Don’t Hang Up (2017)

Are you telling me NONE of the people they prank called have Caller Id?

An evening of drunken prank calls becomes a nightmare for a pair of teenagers when a mysterious stranger turns their own games against them… with deadly consequences.

Duo directing team Damien Mace and Alexis Wajsbrot follow up from their short film ‘Red Balloon’ with their debut feature, a home invasion cyber thriller, ‘Don’t Hang Up’.

My expectations for this film were so low, judging it from its trailer it didn’t exactly seem to be breaking new territory, the basic premise being ‘shitty teenagers acting badly, get what’s coming’. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find this nowhere near as bad as what I imagined it to be. Sure, the story is very formulaic and every single character is clearly horrible. Like, am I meant to be caring about these assholes? They are mean, so not funny and worst of all use words like “amazeballs”… The single redeeming feature is the two leads are so god damn good looking.

Not all horror films have to have something important to say. They don’t all have to have some underlying social commentary message… sometimes you want just a good ol’ fashion slasher, and Don’t Hang Up delivers with its slick atmosphere whilst giving you vibes of previous classics; Scream, Saw, When A Strangers Calls.

For an awful script, it is directed rather well. With what the actors are given, the performances are a cut above the b grade nature of the script, making everything not as silly as it would appear on paper. To ensure enjoyment one must sacrifice any sense of realism or logic, because there is not for one second that I could buy that this group of teenagers could impersonate law officials in such violent practical jokes, tape it and upload it online and NOT get into any trouble. For Christ’s sakes, we are shown in a horrendous montage sequence that there is a fanbase of muppets loving their pranks… Please, I’m insulted.

Looking past the lack of originality and super predictable story line it surprisingly held my interest throughout. The film is full of the greatest horror cliches; the power is continuously turning on and off, it is a dark and stormy night and the scary voice on the phone is always so calm and monotonous. Best of all the running time is perfect, a swift 83 minutes, any longer and I think there would have been some issues. Don’t Hang Up is a perfect, taut, somewhat hysterical little midnight thriller.

6.0 / 10

“… and no matter what, don’t hang up”

Trash Fire (2016)

Who knew Vinnie Chase could actually act?

When Owen (Adrian Grenier) is forced to confront the past he’s been running from his whole adult life, he and his girlfriend, Isabel, become entangled in a horrifying web of lies, deceit and murder.

Richard Bates Jr returns with another smashing genre mashed strange and unsettling film, this time with Trash Fire. Filled with characters that are all so abrasive and unsympathetic, Trash Fire will only appeal to those who like their humour dry and dark. I read a review where someone quoted that “Only the most bitter nihilists will think Trash Fire is funny”… Awkward… I found it side-splitting.

Overall the cast is quite strong and it is well acted. Angela Trimbur (Isabel) and Fionnula Flanagan (Violet) are particular standouts, Adrian Grenier’s character almost takes a step back in the second half, but even he is great here, and those damn big puppy dog eyes of his make him the most loveable horrible guy ever.

The film has plenty of admirable traits, the biting one liners are crude, rude and create genuinely funny moments, the stylish cinematography breaks the fourth wall with splendid but bizarre straight to camera pieces.

Trash Fire is campy brilliance, filled with my kind of humour. The glorious over the top ending may not be to everyone’s liking, personally I had no problem with it, what I did have a problem with was by far the most obnoxious title card I’ve ever seen, it nearly blasted me out of my living room.

7.0 / 10

“Your mother was a whore. Your father was a moron, and your sister’s an abomination”

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)

But is it reaaaaaally the final chapter?

Picking up immediately after the events of Resident Evil: Retribution, Alice (Milla Jovovich) is the only survivor of what was meant to be humanity’s final stand against the undead. Now, she must return to where the nightmare begun – The Hive in Raccoon City, where the Umbrella Corporation is gathering its forces for a final strike against the only remaining survivors of the apocalypse.

Paul W.S Anderson is back for the “final” entry of the absolutely chaotic post apocalyptic zombie series with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. For 106 minutes it is messy, it is violent and it is pure idiotic mayhem. For what it is, it’s a total hoot.

To really enjoy this movie, one has to leave all inhibitions and embrace the ridiculousness. Anderson is very self aware of what this movie is, and he has done a great job of meshing horror, action and a touch of jest altogether.

The pacing is relentless, with hardly any down time between the splatter of intense sequences one after the other. The choreography of the hand to hand combat scenes are undoubtedly stylish and easily the best thing about the film. That said though, the editing style follows suit and is frantically cut together resulting in choppy scenes and missed opportunities to relish in Jovovich’s mesmerizing screen presence of being a total badass.

Admittedly, I don’t think I’ve seen entries 2 – 5 of the series, but the original I’ve seen countless times, so going back to Raccoon City instantly filled me with giddiness, as I just knew it was a given that the deadly laser grid was going to be back for more turmoil!

This film is far from perfect, it barely passes as an acceptable flick. The colour grading is far too dark, at times I had trouble making out who was who, the cuts are too fast and a totally unexplained time limit of exactly 48 hours is thrown into the mix, but I don’t care…  Milla Jovovich is still smoking hot and Ruby Rose is my everything right now. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is exhilarating for every second, and I couldn’t wipe a stupid grin off my face for the entire film.

6.0 / 10

“We’ve played a long game, you and I, but now it’s over”

Split (2017)

Let’s talk about that ending though…

Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, and must try and escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.

You don’t know happy I was to see veteran horror director, M Night Shyamalan back to his horror roots after an awkward stumble of blockbuster fails a few years back. Following up with his previous low budget creeper The Visit, the old school M Night returns to resounding form with thriller, Split.

I think I will always have a little soft spot for M Night (hello – he did give us The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs!), and I hate how the majority of his audience will immediately jump to the expectation that it will be another disappointment and think “Well, it’s no Sixth Sense” … Like no shit! That’s why The Sixth Sense is so magical! There will never be anything else like it, not now or ever.

I admire M Night for writing and directing his own work, I love his flavour of style and story even if the movies aren’t perfect. Split, indeed has its flaws, it’s a touch on the long side, the differing personalities are thin stereotypes and the heavy inclusion of Betty Buckley’s character dilutes the films tension and mystery, as she spoon feeds the audience far too much exposition. In saying all that, it was so refreshing to see the dissociative identity disorder storyline as the premise and not the twist.

I have to admit I had my doubts for James McAvoy, but he was surprisingly pleasing. McAvoy transitions so easily from one personality to the next, its an impressive feat of acting that a lesser actor seriously could have fumbled and made the whole premise just that little bit sillier. As expected, Anya Taylor-Joy blossomed and I am loving her becoming a regular scream queen, with this being her third horror film entry after The Witch and Morgan.

Yes, this is a movie that may split (sorry) audiences, as it touches on mental health and trauma and not in the most positive light, particularly the side story of Casey’s childhood, which was a little unnecessary. No matter, it is certainly thrilling to see M Night return to genre… and as we watch M Night’s stylish choices unfold we see Split adopt an almost gritty graphic novel inspired look, which fans of his older work will get an absolute kick out, especially in the final electrifying seconds!

7.0 / 10

 “He’s done awful things to people and he’ll do awful things to you”

Red Billabong (2016)

This is what I imagine a Home & Away Halloween special to look like…

In the Australian Outback, two brothers discover old secrets and family lies. As their friends start to go missing they fear they are being stalked by someone or something. But is it just a hoax?

Luke Sparke’s directorial debut, Red Billabong, is terrifying… Terrifying because Sparke’s has quoted he spent seven years fine tuning the script… Really? I personally think it could have been a passable film if the director cleaned up the script, chose practical effects instead of digital and made it much shorter. I mean it’s a joke that this creature feature runs for 113 minutes, at best it is an 85-minute flick.

The film is full of awkwardness and lacklustre direction, the majority of the time the actors look lost in their scenes. No doubt the cringey dialogue doesn’t help. Never have I heard in my life someone exclaim “Let’s get to the partying”.

The characters are deeply unlikeable and cliché. The females are vapid and struggle to think on their own, whilst the men are sexist and have zero redeeming features. The dog is great though.

The problem with Red Billabong is it tries to hard. If you don’t have the budget to do CGI well, don’t do it all, there is nothing wrong with choosing practical effects. Hell, I prefer it! The actual design of the monster is horrible and we see far too much of it towards the end, embarrassingly to much. Take note Mr Sparkes – less is more!

Unfortunately, the interesting indigenous folklore isn’t enough to ignore the unlikeable characters, amateur script writing and laughable CGI. The scariest moment for me was the post credit scene stating… “The Bunyip will return” … Like, can you not?

2.0 / 10

“You don’t know what’s out here. Lions and tigers and bears.” 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

The most fucked up game of Operation ever!

A father (Brian Cox) and son (Emile Hirsch), both coroners, are pulled into a complex mystery while attempting to identify the body of a young woman.

From the imaginative mind who delivered found footage gem Trollhunter, Andre Ovredal follows up by debuting his first English language feature, The Autopsy of Jane Doe. I’m not gonna lie, I was in no rush to see this film, I saw the word ‘autopsy’ and straight away red flags come up… I was expecting an excessive use of blood, guts and deplorable body horror used as a cheap scare tactic and instead I could not be more wrong. Without a doubt if I had watched this last year it would have appeared in my top five of 2016.

From the beginning Jane Doe oozes with creepiness, the goose bump raising kind of creepiness. The overall atmosphere is chilling and intense, provided by the rich stylized colour palette of dark and dense tones that authentically make everything look murky and dim. But, there is almost a sense of elegance and gracefulness to this masterful morgue mystery. The tension never breaks, the pacing is tight and smooth and enticingly uncomfortable.

It’s always refreshing to watch a horror movie with smart characters, the ones that realistically try to get the fuck outta there once things start to go bump in the night.

The dynamic between Hirsch and Cox is solid, there is a strong rapport and they are instantly believable as father and son. We watch them bicker and bond and act in such veracity, both these characters are filled with such soul. A lesser actor would have fumbled with the script, but both leading men offer such stellar performances. The lifeless Jane Doe, Olwen Catherine Kelly will even command your attention with her blank stare that questionably grows a touch more evil every time Ovredal cuts back to her.

The actual autopsy (cause yes, spoiler alert there is one) is depicted in such crazy detail and incredibly gruesome, but never does it feel gratuitous.

This isn’t a film to pass, its an absolutely chilling clever thriller, if the grisly snap of bones or tinkling of a bell doesn’t frighten you, the explicit but not exploitative body horror will surely make your stomach drop.

9.0 / 10

“Let get the fuck out of here”  

Always Shine (2016)

Always Shine… shines a little on the dim side here.

Best friends, Anna (Mackenzie Davis) and Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald), take a weekend trip to Big Sur, hopeful to re-establish a bond broken by years of competition and jealousy.

Sophia Takal’s sophomore directorial entry, Always Shine, is a powerful slow burner. For two thirds of the film it’s a fantastic tight little psychological thriller, playing out the all too obvious ticking time bomb of this friendship. What begins as an interesting idea, a story driven by obsession and jealousy, ultimately amounts to a lesser inspired generic plot device, but not before Takal can make her statement on women’s role in Hollywood.

Both Davis and FitzGerald are excellent here, but it is Mackenzie Davis who truly shines. Her performance is so fierce here, even a simple hip flexing stretch oozes with intimidation and aggressiveness. Without a doubt the film holds one of the greatest introductions too, Takal plays with the audience’s perspective with a fantastic opening reversal.

The film is peppered with fine art house flourishes, the stylish editing cuts and playful yet tense dialogue really creates a highly stylized atmosphere and although the film isn’t exactly horror per se, these directorial choices create a tense ambience of ultimately a foreboding climax. But, it is here where the narrative begins to lose its creative psychological edge, without speaking too much about the third act, it’s a nasty bit of fun to really see how damaged Anna is, but the switcheroo just feels oddly placed.

Always Shine starts with promise but ultimately the two leading ladies can’t save the film alone with their terrific performances. Unfortunately for me the film is let down, by one very frustrating head scratching line of dialogue, leaving the ending far too ambiguous and open for possible explanations.

6.5 / 10

“Do you ever feel like a whore?” 

Maddison’s “Top 10 of 2016”

Let’s be real. The horror genre was at its finest for 2016!!

Whether it was big studio releases or smaller indies, the horror genre thrived! No longer is horror being subjected as a genre that’s only full of torture porn flicks, but people are beginning to realise the true brilliance of what can be frighteningly fresh. Not only were we exposed to some incredible stories, twists and most importantly spicy death scenes! The horror genre really seemed to be hiding some of the best performances overall – ahem – please give John Goodman an Oscar for 10 Cloverfield Lane.

It was super tricky to make a top ten, and no doubt there were a few flicks I didn’t get the chance to see, that could have a got a good spot on the list.

Below are my top 10 for 2016 –

 

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  1. Observance
    I couldn’t do a top ten without including an Aussie film. They are always near and dear to my heart and Observance was wickedly stylish cross breed between horror and psychological thriller. {Full review}

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  1. Train To Busan

This is the year I discovered Korean horror! {Full review}

Blake Lively

  1. The Shallows
    If you’ve seen my Instagram, you know I have a love of sharks. They are nothing but big fish. Although Shark flicks are a guilty pleasure of mine, I can’t help but feel bad for the fear mongering it causes amongst the audience. {Full Review}

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  1. The Monster

Zoe Kazan boasts one of the most powerful performances of the year in this creeper. Prepared to be hit right in the feels. {Full Review}

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

  1. 10 Cloverfield Lane
    Like I said earlier… someone hand Goodman an Oscar for this. {Full Review}

Jane Levy

  1. Don’t Breathe

Exceptionally stylish, from its cinematography to sound design. This is satisfyingly tense with clever scares. {Full Review}

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  1. Lights Out

Screw you internet. This movie was good. {Full Review}

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  1. The Witch

Visually delicious with startling imagery. The Witch was a kind of horror you felt rather then saw. {Full Review}

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  1. The Wailing 

Bat shit insanity! Cleverly constructed whilst being deliberately disjointed, The Wailing was almost too crazy for its own good. {Full Review}

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  1. Hush

At last, my number one pick for the year! Hush! I don’t know if its just because I have a massive crush on John Gallager Jr, or I think Mike Flanagan is destined for greatness, as soon as he steps away from the studios! Hush was an inspiring cat and mouse thriller, with smart characters and a tight pace. Hush is the reason the horror genre can be so respected! {Full Review}

 

Honourable Mentions

The Conjuring 2 & Nina Forever 

The Conjuring 2 probably deserves to be in the top five, but we all know James Wan is amazing. Wan knows all the tricks and treats of scaring an audience and no doubt delivers the best of the best when it comes to horror. Nina Forever was a hidden gem, it was such a bizarre blood soaked romance. Ghastly, yet gorgeous!

 

So there it is, my top 10! It was such a great year for genre films, and my list of horrors to keep an eye out for in 2017 is already growing!

 

What’s been your favourite??

Under The Shadow (2016)

A middle eastern Babadook.

As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of post revolution, war torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.

Babak Anvari delivers a though provoking directorial debut, Under The Shadow, whilst drowning in social subtext. Blending terrifying real life horror of the Iran – Iraq war with the haunted house trope, it’s the horrifying reality which really gives Under The Shadow its sharp edge.

Like all of the best horror films, Under The Shadows is compelling before any monsters show up. True, it may be a familiar story just relocated, by it’s the frightening authentic backdrop that really sets in the grim atmosphere.

Under The Shadow is indeed a slow burn psychological chiller, only clocking in at 84 minutes, although it feels much longer. Fans for those who enjoy and are willing to read between the lines will get a kick out of this movie. As what we are really seeing is an interesting look into the mental psyche of a woman on the edge of a breakdown, in the middle of a war. Not only are there cracks in her ceiling, but cracks in her mind and family.

There are quite a few fleeting genuinely creepy moments, a particular nerve pricking scene involves Shideh (Narges Rashidi) fleeing her home in terror with her daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), to only be accosted in the street and shamed by police for not covering herself appropriately in public, rather then any help given, she is scolded and accused that the only thing she should fear is humiliation from her actions.

Rashidi and Manshadi share a remarkably believable connection as mother and daughter, almost too real, which really sells the final moments of the film.

Under The Shadow serves as an impassioned allegory for the female oppression. Once the move from realism to horror kicks in you begin to question the reality of both characters. With creative cinematography and visual effects spookily used, Under The Shadow casts a question over what is real and what isn’t.

7.5 / 10

“They travel on the wind”

Pet (2016)

Not your usual damsel in distress story.  

An infatuated man (Dominic Monaghan) bumps into an old crush (Ksenia Solo) and subsequently becomes obsessed with her, leading him to hold her captive underneath the animal shelter where he works. But what will the victim have in store for her captor?

Carles Torrens sophomore feature film, Pet, is a twisted little love story that rehashes a familiar scenario but with a twist. It’s difficult to discuss much more without giving away the plot details. It can be said though that the inclusion of these peculiar characters elevates the story from the expected torture porn trappings to something with a little more substance and mystery.

The film is a little clunky in its development. At first it seemed that Seth (Monaghan) is a perfectly well rounded individual, maybe a little sad, but a good guy. There is quite a touching moment when he wants to save a soon to be euthanized German Shepard. So, after his old flame doesn’t respond to his affections, naturally he stalks and abducts her, which all just felt very jarring. Which is only the beginning of incoherency for the film.

Pet doesn’t try to fool you into thinking it is any smarter than it truly is though. It’s a smart re-arrangement of a popular trope without any air of pretentiousness to the script. It indeed has its flaws, but that doesn’t stop it from being entertaining. The twists will either make it or break it for you, if you choose to roll with the punches you may find Pet to be the perfect midnight movie.

6.0 / 10

“Do you know what happens to a Great White Shark when you put him inside an aquarium? It bashes its brains against the glass… every time”