Devil

Veronica

veronica

In Madrid, Spain in 1991 a teenage girl helps her mother raise her brother and sisters after her dad died. One day she experiments with a Ouija board with two school friends. From that moment on, she is plagued by an evil presence. Things only get worse when that evil starts to go after her younger siblings. She has to find a way to stop the malevolent presence, before it kills the ones she loves.

Director Paco Plaza has been known as a filmmaking force in the horror genre with his [REC] film franchise. Veronica was an obvious choice for him after finishing that franchise, as there are similar themes between the films. The biggest similarities are the common themes of demons, the devil, and possession. Plaza always does a somewhat unique spin with these themes, which are fairly common in the horror genre, keeping things interesting and exciting for fans. Another similarity is the focus on a female protagonist. In this film, that is the title character, Veronica.

The combination of jump scares and more subtle atmospheric scares allows audiences to experience near-constant fright. What makes this film uniquely scary from Plaza’s previous work is that it is based on a true story. Not only are many of the details of the film based on truth, but they come from a police report that is the only one in Spain’s history to note witnessing paranormal activity on an official report. Knowing the background for the film makes the events all the more terrifying. That being said, this is one of many recent films that was advertised as being the scariest film ever. The film has many frightening moments, but I would not go into the film expecting to experience the most intense fear of your life.

Considering all the leads in this film are children, every single one of them give great performances. Sandra Escacena plays Veronica in her very first acting role. Being in the titular role means Escacena has to give the character her all. Considering this is her first acting job, and as the lead character, Escacena truly shines and commands your attention. Her performances is not only haunting, but she plays the balance between being the unofficial parent to her siblings and being a normal teenage girl very well. I hope to see her in many more films in the future. The younger siblings, played by Bruna González, Claudia Placer, and Iván Chavero, also prove they are young new talents who will likely continue to do great things.

The filmmakers use primarily more subtle scares throughout the film. This means the effects are also very subtle. Many of them are small practical effects. When it comes to the climax of the film, there is a combination of practical effects and CGI. While much of it is well done, and the climax is intense and terrifying, this is also where the film loses me a bit. The climax suffers from a common horror-genre issue where the filmmakers show too much of the evil presence that is after the protagonist. In some cases it works, but in this film it seems like showing less would have been more effective and eerie.

Veronica brings strong scares to this film based on a true story. The plot isn’t entirely original, including common horror tropes such as a Ouija board leading to demonic happenings, but the fact that it is based on a true story makes it more interesting. The filmmakers opted to use a lot of young actors who had never been in a film before. This ended up being the strongest aspect of the film, especially when it comes to Escacena’s performance. Plaza made a lot of smart decisions with this film, especially when it comes to how he crafted the scares. Most of the scares are very effective, but there is a bit too much of the evil entity shown in the climax of the film, which takes away some of the terror. The key to enjoying this film will be avoiding a lot of the hype. No film can ever live up to that amount of hype, but if audiences can ignore it, then this film will be all the more thrilling to watch.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

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The Wailing

A strange Japanese man arrives at a small village in South Korea. Soon after, people begin to go mad and kill their families. A local cop is assigned to these strange cases. His own daughter eventually starts to exhibit the same symptoms as the others who went mad. With the help of his friends, a priest and a shaman, the cop does whatever he can to stop the Japanese stranger from harming his daughter, or anyone else in town.

The Wailing is the second great Korean horror film I have seen this year. Similarly to Train to Busan, the focus of this film is the relationship between a father and his young daughter. Once the daughter is thrown into peril we see the father grow as a person and try to rescue her. The father adds a comedic aspect to the beginning of the film up until the point when his daughter gets sick. From there the film takes a more serious turn. It also does an interesting job of blending different types of mythology. There are satanic rituals, shamanism, ghosts and spirits, a zombie-like illness, and possession. The filmmakers expertly weave all of these aspects together into a chilling, and often times humorous, story. The only issue I had with the plot is that the ending felt a bit convoluted. It seems like the filmmakers are trying to insert too many twists and turns to the point where the audience is left with one too many questions.

This film has multiple amazing performances that lure the audience into the story. One standout is Do-wan Kwak (The Berlin File) as the cop and father, Jong-Goo. The fact that his portrayal of Jong-Goo shows him as a rather dopey and fearful cop who finds his strength when his daughter is in danger feels natural and compelling. Do-wan Kwak manages to make me laugh and make me feel compassion for Jong-Goo and his family. I also love Jun Kunimura (Kill Bill: Vo. 1 and 2) as the stranger. He doesn’t have many speaking scenes until later in the film, but it is hard not to feel his presence. With just a stare, Kunimura is able to send chills down my spine and add to the unsettling ambience of the film.

The effects of this film are subtle, which works well with the story. The infected people first get strange rashes. These rashes eventually cover the whole body, and the eyes of the infected turn white before they become violent. The rashes are grotesque and very well done. One scene involves an infected person having a convulsive fit that results in a bone protruding from the skin. It is disgusting, but also beautiful in how they are able to achieve it with the practical effects. There is another scene at the climax of the film that involves a different kind of transformation. This one I can’t get into too much detail for, but it is one of the most unnerving scenes in the entire film.

While The Wailing isn’t my favorite Korean horror film I have seen this year, it is definitely a memorable one. It has a unique and intricate plot that will keep you hooked through to the end, which is impressive considering it is over two and a half hours long. While the climax does get a bit tangled and confused, it still makes for a riveting mystery. This is another film to add to the rather long list of great foreign films that have come out in the past year. It will appeal to a multitude of horror fans and non-horror fans alike.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (February)

Nestled in the country is an all girls Catholic boarding school. Two girls end up stranded at their school during break when they are the only two whose parents fail to pick them up. The girls begin to experience strange happenings in this cold, secluded school. Elsewhere, a young woman is doing whatever she can to get to that same boarding school. As the web that connects these three girls becomes unraveled, it soon becomes clear there is something sinister at work.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (formerly known as February) was a huge accomplishment for first time directer Osgood Perkins. This is the kind of horror film that has such an atmospheric presence. You often know bad things are coming – sometimes you even know what those bad things are – yet when the moment finally happens, it is no less shocking or terrifying. Perkins, who also wrote the film, does an excellent job of revealing different plot points in a way that isn’t necessarily chronological, but in an order that helps you to understand more of the story when it is important. There are elements of a traditional devil/possession horror film present, but much of the way it is presented feels fresh. It is clear from the beginning that this film focuses more on the characters involved and creating a feeling of impending doom, rather than traditional scares. In this regard, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a masterpiece.

The three female leads in this film were incredibly strong. Keirnan Shipka (Mad Men) was absolutely haunting as Kat, the youngest of the two girls at the boarding school. As you can see from the trailer, Shipka’s portrayal of Kat moves from a lonely innocence to deeply disturbed during the course of the film. Lucy Boynton (Copperhead) was also amazing as the other girl stranded at the school, Rose. What I loved about Boynton as Rose was that she was a bit of a bad girl, but she was incredibly relatable at the same time. You felt for Rose and cared about her well being. I will be completely honest, generally I am not a huge fan of Emma Roberts (Scream Queens, We’re the Millers). Despite this, I still thought she did a great job as the mysterious Joan. Joan is clearly broken in some way and has been through a lot in her life. Roberts conveys this aspect of Joan quite well. All three actresses stood out and drew me into their individual stories.

This is the kind of film where the evil is almost entirely working behind the scenes. There are only a couple small glimpses where you see the entity that is pulling the strings. I loved the look that the filmmakers went for. The evil in The Blackcoat’s Daughter has a look that is generally familiar in the world of devil worship and possession, but they made some small tweaks to give it a bit more unique look. I also thought it was smart for the evil entity to never really be in full view; it’s shown as more of just a shadow or silhouette. In a film like this where ambience reigns over frightening imagery, keeping the evil in the background was a wise decision.

When I didn’t get a chance to see this film at Cinequest, I was devastated. Luckily it was picked up by the Phoenix Film Festival. The way the stories of the two high school girls and the wandering young woman unravel was done in such a stunning way that it leaves your heart on the floor. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a haunting tale that breaths new life into the idea of possession and the loss of innocence. By the time the credits rolled I felt stunned and awestruck. What was great about the feelings the ending invoked was that many people I spoke with got the same feeling, even though I interpreted the ending a different way than others did. No matter what you think the final scene conveys, it will still effect you in ways you didn’t expect. While I can see horror fans that prefer more scares and gore not enjoying this film as much, people who love films for the way they make you feel will not be disappointed. If this film comes to a theater near you, do not pass it up.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

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

 

Favorite Things: Halloween Horror Movies

Halloween. It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite holiday. The change in leaves, the crisp air, the costumes, and of course the great horror movies. It only seemed fitting that for my blog’s first Halloween I do a list of some of my favorite horror movies that take place during Halloween. This list is in no particular order and range from classics to more recent favorites. Let’s begin…

Halloween (1978) 

This is probably the most obvious horror movie that takes place during Halloween, but it is also one of the best. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, some of my earliest horror movie memories are related to this film. It is a classic slasher flick that still sends chills down my spine, even though it’s been almost 40 years since its release. Jamie Lee Curtis really showed her acting abilities in this. She also has one of the best screams I have ever heard. She is by far one of my favorite “final girls.” Although I may be a bit biased because I think she and my mom look alike.

Honorable Mention: The 2007 Rob Zombie remake of Halloween is actually quite good. It stayed true to the original, while also adding quite a bit of back story on how Michael Myers became the iconic killer.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

This may be a slightly less popular choice, but this film definitely has a cult following. The Halloween movies were meant to be almost like an anthology series where each film focused on a different story taking place during the holiday. Many people likely went to the theater expecting to see another Michael Myers film. Because of this, the film did not do well at the box office. Since then it has become wildly popular with horror fans. I have to admit the first time I saw this movie I hated it. I have watched it a few times since then, and now it is definitely one of my favorite Halloween-themed films.

Trick r’ Treat

This is another film that has a huge cult following. I didn’t see this movie until several years after its release. When I finally watched it, I immediately fell in love. The film is done in an anthology style where all the stories are connected in some way. What makes this film so great is that it covers all the major themes you think of when you think of Halloween. The “main character” of the film, Sam, is great because he manages to be absolutely adorable and terrifying at the same time. This is very difficult to manage, and I still don’t understand how they did it. Trick r’ Treat really is a classic film that I now watch every year for Halloween.

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps will forever be one of my favorite horror movies. The fact that it takes place during Halloween just adds the icing to the cake. I find the main characters, Ginger and Brigitte, to be fascinating and complex characters. It’s also amazing the actresses are able to portray this complexity while also having to be regular teenage girls. Their bond throughout the film also draws me in. I will warn the men who are interested in seeing this film that the entire movie could be seen as one giant metaphor for a girl going through puberty, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. There is a lot of fun gore and practical effects, plus the script for this film is absolutely incredible.

Idle Hands

I know this is probably the most cheesy movie that will appear on this list. You might say it’s a ridiculous choice. Well, I don’t care. This movie cracks me up and has fun with horror. Plus the young nineties girl in me will forever be in love with Devon Sawa. I have always loved this film because it is hilarious and has copious amounts of gore. It is a film you can watch for Halloween if you want a healthy dose of horror accompanied by a fun and light-hearted tone. Idle Hands is a great Halloween horror choice for watching with a group of friends, especially if there are some in your group that don’t necessarily want to watch a scary movie.

The Houses October Built

This film only came out last year, but it has already made quite a name for itself. The most endearing quality of this film is that it examines why people love to be scared. It also delves into how extreme some people will go with those scares. It’s a great concept, and the cast is really fantastic. I’m sure this film will only grow in popularity over the years, much in the way that some of the previous cult classics I mentioned have. My only recommendation is to watch this after you go to a haunted house. If you watch it before, you just might change your mind.

House of 1000 Corpses

This is another one of my favorite horror films, and the film that made me fall in love with Rob Zombie as a director. It’s a unique story that got me within the first few minutes. This film is intense, bloody, and filled with insane characters. What I love most about the film (and the sequel) is that Zombie manages to create characters that are truly despicable, yet there is something about them that you can’t help but love. That takes true talent, especially when you see what these crazies like to do for Halloween (and on ever other day of the year). Watching this makes me want to be a part of the Firefly family. After watching the film, you will understand that this is not the most sane way to look at that family.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!

Horns

Poor Ig. He was just a young guy in love until the love of his life, Merrin, was raped and murdered. Now the entire town thinks he was the one who killed her, especially since his love had dumped him that very same night. In his despair, Ig turns his back on God and wakes up one morning to find that he is growing horns. These horns give him some rather interesting powers. The people that look at his horns feel the need to divulge their deepest darkest secrets to Ig, and he can make them do things, and when he touches a person he can see their secrets. The best part is, no one remembers this once they can’t see the horns anymore. Ig uses these new powers to try to find out who murdered his beloved and clear his name.

This was definitely an entertaining film. The story was your basic murder mystery, but they gave it a very interesting twist. Something else that I really enjoyed was the story had flashbacks woven throughout the film. Sometimes movies do this and it gets boring because the flashbacks can be irrelevant to what is going on in the present. Horns did a great job of making sure the flashbacks not only gave your really excellent back story so you better understand the characters, but the flashbacks also were important pieces to help explain what was happening in the present.

When it came to Ig’s power that makes people tell him the truth, he definitely gets some mixed results. Most of the time what people tell him is funny. Things like “I want to burn this place down to get the insurance money” and “I think about this person naked” are the types of humerus secrets usually heard. On the other hand, some of the confessions are far more serious. The scenes where Ig confronts his parents and they confess how they really feel is both very believable and very heartbreaking to watch. It makes the whole situation more realistic in the sense that you could imagine that is what his parents were really thinking but would never speak in a normal situation.

In terms of the effects, there were really only a few important ones to mention. Obviously, the horns themselves were very well done. Even in the beginning when you are watching them grow it looks pretty damn lifelike. There are also several CGI snakes in the later parts of the film. Obviously a lot of the time you can tell they are fake snakes, but there were many times where I couldn’t tell if the snake was real or not (they did use real snakes in certain scenes but even then it was hard to tell the difference). At the climax of the film there are some amazing CGI effects (which I won’t get too much into, I hate spoilers) that are beautifully done.

The one thing that bothered me was the actual mystery part of the film. Now, I am the kind of person that usually figures out the big twist very early on in a movie. That being said, I think most people can figure out who the real murderer is pretty early on without using a lot of brain power. It definitely made the story a little less exciting when Ig is anxiously trying to find the killer, but it was still entertaining watching everything unfold. I would say the bigger mystery isn’t so much who the killer is, but why Merrin broke up with him in the first place. That was also something that I figured out before it was revealed in the story, but it took a lot longer to figure out than who the murderer was.

I would definitely recommend this movie. If the fact that the film stars Harry Potter isn’t enough for you (it was enough for me), then see it because it’s a good story that is not only dark and ominous but also has some hilarity mixed in. It also has some random things that made me enjoy it like the fact that it took place in Washington state and it had great music. Just try not to be too disappointed if you figure out who the killer is pretty quickly. There are plenty of other aspects of the film that make it fun to watch.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

At the Devil’s Door

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaHR845sZtI

Now this movie has had a lot of buzz since it came out. I even saw it appear on a couple “Top 10 of 2014” lists for horror movies. While in general I really enjoyed this movie, I believe it had some shortcomings that kept it from being out of this world.

As you can probably guess from the title, the Devil plays a large part in this film. It is not so much a possession story as it is a story of the devil trying to work his way into our world. It starts with meeting the young Hannah (Ashley Rickards). You soon learn the sinister way she was tricked into selling her soul to the Devil. Flash forward a bit and you meet Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a real estate agent trying to sell Hannah’s old house, and her sister Vera (Naya Rivera). The film weaves back and forth between the progress of Hannah’s fate and the present situation with the sisters who may be end up in the same boat.

Despite what the trailer leads you to believe, Leigh’s character is only a small part of the story. She acts more as a pathway that leads Hannah (and the Devil) to Vera. Ashley Rickard’s performance in the movie is very haunting and she often left me with chills. Naya Rivera, unfortunately, was lacking quite a bit in her performance. Most of the film she seemed to have what is commonly known as “resting bitch face” as her only expression. There is even a scene where she is distraught and is supposed to be crying. She has to literally cover her face to hide the fact she isn’t really crying, and when she moves her hands to brush back her hair you can clearly see there are no tears. I love Naya, but her performance was the worst part of the movie.

Despite that, I loved the movie. It created such a feeling of unease leaving me thoroughly creeped out long after the movie ended (without necessarily having any big in-your-face scares). Even the simple line that so accurately describes the Devil as “wearing her like a costume” (as seen in the trailer above) makes you want to sleep with the light on. Overall the movie has really great character development, an intricate and well played out plot, and a couple of fairly decent surprises thrown in.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10