Month: October 2016

Let Her Out

Helen works as a bike courier and lives with her best friend, Molly. One day while on the job Helen gets in a horrible bike accident. Soon after the incident she begins to hear and see things that shouldn’t be there. After countless tests the doctors finally determine that Helen has a tumor in her brain. What’s even more bizarre is that the tumor is all that remains of the twin she never knew she had. Helen’s mental state spirals out of control as her newly awakened twin decides it is time that she comes out into the real world.

This was a film that had a lot of potential, but unfortunately it fell flat for me. The general premise was fine. I liked the idea of a woman discovering that she had a “vanishing twin” and that her bike accident somehow awoke the twin from its slumber in her head. There is a good idea for a film right there. The first 2/3 of the film felt like a series of short expositional scenes meant to set up the big finale. I understand having expositional scenes to help the audience get a bit more background, but this film was almost entirely made up of scenes like that. It made the story feel choppy.

These scenes were also not very well written. The dialogue that took place between the characters felt unnatural, again because the filmmakers seemed to be trying very hard to set up the context of what was happening. Unfortunately this made the film lack any real substance or deeper plot other than an evil twin trying to escape the protagonist’s body. Watching the film there was a lot of the story lost because of the writing of the short, choppy scenes. In the beginning it seems like there is a hint of some Satanic or occult ritual that has to do with what eventually happens to Helen, but it is never revisited or referenced again in the rest of the film. There are also hints at a potential relationship between Helen and a man named Roman, but it is never fully explored. Roman even paints a portrait of Helen that you expect to have more meaning or purpose in the plot, but it is only ever used as a tool to try to frighten the audience (and rather unsuccessfully).

The acting in this film also fell a bit short for me. Alanna LeVierge underwhelmed me as the lead, Helen. Considering this is LeVierge’s first feature film, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She wasn’t terrible, but there were times when her performance sounded more whiny and pathetic than anything. It made me not care as much as I should about Helen. Nina Kiri (Super Detention) was a bit more bearable as the best friend, Molly. My biggest issues with Molly didn’t necessarily have to do with Kiri’s acting. It had more to do with the way the character was written. She became unrealistic to me during a more intense scene where she kept going back and forth from telling Helen how messed up she was and then saying “this isn’t you” and I love you.

Everyone knows I love practical effects. The one thing that saved this film was the effects at the climax of the film. What they created was well done, disgusting, and beautiful. It was also the only part of the film where I was genuinely creeped out. All the excitement you had been hoping for during the film finally happened in that moment, and the disturbing event almost made up for the flaws that came before it.

Thinking back on the entirety of the film, it appears that the filmmakers put all their creative eggs in the climax basket. If this had just been a short consisting of the last 15 minutes of the film, I would have loved it. Unfortunately this was a feature length film riddled with plot holes, bumps and bends in the story that were nonsensical, and no real substance. It was a valiant effort, and I will give the film credit for having an interesting idea and an exciting and gruesome finale. Beyond that, I don’t believe this is a film I will be revisiting.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/10

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The Monster

A mother and her young daughter have a tumultuous relationship. The mother is a neglectful alcoholic, and the daughter essentially has to take care of her mother. They come to the decision that the daughter should go stay with her dad for a while. On the drive there they get into a car accident. They are stranded on a lonely road in the middle of the woods, in the dark and rain. It soon becomes clear that there is something hunting them from the woods. The mother and daughter will have to rely on each other in order to survive the monster in the darkness.

Writer/director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) knows how to create a character-driven horror film. Yes, there is a terrifying monster trying to kill the characters in the story, but the real focus is the relationship between the mother and daughter. The mother, Kathy, is a raging alcoholic who can’t seem to get it together. This leaves the very young daughter, Lizzy, to not only care for herself, but also care for her train wreck of a mother. There relationship is very volatile and typically consists of screaming matches, and sometimes even violence. We learn much about how they ended up on the road, hating each other, through a series of flashbacks from both the mother’s and daughter’s point of view. When the two are thrown into survival mode as they fight for their lives against a dangerous monster,  it forces them to not only face the danger at hand, but their relationship as well.

While I am technically a film critic, sometimes I get annoyed with film critics because they tend to read too much into films. I saw The Monster as part of the International Horror and Scifi Film Festival’s Horror Showcase. After the film there was a discussion about what people thought and many of the viewers were also film critics. While I agree with many of the people there that believe the monster was a physical embodiment (or a metaphor) for the alcoholism and addiction that is tearing the mother and daughter apart the other film critics lost me when they said things like the monster didn’t exist at all or other out-there theories. Yes, the monster was a physical representation of what the family was going through, but it was also simply a monster. The two things are not mutually exclusive in horror films.

The monster itself was very well done. The filmmakers chose to go the route of practical effects, which was necessary in a film like this that is so grounded in emotions. The creature design was also very well done. The face was frightening and vicious. There were a few flaws. It was very clear in many scenes where you see the full body of the monster that you can clearly tell it is a man in a monster suite. Despite that, I still appreciate that they chose this over CGI. The only other issues I had with the monster had more to do with inconsistencies in the story. It appears that when light is shined in the monster’s face, it runs off. Whether it is scared of the light or the light hurts it, we never know. My issue is that, while it is afraid of the light from a flashlight and flame, it doesn’t seem to be bothered much by street lights or headlights. Possible it is only effected by light shined directly in it’s eyes, but if that was the case it should have been made more clear.

When a story takes places primarily in the dark, it is common for a lot to be lost in the darkness. This is not the case for The Monster. The cinematography is stunning. They did an amazing job of making sure things can be seen clearly throughout the film no matter how dark it was. There was also a lot of play with light and darkness that brought a lot of beauty to the scenes. One scene specifically stands out in my mind after watching the film. Kathy gets out of the car to investigate something and she is standing in the light of the headlights, the forest illuminated behind her. It seems like she should be safe in the light, but the deeper into the forest you look the darker it gets. It is clear that there is danger nearby. The shot was so simple yet something about it is absolutely gorgeous.

The two leads in this film gave absolutely marvelous performances. Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks, What If) blew me away as the drunken mother, Kathy. Kazan portrayed Kathy’s internal struggle of wanting to be a good mother while also having no control over her addiction. This was a role I wouldn’t have thought Kazan to be in, but now I can’t imagine it with anyone else. Ella Ballentine (The Captive, Standoff) was quite a surprise as the daughter, Lizzy. I had never seen her in a film before, and she had such a strong presence on the screen. Ballentine was so powerful because she is portrayed in most of the film as the “adult” because she has to take care of her alcoholic mother. She then goes from being strong and independent to a scared little girl when she realizes monsters are real. The two actresses together made the perfect duo.

What makes The Monster such a masterful film is that it throws people who don’t want to be around each other into a terrifying situation where they have to rely on each other to survive. It is something that Bertino also did in The Strangers. While there are horrifying events happening around them, the true focus of the film is the relationship between the mother and daughter. Because of this, I am able to look past the couple flaws involving the monster and see the masterpiece this film truly is. Horror and non-horror fans alike will appreciate this film and likely relate to the relationships that we as the audience witness.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: The House on Sorority Row (1983)

It’s graduation time for a group of senior girls in a college sorority. After their house mother squashes their plans to throw a graduation party at the sorority house, the girls decide to play a prank on her. The prank goes too far and ends in murder. Now the girls are being killed one by one. They must try to survive while also attempting to hide the evidence of their dark deed.

Even though this film is 33 years old, I had not seen it yet. Since I am undertaking the 31 Days of Horror challenge, it only felt right to watch this classic slasher flick. The plot is simple enough. Most people who went to high school or college are familiar with senior pranks. When the girls in this sorority try to prank their shrewd house mother, it accidentally ends in her death. The girls have their whole lives ahead of them, so instead of calling the police, they decide to dispose of the body before people arrive for the graduation party. As with any good slasher, nothing goes quite to plan, and the girls are killed off one by one. The twist in this film was actually fairly good. For most of the film I thought the ending was going to go one way, but it did a complete 180 on me at the climax of the film.

While the story is fun, what makes this film so great is how you can see the influence it left behind. Many films and TV shows have come out since this film was made that clearly drew inspiration from it. Many slashers I have seen over the years have certain aspects that appear to have come from this film. The most obvious connection to The House on Sorority Row can be seen in the first season of Scream Queens. The entire premise of the first season clearly was inspired by The House on Sorority Row, just in a more satirical form. It’s amazing to think that this film paved the way for so many other great slasher flicks.

The acting in this film was surprisingly good considering both the content and when it was made. Kate McNeil (Monkey Shines, As The World Turns) was great as the lead, Katherine. She was innocent, sweet, and everything you expect from a final girl in a slasher film. I was also a big fan of Eileen Davidson (The Young and the Restless) as Vicki. She was the perfect antithesis to Katherine. She was a slutty bitch who doesn’t take shit from anyone (especially not their house mother). She also managed to portray her character without feeling over the top in her performance.

Since this is an early eighties slasher film, the practical effects are generally kept to a minimum. It is really only the occasional smear of blood when someone is stabbed or shot. The only true practical effect involved a severed head in a toilet. I loved this effect because it was both gory and hilarious all at the same time. They appeared to have achieved this by having the actress under the toilet with her head sticking up through the hole (although I could be mistaken). Either way it was definitely a stand out moment in the film.

The House on Sorority Row is a film that every horror fan should see at some point. It’s influence can be felt in many later films and TV shows. This is the kind of cult classic that has a story most will be familiar with, but it is still a fun watch. It may not be as big as some of the other slashers such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, but it deserves a certain level of respect and appreciation. If you haven’t seen this film yet I would definitely recommend giving it a try. If you have seen it, still watch it again to enjoy the slasher genre in its purest form.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10