CAMPING; part two

The Ritual 2017

Dir: David Bruckner 

Perhaps i’m a little biased, but Brits are definitely making the best horror movies at the minute.

Maybe not the best ever, (after extensive scientific research I’ve concluded that Koreans make the best ever), but we are getting considerably better. More importantly directors have stopped using stupid british stereotypes and taking the genre for one big fucking joke (and I promise this isnt a snide jab at Shaun of the Dead, even though i fucking hated it). 

Whilst Hollywood seems to keep churning out one jump scare/found footage/thoughtless remake disaster after another, Brit horror has started to finesse the underrated art of the slow burner.

Make no mistakes about this; if a film starts off slow you’re guaranteed an absolute treat. Blair Witch, for example, is an archetypal slow burner; horrifically dull to begin with, lures you into a false sense of total security, two hours later you’ve left the cinema hollow, afraid and bewildered. Other examples include The ExcoristRing, Eden Lake, The Loved Ones, even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-all horror CLASSICS, and yet nothing actually happens for a while in pretty much all of them. 

As a self proclaimed horror connoisseur, I believe the best scares happen when you’re not sure when to expect them. The only issue with this logic is that we live in the instant gratification era of social media where the average attention span is 00.003 seconds. Getting people in 2017 to even SIT through a film like the 1999 Blair Witch is hard enough, so directors have had to resort to cliched watered down scripts and pantomime tactics to keep viewers engaged.
Every few years on this side of the pond, an absolutely underrated banger of a movie will be released which shows just how refined we are becoming at creating genuine fear. Whilst we may be crap at a lot of things (like voting for leaders, making eye contact or being direct) our levels of horrifying just keep getting better and better.

Based on a lads holiday gone exceptionally wrong, the story is totally doomed from the very start. 

*Spoilers ahead*

A lead character from the “group” is murdered during a robbery within minutes of the films opening. His unexpected murder leads to an undercurrent of resentment, blame and guilt, which remains ever present throughout. In many ways he becomes the film’s protagonist as his absence from the group is continually highlighted creating an uncomfortable dynamic between the other characters, who each seem to have their opinions about the circumstances surrounding his death. 

A largely unwanted hiking trip later ensues to honour his memory; this hike follows a long trail from Norway to Sweden, which they ultimately hope will result in getting very drunk at a lodge on the other side.

Obviously someone gets injured and they have to take the “shortcut”.

Luckily the director isn’t a douche, and doesn’t mock your intelligence, we all know what happens when you take a shortcut through the woods, including the characters themselves, who’s banter and laddish jokes indicate that they do too. 

Making remarks about how they’re going to end up dead, is definitely not far from the truth. The group finds themselves being hunted in a bizarre ritualistic fashion, which initially seems like witchcraft, but emerges as something much more terrifying.

Combining elements from classic horror, there is an level of predictability which David Bruckner playfully draws on to create said false sense of security with the viewer. Everything you think may happen you have to later rethink; the twist in plot is very smart and very original.

Definitely up there with The Descent and Creep; also further fuels my desire to stay in hotels whilst in rural regions. 

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Camping 

The idea of a sequel pains me. 

With the exception of The Godfather and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, I really don’t have an overwhelming desire to watch a sequel. Ever.

Look at what happened to Paranormal Activities. What started as an incredible film (a film, 1 film, singular), turned into a barrage of annoying follow ups including a baffling offshoot called  The Marked Ones (#neverforget), which was literally the worst movie ever madeSo obviously when I saw this, THE Blair witch, being advertised it was a major eye roll moment. 

I’m a big fan of the original, and naturally I didn’t care much for the HORRENDOUS follow up. Luckily it turns out that this version has nothing to do with the sequel; in fact director Adam Wingard goes above and beyond to bypass Blair Witch 2 and any reference to it altogether. Just like Catwoman with Halle Berry, we’ll all pretend it didn’t happen. 

I like Adam Wingard, I trust him. He’s made some solid, terrifying and well written films in the last few years which he should be applauded for. The horror genre isn’t easy you guys, it’s really challenging to make a. something original and b. something scary, because we’ve all become so accustomed to the formulas. We KNOW when to expect shit, which is why horror directors now have to do the absolute most to keep us engaged without being predictable or resort to lots of unnecessary and gratuitous torture porn tactics.

I digress, what I’m essentially trying to say is that having Adam Wingard as the director of this remake, and in essence the captain steering the entire reboot of the franchise, means he was bound to inject some quality into it. He was responsible for Youre Next and V/H/S so I was rooting for him in a big way. 

Netflix it turns out, was not. In fact Netflix stopped working a grand total of TWENTY FIVE TIMES whilst we were trying to watch this film. What ended up happening were 3 days (yep) of “screenings” all in 20 minute segments because basically Netflix hates me and doesn’t want me to enjoy a well rounded cinematic experience. 

As you can probably imagine, a horror movie, drawn out over 3 days is going to somewhat dilute the whole “horror” aspect. Luckily I was engaged, and wanted to know how these poor bastards would end up dying, so I watched with the same enthusiasm and vigour on the third day as I did on the first; trying to catch a glimpse of the witch and taking mental notes of things I wouldn’t do whilst camping. 

Basically I would never go camping.

Here’s a thought. Why not just drive? I personally don’t fully understand the logistics of a wood because I live in London, but SURELY you can just drive, park up on a main road and basically avoid dying? 

Anyway 

The whole premise of the film is a that very uncharismatic guy called James wants to go into the woods to find his sister Heather (remember Heather, the girl from 1999 with the snot and the camera and the fear?) A new video emerges on YouTube which indicates that Heather may still be alive, and basically provides new evidence to lure people back out in the woods. James takes the bait and heads into the woods with 3 of his friends, plus the couple who originally found the tape and put it on YouTube. They thankfully go armed with literally every camera, gadget, GPS device, drone, smart phone, walkie talkie, hovercraft etc that they can get their hands on. 

This element actually makes this a much more “up to date” found footage movie, as it is sadly filmed in that style. Often directors can just forget that their movie is meant to be “found footage” and halfway through a mysterious “other” camera appears which kind of defeats the purpose and breaks any form of continuity (hence why I hate found footage movies). Luckily Adam Wingard et al get around this aspect with all the additional “stuff” that the group have brought with them, meaning you get loads of angles and perspectives which don’t seem far fetched. 

So let’s get to the nitty gritty. Was this film shit? No. It surprisingly really wasn’t.

The beginning was a solid suspenseful lead up seasoned with lots of subtle indications, references to the witch, and general vibes predicting the fuckeries about to be bestowed upon them. Then they get lost…..(drums), and an infection gets worse (more drums), and Peter goes missing (several drums)…and it descents into absolute hell.

The end could have been shorter. There’s a long winded final scene at the witches house which is just stressful and confusing and goes on for way too long. Like, really really long.

Aside from this. It’s a good horror movie and not a total embarrassment to the Blair Witch legacy. IN FACT I would go as far to say that if the 1999 classic were made for the first time in 2017, this would be the result.

Midnight Massacre

The Invitation

2016 

Dir: Karyn Kusama
*SPOILERS AHEAD*

We’ve all been there. That awkward scenario when an ex invites you to a dinner party; you don’t wanna go because that’s the house you used to live in, also because you think your former spouse is now in a cult, and you have a sneeking suspicion that this might be an initiation ceremony. 

But you go anyway.

And typically everyone gets drunk and shit goes down, and then there’s a massacre, plus a bit of bad mouthing and bringing up the past. Your friends just can’t handle their drinks anymore.

What Will should’ve done when his ex wife called him up and invited him round after a two year disappearence in Mexico, is cancel. Only Will (played by the very handsome Logan Marshal Green) let his curiousity get the better of him. So off he went dragging his jesus beard and his poor girlfriend Kira with him.

Everyone knows an Eden; usually wealthy, usually unfulfilled, usually in Planet Organic buying organic buckwheat and preparing to spend ten grand to visit a witchdoctor from the Tibeten footfills. Typically its those with more stuff, bigger houses, expensive built in kitchens, that seem to crave this need for something deeper and more authentic. “There is no darkness” states one the cult leaders who discreetly came to dinner to show everyone a recruitment video. 

To some degree, certainly in the developed world, which can often feel very soulless, there is a growing desire to feel “special”. I guess there’s an element of new age spirituality (sometimes unknowingly) in many of us; whether you’re actively attempting to reach higher conciousness, doing Kondalini or just drinking wheatgrass shots, this has trickled down in a variety of guises.

Whilst a lot of it can be constructive and turn rich douchebags into bohemian douchebags, there is a history of California dreamin that takes an ugly turn.

Watching the murders unfold in Eden’s home on the hollywood hills is an eery reference to the Manson murders which marked an abrupt and nasty end to the age of free love. There’s something about those hills, the land of dreams, that has a very dark undercurrent, which is made constantly present in the film.

Will knows from the second he arrives that hes not feeling the vibe. “Theres something not right here” he retorts, even before the screening of the video (which shows a woman dying btw-heavens gate anyone?), or the mention of that weird place in Mexico where Eden and David went (Spahn Ranch anyone?) So his spidey senses were very much in tune that night.

Of course the others had their suspicions, but everyone was being super apt at ignoring the elephant in the room. Will just winds up looking like the neurotic crazy guy with trust issues. There are points where you question why he doesn’t just take his girlfriend and leave, but then i guess that would make a shit ending, because if people did sensible shit, horror movies wouldnt exist. 

The pace is slow, so if you have issues with dialogue or sitting still, or metaphors, this might not be the film for you. There’s an underlying theme of loss which is very touching and sensitively executed, despite the massacre at the end, which was impressive. 

I like this movie

I like Logan

I like Edens dress

The artist formerly known as Prairie

The OA

Creators: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling

 

Like…where do I even?

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You wonder how high they must have been to actually think of this. You actually wonder.I tried so hard to explain this to someone earlier, and I kept sounding like I was making shit up. Literally as though I was pulling random story lines out of thin air and adding them onto a more elaborate story to make it seem all Christopher Nolany and mind-fucky. I wasn’t though. I was genuinely doing my up most to stick to a simple description, which turned into a lengthy, convoluted, and agonizing run down  of one of the weirdest shows in the history of netflix.

And I still can’t decide if I liked it or not. Eight bizarre hours later.

So a. spoiler alert, and b. I’m not here to knock this show. I appreciate that the OA has now built an army of loyal fans who will hex my first born child if i say anything bad, so that’s not exclusively my aim. I just want to talk about it, you know? because I need to. I need to vocalise some of this shit before attempting to watch anything else on Netflix, because why should I suffer alone?

So the ‘premise’, in the simplest way possible: The show starts with a woman who jumps off a bridge, which we later find out had been missing for the best part of seven years and used to be blind. Now she’s back and she can see, (and by blind I mean actually blind, i’m not talking about it in a biblical context or anything).

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Are we happy with this so far?

So this lady is called Prairie, but she keeps calling herself The OA, which is weird and kinda hilarious. Like… who the hell calls themselves ‘the’ anything? Aside from ‘the exorcist’ or ‘the artist formerly known as Prince’ who ended up abbreviating it anyway because he realised it made him sound like a massive douche.

The OAs parents (i feel dumb just saying it) are a whole heap of ‘wtf’ about everything, partly due to the name change, partly due to the seven year absence (which she refuses to explain), and partly due to the fact that she isn’t blind anymore and doesn’t wanna discuss it.

The OA befriends a group of local teenagers via a weird video she posts on youtube (please stay with me), so they all start meeting at an abandoned house every night to hear her tell her story about what the fuck happened to her. She seems really cool to tell them the story, but literally noone else. Not even the FBI, who you would assume would be the first port of call.

Her story goes something like this (again, stay with me)…She was born to a wealthy Russian Oligarch in the 80s and had a near death experience on her way to school. She came back from the dead without her sight, but a whole bunch of odd stuff happened to her after the near death experience; lucid dreams, premonitions and an amazing ability to play the violin. This is all totally fine so far, so I’m all like yea ok…I can run with this. But then..

Then she moves to America, lives with her aunt in a brothel after her father dies, gets found by a nice couple who visit said brothel in the search of illegal kids, and goes to live with them.

The rest then involves a psycho scientist, who kidnaps her and locks her in a basement (a la Josef Fritzl), a bunch of near death experience survivors used as test subjects, interpretive dance, and an Arabic gatekeeper of the universe called ‘khtum’.

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Oh yea, and they’re all using mystical tai chi to try and move across dimensions and escape this fucked up dungeon they’ve been in for seven years.

That’s a whole lot of tai chi.

If The OA, was about maybe 1 thing…or even 5 things, then it would be absolutely perfect. No-one on earth is expecting a sci-fi to be believable or realistic, so that’s not my beef with this in any way. My beef is that there is literally SO much going on, all at once, in a short space of time, that you’re just like..’I don’t believe you bruh.’

 

For example, I really don’t get why these kids are so invested…SUPER INVESTED, in the OA. Call me a pessimistic prick, but your story requires some type of cut out or you tube link to make me buy it. All they have is imagination and dim lighting. Its not enough hun.

Then you have all these separate side stories involving the kids. The one with the anger issues who’s face is always red, the overachieving Mexican kid who’s mum is a drunk hot mess. Then there’s the emo skater one whose entire family is dead apart from his sister who literally smokes weed all day. Too much going on.

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Then you have the OA herself who is single handedly the most irritating character to ever grace my laptop screen. Why does she speak in hushed tones? Why are her roots so immaculate? Why does she look like the ZARA 2003 autumn/winter model? Where did she buy her foil jacket? Then it turns out she might have been lying the ENTIRE TIME (????!!!!!!!) erm……ok, that was a waste of everyone’s time. Luckily the poorest ending known to man, clarifies that maybe she isn’t lying, so leaves us with a set of pointless questions, to add to the plethora of questions we had already armed ourselves with. Fab.

Is it a sci-fi? is is a drama? Is it a teen thriller? Is it a pisstake? who knows. Its like Donnie Darko meets The Breakfast Club but not even remotely in a cool way. The general pace reminds me of one of those Scandinavian crime shows like The Killing, mad amounts of grey scale tones and bad weather. But then you have the flashbacks, which are super high saturation and vivid, and then randomly Riz Ahmed pops up as the FBI guidance councilor and that made me happy.

Sadly however, the ending is such trash it actually manages to ruin everything. Watch it for the interpretive dance and general confusion.

Don’t watch it if you think its gonna be better than Stranger Things