Blair Witch (2016)

When will people learn… Don’t fuck with the originals.

After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his vanished sister Heather, James and a group of friend’s head to the Black Hills forest believed to be inhabited by the Blair Witch.

Where to start… Well I wish we got The Woods instead of Blair Witch. The greatest surprise from this film actually comes not from the film itself, rather the marketing stunt revealing the true identity of The Woods (after posters and trailers) to be Blair Witch. The official sequel to the 1999 cult classic, The Blair Witch Project. BOOM! MINDBLOWN!

However, it was unfortunate nosedive for Adam Wingard (Director) and Simon Barrett (Writer), which is hard to believe us the creative duo previously delivered You’re Next (2011) and The Guest (2014) which were two films so full of mystery, intrigue, atmosphere and imagination.

It’s hardly fair to compare this film to one of the greatest horrors of all time, but that’s the risk when attempting to renew a classic for a new generation. The Blair Witch Project had such a veneer of authenticity, from the look of the forest, to the flowing dialogue. There was a magical spookiness to the original, it didn’t look, sound or operate like you average movie. It was unscripted pandemonium!

The problem with the Blair Witch is that it can’t works out whether it wants to stay with the original or stray into new territory. It basically feels like a rehash of the original but much louder and lamer whilst featuring go pros and drones. The scares aren’t new, the characters are even self aware of this, as main girl Lisa groans after two tiring jump scare attempts (seconds apart) and says what we all are thinking “I wish people would stop doing that” ….

Ahh yeah me too hun

Not only is the story caught between old vs new, so too is the cinematography. Blair Witch breaks its own rule of being a found footage genre and contains far too much coverage, there are master shots, reverses, close ups, aerials, the list goes on. The images are far too crisp to evoke any amateur authenticity, it’s just looks like your typical studio project.

The soundtrack is the worst thing about the film. It literally booms throughout. It was so distracting at times I found it hard to follow the story, every jump scare would be accompanied by the loudest bangs, clashes and crashes. Was this happening in the world of our characters? Or was it just for us audience members? It was honestly one of the nosiest films I’ve seen, the soundtrack is pure cacophony.

The brilliance of The Blair Witch Project is that it devotes time to the build up and limits the gut wrenching finale to just mere minutes of horrific stress. Here we have the same run time, but with twice as many characters. The original trio may not have been the greatest actors, but they didn’t need to be… that was the point. Here we have a very professional looking cast who are all very clearly “acting”, none of them appear genuine and it all just felt a little too rehearsed.

What could have potentially been an innovative third act it was executed poorly and was a total missed opportunity. Without going into too much detail the final act delves into concepts of time loops, second dimensions, physically altering space and time but it goes unexplored and instead time is wasted revealing the mystery of the physical appearance of the witch.

The best thing this film did is elicit memories of a far superior film, I enjoyed the respectful homage to the original with signature imagery of stick men and piles of rocks. However, it just doesn’t hold the same kind of power as the original.

Like I said before maybe it’s unfair to hold a new Blair Witch to the standards of the old Blair Witch but this noisy reboot sacrifices the suggestive power of the original. Blair Witch is the perfect example of bigger not meaning better and don’t EVEN get me started on the Lane character.

4.0 / 10

“You really think your sister could be out here after all these years?”

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Don’t Breathe (2016)

Is 2016 the year of assaulting the five senses? It seems the latest trend is to dramatically rid a character of one of the five senses. First there was sound, now sight, what next…?

Thinking it will be an easy snatch, a trio of young Detroit thieves break into the house of a blind man after they find out a large sum of money is on the property, only to discover the man isn’t as helpless as he seems.

Don’t Breathe is a welcome addition to the home invasion genre, but with an added fresh twist. Following up from his 2013 debut, Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez easily verifies that he is a force to be recognised with in the genre making it hard to believe that this is only his second feature.

The murky teals and tangerines are stylishly shown as the camera effectively prowls between characters as The Blind Man stalks them from room to room. It expertly illustrates long tracking shots, similar to David Fincher’s Panic Room, Alvarez uses the camera to twist and turn through hallways and floorboards in one fluid movement. A particular standout is the basement scene, with The Blind Man forcing our bandit criminals to scramble around helplessly in the dark. The scene is beautifully crafted and handled elegantly, Alvarez avoids the overused cliché of black and green night vision and opts for a muted greyscale world.

The sound design for Don’t Breathe is strikingly impressive, in moments of tension the sound is completely dropped and in those minutes of silence, I found myself holding my breath along with the characters, listening to every crack and creak of the house. You would have been able to hear a pin drop in the cinema, it was frankly captivating. Much respect goes towards Alvarez for embracing the simplicity of silence, proving to all that the minimalistic approach is horrifically more effective.

It’s hard to fault Don’t Breathe, but it has its moments. The film does take an unnecessarily steer into gross out territory in the final act, what was once a tense edge of your seat thriller quickly turns into a squirming in your seat whilst awkwardly laughing thriller. As well, with limited dialogue the characters are difficult to connect with as we aren’t given a whole lot of backstory. However, even with a near silent performance Stephen Lang makes for a terrific villain as The Blind Man, he is an incredibly imposing figure of dominance.

Don’t Breathe is a breathless and visceral experience. It is satisfyingly tense and avoids falling into the trap of repeating the same scare over and over. The clever scares of Don’t Breathe come from the mere threat of violence, rather than actual violence. Alvarez has crafted an intense, relentless thriller with an original plot and effective scares.

8.5 / 10

“Just because he’s blind doesn’t mean he’s a saint, bro” 

The Darkness (2016)

With a name as bland as The Darkness, lets say my expectations weren’t exactly high.

A family returns from a Grand Canyon vacation, haunted by an ancient supernatural entity their son unknowingly awakened.

From the man who shocked us all with the villainous horror icon Mick Taylor (Wolf Creek), Greg McLean comes through with a very odd misstep for a director who usually has such flair and style. The Darkness is a very boring horror movie with no horror, filled with unlikeable characters and very few scares.

Oddly, this well casted horror is more interesting for its family drama than for its bloodless shocks. Kevin Bacon pulls through, but it isn’t enough to save the film.

There are zero great moments in this film and some really offensive stereotyping. The characters are all cardboard cut outs of domestic challenges – We have the philandering father (Kevin Bacon as Peter), the alcoholic mother (Radha Mitchell as Bronny – yes that is her name), the bulimic teenager (Lucy Fry) and the kid (David Mazouz) who has a connection with Native American spirits because of his autism…

PUUUUHHHLEEAASSSSE!

The Darkness is just not very interesting. It’s a horror film made up of long stretches of time in which nothing happens, and a revelation that comes from a YouTube clip… that has to be shown twice. This has got to be the lamest exposition ever. There is nothing new here and it isn’t helped by having the most generic name for a horror film possible.

1.0 / 10

“The god you may be familiar with… cannot help you now”

Before I Wake (2016)

Competing with films like Nightmare on Elm Street and The Babadook, the boogie man genre is a particular hard one to crack.

A young couple adopt an orphaned child whose dreams, and nightmares, manifest physically as he sleeps.

Beware the trappings of “Hollywood horror” … Hollywood at large is reluctant to embrace the thriving success of low budget horror, instead they roll the dice on more mediocre big budget productions. Its an unfortunate misstep in a very promising career for genre filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, who has previously delivered the goods with Oculus and Hush (two of my personal favourites).

Its unfortunate when the drama surrounding the film is more captivating then the film itself. Originally set for a release in May 2015, but pushed back to September 2015, and later pulled from the schedule entirely due to the company’s filling for bankruptcy, Flanagan was not having much luck with his latest film. Later even losing his original tended name for the film ‘Somnia’ (to the follow his creative flair of Latin titled films – Absentia and Oculus), to an uninteresting and unimaginative title.

Before I Wake starts with an interesting premise and while it has its moments it begins to dwindle midway. The jump scares are all a little too predictable, it’s got the shadowy background figures, demon children under the bed and the usual long bangs and clashes.

Before I Wake feels more like a story of a broken family drama than horror, each character is dealing with death, loss and grievance. In saying so, this film tries too hard to emotionally manipulate the viewers and the revelation of who and what the boogie man is just feels uneven and lacklustre.

What begins as a promising start, quickly falters towards a very rushed ending. Before I Wake’s fantasy elements are a refreshing feature into the bad dream genre, and Jacob Tremblay is absolutely adorable and a delight to watch, but not cute enough to rid the sour taste during the closing credits.

3.0 /10

“Sometimes if I do this…it keeps him away”