The Monster (2016)

The Monster aka The Metaphor.

A mother (Zoe Kazan) and daughter (Ella Ballentine) must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.

Similar to his earlier frightening flick, The Strangers, Bryan Bertino is back with his third feature film, The Monster, focusing again on a smaller story with two sole characters and one location. Lean, mean and executed with style, The Monster hits you right in the feels with this sad tale of a mother and daughter in the centre of a creature feature.

The story is simple, but for those expecting a traditional monster movie will be displeased, because despite the title of the film, the monster here is not necessarily what you expect. A good majority of the film is spent developing its two leading ladies. Bertino lets his scenes breath and build a good deal of suspense before leading to tumultuous ending.

The true brilliance of The Monster is the emotional performances from Kazan and Ballentine. They are both unforgiving and cruel towards each other. The toxic relationship between the two is so severe it’s gut wrenching to watch at times. The film is peppered with flashbacks that are downright heartbreaking, a specific scene stands out involving the two screaming at each other outside their house in their quiet neighbourhood. Kazan violently and repeatedly screaming at her young daughter “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! FUCK YOU!” is a desperately sad moment but sharp as hell.

There perhaps is an overuse of flashback scenes, as it’s quickly realised this isn’t the normal mother-daughter relationship. The aggressive violent memories are mirrored with fleeting tender present moments between the two, making it all the more dismal.

The Monster is a well scripted, superbly acted heartfelt compelling monster movie. It is glossy and beautifully shot, its saturated blacks and murky colours draw you into a very intimate horror movie. Let not forget this is a monster movie, and although some may feel cheated from the narrative, if the drama doesn’t get you the practical effects and visceral action will have your heart pounding.

8.5 / 10

“Lets go back to the car”

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I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (2016)

Wordy title? Check. Slow story? Check. Broody literary atmosphere? Check. Check. Check!

A neurotic young nurse Lily (Ruth Wilson), takes care of an elderly horror novelist Iris Bloom who lives in an eerily haunted house.

Oz Perkins, son of horror icon Anthony Perkins, comes through with his very atmospheric sophomore film, I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House. A beautifully made elegant thriller which thrives on moody texture in its retro setting. The Pretty Thing has an air of old romanticism to its story, undoubtedly due to it alluring poetic nature that evokes a dreamlike manner.

A distinct literary voice runs throughout, setting a mouldy beyond the grave like tone which is matched with a unique style of graceful cinematography. The eerily framed scenes prolong extreme unease causing this gothic chiller to feel like a poetic nightmare.

The film may be too unusual for casual film goers and horror buffs seeking traditional scares may very quickly run out of patience as the film is an exceptionally slow burner. Unlike any other ghost story though, this has a unique rhythm and if you let yourself get carried away you are transported into a haunting ghost story that is ultimately rewarding.

Ruth Wilson (Lily) is a dream here, her performance resembles a 1950’s neurotic housewife, babbling to herself at moments of tension. The Pretty Thing is spectacularly moody, this ghost story within a ghost story may not be pleasing to everyone but its final primal scream alone is worthy of an audience.

6.5 / 10

“The pretty thing you are looking at is me”

Train To Busan (2016)

Think of Snowpiercer… but with zombies.

When a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, a couple of passengers struggle to survive on train from Seoul to Busan.

Sang-ho Yeon hits you right in the feels with this thrillingly unique zombie flick. Normally, I am not a supporter of zombie films, what I usually deem as an exhausted sub genre, I will gladly eat my words here as Train To Busan is totally reinvigorating and surprisingly super emotional. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Korean horror is fast becoming a favourite of mine, there is a fresh vibrancy seen amongst their genre films that isn’t seen or felt elsewhere.

Prepare for Train To Busan to reach into your ribcage and rip your heart out. With a story amassed with colourful characters it’s only too soon we grow to learn and love each one – the high school baseball team, the homeless gentleman, a young pregnant couple, two old gossiping ladies and even an uptight businessman. The characters are well developed and storytelling twists your idea of you will go and who will stay and how. By the end of the film I was a blubbering mess, even if it tended to be a tad melodramatic.

The action of the film is admirably stylish. With skilful choreographed action these zombies are ruthless and quick and swam together at a ferocious pace. Reminiscent of World War Z’s rushing zombie hordes, yet here they almost resemble J Horror creatures in their insect like movement, contorting in an unnatural way during their ravenous pursuit as they force their way through walls and doors with sheer weight in numbers.

Train To Busan’s fast pace, keeps the story increasingly heightened and the tension seemingly grows from hopeless to impossible. A particular stand out sequence involves a motley trio who must make their way through the hordes of three different carriages using only minimal weapons and the cover of dark provided by tunnels – which is where we are given a unique twist for the zombies.

Train To Busan is lean and gritty and pulls on the heartstrings. It’s a breath of fresh air for a genre that is at time suffocating.

8.5 / 10

“Everyone is dead”

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Can all past and present horror film directors PLEASE TAKE NOTE… Little girls crawling on all fours along ceilings or walls is NOT scary. I repeat, it is not scary!

It’s 1965 and a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their séance scam business, but unwittingly invite evil into their home.

Ouija Boards are something that I’ve always loved to believe are really real! The suggestion that a spirit is taking control of a planchette beneath your fingertips is eerily captivating. My expectations for this movie were never high, but I decided to clear my mind of negative feelings, especially after hearing such positive reviews. Ultimately, I was right though, this movie was crap. Origin of Evil presents absolutely nothing new, it is as bland as butter and full of countless scares we’ve seen before. I don’t understand these positive reviews?! 82% on Rotten Tomatoes – What the hell is that?! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

It’s another unfortunate step into mainstream horror, for a director who I thought had more integrity then to play the studio game. Mike Flanagan follows up ‘Before I Wake’, with another Hollywood horror, Ouija: Origin of Evil. The official sequel prequel that nobody asked for.

Yes, Origin of Evil is better then then original, but only due to a stylish 1960s nostalgia change. The characters are lazy and uninspired, and the performances feel stilted. As for the haunted house, there is absolutely no sense of creepy atmosphere, nor is there any urgency felt amongst the family once they know poor Doris is possessed, which almost happens instantly.

Take the Ouija Board away and this movie would have remained the same. The most frustrating thing about Ouija is that Flanagan clearly has the makings of being a great director (Oculus, Hush), but his direction here is unfocused and cliché. We don’t need to see any more pale eyed children whispering jibberish with their stupid stretch opened ghoulish mouths.

3.0 / 10

“Do you know what it feels like to be strangled to death?”

The Wailing (2016)

I think Korean horror is becoming a new favourite sub genre of mine…

A stranger arrives in a rural village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.

There is no other way to describe Hong-jin Na’s film then the word epic! I loved this movie so damn much. It has absolutely everything that you want – quirky humour, horror, suspense, mystery, good, evil, ghosts, shamans, rituals, even a little bit of zombie-ness and a dash of B movie flair. Do not let the length of this movie scare you away. The film justifies its imposing length of 156 minutes with atmospheric chills that relentlessly become darker and darker and a plot that is incredibly unpredictable.

This South Korean gem is a cleverly constructed mystery whilst being deliberately disjointed… the film is almost too crazy for its own good. Na manages to avoid all horror tropes of shock cuts and jump scares, nor are there scenes built around a single chill, rather it’s just one long continuous stream of rabid madness.

The film is gorgeous, there are some beautiful scenic location contrasted against the cluttered rural village. The first hour Na wins the audience over by creating a lovable dim witted police officer, Jong-Goo (Do Won Kwak), before turning him into a very dark and malicious character who will go to any lengths to help his daughter. This is where the films first half of humour quickly falls away and Na does well to introduce east Asian mythology, religion and rituals.

It’s absolutely mesmerizing from the look and feel, its atmospheric suspense encapsulates you and works in a horrendous fashion, slowly incapacitating you like a virus, so in its final minutes you already feel utterly damage and exhausted. Even the thunderous shamanistic rituals are hard to handle, and not just because they are appropriately loud, but visually it becomes chaotic and stressful.

From the moment it started to the final scene, I had no clue as to what was happening, who was good or who was evil? It is almost impossible to turn your brain off during the film, throughout the story you are left guessing, and in its final act, like the protagonist, you are plunged into an inferno of doubt and helplessness as you race to quickly try and piece the puzzled story together before its reveal.

The Wailing is visually graceful while horrifyingly fascinating, but best of all the story is just so good, and the acting is perfect. Prepare to have the wits scared from you and your heart broken in this unpredictable masterpiece. There is a looseness here that is missing from mainstream horror, a sense that absolutely anything can happen.

9.5 / 10

“Not everything that moves, breathes, talks is alive”

 

They Look Like People (2016)

They Look Like People…. Looked like a good movie… But you know what they say about looks… Looks can be deceiving.

Suspecting that people around him are turning into evil creatures, a troubled man questions whether to protect his only friend from an impending war, or from himself.

Perry Blackshear’s directorial debut feels like a glorified student film. Sorry. I hate to kill the buzz, but I am actually befuddled with how many positive reviews there are for this film. I tried to enjoy it, I really did. But for a horror movie, this is just far too short on boo moments. Don’t get me wrong, I love a slow burn movie, but only if it escalates to some sort of bang finale, this kind of just fizzled out.

This low budget indie is a sensitive chiller, focuses on a true bromance story. I can understand what Blackshear was trying to convey – that mental health is the true monster – but unfortunately it’s execution is just dull compared to what other films have done. I love films that are dialogue heavy and character driven, but the acting needs to be on the same level and unfortunately here it only felt subpar.

There are few genuine spooky moments though. The opening scene is one of the creepiest, almost immediately you experience heavy dread and paranoia. The sound design too was very inventive, my skin would crawl during those moments where Wyatt’s paranoia would take over, it was like he could almost hear a transformation of bones moving underneath a person’s skin, mixed in with a swarm of bugs and flies.

Perhaps I wasn’t in the right mind frame for this style of movie. Choosing to watch it late at night for my Halloween movie marathon weekend, expecting a super creepy Body Snatcher style movie, but instead getting a psychological drama about two fragile souls. Not exactly Halloween material… Although, the film does deliver a rather sweet message about friendship and connection and how ultimately trust can be a salve for a mental wound. The final minutes were rather touching in a sombre melancholy manner.

I can appreciate that Blackshear didn’t feel the need to explain exactly was going on, and much of the narrative was left to your own interpretation, but a little more action really would have benefitted those super slow scenes. For me, it just felt like something was missing.

5.0 / 10

“I don’t believe what you believe, but I know you believe it.”