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.

The darkest shade of neon 

The Neon Demon (2016)

Dir: Nicholas Refn 

If you were to see this on Netflix, without knowing anything about it, and toyed with the idea of watching it because the visual was cool, and the bloke who did Drive directed it,  then don’t watch it. 

Really, don’t.

I’m not even really sure if Netflix is the right platform for Nicholas Refn. Without sounding like a prentious douchewipe, I see this as more a “Amazon Prime” scenario; the type of film a Kimmy Schmidt viewer may not immediately go to as their first port of call, (unless said Kimmy Schmidt viewer likes cannibalism and necrophila). It doesn’t feel particularly organic, what section would you even put The Neon Demon in? Certainly not “party on!” (Ironically currently featuring Bojack Horseman). 

I digress…don’t get me wrong guys, Nat (my flatmate and very close friend) watched it with me, having no prior context whatsoever, and Nat enjoyed it. I was, however, kind enough to point out that there would be lesbian morgue sex about halfway through, and also that pace was not exactly high on Refn’s priority list. Clearly we needed to stablish some fundamentals prior to our sunday night junk food and horror sesh.

In fact we, and possibly a few other humans sporadically dotted around the globe, enjoyed this movie. The dude from the guardian film section seemed to like it (dude from Rolling Stone magazine….didn’t like it so much). Proof, at the risk of stating the mind-blowingly obvious, that not everything is for everyone.

End of review

Just kidding.

Let me start by explaining that this movie isn’t Drive. A lot of people were passionately pissed off that he didnt make another ‘masterpiece’ like Drive (Drive 2?) and wrote a lot of unsavoury shit about Refn. He famously got booed at Cannes, (often a great PR move), with some even walking out in outrage and shock (think Lars Von Trier circa six years ago). Folks were not happy; apparently appalled and shocked, calling this movie depraved and sickening. So many people got really touchy about the some of the themes, (a far cry from cars, masculinity or crime), that it’s really become a “thing” in relation to the film. So let’s just clarify once and for all that a.Nicholas Refn is allowed to make other types of films that don’t include or involve Ryan Gosling and b. Can we all just get the fuck over Drive. Yes it was incredible, but he’s exploring something else, it’s cool if you don’t like it, let’s move on.

This particular film explores dark topics, in a less than subtle fashion. Excess and materialism marry together beautifully mmm against the isolation backdrop of a dark LA. Everything is visually beautiful, but also feels incredibly detached and in some cases clinical. This notion is further enhanced by the flat conversations between the characters, (its not bad acting, despite Keanu Reeves), the lack of any real emotion in any of the other characters (aside from anger, which is what shapes the end), and the very obvious disposable nature of those within this “world”. If the conversations seem like non starters, its kind of the aim; everyone’s dead on the inside and hates each other.  

The premise is a beautiful child (that’s what I’m calling her, because she’s 16), enters the world of modelling and discovers pretty quickly that you can’t trust anyone. Problem is, this young beautiful ethereal girl (played by the very cute Elle Fanning), becomes increasingly more narcissistic and selfish the more she is sucked into “the neon demon” (a metaphor for the bright shiny lights of the hollywood machine). Her mannerisms subtly change, she grows increasingly more self aware…and kind of turns into a dick. Another casualty of LA.
On the sidelines are groups of grown ups out to get her in various ways. Each with their own set of vile intentions; be it lust, jealousy or power, that culminate in an actual blood bath…

Literally.

So i’m sure you’ree all dying to know about the necrophilia scene (no pun intended)…well, i never thought i would say this, but there is actually a worse scene in this film. That scene ladies and gents, involves Keanu Reeves in a shellsuit forcing a knife down Jessie’s throat. This alone was so stomache churning and dark that it made me question whether i wanted to see what was on its way, which I’m sure was the whole point. This scene also marks a change of pace, because up until this point it’s all been pretty visuals and awkward conversations.

I won’t pretend that this film isn’t self aware, or a little slow. It’s both. If you want to watch a “horror” movie with haunted houses and chainsaws, this might not be your bag. Yes he does borrow a lot; everything from Italian horror, to Kubrick to Lynch. Yes it’s very stylised and very visual. Is it shit? No. It isn’t.

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

 

 

A timeline of fear

Hush (2016)
Dir: Mike Flanagan

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“I don’t feel comfortable….”

Four words that very rarely escape from my lips, which i found myself repeating over and over again in the first twenty minutes.

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I knew absolutely nothing about Hush other than the fact that I could A) Watch it on Netflix and b) it comes  up constantly as a recommendation. Then one magical Saturday three separate friends all mentioned it at various times during the day, each insisting it was my kinda movie. I had no choice really, the universe had spoken.

Twenty minutes in and I’m seriously not feeling comfortable or safe in my own home. My flatmate accidently slammed the bathroom door shut and I almost leapt out of my skin. I then had to pause this delight of a movie to do a casual “spot check” of the premise… you know, just a run of the mill surveillance of the property. I go and investigate the back door, kitchen, the downstairs bathroom, shed. Anywhere involving walls.

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And although I’m paranoid as fuck about wandering up and down the house alone, I’m equally trying really hard to avoid going back into the living room to unpause the movie. “Some stones are better left unturned, am I right?” I say out loud to myself. Then I realise I actually write horror reviews and proceed to sit the fuck back down.

Unpause

30 mins in…..WOW. WHAT THE FUCK YO?! Maybe I’m just really not about this life. Maybe I should start watching Rom Coms and writing about them instead. Maybe a movie starring Jlo and some handsome Caucasian dude is less likely to fuck up my sleeping patterns. I just wanna leave the room at this stage, fuck it, judge me. I wanna leave the room and go somewhere loud, with alcohol and unicorns.

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I frantically start texting my flatmate literally begging her to come downstairs and sit through the next 70 mins with me “i have icecream *smiley emoji*”. I don’t even recognise who I am anymore. I don’t eat dairy or use emojis. I’m a mess and I need to get a fucking grip.

1 hour in. THIS GUY IS SUCH A PIECE OF SHIT…..WTF. WTF. WTF. Why is he doing this?  Does he know her? is he some disgruntled ex?No he can’t be because Craig is the ex, and Craig tried to facetime her and she rejected his call, and I’m pretty sure Craig was black and this guy looks borderline ginger. It’s not Craig. Craig is nice and doesn’t kill people’s neighbours OVER AND OVER AGAIN WHILST STARING IN THROUGH THE GLASS.

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1.15mins. I’m done. I’m so done. You know what I’m literally never gonna do? Live in the countryside on my own. Also, I don’t think I’ll facetime for a while.
Ive heard of a home invasion movie, but this is invasive on all counts. There was absolutely no need for this level of nerve wreck.

I need to avoid all doors and windows for the rest of the evening. Or maybe for life.

Simon’s Bullshit

The Gift (2015)
Dir: Joel Edgerton

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When Joel Edgerton sat down and made this film did he literally just think “Hmm….how random and absurd could one plot twist be? Let’s find something a bit far fetched, roll with that for a bit, and then, right at the end… lets just fuck shit up completely”

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Don’t get me wrong, I love and have a lot of time for Joel. To begin with I think he’s pretty hot (normally…definitely NOT in this). Not that its a prerequisite to what makes a good film (it helps), he’s also an incredible actor, and credit where it’s due, it’s actually a very well written movie.

But man did this escalate…quickly.

Bless Robyn

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Robyn, “the wife”, is so painfully awkward, and middle class that watching her glazed and slightly delayed interactions on screen was a disclaimer in itself. Robyn had the misfortune of marrying an absolute douchebag (spoiler alert) which she miraculously failed to spot for years, and now she just exists, goes jogging and just exists. You desperately wish she would grow some balls and leave her narcisstic excuse for a spouse, (you grow to wish, Simon tricked me at the start too, sneaky fuck), but obviously she doesn’t. She just sits and wonders what having a kid would be like, and jogs, and drinks electrolyte water and jogs some more. All the while you sit there in frustration knowing that if she did just leave him, she would never have to deal with any of his shit ever again. Which essentially is what this film is about…Simons bullshit.

Ladies be carefully who you marry, run a full CRB check, speak to some people he went to school with, contact his doctor, contact his priest, speak to the local authorities DO YOUR DAMN RESEARCH or you’ll end up with a nasty piece of shit like Simon. This isn’t even a horror movie about a stalker, it’s a cautionary tale about marrying an arsehole.  Unfortunately for poor Robyn, she did marry an arsehole, and had to forever live with his unfinished business ruining her otherwise placid existence.

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When Gordo turns up (Joel Edgerton),  Simon acts like he doesn’t know him; acts like he’s some creep from school who’s somehow obsessed with him. For about half an hour I was like “Ok, maybe this guy is just a recluse who’s into forced friendships”, but then it slowly dawns one you that the situation is making Simon feel way too angry for it to be “some dude”.  Then you wonder WHY Simon would entertain it. Here’s a guy you went to school with, claim you barely know, and yet here you are again having another passive aggressive dinner with him. What’s up Si? got something you wanna share?

Now I’m starting to worry less about Gordo (let’s face it psychos are everywhere), and more about Simon and why he’s being mad shady. At this point I’m getting a little angry because I know I’m being lied to and I don’t like it.

And I was right.

Gordo stops being the issue, and shady husbands do. Although this film does top the OTT factor in more ways than one, (bringing in complex storylines that date back to prom night 1925), the message is clear.

Sometimes the bad guy, isn’t really the bad guy. He’s just the messenger.

oh and heres a pic of what Joel Edgerton really looks like…

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Lobster Claw

The Lobster (2015)
Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

I’ve been banging on about this film for weeks because it’s very rare I get REALLY excited about something, and basically force everyone around me to watch it like a woman possessed.

“Have you seen it yet?” I hissed at my colleagues this morning. I could actually SEE their thought process as they politely tried to tell me to fuck off. NO WE HAVEN’T SEEN THAT WEIRD FILM ABOUT SINGLE PEOPLE BEING TURNED INTO ANIMALS BECAUSE WE’RE NOT ALL PSYCHOPATHS LIKE YOU.

Next it will be be that Josef Fritzel film (which no doubt I’ll probably really enjoy), but luckily I haven’t gotten round to that yet so you’ll just have to hear about how groundbreaking i thought this was instead.

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The premise, of what is essentially a very simple film, is life in a horrifying modern dystopia, which enforces  traditional values down all their citizens throat in the most bizarre fashion.

Citizens of “The City” are punished by law for failing to be part of a couple. There is a time limit on how long you’re “allowed” to be single, and once you have failed to find a partner on your own, you are then forced to check into a hotel where you have forty five days to find someone. Think very extreme version of “take me out” meets Wuthering Heights. Thats the vibe.

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The hotel itself is similar to a care home or even a school, in its regimented, clinical and militant approach to matching up its guests. The process is very mathematical, practical and unbelievably depressing. Should you, the single man or woman, fail to find someone within the forty five day time frame you are turned into an animal of your choice (yes, animal), and sent into the woods to live the rest of your life as the waste of air that society now deems you. No pressure.

The powers that be (in this weird modern world) essentially require you to fulfil your basic human duty to find companionship and live as part of a couple. If you don’t, you basically die being left to fend for yourself.

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Now, I really enjoyed this, even though hands down… bleak as fuck. Bleak, as i often try and explain, is actually good sometimes; it’s often required to balance out all Netflix originals, Taylor Swift songs and American Idol auditions constantly rammed down our throats. It’s like a much needed reflection of the shit world we live in, that we should never really forget.

Selling it?

ok, so you have to remember that this is a surrealist film… ACTUALLY a surrealist film, not just like a bit of an odd movie. For starters Colin Farel isn’t his usually sexy self; he’s weedy, asexual and a bit pathetic. He sports a creepy paedo tash and awkwardly fumbles everywhere, making him kind of unbearable to watch. The dialogue and interactions between the characters is eerily calm, unnatural and bizarre, and the resounding oddness of the whole situation is given to the viewer in a very “matter of fact” way which makes it all the more bizarre. If this film were an elephant in a room it would be a florescent elephant in a basement flat at 2am.

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The setting is familiar, there’s nothing Sci fi or other worldly about the aesthetic whatsoever. In fact the aesthetic is actually very dreary and grey. Nothing futuristic, no flo mo technology, no flying, no hovercrafts.

I won’t ruin it by telling you anything else apart from the fact that it’s probably one of the most chilling films I’ve seen in recent years. There are scenes which made me actually wince, and considering I wrote my uni thesis on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it’s pretty hard to make me wince.

Highly recommend

Sara