Film Review: LIGHTS OUT (USA 2016)

lights_outLIGHTS OUT (USA 2016) **
Directed by David F. Sandberg

Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello

Review by Gilbert Seah

LIGHTS OUT is a new low budget horror produced by HOSTEL’s James Wan and directed by David F. Sandberg based on his short story.

LIGHTS OUT is based on several potentially scary premises. There is the mother with mental health problems, the imaginary friend who could be a figment of mother’s imagination (or not), a boy scared of the dark and a monster that disappears and burns in light, surviving only in the dark. But one second thoughts, none of those are original concepts. The last one, though seemingly new is the same premise used in all vampire films.

But the movie plays confidently as a film that scares from things that go bump in the night. A large part of the film obviously takes place at night. The majority of the scares come from the ghoul called Diana who can appear out of nowhere, but only in the dark. As the lights go out in the house, a large mansion of course, the survivors have to arm themselves with torches or flashlights, batteries that soon run out of juice. This ‘novelty’ runs out very fast. After half an hour, the film really gets monotonous, with Diana appearing and disappearing. A bit of distraction is also provided in the script in which Diana might be imaginary and in the head of the mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), who was previously a mental patient.

Sandberg knows how to incite fear from small and dark enclosed spaces. But it takes much more to make a complete horror film.

The story goes like this. When the film opens, a creature kills a man who had promised to return home to his son who had complained of his mother being mental. The boy, Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is still afraid years later with the mother still having problems now manifested in Diana, who she has befriended in the mental hospital. Now Diana is able to appear as a creature but only in the darkness. Diana is breaking her promise that she will not hurt the mother’s children. Enter (out of nowhere), Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), Martin’s older sister and her sexy boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia) to rescue Martin from crazy mom and monster Diana.

The film makes the rules of the monster as it goes along – how it exists and so forth. The actors all do their screaming convincingly with Bret being the beau in distress. This is more of a female film where the women are heroes with the male and female roles reversed. No complaint here, as it is good to see things going the other way for a change.

But LIGHTS OUT would have succeeded as a 30-minute short film. It is stretched out too long, even at only 80 minutes. Boring, over manipulative and predictable, the film is a good idea that unfortunately does not play out as a full length feature. But it should make its money owing to its low budget. It would be interesting to see what writer/director Sandberg comes out with next.

BODY, Movie Review. Drama/Thriller

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body.jpgBODY (USA 2014) ***
Directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen

Starring: Helen Rogers, Alexandra Turshen, Lauren Molina

Review by Gilbert Seah

A low budget horror/thriller that starts off pretty well.

As the opening credits roll, the film screen is all black and a voice, barely decipherable, is calling 911 for help.

When the film opens, three girls, Mel (Lauren Molina), Holly (Helen Rogers) and Cali (Alexandra Turshen) party it up at Mel’s house. They start off with Scrabble arguing about certain words used before Mel’s dad interrupts bringing in food. The three exit the house to smoke weed with Mel’s younger brother Josh only to be caught by Mel’s mother. These kind of goings-on are nothing special but can happen all the time when everyone was a teen or later on when becoming one. Thus, everyone can relate to the incidents and this is the reason the film is so engaging at first. Directors Beck and Olsen do more than the normal slasher movie in investing their time on the three characters and the character development. They party hard, and it is entertaining to see them just do nothing but film themselves on their cell phones, for example dancing around.

But things take a turn when the trio decide to party into the night and visit Cali’s uncle’s mansion. But Cali is lying and it turns out that she used to babysit for the Asian family that lives in the house. Things turn sour when the groundskeeper suddenly shows up and is accidentally pushed down the stairs. The film turns into a slasher thriller.

Though not an exceptional film, BODY does possess certain unique traits not found in other films of this genre. First and most noticeable is the amount of effort put into the development of the character of each girl. Cali is the nasty one, Holly the decent rational one while Mel is the in-betweener. The character of Holly also undergoes a transformation that makes her character more complex. Hers is obviously the most interesting of the three. The character development is not there for show but also integral to the film’s plot. The next thing is that BODY is more of a thriller than a horror movie. There is no slasher that never dies or one that keeps appearing after being killed. Thirdly, there is a good transition from humour to thriller. The first half of the film is mostly the girls partying, which brings the film its lighter moments and a few laugh-out loud parts. There are a few psychological moments such as the ones with a girl screaming into the face of another that evokes horror.

The cast of unknowns deliver their performances naturally. They look like genuine teenagers out for a good time with just things getting bad.

But judging from Cali’s bad behaviour and personality one does wonder the reason the other two hang around or keep her as a friend. However, these are little points that usually go unnoticed in a teen thriller.

The film also briefly deals with conscience and consequences but it is not a message
film. BODY ends up a satisfactory time-waster and a good film to watch with a bunch of friends on a night out or at home. The film also opens on VOD Apr 26.

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Movie Review: THE WITCH (USA 2015) ****

the_witchTHE WITCH (USA 2015) ****
Directed by Roger Eggers

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

Review by Gilbert Seah

Set in 17th Century New England, writer/director Roger Eggers (whose background is in production design and theatre) has mounted more than a handsome production in his chilling horror debut. Looking like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT from the frequent flickering lighting (though the comparison does not do THE WITCH, the better film justice) and Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE from the period setting, the story follows a newly settled New England family from England.

When the film opens, we hear dialogue which informs the audience that the family has just been banished from the village due to witchcraft, details unspecified. They settle on their own on the forest outskirts. The religious family is comprised of William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their five children. The film centres on the daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is made to look after her infant sibling while the parents toil the land. But the baby suddenly goes missing (never explained how in the film, but assumed to be taken by a wolf), and Thomasin has no explanation either.

William and Kate descend into hysteria. Did the evil in the woods take their unbaptized child? Their twin children, Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), blame Thomasin but their own behaviour has become disturbingly suspect. Middle child Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) takes it upon himself to search for the answer with dire consequences. Thomasin admits to being a witch to scare the twins into silence but it backfires on her.

The film has certain unexplained scenes like an actual witch that appears and kisses Caleb. The other is the possession of the twins.

The film succeeds for two reasons. One is its ambiguity which makes everything all the more mysterious and scary. Is the family descending into religious madness or are there supernatural forces afoot? But the film falls apart when director Eggers shows actual demonic forces in motion. Second is the scary effects created by the light, setting and soundtrack. The characters speak with an old Northern England accent and old English which takes a while to get used to. Sample dialogue: “What’s the matter with thee? Come hither!” The story is supposed to be based on folklore and the dialogue adapted directly from old literature.

But THE WITCH is a very scary film- not scary in the form of the typical B-horror flick but in genuine fear of the unknown. Religion and superstition drive the family part. Trust in God appears to be the answer for the family, but faith is obviously not enough. The desperation of the family is on clear display and examination here. Eggers shows differing points of view, from the daughter to the father, mother and even the brother., while always centring on Thomasin. Eggers knows how to create a sense of evil from almost any prop, from the goat, to the evil stare of the rabbit, to the woods to the omnipresent darkness. THE WITCH also contains very disturbing images, made even scarier because often, it is hard to make out exactly what is depicted, and much is left to the imagination. The scariest image is the crow picking at the mother’s breast. Evil, indeed takes many forms.

Altogether a very impressive film debut by Eggers and definitely a most chilling one.

Movie Review: JERUZALEM (2016) Israeli Zombie Film!

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jeruzalem.jpgJERUZALEM (Israel 2015) ***
Directed by the Paz Brothers

Review by Gilbert Seah

Touted as the first Israeli zombie horror film, JERUZALEM (the Z in the word referring to ‘zombie’) takes many lessons from the found footage low budget horror flicks from the U.S. In fact, the main two characters are American girls travelling to the old city of Jerusalem. They were supposed to go to Tel Aviv when they get side-tracked by a cutie fellow-traveller to go visit Jerusalem, a decision that they will soon regret.

Sarah Pullman (Danielle Jadelyn) and her best friend, Rachel (Yael Grobglas) are partying it up. They dance, meet boys, drink, do drugs (not the hard ones) and have sex. So when they meet cutie, Kevin (Yon Turmarkin), they are easily convinced to go to Jerusalem. They meet a tour guide, an Arab, Omar (Tom Graziani).

The politics of the film are present but the conflict between the Palestinians and Jews are kept at a minimum. Soldiers are always present but their main enemy switches from the Palestinians to the zombies.

The film begins, seriously enough with a quote from the Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 19 in the Old Testament. The audience is informed from the text that there are 3 gateways to hell – the ocean, the desert and the third, Jerusalem. A woman is resurrected from the dead only to sprout winds, then shot. The first two thirds of the film are free and easy flowing with the zombies and real horror only occurring during the last third.

The first two third sees the two girls touring the city, smoking hashish an having a great time. The two are quite funny and everything is seen from the point of view of an app on Sarah’s cell phone. When they enter an underground cave, the words fatal error, or no connection flashes on the screen, as on a cell phone. This tactic is carried out throughout the film, and is quite funny, despite it being repeatedly used. As such, the Paz Brothers (Yoav and Doron), who also penned the script appear very tech-savvy with the film obviously aimed at the younger crowd who will go everywhere with their iphone, iPad or laptop.

Everyone seems to be having a hilarious time – the directors, crew and actors and this rubs off on the audience.

When the zombies attack, the film wanes a bit, as the film falls back to familiar horror film territory, which audiences are already too familiar with. But the Paz Brothers keep it funny. Rachel gets infected by the zombie virus and is slowly turning into one. When Sarah sees the wound, she tells Rachel, so as not to alarm her: “It is nothing, it is just a scratch!” That is probably the film’s funniest line, used again later on. Another character utters too as they scramble to escape through the underground caves: “Don’t know what’s happening out there, but I hope the good guys are winning!” And Sarah says: “It’s all a fucking video game!”

The film also offers the audience a good touristy look at Jerusalem, for what is – the old buildings, the market bazaars and the temples.

Despite a few flaws, the Paz Brothers keep their film stylish, hilarious and scary while being smart and entertaining at the same time.

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Movie Review: I Confess (1953) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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I CONFESS MOVIE POSTER
I CONFESS, 1953
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Montgomery Cliff, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

Refusing to give into police investigators’ questions of suspicion, due to the seal of confession, a priest becomes the prime suspect in a murder.

REVIEW:

Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for loathing actors. He once famously remarked that actors should be “treated like cattle.” His least favorite kind of actors were those who used “The Method” technique pioneered by Stanislavski and taught by Lee Strasberg at The Actors’ Studio. Despite his dislike for method actors, one of Hitchcock’s best films starred one of the greatest Method technicians. The movie was I Confess (1953), and its star was Montgomery Clift.

I Confess is not one of Hitchcock’s well known movies. This is hard to believe considering that the cast includes Clift, Anne Baxter and Karl Malden. The story is also top notch. Its premise involves the binding nature of the confession on Catholic priests.

The story begins as the church’s groundskeeper, Otto, happens to get in an argument one night with a man, Villette, who he gardens for on the weekends. Otto wants Villette’s money, but the he won’t give it to him, so Otto kills Villette.

The only witnesses to the murder are two young girls who say that they saw a man wearing a cassock walking from the scene. A small note about the cassock needs to be inserted here. Not only does the cassock play a large role in the movie’s story, but it played an even bigger role in the movie’s filming. Quebec was the only city Hitchcock could find where priests still wore cassocks. So, the cast and crew shot most of the movie on location in Quebec.

Feeling remorse, Otto heads to the confessional. There Father Logan, played by Clift, hears Otto confess to the murder of the rich lawyer Villette. Of course, being a priest who is bound to keep confessions a secret, Father Logan can not go to the police.

The suspense becomes enhanced when it is learned that Father Logan has become the prime suspect in the murder. Hitchcock has created his trademark “innocent man accused” situation. He then ratchets up the suspense like only he can.

We learn that before becoming a priest, Father Logan had been a war hero who had fallen for Anne Baxter’s character, Ruth. The two were lovers before World War II, but Logan never wrote her during the war. When he returns he finds Ruth. The two spend the day together and get caught in a rainstorm, while on an island. They spend the night in a gazebo. In the morning, a man appears and he asks Logan why he spent the night with a married woman.

From here on the man, who happens to be Villette, begins to blackmail Ruth. When Father Logan comes to view the body the day after hearing Otto’s confession, he spots Ruth who tells him that she was being blackmailed by Villette.

Karl Malden’s Inspector Larrue sees the two talking and begins to investigate their relationship. He figures out that Ruth still loves Logan and that she was being blackmailed by Villette. Putting two and two together he accuses Logan of the murder. The climax of the movie occurs in the courtroom where all the major players are. Otto sits in his seat, smugly knowing that Logan will not break his vow. Ruth knows Logan is innocent, but can’t provide any proof. Worst of all, Logan knows who the real killer is, but can’t say anything about it.

I will stop the plot summary here, as I don’t want the end of the movie to be ruined. This great story is also filmed brilliantly. The murder is pointed out to us during one of the best opening sequences Hitchcock ever did. This movie should really be on more lists of the best movies made by Alfred Hitchcock. It is a worthwhile watch for any fan of Hitchcock, Baxter or Clift.

 

 

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Movie Review: MARNIE (1964) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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MARNIE, 1964
Horror/Thriller Movie Review
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery
Review by Steven Painter

7.2/10 IMDB fan rating

Read more professional reviews of Marnie.

SYNOPSIS:

Mark marries Marnie although she is a habitual thief and has serious psychological problems, and tries to help her confront and resolve them

REVIEW:

There are many gems Alfred Hitchcock made that do not get the fanfare other movies of his have gotten. From the 1940s, Foreign Correspondent is underappreciated. In the 1950s it is Strangers on a Train. In the 1960s that movie is Marnie (1964).

Marnie is Hitchcock at his psychological best and probably the last great movie of his career. It is certainly the final movie of an era. It would be the last time Hitch worked with cinematographer Robert Burks, who would die soon after finishing the picture from a heart attack, and legendary composer Bernard Herrmann. The two had artistic differences.

The bad thing about this is that when Hitchcock had a difference of opinion with someone – they left the Hitchcock production company. It happened to Ingrid Bergman and it happened during this movie to Ian Hunter. The screenwriter had worked on several Hitchcock pictures, but disapproved of the rape scene in the novel version of Marnie. He voiced his displeasure over the scene to Hitch and Hitch severed relations with the screenwriter. It was only later that Hunter learned the only reason why Hitch wanted to make the movie was because of the rape scene.

Marnie can be looked at as the last great Alfred Hitchcock movie. It is a fitting tribute to a career that spanned more than four decades up to this point.

Tippi Hedren returns to the screen as Margaret Edgar, also known as Marnie. The original choice for the role was Grace Kelly, but at this time she was Princess of Monaco and it would have looked bad if a princess was playing a kleptomaniac. So Hedren got the role of the psychologically confused kleptomaniac.

Using different names and appearances, Marnie moves from job to job, stealing money from her employers before moving on to another town. One job she takes is with publisher Mark Rutland, played wonderfully by Sean Connery. Mark happens to recognize Marnie’s features from a previous business encounter. He becomes fascinated by her and tries to move in on her romantically. She ignores him as the only love she has ever felt in her life has come from stealing money.

She steals money from Mark’s company and makes a dash for it. Mark discovers the loss and balances it. He then takes off to find out who this wild girl really is. He tracks Marnie down at some stables she frequents, as horseback riding is one of her escapes. He then uses blackmail as a technique to get her to marry him.

The wonderful idea of marriage backfires on Mark as Marnie is cold to any sort of sexual advances. When Mark forces himself on her during their honeymoon, in Hitchcock’s favorite scene, she attempts suicide.

Unable to understand Marnie and still fascinated by her, Mark investigates her past. He ends up bringing Marnie to her mother, Bernice. The mother and daughter have always had a frigid relationship. In one of the best climaxes in all of Hitchcock, it is revealed in stunning detail why Marnie is so cold sexually, why she and her mother express little love for each other and why she despises the color red. The atmosphere around this movie is what makes it great. Credit must be given to Robert Burks for creating the camera angles and photographing exactly what Hitchcock had in his mind when reading the novel written by Winston Graham. Credit has also got to be paid to Bernard Herrmann for his magnificent score. It was the last time the two would work together, but it is probably the best overall score Herrmann gave to Hitchcock. The Vertigo and Psycho ones stand out, but Marnie has a score that perfectly expresses through music the atmosphere on screen.

Marnie is a complex movie. I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs about all the little interesting things contained in it, but I’ll leave you to discover that for yourself. Robin Wood, the film theorist, proclaimed that if you don’t like Marnie then you aren’t a fan of Hitchcock. Then he went a step further and said if you don’t like Marnie then you aren’t a fan of movies. I fully agree with his statements.

 

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Movie Review of the short film “Blood Tower Enigma”

“Blood Tower Enigma” played at the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film Festival in October 2015, part of its best of horror/thriller short film lineup.

BELL TOWER ENIGMA, 10min, UK, Horror/Mystery
Directed by Daniel Reimer

The every-day routine of a Sexton is suddenly interrupted, when a mysterious phone ringing not only draws him deeper into the church, but also into hidden memories of his mind. As he follows the calling of his conscience he unveils his past and discovers the path of redemption that he ultimately must go in order to escape his torturing nightmares.

BELL TOWER ENIGMA Movie Review by Amanda Lomonaco

I have to be honest, my first reaction to this one was a big fat NO. It was odd, disjointed, and a little too artsy for my taste. But weirdly, as I recollect it, I find myself smiling at some of the imagery depicted by Reimer (no, not THAT Reimer, I mean the director).

Something about the architecture of old gothic style churches makes them the perfect setting for any thriller. Being equal parts beautiful and ominous, they lure us in and but somehow still keep us on our toes and make the hairs at the back of our neck stand on end. I like to think that it was this very knowledge that led Daniel Reimer to chose a church as his prime location for this film.

By blurring the lines of continuity, and using a blend of surreal images, Bell Tower Engima comes across as more of a distrubing nightmare than a realistic story, perfect for any horror film lover. When the cinema lights come back on you’re not quite sure what it is you’ve just experienced, but there are certainly a couple of prickles on your skin, much like waking up from a scary dream. Perhaps Nightmare on Elm Street could have learned a thing or two from this short.

I can’t declare that Bell Tower Enigma is amazing, or that I even managed to grasp its full meaning, but there is something to be said about a film that unexpectedly causes you to smile as you recall it. Those of you who enjoy a gentle feeling of disturbance to go along with your films should certainly give it a try. On the other hand I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for those of you who need blood and guts in your horror films.

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