what is. There is even a “reviewer” that talks about how the events at the climax are a metaphor for a woman taking control of her body and becoming empowered, and he plans on posting their review online. The writing was probably my favorite aspect of this film. The dialogue was witty, humorous, sarcastic, and downright ridiculous all at the same time.

The writing was greatly helped by the acting. Much of the acting was over the top, which is to be expected in this kind of horror comedy. One of the best over-the-top performances came from Debbie Rochon (Axe to Grind) as Dr. Thulu. She pulled off the evil scientist persona so well, and she had me laughing in every scene she was in. Dr. Thulu’s interaction with her nurse, played by the hilarious Robert Bozek (Hope), are some of my favorite scenes that made me laugh the hardest. I was also pleasantly surprised by Jessica Zwolak (Dry Bones). She did a great job portraying poor, self-conscious Betty. What I loved most about her performance is that she managed to appear to be self-conscious and rather mousy, but she did it in a way that wasn’t pathetic or annoying.

Most of the effects in this film were practical effects, which I always love. Without giving too much away, the big reveal for the “killer rack” at the climax of the film will have you laughing out loud, even with all the carnage and bloodshed that ensues. Just when you think things can’t get more ridiculous, they do! I’m really not surprised that the killer rack tied for best monster at the 2015 Fright Night Theatre Film Festival. The only part of the killer rack creature(s) that I didn’t like was when CGI was used**. It is really only used in one scene during the climax, and I understand that logistically what they did with CGI could not be done with practical effects, but the CGI ruined the look a bit for me. Other than that, the only other visual aspect I didn’t enjoy was the set for the office where Betty worked. The other sets were perfectly fine, but the office seemed like it was almost thrown together as an afterthought.

One of the aspect of this film that stood out for me was the music. This film has an original song called “Fun Bags” that plays during a dream sequence. This song is probably one of the funniest songs I have ever heard, and it is incredibly catchy. Since watching the film, I have got in stuck in my head on more than one occasion. The song also earned this film the Best Song award at the 2015 Fright Night Theatre Film Festival.

The entire concept reminded me a bit of “vagina dentata.” It’s the idea that something straight men desire can bring about their ultimate demise. I agree with the “reviewer” from the film that this had a lot to do with female empowerment as well, but not necessarily in the sense he describes. It’s more about Betty learning to be okay with her body and realizing there will always be someone out there who will love you for you. At the same time, this film is also simply about a pair of man-eating boobs that want to take over the world. The beauty of this film is that it can be both, and that is part of why it is so hysterical.

I said it once and I’ll say it again: this film really was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, it is only on the film festival circuit right now and not available to rent or buy. Per director Greg Lamberson, the film should be available on DVD in August or September of 2016. So you can either try to catch the film at a festival near you, or wait until the DVD comes out. I will be sure to keep everyone posted on social media when there is a more precise DVD release date. You all should watch it when you get the chance. Killer Rack is a titillating tale about a pair of outrageous monsters that will have you laughing from start to finish.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

** I have been informed since writing this review that the tentacles that I thought were CGI are actually stop-motion. While that makes me appreciate the effort more, I still think the creatures would have more impact without them.

 

Krampus

These days, Christmas does not mean what it used to. Christmas used to be a time of giving, cheer, and holiday spirit. Now it’s about trampling each other to get to the best Black Friday deals and being forced to spend the holidays with relatives you hate. For young Max (Emjay Anthony) Christmas was once a magical time. This year, he has reached his breaking point. After losing his holiday spirit, Max unwittingly unleashes the wrath of the evil Krampus. Now, his family has to fight for their lives to survive this Christmas.

When I heard that writer/director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) was making another holiday horror film, I was very excited. I absolutely loved Trick ‘r Treat so I had very high expectations for Krampus, especially since I was already familiar with the folklore. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Krampus will definitely be added to the list of amazing Christmas-themed horror flicks. What I loved about this film was that it took a sinister character from ancient folk tales, and adapted the story to fit in with the modern world.

The visual effects in this film were excellent. The CGI primarily focused around the little helpers that Krampus used to infiltrate the family’s home. The helpers were created in such a way that they were pure evil without appearing over the top. These characters are my favorite aspect of the film because they are absolutely adorable and terrifying all at once. This is the kind of character that Dougherty excels at utilizing, like he did with Sam in Trick ‘r Treat.

The characters that did not require CGI were great as well. The elves were dressed in a very smart way so that they didn’t require a lot of practical effects makeup. They were mostly just shrouded in rags with horns on their heads and glowing eyes. Krampus was of course very well done. They made him this massive horned beast with cloven hooves wearing a large cloak and covered in chains. His silhouette was so striking, and it definitely had a frightening impact when you see it for the first time. His face was probably my favorite part though. They made his face look almost like a doll or mask version of old Saint Nick, but it was distorted into a face of anger with eyes that were deep-set and demonic looking. He really was a beautifully dark character.

While the acting in this film overall was fantastic, Emjay Anthony (Chef) definitely stood out for me. In horror films I tend to find child actors to be either creepy as hell or so annoying you just want them to die already. Anthony not only did a great acting job, but he also managed to to portray a kid I could truly empathize with and I cared about his well being. Of course Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine) and Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) did an excellent job portraying their characters’ fear while also being hilarious. Another standout performance for me was Krista Stadler (Mobbing) as the wise Omi (which is German for grandma). I had never seen her in anything else before, but I loved that she brought more of the traditional German folklore aspect of Krampus and that she spoke virtually only in German the entire film.

I found this to be a very compelling tale that really dives into what is wrong with the holidays in modern times. What better way to solve those modern day problems than with an ancient evil? This film delves into the fact that Christmas has become this greedy, consumer and profit driven time of year. It is no longer about “good will toward men.” It really does seem appropriate to use a character like Krampus to teach a lesson to those who have lost what the true meaning of Christmas is. There were only a couple aspects of the story that I didn’t enjoy as much. The first being that there are a series of events at the climax of the film that seem much too rushed. It almost seemed like the filmmakers didn’t have enough time to give the events more care so they just crammed them all together in quick succession. The other aspect is the ending, but it’s not what you think. Obviously, I’m not going to give too much away. When the end finally came I felt incredibly underwhelmed by it. Don’t worry though, the film redeems itself before the credits start rolling so much so that I can’t imagine it ending any other way.

Krampus is a film that will be added to my list of Christmas movies I have to watch every year. It ties in old traditions with how the holidays are today. It has a compelling cast of characters from young Max to Krampus himself. There really isn’t much I can say about this film that isn’t good. Plus, this film is humorous enough with cutesy evil characters that you could probably introduce it to younger audiences (especially if they still believe in Santa so you can show them what happens when they are naughty). Definitely go see this film for the holiday season with the whole family, then rewatch it every year for Christmas.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10