Month: February 2016

The Witch

A religious family decides to leave the plantation town they call home because it does not meet their religious ideals. They venture out into the wilderness in order to create their own homestead and farm the land. Not long after the family settles into their new land the baby of the family gets taken, either by a wolf or something more sinister, and a blight takes over the crops. From that moment on the family falls into a downward spiral. Their lives become surrounded by the occult, and it will slowly tear them apart.

There were so many aspects of this film I loved it is hard to figure out where I should begin. I’ve always been fascinated by witchcraft in films. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find a quality horror film on the subject. The Witch not only brought an incredible amount of intensity and tension, but it also felt like you were watching something that could actually have happened. There were times while watching the film that I felt almost uncomfortable watching the events unfold. It felt very intimate to watch this family behind closed doors as they all unravel into hysteria. This intimacy made it feel almost as if you were intruding on their private life. You feel like you shouldn’t be watching, but you can’t look away. The story is definitely more of a slow burn rather than a scare-fest.

From the moment the film began and the music started to play there is instantly a feeling of unease. This tension builds throughout the film until the climax, thanks to the musical work by Mark Korven. What made the music so captivating is that it made a shot of a simple forest landscape seem dreadful and terrifying. Music can really make or break a film, and I can’t imagine this film would have been as haunting to me if it had any other score. The music, combined with the gorgeous cinematography, created such beautiful and ominous imagery.

This is probably one of the most well acted horror films I have seen in a while. Every single person, right down to the little twins, had a phenomenal performance. While everyone did a great job, there was one performance that stood out to me. Harvey Scrimshaw (Oranges and Sunshine) gave a powerful performance as the eldest son in the family, Caleb. During the scene where he is suffering from the effects of witchcraft, Scrimshaw was so haunting and intense that I was completely blown away. I was especially impressed when I learned this is only the second film he has ever been in. Anya Taylor-Joy (Viking Quest) also had a stand-out performance as the lead, Thomasin. Like Scrimshaw, this was only the second film Taylor-Joy had ever been in, and her first starring role. As the story unfolds and you can feel Thomasin being blamed for more and more troubles in the family, it is hard not to feel sympathetic towards her.

What I love about films like The Witch are the deeper meanings and metaphors that lurk within. As I watched this film, I saw it as showing the way young women in that deeply religious time could so easily be accused of being a witch. When things start to go bad in any size community, even a single family unit, everyone wants to put the blame on a single person. For Puritans that blame naturally fell on the young women, who were thought of as sinners simply because they were female. Thomasin gets blamed for everything from a cup that goes missing to the blight that overcomes their corn crop. She automatically gets accused because she is the eldest daughter and the only one that has gone through puberty, making her the only potential object of sexual desire. Just for that, she is a sinner and potentially even a witch.

I really can’t say enough how great this film really is. It is the kind of film that will appeal to many audiences because, while it has the overall occult theme, it is much more suspenseful than anything else. The Witch has amazing acting, haunting music, beautiful cinematography, and a compelling story. The only thing that bothered me a bit was there were times I had a hard time understanding what some of the characters were saying. This could be something that was a personal issue, but the combination of the accents and the old English dialogue made me lose some of what was said. I noticed this the most when the father (Ralph Ineson) spoke because he has such a deep, resonant voice. Other than that, it is difficult to find any fault. It is already a top contender for my favorite horror film of 2016. The Witch is a bone-chilling film of paranoia and dread that shows the wilderness is not the only thing to fear.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

 

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Lake Eerie

Kate (Meredith Majors) recently lost her husband in a tragic accident. She decides to cope with this loss by fulfilling her dream of owning a home on Lake Eerie. She moves into this dream home intent on recovering from her husband’s death. What Kate doesn’t know is that this house has a dark past. Now that dark past is being brought into the present, drawn by the new inhabitant of the home.

Oh Lake Eerie.. I won’t lie, I’m going to have a hard time finding good things to say about this film. Let’s start with the plot. In theory, this is an interesting story. Being the archaeology nerd that I am, I loved that the previous owner of the house was an archaeologist. I also loved the references to ancient Egyptian archaeology and artifacts. That being said, there wasn’t really anything else that worked in this plot. At times it just didn’t make sense. While the archaeology and mythology were the only aspects of the plot that I actually liked, the simple fact that the film took place in a rundown house on Lake Eerie made the ancient Egyptian evil seem very out of place. The last 10 minutes of the film left me wondering what just happened. I won’t give it away for those brave enough to watch the film, but I was scratching my head after those last 10 minutes, asking my most hated question – why?

In terms of effects, there really weren’t many in Lake Eerie. This was a smart move by the filmmakers considering they likely had a small budget to work with. Unfortunately that meant the “creatures” that are haunting Kate’s home looked a bit lackluster. They mostly just looked like regular people in weird clothes with the kind of contacts you can buy at a Halloween store. In a similar tone that showed a lack of effort, there was an alternate world that we see where these creatures come from. The world is essentially just the house Kate lives in without the furniture and with a lot of red light.

The dialogue combined with the acting was probably what made this film the most difficult to watch. Listening to the choppy dialogue felt so rudimentary while also failing to sound like what people would say in real life. In one scene Kate gets scared by something in the house while she is moving in. A teenage boy that is helping her move doesn’t believe there was anything to be scared of says “typical woman, afraid of her own shadow.” Not only is it completely unbelievable to me that a teenage boy would say that to a hot older woman, but he especially wouldn’t say it to a hot older woman who is paying him for a job.

Now this brings me to the acting. I hate to say it, but this is one of the worst acted films I have seen in a very long time, if not ever. Meredith Majors (The Neighbor) was cringeworthy as the lead, Kate. Majors sounded so monotone throughout the entire film. She failed to properly convey any kind of emotion, whether it be sadness, fear, or happiness. There were times where she was supposed to be screaming in fear, but it sounds more like she is simply saying “ahhhhhhh.” In a similar situation she turns away from the camera when she is supposed to be crying because she is unable to produce tears. This inability to act can be seen in virtually every actor with a role in this film. There is a bright side though (possibly the only bright side). The two saving graces of this film came in the form of Betsy Baker (The Evil Dead) and Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead). If these two horror legends weren’t in the film, I probably wouldn’t have made it through to the end. While their roles are relatively small, they both command the screen when they are on. Both Baker and Henriksen manage to push past the horrible writing and show how great their acting abilities really are.

There were many more bad things about this film than there were good. I think the root of the problem is that this film was made by a married couple, who chose to spread themselves thin by doing many jobs poorly, rather than focusing on one job and doing it very well. Meredith Majors wrote and starred in the film, while her husband Chris Majors directed the film and also acted in it. The result was a film with poor dialogue, lots of cringeworthy acting, and a story that just didn’t make much sense. If it wasn’t for Baker and Henriksen, this film would be unwatchable, and they are really the only aspect of the film keeping me from giving the film a 0/10 (I know it may seem harsh, but I have to be honest in my reviews).

OVERALL RATING: 1.5/10

 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It is a classic 19th century love story. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) lives in the English countryside with her parents and sisters. Coming from a family that is not as wealthy, there is constant pressure for the girls to be married off to rich men. When Elizabeth meets the wealthy Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) there is an instant attraction. Unfortunately, Mr. Darcy has a very cold and austere personality, and Elizabeth is a very proud woman. As if that isn’t enough to make these two ignore the sparks between them, there is a zombie plague ravishing England. The two must join forces to fight off the hordes of undead, while also navigating the trials of English high society.

To preface this review, I have seen many film/TV adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. I know the story well, and I love it. If you are not a fan of Jane Austen books or films, or if you have never seen them, this film might not be as enjoyable to you as it was to me. This film did an excellent job of blending the story that many fans already know and love with the added plot interest of a zombie plague.

All of the memorable themes and dialogue are present. Of course, with the presence of zombies, there were some bits added to the plot in order for everything to make sense. I loved that the zombies in the film were a bit unique compared to the traditional zombies audiences are used to. These zombies can keep all of their memories and intelligence. It isn’t until they feed on human brains that they become the mindless hungry masses you typically see in zombie films. The filmmakers even managed to add a great mystery to the plot, which I loved. It made it so they weren’t just throwing in zombies to an already existing story without them having any importance to the plot. Luckily, these additions managed to turn this love story into an exciting, and often extremely funny, gore fest from start to finish.

This film had a superb collection of actors. Lily James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey) was perfect as Elizabeth Bennet. Even while kicking some major zombie ass, she managed to exemplify grace and elegance. Sam Riley (Maleficent, Byzantium) made a great Mr. Darcy. I still can’t believe he managed to seem like the most socially awkward man in England, and yet his zombie-killing skills made him extremely attractive. While these two leads were both great in their roles, there is one performance that completely stole the show for me. Those who know the story of Pride and Prejudice will remember Parson Collins. He is the cousin of the Bennet girls, and probably the most bizarre little character that Jane Austen ever created. Pastor Collins was played by the talented Matt Smith (Doctor Who, Lost River). You can tell he had so much fun with this role. He was quirky, and awkward, and rude, and oblivious to his own flaws in a way that had me laughing every time Smith was on the screen.

One of the most important things about a zombie film is the special effects makeup. This film definitely delivered on that. Much of the zombie makeup was done with practical effects. What takes the makeup a step further is how the filmmakers seamlessly layered CGI effects on top of that makeup to give the zombie looks the extra oomph that they needed. There is really only one qualm I had while watching the delightful zombie gore; there was a very noticeable lack of blood. I get that zombie blood would likely be sludgy and coagulated, as they are dead. It still bothered me a great deal during the very first fight sequence when the Bennet girls are fighting off the zombies, yet the blades of their swords remained entirely clean. They might not have the bright red blood you would see if they had stabbed a living person, but there should have least have been some kind of black/brown zombie gore on the blades. It’s such a small detail but it made the fight scenes seem much less realistic (yes I know it’s a zombie film, but it can still be realistic).

In all honesty, I probably enjoyed this film because I am already a Jane Austen fan (all thanks to my mother). I also loved it because I am a fan of zombie films. That isn’t to say that people who don’t know Jane Austen’s classic tales won’t still have a lot of fun in this film. The healthy amounts of action, mystery, and humor that were infused into the story created a really fun film that could appeal to a variety of viewers. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can be added to the list of the more witty, intelligent zombie films.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10