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Entries in AJ Bowen (2)

Thursday
Aug222013

You're Next

“You’re Next” is the most immersive horror film in some time. This is important to note because to truly scare an audience, a horror film needs to draw them into its proceedings and do the best it can to make them forget that they’re merely watching a movie. In its attempt to do just that, the film circumvents the usual opening credits all other movies abide by. It doesn’t even flash a title card, instead opting to cleverly blend its title with the events at hand, through the words written in blood across two full body windows. I hesitate to hail this as the newest home invasion/slasher masterpiece because it’s not on par with many that have come before, but it nevertheless nails the one key ingredient it needs: complete and total immersion.

The movie begins simply enough. A family is getting together to celebrate the parent’s thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. The mother and father have yet to meet any of their children’s significant others, so to help celebrate, they’re all coming along. The evening begins with innocent jokes and petty quarrels, not unlike many families get-togethers, but during dinner, something crazy happens. As one of their daughter’s boyfriends walks towards a window, an arrow comes crashing through, killing him. There are mysterious masked people outside and they’re trying to kill them for unknown reasons, so the family bonds together and tries to come up with a plan for survival, which, of course, will be frivolous for most of them.

The largest issue with the majority of horror movies these days is this: if they even manage to instill fear at all, they can almost never keep it up. The scariest movies at their starts can quickly become dull by their ends because all their cards have been shown and their tricks start repeating. As usual with these things, “You’re Next” fails to keep suspense high throughout, particularly once the invaders get more screen time, but there’s an interesting turn of events that make this shift unique.

As far back as masked killer movies go, dating all the way back to John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece, “Halloween,” the female protagonists were hapless victims, ones of circumstance that didn’t so much fight the monsters as they did run away from them. Sure, late movie events typically led to them overcoming the monster, but their timidity was rarely downplayed. After all, they were fragile, innocent women. Such is not the case with “You’re Next.” The protagonist here, played wonderfully by Sharni Vinson, is strong, intelligent, confident and she makes good decisions. She’s one of the strongest female protagonists to ever grace a horror movie and it’s more than welcome. If you’re the type of girl who has been longing for a female character that makes the males onscreen look like wimps and doesn’t annoy with relentless whimpers and screams, you’re going to love her.

In fact, it’s her prowess that gives the film its edge and makes the less frightening back portions nevertheless exciting. Without going into too much detail, it’s safe to say that the hunters suddenly become the hunted, the film slowly shifting to their perspective over time, and it’s them who are walking slowly and cautiously towards their potential demise. If the film stumbles at all with its heroic female lead, it’s when it gives a flimsy reason for her skills and smarts, something along the lines of growing up on a survivalist compound with a crazy dad who readied her for the end of the world. Such an explanation is unnecessary; why can’t the strong female protagonist be cunning and intelligent simply because she’s a strong female?

Even with such a senseless stumble, the movie itself is solid all around. While the back half forges its own path through the tired home invasion/slasher subgenre, the first half plays out like a slick cross between “Halloween” and the underrated 2008 gem, “The Strangers.” The monsters are shown in the background and through reflections while jump scares don’t signal the end of a fright, but instead are followed by subtler, creepier, tone setting shots that truly get under the skin. That’s not to say this movie is a nightmare-producing scare fest—few are—but it sets out to do something and it does it well. If you’re a horror fan, you need to see “You’re Next.”

You’re Next receives 4/5

Friday
Oct012010

Hatchet II

The Motion Picture Association of America has a stranglehold on the movie industry. Any film that hopes to get a theatrical release in a major theater chain has to abide by the rules set by the MPAA and reach a rating of R or lower. To release an unrated movie, a horror movie no less, in a chain as large as AMC is unprecedented. But that’s precisely what Anchor Bay Entertainment is doing with Hatchet II, Adam Green’s follow-up to his immensely popular Hatchet. With the benefit of an unrated description, Hatchet II delivers the type of bloody, gory thrills you wouldn’t receive had the MPAA forced the filmmakers to hack their movie up. While I’m less than thrilled about the final product, I commend everyone involved with this move. We are seeing the director’s vision, not an edited one to fit into society’s flimsy standards.

At the end of Hatchet, deformed killer Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) had killed off everybody who entered his New Orleans swamp except for one girl named Marybeth. As he grabbed her, the film cut to black. End movie. Hatchet II picks up literally at that very second. Marybeth (played in this movie by the far superior Danielle Harris) somehow makes it out of the swamp alive and ends up back on the raucous streets of Mardi Gras, but wants to go back to find the bodies of her brother and father and give them a proper burial. So she employs Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), a local shop owner to help her. If they happen to find Victor (and they will) and kill him, all the better.

Slasher movies are hard to pull off because they can be so many things. They can be fun, funny, scary, a mix of all three or none of them. The line one must walk to success is poorly defined and, coincidentally, most slashers fail, but Hatchet succeeded beyond all expectations. It didn’t redefine the genre, but it brought back the feeling of slashers gone by, when killers in masks ruled the theaters. It may have lacked the scares, but it had fun and funny in spades. From beginning to end, Hatchet was a blast and I have no problem calling it one of the greatest slashers ever made. Hatchet II, quite frankly, is a disappointment.

Hatchet may not have been scary, but it wasn’t trying to. Similarly, it was hard to take seriously, but again, it never asked us to. It existed in a world where slashers were fun, where the kills and the constant wisecracks from the able cast elicited chuckles. Hatchet II, conversely, tries to be scary and asks, at least more than the original, to be taken seriously. This one tries harder and, therefore, fails harder.

What it’s sorely missing, more than anything else, is the humor from the original. The first half of Hatchet was downright hilarious. Outside of a jump scare or two, the majority of the opening scenes were meant to be funny, and they were. When the kills began, however, you were still laughing because they were fun. Hatchet II is not funny (sans one hilarious sex scene with prominent horror star AJ Bowen) and the kills, while creative and sure to please gorehounds, are kind of unpleasant. There’s not much fun to be had here, which strips it of the old school, campy 80’s vibe the original carried so well.

Coincidentally, the cast isn’t as likable. With the exception of Danielle Harris, who is a huge step up from Tamara Feldman in the original, none of the characters are given personalities. Nearly doubling the body count from the original means having more people out there in the woods, but the screenplay gives them nothing but a line or two and a dismemberment.

Still, as far as these things go, Hatchet II isn’t all that bad. Its kills are inventive, though some are overly brutal, and it moves at such a breakneck pace that its many faults are sure to pass by unnoticed in the midst of all the bloodshed. It’s a big step down from director Adam Green’s previous efforts, but Hatchet II is mildly recommendable all the same.

Hatchet II receives 3/5