suicide

Show Yourself

showyourself

An actor, Travis, is grieving the sudden loss of his friend. To honor him, Travis goes to their favorite childhood camping spot to scatter his ashes. As Travis works through his grief in the woods, strange things start to happen. It becomes clear that he definitely isn’t alone in these woods. Is it the ghost of his dearly departed friend? Or is it something much more sinister?

This film is not only an interesting character study, but it also offers a deep look into grief and guilt. Writer and director Billy Ray Brewton (Dead Ahead) really excels at giving the audience a compelling character that they care for, even with his flaws. The film weaves home videos throughout the plot in order to help build on the character development. What makes this aspect more successful than other films that may use the same tactic is that many of the things the audience sees in these home videos become relevant to what is happening in the present. There is a lot of time devoted to character development in this film. While some may argue it is too much time, and not enough on any really scary stuff, I think it works for the tone of the film. It’s by no means a very scary film. Instead, Brewton gives audiences an eerie and emotional film that shows how Travis works through his grief and personal guilt by incorporating supernatural elements. The resulting film ends up being something that even people who don’t like horror can enjoy.

Another successful piece of this film is how Brewton leaves just enough up to the imagination of the audience. There is really only one scene where the audience gets a clear view of whatever is in the woods. For the most part it is implied, left in the shadows, or just out of focus. This is actually brilliant for two reasons. The first is the budget. With a low budget indie film it makes sense to utilize these methods so they don’t have to blow the budget on crazy practical or CGI effects. And honestly, in an intimate film like this, it is entirely unnecessary. The second reason this is a smart idea is because it lets the audience decide what the entity is. It is mostly out of view, and never fully explained, so each individual can get something different from the film. Is it the ghost of the dead friend? Is it a demon? Is it a physical manifestation of Travis’s guilt? Personally, I think it’s the latter, but the great thing is that you can decide for yourself when you watch the film.

When it comes to the acting in this film, the clear highlight is Ben Hethcoat (The Babysitter Murders) as Travis. Losing a friend is difficult, and watching Travis go through his journey is quite compelling. Hethcoat does a great job of portraying Travis as he goes through the complicated emotions relating to grief. Travis reacts by pushing some people away while he tries to reconnect with others, he lashes out at people, he clearly feels some level of guilt, and he feels like scattering the ashes is his sole responsibility. Considering Travis is the only character on screen for almost the entire film it is important to have a strong actor in the role, and Hethcoat fills that role very well.

Show Yourself uses the supernatural to tell a tale about grief. Brewton shows that he is clearly a skilled storyteller who can write compelling characters. In a film like this that focuses so much on a single character, a compelling character is exceedingly important. Hethcoat also gives the audience a fantastic performance as the lead, Travis. While the film blends the supernatural elements well with the plot, for many horror fans it might not be enough. I can already hear the complaints saying it isn’t a horror film simply because it didn’t scare you. If you’re a person that often makes that complaint, then this film isn’t for you. Yet I highly encourage everyone else, even people who don’t typically enjoy horror films, to seek this film out.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

The Forest

The Aokigahara forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Japan has a dark past. It is known as a place where people go to commit suicide. Sara’s twin sister, Jess, went into that forest and vanished. Everyone is convinced that Jess is dead, but Sara knows that she is still alive and she’s in trouble. Sara decides to venture into the forest to find her sister. What she doesn’t realize is those who die in the forest become restless spirits, and now they want Sara.

Unfortunately, most of what I have to say about this film is negative. Of the things I didn’t like, the thing I liked the least was the dialogue. Throughout the entire film the dialogue felt forced and artificial. This can especially be heard at the beginning of the film. They were clearly trying to set things up for the rest of the film by establishing the relationships between characters and the situation that leads to Sara (Natalie Dormer) traveling to Japan. The problem is that these things were too simply stated and didn’t sound the way people would speak to each other in the real world. I was almost cringing every time people spoke to each other in the film because it felt so false.

The scares may have also been affected by the lack of a clear mythology. Throughout the film they mention the spirits of those who kill themselves in the forest. The idea is when they die their spirits come back angry. They also discuss how the forest makes you see things and tried to make you kill yourself. In theory these are great ideas to make a scary film. What keeps The Forest from succeeding is that the various things that are supposed to scare you don’t connect to the mythology the way they should. It feels more like a bunch of random pieces of classic stories and iconic horror images thrown together. There isn’t a cohesive theme connecting the different elements that are supposed to scare you as part of the same mythology.

Another aspect of this film that did not work was the scares. What would have made this film more terrifying would have been if they relied more on suspense and tension while Sara is looking for Jess in the forest infamous for having dark spirits. Instead the filmmakers chose to utilize jump scares to frighten the audience. Sadly, these jump scares did not achieve the intended response. I am a complete wimp and typically it doesn’t take much to scare me. There were several occasions in this film where I braced myself for a scare that didn’t even make me flinch. The fact that I had no problem walking to my car alone at 5am this morning when it was pitch black is further proof that this film didn’t scare me. The jump scares may not have been scary because they were set up in such a way that you almost knew they were coming. If they were to do this film over again, I would recommend having the spirits less visible and more like shadows lurking behind every tree to build the tension, rather than having them everywhere and looking relatively like normal people.

I absolutely love Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2) who plays both Sara and Jess. In this film, I did not love her. It’s really difficult for me to discern whether it was her acting that I didn’t like or if it was simply the writing and her acting was fine. It seems more likely that it was the writing because there were definitely moments when her performance pushed past the unfortunate dialogue. Taylor Kinney (Chicago Fire) did a fine job, but I felt like his character was out of place and almost an unnecessary addition to the film. This seemed to be a common theme. There were a couple other characters who seemed as if they were irrelevant to the plot and that they didn’t belong in this film.

This was a film that could have been very interesting and scary. The idea of going into the reportedly haunted suicide forest of Japan sounds like the makings of a terrifying story, especially since this place actually exists. The film simply failed to create a complete mythology in their plot based on the real life myths. The result felt like pieces of several different stories chopped up and thrown together in a way that lacked substance and scares. Combine that with the robotic dialogue and it ruins any chance of creating a film that the audience could fall in love with. The one redeeming quality I can say about this film is that the ending was not what I expected, which is always a nice surprise.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10

Nightlight

Covington Woods is known for being a place where people venture to commit suicide. Robin (Shelby Young) recently lost her best friend who killed himself in these woods. Despite that, she still decides to go into the woods at night with a group of the popular kids to drink, tell scary stories about the forest, and play flightlight games. Everything starts out innocently enough, but strange things begin to happen that the friends can’t explain. There is something evil waiting for them in the dark depths of the forest, and it’s out for blood.

When I first heard about this film it seemed like a scary concept. Found footage films generally scare me quite a bit, and most towns have at least one area that is known for suicides. This film definitely had intense moments and a few good jump scares. Sadly, I felt more disappointment than anything after finishing the film, and there are many aspects that took away from what could have been a really scary story.

The acting was quite disappointing. The only performance that didn’t feel forced and unnatural came from Mitch Hewer (Skins). The only downside to his performance was that there were multiple occasions where his English accent came through. It wasn’t just a word or two where he lost the American accent; it was full sentences where he went from sounding like the average American teen to an Englishman trying to hide his accent. The other three leads gave such lackluster performances that I found myself not caring about the well-being of their characters. Shelby Young (Days of Our Lives) I found particularly annoying. This was likely due not only to her acting being unconvincing, but her character also just did so many idiotic things throughout the film. That likely has more to do with the writing, but it still bothered me.

One thing that made me dislike the movie the most was how it made it unclear what the source of the evil was. In the beginning, when the teens are telling scary stories, they talk about people being possessed in the woods and what to do (or not to do) in order to avoid the evil spirits that lurk in the forest. These stories, and some of the events later in the film, lead me to believe that the evil in the forest is some kind of demonic presence. Later, it is implied that maybe Robin’s friend who had killed himself in those woods was doing this to the teens in order to punish them. Robin even addresses the evil as Ethan (her friend who committed suicide) many times. The film goes back and forth between implying the source is demonic and the source is Ethan. At the end of the film it felt like that question was never really answered. Personally, I fell like it makes so much more sense that there is a demonic presence making everything happen instead of Ethan. Maybe the filmmakers meant for you to interpret it how you see it, but it just came across as confused.

When it comes to the scares, this film did a fairly good job. As I said before, found footage films always tend to scare me just because it feels like you are seeing things from the point of view of the victims. On top of that, this film did a good job of doing the more subtle jump scares. This means it relied more on spooky noises and catching small glimpses of the evil. It is always so much scarier when you can’t see what it is that’s after you. There is really only one scene where you get a full view of the evil, and of course, that is one of the least-scary scenes in the entire film. I would go so far as to say the full view of the evil landed more on the cheesy side rather than scary.

Despite all the negative things I have said about the film, there are a few things that I enjoyed. I felt like it was an interesting idea, there were definitely times where I jumped, and it had a really cute dog in it named Kramer. There were just more parts that I didn’t enjoy that outweigh the good. The biggest disappoints were the acting and the tragically large plot holes. I can see this being more entertaining for teenage audiences, but if you are like me and need a bit more substance then you should probably skip this one.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10