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Entries in Horror (34)

Friday
Sep172010

Devil

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 NIV.

Those words from the Bible, or at least a variation of, open the latest thriller Devil. Within the context of the film, they serve one single purpose: to set up a supernatural story where evil people come face to face with Satan himself in an elevator. From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan, but thankfully neither written nor directed by him, Devil is a solid, if a bit underwhelming, horror movie.

The story is simple. Five people get on an elevator. There’s a fragile old woman (Jenny O’Hara), an attractive young girl (Bojana Novakovic), a claustrophobic security guard (Bokeem Woodbine), a loud mouthed salesman (Geoffrey Arend) and a soft spoken, rugged man (Logan Marshall-Green). One of them is the devil. After the elevator breaks down, strange things begin to happen and Detective Bowden (Chris Messina), who doesn’t believe in God and the devil, is the closest person on the job that can help.

Perhaps to counteract Detective Bowden’s atheism (but mostly to provide some background for the flimsy narrative), there’s a religious security guard (Jacob Vargas) who knows exactly what is going on. His mother used to tell him stories about how Satan works and he knows from the get go that he is on that elevator, manifested in one of those people. He tries to convince Bowden, despite his skepticism, telling him, “Everybody believes in him a little bit, even if they pretend not to.” It’s a classic tale of a non-religious person learning that there is indeed deeper meaning to life and someone is out there looking over us.

It’s a noble story that’s been done to death, but it doesn’t necessarily work here because Bowden is an outside spectator and the chills of the movie rest inside that elevator. Devil tries to have it both ways by crafting a morality tale of forgiveness and understanding outside while also hoping to provide a claustrophobic nightmare within the broken down lift, but neither fully work.

When the movie reaches its most tense moments inside the elevator, it repeatedly ruins them by cutting away to the events outside. It lacks that feeling of the walls closing in on you that movies like The Descent or the upcoming Buried possess. While some characters address the camera directly, effectively placing you in the shoes of someone in that elevator, the movie leaves its confines too much, which strips away much of its dread.

However, it does a decent job of keeping you guessing until the end, though that’s only because there aren't any real clues to tip you off. Who the devil is in the movie doesn’t seem to be so important. Any of them could be and it wouldn’t make much difference. Each of the characters in the elevator are interchangeable, almost to a fault, and some of the ways the film throws you off the right trail is almost cheating, but I commend Devil for restraining itself when it came to the violence and for not succumbing to the temptations of a typical Hollywood ending. While it’s not perfect, and despite having Shyamalan’s name attached to it, there’s something unsettling in Devil that I just can’t shake. If anything, that’s a good thing.

Devil receives 3/5

Friday
Sep102010

Resident Evil: Afterlife

There isn’t a film series under the sun that perplexes me as much as the Resident Evil franchise. Having seen each multiple times, I feel differently about them after each viewing. Sometimes I love them, sometimes I hate them and sometimes I land somewhere in the middle because, as poor as they are, they’re amusing. With that said, I fear my feelings for the newest installment, Resident Evil: Afterlife, will always be the same. It continues the poor production trend of the previous movies while forgetting all about the fun.

Milla Jovovich plays Alice, a former employee of the Umbrella Corporation, a company that practically destroyed the world. Years ago, a virus known as the T-virus escaped the confines of their laboratories and slowly turned everybody into zombies. Now there are only a handful of survivors left, but Umbrella continues in their studies. The movie begins with Alice infiltrating the Umbrella headquarters in Tokyo and taking out everybody inside with her recently discovered powers (which apparently include cloning herself at will), including Wesker (Shawn Roberts), who looks and sounds suspiciously like Agent Smith from The Matrix. But before doing so, Wesker injects her with something, stripping her of her powers and making her human again. Now, years later she is in search of an uninfected area known as Arcadia and finds it. The problem is she’s surrounded by zombies with no viable route to get there. So she, along with Claire (Ali Larter), Chris (Wentworth Miller) and a handful of others, come up with a plan of escape.

Resident Evil: Afterlife feels as much like a Resident Evil video game as the previous movies, which is to say not at all. Rather than emulate the games, known for their tension and scares (the earlier ones, at least), where the characters carry a limited ammo supply to fend off the zombie horde, the films amp up the action and are more like mind-numbing shooting galleries where things like ambiance mean very little.

Coincidentally, the script seems like it was ripped from a generic shoot-em-up video game where the cutscenes exist solely as a bridge to the next gun battle, complete with synthetic music, a general disregard for coherence and stupid dialogue (after seeing a ship—“It’s a ship!”). There’s even what you could call a boss battle with an unexplained and random axe wielding monstrosity that feels more like Pyramid Head from Silent Hill than anything that should be appearing in something called Resident Evil.

It’s hard to believe that this franchise has made it to a fourth entry, but with relatively low budgets and millions of video game nerds willing to see movies based on their favorite games, I shouldn’t be surprised. After three movies, however, something needs to change, but those changes merely consist of borrowing heavily from other video games (like a set piece eerily reminiscent of the flooded staircase in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty) and films like the ones previously mentioned (as well as a new breed of zombie that look exactly like the Reapers from Blade II). Paul W.S. Anderson seems incapable of writing a good, unique script. In fact, his two best directorial efforts (Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon) were not written by him.

What’s really left in Resident Evil: Afterlife is the 3D, of which does nothing to enhance the experience. It doesn’t detract much either, however, because it’s hard to detract from something that has so little to detract from. If you’re a gamer, I’m sure you’ll be interested in seeing what they’ve done with the franchise (as I regrettably was), but take my word for it and don't.

Resident Evil: Afterlife receives 1/5

Friday
Aug272010

The Last Exorcism

If you’ve seen one exorcism movie, you’ve seen them all: boiling water, body contortions, creepy sounds, shaking beds. It’s all the same. What matters, however, is how effective you pull it off and The Last Exorcism pales in comparison to other films in the genre.

The movie takes place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where we meet Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). He’s a pastor who years ago lost his faith and is now preaching his sermons for the paycheck. He justifies it by convincing himself he is doing a valuable service to those who listen. Part of his duty as a pastor is also taking part in exorcisms, despite not believing in demons. Instead, he creates a giant hoax, setting up equipment to shake beds, move pictures on the wall and create demonic sounds. He is about to perform his last exorcism, having recently made the decision to quit the exorcism racket, and invites a camera crew along to see how he performs one. So he heads off to a little farm where he meets Nell (Ashley Bell) and her family and performs his usual tricks, but this case is different and those tricks aren’t going to work.

The Last Exorcism starts off strong. Cotton is non-religious despite preaching religion to the masses. He says at one point that his job is to “get people in their wallets” because “churches don’t run on love.” He manipulates people’s emotions and beliefs for his own monetary gain. The film takes this opportunity to bring up some interesting themes including religious apprehension and corruption.

Unfortunately, none of these themes play out. The Last Exorcism instead becomes another assembly line production that uses worn out tactics done better in a number of other movies. Aside from the obvious similarities to The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, it’s one of those “lost footage” movies like Paranormal Activity, only not as original. It’s also a mockumentary where the actors directly address the camera in interviews, a ploy used more effectively in the tremendously creepy Australian horror film, Lake Mungo. Once Cotton arrives on the farm, we watch him as he sets up the exorcism, planning everything out to make sure nothing goes wrong. Even this, as interesting as it is, echoes the far superior Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a movie with a similar style that parodies the slasher genre.

Frankly, everything in The Last Exorcism has been done before. Even certain shots and scenes seem ripped out of everything from the Spanish horror film [Rec] to the more recent overrated genre picture House of the Devil. The one thing it has going for it is its humor. Honestly, this is more of a comedy than a horror movie, both in a good and bad way. It’s purposely funny and legitimately so, but the laughs also counterintuitively negate the chills this thing supposedly has to offer.

So The Last Exorcism moves through its overdone horror antics with characters that don’t know how to flip on a light switch and an evil that’s more bothered with showmanship than anything else. There’s a mystery throughout the film that questions whether or not young Nell is actually possessed or is just faking it and it does a good job of keeping it up in the air until the out-of-left-field ending that makes that answer fairly obvious. But by that point, I didn’t care. If this is what we can expect from exorcism movies, let’s hope this really is the last one.

The Last Exorcism receives 2/5

Friday
Aug202010

Piranha 3D

It’s really tough to make a stupid fun movie. By purposely being stupid, you run the risk of being so while missing the fun. Movies like Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Snakes on a Plane walked the line perfectly. This week’s Piranha 3D doesn’t. It’s an uneven mix of fun and unpleasantness that I found, at times, kind of revolting.

The story is loosely based on the concept for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and when I say “loosely based on,” I really mean “completely ripped from.” It takes place at a small area called Lake Victoria where college kids have come to celebrate. After an earthquake somehow caused by a beer bottle unearths a subterranean lake, thousands of piranha emerge and infest the waters. Despite the insistence of the local sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), the lake remains open because it just so happens that this party weekend is the most economically successful period of the area and shutting it down would be devastating.

Piranha 3D is what would happen at MTV’s annual Spring Break bash if piranhas took over. It has the energy of one of those events, showcasing gratuitous amounts of skin and unofficially endorsing alcohol and drug use, only with the nonstop partying ending in a lake of blood and dozens of corpses. Its emulation works, effectively creating an atmosphere most young men, its target audience, will want to be in.

It’s a movie that promises certain things, chiefly among those being fun. Its ambitions go no higher than to be a cheesy, ridiculous B-movie that people can laugh at and, at times, it succeeds. Unfortunately, those ambitions are paralleled with an equal desire to be serious. It tries to have it both ways and stumbles in its approach. Supposedly fun encounters with the piranhas are immediately followed by unnecessary dramatics, including a scene where the partying teenagers are being pulled out of the water, bleeding and suffering while somber music plays in the background.

I use the word “supposedly” because I find it hard to classify what goes on this movie as “fun.” While some kills are clever, like one that has to do with tangled hair in a boat propeller, most are either boring or unpleasant. They’re boring in that there’s only so many ways piranhas can bite somebody and they’re unpleasant because of the excessive gore. The blood and guts teeter on the edge of too much and sometimes spill over.

All of this leads up to the big problem with Piranha 3D: I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to be amused or be disgusted. Its tone flops more than a fish on dry land. I acknowledge how hard it is to take the movie seriously, but that makes it even worse because it sometimes felt like I was supposed to.

It’s a shame because I was ready to enjoy myself, but I didn’t. I can look past the shoddy production values, campy acting, mediocre CGI and even the ugly 3D up-conversion given the nature of the film, but there’s a certain amount of fun I must have and that level was never met.

Piranha 3D receives 2/5

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