FTP: What We Become (2015)

FEBRUARY 28, 2019


Since I started "From The Pile" I started going through emails to see if I could figure out when it arrived, because I'm kind of curious which disc has been sitting there the longest waiting for me to get around to watching it. What We Become is from fall of 2016, which (sadly) isn't even close to the oldest, but what's interesting is that the longer I waited, the better the movie came off. Had I watched it then, I'd be pretty bored, because at that time I had only recently given up on Fear the Walking Dead and the film is basically built around the same basic idea: How does a family (as opposed to the usual motley group) react to a zombie outbreak as it occurs?

But now it's been a few years since I saw anything like that, so I was more or less engaged by it even if it wasn't doing a single thing I hadn't seen before. To be fair, it's apparently Denmark's first ever zombie movie (!) so maybe they weren't privy to all these other movies/shows we have access to, but it's hard to try to keep that in mind as you watch - we gotta meet halfway on these things. Even things like "if you get bit you turn" come off like things that need to be explained (at one point it's practically presented as a twist), which I thought we were long past by now. The actors are good and the characters are realistic, but they're hamstrung by the script's insistence on treating their scenario as wholly unique.

Worse, its most interesting element keeps getting sidelined; the father of the family unit is having trouble connecting with his teenaged son, and tries to shield him from the reality of what's going on the same he is doing for his much younger daughter - it's like a "I don't want my little boy to grow up" taken to the worst extreme. But with an overabundance of neighbor characters who eventually shack up with them and focus on someone we know is a goner from the stupid flash-forward opening (I know it's a four year old movie, but for what it's worth: STOP DOING THESE!) this intriguing and somewhat touching plot strand is largely discarded as the zombie hordes get harder to control. The two characters never even have much of a final scene together, making the early parts showing their strained relationship kind of a waste, ultimately.

In fact the film as a whole is better when the zombie thing is still largely unknown. The little teases we get in the first half hour or so are pretty great: people getting sick, a car accident that the police don't even stop for because there's a bigger emergency elsewhere, etc. And there's some minor "zombie procedural" elements that I enjoyed seeing, like how the military folks have to come by and retrieve waste and resupply people with water/food, shown as an annoyance akin to having to move your car for a snowplow or something. But once the outbreak gets to traditional ZOMBIE MOVIE! proportions, it's the same old stuff we've seen a bunch of times, though thankfully the focus remains on the family (and their neighbors) with minimal intrusion from the military types or "evil humans". Indeed, the father ends up being the "villain" at one point, when he resorts to holding a gun on a woman who is after the same supplies he is.

If they made this more about the dad and the extremes he went to in order to protect his family (and maybe patch things up with his son) this could have been more interesting, but alas it misses that "must-see" mark and settles for being just another zombie flick, of use mainly to those who can never get their fill of such things. For everyone else, it's pretty good, but your excitement will depend on how long it had been since you watched something like this, I suspect.

What say you?

P.S. If you have epilepsy or other issues with strobing lights, please be warned that the title at the top (which is repeated at the end, for some reason) is presented in a full screen flashing letter format (think Enter the Void). There's nothing like that in the film itself, and it suggests something more extreme than the narrative actually offers, so I have no idea what they were thinking. Just wanted to do my part in warning folks - the disc packaging really should be doing that for us.


Possum (2018)

FEBRUARY 24, 2019


I haven't memorized it or anything (in fact I only saw it once) but I absolutely loved Garth Marenghi's Darkplace when I watched its all-too-brief run (six episodes) a few years back, and was thus excited to see what creator Matthew Holness would come up with for his first feature length film, assuming it would have a similar horror/comedy blend. But I quickly realized that Possum was nothing like Darkplace; it'd be like if you watched Elephant Man or The Fly expecting the usual Mel Brooks hijinks, and if anything the film might play better to those who have no idea who Holness is at all. The film has not one note of identifiable humor, and Holness (who also starred in Darkplace, for those uninitiated) remains behind the camera; the only time you'll see him is in the behind the scenes footage on the DVD.

Instead, the film puts Sean Harris in nearly every frame (and often by himself) as Philip, an ex-puppeteer who may or may not be a murderer. The title refers not to the animal, but the name he's given a puppet of a spider that he seems unhealthily attached to, carrying it around with him at all times (though thankfully concealed in a bag) even though he seems to be afraid of it. The nature of this puppet and his connection to it is one of the film's many mysteries, most of which aren't fully spelled out for the audience before the credits roll, so if you're an "I need answers" type this is most certainly not the film for you. It can occasionally be hard to tell what's a dream/hallucination and what is really happening, and there are repeated images that suggest the narrative isn't chronological to boot. Add in the long stretches of silence and other "arty" touches and you have a movie that makes something like The Witch look as simple as a slasher flick.

But that's the narrative. On a "this movie is freaking me out" level, it's a winner - the movie isn't even a full 90 minutes long but it's got enough nightmare fuel to last a week (indeed, it gave me a legit nightmare; a low-key one to be fair, but still). It probably didn't help his (clearly not high) budget, but Holness smartly shot on film, which goes a long way into helping evoke the 70s thrillers he was emulating. On one of the interviews on the DVD he says it's a movie that exists for late night viewing, something he'd want people to stumble upon and be unsettled by - he certainly pulled that off, and I don't think it would really work if it was shot digitally (the recent Ghost Stories was also aiming for this specific feel, but missed in part to its unmistakably modern digital photography). Even the titles recall films of that era; if not for Sean Harris starring and the very, very rare non-period detail (like a television, the odd car, or a day-player's outfit) I could see someone being fooled into thinking it really was some lost indie from 1977.

Harris is terrific, by the way. He's probably most famous as the chilling villain from the last couple of Mission Impossible films, and it's a huge departure from those - he's kind of pathetic and awkward, a far cry from his calculating Solomon Lane. I almost didn't even recognize him at first, and given his reported "method" acting ways I don't envy what he probably put himself through to achieve his performance. It's not a flattering role in any respect, and again he's pretty much the only person in the movie (besides his uncle, who he lives with), so it couldn't have been a fun or easy shoot for him (or anyone around him, depending on how strictly he followed the "rules" of this approach) if he had to remain in character for so much time. Familiar character actor Alun Armstrong is also quite good as his uncle, who seems to be responsible for some of Philip's timidness (to what extent, of course, is one of the film's mysteries), and is pretty much the only other person in the movie who appears more than once. If Holness were to beef up his role a bit, it could even work as a stage production since the uncle never leaves the house (and Philip never seems to stray too far from it).

So as you might have figured out for yourself by now, the movie requires some patience, perhaps a bit TOO much at times, as it's often fairly repetitive. Holness based it on one of his short stories, and the "expand to feature length" seams show, particularly in the middle of the film which seems to be stuck in a cycle of scenes where Philip decides to rid himself of the puppet by ditching it somewhere, only for it to come back (or even retrieve it himself). Since I was already creeped out early, this padded middle section ended up deflating some of that unsettled feeling as opposed to ramping it up, leaving me hoping for a big shock to the system that would send me out feeling - at the very least - as disturbed as I was at the 20-25 minute mark. Your mileage can/will vary of course, since everyone scares differently, but I couldn't help but think maybe taking a page from Audition or something like that and leaving horror out of it for a bit would have helped maintain that unnerved feeling throughout.

Otherwise, as these things go I'd put it up there with Soft For Digging and older fare like Haunts and Magic in the "what is UP with this person?" low-key, methodically-paced horror, and as Holness intended it gives off plenty of that late night syndicated viewing vibe that unfortunately doesn't really exist anymore. Movies like Let's Scare Jessica to Death or Malatesta's Carnival of Blood similarly seemed designed for that very specific audience, but in those cases the films might have actually been found that way by a number of their fans. The best chance something like this has of being "stumbled upon" would probably be if it ended up on Shudder and someone caught it thanks to their (very cool) "Shudder TV" option, which leaves out the scrolling around for something to choose and just has things running nonstop as a regular TV network would. And those people will get the most out of the film, I think, as they won't have any idea or preconceived notion of its content - everyone else, you need to keep your expectations in check (and your phone out of reach for when you might be tempted to grab it) so that its restrained approach can be allowed to deliver.

What say you?


FTP: Mermaid: Lake of the Dead (2018)

FEBRUARY 22, 2019


I'll give Mermaid: Lake of the Dead this much - despite the familiar (read: WAY OVERUSED) last three words of its title, it's not a zombie movie. Not that we're as inundated with the things as we were in the '00s, but that "of the dead" is always going to suggest such things, so it was like a nice little surprise that it turned out to be something else. Unfortunately, it was actually the *other* thing we got too many of in the previous decade: a vengeful ghost movie! More than once I was reminded of things like Shutter, The Grudge, and (thanks to the watery stuff) The Ring, but without the originality (or scares) of the original versions of those films or the big budget gloss of their remakes. So it just was... you know, THERE.

I mean if you love these kind of things maybe you'll dig it - the mermaid angle (while not quite the usual thing of fairy tales - she just comes from the water) gives it a bit of novelty, and it never gets too slow in its 82 or so minutes. But again, I had my fill of this kind of scary movie, and need something unique to really hook me in (like Unfriended's screen gimmick) or at least a complicated plot like the Whispering Corridors movies to keep my interest. This, on the other hand - well let's put it this way: I watched a chunk of it while on an exercise bike and I found myself glancing at the odometer/calorie/heart rate display far more often than necessary. It had some decent scenes - I particularly liked when a car was driving along when it suddenly began filling up with water (as opposed to one that was actually sinking) - but not enough of them to elevate it beyond "yeah, fine, I guess."

Part of the problem is that the ghost should be more sympathetic than she ever comes across. The backstory is kind of sad, but the ghost is just doing Samara/Sadako kinda things most of the time (often aided with questionable CGI - the teeth effect REALLY needed some work) or setting up jump scares. On the other hand, I was surprised that the guy (named Roma) is a genuinely good dude - his buddies get him some strippers for his bachelor party, but he's like "Ehhhh you guys enjoy I'm gonna go outside" and pretty much races back to his fiance in the morning. Ironically, if he DID stay inside with the strippers he probably would have been safe from the mermaid since she sets her sights on him when he goes outside and takes a dip in the lake where she "lives" (he's a champion swimmer, so it's not too unbelievable). Moral of the story: take the lapdance, don't exercise.

Interestingly, it's a Russian horror film, which we don't get brought over here all that often. But then again, outside of the folk tale it's loosely based on, there's almost nothing in it that makes it distinctly Russian, and since the Blu-ray defaults to English, you might not even realize it unless you pay close enough attention to notice that the voices don't quite match the actors' mouths (though the dub job is above average, I should note). Hopefully Scream Factory keeps looking for foreign horrors to bring us; even if this one isn't exactly a winner it's a step in the right direction, and is a nice change of pace from the library titles that are their bread and butter. I can see the appeal - it's a terrific looking film, accessible despite being foreign, and has just enough traditional terror to sell it to the crowds that eat these things up. But alas, these things just almost never grab me. Now if it was some flesh and blood human wearing a mermaid costume while offing a group of college kids who wronged them... then we'd be cooking.

What say you?


FTP: Emelie (2015)

FEBRUARY 17, 2019


Unlike most "pile" movies I had a legit excuse for putting Emelie off for so long (almost three years): I was warned away from watching it due to my hypersensitivity about kids being in danger after having my own kid. Will wouldn't have even been two yet when this Blu arrived, and I can't remember who exactly told me I shouldn't watch it if I was still getting worked up about these things, but their warning worked: I've come across it a few times over the years and always shook my head, not wanting to deal with whatever parental traumas awaited. But the pile must be destroyed, so - after a quick confirmation that the kid was still safe in bed - into the player it went.

Now, if I was one of those horrible monsters who hired rando babysitters off the internet, I might have gotten worked up about the movie's plot, in which a new babysitter turns out to be a sociopath. But Will is only ever trusted in the hands of people we've known even longer than we've had him, so unless they're playing an extremely long game of 4D chess I don't think any of them will try to disappear with him anytime soon. So I guess that bit of disconnect helped me watch it as I do any normal suspense film, free of setting off my sensitive dad alarms. Maybe if the day ever comes where there's something so extraordinary coming along (Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman performing together? John Carpenter being handed a mic and sitting down with Rob Zombie's Halloween?) that I cannot miss it and my usual babysitters can't help, I'll consider a stranger and maybe then I'll find this movie unwatchable, but for now I was fine.

But don't get me wrong - it was still a very effective chiller, and due to that warning I spent the entire viewing wondering when something horrifying would happen and have me hovering over the stop button, making it an extremely tense experience. There's a scene where the youngest kid (there are three, age range like 4-12 maybe?) gets a hold of a gun and I haven't gotten that worked up at a scene in ages. And with the girl not even trying to hide the fact that she's not right (the parents have barely left before she's making one kid eat an entire box of cookies and letting the youngest one climb on stacked chairs) it gives the movie an unsafe feeling almost right from the start, having me constantly wondering how far it'll go.

It also unfolds a very compressed timeframe; maybe three hours? So it's not quite real time, but close enough that they get a similar effective but without having to strain any credulity (or just bore you) the way most of those experiments unfold. And as a bonus, Emelie (Sarah Bolger from Moth Diaries) has a tragic backstory that evokes just the right amount of sympathy for her so she's not a cartoon villain, but not so much that you ever want her to succeed either - the balance is perfect. The kids are all good too; they're believable enough as siblings, don't do any of that cutesy "wise beyond their years" shit, and - most importantly - they believably go along with the nutty things Emelie asks them to do, because they're young enough to still be in that "do what the adult says, no questions asked" mode. So you can see that they're unsure about it, but worried about getting in trouble or whatever if they don't do what she says.

So it's a perfect "pile" movie, really! It's a good flick that there's no reason to watch again, so I can have the joy of a positive viewing experience but not permanently add to the clutter of my collection! Everyone wins - except for the Dark Sky publicist that expected this review three years ago. Sorry about that.

What say you?


FTP: Observance (2015)

FEBRUARY 14, 2019


Digging through emails, it looks like poor Observance has been sitting in the dreaded pile since the summer of 2016, and I assure you it's not even close to the oldest title in there. But at least I have a good excuse for letting it pass me by - that's when I moved into my current home, and to this day I feel bad because the very first thing I watched in that home was the first episode of 11/22/63, which I specifically asked for to review (unlike this) and never finished it because it took all month to actually finish moving in. If memory serves I didn't even have the surround sound hooked up yet and just watched that one episode through (shudder) the TV speakers. Wonder how it ended?

Anyway, if you're the type of person who needs to understand what's going on in their horror movies, I'd steer clear of this one - it's got that "I'm gonna channel my inner David Lynch" feel to it and leaves the viewer with way more questions than answers. However, if you just want to feel uncomfortable/unnerved it's actually a pretty good entry in the Repulsion/Tenant sub-genre of "someone in an apartment goes nuts" movies. Actually, it reminded me even more of Occupant, a similarly uneven but mostly admirable indie version of this kind of movie, but I doubt namechecking that one will ring as many bells. I was stunned to learn that it only cost $11k; it looks just as good as any other indie (you know, the kinds with 6 or even 7 figure budgets) and has a pair of solid actors in the lead roles (plus bit parts for John Jarratt and Benedict Hardie, who played the main henchman guy in last summer's Upgrade). As "calling card" kind of movies go, I must say if I was a studio exec I'd be trying to land director Joseph Sims-Dennett as he clearly knows how to maximize his budget.

But I'd hope he'd work with a writing partner, or let someone else handle that part entirely. Even in the realm of "you're not supposed to understand everything" types the script seemed to be just sort of tossing things for the hell of it as opposed to not spelling everything out. The plot concerns a desperate man who agrees to a surveillance job of a woman who is about to marry into some well-to-do family, only for him to start hallucinating and suffering from body horror type ailments as the job drags on much longer than expected, but I was never quite able to discern the connection between these two things. Occasionally it starts to be seemingly building toward the idea that maybe HE is the one that's actually being observed, but it never pans out. And I'm at a total loss with the ending; it's certainly a surprise and rather grim, but also far too abrupt.

Still, when it works it works rather effectively, especially the body horror stuff. Our guy gets some kind of huge (bed?) sore on his back at one point, and its ooze/blood has stuck to his shirt, forcing him to pull it off over his head as quick as he can - it's like a "rip the band-aid off" kind of thing, but times a hundred. And he pukes up some mysterious black ooze - the same stuff that appears to be filling up more and more of a jar every time he sees it? Couldn't tell you what that was all about, but I do know it gave me the proper unsettling feeling. This was a festival movie, and it probably worked even better in that setting, as you'd be more "trapped" (like its character) than you are at home, free to pause and what not - I highly encourage an uninterrupted viewing for it to provide the most effect on you, if you plan to check it out.

What say you?


Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

FEBRUARY 9, 2019


"I pray neither [Director Chris Landon] or anyone else messes things up with "Happier Death Day" or whatever."

That's the closing line of my review of the original Happy Death Day, and well... here we are. I got the title wrong, but Landon did indeed return for Happy Death Day 2U, which also reunites the entire original cast (save for a few one-sceners from the original like the cop who pulled Tree over for speeding) and picks up immediately where it left off. Luckily I was also wrong about how good it might be - it's not AS good as the surprisingly great original, and it barely even qualifies as a slasher movie this time around (more on that soon), but it's inventive and fun, and equally charming while also tugging at the heartstrings a bit, more than making up for the reduced novelty factor in the process.

(There are spoilers for the first third of the new film ahead, as well as for the entire original, so if you want to go in blind I'd skip this review, but if you haven't seen the original yet I IMPLORE you to do so before you watch the new film as it will not only be harder to follow, but you won't get nearly as much out of it on an emotional or comedic level).

The hardest part about sequels - especially to films as high concept as the original HDD - is that you usually have to focus on one aspect that made the original so memorable and enhance that (while introducing new elements), or else you end up with a glorified remake by trying to just do the same thing again. Given the way the original worked, Christopher Landon (who wrote solo this time around; the original screenplay was credited to Scott Lobdell, who is not involved with the followup) had a few options: take a page from the Final Destinations and introduce a new cast with someone else stuck in a similar situation, ditch the "Groundhog Day" element and make a more traditional slasher, or dive deep into the sci-fi stuff and background the killings that won't really matter anyway? If you've seen the trailer you'd know that he opted for the third choice, coming up with a film that has more DNA with Back to the Future II and My Science Project than Halloween II or whatever else you might have assumed it'd be compared to.

As I said, even though it's been a year and a half for us the movie doesn't jump forward in time - it actually starts a few minutes earlier than the end of the first, showing Ryan (Carter's clueless roommate) making his way from his car back to his dorm room, with just enough notable encounters (a barking dog, a near-miss with a skateboarder, etc) to give us the idea that maybe he will be stuck in a loop now. But now we learn more about him - he's a science major and working on some kind of energy machine in the campus' incredibly large lab, much to the chagrin of the dean who is trying to shut down the experiment. After we run through all of this setup, Babyface returns and kills him, at which point he wakes up in his car again and runs through the routine.

But this is, of course, the NEXT day, the one where Tree has finally escaped her loop, so when Ryan enters the room and starts asking about deja vu, she instantly realizes what is going on and together they figure out that his experiment must have been what caused her time loop in the first place. Things are further complicated when the three of them catch Ryan's killer and discover it's... Ryan? Yes, somehow the machine caused two parallel universes to overlap, putting two Ryans in one world in a variation on the butterfly effect, but in an attempt to fix that timeline Tree ends up getting sent back to "her" day again, where Carter doesn't really know her yet and her roommate is still alive and trying to kill her. Or is she?

It takes a bit, but Tree eventually realizes that while she is back to reliving that Monday/her birthday, it's one from one of those parallel universes, so things are slightly different. Her roommate is NOT trying to kill her this time (in fact she's carrying on the affair with the doctor, who doesn't even know who Tree is in this scenario), and Danielle is a nicer person - in fact so nice she's actually dating Carter, which naturally makes Tree even more desperate to get the hell back to her own timeline. But then she finds out about another thing that's different, and suddenly her choice isn't so easy - Carter aside, this world seems to be a better one for her, with the added bonus of no one trying to kill her. Don't worry, dark comedy fans - she still dies a lot in the film, but it's a plot motivated reason as opposed to failed attempts to outrun a masked killer.

As you might have gleamed from that information, the slasher element is heavily backgrounded this time, to the point where it barely even matters. The subplot about Ryan's killer is finished once Tree goes back a day and starts going through that one again, and in that universe the killer isn't really concerned with her (though they cross paths, naturally). Given the nature of the film's plot, there's very little wiggle room to introduce new characters, and even by this high-concept movie's standards it'd be a stretch to think someone else wanted to kill this version of Tree, so there's only a few chase/slasher kind of scenes, with long stretches in between them to boot. It's a character driven followup, which is rare for any genre but especially horror - it'd be like if Halloween II followed Laurie Strode's attempts to readjust to the world while Myers was just off chasing someone else most of the time.

So if you're only here for the horror, you're going to be disappointed. However, if you're one of those folks who walked out of the first movie wondering how it is she got stuck in a loop in the first place, you'll be delighted to know that this movie answers that question, with at least three scenes of a science student explaining science-y concepts to the clueless Tree (including one with everyone's favorite: someone poking a hole through a piece of paper). And if you loved Jessica Rothe as Tree, you'll be even happier - despite the Ryan-centric opening scene she's still very much front and center, and it's incredibly satisfying to watch her continue her personal journey in an organic way. The film's funniest sequence comes rather early, when she first wakes up in the day again and storms her way through the now familiar gauntlet, screaming at everyone and everything ("SPRINKLERS!") while a very confused Carter and Ryan follow behind her. Once again they use the "every time she dies her body gets weaker" subplot to give it some tension (though as with the original there's no real consistency to it - one day she's passing out from the damage her body is incurring, the next she's fully functional and just sort of worried about it), and it really works - Rothe totally sells the conflict of not knowing if this next death might be her last while also trying to make sure everyone is saved.

The stuff with the dean is kind of a misstep, however. It just adds a complication in a film that didn't really lack for them, and results in a lengthy chunk of the third act being devoted to our heroes trying to get the machine back from his office and into the lab so they could run one final test. There's some really bad comedy in there involving Danielle and there's no real tension to derive from it - we know damn well they're going to get it back, so why even bother with any of this? The experiment failing and/or Tree having to reset one last time to save this or that person gives it the stakes it needs to be engaging, so I don't know why we had to be subjected to this silliness, especially when it means less time spent on making the new slasher storyline more involving. Perhaps if they opted to let the Babyface catch on to the loop (let's not forget, they're actually completely separate elements even in the original) and make THAT the thing that threatens their ability to get the machine up and running, it'd be less of a departure (and simply be more satisfying, though if you're amused by Danielle and the Dean's antics I'm sure you'll be happy either way).

Otherwise, it's better than it has any right to be, and as a bonus it makes for a great double feature. Even though a year and change has gone by with this young cast, they do a great job with the makeup to look like no time has passed (and yes, Tree finally breaks down and yells about how sick of that shirt she is), so take that, Halloween II! But more importantly, the script has a number of payoffs and jokes that work much better with a fresh and thorough memory of the original - we watched them back to back at the Egyptian for this special event (with Rothe and Landon doing Q&A in between) and more than once there was a moment that I can guarantee wouldn't have landed as well had I just gone off my 16 month old memory of the first film. So I highly encourage a refresher if you have the time, in order to get the most out of it. And stick in your seats through the credits for a setup for a third film (pay close attention - there's an obvious "this is what HDD3 would be about" part, but a much more subtle hint about what it could REALLY be about), which I'll happily see just to enjoy Rothe's performance for another two hours, though I wouldn't be surprised if it drops the slasher element entirely by then.

What say you?


The Prodigy (2019)

FEBRUARY 5, 2019


Just this week I once again had to defend Orphan again, as it somehow landed on some site's list of the 20 worst twists in movie history or some nonsense. My only theory for why that reveal (which I'm gonna have to spoil in this paragraph so skip ahead if you inexplicably still haven't seen it) gets dragged so often is because people don't take the time to consider that it was a brilliant way to circumvent what seems to be a rule at the major studios, which is that evil children can't really do anything vicious. By making Esther (still played by a child actress) into an adult with a growth deficiency, the filmmakers were able to get away with letting her cut loose (the nun!), while cinematic cousins like Mac in The Good Son didn't really do much of anything beyond toss a dummy off a bridge (with no one being seriously hurt, we're assured). The Prodigy ends up somewhere in the middle of those two, but overall lands closer to Orphan on account of how surprisingly dark it is.

The plot is pretty straightforward: suburban parents have a son named Miles (the usual way, i.e. not adopted) and in addition to his heterochromia (different colored eyes) he seems to be gifted; he speaks early, he can figure out complex toys as a toddler, etc. After checking in with him a few times as he grows, we get to when he's eight, and his behavior starts leaning toward the disturbing side of things - including a possible attack on his babysitter and a definite attack on a schoolmate. Mom (Taylor Schilling) starts taking him to different specialists, but as soon as Colm Feore shows up you know he's gonna be the one to crack the mystery, because you don't get Colm Feore to be in your movie to be another cog in the wheel. The trailers have part of his explanation, but in the full scene he also explains how Miles can be cured of this new development.

Unfortunately that's at about the halfway point, and there are no other wrinkles to the plot. Worse, the opening scene (which I won't spoil here) gave us almost all of the information we needed anyway - a peculiar match cut in the first five minutes spells it out to any audience member with half a brain, so Feore isn't revealing so much as he is confirming the problem. It's a strange choice for this sort of thing, to the point where I wondered if they were purposely trying to lead us astray so they could pull out a more surprising reveal later. Whether or not they do is again something I won't spoil here, but either way it's odd to spend so much of the movie being ahead of its characters, watching them discover things we already learned for ourselves in the film's first sequence.

And that adds to my ongoing curiosity regarding the film's script and if it was reworked at a late stage. Not only is the information doled out earlier than necessary (and occasionally even repeated) but there are a few dropped story points that struck me as odd. Early on Miles causes a babysitter to fall down the stairs and cut up her foot (and perhaps break a bone or two) but the scene ends with her calling for the boy, unaware that he was at fault - and then it just cuts to later, with Miles saying he can't remember what happened. The babysitter's fate is never confirmed, nor is she ever mentioned again (same goes for Feore's character, who makes a phone call to give Schilling some more info and seems to be setting himself up to play a bigger part, only to never reappear). Likewise, he attacks one of his schoolmates at his fancy genius school, and later we see him attending what seems to be a regular public school - did he get kicked out of the other one, or did they decide it was best for him to be in a more normal environment? Schilling and her husband are also drawn with as much depth as a slasher victim - we're never told what they do for a living or anything like that, and a hint about a miscarriage or something ("We weren't sure we'd ever have you" she tells baby Miles) is never fleshed out either.

Yet, it still works for the most part! Maybe I'm more lenient given my well documented love of this particular sub-genre, but I had a good time watching it all the same. The trailer spoils one of its two best scares (and yes, it's swiped from Shock, but I suspect unlike Annabelle this is an intentional tip of the hat as there are some other similarities), but the other got me good and is more of the "Gah! CURSED IMAGE!" variety than a jump, and there's another more subtle one involving a simple line of dialogue that delighted me in its surprising harshness. Indeed, the film as a whole is shockingly dark/unsettling at times, particularly in the Feore sequence when Miles (in evil mode) tells him how the rest of their little session is gonna go. And the end is also less studio-friendly than I was expecting, which is always a plus.

Speaking of Annabelle, like that film I suspect it will work better on parents than non, because it plays on those very particular emotions albeit in very different ways; that one juiced up its scares by putting the kid in danger, this one opts for a "Would you do this if it was YOUR kid?" kind of thing though again, no spoilers so no details (I blame Pet Sematary's trailer debut for being so spoiler conscious - people were legit crying "spoiler!" at a trailer. Incidentally, same writer! Jeff Buhler wrote Pet and this). I also got some of the same creeped out vibes I get from body horror movies at times, and when you think about it it kind of makes sense. Someone once compared not knowing where your child was to having one of your own organs out in the wild somewhere, and it's true even for fathers who, as you hopefully know, never actually had the child inside of them and attached to them the way mothers do. So when Schilling starts suspecting the kid is evil and noticeably bristles when he tries to hug her or whatever, you really feel how skin-crawling and conflicting it must be for her, to be afraid of her own child's touch. There's a bit where he climbs into bed with her and tries to snuggle - it's one of the most unnerving things in the entire movie, without the need to have any violence or jump scares.

So I guess your mileage will vary depending on how much you enjoy this sub-genre. Nicholas McCarthy (whose movie The Pact is one I highly recommend, and am happy to see him getting a wide release) checks all the boxes one expects from this sort of thing, but the screenplay as presented on-screen is almost too mercenary at times, as if they didn't want to distract the audience with pesky things like "subplots" or "complications" or even "other characters" (these people have no friends or neighbors, apparently; even a brief Halloween scene seems to exist in a world with no other people). It'll scratch your itch if you have one, but goes no further than that, making it hard to recommend in general the way I could for the likes of Orphan or Home Movie. But whatever may have happened to the script or finished cut along the way, what we got is still effective at what it does, and a good way to tide us over until the seemingly more ambitious Brightburn comes along later this year.

What say you?

P.S. Hover at your own risk because it enters spoiler territory, but the movie also shares some DNA with this pet fave of mine, so that was a fun realization. However it'd be a huge red flag for most people (and again spoils some things) so let's keep it on the DL for now. Just feel free to tell me you agree (without using the name!) on Twitter or in the comments, I like to know who my peeps are for this particular film.


FTP: Boardinghouse (1982)

FEBRUARY 1, 2019


As a fan (well, "fan") of Sledgehammer and some other early shot on video oddities, I was excited when I won Boardinghouse at trivia a while back, because while it sounded like something I would enjoy I was also leery of blind buying the damn thing (especially on DVD, gross!). Now I could see it for free and not mind if it turned out to be really bad! But man, I wasn't prepared for just HOW bad it was; it actually took me several attempts just to finish it, and that was the 96 minute version - there's another that runs an hour longer, something I have to assume is akin to waterboarding or flying on Spirit Airlines. I know there's some appeal in seeing something this amateurish and weird, but whatever that je ne sais quoi is that makes the likes of Things and (to go out of horror) The Room into a compelling experience, it's definitely absent here.

I can give them some leeway on the removal of nearly an hour of footage - I can't imagine even something like The Godfather would be much use if more than a third of the film was lopped out. But thanks to MovieCensorship, a site that runs down the differences between two cuts of a movie, I know that a great deal of the footage is just padding or scenes running longer thanks to more cutaways and the like. Entries like "The shorter version cuts away a few seconds before she gets to the door" are common, so unless you believe that watching someone walk all of the way to a door is essential to the film's coherency or merit, I think you'll agree that this movie wasn't "ruined" by getting hacked up. Obviously some of that footage is meatier than the example, but after reading through the entry (which is very long since so many of the cuts are of a few seconds here and there) I am certain that the film couldn't be saved thanks to how it was made in the first place.

And no, I'm not referring to the shot on video aesthetic - it actually looks fine for that sort of thing, and in fact I've seen movies made twenty years later that looked much worse. No, the problem is that the director cast himself in the lead role of a guy who is a sex magnet for every woman in the film, which is icky and implausible in equal measures. And since it's a lot cheaper to film a guy being hit on by a lady or two than to have a big chase/kill scene, we spend most of the movie watching the women fawn all over this guy, and not nearly enough time on the killer doing his thing. So that leads to the other problem - it's one of the most meandering "slashers" I've ever seen; the setup is fine (the owner of the titular boarding house nabs a group of comely ladies who all move in around the same time but then start getting picked off one by one) but the killer takes too much damn time to do that. Instead we get scenes of the hero going to work, meeting clients, one of the girls working on an album, a pie fight, a pool party (including a bizarre catfight), and horrifying sex scenes.

I know all that makes it sound like a lot of fun but I assure you, the lack of any momentum makes these moments just as dull as everything else. I think the thing that makes The Room "work" is that it's actually kind of a threadbare story about a guy whose fiance is cheating on him with his buddy, but keeps tossing in all these non sequiturs to keep it lively. But most of the things this movie offers are exactly what you'd expect from a slasher - they're just too spread out and done too poorly for it to ever be any fun. In fact, the only amusement I ever got out of the damn thing (besides the electronic score, which occasionally sounds like an Asylum mockbuster of Halloween II's) was when they clearly edited something out, as a scene would just randomly fade out before any discernible point to it had been made; presumably they had to keep part of it for continuity or to avoid cutting an actor (read: friend of producer) out entirely. I can't help but wonder if they kept going and got the thing down to like 75 minutes if it would actually work?

P.S. The menu is horribly designed too. This whole affair was a waste of a trivia prize!

What say you?


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