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Posts tagged “horror

The Cabin in the Woods


Edited from its original form. This was intended to be my observations of the movie’s first few scenes with some criticism here and there.

Reviews of The Cabin in the Woods have been generally positive, although there have been voices of dissent here and there. Whichever side of the fence they’re on, they don’t write about its plot except for a basic premise. There were the few I’ve read and the many that have advertised themselves as spoiler-free. I’ll do my best for this to not be that kind of post even though I’m the last person ever to see it. But nonetheless, let’s get this party started.

It starts with two women in their college dorm, the scene continuing with one character introduction after another. Jules (Anna Hutchison), recently changing her hair and personality, tells Dana (Kristen Connolly) to ditch her Soviet economics books and get into a weekend getaway mode. Jules’ also takes her boyfriend Curt with a C (Chris Hemsworth), a guy who dresses like jock who’s actually a smart sociology major. Out of this triumvirate, only Hemsworth can pull of the dialogue’s wit. Hemsworth is also able to recommend what books Dana should be reading while sounding like he knows what he’s talking about.

Hutchison and Connolly, however, seem to be too deadpan – Drew Goddard‘s blase direction doesn’t always help with this neither. But those two are interestingly cast, Hutchison’s face and demeanour seemingly too mature, her gaze too penetrating to really be the dumb blond persona that Jules has taken on for the weekend. Just as intended. Connolly is more fresh-faced so we’ll know that she’s last girl, whether she lives or not.

Anyway, apparently they’re the only people awake on campus despite it being a sunny spring day, or that they’re the last people to leave on their breaks. Curt offers his cousin’s cabin for the weekend getaway place and Jules asks him to invite his friend Holden (Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy fame) so that Dana doesn’t feel left out. Marty (Fran Kranz), who looks like he’s going to act like a gargoyle for the rest of the movie, usurps into this otherwise picture perfect group and before they venture out into the titular cabin.

The journey towards the rural hideout is already filled with dread (why do young people in movies still go out in the woods to party even though we all know that most of them are going to die?). Being unable to find it on a GPS, they make a stop at a gas station and its attendant, Mordecai (Tim de Zarn), appears through a perfunctory shock cut. He calls Jules a whore, and a fight between the group and Mordecai almost break out, but they decide to leave him and have their fun as planned. As they drive their Winnebago through a tunnel a CGI bird flies in the sky, only to be stopped and killed by an invisible electric grid, reminding us that there are another set of characters in this story.

The movie actually begins with a mundane shot of a coffee vending machine that two white coats Sitterson (Oscar nominated Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Studio 60’s Bradley Whitford) use. Joined by the pencil-pushing Lin (Amy Acker), she worries about the day’s operation, although Sitterson smugly reassures her that they haven’t had a glitch since ’98. The two men leave her stranded, driving out with their cart within a large – public or private? – facility whose operation involves the characters who are cabin bound. We don’t know why they’re doing this or why they choose those kids. The same clunkiness permeate here as well, shot too close and lit too dirtily than I would expect in a scene featuring workplace humour. It also seems like the actors on this side work Whedon’s dialogue better throughout the movie…just like Curt does….and it is his cousin’s cabin. Despite of the imperfections here, Whedon and Goddard do start dropping pieces of the puzzle this early on.

It has the usual setup of young people discovering things hidden beyond the borders of civilization or revealing a character’s family secret. But what I like is that these characters challenge each other, the ones in the facility wondering, just like we do, how these kids will slip into which mess. The characters in the cabin, however, test each other on whether they’ll advance on each other sexually or be more modest towards each other like Dana and Holden does.

The movie is enigmatic and works its way into being character based but it didn’t really win me over until two of the characters find their way to fight back. When a certain scene happens the sounds of it make me feel like Whedon and Goddard had smiles on their faces while writing and making it. But that defining moment, coming in so late, and the movie’s hype itself, makes me cautious on whether to embrace it. Either way, the movie’s second hour makes the rest more bonkers and fun. 4/5

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2011: We Need to Talk About…


I’m wishing that We Need to Talk About Kevin, the movie based on the Lionel Shriver bestseller, came out on DVD already so I can share with you the film’s first two images. The first one is of a translucent white curtain slowly being blown by the air. The second of an inevitably erotic nature, of muscle squashing together tightly, painted red by tomatoes and tomato juice, those bodies ion the streets that we see from the air in the Tomatina festival in Spain, one of its participants being our protagonist Eva Katchadourian (Tilda Swinton). Seeing these I inevitably compare this work of Lynne Ramsay’s to artist-turned director Steve McQueen’s, both seemingly having the same meditative pace and construction. The movie doesn’t live up to those expectations although we get a few visual treats – Eva hiding behind carefully stacked Campbell Soup cans, jagged ones of meeting her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), her troublesome six-year-old son Kevin (Jasper Newell) making her office room wallpapered by maps into a ‘special’ Jackson Pollock of a mess – to clarify I’m not a Pollock hater but I would equally freak out if my kid dripped and shot paint all over the walls – and countless ones where mother and son (the teenaged version played by Ezra Miller) awkwardly share opposite sides of the same uncomfortable space. Eva, and sometimes Kevin, live in middle American kitsch suburbia, these poppy images drowned under fluorescent blandness. These images satisfy, the rest of the compositions mixing the elfin Swinton with middle American motifs, an unlikely pair that we get used to.

But I keep going back to the first two images, the second set pushed to the back burner as the happiest moment of Eva’s life while the first is the gateway and culmination of her worst. The movie’s intertwining plot lines mostly show us that her worst moments continue. Her new, shabbier house is often vandalized, surrounded by distant neighbours, their suspicious children and the occasional Jehovah’s Witness missionary, oblivious to her eternal damnation. But the movie also return to her relative misery as a wife/mother of two in a rich neighbourhood, their house funded by her best-selling travel books. She’s the town’s pariah, having to apply for a lowly travel agent job while her skeletal face gets clocked by another housewife after her job interview. We find out why the townspeople hate her so much as she has to, out of obligation, visit him in jail. When her family was intact, there seemed to be an alliance between Kevin and Franklin while Eva asks for the sympathy of her daughter, which he gets. But in her present situation, mother and son are stuck together.

Despite the images, this adaptation, as a medium, can’t help but be more one-sided than I imagine the novel to be. We the audience see Kevin as a baby alone with Eva – she takes his stroller to a construction site to drown out his incessant cries as opposed to, you know, feeding him or changing him or whatever actual good mothers should do. Then he magically stops crying when daddy comes home. She even tells him that she would be in France if he wasn’t born, these impulsive words heard by the disapproving Franklin. Speaking of changing, six-year-old Kevin is seen wearing diapers, and eventually we discover that she has to accidentally injure him in order for him to be potty trained. Until this section of the movie Eva seems like a passive character but even with punitive action she can’t discipline the boy or make him be nice to her. There is an exception when, after the hospital visit, she reads “Robin Hood” to her child, only realizing that hell take up an archery obsession that eventually drives her crazy. As the torture continues to his teenage years, Kevin giving her the cut eye to let her know that something would be amiss in the house for which he’s responsible. There’s also a sequence of her as she takes teenage Kevin for a golf and dinner date, when he combats her every attempt of small talk, Miller delivering each line with vehemence as Swinton is exquisite even while reacting. But I keep replaying the dialogue in that sequence in my head, since there are possibilities that his words aren’t that mean, that he’s just holding up a mirror to her hypocrisies and performed motherly warmth.

There’s also this unnecessary nihilism to the movie, especially with introducing Eva’s daughter. The movie, especially with its flashbacks and forwards, makes us wait for what he does that puts him in jail and for why her daughter has to wear an eye patch and the way the movie develops makes us feel that these events will be obscenely portrayed. This also makes me curious about how parents of juvenile criminals in reality are treated because it can’t be as bad and extreme as this. It is about the labourious plastering of how Kevin affects Eva. I’m not necessarily asking for a sugar-coating of the grisly subject it’s as if Ramsay and those involved in this movie are making it more difficult to reach these characters’ and environment’s humanity.


Bad Movie: The Devil Inside


The Devil Inside, directed by William Brent Bell and co-written by Matthew Peterman, is the first of less than mediocre movies that reached the top spot at the box office during 2012. I know some Oscar bait has a longer run in the theatres than this movie, but I’m reopening wounds by reminding you that it still exists.

Ms. Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) tells her story to a man filming a documentary. Her mother (Suzan Crowley) is in some Italian insane asylum run by the Catholic Church (?). When in Rome, she meets these two priests in a…University class about demonic possessions? I’ll keep an open mind because that’s what some people think about psychology then and now. In fact, exorcism was probably the norm before mental wards came into being. During the class and apres coffee-bar meetings with some of the actually enrolled students who are studying the occult.  She discovers that within her new circle of friends are two priests do exorcisms that are not approved by the Church because they believe that the institution somehow is corrupt enough to disregard the well-being of some people possessed by the devil. Knowing what these knights of shining collar do on the sidelines, she enlists them into healing their mother.

But when they try to exorcise Mrs. Rossi, the devil jumps bodies from her to young renegade exorcist Father Keane – he doesn’t show symptoms until he drowns a baby. Then the devil goes to the young woman then to the man filming the documentary. This last possession leads to a anticlimactic ending. Which is unfortunate because they are going somewhere where their questions could be answered. Let’s look at what I said before. The devil jumps bodies, which means that the priests’ exorcising methods aren’t sufficient enough in extinguishing the evil entity possessing a person. The exorcists justify their actions, by saying that they’re spiritually healing certain cases that the Church considers as irredeemable. But what if the Church was in a way protecting those who could be saved, as they quarantine the possessed away from everyone. One body isn’t stronger than another so what’s stopping it from possession a holy man?

Despite of me trying to dig something into this movie, it’s constricted from expanding its ideas about the devil and God and people. And it might be because it set itself too low, choosing too small of a canvas and characters to tell their story that’s not really profound. 2/5.


TADFF: War of the Dead


This is what happens when I put off writing reviews. It took a while to remember the first scene in War of the Dead when Nazi officials are chatteling hostage soldiers to a bunker somewhere along the Finland-Russia border. They resist but when the chemical starts working, their eyes turn white. Chilling scene. Too bad the movie goes to pot after that. Cue Andrew Tiernan, plays soldier Martin Stone, with a permanent Clint Eastwood-esque scowl to convince the audience that he’s American. Along with a troop of Finnish soldiers, he’s on a mission to destroy said bunker. But when the night falls on this strange wooded area, Nazi zombies fly out of the trees, this ridiculously violent entrance fulfilling the “of the dead” part of the title.

I also got the feeling of Schadenfreude in knowing that the Finns actually sided with the Germans during the Second World War. That explains what the cute Finnish soldier and his Russian counterpart didn’t get along in this movie.


Overreading “The Thing” Prequel


Film versions of The Thing has graced our screens three times, seemingly coming in at the right decades when, as horror movies should, audiences see a physical manifestation of  their current fears. The monster in Hawks’ 1951 adaptation is supposedly about the communist threat while Carpenter’s 1982 remake is a metaphor for AIDS, so what about this year’s version?

There are multiple lines dividing the characters but the point is that they’re divided. This prequel tells us about the scientists who discover the alien before the Yankees in Carpenter’s film. Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) appoints paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as his right hand woman for the Norwegian base in Antarctica  to study a ‘secret case.’ Let’s be cynical about Kate’s recruitment, and her own crew, the film’s screenwriters thinking that their movie needs anglophone actors for North American audiences to buy their tickets. The latent purpose of the subtitled Norwegian characters, however, teach us how to curse in their mother tongue.

Nonetheless, Sander might as well not have assigned for her, as the two scientists don’t behave as friends  outside of their professional boundaries. He also vetoes her warnings about the proper ways to handle the alien within its new, above ground environment. He inadvertently awakens the alien, the latter killing off a few of the base’s crew members under the guise of its last victim. Still, some of the survivors, despite themselves, still do not believe her conclusions and methods and we can’t help but assume that her gender and age factors into their unspoken prejudices. Thankfully, Winstead confidently asserts her character despite these intimidating men.

We also have to take into account the different nationalities snowed into one roof. A subplot involves Kate’s crew members Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) on a botched helicopter escape from the base and getting accused of being an alien when he takes the grueling walk back. One of the Norwegians who has stayed yells something like ‘The Americans are the enemy’ which is pretty subversive. Then we can go crazy with the over-interpretations, as circumstances pit Kate and Braxton against each other. Lloyd also believes that checking teeth fillings is the way to see which one of them are the aliens, showing class divisions within the crew. Maybe this movie isn’t confident enough to lift itself from Carpenter’s shadow but the ideas are there, especially in its chilling (ha, pun!) ending, where Kate and Braxton fall under their enemies’ hands. 3/5.


Indefensible: The Butterfly Effect


ph. New Line

Ashton Kutcher was once ‘Ashton Christopher,’ model. If you’re rich or in your first month of getting your Rogers Digital cable box, you’re not feeding starving children in Africa and instead watching old footage of ‘Christopher’ in Fashion Television Channel. You’d be watching a Donna Karan fashion show or something in the 90’s wrap up, they interview Janice Dickinson, then ‘Christopher,’ who just walked the show. Best Week Ever alleges that he and Josh Duhamel are the inspiration for Derek and Hansel. Dan Savage also takes credit for discovering him and introducing him to America, and with the former’s stroke of luck, he decides that he’s the soothsayer of future hot famous men and picks Trent Ford, whom you’ve never heard of and will never hear about again. Maybe it’s the foresight, but there’s a glimmer in ‘Christopher’s’ eye and this weird mouth thing that seems like he’s wanting to burst out from this image of the preppy, well composed young man into becoming the turn of the 21st century goofball. A few years later, he decides to show America that he is a serious actor as well with his star vehicle The Butterfly Effect,  a critical failure, a relatively box office success, cult favourite. Cue Demi Moore, Twitter, “Two and a Half Men.”

I’ve only seen the first twenty minutes of it. Kutcher is almost absent and looks like ass, Eric Stoltz is terrible, the child counselor from Freddy Got Fingered is in it, shout outs to Dumb and Dumber and Se7en, I will never have children. Tonight at 7PM at the Toronto Underground Cinema, Criticize This’ Andrew Parker is showing The Butterfly effect as part of his Defending the Indefensible Series. Adam Nayman and Norman Wilner will be discussing the (de)merits of the film. And of course, the series continues because when you pay to watch these potentially terrible movies, you’re donating to charity. This month’s charity, appropriately enough, is the Red Door, sheltering women and children fleeing from domestic abuse.


…With Your Best Shot: “Eraserhead”


After the first five minutes of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Henry’s (John Nance) short hem and white socks gives Michael Jackson sartorial inspiration. But seriously, this ‘beginning’ reminds me of the ending of On The Waterfront, but instead of the neo-realist working men going back to work, Henry, alone, goes on vacation. The shadows seem penciled in within this industrial urban setting, but the darkness will be more solid and the vacation ruined as the film continues.

This post is a part of Nathaniel Rogers’ ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot‘ series.