Tag Archives: horror

IT COMES AT NIGHT

“Unafraid to be ambiguous, and as open-ended as it is disturbing, It Comes at Night is a highly impressive piece…”

Wayward Wolf.

 

Each member of a family, wearing a gas mask and protective gloves, carry their grandfather a short way into the woods.

Multiple sores are strewn across his elderly face and body. This, together with a grey complexion and laboured breathing, is a sure indication that he is a very sick man and not long for this world.

One reluctant shot to his head, and the lowering of his body into a ready-prepared hole in the ground, is followed by a hurried cremation of sorts.

This is very much the way of things. An act of both mercy and self-preservation, for a contagious plague-like sickness has stricken mankind. Or so it would seem.

But we are observing only a rather claustrophobic microcosm of humanity here, with no real wider frame of reference or comparison. Who knows what’s already happened,  what’s really going on, and more importantly, what’s still to come?

This is the quandary facing Paul (Joel Edgerton), Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a tight-knit family unit ensconced in their now boarded-up wooden family house, deep within a forest – doing their best to ride this whole thing out.

With Paul enforcing a set of strict rules with regard to what can and can’t be done given the extraordinary circumstances in hand, the three of them, along with their pet dog, Stanley, do their best to live some kind of structured life, rich in routine and consistency.

All of this, however, is put to the test one night when an armed intruder attempts to enter their secured home. Is this, as the intruder insists, the desperate action of a man innocently scavenging for supplies for his beleaguered family, from what would appear to be an abandoned building? Or, the uninvited arrival of something far more calculated and altogether more sinister?

More importantly, should Paul and his family take pity on this uninvited guest and offer him and his young family sanctum in their time of need?

A huge dilemma when so much is at a stake.

Refreshingly minimal in its approach, It Comes at Night is the work of director Trey Edward Shults, based upon his own screenplay. It’s very much a psychological horror / thriller bringing to mind 2015’s The Witch as well as The Blair Witch franchise, both stylistically speaking, and through its unnerving ability to generate a true sense of confused fear and foreboding.

Shults successfully manages to blur the line here between reality and imagination, raising significant confusion and doubt as to the true nature of whatever malevolent force is at work, and indeed whether this is all in fact nothing but a heightened sense of paranoia within the minds of Paul and his family, facing, as they do, an unexplainable, encroaching external menace from which they increasingly attempt to isolate and protect themselves.

Unafraid to be ambiguous, and as open-ended as it is disturbing, It Comes at Night is a highly impressive piece that provokes serious questions of trust and resolve, and one that will undoubtedly feed your fears of the unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Blair Witch

The Blair Witch ‘franchise’ has thus far followed a familiar pattern; a genuinely ground-breaking original, a predictably dire sequel – Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – in which every single positive aspect of the original was extracted and discarded, and now this, the third instalment: Blair Witch.
It’s a film that, to a certain extent at least, seeks to get ‘back to basics,’ attempting to recapture the essence of what it was that made the first film such a refreshingly original horror, way back in 1999.
The whereabouts of the original bunch of young folk that disappeared, having foolishly set foot into the woods in search of the Blair Witch, has by all accounts mystified many for years. None more so than James (James Allen McCune), the younger brother of one of those that originally vanished, Heather, whom he’s convinced he spots in some creepy video that’s been uploaded onto the internet. This footage was apparently discovered, discarded in those infamous woods, by Lane (Wes Robinson), a slightly odd character who lives with his girlfriend, Talia (Valorie Curry).
Racked by curiosity and still harbouring hopes of finding Heather alive, James, together with his girlfriend, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), and a couple of their friends, tracks down Lane, who, on the proviso that both he and Talia may tag along for the adventure, agrees to escort James and his group into the woods and show them exactly where it was that he discovered that abandoned video tape.
Though dubious of whether they can trust Lane and Talia, they all reluctantly agree to the proposition, and into the woods they go…
First and foremost, it should be said that Blair Witch, on the surface at least, is a very routine horror run-out. A few classic horror ‘devices’ are thrown about which serve to ramp up the fear factor sufficiently, and to provide a number of irritating obstacles which hamper the group’s best laid plans and actions. We’ve certainly been there and seen its kind before.
Based upon such a luke-warm summary alone, Blair Witch won’t get too many pulses racing, but, perhaps unwittingly even, it’s a film that has an unusual ace up its sleeve – technology.
Admittedly, this could also be a point of irritation to many, as our intrepid explorers – they of ‘the generation that can’t leave their fekkin’ gadgets alone for even a minute’ – spend many a scene either engrossed in an assortment of illuminated screens or fiddling about with operating buttons and switches, but it’s in the use of this plethora of mobile phones, GPS systems, walkie-talkies, digital video cameras, miniature bluetooth cameras clipped to ears, and even a small flying drone device, that director Adam Wingard ensures that maximum video coverage of the events that unfold, is attained – remember, this is a film compiled from nothing but the group’s own personal footage.
Visual footage is one thing, but the act of switching on and off, combined with the cutting in and out of reception of the aforementioned gadgets, adds considerable jarring digital distortion and static noise into the mix. These decibel-heavy sudden bursts of grating sound are used repeatedly – almost to the point of overkill – but to often startling, dramatic effect by Wingard.
Add to these a whole array of thuds, rumbles, creaks, shrieks and screams that emanate, out of sight, from within the forest, and given the general low visibility of the night, Wingard’s sonic assault on our senses really does prove key here to achieving a truly disturbing experience, to say the least.
 As the film develops and the tension levels are augmented, there is a growing sense of uncertainty and confusion amongst the group. Combined with the gathering realisation that Lane and Talia perhaps cannot be trusted after all, and not to mention the bizarre sense of both time and place rapidly becoming warped and displaced, Blair Witch takes us into a truly messed-up, rather hexed dimension, beyond that which we’ve experienced in either of the previous outings.
It’s well-paced and increasingly alarming, and in fact it takes Blair Witch right until the closing act before it arguably finally falls over its own broomstick.
Ramping up the energy and the claustrophobic levels of confusion to almost demented levels by this point, Wingard conjures up an increasingly disorientating experience for the viewer. Intermittent flashes from an excessive lightning storm offer brief glimpses of both the members of the group – who by this point have disappeared and are exhibiting peculiar behaviour in varying states of distress – and, interestingly, glimpses of the Blair Witch herself.
Yes, all this chaos does indeed achieve moments that are genuinely disturbing, but there’s a sense that ultimately the whole thing begins to ‘get away’ from Wingard by this point in this crazy melee of loud noise and visual carnage, like some sort of desperate attempt to spin more and more plates over a greater and greater distance.
 The need or desire to throw more and more – both visually and sonically – at the screen, is certainly one approach to the heightening of terror levels, but as ever, one senses that less would have been more.
If anything it takes the sheen off a film which, whilst no game-changer, is up to that point, as good a horror sequel as you could realistically hope to expect.
In its favour though, Blair Witch refuses to offer any sense of resolution, leaving many an unanswered question in its wake – primed, no doubt, for a further instalment of this most ‘marmite’ of franchises.
Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen…
It is unsurprisingly not quite up to the standards of the original. It has a tendency to get just a little clunky in places, but considering the whole Blair Witch phenomenon is now thoroughly well-trodden territory, it was always going to be on a bit of a hiding to nothing.
Let it be said though, Blair Witch makes an admirably good fist of things in its bold attempt to recapture some of the original film’s magic. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t successfully manage to get back on-side many of the franchise’s original fan base, whilst simultaneously convincing a whole new generation of its considerable worth as a genuinely frightening horror concept; and that, ladies and gentlemen, comes as both a pleasant surprise, and should be considered a thoroughly laudable achievement.

 

FILM REVIEW: The Neon Demon

Running an advertisement for a series of films that heavily influenced Nicolas Winding Refn’s directorial style immediately prior to the screening of The Neon Demon could be seen as either an enlightening glimpse into the mind of the film’s director, or a sort of ill-advised, potential plot spoiler.
In truth, whilst very evidently shaping his thought processes for this latest venture, more than anything it provides an opportunity for appreciation; to nod knowingly at clear but well realised influences within Refn’s own stylistic approach. The Neon Demon, it must be said, holds up well under its own merits.
This sinister tale is Winding Refn’s twist on a familiar theme; that of a young innocent heading to the big smoke to seek her fame and fortune. The young innocent in this case is she with the God-given beauty, Jesse (Elle Fanning), a girl of subdued yet focused ambition to be a top model.
Her seductive natural beauty induces dollar signs in the eyes of some, but green-eyed envy in those of others.
Within the truly vacuous fashion industry, beauty, we are told, is everything.
“Is that your real nose? God, life is so unfair…” pipes up one picture perfect model; a girl whose personal plastic surgeon has dubbed her ‘the bionic woman’ for obvious reasons. She’s certainly pleasing on the eye, but that can’t curb her and her colleagues’ underhand bitchy sniping at the new girl in town, something that has the potential to escalate out of all control.
As each day unfolds and as Jesse is quickly drawn into, and begins to embrace, a world shorn of its moral boundaries and whose inhabitants fawn relentlessly over her ‘talents,’ her appreciation of her own self-worth and her awareness of others’ jealousy steadily grows. This is a girl under whose cute exterior there lies an ingrained belief that she is in possession of a gift. It’s a gift that she’s been informed is dangerous. But is it dangerous for her or dangerous for others?
Elle Fanning is excellent as Jesse, Keanu Reeves puts in a convincing if limited turn as the soulless owner of the sort of motel that Anthony Perkins might think twice about staying at, whilst Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee (Gigi and Sarah, respectively), are a pair of sharp and conniving fashion models whose places at the top table seem to have been somewhat usurped by this new imposter and flavour of the month.
It’s perhaps however Jena Malone, playing make-up artist, Ruby, who convinces most though, with an edgy role exploring the macabre and truly ‘forbidden’ sides of humanity. Her self-appointed role as friend, guide, and general lookout for Jesse’s well being is admirable on the surface, but in the morally bankrupt, artificial construct that is the fashion industry, good intentions are probably not always what they may seem.
Visually stunning, minimal in its direction, underpinned by dark sexual tension, and awash throughout with influence from some of the very best of cult horror, science-fiction and suspenseful film-making, Nicolas Winding Refn has outdone himself with this one.
Cliff Martinez’ throbbing, power-packed analog synth-heavy soundtrack provides a sonic backdrop that truly drives home Winding Refn’s vision, right through to the film’s lurid and somewhat unexpected conclusion.
As Picturehouse Cinemas’ upcoming short season of films suggests: Think Carrie, think Mulholland Drive, think Videodrome, think Under The Skin, amongst others…
The Neon Demon may well owe a lot to its predecessors, yet it still manages to sit assuredly amongst such revered company.

FILM REVIEW: The Witch

The Witch is a story of folklore, pieced together from various documented historic accounts of dark deeds and happenings alleged to have transpired in New England in the sixteen hundreds.

A devoutly christian family having relocated from their farmstead in England have set up their home and joyless religious existence on the edge of an impenetrable woodland.

Here they live a simple life of subsistence until one day, from virtually right under the nose of eldest child, Thomasin, (Anya Taylor-Joy), the family’s newborn child disappears, never to be seen again.

There follows some brief footage of the baby in the hands of a naked presence, illuminated by fire light, in the middle of the woodland. This renders redundant – though not to their knowledge – the family’s certainty that the baby had been snatched by a predatory wolf.

A period of deep mourning and much religious, verbal self-flagellation follows – as though this doleful family needed another excuse for such dispirited behaviour!

Sadly for them, it’s merely the start of a catalogue of cursed happenings.

With the family’s corn crop inexplicably failing and a gathering belief in their minds that the devil is very much at work amongst them, an ever increasing level of in-fighting and peculiar behaviour envelops the family. Emboldened though by an unshakable religious fervour, they seek to rid themselves of that which is fast becoming impossible to repudiate; they are under some sort of evil curse.

As the succession of disquieting occurrences mounts up, the family – at their wits’ end -perform ever more exasperated religious rituals and procedures, desperate to restore some semblance of normality to their lives once again.

If only it was so easy.

Director Robert Eggers paints a very bleak picture here in The Witch. Indeed, if we were to pick a handful of textbook elements generally deemed necessary to construct a successful horror film, this ‘bleakness’ is just one of many boxes successfully ticked in this tale of good and evil.

William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine’s (Kate Dickie) stern, Puritan collective persona, the cold unfamiliarity of the use of an olde English dialect, the possessed, synchronised over exuberance of a pair of creepy twins, and the demonised movements and bleatings of Black Phillip, the goat, are all, in their way, classic staples of the horror genre, and when underpinned by a sparing use of Mark Korven’s discordant, glissando string and eerie vocal score, they serve to lend The Witch seemingly all the ingredients necessary with which to achieve a truly memorable and unsettling outcome.

On the one hand I’m in agreement with those that believe The Witch to be a well-worked and engaging piece and one that does indeed play upon its audience’s fears of witchcraft, the dark arts and the occult… to a point.

On the other hand, I’m also in agreement that there’s definitely something missing; for whilst the film’s bleak, doomed outlook, relentlessly sinister atmosphere and scenes of crazed possession carry it so far, the real question, as with all horror films, remains: “Does The Witch truly get under the skin and generate genuine discomfort and fear in its audience…?”

As nobly as it tries – and it really does – not for this particular viewer.

I suppose a ‘horror’ film must live and die by such criteria which in this case is a shame, as with a few notable scene exceptions, it can’t be said that The Witch truly delivers on that front. Taken however as an interesting, at times strange and slightly unsettling piece, full of atmosphere, The Witch is memorable, perfectly decent and more than deserves an audience.