Murder

Diane

diane

A wounded military veteran lives a solitary life. He goes through the same routine day in and day out, until something unexpected breaks that routine. He awakes one morning to find the body of a beautiful singer in his back yard. Before calling the police, he takes a picture of her. As the police investigation tries to prove his guilt, the image of the dead woman haunts the man, threatening to shatter his sanity.

Michael Mongillo (The Wind) takes the helm as writer and director of this haunting film. The film is a slow burn. It begins with a small amount of character development before the discovery of the body. From there the film focuses on many different factors affecting the protagonist as his obsession with the dead woman grows. Around him there is the police investigation, people in the neighborhood who think he must be guilty, and maybe even the ghost of the woman he found. All of these things unravel the man’s mind. At times he even talks to himself or has wild dreams and hallucinations, all revolving around the woman. The tension slowly builds until the truth is revealed, which almost comes as a release of that tension in a more therapeutic way than is typically found in horror films.

The opening of the film is a bit odd. It starts with a somewhat awkward, drawn out song sung by the woman who will eventually be found dead. This is followed by a sort of “day in the life” sequence showing how the main character typically spends his days. The discovery of the body comes after the screen flashes “one month later.” In all honesty, the song and the “one month later” come across as quite unnecessary. It isn’t until the climax of the film that these cinematic choices by the filmmakers fall into place. The “one month later” becomes more significant, as does the song. I still believe the song borders on uncomfortable to watch, especially with how long it goes on, and the film would have benefited by simply starting with the day in the life of the main character.

Slow-burn horror films only work if the performances can carry the intensity and intrigue throughout the plot. There isn’t a large cast, so most of that responsibility is on the shoulders of the protagonist. The star of the film is Jason Alan Smith (Before I Wake) as Steve. Smith portrays Steve as a silent, brooding wounded military veteran who primarily keeps to himself. This character portrayal works well in the film. The military background specifically works well because it makes it more believable that a man would become so invested in what happened to the woman he found. The mental effects of combat would also explain his issues with memory loss and seeing things, even though the things he sees could also be supernatural.

There are many different color schemes used throughout the film that add some visual interest. The color schemes are used to differentiate between the present, memories, dreams, and hallucinations. The present has a rather bleak color palette, favorite washed out colors and greys.  It lends to the rather bleak existence Steve lives. The past is more vibrant and has more lifelike colors. In the dream sequences the primary color used is red, making it simple to determine when Steve is dreaming. When the hallucinations, or ghostly apparitions, appear they have a staticky appearance as if watching through an ancient television. Generally speaking this technique works well for the purpose of storytelling throughout the film. I personally have never liked the grey-scale, washed-out color scheme commonly found in small budget horror films, but it clearly has a purpose in this film.

Diane gives viewers a haunting mystery that blends psychological thriller with the supernatural. The plot presents an interesting puzzle to be solved and that puzzle is solved rather nicely by the end of the film. The color palette makes sense for the plot, despite my personal dislike for the grey-scale which is most commonly used. If the colors had been a bit more true to life, and the opening scene was cut, the film would have been more appealing. Yet this film still has a compelling story with a strong performance from Smith.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Advertisements

The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man

The House of Choade is an avant-garde burlesque theater run by the infamous Mr. Choade. After a tragic “accident” leaves the theater short a performer, the young and innocent Linda gets hired to be the new dancer. As she goes deeper into the darkness of Choade’s little world, Linda realizes that some of the onstage kills may be more real than they appear. What’s worse is that Mr. Choade is behind these deaths. He has made a deal with the Medicine Man for fame and fortune, but what the Medicine Man gets in exchange is quite diabolical.

The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man is a bizarre, twisted film with a very unique plot. Unfortunately, the plot left me with more questions than answers. I found myself throughout the film confused about simple things such as when the film was supposed to take place. There were also random characters thrown into the story that were never really explained, making the plot seem more and more nonsensical. The overall storyline involving Linda and her journey as a performer at the House of Choade was very interesting. While that was enjoyable, it was hard to look past the parts that felt random for randomness sake, as opposed to adding to the story.

The performances were definitely the high points of the film. Some of them were very campy, but it was clear this was on purpose and worked well with the feel of the film. One of the stand-out performances for me was Mr. Choade, who happened to be played by the director, James Habacker (How He Fell in Love). His delivery was hilarious in the way it was incredibly monotone and lacked any real emotion, no matter what the occasion was. I also really enjoyed the Medicine Man, played by Joe Coleman (Don Peyote), for the exact opposite reason that I loved Mr. Choade. Every time he spoke it was in a sing-songy, poetic manner. It was almost as if he was casting a spell on you with each word he spoke. I also greatly appreciated that actual burlesque performers were used in the film. It added an extra layer of authenticity to this fantastical story.

There was a healthy amount of gore in this film, both fun fake blood used in the burlesque performances and various body parts in the real kills. Like many of the performances, much of the gore seemed to be done in a purposefully campy way. There was only one practical effect that even now I can’t get out of my head: Mr. Choade’s nose. Mr. Choade has an extremely long nose. This nose prosthetic was not applied very well. You could see the edges in the makeup at all times. This could have been fine, except I was never really sure if Mr. Choade’s nose was supposed to be real or fake in the film. If it was supposed to be fake, then the poor appliance would have been fine and only added to the bizarre look of this character. If his nose was supposed to be real, then more effort should have been put in to make the nose appear natural. Since I don’t know what the intention was, it will always be something that bothers me about the film.

While this was a visually appealing film with different aspects that I liked, there were definitely more aspects that I didn’t enjoy. Aside from the issues I had with the plot and the practical effects, there was something about the general feel of the film that did not seem like a horror movie. If anything, it felt more like a dark comedic fantasy film. This made quite a bit of sense during the Q&A after the film, where the director said he actually wasn’t really a fan of the horror genre. He was using it more as a way to break into film making. Hearing this after seeing the film helped me to understand why there was something that simply felt “off” about the film for me. Looking past that, The Cruel Tale of the Medicine Man is a visually stimulating acid trip of a film dripping in dark humor. Just don’t go into it expecting a film that really fits into the horror genre.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

Crimson Peak

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) has seen ghosts since she was ten years old. On her first encounter with a ghost, she was warned to stay away from a place called Crimson Peak. Years later, she meets a handsome baronet from England named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After a tragedy, Edith marries Thomas and moves into his decaying family mansion in England along with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Edith soon realizes the place she was warned about as a child has now become her only home, and there are many ghosts within its walls.

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. He has a masterful way of blending dynamic characters, haunting imagery, and completely unique looking creatures. Crimson Peak is another success. Probably the most successful aspect was how visually stimulating and stunning the entire film is. This is evidenced when Edith moves to England with the Sharpes. The mansion they live in is quite literally falling apart. It is unnerving and beautiful all at the same time. The house sits on deposits of red clay that seeps through the floors and the walls of the house’s lower levels. It makes it appear as though the house is bleeding. The director has essentially made the house another character in the film. The red clay seeping into the pure white snow is also a very vivid image. It alludes to the blood that has been spilled on this land.

Even the costume design added to the fantastic imagery. The costumes alone were quite beautiful, but the focus on color adds a certain depth. Edith, who is full of life and innocence, typically is seen wearing some kind of white, beige, or yellow dress. This makes her stand out against the darkness of the house and the blood red of the clay that oozes from the walls. By contrast, both Thomas and Lucille wear very dark colors. It is almost as if their clothes are meant to show Thomas and Lucille’s connection to the house. This is especially clear with Lucille’s wardrobe. She primarily wears a blue dress that is so dark it is almost black. She almost blends in with the house as if she is one with it.

This film had an original story that actually kept me on the edge of my seat. It is a mystery being slowly unraveled as Edith follows the clues being laid out for her. It’s always a good sign when I’m not constantly guessing what will happen before it occurs in the movie. That isn’t to say there weren’t some things that seemed fairly obvious early on in the film. It was more that the way everything was revealed kept it interesting, even if you knew what was coming. Some may feel that the film moved rather slowly. I will concede that based on the trailer, the film looked like it was going to be filled with non-stop intense scares. There was plenty of intensity and definitely some great scares, some that even happen very early on, but the film definitely focuses more on the mystery side of things as well as character development (which is very important in a film like this).

All three of the leads in this film were absolutely flawless. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) was perfectly cast as Edith. She gives an air of youthful innocence yet she is independent and very intelligent. Wasikowska also excelled at portraying her character as terrified of the ghosts that haunt her, but also knowing she has to solve the mysteries surrounding these ghosts. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Thomas Sharpe except Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers). Hiddleston somehow manages to appear charmingly lovable and utterly sinister all at the same time. I don’t believe any other actor could achieve this. Finally, there is Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). It is clear from her past work that she is a talented actress. Until now, I never knew how disturbing she could be. The only acting that I was not convinced by came from Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy). I usually enjoy his acting, but his delivery in this film just fell a bit flat.

Yet another amazing aspect of this film was the various special effects. Guillermo del Toro is known for his amazing use of CGI. The look created for the ghosts was disgusting, frightening, and beautiful all at once. What I was even more surprised about was the use a practical effects. This film had some rather brutal scenes of violence, which I did not even remotely expect, with gorgeous practical effects for the wounds. There is one particularly graphic scene that takes place just before Edith goes to England that blew me away.

There are so many amazing aspects of Crimson Peak. This film was dark, intense, scary, mysterious, and sexy. It has pretty much everything you could ask for in a great ghost film that actually has substance. While it was a truly thrilling movie, there are some things that keep it from being perfect. The biggest being simply that the trailer leads you to believe the film relies much more heavily on scaring you with ghosts than it really does. This is one thing that will likely upset many viewers. Personally, the fact that this film had an edge-of-your-seat mystery makes up for the fact that the ghosts were more used as clues rather than ways to terrify you. It is still one of my favorite films so far this year. I truly hope that this will lead to Guillermo del Toro writing and directing more horror films.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

The Boy (2015)

A 9-year-old boy named Ted (Jared Breeze) lives in a remote mountain motel with his father, John (David Morse). Together they own and run the failing motel. Ted generally lives in isolation, with no one but his father and the rare motel guest to interact with. As a chain of events gets in the way of Ted’s goals, his sociopathic tendencies bubble to the surface.

This film definitely has a slow burn. For some, it might be slow to the point of being boring. Personally I thought the pace was just slightly above the boring line, but I can see that many people will not like it. The first half of the film is really just character development for Ted. They do an excellent job of showing that he has some qualities that could make him a potential sociopath, and he is fascinated by death. Ted’s ultimate goal is to find a way to to go live with his mom in Florida. This is entirely an understandable wish. He lives in the middle of nowhere, only has his dad to talk to, and doesn’t interact with any kids his own age. I would want to leave too! It isn’t until his plans to leave get ruined that he becomes fully psychotic. This makes the last 15 or so minutes of the film very tense and at times a bit shocking.

The acting in this film is excellent. I was so impressed by Jared Breeze (Cooties) and his performance as Ted. Kids in horror movies tend to either be terrifying or simply annoying. Breeze did a great job of acting like a relatively normal boy in the beginning, only showing glimpses of his insanity here and there, to then becoming a full blown sociopath. The most impressive part of his performance was all in his eyes. While Breeze’s character was carrying out unspeakable acts of violence, his eyes remind dead and soulless. The only emotion that I would say you can really see in those eyes is just a touch of curiosity. Rainn Wilson (The Office) was also amazing as the mysterious drifter who is staying at the motel. I am so used to seeing him in more comedic roles. While the role is a smaller one, Wilson does an excellent job of portraying this darker character with quite a few secrets of his own.

One of my favorite parts about this film is that it brings up the question of nature vs. nurture. Is Ted psychotic because he was born that way? Or is it because of the environment that he grew up in? It is clear to me fairly early in the film that Ted has some of the qualities of a sociopath. These qualities begin very small, and are almost unnoticeable. At one point when a boy his age is staying at the motel Ted learns fairly quickly that some of his actions are not socially acceptable, so he changes those behaviors. This makes me wonder if Ted had been raised in an environment where he was around other children his age, and had a better idea of the social norms, would those sociopathic tendencies have been put in check before they got out of hand.

When deciding if you want to watch this film, keep in mind that it isn’t a scary movie and it moves at a slower pace. It is definitely more of a suspenseful film that relies on the building of tension in order to keep you at the edge of your seat. With how slow the film is, and the fact that all the action only really occurs within the last 15 minutes of the film (and even then it isn’t that action packed), I would say this film is definitely not for everyone. Overall I enjoyed the acting, the story line, and the way they portrayed a kind of coming-of-age story about a child sociopath. It isn’t a “must see” movie, but if the general themes are what you look for in a film then I would recommend this one.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

The Guest

The Peterson family lost their son in action while he was serving in the Army. Some time later a stranger arrives at their door. He claims to have served with the Peterson’s son. Not only was this stranger his friend, but the stranger says he was also there when their son died. Desperate for closure, the Peterson family welcomes this man into their home. It doesn’t take long for people around the family to start getting hurt or killed, and it seems likely that this mysterious man named David is at the root of everything.

Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S, V/H/S/2) is becoming one of my favorite directors in the horror/thriller genre. This film is another achievement for him. Not only was the storyline original and intense, but the characters Wingard created were incredibly dynamic. One of the aspects of the film that I think was especially successful was how the story explained who David (Dan Stevens) is, and why he does these horrible things, without going too far into it. It’s the perfect balance so there are no plot holes, but the audience is not overloaded with information either. The choreography of the action sequences is also quite stunning and brutal all at the same time. When it comes to the characters, they are very complex but enjoyable. Even when David is doing unspeakable things, there is something that makes you still like him.

The acting in this film was absolutely phenomenal. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, A Walk Among the Tombstones) was especially amazing as the mysterious David. When I started watching the film, I knew I recognized Stevens. It wasn’t until I finally looked him up on IMDB that I finally realized that the man who played David was also the same man that played Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. It is clear that he went through a major physical transformation for this role. He was a bit on the soft side when he was on Downton Abbey, but had lost 30lbs to prepare for his role in A Walk Among the Tombstones before getting his role in The Guest. To prepare for his role as David, Stevens went through rigorous physical training, gaining 25lbs of muscle. Even more amazing than the physical transformation is his acting ability. Stevens was completely believable as the handsome sociopath that could be exceedingly charming one moment, and a stone-cold killer the next. Maika Monroe (It Follows) did a great job as Anna, the sister of the fallen soldier. She really showed her range and that she can play a strong female character that kicks some butt when she needs to.

One of my favorite aspects of this film was the music. Both the soundtrack and the score were so beautiful. The mixture of upbeat 80’s style synth music was the perfect accompaniment to the evil deeds carried out by David. The score, by Steve Moore, was absolutely breathtaking. It reminded me a bit of the score from John Carpenter’s Halloween. There is even an Easter Egg in the film that references Halloween III: Season of the Witch. During the climax of the film you can actually see projections of the masks from Halloween III on the walls. Another clever Easter Egg was related to Adam Windward’s film, You’re Next. At the party that David and Anna go to towards the beginning of the film you can see a party goer wearing one of the animal masks from You’re Next.

This was the kind of movie that I really enjoyed while I was watching it, but fell more and more in love with as I thought about the film afterwards. It was so successful in many ways to the point where I already want to watch it again (which rarely happens). I really hope to see Dan Stevens in more horror movies. He clearly can succeed with any role he is given. In the future I will be keeping an eye out for more films directed by Adam Wingard. From what I have seen of his work Wingard perfectly blends horror, suspense, despicable villains (that you can’t help but like), amazing music, and strong female characters. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

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