The way I felt watching Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room this weekend is the way I imagine unsuspecting French audiences who saw the short film L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotatback in 1896 felt. Totally blindsided by moving images of a train up on the screen, the Parisian moviegoers ran screaming in terror to the back of the theater for their own safety. The film was so real and so visceral that it had an actual physical effect on them. It’s the type of reaction that film can (and honestly should) have on audiences, and it’s something this oft-jaded viewer is constantly in search of. Continue reading “Green Room” (2016) REVIEW→
Sometimes I watch a movie and it feels like the writer took the first simple premise that popped into their head, immediately pitched it to a producer without fleshing it out, and dusted their hands of the whole thing.
“Here’s my idea: it’s a home invasion movie, but, get this – the girl who lives in the house? She’s deaf.”
“Is that it?”
“Congrats, kid – you got yourself a picture! Here’s a check.”
I’m going to keep this review a little more succinct than usual seeing as this movie came out almost 4 years ago and probably isn’t at the top of everyone’s ‘to watch’ list. I just happened to catch it last night and felt the need to review it, because, well, that’s kinda what I do. Right?
Anyway, for those who don’t know, I love home invasion movies. They are tied with ‘hillbilly horror’ for my favorite horror sub-genre. And if you combine the two — say, Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs — well then, I’m one happy pup. (In fact, Straw Dogs might’ve even been the movie that really solidified my love of both sub-genres.) That being said, there isn’t really a hell of a whole lot you can do with either of those genres outside of the most simple, straight-forward storylines, especially now — some 40 years after they made their entrance into the scene. The basics work best, but again — if you’ve seen one, it’s pretty safe to say you’ve seen them all.
With that in mind, In Their Skin is a fairly standard entry in the home invasion genre, one that I’ve seen a million times before.
A couple and their young son move into a wooded lakeside cottage for a temporary break from life. The couple’s daughter was just killed in an accident, so they’ve gotten out of the city and secluded themselves in hopes of facilitating the grieving process. Soon after settling in, there’s a knock at the door and they’re greeted by an almost identical family — mother, father, and son, all roughly the same age — who apparently live on the other side of the lake. They make plans for dinner that night, and well, you can see where this is headed. After dinner, the ‘neighbors’ reveal their true intentions and the grieving family finds themselves in for a night of torture.
Everyone does a great job in their respective roles (the evil couple’s son is particularly nasty), but the movie itself is another story. It is occasionally entertaining and even manages to ratchet up some tension with some awkward, uncomfortable scenes early on, but ultimately it suffers from stringing together one too many tired plot devices — everyone seems to be afflicted by “delayed reaction time” — to be thoroughly enjoyable in the end. I hate the “delayed reaction time” device. Characters who have the opportunity to run, but don’t; antagonists who have the opportunity to kill the protagonist, but don’t. Look, I am willing to suspend disbelief for zombies, monsters, and ghosts. But home invasion is supposed to feel real. Having your characters do unrealistic things in a realistic situation is a cop out.
Finally, the end is surprisingly abrupt. Hurried, even. For all its build up, you’d think the movie would be headed toward a nail-biting climax. But it doesn’t. The ending almost feels tacked on or improvised. It’s very strange and I can’t help but wonder if it was a decision by the studio to alter the ending. Also, there are hints at a subplot involving Selma Blair’s grieving mother character, possibly carrying on an affair? It’s very odd and seems to have been edited out in post, but there are remnants scattered throughout the film that suggest it. Only adds to the head-scratching.
Oh, and the movie is super desaturated. Easy on the color grading, guys.
As someone who reviews horror movies on the reg (that’s ‘regular’ for you lame-os out there) it’s really important that I see as many horror movies as I can, whether it be at home or in the theater. However, like most normal civilized human beings I have the typical 40 hour work week with the occasional hobby and scant social interaction tossed into the mix. This means I have to be particularly selective about the movies I do see when I get the chance. I know that doesn’t sound very impartial or objective, but it’s all about logic: I stick to stuff I have a specific interest in (crime, suspense, psychological stuff) and I avoid the shit I hate (hauntings, found footage, mumblegore), and for the most part it works out in my favor; I end up seeing movies that I end up liking. Occasionally I’m thrown a wildcard, like a movie I should like but have reservations about (Cooties, for example), but trusting my gut has never failed me me once and my batting average for “think it looked like crap and, surprise, it ended up being crap” is near flawless. (For those wondering, yes, I ended up watching Cooties despite my better judgment and, of course, I ended up disliking it.) Continue reading “Kristy” (2014) REVIEW→
With 13 Days of Shot On Video I’ll be reviewing a new shot-on-video horror film every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.
I had no idea what to expect going into Venus Flytrap. Not much info exists about it online (no Wikipedia page, a scant IMDB page, and only a handful of horror blogs have reviewed it), and the only reason I happened upon it was because it was included in one of those “buy this group of DVDs together, save this amount of money” type deals when I was adding DVDs to my shopping cart on Amazon. The cover art looked really unique and I don’t think it cost no more than ten bucks, so I thought, what the hell. You only live once, right?
Eli Roth seems to be making his long overdue comeback in a major way this year, and he’s doing it by tackling ultra specific horror and thriller subgenres. Last month saw the release of The Green Inferno, Roth’s ode to the Italian “cannibal boom” which took horror audiences by the throat from the late-’70s thru the mid-’80s. Now, barely 3 weeks later, he’s back with Knock Knock, a remake of the 1977 horror flick Death Game, which starred Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp (both of whom produced Knock Knock; Camp also has a cameo).
Now, Knock Knock may be Roth’s take on a little-seen exploitation flick, but to me it feels more like the “Yuppies in Danger” subgenre that flooded the early-’90s. Films like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Single White Female, Pacific Heights, The Crush, Unlawful Entry, Fear, and many more. And how exactly do you put a yuppie in danger? Well, the formula is pretty simple. It goes something like this:
Introduce lead character: a yuppie. Make sure their life is pretty perfect (isn’t it always?)
Introduce outsider who infiltrates yuppie’s life. Outsider should seem harmless enough at first.
Outsider shows true colors and turns yuppie’s life upside down in a dangerous way.
Outsider will make yuppie look like the dangerous/guilty one before attempting to murder them.
Outsider is done away with, yuppie’s life is saved; lots of sweaty hugging of characters, with eyes closed. The end.
That’s it, that’s the formula. A more specific sticking point of the Yuppie in Danger film is infidelity. There has to at least be sexual tension — if not an overt act of adultery — to really shake things up. And so with all that in mind, onto Knock Knock.
Evan (Keanu Reeves) is an architect, happily married and a father of two, who has to spend Father’s Day alone at home working on a project while the wife and kids head out of town on vacation. That night (ominously rainy, of course) he gets a knock (knock) at the door. There stand two young, drenched coed types — Genesis and Bel (Roth’s real life wife Lorena Izzo, and Ana de Armas, respectively.) They’re lost and unable to find the party they were supposed to attend, and now the rain has left them without phones. Evan takes them in, gets them some fresh towels, and even allows them to dry their clothes. That’s when the girls start to snuggle up to Evan. And then…Yuppie in Danger!
Eli Roth has found the perfect “handsome nice guy” in Reeves. From the opening scenes with his wife and kids, to the scenes where the girls start being a little too flirty, Reeves just exudes this genuine niceness — a good, decent guy who you immediately invest in — and it really helps sell the character (and what eventually happens.) The girls are perfectly cast as well. They play crazy in a very realistic, innocent and playful way that really ratchets up the suspense. They’re so gleeful in their insanity, you really don’t know what they’re capable of or what’s going to happen next — and that’s great for building tension.
One of the things I loved most about Knock Knock was the way the girls gain entry to Evan’s home (and essentially, his life): a single, minor, fleeting line spoken by Izzo’s Genesis. When they show up at his doorstep in need of a phone, they immediately run into a snag — neither girl knows their friend’s phone numbers, because who remembers phone numbers anymore? So Genesis asks: “Can we use your computer?” It’s such a wonderfully on point update to a familiar horror trope, one that feels very natural and doesn’t feel like it was shoehorned in.
Of course, the movie isn’t without a few speedbumps (what movie is?) While he’s great at playing the kind, affable good-looking dad type here, Reeves stalls occasionally in the “holy shit, my life is in danger” department. There were a few scenes where his wooden delivery kinda killed the tension. But I’m a sucker for Reeves, baby. He’ll always get a pass from me. I mean, have you seen River’s Edge?
I’d say the biggest flaw with the movie is its sort-of “story with a moral” approach. Going that route leaves a lot of big holes in the 90 minutes leading up to the climax. The aforementioned Yuppies in Danger movies I named all took the simple road: the infiltrator is crazy. No rhyme or reason, no backstory. Perhaps a little bit of motive, but no ultimate plan in the long run. And that’s where Knock Knock stumbles: it tries to give too much meaning to the events instead of letting them retain a little mystery.
One part Poison Ivy and one part Fatal Attraction, Knock Knock plays like a female version of Funny Games — and like all of Roth’s stuff, it’s a fun and entertaining watch. Next up for Roth is his take on the “natural horror” subgenre with the killer sea creature movie, Lake Mead. I’m excited to see where he goes from there. Might I suggest the “killer kid” genre, Eli?
Final things to note:
In the film, Keanu says he is 43. In real life, he’s 51. I find it funny that he looks so damn good for his age, that he had to go lower to make it more believable for his character.
I wonder if Roth was inspired to write this when he wrote the two sleazy female leads in Hostel. This almost feels like it could’ve been a spin-off for those characters.
“It was pizza! It was free-fucking-pizza!” is not only one of the greatest lines ever growled on film, but one that caused a weird emotional stirring inside me. What can I say: when Reeves is on, he’s on.