Posts Tagged ‘horror films’

Raw

Posted: April 14, 2017 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by Julia Ducournau. Starring Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf.

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And this is what happens when you stick Lego up your nose.

Justine (Marillier) is on her way to college to train as a vet. Her parents attended the same college, and her older sister Alexia (Rumpf) is already partway through her studies there. Justine and Alexia were raised as vegetarians by their parents, but when Justine arrives she finds that an intense hazing ritual awaits all new students, or rookies as they’re known, and part of this involves the initiates having to eat raw rabbit kidneys. Justine initially refuses, but Alexia persuades her to do it.

Soon after Justine begins to feel unwell, she develops a rash which she presumes is an allergic reaction to eating meat. A little while later and she starts to develop an unusual craving…

 

Up until about a week ago I had no idea this film existed, and in a world of franchise blockbusters it’s a pleasant surprise that this did actually make it to my local multiplex given its a/subtitled and b/is a female skewed cannibal film.

Although the first thing to make clear is that ‘French cannibal film’ really doesn’t do this justice. Exceptionally well directed its truly mesmerising to watch, and acting wise both Marillier and Rumpf are superb. In particular Marillier gives one heck of a performance, switching from virginal and timid to sexy and confident and then back again, and the shifts in her personality never seen forced.

Setting aside the more lurid elements of the film, this is a story about finding your place in the world, about growing up and discovering just what kind of person you want to be. It’s about those first painful days at university when you’re alone, trying to make new friends and trying not to miss home. It’s about being out of your comfort zone, about exploring your sexuality and about fitting in, or choosing not to fit in.

The easiest point of reference I can make to this film is the Canadian werewolf film Ginger Snaps (which if you haven’t seen you should really see!) which again featured sisters coming of age, and again featured appetites that are, shall we say not the norm. Just imagine Ginger Snaps without the werewolves, which is something of a recurring motif for Raw, because in many ways it’s a zombie film that features no zombies, a vampire film sans bloodsuckers.

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The first rule of Bite Club is, you don’t talk about Bite Club!

Which isn’t to suggest Raw is a strictly speaking a horror film, although obviously in many ways it is, but like the best horror films it’s more than just a scary movie, and it has something to say. It’s exceptionally dark, evocative, disturbing, sexy, funny, and shocking. At times you want to look away, not because something is happening on screen, but because of what you imagine could happen at any moment. It’s an unsettling film because you’re always on edge, and in part this is why it’s so enthralling (along with the performances).

Rumours abound that, much like the Exorcist or Robocop when they first came out, people were fainting/vomiting in the aisles. I can’t say I ever quite felt like doing either, but at times this is a wince inducing film, and not always in the moments you might imagine. The bit where Justine scratches her rash is one of the most grimace inducing bits of the film, as is a waxing scene. There’s disturbing imagery at play outside of the more horrific elements. The scene with students crawling through an underground carpark is genuinely unsettling, and with this being a veterinary school there are a lot of scenes featuring animals which again put you on edge without you knowing why.

If it has a flaw I’d say it was a touch impenetrable at first, it did take me a little while to get into it, but that might be more to do with me acclimatising to the subtitles rather than anything the film does or doesn’t do. Suffice to say that after a while I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, which given what was often happening on screen says a lot for how enthralling it is.

Proving yet again (if it even needed proving) that women can make films that are every bit as unsettling (if not more so) as blokes, this is a treat. Oh, and it has a great soundtrack too.

It isn’t a film for everyone, but I really, really liked it. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m feeling a trifle peckish all of a sudden…

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It’s going to take more than Persil to get these stains out…

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The Witch

Posted: March 17, 2016 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by Robert Eggers. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie.

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In 17th Century New England a man named William (Ineson) is sent into exile after disagreement with the religious leaders of the Puritan plantation that he and his family have been living at. William sets off with his wife Katherine (Dickie) his daughter Thomasin (Taylor-Joy) son Caleb, and young twins Mercy and Jonas. They locate a patch of land close to some woods and build a farmhouse there. After a while Katherine gives birth to a fifth child, Samuel.

One day Thomasin is playing with the baby when Samuel vanishes. William blames the child’s loss on wolves, but several within the family believe the baby was taken by a witch. As time passes and blight strikes their crops, hunger and paranoia see the notion that the family is cursed grow. But who is to blame? Is it Thomasin, whose own pubescence causes issues, or is it the twins who converse with one of the family’s goats, Black Phillip, or could it be that there is an external cause, a malevolent force living deep in the darkened woods?

And so Robert Eggers writing and directorial debut arrives trailing plaudits and awards from the Sundance film festival and cloaked in an advertising campaign that perhaps doesn’t do it any favours, emphasising the horror elements without necessarily preparing viewers for what they’re going to see.

I’ve heard reports of people walking out or being very unhappy when the lights came up. This isn’t to suggest The Witch is an especially nasty film, it’s not (or at least no worse than most other horror films) but it isn’t quite the film it’s billed as (which isn’t any kind of fault of the film makers). I knew little about the film but I was at least prepared for what kind of film it is.

The first thing to say is that there’s a lot to like about The Witch. The second thing to say is that it’s a hard film to like. If those two things seem at odds with one another, well I’m sorry but that’s just how it is.

First the good. The film features a truly terrifying soundtrack that’s unsettling on its own, let alone when you play it over brooding shots of deep dark woods. Eggers chose his location well, and the woods are practically a character in themselves; unsettling even when only seen in the background.

The small cast do a good job all round, even the two youngsters playing the twins who are wonderfully annoying. Harvey Scrimshaw is good as the conflicted Caleb, troubled by his own perceived sin and terrified that he’s going to go to hell, and Ineson and Dickie bring all of their experience to bear as the puritan parents, who love their children yet are hamstrung by their own religious paranoia. The standout however is Taylor-Joy who, going on this evidence, is going to have a very successful career. She’s perfect as the poor benighted Thomasin, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood struggling to find her place in the world and haunted by the loss of her baby brother while she was supposed to be watching him. Remove her and the film wouldn’t work half as well.

Eggers and his crew have also recreated 17th Century New England and its people to perfection, even going as far as to draw on historical sources for the dialogue.

Unfortunately the authentic period setting and dialogue works as much against the film as for it. At times this world seems a little impenetrable, and in particular the language makes it hard to truly engage with. It’s a slow burn of a film as well, and because it’s played so completely straight, at times it treads a very fine line (as horror often does) between what is frightening, and what is ludicrous, and there are certain elements, like the hare and Black Phillip, that are liable to make some audience members laugh rather than scream.

When it works though the film is genuinely unsettling and I do plan to watch it again on the small screen where its effect may well be magnified. It is be lauded for trying to do something a little bit different and it does make a pleasant change from most modern horror, but sadly, at least on first viewing, I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like it anywhere near as much as I expected to.

Oculus

Posted: June 25, 2014 in Film reviews
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Directed by Mike Flanagan. Starring Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane.

Tim (Thwaites) has just been released from the mental institute where he’s been for eleven years since he shot and killed his father (who had tortured and murdered his mother.) He’s spent that time accepting the reality of the events that transpired on that final evening in the family home, and that no supernatural forces were at play, it was simply a case that his father went insane and killed his mother.

He’s met by his older sister, Kaylie (Gillan). Whilst physiatrists have spent years dismantling Tim’s apparent delusions about a possessed mirror, and rebuilding his psyche to accept a rational explanation for the events that occurred eleven years ago, Kaylie has spent the time obsessively researching the dark history of the antique mirror that she still firmly believes was responsible for the death of their parents.

Now she’s used her position working at an auction house to gain temporary possession of the said mirror. She’s planning to take it back to the family home where she hopes to prove that her father was not insane, and that it was supernatural forces that drove him to acts of violence against his family. Reluctantly Tim accompanies her to discover she has set up cameras, temperature gauges and motion sensors inside the house. Kaylie thinks she’s fully prepared for whatever might happen. Tim thinks she’s delusional.

On the surface Oculus seems fairly familiar fare. A family tragedy in the past- check; psychologically damaged survivors of said tragedy- check; an evil object capable of possessing the living- check; an abandoned house- check; violence and blood- check.

That Oculus is better than many of the generic horror films it appears to riff off of is testament to a decent script, inventive direction and a good cast.

Although it relies on the odd jump scare, for the most part Oculus takes the more difficult, but more rewarding route of creating an unsettling atmosphere, which means when things do occur they’re all the scarier for it. It’s a creepy film and, whilst it doesn’t bear much relation to it, I couldn’t help thinking of John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness whilst watching it. Like Carpenter Flanagan creates an air of dread, and the Carpenter’eque pared back electronic score further cements the comparison.

The film also eschews a linear narrative to flit back and forth between the present and the past, and the scenes of the family’s disintegration are as compelling as the scenes in the present day, in fact often they’re more harrowing given that we see Tim and Kaylie as children. As the film progresses past and future appear to become intertwined, to the point where, at times, the older Tim talks to the younger Kaylie and the older Kaylie talks to the younger Tim without any awareness that they’re separated by time. It’s a neat technique for further confusing the issue of just what is going on. What’s clear from the off in Oculus is that what you think you see often isn’t what’s really going on.

Her American accent is a trifle odd, and yes I did keep expecting Matt Smith to pop out at any moment, but Karen Gillan puts in a good central performance as the driven and obsessive Kaylie. As her brother Thwaites conveys his character’s sense of confusion admirably as he goes from disbelief back to acceptance once he understands that Kaylie may have a point. It should be noted that Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan do sterling work as the younger Tim and Kaylie as well.

Rory Cochrane as the dad plays unhinged well, and manages to portray both a loving father and a homicidal maniac equally well. The star of the show, however, for me is Katee Sackhoff who takes her character through a gamut of emotions; At first she’s a happy, loving wife and mother, before becoming increasingly paranoid, disgusted with herself and eventually manic, and by the end she’s scarier than the dad is.

The twisty non-linear nature of the story does mean that, by the end, things become a little too confused, and if you can’t see the end coming a mile away you probably weren’t paying attention. The ending is also a little sudden. In addition the more you see of the ‘ghosts’ the less creepy they become, although these are common problems amongst a lot of horror films, and Oculus manages to go further than most before derailing somewhat.

Despite its flaws Oculus is still more inventive than most modern horror films, and whilst it does shout “Boo!” at you at times, and it does show blood and gore, these are never its central selling points. This is a film that wants to creep you out more than it wants to make you jump, or make you wince, and it succeeds more times than it fails.

Mirror Mirror on the wall, what’s the best horror film I’m seen in a while? (Yes I know that doesn’t rhyme, give me a break!)