The Boy (2016)

JANUARY 22, 2016


If this was 2007, my review of The Boy would include another genre tagging and I'd be gushing about how it pays homage to ______, which I wouldn't have expected given that I had sat down for a creepy killer doll movie (yes, a doll, not a puppet - I just never bothered making two separate tags and I'm not gonna start now). But over the years I got more and more reserved when it came to spoilers, almost to the point of being one of those annoying spoilerphobes that yell at you on Twitter for saying something like "Kylo Ren is the bad guy in Star Wars". I will ALLUDE to the film's later reveals, but not say anything specific that might tip you off, though just to be safe I hope you just wait until you see the movie before reading. Unless you want to know if you SHOULD see it, and in that case - yes, you should.

"But isn't it from the director of The Devil Inside and Stay Alive," you may ask? Yes, and I didn't know that until I saw his name (William Brent Bell) in the credits. But I was a minor defender of those films (neither are great, but nowhere near as bad as their reputations), and this is much better at any rate. Of course, I'm a sucker for creepy doll movies, and since I was so disappointed by The Forest I was just happy to see a movie with less interest in jolting the audience every five minutes with a fake scare. Not that it lacks them - this IS a PG-13 January horror movie after all, so by law there must be at least two (2) nightmare scenes and every character must be introduced to the heroine (Lauren Cohan) by inadvertently scaring her, but Bell keeps them to an acceptable minimum. Plus, he kind of has no choice but to include some, because the nature of the film restricts him from using the doll much.

If you paid attention to the trailer, you'd notice that the doll never moves, and there's a good reason for that. This isn't Child's Play - the question of the movie is whether or not the doll IS alive as its "parents" think, and you take the journey with Cohan, meaning you find out the answer only when she does. The parents go on vacation early on, leaving her alone with Brahms (the doll's name, and also the name of their son, who died in a mysterious fire), and obviously if the thing got up and told her to make it breakfast (one of the tasks she is asked to perform, much to her confusion) on that first day, she'd hightail it out of there and there would be no movie. So she has to think they're crazy at first, and then as strange things start happening she (we) has (have) to wonder if maybe the parents aren't so crazy after all. Bell knows that if he shows the doll as much as blink, he is locked into that answer (otherwise he'd be cheating) and so you have to be patient - you know the truth when you need to, which is to say, the movie's 3rd act.

As you might expect from that description, this means that there isn't a lot of action in the movie, so some might even call it "boring". I'll admit, I think the pace could have been tightened here and there, but when you consider the bigger picture, it all fits. Cohan has to spend a reasonable amount of time assuming her employers are crazy - if she thinks Brahms is really alive after the first strange noise or "Didn't I leave him in the other room?" type moment, we lose sympathy for our heroine. Like any sane human, it takes her a while to start considering that maybe the doll is in fact alive, so Bell and writer Stacey Menear have to rely on the audience's intelligence (risky move nowadays) to accept that the movie isn't particularly exciting. They also run the risk of making her kind of unlikable in a way - if you believe that Brahms is alive and harmless, then you start thinking about how the poor little guy is sitting there with a blanket over his head for hours on end, and being ignored even longer. Eventually/obviously she does start suspecting that Brahms is alive, and then she has to convince the only other major character - Malcolm, the delivery man played by Rupert Evans from The Canal. This casting amused me, because in that movie he was the one trying to convince someone that he wasn't crazy when explaining something that sounded insane, so now he gets to be on the other side of the conversation. Charming actor, that guy - hope to see him in more hero roles soon.

But it's mostly Cohan's show - she's in every scene (except for one, I'll get to that in a bit) and carries the movie easily. Naturally, she has a tragic backstory, though it's not just some random shit - it actually informs her journey with Brahms. Turns out her abusive ex (the one she's running off to England to escape) hit her a bit too hard one night and caused her to miscarry, so when she learns the couple's own sad history, that they lost the real Brahms and have seemingly avoided dealing with it by treating a doll as if he was their still-living son, she starts sympathizing with their plight. It's rare that a modern horror movie going out on 2000+ screens can be considered a character piece, but that's exactly what The Boy is - it's about this woman coming to grips with the fact that she was denied a chance at motherhood. At a certain point, you should stop caring about whether or not Brahms is real and be more focused on whether or not she will be able to fully recover from her loss, making the horror element kind of a bonus in a strange way. It's not much longer after this reveal that the answers start coming, and so that's where I'll stop discussing the matter.

However I do have to go back to that one scene I mentioned. The entire movie is Cohan's POV, to the extent that even when she's talking to her friend (sister?) back home we don't cut away just to give the movie a change of scenery. Malcolm comes and goes with groceries but they never show him in town, loading his car up or anything - the furthest away from her that they get is when she's trapped in the attic and Malcolm is outside knocking on the door. So I'm baffled that Bell opted to not only break this rule to go hundreds of miles away to show something the parents are doing while on their holiday, but does so about 40 minutes before that information is necessary to us in any way. Not only does it cancel out the possibility that they never actually left and are the ones moving Brahms into different rooms or whatever, but it also severely lessens the impact for when Cohan discovers what they did (via a letter that they send), right near the end of the movie. It's obvious that the script went out of its way to make sure we were never ahead of Cohan's character at any point, so for the life of me I can't understand the thought process behind this glaring exception. I mean, sure, they could show the scene when she finds the letter, because at that point we know all the secrets, but why so long before?

The other complaint I have isn't about the movie, but about some people who are accusing it of ripping off ______. The title would give it away, I can only say it's a recent film, not from the US, that people (including me) really liked. Anyway, they're wrong - there's a similar plot element, yes, but in one that element describes the antagonist and in the other it concerns the hero, so those naysayers are already grasping at straws. Add that to the fact that this element has been used in dozens of movies and that ______ didn't come out in the US (save a few festival appearances) until this one was already in production and I'd say that it's likely just a coincidence, and if you watched the two of them back to back you'd see very different movies that happen to share a similar plot device in their 3rd act. That said, I am confident Menear was definitely paying tribute to the _______ title I mentioned in the first paragraph (a sequel, I'll hint at that much), but anyone who would knock the movie for that is a fool. If anything it's all the more reason to champion it.

(If you're reading this review before seeing the movie, I hope realizing all these things I'm talking about during your viewing doesn't get too distracting!)

Long story short, if you're patient and not the kind of person who gets unreasonably angry when their expectations are not met (i.e. the sort of person who still can't get past the lack of Michael Myers in Halloween III to realize it's an awesome movie), then you should really enjoy this one. My audience mostly turned on it (the guy behind me was basically MST3king it, but he seemed unbalanced so I just rolled my eyes instead of telling him to shut the fuck up) but others that I trust (and who were NOT defenders of Bell's earlier films) have also given it their blessing, and I think lots of folks will be pleasantly surprised if they give it a fair chance. And if not, well, you should at least admit it's better than The Forest (which, oddly enough, also has a Bear McCreary score and stars an actress best known for her role on a trendy cable show), as far as this month's horror options go.

What say you?

P.S. This week's Collins' Crypt piece at Birth.Movies.Death will have the spoiler since it'll be part of a longer article about Bell's output, if you absolutely must know what it is and inexplicably only want to hear it from me.


Martyrs (2015)

JANUARY 20, 2016


I am cursed from seeing Martyrs at Screamfest. In 2008 the original was one of the only movies for the entire festival that I missed (I had to get to the New Beverly for something, probably Phil's all-nighter), and in 2015 I ended up sleeping through half of the remake, which is why I didn't review it even though it was one of the fest's high profile screenings. So once again I had to settle for watching it at home (with the windows closed this time!), finally putting together those random chunks of the movie that I saw in a way that a. made sense and b. weren't getting gummed up with my memories of the first film. See, when I say I slept through half, it wasn't like, the LAST half or a big chunk of the middle - I'd fall asleep for 10 minutes, see 10-15, fall asleep for another few minutes, stay awake for a bit, fall asleep for 20 minutes... you get the idea.


Now, if this was a new movie, it'd render the viewing experience completely incoherent, but as it was a remake, I was just sort of filling in the blanks ("Oh right, the monster thing was in her head") and more or less getting it. I mean, if you fall asleep just before Marion gets into the shower in Gus Van Sant's Psycho, it's not like you won't know where she went if you wake up thirty minutes later. However, this remake took my favorite approach for these things, which is to start off more or less identical and then take a turn somewhere. So by the end, I was having a lot of trouble with my "fill in" process, because I was using elements that were no longer in play and mixing up the two lead characters, and that's because of the film's biggest change - Lucy doesn't die at the end of the first act. Long story short, by the end I knew I had to give this movie a total rewatch, and make sure I was actually seeing things in the right context instead of some (admittedly kind of appealingly funky) blend of what I was seeing, what I had seen seven years earlier, and what I was possibly just dreaming in between.

Of course, all anyone cares about knowing is whether or not this remake is "pointless" or whatever other derogatory term you might want to throw at such fare, and in that case no it is not. There will be some backlash, I'm sure, but the movie gambles with some big changes and for the most part they pay off. Most importantly is that it's an easier film to watch, and I know some might say that it SHOULDN'T be, but we already have the nearly unbearable version of this story. Pascal Laugier directed it in 2008 and it's available from Amazon and other fine retailers. The whole point of a remake, at least to me, is to either fix a story that got broken the first time around, or just try it a different way whether it worked fine or not. It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure book - you pick your options and see how things turn out, and then you flip back to page 1 and try some other things. Maybe it'll be a better experience, maybe not - the point is that you TRY (unlike Gus Van Sant).

So Lucy (Troian Bellisario) lives this time, and it's she, not Anna (Bailey Noble), that goes through the torture during the 3rd act, albeit nowhere near as excessive as in the original. There are some truly unsettling moments, of course, but as the director hilariously said at the screening, he wanted people to be able to actually see it this time (alluding to the original, which was either cut heavily or banned outright in several countries). I don't think there's anything wrong with the idea of telling a story in a way that will make it more digestible for a larger audience, and since the horror genre isn't exactly drowning in inventive narratives or multi-dimensional villains, I'm all for a way that can allow more people to see this particular story. As you might have guessed, none of that stuff changed - the title has the same meaning, the girls are still being tortured for the same reason, etc. It just has some different ways of going about it, one that allows a little more character development for Anna (as she now gets to do something besides scream and get beaten for the film's final half hour or so) and some other little tweaks that I won't divulge here.

Plus I liked how it worked for newcomers and old fans. People who had never seen the original won't be surprised to see Lucy survive, but the film manages to replicate the original's sense of confusion during its first act or so, when you're not sure who your heroes are, how the things you're seeing are connected, etc. The pieces fall into place when they need to, so I assure you that if you're confused at first - it's intentional, and it pays off. And this goes for those who have seen the original, as they're likely to feel ahead of what's going on at first and lulled into a sense of security, only for Lucy's survival to kick off a new chain of events that they might NOT fully grasp until they're supposed to. This sounded like one of the least necessary remakes in history when it was first announced (a long time ago, and with Last Exorcism director Daniel Stamm attached - he's no longer involved), so it's ironic that in the grand tradition of horror remakes (and in particular the ones from last 10 years or so) it's actually a lot closer to the "THIS is how you do it!" end of the spectrum (with We Are What We Are and The Crazies) than the "You fucked it up!" area occupied by Halloween and pretty much every post-Grudge Asian horror remake.

That said, there are two decisions I wasn't crazy about in October and haven't really warmed to here. One is an audience-relief kind of moment near the end that is a bit of a groaner (though, without spoiling things, I can say that it's softened by the action another character takes just before it, which is more in line with the point). The other is that while Anna is the one we're with the whole time (and the one that the lady explains their purpose to), she doesn't really put through anything, making her kind of a bystander in the narrative. Lucy survives and gets put through the ringer again, but (perhaps to keep the violence level down) we barely get back to her once she's recaptured, staying with Anna as she avoids the torture folk (I wish they had a cult name or something to refer to them!), rescues another victim, etc. It feels like we're watching the B-plot of the story during the 3rd act, making it lack a real anchor to the proceedings. Not that I want to see Anna get tortured (or anyone else), but I couldn't help but think, rather than have both of them survive, if they killed Anna off halfway and made it all Lucy's story, the new filmmakers would earn their points for changing things (albeit not as much) but retaining the strong grip on the audience that the original had. Laugier made us experience Anna's awful plight - here they let her off and background the one going through the real suffering. It's not a crippling flaw, but it'll certainly give the kneejerk remake haters something that will be hard to argue with should I ever have to defend the movie in a debate.

But it all comes back to the story itself, which I find just as fascinating now as I did when I saw the original (which, if you recall, I also felt had some issues). What really could have ruined things is letting us know what the girl (Lucy or Anna) was whispering at the end, and they don't make that mistake - we are still allowed to draw our own conclusions as to what she saw. For those who haven't seen the original, this would be the rare instance where I recommend starting with the remake, because you will get to experience this unique and thought-provoking tale in a manner that's not as difficult to watch. If you feel it's too tame, you can always go back and watch Laugier's take, which, ultimately, is probably the superior film if I'm being honest. That said, it's not like Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street where the difference between the two films is night and day, and considering all that was stacked against it (director switch, kind of a dumped release, a relatively quickie remake that was probably largely inspired by the language change than any real narrative necessity), I think it deserves some measure of respect, and certainly a watch. After all, it's not like Martyrs is the sort of movie you watch over and over - if it's been 6-7 years since you gave it a look, go with this one! Even if you hate every scripting decision, it has a terrific score by Evan Goldman. I WILL win that debate should it ever come up, dammit.

What say you?

P.S. The writer is Mark L. Smith, who also co-wrote The Revenant. I find it amusing that if you look at his resume and see a Martyrs remake and a Leonardo DiCaprio movie that will probably (sigh) win Best Picture, you'd think Martyrs would be the one that was ultimately buried by pointlessness and an excess of torture inflicted on its protagonist. Nope! It's the one stealing all of Hateful Eight's rightful audience!


Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015)

JANUARY 15, 2016


It's been a long damn time since I've watched a sequel to a movie I hadn't seen, let alone a part 3, but I was forced to watch Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! for one of my freelance jobs, ending not only that OCD-driven streak, but also ending my successful avoidance of this series. That's right, I have never seen a frame of the first two Sharknado films, because they just seemed like the sort of thing I would hate (bad movies on purpose) and as they were all released post-HMAD's daily grind, I had even less of an interest. Did seeing part 3 change my mind and convince me to go back and watch them? No, but I'll say this much: I was wrong, at least for this one, as I didn't hate the movie.

Before watching I joked about not being able to follow its complicated narrative without having seen the first two movies, so I was kind of amused that I WAS a bit confused when it started, as Ian Ziering (I know enough to know he's the hero of these things) was running in a panic right off the bat, and I had no idea why. However the Wiki synopsis I read for Sharknado 2 didn't suggest any sort of cliffhanger ending, so I dunno, maybe they just wanted it to be more exciting than showing him walking. Anyway early on he gets a medal from President Mark Cuban for his shark-killing heroics, and then a sharknado strikes the White House and things start all over again. I'll give it credit - it doesn't make you wait long for action, ever - the damn things appear every few minutes and wreak lots of bloody havoc. None of the FX are any good, but clearly quantity over quality was the MO here, so I can't fault them for it - I've seen enough Syfy/Asylum movies that only had a few FX and they still sucked anyway, so why not stuff as many in as possible? It's not like the sharks will look better if the FX guys had fewer shots to deal with on what I'm sure is a minimal budget.

And I assume a hefty chunk of that budget went to casting, as the movie is jam-packed with cameos, some even somewhat impressive - Ann Coulter? George RR Martin? Others were just plain wacky, like Jackie Collins in what was probably her last time on camera, and Michele Bachmann in her first ever narrative movie appearance. The Wiki has even more listed, such as Steve Guttenberg's character from Lavalantula (Ziering appears in that one; they share a universe I guess), and also says that the appearance by a pre-scandal Jared Fogle was cut, though he was in the version I watched (yay?). Maybe some of them appeared for free just to join the fun, but still, just roping everyone in and increasing the catering/transportation budgets to accommodate them probably put a dent in the couple million Syfy threw at this thing.

Luckily, Syfy is owned by Universal, and from that they were able to secure some (free?) production value, shooting a big chunk of the movie at Universal Studios in Orlando. They didn't get to show much of the park in terms of the licensed characters (sorry, no sharks devouring Minions), but you can't help but laugh at a shark eating someone posing for a photo with Jaws in front of the familiar lagoon they have set up. Plus it's a welcome respite from the usual shitty Asylum sets - the NASA control room (yep, they go into space eventually, and yes, sharknadoes attack there too) in particular is laughable, looking more like the control tower to one of those tiny regional airports where you take people for scenic tours. I also couldn't help but be amused that the film's plot actually helped dictate another Asylum production tradition: ugly lighting. With sharks constantly swarming overhead, it makes sense that it always looks cloudy and grey throughout the movie, so kudos on that one, fellas.

It's also got just enough cutesy in-jokes to warrant some of my respect. They throw in a few Jaws references, of course (Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath plays Martin Brody, as he apparently did in the previous film, and also a slightly more inspired "General Gottleib"), but there's also a Universal tour guide named Babs (and yes, "Ask for Babs" comes up) which I can't help but appreciate. GRRM is killed (spoiler) sitting next to someone in a wedding dress, and Ziering's 90210 license plate (as does the one from Jaws) makes an appearance. It's even got some legitimately funny lines, like when they're trying to explain to an army guy what's going on and someone says "Bio meteorology is not really an exact science yet." And somehow, the Today Show hosts (all of them, I think) talking about sharknadoes with the same everyday gravitas as they might an earthquake never stopped being funny to me. Basically, there's just enough genuine wit and "We're just having fun" attitude to keep me from getting annoyed.

It does wear thin though. If this didn't have to be a Syfy premiere (i.e. 88-90 minutes to make two hours with commercials), I suspect it would be 70 minutes long at most. The space stuff feels like a 4th act (it really should have climaxed at Universal, since so much of the movie is devoted to Ziering trying to get there and save his family) and, like all Syfy movies, there are too many "OK let's just cut somewhere at random and show anonymous people getting killed" sequences of no concern to the plot. Jared's is one such scene, in fact, so it was probably easy enough to cut for Syfy though I haven't the slightest idea of why they'd put it back in now that, if anything, we know even WORSE things about him than we did when the movie premiered in late July (the worse allegations didn't surface until August, if memory serves). For the first half hour I was thinking "I've been too hard on these things, this is actually fun!" but by the time it ended I was getting pretty sick of seeing digital sharks and random extras being digitally eaten or covered in digital gore.

But there IS an energy to it, which is more than I can say for most Asylum or Syfy stuff that I've seen. If you recall, most of the other Asylum movies that got attention (like the Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus one) were actually terribly boring movies that only had enough action for the trailer, but this, if anything, could almost use a little LESS carnage so it doesn't wear out its welcome (maybe commercial breaks would help?). With all of the attention (read: Twitter hashtags) that the first two got, I'm sure they were given a little more money to put this together, and if so they used it wisely - I can't imagine there's a single movie in their history that offers this many names, this many locations (the story takes them from Washington, to Florida, to outer space), or this much production value - there are two big scenes set on roller coasters! It's like a real movie!

Just not a very good one. I mean, it's pointless to critique the screenplay or acting, because this is a machine that exists for people on social media to band together and live-tweet it, so I don't really care that it's not a winner in those regards - it'd be like complaining that the latest Paul Blart movie didn't have any really exciting action sequences. But again, it gets too repetitive, and this is to someone who hasn't already seen the other two movies, which I can only assume are more or less the same (I understand the first one wasn't as cameo driven, however). To a series fan (?) this might be a case of enough is enough, but they have a 4th one coming (and, sure enough, are using Twitter to decide if Tara Reid's character will survive the encounter that ends this one on a cliffhanger), so I guess we will see if the joke has grown stale or not. Either way, if I'm forced to watch that one too, at least I'll know that there's a good chance I won't hate it. More than I can say about a possible new Paranormal Activity or Hellraiser.

What say you?


Contracted: Phase 2 (2015)

JANUARY 11, 2016


There aren't a lot of zombie sequels, and of the few, they generally follow an unwritten rule that there shouldn't be any strong continuity between them, if at all. Likely because of the game backdrop, the Resident Evil series is an exception, and Re-Animator sort of counts (I never really think of them as zombie movies, more mad scientist movies). But otherwise, they're always stand-alone: none of Romero's movies are connected in any meaningful way, The Dead 2 was basically a remake in a different country, the ROTLD's didn't have much to do with each other (4 and 5 were connected, if memory serves, but not even the film's owner wants anything to do with those), etc. Contracted: Phase 2 bucks that trend, however, as it not only picks up the second the first left off, but actually requires you to see the first in order to make sense out of a couple of its plot points (including the setup for a 3rd film). Even more surprising, it does this with a different creative team, making its rare approach something of a minor miracle in the horror genre - a new filmmaking team with some respect for what came before?

Of course, whether or not the movie is GOOD is a different matter. The first Contracted wasn't a masterpiece by any means, but it was an interesting approach to a zombie movie - what if, instead of having the outbreak happen in the first 10 minutes (or already ongoing, as many modern ones do), we just follow patient zero? The heroine got what she thought was an STD early on and proceeded to spend the movie degenerating in the usual ways (discolored eyes, veiny skin, hair and teeth falling out, etc), but it wasn't clear until the very end that she was becoming a traditional, human-flesh eating zombie (see the movie Thanatomorphose for the non-zombie version of a similar scenario). You would think that a sequel would have the outbreak further along and give us some traditional undead action, but (probably for budgetary reasons) they opted to more or less do the same thing, showing the slow transformation of Riley, one of the original's minor characters who was stupid enough to have sex with the protagonist when she was all but ready to eat him.

It's always a gamble to see a supporting character take the lead in a sequel, and it largely works here, even if there isn't an element of surprise. Riley was the sort of character you expect to die horribly in the first movie because he's nice and sweet, the type of person who has no place in dark horror movies, so the fact that he survived at all was already a surprise - I wouldn't have expected him to take main protagonist duties in a followup. Riley's lovesick angle is dropped (in fact, a new character pines for him and he barely shows interest) and we meet his sister and his best buddy, who happens to be a doctor, but it's not all new faces. Three other characters from the original return, but only one of them is given a proper reintroduction. That would be "BJ", the guy who gave the girl in the first one the disease when he date raped her, and is up to his old tricks in this one - we see him injecting a hooker with something, proving his infections are in purpose. BJ is played by actor Morgan Peter Brown this time instead of Simon Barrett (who, if memory serves, was barely seen in the original, making it a fairly seamless recasting), and the role is bulked up considerably - we hear his silly "I will end the world" MO and he even gets to shoot up some cops at the hospital during the climax.

The other two returns are treated as a surprise of sorts, for the hardcore Contracted fans I guess - they just show up and we have to know who they are. I don't know how many people will be watching if they haven't seen "Phase 1", but if such a person exists I assume they will quickly understand why zombie movies usually don't bother with a continuing storyline. I'm not sure anyone really cares about what BJ and [REDACTED] are up to, because that wasn't the appeal of the first film or even the bulk of the followup. BJ's scenes here are fine, but they ultimately just build up more mystery instead of settling it, trusting that we will see Phase 3 for the answers to questions we didn't exactly have when we sat down. Don't force our investment, movie!

But watching Riley's journey is still a decent enough premise for a sequel, especially when it's only like 70 minutes or so without credits (and two stingers). One interesting thing is that he actually contacts the police about BJ instead of doing all of the investigating on his own, allowing him to try to go on with his life. So he goes to work (where another infected person shows up), goes on a date, etc. And in one inspired bit, he goes to a wake for the girl who got killed in the first movie, where he has to endure her awful hipster friends, including one who sings a painful (read: hilarious) song about her with lyrics like "Alice, come drink from my chalice..."). There are other little bits of humor like that sprinkled throughout the movie, which I wouldn't go so far as to say it SAVES it, but certainly keeps it squarely in "perfectly fine" timekilling entertainment.

As for the gore gags, they're similarly OK. Riley doesn't get AS decrepit as the original girl, but there's a pretty horrifying blood pissing scene to make the guys squeamish, plus a nice bit where he confronts his love interest about her own symptoms, and a would-be hero, thinking Riley is bothering her, intervenes and pays the price. The makeup work on their skin/eyes/lips/etc is quite good, though it seems like it takes longer for Riley's symptoms to really get bad, so we don't get into really gross stuff for quite a while (except for the blood piss, but that's always been a particularly tough one for me to watch). The movie offers a few more infected parties (four, I think?) but they're used for quick jolts of action, not so much for deteriorating body horror that the first one excelled at. I wish there was a look at the makeup FX process in the bonus features, but alas we only get two: a trailer and an extended trailer, and if you think I bothered to watch both to note the differences, you sir/madam have never had a child or a crippling video game habit that demanded your free time.

Overall, I give them credit for trying something different for a zombie sequel (and with Marvel, the Fasts, etc, you can't really blame anyone for embracing continuity), but when it ultimately feels like an extended setup for a 3rd movie, I can't help but feel kind of annoyed. Maybe if Phase 3 (if it ever exists) is a knockout, I'll be more forgiving, the way I softened on Saw V when the next one proved to be such a fine return to form, but that's a big IF. Die-hard fans of the original, if they can get past the fact that it's not from writer/director Eric England (who doesn't seem to be too thrilled about this one's existence, if his Twitter is any indication), will enjoy seeing the supporting cast take the spotlight, and sequelphiles can add it to the admirable world of "picks up the second the last one ended" followups (joining Halloween II, the Hatchet sequels, etc), but as its own entity, it falls short of being a success. Watchable, sure, but I can't imagine a scenario where I'd ever want to watch it again.

What say you?

P.S. If the new director's name sounds familiar to you, it's because it's the same Josh Forbes who made some headlines last year when he launched a (successful!) crowdfunded campaign to buy his ticket for the MTV Video Awards, where he was nominated for his Walk The Moon video. MTV, apparently, doesn't give nominees a ticket unless they're famous (and thus wouldn't bother to go as they'd probably have something better to do with their time). He lost to Fall Out Boy, for the record.


Over Your Dead Body (2014)

JANUARY 6, 2016


If there's one gaping hole in my modern horror knowledge, it's the work of Takashi Miike. I have only seen a pitiful two of his horror films*, and one of them is One Missed Call, which is probably the equivalent of using Always as half of your experience with the films of Steven Spielberg. The other is Audition, and from what I understand, this new film, Over Your Dead Body (Japanese: Kuime, and not to be confused with Over Her Dead Body, the movie that took three of the most charming people in the world and make us hate them), is more in line with that 1999 classic than the majority of his other work - however when I say "classic" I'm not speaking for myself, as I didn't really like it all that much, which (along with One Missed Call) is a big reason of why I haven't bothered seeing anything else, despite people saying "See Ichi the Killer!" or whatever every time I mention my lack of enthusiasm for the filmmaker.

Incidentally, what other of his work I HAVE seen is smaller form - his Three Extremes segment and his Masters of Horror episode, both of which I've enjoyed more than his films. And that impression kept coming back during Body, because it was very drawn out, though I am pretty sure that's part of the point. The film concerns a production of Kaidan (a Kabuki traditional play) and how its narrative begins to blend with the real lives of its actors, and I suspect Miike wanted to mirror that feeling for the audience. Like the actors who forget that what they're saying is fiction, I found myself getting so drawn into Kaidan's narrative during the long rehearsal scenes that I'd forget that it was technically just the flavor to the "real" tale being told (it'd be like if you were more into Fargo's Bruce Campbell-starring soap opera than Fargo).

And that's actually kind of helpful, because I do not know the Kaidan story very well. I saw Nakata's 2007 film version of it, but couldn't make much sense of it and also it was almost seven years ago, so that was no help. Miike gives you enough of the story to get the gist of it, but it didn't help much in the 3rd act, when pretty much all lines separating the play from reality are dropped - I had very little idea what was going on. Plus sometimes the actors are in their costumes but not in character, and it was hard to tell which - and again, that may be the point, but in this case I think you'd need to know Kaidan inside and out to suss out those subtleties properly. Or at least read a thorough synopsis beforehand, which I did not do because I didn't know any better. Let this be my gift to you!

All that said, I still enjoyed the movie, more or less. For starters it's GORGEOUS; the play's rotating stage is a marvel of production design and Miike shoots the hell out of it, but gives the outside/at home scenes plenty of visual appeal as well (that fish tank!). A lot of the Japanese films I see (or, SAW - I haven't seen too many since quitting the daily aspect of the site) are shot with cheap video cameras, but this looks wonderful and I'm glad I saw it on Blu-ray to do its visuals justice. The occasional FX were pretty good as well, and I loved how Miike teased us with repeated shots/closeups of a giant metal plate that you knew would decapitate someone eventually (it's part of a construction site that the protagonists have to pass by on the way to work every day), with a payoff that is definitely worth the wait.

I mentioned Audition earlier, and for good reason - fans of that film's tendency to offer out of nowhere WTF moments will be satisfied here, though one of the best such moments is spoiled by the trailer (don't watch it beforehand! It's kind of a lame trailer anyway but showing off its best scare moment sans context really stings). It's also got one of the all-time great "I know she's doing something I won't like but I don't know what it is yet" sequences, where we see a character throw a lot of metal objects into a big pot, which made me think she was setting up a microwave explosion. Then she filled the pot with water and boiled all of the instruments, and I thought she was planning to torture her jerk boyfriend and wanted options, but... well, it's not long after that where her intentions become clear, and I assure you it's far more horrifying than the rather benign stuff I had considered. I always like these sequences, where the pieces of some terrible plan are slowly falling into place and you can usually be assured that you're not fucked in the head enough to get too far ahead of the filmmaker (I mean, if you knew what she was up to the second she started banging her kitchen utensils around - why aren't YOU making movies for me to watch and review?).

But also like Audition, I think it's best to go in not knowing it's a horror movie. He doesn't wait as long to tip that hand (at least, as far as my memory of Audition can attest) but it's again treated as an out of nowhere development - nothing before that moment screams or even really hints "genre film!" (the first closeup of that metal sheet occurs early on, but I've seen dramas where road hazards are telegraphed in a similar manner). It would make those shocking developments play better, I think, if you (like its characters) just think you're in a story about lonely/broken people trying to have fulfilling relationships while putting on a production of an equally tragic play. As to why I opted to make it my first entry in the "revived" Horror Movie A Day, I have no idea (well, I do - it was on top of the pile of unwatched movies I have that I'm supposed to review).

Overall, I liked it more than Audition, which I know isn't saying much (that said, I should give that one another chance - my review seems harsher than I feel about the movie in my memory), but it falls into that same category of movies that are a bit too slow for my liking when you consider the payoff. When a slow pace culminates in a terrific finale to make it worth the wait, I'm a happy viewer - but this doesn't QUITE hit that mark for me. It comes close, enough to justify my viewing (and again, it's a terrific looking film), but not enough to keep the disc or speed up my laughably slow attempts to see more of Miike's work.

What say you?

*I've also seen Gozu, and I stand by my claim that it isn't a horror movie.


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