"There’s no CGI in the movie. Everything you will see is real, which was really demanding. There’s a reason people use CGI it’s cheaper and faster, I hate that. We researched a lot of magic tricks and illusion tricks. [Like] how you would make someone’s arm disappear."
— Fede Alvarez, Director Of “The Evil Dead” Remake, Giving Me Hope It Might Be Worthwhile (via FilmDrunk)
More than ever it seems harder to walk into a movie and truly be surprised. Trailers, reviews and advance buzz make it almost impossible to watch a film without bringing in a set of expectations that can sometimes be hard to live up to. It’s hard to say if I would have felt differently about “Drive” (still my favorite film of 2011) had I not avoided all the spoiler-filled trailers which gave away many of the most surprising moments which made the initial viewing so thrilling. I tried to recreate that experience for as many people as I could telling friends, “Avoid all the trailers, just see the movie.” I find myself in a similar position with “Kill List,” a curious British film I saw a few weeks ago at a BAM screening.
The film had first come onto my radar after its SXSW debut where I read a few snippets that made it a must-see for me. The only bits I retained were “hit man drama,” “disturbing” and that it literally made one of the other writers at The Playlist feel sick afterwards. Like “Drive,” I decided to avoid the trailer until after I’d seen the film but unlike that film, the “Kill List” trailer is completely safe and even encouraged to view before seeing the film. It completely conveys the off-kilter, menacing tone without really giving anything away. The basic premise, without spoiling anything (promise), centers on a former soldier Jay (Neil Maskell) and his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) also a former soldier who are strapped for cash raising their young son.
Possibly because of his experience in the military (or possibly because he might be a bit sociopathic) Jay now takes the occasional job as a contract killer with his buddy Gal (Michael Smiley). The couple’s financial situation motivates him to take another job even after their employer seems a bit off. The job has multiple targets, (hence “kill list”) and begins smoothly but become increasingly hairy as they enter further into this world. From there the story goes places you would never dream of from the outset. It’s violent without being gratuitous, (there are a few brutal moments but they’re well placed), the score is ominous and extremely creepy and the performances are all naturalistic and pitch perfect.
Writer/director Ben Wheatley has made such a confidently well crafted chiller that it’s hard to even describe the genre without giving something away. If you’re a fan of thrillers or horror movies it’s definitely one of the most distinctive and indelible genre efforts I’ve seen in some time. Watch the trailer. Mark your calendars. Prepare yourself.
The “Paranormal Activity” franchise has become a genuine phenomenon in the last few years. The first one was a breakout hit that no one involved with the film could have predicted. But by the time most people saw it (myself included) you couldn’t help but be a little let down. Not “the scariest movie of all time” by a long shot, the film had however successfully updated the “Blair Witch Project” found footage aesthetic for a new decade of kids who wanted to see things jump out at them in the dark. I liked the original film for what it was but wasn’t interested in returning to the well with either sequel which reeked of cash grabs, that is until some friends of mine wanted to go.
I decided to catch up on the previous installment before seeing the latest one. I joked that I might be lost watching the third film having not seen the second one but I was shocked to find out that it was actually true. The most impressive thing about the two sequels is the way they’ve attempted to reverse engineer an entire mythology into these films while keeping the original characters at the core. The first film was obviously never intended to be a continuing story or thought about any more deeply than the creepiness hinted at onscreen and it would have been easy to have each film be a standalone tale of evil spirits and new families leaving few survivors, so credit the writers of the sequels for ingeniously inventing a throughline for the series.
Even credit the trailers for hiding that the second one was indeed, a prequel focusing on Katie’s sister with creepy appearances by the original cast as the timelines overlapped. The third one explores the two sisters as they were young children exploring some troubling events that occured in their childhood as hinted at in the second. I appreciated the films suburban 1988 setting, some of the period details are great, especially since I can remember many of them from growing up. Unfortunately, as a gimmick, once you’ve seen it, it’s increasingly difficult to stay effective as it’s essentially the same format over and over.
The first film builds dread hanging on each corner for the frame each time the couple goes to sleep but the sequels think more is more as each room of the house has security cam footage and it ends up diluting the scares as you wait for the camera that’ll actually show the action. ‘PA2’ is a watered down version of the original, though it does dispense a few interesting bits of mythology. ‘PA3’ is best in the third act where it moves away from the spirits moving household objects and into some unexplored territory but it comes too little too late. The “Paranormal Activity” films are more like haunted houses than films, you may want to visit once a year but once you’ve gone through it once you’ve probably gotten most of your scares out.
Well it’s not quite the poster but I did order these cool Tyler Stout handbills for one of My Favorite Horror Movies, John Carpenter’s The Thing. They’re each about the size of a postcard and I have no idea what I’m going to do with them yet. He’s also selling handbills for The Big Lebowski so get them now and they will really tie the room together. (Sorry.)
The final Horror film in my 31 day, 27 film marathon, The Loved Ones was the Closing Night film for FilmLinc’s Scary Movies series. It also lived up to the insane looking trailer, being everything I hoped it would be. The basic setup is Lola asks Brent to the school dance, he politely declines, she kidnaps and tortures him. Sounds simple enough but it doesn’t begin to describe what’s great about the film. The film is violent but it’s not gratuitous, and goes to some extremely fucked up places. I thought about how thin the line is between a horror movie that’s fun and one that’s just sick and as a horror fan, it’s hard to say where that line is except that you know when it’s been crossed.
The Loved Ones smartly stays on the right side of the line, showing you horrible things but not rubbing your nose in them. The girl who plays Lola gives a breakout performance, completely believably gleefully insane. The film is a true original with several twists that elevate the movie beyond standard psycho fare and a few subplots that resolve in surprising ways. When you figure out what the title is referring to, you can’t help but smile. I only wish I hadn’t seen the trailer, which definitely reveals too much, but it was still my favorite Horror discovery this year. Definitely recommended for the adventurous, just avoid the trailers and await a US release date.
One of My Favorite Horror Films of All Time, I was thrilled to see Dead of Night playing as part of FilmLinc’s Scary Movies series. I first saw this 1945 British horror anthology about 5 years ago and have been recommending it to people ever since. A group of people gathered together recount their brushes with the supernatural after one man believes he has dreamed this exact circumstance before. It’s a great setup for the film to unspool several spooky stories, some funnier, some creepier, almost all of them great.
Anthologies are usually a mixed bag as some stories are bound to be more successful than others, but Dead of Night’s tales are pretty much all winners. (The golfing segment is the weakest link but also the most humorous of the bunch.) The best story features a ventriloquist and his dummy (or is it the other way around?), but the highlight of the film is the climax, which weaves the stories together in an inventive and ingenious way. Definitely worth adding to your Queue for next Halloween, you’ll be surprised at how creepy the film is for being 65 years old.
Violens - Violent Sensation Descends. I know I said I don’t watch too many music videos anymore but I made another exception for this retro-spooky clip. I first heard this song almost 3 years when I saw Violens play a loft party and tracked down their single after I saw them open for Handsome Furs a few months later. They’ve spent the past few years opening for everyone from MGMT to Grizzly Bear and their debut full-length will finally be released Nov. 9.
"The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying."