Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Woman In Black (2012) I Shall Refrain From Harry Potter Jokes

Let's get this out of the way right now:  Daniel Radcliffe played Harry Potter.

Thanks to his growing up in those eight fine films, it will always be hard for him to not be seen as the teen wizard.  But let's get another thing straight right away...

Daniel Radcliffe is an excellent actor.

Despite great performances from a solid cast, 2012's remake of The Woman In Black is basically a one-man show, featuring Radcliffe delivering a convincing turn as troubled young lawyer Arthur Kipps.  Written by Jane Goldman and directed by James Watkins, The Woman In Black is not only a film from Hammer Film Productions, it marks a return to the gothic, bump-in-the-night spooky visual tale of which Hammer was once the relentless factory.  A good, popcorn-at-midnight flick with plenty of mood settings and jump-scares, The Woman In Black isn't the greatest haunted house film ever made, but it's definitely not a bad entry into a genre I would like to see make a bigger comeback.

Based on Susan Hill's 1983 novel, the 2012 film version features Radcliffe as the aforementioned sad sack Kipps, who is a widower with a young son (played by Misha Handley, Radcliffe's real-life godson) and a decidedly less-than-stellar assignment:  rifle through the paperwork to sell an old mansion.  The mansion happens to have the appealing name of Eel Marsh House, and is the center of a local legend in the small town where it sits.  The superstitious townsfolk aren't exactly welcoming to Kipps and maybe they have a point.  The children of the town have been dying with frightening frequency in the most gruesome of ways.  They believe the ghost residing in Eel Marsh House is at fault, and Kipps is only smacking the hornets' nest.

Kipps struggles with the mystery as well as the harrowing experiences he has at Eel Marsh House, including visions of a dark apparition that also seems to appear just before children commit suicide.  He delves into the story with the help of the only person in town who treats him with any kindness, a local businessman named Sam (Ciri├ín Hinds), who also lost a child to the ghostly woman.  Kipps finds out what motivates the ghost and it becomes a race against time and the elements to try and satisfy the dead.

See, no spoilers and no Harry Potter references.

The Woman In Black is a solid thriller with beautiful atmosphere for gothic horror fans and sudden frights for fans of "boo!" sort of moments.  The photography and direction make everything look great, and the acting - especially from Radcliffe and Hinds - is excellent.  The ending might leave you saying, "Oh, really?" but that's really just a minor thing compared to the quality leading up to that.  It's definitely a good one to turn on late at night when you're really feeling like an atmospheric, tense little viewing.  Good, midnight fun.

And that makes it a successful film.

Oh, yeah, one more thing:  the toys.'ll see what I mean.

Here's the trailer:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) Gotta Be Prepared

 How is it that horror monster icons like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and the like always seem to be in the right place at the right time?  How is it they always seem to come back for more, no matter what the frightened protagonists hurl at them?  Is it luck, or could it be magic?

According to the literally-insanely-creative Behind The Mask:  The Rise of Leslie Vernon, it's all in the preparation.

Written by David J. Stieve and director Scott Glosserman, Behind The Mask:  The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a half-mockumentary, half-actual horror film revealing the lengths the charismatic Vernon (played masterfully by Nathan Baesel) will go in order to establish himself as one of those icons alongside his idols, Voorhees, Krueger, and Myers.  There's nothing inherently supernatural about Vernon, but the ways he goes about creating his own legend are like viral marketing gone mad.  He's smart, determined, funny, often friendly, and just a little bit psychotic.  OK, maybe a lot psychotic.

Taylor, Doug, and Todd (Angela Goethals, Ben Pace, and Britain Spellings respectively) are a reporter and cameramen filming a documentary about an aspiring serial killer in the vein of the aforementioned horror legends, one Leslie Vernon (Baesel).  It's an "alternate universe" of sorts, where the horror icons are a real and reluctantly-accepted aspect of the world.  Vernon is excited; he's been planning his debut for years.  Everything is timed and mapped down to the tiniest detail.  He's in top physical shape with incredible mental discipline.  He's got a backstory, he's got his virgin "final girl," and he's even got a mentor (Scott Wilson, The Walking Dead's Herschel) and an "Ahab," Dr. Halloran (Robert Englund).  Everything's in place as Vernon stalks his prey, basically herding her and her friends into a late-night outing to his "legendary" house.  Taylor and her crew follow along, playing neutral parties to what will essentially be night of murder.  When the night comes, things begin well enough, but Taylor has misgivings.  And from there, events spin out of control...or do they?  A mockumentary turns into a straight-up horror film - a metatextual transition - as Vernon pursues his dream and his final girl in the climax of this entirely creative little flick.  I won't give the bloody details, but let's just say everything happens for a reason.

Behind The Mask:  The Rise of Leslie Vernon is sparkling fun, a nod to horror fans everywhere and a different viewpoint "behind the mask," as it were.  It's like a magician revealing the trade secrets, but still managing to pull off one hell of a trick.  Baesal and Goethals are magnificent as the leads, who display a tension and respect for each other, all while creating an air of believability.  Englund is especially fun as the Donald Pleasance/Dr. Loomis pastiche and Vernon's "Ahab," the force of good that relentlessly chases the force of evil.  The film also marks the final appearance of Zelda Rubenstein, she of Poltergeist fame, as she plays the doomed librarian who relates the tale of Leslie Vernon to the intended "final girl."

The film is funny, energetic, and somewhat disturbing - I mean, you'll really start to like Vernon until you realize, "wait a damn minute, he's aspiring to kill a buttload of people."  But that's the fun of the film:  it takes itself seriously just enough to allow some guilty fun to creep in before turning the whole thing on its ear.  But most of all, it's a creative idea enhanced by great writing, directing, and definitely the acting.

So sit back and witness the rise of a new horror icon who may or may not have everything perfectly planned out...and remember to break out the windows on the ground floor.  You'll see.

Now, enjoy the trailer, won't you?  (WARNING:  Slightly not-safe-for-work, but not too bad.)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) Some Are Born Bad

Disquieting.  Disturbing.  Non-linear.  Tense.  Realistic.

While I wouldn't exactly call Lynne Ramsay's 2011 thriller We Need To Talk About Kevin a horror film, there are plenty of aspects about it that are truly horrific, not the least of which is its main premise:  a helpless mother deals with a son that is psychopathic right out of the womb.  Based on Lionel Shriver's 2003 novel, the film takes a winding path towards an incident that is slowly peeled back, onion-skin style.  We, the audience, get clues as to what's going on, but we don't get the full story until near the end.  By that time, though, you'll pretty much guess how the movie will pan out, and it will leave you feeling uneasy and sad.

Eva (Tilda Swinton) gives birth to little Kevin, who doesn't seem to bond well with his mother.  She's not exactly Mother of the Year, though, as she is constantly impatient with the odd child.  As an infant, he never stops crying when she's around, but clams up when held by his father, Franklin (John C. Reilly).  At one point during a walk in the city, she pauses for a long while near a jackhammer just to drown out Kevin's constant bawling.  When Kevin gets older, he's a constant challenge, and that's putting it nicely.  He refuses to potty train, and soils his diapers on purpose to tick off Eva.  Fed up, she wrongly throws him against a wall, breaking his arm.  Kevin doesn't tattle on her, but already his manipulative nature kicks in and he lords the incident over Eva.  Eva and Franklin have another baby - unplanned, as the cracks in the marriage continue to widen - but the little girl, Celia, is sweet and every bit the cute kid Kevin isn't.  "Inspired" by a story read to him by Eva, Kevin takes a keen interest in archery, becoming quite adept at it as he grows into a teenager (played with cool evil by Ezra Miller).

Even years on, Kevin harbors a psychotic disdain for his mother.  Eva feels helpless, as no one, even Franklin, will believe what kind of darkness inhabits Kevin.  Just how dark that abyss in him is grows evident throughout the flashbacks and flash-forwards:  Kevin is imprisoned for something that doesn't come to light until the final act.  Let's just say you don't put a bow and arrows in the hands of an ultra-intelligent, sociopathic teenager with Mommy issues.  The movie slides into this final act with no hint of "surprises" or "twists" know what's about to happen, and just like Eva, there's nothing you can do about it.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is like a sneaky nightmare.  It creeps up on you and fills you with dread through the entire film.  It's not a horror film, per se, but what happens in it is horrific and that suspenseful dread I mentioned permeates the whole story to the point where just like Eva, the viewer isn't allowed to feel anything good in this twisted, dream-like world directed with great skill by Lynne Ramsay.  Swinton and Miller are utterly fantastic as mother and son, the helplessness and mental sickness coming out in droves through their expressions.  I should also mention the tremendous job done by Jasper Newell as the younger Kevin.  He effortlessly shows the remorseless and purely psycho leanings of Kevin as a still-diaper-wearing-at-six kid.

Make no mistake:  We Need To Talk About Kevin is not a feel-good movie.  I would say those seeking a hip-hip-hooray movie (or moms-to-be, for that matter) try something a little less bleak.  But still, this is a fine piece of filmmaking that is a study in the building of dread over a ninety-minute span of time.

Next review, I'm writing about something a little less dreary!

Now here's the trailer, which is pretty intense itself: