Month: March 2016

Nina Forever

Rob is going through a rough time. The love of his life, Nina, died in a tragic car accident. Soon after Rob tries to kill himself, but fails. On his road to overcoming the grief he falls for his young coworker, Holly. There is just one small problem. Nina keeps coming back from the afterlife, and she thinks that her and Rob are still together. The worst part… Nina only appears when Rob and Holly are having sex.

I found this to be an interesting and original plot. It borders on being a “romcomzom,” except I would say Nina is more of a spirit in solid form than a zombie. It is also a very dark comedy. The idea that the haunting only occurs when Rob and Holly are having sex makes for some pretty awkward and humorous encounters. This is amplified by Nina’s extremely sarcastic point of view on the situation every time she rises. The story moves from Rob grieving over Nina, to falling in love with Holly, then trying to get rid of Nina so he can move on with his life. Holly and Rob just can’t seem to figure out why Nina keeps appearing. No matter what they do, the couple just can’t get rid of her.

There is really only one issue I have with the overall story. Rob is a very sweet guy that was clearly devastated when he lost Nina. We as the audience only ever see Nina after she dies, and she is not a very nice person. She understandably is upset that her boyfriend is sleeping with another woman, even though Nina is dead. The issue I have is how malicious she is. Nina is really such a horrible person in death that it makes it hard to believe she was different in life. It also makes it hard for me to understand why Rob was with Nina in the first place.

The three leads in this film all did an excellent job. Cian Barry (Real Playing Game, Help Point) was very endearing as Rob. It was impossible not to empathize with him as you watch his journey through the grieving process, especially when the more odd circumstances occur. He is constantly stuck between a rock and a hard place, but he does his best to do the right thing. I really enjoyed Abigail Hardingham (The Sparticle Mystery, Sealed with a Kiss) as the slightly odd Holly. Hardingham’s portrayal of Holly was delightful. She was a sweet, naive girl that had an inner weirdness. This weirdness comes out more and more throughout the film. Then, of course, there is Fiona O’Shaughnessy (Alexander, Goldfish Memory) as the recently deceased Nina. Not only was she devilishly sarcastic in a way that verged on evil, but O’Shaughnessy also gave an excellent physical performance (which I will discuss more in a moment).

There were very few practical effects in the film, but what they did include were spectacular. The only real effects that were in the film were used on Nina. Nina doesn’t come into the real world as a glowing, floating ghost, but as a deranged mess. We see Nina as she was when she died in the accident, which was bloody, bruised, and missing some body parts. Not only were these effects done in a way that looked shockingly realistic, but the way O’Shaughnessy moved her body added quite a bit to the look. From the way Nina moves, we assume that she broke her neck/back in the accident. This adds a bit of humor to the grotesque scenes with Nina because her body mostly just flops around, unable to hold itself up. This is what made O’Shaughnessy’s performance especially stand out for me. It cannot be easy to keep most of your body limp while attempting to move your mangled corpse of a body around and deliver a great acting performance. She should get some kind of award for that alone.

Nina Forever is a dark comedy filled with sex, blood, and sarcasm. There aren’t many other things I could ask for in a horror romantic comedy. Other than my qualm with Nina being a bit too evil to believe she was with Rob, there is really only one other thing about this film that bothered me. Unfortunately, it was an editing error. Usually I let editing errors slide, but this is such a huge one I don’t know how it made it to the final cut. Other people might not notice it, but it was quite obvious to me, so much so that it is still one of the first things that comes to my mind when I recall scenes from the film. Moving past these issues, the film is really quite enjoyable. It is a date movie for horror fans that delivers a sweet, somewhat sad story with a healthy dose of gore.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

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10 Cloverfield Lane

After a horrible car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakes locked in an underground bunker. The man who owns the bunker tells her that he pulled Michelle out of her car after the accident. What’s worse, he says there has been an attack. Supposedly everyone above ground is dead. Trapped in this bunker with a stranger, Michelle finds herself wondering if she is being told the truth.

I am going to do my best at reviewing this film without giving away any spoilers. To help in avoiding this, let’s start by talking about the acting instead of the plot. This was the first leading role I have seen for Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing, Death Proof) in a while. She perfectly blends two opposing characteristics; she is terrified and usually panics in tough situations, yet she shows strength in her fight for survival. This sounds like it would be coming from two completely different characters, but Winstead manages to seamlessly bring these traits together in a way that makes sense for Michelle’s back story. The biggest surprise in this film was John Goodman (Roseanne, The Big Lebowski). He played the owner of the bunker, Howard, who brought Michelle down to his lair after a car accident. This is quite possibly the most disturbing character I have ever seen Goodman play, and he did a superb job. He typically plays lovable comedic characters. While Howard is still a character that is funny at times, he is also incredibly creepy. You find yourself questioning his motives throughout the film. Did he kidnap Michelle? Is he just a bit weird? Is he hiding the truth about what’s going on above ground? The third inhabitant of the bunker is Emmett, played by John Gallagher Jr. (Newsroom, Jonah Hex). The fact that I didn’t even realize this was the same actor from Newsroom just goes to show that he is incredibly talented.

10 Cloverfield Lane is very different from Cloverfield. Cloverfield was a found-footage style monster movie that was very action packed. The filmmakers took a different approach for 10 Cloverfield Lane. This film focused much more on intrigue. Being trapped in a windowless bunker with no means of communicating with the outside world, it is impossible to know if Howard is telling the truth. The setting makes you feel claustrophobic, while Howard and his stories give you a feeling of paranoia. One of the most successful aspects of the plot in this film is the number of twists. Obviously, there is going to be a huge twist ending, but there are smaller twists leading up to the big finale. These twists add to the paranoia because you are never fully aware of what is going to happen next. You are forced to follow the clues along with Michelle and Emmett. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that the end of this film will likely divide viewers. Some people will absolutely love it, and some will hate it.

There has been a ton of hype about this film. Most of it has surrounded speculation as to whether or not 10 Cloverfield Lane is a sequel to Cloverfield. Again, without giving too much away, I can tell you that there really is no answer to this question. After watching the film, I could see it being both a sequel and a stand-alone film. I believe the filmmakers purposely created a film that could go either way, leaving it up to the audience to decide if they thought it was a sequel or not. This was incredibly smart because it allowed them to use the Cloverfield name in all their advertising, bringing in fans of the first film, while also giving them the freedom to come up with a new story without being constrained by what took place in the first.

Whether this film is a sequel or not, it was a very entertaining experience. It was so intense right from the start, and it didn’t let up until the epic climax. The climax was probably one of the biggest movie twists I have seen in a long time. It was something I never saw coming and it made everything even more exciting.  10 Cloverfield Lane is an intense ride that constantly throws you for a loop the minute you start to feel like you know what is going on. It has something that will appeal to horror fans that are looking for more of a mystery, as well as those that want a lot of action.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

We Go On

Miles (Clark Freeman) is afraid of everything. Most of all, he’s afraid of dying. In an attempt to squash his fear of death Miles puts out an ad in a newspaper. He will give anyone that can prove the existence of life after death $30,000. After receiving hundreds of responses, Miles and his mother seek out a few of the potentially real leads. As he goes deeper and deeper into the unknown, Miles will learn that some questions should be left unanswered.

This film has a truly compelling story. Most people wonder if there is something after we die. Some people believe in heaven, reincarnation, or ghosts while others think there is nothing after death. There are two key plot points that make this story stand out. The first is the reason for Miles’ quest. He believes that if he can find proof of life after death, then he will no longer live his life in constant fear of dying in one way or another. This is a completely believable concept, yet it is something that I have never seen used in any other film. The second plot point that I loved was the juxtaposition of Miles and his mother, Charlotte (Annette O’Toole). While the two are on this search together, they are on it for completely different reasons. Miles wants to find proof that there is something after you die. Charlotte not only doesn’t believe there is anything after death, but she also wants to go on the search with Miles so she can prove this to him. It added an interesting dynamic having these two opposing viewpoints throughout the film. It was especially effective when Miles was so quick to believe people. His mother would act as the voice of reason and make sure no one would take advantage of her son.

There were some surprisingly good scares in We Go On. While this is a film that is definitely more plot driven, there were several scenes that made me jump. It doesn’t rely on things popping out at you non-stop throughout the film. In most of the scenes as the story progresses there is tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting for what happens next. This tactic is very effective. The scares that make you jump seem to come out of nowhere because you are so focused on what is happening to the main characters along their journey.

Even if a film has a great story, the acting can make or break a film. We Go On had an all around incredible cast of actors. Clark Freeman (YellowBrickRoad, Alpha Must Die) was absolutely phenomenal as Miles. From the moment you see him on the screen you can feel his fear. Freeman manages to maintain this state of fear throughout the film, without going over the top with his performance. This is something that could have easily turned into more of a caricature, but Freeman brought to life a believable character. Annette O’Toole (Smallville, It) was superb as Miles’ mother, Charlotte. One thing I have always loved about O’Toole is that she tends to play strong female characters. This role was no exception for her. O’Toole’s character showed sympathy and compassion for her son, while also acting as his protector. She really grounds the story by playing the perpetual skeptic. One of the more surprising performances for me came from Jay Dunn (Ex-Girlfriends). He plays Nelson, a man that potentially can prove the existence of life after death to Miles. What intrigued me about Dunn’s performance is that I somehow found his character both endearing and exceptionally creepy. How Dunn managed to pull this off I couldn’t tell you.

Being more of a ghost film, there wasn’t a need for a ton of special effects. I appreciated that the filmmakers chose to go for more of a subtle look with the makeup applied to the ghosts. For the most part there were only slight differences that would make it so you could tell the difference between the living and the dead. What made this so effective is that it made Miles question his reality. He was never sure if he was seeing a ghost or a real person. There were two scenes that used a bit more practical effects. I don’t want to give anything important to the story, so I will simply say that these two scenes used smaller practical effects in a way that was disturbing and worked well with the story.

I went into this movie knowing virtually nothing about it. I came out feeling like I had just seen an original film that was both thought-provoking and frightening. Aside from a few lingering questions I have regarding the rules about human-ghost interaction, this film delivered on pretty much everything I could have hoped for. We Go On is a ghost story for the intellectual horror fan who wants it all; an interesting plot, great acting, multiple scares, and twists you never saw coming. It is the kind of film you think about long after it’s over, and you will come back to again and again.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

The Secret of 40 (Short)

Josh (Julian de la Celle) recently lost his mother in a tragic accident. Despite his efforts to move on and continue living a normal life, he can’t seem to let go of his mother. In a desperate attempt to communicate with her one last time Josh decides to perform a ritual that is supposed to reach her from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, his mother wasn’t the only one that heard the ritual, and now Josh may have unleashed something more sinister than he ever intended.

There are so many aspects of The Secret of 40 that make it a great short. Part of what makes it stand out from other short horror films is the format it was shown on. The Secret of 40 was the very first horror film to be shown on the Barco Escape three-screen experience. When I saw the film I saw it along with a series of other shorts, each one taking a different approach to utilizing the three screens (some more successfully than others). The Secret of 40 used the screens in a few different ways that worked exceedingly well; they used it to show the present and a flashback scene at once, they used it to do a panoramic shot circling through a room, and they used it to have small details hidden in plain sight but in an area you may not initially notice. This added a level of interest to the short that you wouldn’t get with any other horror film. Not only were you watching a great film, but you got to have a unique experience while watching it in Barco Escape.

The idea of someone wanting to contact a loved one who has passed away is something we have seen before in other films. What makes The Secret of 40 different is the method in which the contact is initiated. In most films you get the typical Ouija board or seance. These filmmakers did their homework and gave the audience something they haven’t seen before. The team that created The Secret of 40 also did a great job setting up the scary moments. In some cases they would set up a scare you knew was coming, but then left it until you had forgotten about it only to surprise you with a good jump. Other times, they took an already frightening scene and pushed it just a bit further, making the audience gasp.

All around the cast of this film did a great job, but there were two stand out performances. The first one is obviously Julian de la Celle (The Fosters, Heroes) who plays Josh. What made his performance great is the way he portrayed the grief Josh goes through after losing his mother. At first he appears foggy and detached, like many people who lose loved ones do when they are in mourning, but still trying to get through each day. Then, once the idea clicks in his head that he needs to try contact his mother, de la Celle expertly shows Josh’s desperation to reach that goal. The second performance that stood out to me came from Robert Rusler (Weird Science, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) as Josh’s father. In the scene after Josh performs the ritual, Rusler masterfully portrays a combination of fatherly concern for his son and confusion as to what Josh has been up to.

This short worked not only because it had a compelling story and great acting, but also because it leaves the possibility to expand the story. The Secret of 40 ended in such a way that works well for a short, while also leaving room for the potential to add another hour of footage. The only aspect of this short that I could potentially dock points for is the simple fact that we barely get to see the evil entity. You only really saw it in brief glimpses. That being said, I believe that also works in the filmmakers’ favor because it leaves you wanting more. The Secret of 40 is a deeply unsettling film that will send chills down your spine. I truly hope that it can be made into a feature length film.

OVERALL RATING: 4.75/5 (short film scale)