Friday, January 24, 2014

We Are What We Are (2013) Now I'm Hungry

Yeah, I'm hungry, but I may never look at stew the same way again.

Let me just say that I'm increasingly impressed by director Jim Mickle. I first saw his work on the daring zombie-rat thriller Mulberry Street, then in what I believe is one of the very best vampire movies I've ever seen, Stake Land.  Mickle and co-writer/frequent star Nick Damici add another quality entry onto their resume with We Are What We Are, a remake of the 2010 Mexican film, Somos lo que hay.  Mickle and Damici go in a somewhat different direction and the result is a quietly creepy film that is photographed beautifully and well-crafted with suspense and some genuine chills.

The matriarch of a small, unassuming family (Kassie DePaiva of TV's One Life To Live...don't ask me how I knew that) suddenly dies one rainy day, and the family is consumed with grief.  They're a bit of an odd family, the girls (Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers) pale and soft-spoken, but very close with each other and their younger brother (Jack Gore).  Despite the death of their mother and through the kindness of the town (especially the motherly neighbor played by Kelly McGillis), the father (Bill Sage) insists that they will go ahead with some kind of ritual that their family has observed for decades.  While the father is very spiritual, the ritual is less religion than it is tradition.  In the meantime, a local doctor (Michael Parks) stumbles across a finger bone after the rains and is determined to find out its origins.  He's got the extra added motivation of having had his teenage daughter go missing - maybe this is her?  It's not a total spoiler to say that the Parker clan's ritual involves dining.  Missing people + a dining ritual?  I think you can put two and two together here.

The girls, Iris (Childers) and Rose (Garner) struggle with the idea of the ritual, wondering if they should rebel against their quietly firm (but simmering with rage) father.  Iris wants to act on her attraction to the deputy (Wyatt Russell), a former high school crush.  Rose wants to get their brother out of the house and away from the ritual.  Meanwhile, Doc Barrow (Parks) is closing in on the truth about the Parker clan and what may have happened to his daughter.

I won't spoil the ending, but it takes an intriguing strange turn that doesn't really seem out of place at all, despite what happens.  We Are What We Are is a beautiful-looking movie, with a structure and frame that really speaks to the telling of a story.  Director Mickle can put another knot in his success belt, in my opinion, as he tells an atmospheric, steadily-building story that has its abundant quiet moments coupled with scenes of meaty gore and bloodletting.  The acting was really good all around, with Sage showing understated menace, Garner and Childers showing a struggle with innocence, and Parks as a sad, hopeful, and vengeful father.

Now, while you wait for dinner, enjoy the trailer...

Monday, January 20, 2014

You're Next (2011) Livin' Up To The Hype

Yep, it was exactly as good as I thought it would be.

The home invasion subgenre of the horror film is extremely hit or miss.  Nice people in a house, bad guys break in, yadda yadda yadda, blood everywhere and maybe one nice person left alive.  It can be a formula, as most films are anyway, but when the filmmakers spice it up with snappy dialogue or strong characters or well-executed twists, it peaks my interest.

You're Next was made in 2011 and made the festival rounds before its wide release in 2013.  Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, it's a well-paced, energetically creepy whodunnit with one of the best "final girls" in recent memory.

At a remote but opulent seasonal home, Paul and Aubrey Davison (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) prepare to welcome their children for an anniversary celebration.  It's a big home, still being renovated, and it makes lots of nice little bumps and creaks.  Crispian Davison (A. J. Bowen) and his Australian girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) make their way to the home, and it's hinted at how dysfunctional the Davison family is.  Erin is happy to make the trip, though.  Once everyone is there, it doesn't take long for the dinner to break down into bickering, passive aggression, accusations, and...oh, yeah, a dinner guest getting a crossbow bolt in his forehead.  From there, it all breaks down as three men in farm animal masks begin picking off the family one by one.  With no leader stepping up, Erin rises to the occasion, trying to keep herself and the remaining family members alive.  And there's definitely more than meets the eye in regards to Erin, and in regards to the entire sticky situation.

The movie will take you on some twisty turns and one crazy-fun ride as you peel back more and more to find out the answers.  Everything fits in this movie, from the writing to the direction to the acting by a great ensemble cast of genre veterans and newcomers.  Bowen and Crampton are horror movie favorites, and the movie features appearances by producer/actor Larry Fessenden (I Sell The Dead), writer Barrett, director Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Inkeepers), and actor/director Joe Swanberg (V/H/S).  It's truly Vinson's movie, however, as she breaks out in her performance as Erin.

Like I said:  definitely a fun ride, and several notches above the usual home-invasion horror/suspense offering.  Fine acting and a truly suspenseful and often a tad gory journey through a night of terror, secrets, and boards with nails in them.

Now, here's the trailer to enjoy...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Open Grave (2013) A Twist On The Whodunnit

The "whodunnit" subgenre of mystery always holds possibilities for something fun.  From guessing the "who" to the "why," it's the next best thing in audience participation to actually being there.  And it's easy:  just keep watching or reading and the mystery will be solved.

The problem with reviewing whodunnits is accidentally revealing spoilers.  So, I'll do what I can, but I can only go so far.  Seriously, I can't even put the right labels on this blog entry without revealing what happens in the film, Open Grave.  Part of the fun is getting there, and slipping in a label that spoils it:  no fun.

Open Grave was written by Chris and Eddie Borey and directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego (Apollo 18), and stars Sharlto Copely (District 9, The A-Team) as a man who suddenly awakens in a pit during a late-night thunderstorm.  Lightning flashes reveal the soft, squishy ground he's recovered on:  the pit is filled with dead bodies.  Before he can do a total freakout, and wracked with pain from some unknown cause, someone lowers a rope down and helps him out.  The man finds a house in the darkness, occupied by several other jumpy, rightfully paranoid people.  The thing is, no one knows who they are.  Their memories are pretty much wiped, although there is some instinct memory.  One of them knows how to load and reload a gun.  Another can speak Latin.  But all of them have no idea how they got to this house, why the pit is full of dead people, and how the puncture marks got on their arms.  Slowly, the group searches for clues and starts to realize that something is definitely not quite right.  In some areas, there are dead bodies bound to trees with barbed wire.  One of the group who presumes he was a soldier encounters an emaciated man trapped in a barbed wire fence - an encounter that goes south really quickly.

I can't go past this point without including clues that point toward the twists that make up the rest of the movie.  It goes in a direction I wasn't expecting, and that's not a bad thing.  All I can say is that it's an interesting take on a somewhat familiar scenario.  Clues come in, but it keeps you guessing until the revelation kicks in.

Despite a couple slow spots, and they really weren't even that slow, I found the story engaging and had some fun trying to put the pieces together.  The acting was very good, especially from Copely.  He's never disappointed me, and he is great in this.  Josie Ho, who plays the mute woman who also can't communicate in English, takes the ball and runs with it.  She provides clues and emotional insight with facial expressions and body language, connecting us to the movie without a word.  The movie just plain looks good as well.  I wasn't much of a fan of López-Gallego's previous effort, Apollo 18.  It wasn't horrible, but just didn't mesh with me.  Open Grave was more my flavor, and I found it worth the money to rent it.

So, you think you've had it weird when you wake up in a place you don't recognize, make sure you still have your memories.  Until next time, dear readers, check out the trailer...

Friday, January 3, 2014

Stoker (2013) Hitchcockian Heebie-Jeebies

OK, this will be the first blog entry that I've written that will take time over two years to write.  Well, not really.  I started it on New Year's Eve, 2013, and hopefully will finish it in 2014.  The way I've been blogging lately, I can't seem to guarantee that.

Nonetheless, let me tell you a little about what I thought of 2013's Stoker.  The movie, written by Wentworth Miller (one of the stars of TV's Prison Break) and directed by Park Chan-Wook (the original cult film Oldboy), pays tribute to the great Alfred Hitchcock without ever really ripping him off.  Miller stated in interviews that he was inspired by Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt, and I do see a touch of Hamlet in the basics, but the finished product here completely stands on its own.

The story follows India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) who both celebrates her 18th birthday and mourns her father (Dermot Mulroney), who dies in a car accident.  A quiet, awkward young lady (who is also a crack shot thanks to hunting trips with her late dad), she's torn apart, but keeps her feelings quiet.  Her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) unravels and barely holds on to any form of stability.  Enter India's uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), a charming and charismatic fellow who's been traveling the world, living adventures that the sheltered India can only dream about.  Right away, you know there's something not quite right with Charlie, but hey, there's something not quite right about the entire Stoker family at this point.  Despite protests from other family members, Charlie insinuates himself into the Stoker household.  And what's not to like when you first meet Charlie?  He's eloquent, refined, plays piano, and has a sweet ride.  Still, he's pretty creepy.  Not uncle-falling-asleep-on-the-recliner-in-his-tighty-whities creepy, but don't-turn-your-back-keep-him-in-sight-at-all-times creepy.  No spoilers here, but the movie hurtles quietly towards a collision between the truth about Charlie and India's painful coming of age.  What intentions Charlie has and how life will unfold for India are things you'll just have to check out for yourself.

The movie is well-paced and beautifully shot, as Park Chan-Wook comes from the recent wave of Korean directors who paint lavish pictures on film.  Each shot is carefully crafted, guiding you by the eyes.  Miller's story is compelling and mysterious, pushing more and more tension on you until the final moments, including the little twist at the end.

Stoker showed up on a lot of top 10 lists for the year, and I can see why.  There are no supernatural elements here, but yeah, that creepiness factor is ratcheted up a few notches thanks to Goode's performance.  I mean,  he was measured and deliberate in Watchmen, but really carries that over to this role.  Wasikowska and Kidman are equally great as daughter and mother, struggling with age and responsibility as well as mourning.

So until Uncle Charlie shows up on your doorstep, take a peek at the trailer right here...