Showing posts with label slasher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label slasher. Show all posts

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

House at the end of the street (2012)

Newcomers move into sleepy town, next to a serial killer and her tormented, nice brother.

It's a modern horror film, but done entirely with the thriller sensibilities of Hitchcock and Brian de Palma.

Watch for: Jennifer Lawrence, who proves she's not a flash in a pan.

Read my full review at Fridae, first published on 31 October 2012.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Dinosaur Project (2012)

Jurassic Park meets Blair Witch meets Paranormal Activity in The Dinosaur Project.

The resulting, incoherent mess could well be Survivor: Dinosaur Jungle.

The story is hackneyed, the characters are cardboard, but the film doesn't take itself seriously, and is so very silly and fun to watch.

Read my full review at Fridae, first published on 17 October 2012.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Sinister (2012)

The Ring gets a classic American horror style homage in Sinister.

Ethan Hawke plays a writer who wants to be the Truman Capote of unsolved serial killings and finds there is a real evil behind a case, lurking within... homemade 8mm videos.

Watch for: excellent conceptual writing that melds two very different horror traditions, and Ethan Hawkes, who's very good in any movie he's cast.

Read my full review at Fridae, first published on 10 October 2012.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

ATM (2012)

In this slasher horror meets base under siege movie, a group of yuppies are trapped in an ATM lobby by someone who's out to kill them in very creative, spectacular ways.

From the writer who gave you Buried, this premise is indeed promising.

Bad writing, preposterous coincidences, and a build-up of a critical mass of stupidity in its characters deflate the promise of the film's premise.

Read my full review at Fridae, first published on 23 May 2012.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Raven (2012)

Mash together a couple of Edgar Allan Poe's Gothic mysteries with the writer as the detective... and you'll get The Raven.

Campy, trashy, and entertaining, John Cusack takes on a role that must have been written for Nicolas Cage - and may yet do it better than Cage.

The Raven is a literate B-movie that would go well as a doublebill with Vincent Price's The Abominable Dr Phibes.

Read my full review at Fridae, first published on 25 April 2012.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Attention, Wes Craven: Joss Whedon shows you how to make a successful postmodern horror film.

Clue: it's more of a comedy for horror film fans than a horror/slasher played straight.

Cabin sets up the horror film conventions, holds your hand and takes a step back to explain how the conventions work, gets all snarky and witty deconstructing the conventions before your eyes, and still tells a decently horrifying and hilarious story at the end.

Read my full review at Fridae, first published on 18 April 2012.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Triangle (2009)

To say that Triangle is the 12 Monkeys of slasher film is to say that it's the best fucking horror film I've ever seen and oh my god, it's brilliant. Like in genius.

It's a film where the nightmare of infinite regress becomes more terrifying than the slasher himself.

And that my friend, is pure genius.

Read my full review at Fridae, first published on 2 January 2011.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Saw 3D (2010)

The Saw films are all about the satisfaction of seeing and hearing people die in gory ways in a reality game show format.

This one is no different. Just that it's the first in 3D. And hopefully if there aren't any more sequels, it'll be the only one in 3D.

Knowing how James Wan has made far more creative horror flicks since the original Saw, we hazard he would've done something different here.

Read my full review at Fridae, first published on 5 January 2011.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

My soul to take (2010)

More of a warm-up to Scream 4 for Wes Craven, this horror flick treads territory that is familiar and safe to the director and his following.

If you watch this, you can play a party game called “Identify which Wes Craven movie this scary moment or trope comes from”.

Or you can view this as a mid-career summary project of an excellent genre director.

Read my full review at Fridae, first published on 1 December 2010.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Death Proof (2007)

Even Kurt Russell had to take a smoke break from Tarantino's yakking

Due to an interesting decision made by The Weinstein Company, the Quentin Tarrantino-Robert Rodriguez doublebill feature Grindhouse will split be split into two separate films for its international (non-US/Canada) release. You might complain about paying twice to see what people a continent away paid once to watch, or about waiting 2 months between Death Proof (coming June) and Planet Terror (coming August) while people a continent away merely had to wait for the intermission to watch Planet Terror. Also, don't try to remind me about how all the brilliant fake trailers (Machete, Hobo with a Gun, Werewolf Women of the SS, Don't, and Thanksgiving) that helped sustain and develop the directors' idea of making a parody of bad 1970s grindhouse cinema are missing from the release. But look on the bright side - the international release of Death Proof is 30 minutes longer than its Grindhouse version!

The Grindhouse project functions as a parody and homage to exploitation movies of the 1970s, with their lurid gore, kungfu, and sexploitation antics, and Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino's take at recreating and mashing up two of its genres: the slasher flick and the revenge film. Here, Kurt Russell is cast as a charismatic, sex-on-legs stuntman "Stuntman" Mike, who has an unfortunate obsession with killing girls with his "death proof" stunt car. In any collision, the stuntman drives away mostly unscathed while the victims are literally all smashed up in their wreckage. So, for the first half, Death Proof is the slasher film that introduces us to the modus operandi of the killer, and his first set of victims, who in good old sexploitation tradition, are a posse of drugged out, trash-talking girlfriends looking for a little fun, and its second half has a different set of victims metaphorically taking bloody, chopsocky revenge on Stuntman Mike, on behalf of dead girls.

The point about Death Proof, isn't really about the story, but about the recreation of a genre, its look, and hopefully an evocation of the sense of guilty pleasure a bygone generation had in the 70s, watching such "bad movies" in cinemas. On that note, Death Proof can be said to be somewhat of a success, as Tarantino finds ludicrous (i.e. authentically grindhouse) ways to insert all sorts of mainstays of the grindhouse movie experience, like the meaningless to the plot but still so provocative lapdance, the in your face blood and gore, the inexplicable loss of colour halfway in the film, and so on. And on the same note, Death Note has its minor failings as well, when Tarantino forgets that grindhouse films were never about endless self-referential, meta-movie trash-talking, and gives us far more than is necessary, to the point of boredom, of characters going on and on with their hip trash-talking.

I am given to understand that in the shorter Grindhouse doublebill version of Death Proof, much of the overlong dialogue and meaningless sequence were cut out - that seemed to be the right decision to take, actually, given how the pacing just felt off for a quarter of this movie. Thankfully though, Tarantino does deliver the money shots by the end of the movie, and if you're a true fan of grindhouse cinema, it would be more than enough to redeem him. For others, perhaps the thrill of sitting through a deliberately cheesy movie experience would be worth the price of admission. And yet others will probably be satisfied at how well Tarantino has mostly adhere to the form of the grindhouse pic. For me, Death Proof has my attention set on the Grindhouse concept, and looking forward with interest to Planet Terror.

First published at incinemas on 21 June 2007

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Vacancy (2007)

Frank Whaley and Ned Flanders: separated at birth?

Vacancy has a really simple premise that's so barebones and generic that one wonders why this movie should merit their movie tickets. A bickering couple get lost on a highway detour and end up at a motel, whose owner intends to kill them, and film their deaths for a snuff film series. So here's the thing: as the movie went on, I found myself liking this movie, because its director Nimrod Antal does it in an unexpected manner so unexpectedly well that it actually stands out from the slasher and tourist trip gone wrong film genres that are currently the rage in cinemas.

What Vacancy has that the rest of the genre films I just mentioned don't boils down to just one thing: its director Nimrod Antal, who brings with him a distinctly (continental) European sensibility and production values that show up everywhere, from cinematography, script, to even scene composition. Antal starts it all off with two farreaching decisions - a strong rejection of the grainy, handheld camera aesthetic of recent American horror and slasher cinema, and a rejection of its much older fake scare technique. Robbing himself of these two easy clutches creates a challenge for the director that ultimately makes Vacancy far more superior than it should ever be, given its premise.

You'll notice that for a horror film, the cinematography of Vacancy is highly stylised. This may not be Hitchcock, but the director, set designer, and director of photography sure know how to create suspense and claustrophobia, as well as create the impression that this is visually different from other slasher/horror flicks with similar premises. Every scene is shot from an angle that's not quite conventional; every other scene involves the artful use of mirrors and reflections, images from second-hand sources; and once trapped in the confines of the motel room, the couple are framed in the camera so tightly, even in chase sequences, that one cannot but feel their claustrophobia. A director who bothers and has the imagination to set up scenes like this certainly knows how to freshen up a tired genre.

Elsewhere, the scriptwriters with their superb writing, make the movie far stronger than it deserves to be. Of course, one can't expect Oscar calibre dialogue, Kauffman level intricacies or Lynchian surrealism, but Antal and Smith pair the unsettling (but realistic) visual style with equally unsettling but realistic villains. This may be a slasher film, but there are no hockey-masked, superhuman killers, no supernatural self-resurrecting soldiers of darkness. Just one very bored and mundane looking hotel receptionist who, for a living, makes snuff videos where people really get killed. It's just a job, y'know, that comes with necessary henchmen who aren't remotely evil, but just doing what would be a mundane job. That involves killing tourists who stay at the motel. And probably selling the videos to other bored but ordinary people who aren't evil, but just get off watching snuff videos. The banality of evil, indeed.

And in accordance to the design of the movie, you should be even more pleased to know that Vacancy has the smartest protagonists ever in slasher movies. Okay, that they got lost on a highway and quarrel themselves pass obvious signs that Something Is Wrong With This Motel are really stupid, but brilliantly stupid in a normal, reality-based people way. There's not much to say about how the director, writer, and cinematographer handle their attempt to escape their fate as reluctant snuff film stars, except to say that whatever happens is shot with style and competence that is almost never seen now in American slasher and horror films with bigger budgets.

There's only one flaw I can see in having a European team produce a slasher flick. You'd get brilliant and thoughtful cinematography and outstanding direction, but at the cost of having a few slips here and there. One major slip occurs near the resolution, where apparently the most basic slasher rule gets broken - the Last Girl (Kate Beckinsdale) must always be the sole survivor!

First published at incinemas on 5 July 2007

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007)

Imperial guards vs Chaos cultists, fight!

There's no doubt that the sequel to the remake of last year's The Hills Have Eyes is a vile piece of cinema. The movie opens with a bloodied and dirty-looking woman chained to a bed giving birth to a deformed baby, and things just get progressively more disgusting and twisted: there's a mutant rape, people getting their heads or faces smashed in with axes, stones, bayonets and even wallets, two scenes with cannibalism, and a man crawling out from the hole in the toilet. Okay, the last image is probably a twisted homage to The Ring, but really, it's an indication that this film (like any other rose) isn't too far removed from the gutter.

Before you decide to buy your tickets at the box office, you should know that Weisz and the Craven team have overdone the disgusting elements in this movie, to the extent that there aren't any horror elements left in it. Yes, the heavily deformed mutant humans (unevacuated victims of nuclear tests in the New Mexico desert) are back, but there are no scares in this sequel (would you be horrified by their 1980s style prosthetics? Or the modern school of loud noises carefully calibrated for shock?). This is more of a slasher film, where one by one, a party of militia guardsmen are picked off by our favourite mutants in increasingly disgusting ways. That, interpersed with lots of ugly mutants molesting captured women or embedding foreign objects in the skulls of unsuspecting victims.

Given the pungent, almost sick approach to the slasher film, it makes sense to see this movie not as a horror movie, but as a successor to the long moribund genres of the video nasty and the monster nudie. You'd probably have far more mileage if you went into the cinema because you wanted to watch a vile, sick movie than if you went in expected a horror or straight slasher flick. In fact, you'd underappreciating The Hills Have Eyes 2 if you see it even as a straight slasher flick. You have to understand that sickening movies like this haven't been made since video nasties stop getting made in the mid-80s, or that the art of making monster nudies (or erotic horror) died off with Ed Wood in the late 70s, living in a strange afterlife as tentacle monster movies in Japanese cinema and anime.

But enough about how twisted and perverted the movie is. The more impressive stuff takes place in the second half, where our beleagered guardsmen militia enters the cavernous depths of the mountain mines in order to escape the mutant family hell-bent on eating them or worse. Here, Wes Craven's influence on production design is strongly felt - in an attempt to innovate the genre and cult series he created almost 30 years ago, the producer turns the second half of the movie into a vehicle for American-style, neo-German Expressionism. Like an Escher painting, the geography of the mines, tunnels and passageways connecting the caves of the mountains make no sense, but impart a very palpable sense of the weird and the ominous, much like the more traditional use of Escher-inspired sets in last year's Call of Cthulhu. But Craven goes much further than this, and pulls the unsettling Escheresque geometry inwards, onto the bodily frames of the mutants, making them the manifestation of horror within the horrific location of the caverns. This is what is completely lacking in modern slasher flicks like Saw, Hostel, et al: the sense of true, old school horror spit out with an unexpectedly modern take.

It is very easy to dismiss The Hills Have Eyes 2 as a tasteless movie, but if people would allow themselves a closer look...

Verdict: A pleasant experience that revives the monster nudie and video nasty genres. Personally, I'm waiting for Wes Craven to commission a Warhammer 40,000 remake of this movie!

First published at incinemas on 19 April 2007

Method (DVD) (2004)

The saying goes, there's no such thing as a bad film, only a badly made film. I humbly submit Method to you as my sole exhibit to prove my case. To be up front with you, Method is a failure of a film. It's not a failure because of its premise, which is simply: "(Method) actor immerses herself too deeply in role, becomes the serial killer she portrays". You see, the premise is a bunch of hokey, but in the right hands (director, scriptwriter, actors), it could turn out to be high camp or excellent drama (see Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich in Shadow of the Vampire). In the able hands of Brad Wyman, Katie L Fetting, and Elizabeth Hurley, though, the result is more of an accidentally-funny farce of a thriller, and a valuable lesson for all aspiring directors, scriptwriters, and actors. Join me now as we gaze upon the destruction that the merrily untalented trio have wrought... so that you can solemnly swear never to repeat their errors when it's your turn to make a movie. Or decide to rent, borrow, or buy this DVD.

The director: Now, if you have a premise like this, you'd want to make sure that the movie looks credible. But there's no way you can achieve that if we keep seeing over the top hallucinatory sequences where the actress is brainwashed by her imagination of the dead serial killer character she's supposed to play, mixed with over the top fantasy sequences where the actress may or may not be killing off extras and cast members on the set in a fit of dotty madness, and further mixed with very cheesey period footage of the "film" within the film of the movie about the serial killer. In general, any one of these elements will turn a good thriller into a joke; congratulations to Brad Wyman for hitting the jackpot thrice!

The writer: You could either write a deliberately bad thriller movie or you could write a good thriller about an actress losing her mind on the set of a very bad movie. If you wanted to do the former, you'd have the dialogue in the period film within a film be as stilted, cheesey, and elaborate as the dialogue in the rest of the film, but you'd do it with a heavy sense of self-aware humour. If you wanted to do the latter, you'd have to make sure that the actual movie outside the period reenactment is free of over-the-topness. Katie L Fetting succeeds in avoiding both, and creates a mess of a script.

The star: Unfortunately, Elizabeth Hurley is not an actress. More unfortunate for the viewer of the DVD is the painfully obvious fact that she isn't even a performer. She can't even pull off an impression of a bad actress, not to say a woman on the brink of madness.

Reviewer's advice: This film could have been saved if some other character were cast in this role, or if the writer were smart enough to realise that by injecting completed, post-production footage of the film-within-the-film, it implies a certain sort of conclusion about the film. This movie is perfect for a bunch of oversmart movie buffs in need of a great laugh and a fun party game (drink a beer whenever you spot a script/directing crime!).

First published at incinemas on 17 April 2007

Friday, 6 April 2007

To Sir With Love 스승의 은혜 (2006)

It was then that he realised he wasn't the teacher's pet

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express casts a long shadow not just on the paperback mystery, but on movie scripts in Hollywood and far beyond. It's all in the twist in the tale, the trick ending where the revelation of a hidden truth (pulled out of nowhere) forces the reader to reconsider and reinterpret every event that led up to that moment. Other mystery writers had attempted similar trick endings before her, but this novel from Agatha Christie was the best shining example of the last minute twist - it was plausible yet unexpected, outrageous without being ridiculous, and instead of making the reader feel they wasted their time with the story before the twist, actually made them return to the first page, to let their new-found knowledge inform their re-reading of the book. The sheer artistry of the novel weighs heavily on the minds of scriptwriters even today, with The Sixth Sense being the finest tribute. It's not just the mystery movies now, because almost all Korean horror movie in the recent 2-3 years have gone crazy with the "unexpected revelation of completely unknown plot details" twist ending.

More often than not, though, movies with twist endings (I'm talking about Korean horror movies of the recent 2-3 years, of course) leave a sour taste on the mouth, because their directors and scriptwriters forget the paramount rule of the trick ending: never make your audience feel they've wasted their time. The most extreme example of a bad trick ending would be "it was all a dream/nightmare!", and no modern director would commit this mistake. What makes them stumble instead is their resort to the "it was all a lie!" ending, which is the equivalent of slapping the audience on their faces, and makes them ask "Why did I watch this movie if nothing that happened in the first 80 minutes ever happened at all?" Thing is, the trick ending in Murder on the Orient Express never invalidated anything that happened right up to the point of revelation. And even considering The Usual Suspects, where the story that Keyser Sore told was a lie, the details of his story were almost all true, and the revelation did not invalidate the movie leading up to the point of revelation either.

I don't think the surprise for the audience in To Sir, With Love will be its last minute, out of nowhere twist ending and revelation. That part of its scriptwriters' cue from Agatha Christie is a little to close to the dreaded "none of this ever happened, and there's no way you can reconstruct the entire movie - if at all, if coherently at all - without feeling cheated" feeling. What's more satisfying is its adoption of the other great innovation from Agatha Christie's train mystery, the part where all the travellers on the train are in on the plot. To Sir, With Love is the rare slasher film where all the traditional, conventional slasher victims turn out to bear an animus against their old primary school teacher whom they fete at a school reunion. They're all harboring secrets and grudges against her high-handed treatment of them in the past, and would be more than happy to plunge their collective knife into her. But of course, they all end up as the victims instead...

Personally, I was impressed with the premise - Korea is afterall a deeply conservative society where speaking out and criticising teachers is a taboo, beyond the pale desecration of polite behaviour. Societal attitudes towards teachers in Korea is comparable to Singapore in the late 80s and early 90s, simpler and more innocent days where the Ministry of Education groomed superstar teachers, featured them in MOE recruitment ads (remember "Teach. Do something with your life"?), and parents wouldn't bat an eyelid if a teacher used sarcasm, hyperbole, or more unusual punishments on their kids. Having a slasher movie where the kids return to settle scores with an emotionally abusive teacher is something you won't expect from the Koreans - the subversiveness is just about on par with Bewitching Attraction, a Korean sex comedy about university lecturers. What was less impressive was the actual slasher third act, where the execution of the gore and the squeamish factor was disappointing.

To Sir, With Love has a great premise but viewers may find its trick ending a little too much of a letdown, given its so-so slasher sequences. Its sheer audacity and imagination, though, make this one of the better Korean horror movies for a long time.

First published at incinemas on 12 April 2007

Friday, 2 March 2007

See No Evil (DVD) (2006)

And then, the powerslam!

It's all about the past. Like how, before he became a professional wrestler called Kane, Glen Thomas Jacobs used to be a very nice and decent looking junior high school teacher. Or how, before he made his first feature film, director Gregory Dark used to direct pornographic films before producing music videos for the likes of Snoop Dogg. The past comes back to haunt us all the time, in other words, and it is no less true for the characters in See No Evil: there's the policeman haunted by his narrow escape not so long ago from a giant hook-wielding serial killer, the delinquent charges of the policeman are haunted by their past of crimes and misdemeanors while they are stuck cleaning up an aged motel as part of a reform programme, and the gigantic crazed hook-wielding serial killer himself is haunted by memories of his childhood as he haunts the motel's secret passages, as well as being haunted by a huge bullet wound at the back of his head, courtesy of the policeman who through a stroke of luck (good for the killer, bad for the policeman) is at the motel with his charges.

Goodness knows how bad or naughty these convicts can really be if they're allowed to clean up a motel as part of their reformation, but surely the awful way they behave to each other is supposed to make audiences relish and look forward to their eventual exits from the film, courtesy of the giant crazed killer. I'm not going to pretend that this film even works as a slasher flick, because surely you're reading this review now with a copy of the DVD in your hand because KANE is the killer.

Nobody expects Kane to be Anthony Perkins, so I'll just cut to the chase: does Kane dispatch his victims in a style that is deserving of his pro wrestler status and legendary name? The answer is somewhere in between - Kane performs chokeholds, bodyslams, flings victims casually into walls, which is always a good thing. However, when he resorts to his weapons, the effect of seeing KANE kill is much lessened. I got some fun out of Kane's eye fetish and collection methods, and the flashback sequences - while not starring Kane - are pretty entertaining even though no one would claim that they were written with psychological insight.

See No Evil is the kind of DVD that you'd put on one night when you invite your friends over to watch Wrestlemania 35 and need something to watch before the show starts. It may not be as well-produced as movies of The Rock, but it is just as enjoyable. Worth renting for the entertainment and novelty value, and worth a buy if you're into collecting DVDs starring your favourite WWE superstars.

First published at incinemas on 2 March 2007

Friday, 23 February 2007

Hannibal Rising (2007)

"I'll have a Death Wish with my flava beans, thanks!" Hannibal's as hammy as the victims he eats

There's something seriously strange about WW2. According to history books and war movies, the villains are obviously the Nazis and the Japanese occupying army, but according to the arts and popular culture, the real villains and monsters are the survivors of the death camps and paramilitaries. It's a politically incorrect thing to say, but WW2 created monsters out of its survivors and victims - witness how the survivors of Auschwitz torture their children psychologically and drive them to depression in Art Spiegelman's Maus. On a grander scale, WW2 survivors often turn into serial killers and dangerous madmen, the most notorious of whom are Magneto and Hannibal Lector.

I'll forgive you for not realising that the good doctor was twisted by his war experiences as a child into a psychopath, because after all, this movie will tell you everything about young Hannibal - how he got his groove, so as to speak. I'll also forgive you for thinking "why would we be interested in the youth of Hannibal Lector? What good will it do?" After all, Hannibal Lector is the sort of character that springs out of the head of its writer fully grown. That Hannibal is a remorseless cannibal with a heightened sense of black humour and irony, a penchant for preparing dishes from choice cuts of his victims, garnishing these dishes and their corpses to fit the nature of their "offenses" and moral failings, has very little to do with his childhood. "You know the man. You know his methods", proclaims one of the taglines for Hannibal Rising. But the point about Hannibal Lector's the man is his methods. While Magneto's methods and beliefs are inseparable from his experience in Auschwitz, Hannibal's methods and beliefs have been presented as complete in themselves in the entire series so far, and I do remember the good doctor telling agent Clarice Starling in their first meeting in Silence of the Lambs that "nobody made me. I happened." - meaning that no childhood or growing up experience traumatised him into a mass murderer. For Thomas Harris (author of the novels and this screenplay) to revise the canonicity of Hannibal, to create an origin story for a figure that has no origins, is a bold move, and this movie will either succeed or fail, depending on how well Harris convinces us that Hannibal requires an origin story, and whether that origin story fits Hannibal.

So what exactly does Hannibal Rising achieve? Magneto, as I've mentioned, is a great villain born from WW2, and according to this movie, Hannibal gets his kickstart from watching Nazi collaborators murder his family in Lithuana, eat his beloved baby sister Mischa, and butting heads with bullies at the Soviet orphanage. His creative campaign of revenge against his sister's killers in Paris (apparently almost all escaped from the Baltics to Western Europe) is apparently what turns him into The Hannibal Lector we all know and love. And his taste for culture and the good life? It's definitely not the time spent at the Soviet orphanage, but the later-day tutoring in Paris by his uncle's wife, the Lady Murasaki.

It almost works as an origin story, but audiences who aren't hardcore Thomas Harris fans might discover that the movie is plagued by a very weak script. Hannibal fans will be horrified to learn that the novel is lacks the sophistication, planning, and maturity of the other Hannibal books. How could it be that the origin story of the most fascinating fictional serial killer is a mix between a simple and straightforward slasher movie and a simple and straightforward revenge fantasy (a Europeanised Death Wish)? How can it be that one feels Hannibal Rising has more in common with Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and other prequels to slasher movies, rather than a true successor to the Hannibal trilogy? What is missing and sorely missed in this script is Hannibal's chilling ability to toy with people while plotting their ruination, an ability that would've made this more than a simple revenge movie.

There is of course the mistaken idea that Hannibal's early past would explain his future self, and the mistake of choosing a mundane past (a simple tale of revenge!), and the failure to even execute it properly - the victims are stock Nazi grunts whom one loves to see killed, and would applaud if they are dispatched by Hannibal. Since we know he'll still be alive at the age of 60, sharing a dinner with Clarice Starling, we know how everything will turn out already. Part of what made the other Hannibal movies and novels work was the fact that there's always a detective who is after a criminal or group of criminals - and that Hannibal would be the twisted Obi-wan figure to this detective. Here, detective Popil (Dominic West) serves no purpose except to deliver the pronouncement that Hannibal is a monster.

There's also the heavy-handed melodrama (child Hannibal screaming to the heavens as he cradles his recently dead mother in the snow), the prevalent purple prose so cliched it's hilarious ("Memory is like a knife", "The boy died the same day as his sister"), and the bad, unsubtle music that telegraphs all the emotions it expects the audience to have, in bold capital letters. For this to happen to a movie whose villain has great taste is puzzling.

Even the great Gong Li fails to lift this movie out of its averageness. As the mentor of the great Hannibal Lector, she is just great for her first 15 minutes of the movie as a female embodiment of the late samurai spirit - equally formidable wielding both sword and brush. But she is Gong Li, and Gong Li seems fated to play strong women who end up confused, weak, shivering and in need of protection. When that transformation occurs (too soon in the movie), it is impossible to think this is the person responsible for the education of Hannibal Lector, imparting key facets of his character like a love for culture, presence of will, good taste, and self-possession, even though this is what the movie is supposed to do. At least Gaspard Ulliel has a ball of a time as Hannibal...

Audiences and readers who preferred the doctor's vague hints of his childhood and times in Hannibal need not worry too much about this movie, even though its clunky story clearly doesn't achieve the poetry or mysterious aura that his "memory castle" phrase in the novel evokes. I look forward to a remake of this film a decade down the road, just like how Manhunter was remade into Red Dragon.

First published at incinemas on 1 March 2007

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Saw 3 (2006)

If you’ve been to the old Haw Par Villa, before it was redone as a tourist attraction with perky piped music and rendered mostly harmless, you would remember a certain attraction called The 10 Courts of Hell, a series of elaborate dioramas in a grotto depicting the horrific tortures one would have to endure in the afterlife, tortures that were crafted to suit the victim’s sins when they were living mortals. Or perhaps you remember Franz Kafka’s In The Penal Colony, a short story about an elegant execution device that metes out a punishment on the body of each criminal that is uniquely and most appropriately suited to the nature of their crime. Having read Bradley Denton’s black comedy Blackburn as a youth, I have always been waiting for someone to a movie about a vigilante killer who gives his victims – nasty people, not innocents at all – a punishment that fits their crime perfectly.

That movie turned out to be Se7en, of course. The Saw trilogy, on the surface, seems to be about the same thing, with a slight twist. Jigsaw, the serial killer, puts his victims in elaborate snare traps and other deadly devices that remind them of the ‘crimes’ they had committed, and challenge them to free themselves from those devices through an act of sacrificial self-mutilation. Ah, the joys of redemptive suffering, pain therapy, and a punishment fitting the crime!

Except that’s not even the case in any of the Saw films, and especially not Saw III, the closing film of the trilogy. There’s something to be said about a killer who devices fitting punishments for his victims, and then there’s something else to be said when a killer decides that being too detached from one’s emotions, withdrawing from society, feeling depressed, being too professional at work and other related ills are somehow crimes worth punishing. I’d call it a very flawed premise for a serial killer. Jigsaw’s horrific punishments for his victims are clearly excessive and don’t actually fit their ‘crimes’ at all, which adds to my annoyance with this movie. Clearly, if you have a setup like this, it might help if the movie is about the complete psychosis of the serial killer – his moral and ethical universe is something that cannot be taken seriously, and a good script would have to involve a challenge to the killer’s justification and outlook.

Instead of delivering on this challenge in the final part of the Saw trilogy, the scriptwriters pile on even more moralising and couch therapy style musings from Jigsaw, who is now on his deathbed, planning his final set of tests, and hoping that his understudy and possible successor Amanda Young has imbibed enough of his wisdom and philosophy to take over the reins of terror on his passing. The effect of the deeper moralising tone in Saw III doesn’t make the movie “deeper” - it just highlights again the problem with the premise, with the unfortunate fact that Jigsaw’s vigilante justice involves punishments that rarely fit the crime, and victims that aren’t at all evil, mean, or deserving of such brutal torture.

And yes, there is much pain, torture, and gore in the final movie, so much so that it has garnered an even higher censorship rating, even in the USA. That doesn’t help anything at all, but just again points out the flaws in the premise – where is the punishment that really fits the crime? Saw III doesn’t have the jokey feel of the first Saw, the mean victims of the second Saw, and ends up feeling more like a snuff video for guro fans. That’s a terrible mistake, since the point of any decent slasher flick is to have the audience empathise with either the vigilante killer, the vigilante cop, or the victims. There isn’t a single character in Saw III that can move a heart: not the dying Jigsaw, and not any of his victims – who surprising should evoke some sympathy due to the completely disproportionate suffering they go through. I guess we can blame the scriptwriters.

As for the gore and the escalation of horrific visual content, it seems that even the scriptwriters have run out of anything innovative. The exploding neck chain is back, and so is the leg clamp with the saw. The most visceral scenes in this movie are nothing new: James Caan had his foot hobbled by Kathy Bates in Misery decades ago, and we’ve watched trepanation performed on at least one episode on Chicago Hope or ER, Hannibal, and one episode of Rome on HBO/BBC.

There’s lots of gore, but all the pain and suffering is unjustified and makes no narrative sense at all. Because of this, Saw III is not horrific and cannot evoke any sense of horror. What it does evoke is a sense of revulsion and pity, at how a good premise is eventually defeated because of faulty conceptualisation, poor execution, and a focus on all the wrong things.

First published at incinemas on 30 November 2006

Sunday, 16 July 2006

Cry_Wolf (2005) DVD

This movie wouldn't be so bad if the directors knew what they were doing. Hell, Jon Bon Jovi probably knew more than the directors

One of Aesop’s Fables is called The Boy Who Cried Wolf. You know, the one about a bored shepherd boy who gets a kick out of screaming "Wolf!" and laughing when his villagers come to his rescue. Then one day he is punished when a real wolf appears and the villagers ignore his cries. In the darker version of the fable, the boy is eaten by the wolf. Then, there is the party game sometimes called "Wolf and sheep", in which the entire flock accuse each other, create paranoid conspiracies, and target their enemies in order to unmask the wolf among the sheep.

In Cry_Wolf, this game is played by a really bored bunch of rich brats in a boarding school, who, when a local student is killed in the woods, decide to create a rumour about a serial killer in a red ski mask – creatively named The Wolf – and in effect play the game with the entire school population. Somewhere along the line, though, it turns out that there really is a serial killer called The Wolf, but can the clique convince its members, their schoolmates, and the school administration that this isn’t one of their hoaxes? It’s like The Boy Who Cried Wolf turned into a teen slasher flick.

Unfortunately for us, Cry_Wolf is the first ever feature film for Wadlow and Bauman. This means that the identity of the serial killer is more than apparent by the first third of the movie. The basic failing of the director-producer team – and an immense one at that – is their failure to see through any of their plot ideas. Why do they bother to spend 5 minutes of screen time on "clever" Scream-lite dialogue when there is no intention to develop a modern self-referential, self-deconstructing teen horror flick parody and homage? Why do they bother making a slasher movie when the killings only begin in the final third of the movie, and there is no proper buildup of suspense or horror in the first two-thirds?

Okay, there is a scene involving multiple Wolf-lookalikes in a Halloween party, but the expected chase scene is not only predictable, but sorely lacking in any thrill, and forces audiences to think of how scary that scene was, when Wes Craven did it years ago in Scream. Why oh why do they bother introducing the very convoluted game of Wolf and Sheep if they’re not going to make emotional manipulation, conspiracies and mutual suspicion the key motif of the movie? Or even make the bunch of bored, rich boarding school brats slightly more conniving, given their expertise at the game? Enquiring minds want to know – but the directors cannot deliver.

Let me say that if you hadn’t fallen asleep during this movie (I was fighting off the Z-monster for the sake of our readers!), and if you paid any attention to the movie (instead of cursing at its poor execution), you would’ve easily identified the serial killer as well as the plot twist, all within the 20 minute mark of the movie. Even viewers who aren’t choosey about the cleverness of slasher flicks will be appalled at the fundamental failure of the directors to convince them that the murder scenes and chase scenes are actually scary.

Poor buildup, no atmosphere, no payoff: Cry Wolf tries to be smart but is in fact pedestrian, twice-warmed over fare that fails as a slasher flick, a psychological thriller, or even as a murder mystery. The only silver lining in the cloud is in fact the good lighting and cinematography in some sets, and a performance by Jon Bon Jovi (as a journalism prof!?) that is actually more impressive than the acting-school efforts of the main cast. Oh, the horror!

First published at incinemas on 13 July 2006