Category Archives: 2014

Movie Review: The Babadook

by Dan Fields

The Babadook terrorizes Essie Davis in Jennifer Kent's horror tale
© 2014 eOne Films/IFC Films

Early this year, director Mike Flanagan brought audiences a horror story of surprising cleverness and punch. That film, Oculus, took a soul-sickening look at the decay of an American family at the hands of of a sinister entity with the power to prey on souls across generations. Now Australian director Jennifer Kent presents a fresh exercise in domestic terror. The Babadook is the more straightforward horror yarn, but thanks to skilled direction and performance it manages to be several times more personal and devastating.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a loving mother in a tough time of life. Widowed by tragedy, raising an eccentric and troubled son (Noah Wiseman), she is a familiar face in horror films. She is the parent doing her best, which never seems to be quite good enough, and in the tradition of stories like Pet Sematary or The Shining she is dangerously close to the edge when we meet her. Son Sam has an overactive imagination which makes him a keen inventor and illusionist, but it also leaves him horribly prone to nightmares. He almost never sleeps, which means Amelia sleeps less. He is sensitive and sweet, but unable to cease the morbid jabbering of his thoughts in the company of others, he often proves embarrassing to his overtaxed mum.

Barely coping with the twin devils of loneliness and exhaustion, Amelia discovers a mysterious children’s book about a cloaked figure named Mister Babadook, so named for his habit of knocking “Ba-ba-Dook! Dook! Dook!” on the door to be let in. The story turns darker from there, enough to upset mother and son alike. Amelia quickly puts the book out of sight, but the monster becomes Sam’s new obsession. Plotting to trap and destroy the Babadook (which seems more and more real every night) he withdraws further and further into his paranoia until Amelia’s nerves are perilously frayed. She does not stop to consider that maybe the shadowy intruder has begun to change her too.

The Babadook is exceptionally crafted, inventing a plausible storybook hobgoblin and then exploiting his dreadful potency to the very last scream. Not many times in recent memory has an original horror film maxed out its monster so vigorously. The film manages not merely to shock or unsettle. It is genuinely frightening throughout most of its running time, a rare distinction among movies of its kind.

When done with care and skill, an exploration of the desperate lengths required to turn a caring parent on a child arguably makes the most poignant and frightening kind of story. The best ones never lose sight love’s power to overcome any spell of darkness. Whether or not love will triumph in this end is immaterial. Until the very last moment, there must be hope.

Movie Review: The Houses October Built

by Dan Fields

The Houses October Built is a Halloween haunted house meta-journey in found footage style
© 2014 Image Entertainment

Found footage horror is played out, to the extent that an exhausting number of reviews begin with the complaint that “found footage horror is played out.”

See what I mean?

With that requisite disclaimer covered, Bobby Roe’s The Houses October Built is pretty excellent entertainment for this Halloween season. The notion of a POV camera going all meta-fictional on the phenomenon of live haunted house attractions, now simply termed “haunts” owing to the diversity of venues, turns out much better than it may sound.

Five friends – Zack (co-writer), Bobby (co-writer and director), Mikey, Brandy and Jeff – set out in an RV to tour and document the most extreme haunts out there. Most of them seem to be in Texas and Louisiana, by the way. While most are fairly traditional walkthrough attractions, other memorable outings include a hayride modeled on a zombie apocalypse, complete with paintball guns to pelt the legions of shambling ghouls. However, some of the “haunters” appear more aggressive and personally invasive than the rest. It even seems that certain characters are following the RV from one location to the next, across dozens and eventually hundreds of miles. Continue reading

Movie Review: Horns

by Dan Fields

Daniel Radcliffe pursues the truth with diabolical powers in Alexandre Aja's Horns
© 2013 Dimension Films / RADiUS-TWC

Synergy With The Devil, or
Faust Highway

Alexandre Aja, a French filmmaker gone Hollywood down the most gore-splattered highway possible, engages a story more firmly rooted in the human soul than ever before. His prior moviemaking turns (most recently as producer for a harrowing remake of William Lustig’s Maniac) betray a penchant for jittering, shrieking horror that attacks the senses, the brain and heart second. Horns, based on the much-lauded novel by Joe Hill, plunges his raw director’s hands into a moral fable whose questions and troubling answers require some serious thought.

Ignatius “Ig” Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is a tortured soul in a bruised body. His dual burden is to come to terms with the brutal murder of his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), while staving off an angry mob of former friends and neighbors convinced that, despite his acquittal, Ig himself killed off the hometown darling. His only true allies seem to be his brother Terry (Joe Anderson) his defense attorney Lee (Max Minghella), and his torch-carrying bartender Glenna (Kelli Garner), all of whom have known Ig since childhood. Between the three of them, there just might be some answers lurking, but Ig’s impotent rage at the cosmic unfairness of it all seems to have him deadlocked in limbo.

Ig finally lets his rage out in a drunken spree that apparently shakes something loose in either heaven or hell. Waking the next morning, he finds a wicked pair of horns sprouting from his head. Not only that, but everyone he meets treats him differently. His horns grant him a devilish power over people, compelling them to pour out their secret sins and desires. At first an unwilling confessor, he gradually realizes that lurking among the nauseating secrets of his neighbors is the identity of Merrin’s killer. With this in mind, he hones his fiendish influence to maximum effect, stalking the truth around town as the changes in him take deeper root. Continue reading

Movie Review: The One I Love

by Dan Fields

Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss discover a new side of their marriage in The One I Love
© 2014 RADiUS-TWC

Remember That Weekend When…?

From director Charlie McDowell and producers the Duplass Brothers comes The One I Love, a curious tale about being with the one you love and loving the one you’re with which could send Stephen Stills to the madhouse. It is no good to summarize the film in the ordinary detail, since most of the plot hangs on an early twist. Sophie (Elizabeth Moss, Mad Men, Top Of The Lake) and Mark Duplass (The League, Safety Not Guaranteed) are a married couple in therapy for a marital strain that threatens to drive them apart. They are beset by romantic memories of their early time together, but cannot rekindle the old flame they once had. Their therapist (Ted Danson) rents them a secluded house for a weekend of privacy and quality time.

Both Sophie and Ethan apply themselves gamely to getting along and having some fun, but each begins to notice curious inconsistencies that point in mysterious directions. Their quest to uncover the truth becomes an exercise in mutual trust and devotion that promises to unite or split them for good.

At face value, this is a novel and entertaining drama about love and romance. Further down, are clever metaphors for the joys and pitfalls of any adult relationship. We always want to be our best selves around the people we love, but we have little control over when our better or worse qualities display themselves. Spontaneity accounts for such a large part of attraction that we may find it impossible to synthesize or recapture a bygone feeling, strong as it was when we first felt it.

The One I Love is a fable which presents the difficulties of enduring love, without necessarily suggesting how or even whether they can be fixed. This is a good-looking movie, with greed wooded exteriors and warm tones all throughout the quaint getaway home. Even so, the camera often sits in small spaces with limited perspective, sometimes giving a feeling of intimacy, sometimes of confinement. The score is nicely placed to help keep the story at the right pitch – serious themes, but with a light tone to avoid dragging. With almost all the screen time share between them, Moss and Duplass put in commendable work. Having to play nuanced, multidimensional characters in a most unusual way, they still have the natural chemistry of characters who have known and loved each other for years. It is not a dynamic or forceful film, but the depth and intelligence of the script, in the hands of capable performers, make The One I Love well worth your attention.

Movie Review: The Raid 2: Berandal

by Dan Fields

Iko Uwais brings more brutal justice in The Raid 2
© 2014 Merantau Films / XYZ Films

We Built This City On Pencak Silat

In 2011, Welsh director Gareth Huw Evans left scorched bootprints on international cinema with his third feature film, Serbuan Maut, also known as The Raid, released widely as The Raid: Redemption. Many of us had never before seen the elegant brutality of pencak silat, the martial arts of Indonesia. An action thriller chronicling a police raid on a crime-infested slum, The Raid transcended expectations with its deft juxtaposition of sustained, extreme violence and the satisfying rhythm and artistry of a well-staged ballet. True, it was a ballet of broken backs, split skulls, exit wounds and shattered glass, but the results were astounding. Now, with the running time nearly doubled and a full cast of bizarre characters lined up to scrap, The Raid 2 (subtitled Berandal, meaning “rogue” or “thug”) blows the storm of justice from an isolated fracas to the merciless cleansing of a city gone to hell.

The Raid 2 begins on the same day as the events of the previous film. Elite cop Rama (Iko Uwais), still battered from the catastrophic siege, has brought his corrupt superior officer and a cache of incriminating evidence to Chief Bunawar (Cok Simbara). Bunawar, the head of a task force to root out corruption in Jakarta’s police force, enlists Rama to infiltrate the highest ranks of the city’s criminal class.
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