Monday, 19 November 2012



Kill List in a Caravan

Kill List creator Ben Wheatley returns with this inhumanely immoral, but insanely funny, provincial black comedy in the countryside.

Prepare to join a modern-day Mickey and Mallory Knox in Wheatley’s satirical Natural Born Killers-esque serial killing spree, as Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) embark on a rollickin’ ride through the rolling hills of Redditch, pushing people off cliffs and stealing their dog.

Aspiring writer Chris takes his new girlfriend Tina on their dream caravan holiday to Little England to show her the wonders of his world. But one fatal ‘accident’ at the Crich Tramway Museum changes not just Tina’s holiday itinerary, but her life forever. Having led a sheltered life with her overtly meddling mum Carol (Eileen Davies), a vulnerable Tina is soon vacuumed into the wicked side of Chris’ world- beyond the normal-seeming boyfriend and his touristy trips to Keswick Pencil Museum and Ribblehead Viaduct.

Caravan parks are certainly not a holiday haven where the new couple are pitched, and their daily antics certainly don’t conclude with a family game of Cluedo (not the board version anyway.) Little do fellow holiday-goers and hill hikers know that they’re walking down the valley of the shadow of death with the sinister duo at the hands of their demise. Tina and Chris’ romance abnormally blossoms, deluded about the immorality and depravity of their murderous hobby, and developing it as a mutual common interest to interact and understand one another. “They are not people Tina, they’re Daily Mail readers”, Chris justifies as he repeatedly smashes the face of an interfering walker on the ragged rocks. It sounds funny off the page, and its delivery clinches the deal….over and over again.

After starring in Kill List, Oram and Lowe return this time to lead the cast of Wheatley’s third feature, as well as take on scripting duties. Co-writing the screenplay- with Wheatley’s wife and creative partner Amy Jump as an additional writer- the trio create the perfect balance of disturbing good fun and playful, observational characterisation, which uncompromisingly walks a fine line between horror and ludicrous absurdity. In its very first few minutes we chuckle our way through our first encounter with Eileen Davies as Tina’s mother, as her wilfully dependant demeanour, grumpy stubbornness and tactless conversation with her daughter and new lover sets the sweet and simplistic tone. The mind-baffling marvels of Chris and Tina are no-doubt breakthrough roles for Lowe and Oram, and the consequential creations from the collaboration of their previous comic roles. Though their on-screen chemistry and bold hilarity is both enthralling and engaging, it inevitably enters a period of dying momentum in it’s final stages as the nature of the two protagonists’ nonchalant attitude to their sins runs its course.

Not only do we guiltlessly divulge in the skull cracking and bone crunching, we root for the eventual success of their relationship. Wheatley’s achievement lies not only in his perfect blending of horrifying fun and shocking indifference –tempting us to both laughter and tears-  but also in his refreshing ability to veer a bloody direction for romantic comedies, right where NBK’s Oliver Stone left off eighteen years ago.

VERDICT: Delighting in its darkest direction and authentic moments of jet black humour, Wheatley provides a testament to the existing originality of the black comedy and a solid template that raises the bar for the subgenre’s future success. A monument to be preserved by the National Trust.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Fatherhood gets more frightening

Citadel draws parallels with UK horror films Eden Lake and Cherry Tree Lane in its depiction of youth’s capabilities to inflict unimaginable horrors.

“I saw the world as a frightened 18-year-old, and married it with my love of genre films.”- Ciaran Foy, Director. Based on his real life experience as a victim of a gang street attack and a consequential agoraphobia condition which he battled with throughout his 20’s, the Irish filmmaker explores the darkest corners of society in his debut feature film, Citadel.

Following the murder of his pregnant wife by a brood of twisted feral children, a now agoraphobic, single father must face his fears and overcome those same kids who torment him and his infant daughter.

Tommy (Aneurin Banardo) is forced to reside with his young daughter Elsa in a decrepit council house in a dilapidated suburban area. His paralyzing fears of the outside world border him inside its walls as he scarcely bares enough courage to attend support meetings and hospital appointments. When the hooded figures begin to circle his home, vandalizing and eventually breaking in to steal Elsa, Tommy is forced to break out to see who they are and what they want with his daughter. They strive on the smell of fear; in order to face the demons, Tommy must learn to ‘feel the fear, and let is pass.’ Teaming up with a corrupt Priest (James Cosmo) who wants to burn down the tower block (the ‘citadel’) where the abhorrent creatures hide, he must return to his former residence and the place of his wife’s fatal encounter, and test the lengths a father would go to protect his own.

The eerie suspense lies not only in the hoodlum’s invasive activity in and around the house, but in the mystery of the hooded figures identity. The unknown motivation for their terrorizing can be likened to that in Funny Games and The Strangers, and we feel an overshadowing sense of claustrophobia and panic in the victim’s entrapment. But this chilling uneasiness and anxious tension fails to withhold, soon diminishing when we learn of their appearance, incentives and history as Tommy embarks on his task in the latter half of the film. Subsequently we experience a less captivating and more underwhelming stance in the transition from a tightly confined tangible nightmare to an outward mission for revenge and answers. Nonetheless, Tommy’s venture with the priest and his son (Jake Wilson) is both absorbing and frightening, not letting up in its nail-biting, jumpy demeanour. Some may say this is where the real ‘horror’ begins; though Foy doesn’t indulge so much in the blood and gore aspects, the threat becomes an actuality and the violence kicks in. The bleak, derelict tone and claustrophobia of the abandoned, poverty-stricken neighbourhood remains present in the narrow passageways and dimly lit corridors of the abused citadel, and thrives further in its isolation by excluding law enforcements and any other unnecessary characters to the plot. Even the hospital seems largely deserted!

Banardo leads the front in the most mesmerizing performance in horror this year. Overwhelmed by ongoing grief, frustration, terror and paranoia, Barnardo embodies the emotional wreckage of societal decay’s most vulnerable victim. Though his plight could easily have manufactured a weak and inept father figure, he steals the show in his emotionally charged performance. His agonizing expression signposts his desperation for help and his struggle to engage with his child encapsulates some remarkably powerful, heartbreaking scenes which offer a sympathetic distraction to the story’s figurative horrors. Even his situation with his comatose wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) steals our hearts.

Cosmo amuses in his role as a seemingly insane, blasphemes priest, providing light entertainment in his rude, cursing, and sarcastic manner but marks the turn of the film’s direction and needlessly fills in the explanatory details –his personal motivation for helping Tommy and the historic birthplace for the infected spawn of inbreds.

Local hospital nurse Marie (Wunmi Mosaku) offers Tommy not only a reassuring outlet of nursing and aid, but also friendly and sensitive support. More interesting though, she provides a symbolic representation of the generic attitude of the cities population, being ignorant of the ‘kids’ real condition and passing them off on a daily basis as simply misunderstood and harmless. In this palpable example of society’s immoral depths, Foy raises some interesting, but overtly obvious, questions about the justice and treatment of today’s incessant teenage gang crime.


VERDICT: A gritty, suburban nightmare for one man at the hands of an infected youth which glows in its enclosed setting and enigmatic state, but slightly loses its tense trepidation when the conflict is realised and fought outdoors.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

New Horror Entries...

2 stinkers, 2 stonkers.

Having finally recovered from the antics of last Saturday's FrightFest Halloween all-nighter, i've had time to reflect on the bits of the line-up that really were hard to stay awake for (almost ditching my pro-plus efforts and calling for matchsticks), as well as reminding myself of some of the summer programmes gems (which i'd largely, and undeservdly, ignored in my previous post about the festival.)

'Ere goes....


Bait 3D
When a freak tsunami hits a coastal city, the surviving shoppers of a supermarket must swim their way out- but first, they must tackle a 12-foot shark that lurks amidst the aisles. It’s ludicrously laugh-out-loud clichés, hammy 3D moments, and handful of witty one-liners make for an entertainingly dumb and frumpy fun character drama. But for a shark movie, its demise lies in the lack of teeth-wrenched guts and bloody endings. Nevertheless, there have been bigger fishy flops, and at least Bait’s shark doesn’t roar like a lion (Jaws 4) or have characters jet ski their way straight into the predators mouth at 40mph (Shark Attack 3). We sit and sigh as we wait for Bait 3DD.


The Helpers
What happens when you get two freak punctured tyres on your road trip to Vegas? Whatever you do, do not receive a free repair, unlimited free booze, food and accommodation from a bunch of fun-loving teens- self-dubbed ‘The Helpers’- at their motel. Why? Because you could awaken tied up in a death trap faced with your last few minutes to live. Very unhelpful you’d think. Though this No Vacancy/Saw spin-off boasts some non-imaginative-but-pretty-cool deaths, there are few surprises and even fewer (actually, no) characters that we give a crap about. Curiously labelled a “found-footage” horror (the handheld camera technique gives up after the first fifteen minutes), its final revelation plunges the revenge scheme into a confusing contradiction when the helpers torture-terror is hinted to continue after their intended victims are (literally) ripped apart.

It seems that Elijah Wood’s ‘One Ring’ has had a lasting effect on the LOTR star as he bloodies up to lead in Franck Khalfoun’s remake of 80’s genre classic, Maniac. A psychologically deranged owner of a Mannequin store, who has fetish for scalps, develops a stalkerish obsession with a local female photographer. Though Wood’s typical on-screen appearance has the scare capacity of a custard cream, his deliverance of infamous serial-killer Frank couldn’t have been more convincing. His fluctuating withdrawn-awkwardness-turned-to-brutal-madness offers both a spectacular character study as well as an eye-fixating visceral display of gore and violence. Who knew, a remake worth watching!

You’d back the horror debut entry from the daughter of one of Hollywood’s most cherished, multi-award winning surrealist filmmakers to fit right into the more impressive end of the genre’s industry. And it has. Jennifer Chambers Lynch’s psychological horror explores the darkest depths of human monstrosity. Cab-driving serial killer Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio) picks off his prey on the streets, raping and murdering them at his secluded country home, as his young imprisoned slave “Rabbit” (Eamon Farren) helplessly looks on. Preaching the ethical nature of his deranged hobby to his unwilling protégé, the immorality of Bob’s sadistic agenda and its connection to mental devastation as an after effect of childhood abuse is unrelentingly examined in this brutally hard-hitting, emotional tragedy.


Monday, 5 November 2012

(My TF Sample Review)

The Tall Man

… Falls short.

For those lucky enough to have had the pleasure in experiencing Pascal Laugier’s ferociously violent and brutally brilliant 2008 horror Martyrs, an immediate response to the notion of the French director’s next project might naturally be euphoric excitement (mixed with an anticipatory sense of stomach-churning uneasiness.)

Four years later and that project has finally arrived. The Tall Man is Laugier’s first English-speaking entry, and surprisingly follows a similar Martyr-ian concept: abduction and revenge. Has it taken almost half a decade for the martyr-mastermind to churn out a similar movie? It hasn’t… Unfortunately.

A quiet, decaying mining town is given something to talk about when its children mysteriously start to go missing. With the child-snatcher deemed by local folklore to be an unknown entity- dubbed ‘The Tall Man’- a once-skeptical nurse Julia (Jessica Biel) enters into a desperate attempt to unravel the local legend once he kidnaps her son. But, as we should have known, not all is as it first seems in Pascal’s parent nightmare.

The plot plays with the Pascal-esque potential for twists, turns and mind meddling, and- at one point- our expectations are met. But this satisfaction is sourly short-lived and its tame climax leaves you hopelessly clinging on for a last-minute eye-opening revelation. Though plunging into formidably dark depths and intriguing morally corrupt territory, it is ultimately derailed by an underwhelming lack of terror and a creeping ridiculousness, resulting in a disappointing end to a promising premise.

Sacrificing her salary to ensure the film was released, it seems that Biel has been robbed of both her child and paycheck.

THE VERDICT: Tediousness replaces suspense as the twists turn inwards and the plot suffers an unexpected predictability. Ultimately it fails as a horror, but particularly as a Pascal Laugier horror.

On The Road


Jack Kerouac’s cult-classic hits the road with Walter Salles behind the wheel.

It’s been over half a century in the run and now, exactly 55 years after it was first published in the US, Jack Kerouac’s ground-breaking, if not life-changing, novel On The Road has finally been brought to the screen in a feature length film.

It has been a much anticipated spectacle for fans of the American writer’s most illustrious work, and a long-awaited project for whoever dared to transcribe the 300-page ramble and place its mass of seemingly aimless digresses neatly into a piece of conventional narrative film.

Thank you, Walter Salles.

Young and aspiring writer Sal Paradise joins wild ‘n’ wacky Dean Moriarty as they wind up on an exhilarating ride back and forth America. In search of personal freedom and self-exploration, the pair, and their half-hearted entourage who idle in amidst their travels, divulge into a life of sex, drugs, jazz and kicks. Stimulated by their incessant discovery of the unravelling sidewalks of life, and living an existence of, as Kerouac himself describes, “raggedy madness and riot”, Sal and Dean amble east to west and back again to fulfil their yearning desire of new and exciting experiences. While indubitably defining the ‘Beat’ generation, Kerouac’s novel tests the limits of the American Dream whilst celebrating the growing phenomena of the counter culture in the fresh approaching years of the mid-20th century.

With an exuberant Dean at the helm and an infatuated Sal clipping his heals close behind, they race through society drinking whiskey, smoking weed and getting girls. Working by day to fund their life by night. Salles captures the no-worries-be-happy existence of the elated ensemble to a tee and highlights both the charm and energy of the American poor man’s city buzz– what it was like to really feel alive- as well as its tragic consequences of poverty and, as demonstrated in one of Kerouac’s characters, it’s potential to create an ultimate dissatisfaction of life.

Kerouac’s exquisite blend of fictional and autobiographical storytelling is really a visual display of a nostalgic panorama of the open outdoors; a love poem to nature, passion and exuberance. But unfortunately, we spend more time indoors in hotel rooms and shacks in this adaptation. What is tragically suppressed is the true essence of Kerouac’s experiences on the backdrop of post-war America- the gritty nature of a life on the road. The young men’s adolescent affection for the many wonders of the world and their endless cravings to discover and unravel its natural splendour is dampened down. Subsequently, the continuing sense of their long and winding miles that forever exist ahead of them, and how each brief stay in each city or town is only a pitstop on their forever-present journey on the road, is largely lost. This is perhaps surprising considering the director’s prior success in creating just that in his critically-acclaimed The Motorcycle Diaries. Sal and Dean’s brief separation which is so poignant to understanding their relationship is too somewhat neglected.

Nonetheless, Salles delivers a well-rounded and intriguing story around the salient events of the characters lives in those noteworthy years, which will no doubt be inflated for those who haven’t read the novel. Despite probably suffering for its lack of insight into Kerouac’s deeper philosophies and character relations, Salles should be credited for how much of the novel he does pack into the 120 minute pic. And, allas, it is fundamentally comprehendible to follow.

Kirsten Stewart falls back into her teenager years and whilst her character of Marylou isn’t entirely accurately sketched, she embraces the balance of the young woman’s maturity- whose outlook is older than her years- with the larger-than-life free spirited girl (not to mention her boob debut!) Garrett Hedlund literally and metaphorically beams as the vivacious, eccentric ‘cowboy’ and Sam Riley equally shines in his performance, as does supporting roles from Viggo Mortenson, Kirsten Dunce, Amy Adams and Tom Sturridge. Though the ensemble is an impressive one, the ephemeral of multiple characters that we encounter doesn’t quite allow for that depth of individual personality and history that we feel each character deserves. The connection to them is subsequently more one of fleeting admiration and, at times, bewilderment rather than sentimental emotion.

Though the movies ending is admirably left in the stories honest, nonchalant conclusion, a feeling that Kerouac’s life on the road remains a story untold onscreen lingers. And perhaps that’s the way it should stay.