Tag Archives: indie

“Clown” (2014) REVIEW

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I don’t find clowns scary and I never have. I never understood people who were afraid of clowns. It always seemed like one of those universal fears — like a fear of the dark — that everyone seemed to share. Fear of the dark, I can understand that. But a fear of clowns? I always thought the fear of clowns was a silly and cliche thing. How is a guy in a rainbow wig and make-up scary? Sure, maybe Wizzo was pretty scary. And John Wayne Gacy. But in general, the idea of clowns never affected me. That being said, if you happen to be one of those people who are afraid of clowns, this movie will probably destroy your life.

Clown (2014) gets down to business pretty quick: it opens on a child’s birthday party; Meg (Laura Allen), mom of the birthday boy, gets a call that the clown she ordered has to cancel last minute. Meanwhile, the dad, Kent (Andy Powers), is a real estate agent who’s onsite cleaning up a house he plans to sell. He calls to let his wife know he’s coming home soon, she mentions the clown canceling, and Kent — playing the role of Superdad — says not to worry, that he’ll handle it. Luckily, he happens to spot an enchanting chest in a mysterious back room which just so happens to contain a bizarre jumpsuit and — believe it or not — a wig and a red nose. He slaps it on, makes it home to wow all the kids at the party, and as the evening comes to a close, falls asleep with the whole get-up still on.

In the morning, he awakes to find that he’s still dressed up and having trouble taking off the wig, nose, and outfit. Late to work (and in taking his kid to school), Kent leaves everything on and runs out the door. Once he drops his son, Jack (Christian Distefano), off at school and makes in to work, he then resumes attempting to remove everything. Unfortunately for Kent, it’s stuck, and it looks like a career change is on the horizon: entertaining at kids’ birthday parties in Hell.

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The first few minutes of the film require a lot of suspension of disbelief. The fact that he happens to find this costume right after his wife tells him they’re in need of a clown is almost laughably lucky. Add to that the fact that Kent, for whatever reason, wears the wig and clown nose for the first part of the next day — and doesn’t seem to even be remotely panicked or concerned with his appearance — also demands the watcher to look the other way. But once the ball finally gets rolling, it doesn’t slow down.

I was actually really impressed at how the film handles its pacing. Seeing as the shit hits the fan almost immediately — within the first 20 minutes of the 100 minute film — I was wondering how they were going to maintain the tension for the remainder of the movie, but they manage to pull it off. The film keeps gaining speed, upping the stakes as we watch the desperate and confused Kent transform from a loving father into a murderous, child-eating monster. Did I mention the Clown likes to eat kids? He does.

Also impressive is that this is the big screen debut from writer/director Jon Watts. He also wrote and directed 2015’s Cop Car, which is a complete 180 from Clown, both visually and in subject matter and tone.

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To me, the scariest part of Kent as the killer clown isn’t his final transformation (although it is awesome): I think the scariest part is when he’s in transition. Wearing a knit cap, a trenchcoat, and garbage bags duct taped over his feet — while still sporting the white face and red nose — he looks terrifyingly creepy. Add to that the fact that he’s often shot in shadows or under the cover of night makes him far, far scarier than any clown I’ve ever seen.

Clown is one part IT and one part The Fly, and that makes for a killer combination. Whether you find clowns scary or not, you should get a thrill out of this movie. Doc sez: two severed thumbs up!

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“Creep” (2015) MOVIE REVIEW

Finally, Jason Blum has produced a movie I like! Okay, okay: I like a few of his movies. And sure, it’s still a found footage deal, but at least it drops all the overwrought ‘paranormal’ bullstuff.

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By design, ‘found footage’ movies should be stripped down and straight-forward, and a very easy thing to pull off. Camera, people, conflict. Simple! Yet time and time again, producers and directors fudge it up beyond all logic. Unexplained jumps in time, having the camera always pointed in the right spot at the right time (every time!), and perhaps most forehead-smacking of all: music! And I’m not talking about music being played on a radio in the movie, I’m talking about interstitial horn stabs and ominous strings throughout, because how are you going to know the movie is scary unless there’s a big crash of music when something scary happens? Obviously it’s because they’ve created a shoddy, empty product and need to attach all the bells and whistles to distract you the viewer from noticing just how unscary (or uninteresting) their movie is. Thankfully, Creep avoids all of these distractions.

The movie sees Aaron (Patrick Brice, who also wrote and directed the movie), a freelance videographer, answering an online ad where the only information is essentially, “Looking for someone to film for 8 hours, easy work, $1000.” He soon finds himself at a remote cabin with a complete weirdo (er, I mean, creep), Josef, (played by Mark Duplass who also helped write the movie) who claims he’s dying of cancer and is hoping to film a memorial video for his unborn son, à la My Life.  At first, Josef seems like a clingy, desperate, lonely guy — but soon things go south. And that’s all I’m gonna say.

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Now, I’d seen the teaser prior to watching the movie, and I gotta say: I wasn’t into it. And when I started the movie, I was still on the fence. But slowly the movie started to take effect and I found myself deeply immersed. One of the great things about Creep is constant surprises. You never know where it’s going or what’s going to happen. And after finishing the film, I really appreciated the aforementioned vague teaser I’d seen because it didn’t spoil anything. That’s something I miss about the extinct respectful relationship between trailers and movies (and moreso now, viewers and movies): being shocked and surprised — and really enjoying the product, as a result — because it hadn’t been spoiled beforehand. It kept me guessing until the very end, and I can’t say that about a lot of movies.

As I’d mentioned earlier, this movie finally gets ‘found footage’ right, if you’ll even consider it ‘found footage’ (anything with a shaky cam and people addressing the audience directly pretty much constitutes ‘found footage’, right?) No music, only two leads, and (thankfully) no ghosts or paranormal stuff. Since Duplass is the king of “mumblecore” and has already filmed a similar handheld semi-horror flick (mumblegore? Mumblehorr?) Baghead, this movie is perfect for him, and he obviously knows how to handle the role. What I wasn’t expecting, however, is just how truly terrifying Duplass could be.

When I started the movie, there were a few places where I thought “Why doesn’t Aaron just leave?” or “There’s no way Josef would act that way.” But as I kept watching, I started to realize that I knew people like Josef, and I’ve found myself in the Aaron role many times. You’re in a situation you don’t want to be in, but you feel bad for the person you’re with, so you willingly ignore logic just to be a good person, an empathetic person. Even when there are big, red warning signs saying “run, now!”, you go along with it just so you don’t inconvenience that person.

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By the end it had me thinking, “just how many seemingly nice and normal people do I encounter everyday who are completely and utterly unhinged?” It kinda freaked me out. That fact combined with all the handheld camera stuff also got me to thinking about Ricardo López, the dude who stalked Björk. He recorded a lot of home video tapes — essentially video love letters — for the singer. But in the videos (which are incredibly disturbing [and available on Youtube!]), you see López start out as this lonely, desperate, sad guy…and watch him devolve into this dangerous, blood-thirsty lunatic. It’s horrifying. And realizing that, yeah, anyone can come unglued if the paper ain’t sticky enough? That might be scarier than anything else.

Lastly, this is apparently the first in a trilogy of Creep movies. If they end up being half as scary as Creep was, I’ll be a happy camper.

Creep is available on VOD and Netflix Streaming, so watch it now! But leave the lights on!

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“It Follows” (2015) REVIEW

When information about It Follows started traveling down the internet pipeline, and after I’d watched the trailer, two words immediately popped into my head: “Black Hole“.

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From 1995 to 2005, comic artist Charles Burns released a limited run story called Black Hole. Set in the dreary, overcast Pacific Northwest during the mid-70s, Black Hole follows a group of suburban teenagers with nothing better to do than wander the woods, smoke dope, go to the ocean, and screw. It’s well known between the two leads in the story (as well as every other character) that a mysterious sexually transmitted disease (“The Bug”) is being spread among the teens – one that affects each person differently, but still turns them into some sort of freak or mutant. And just like life, some get it worse than others.

Besides being gorgeously illustrated (I hate to use hyper-bowl on ya, but every damn page is absolutely jaw-dropping), the thing that really sells Black Hole is how nauseatingly real and relatable it was – afterall, we all were, at some point, teenagers – and we all had to deal with those awful, shitty teenage feelings. First loves, the pressure of not fitting in, the uncertainty of the future. I’m breaking out in a sweat just typing about it now.

But Burns managed to take this story of teens-turned-freaks and somehow make it a metaphor for teenage life in general and the loss of innocence. Don’t roll your eyes, it’s true! But we’ll get back to Black Hole. Let’s talk about It Follows.

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 I didn’t bother digging up any more information on It Follows than I’d already come across on the internet before seeing it in the theater, because all the reviews were rave and that was enough for me to want to go into it fairly blindly. I wanted to experience it as purely as possible.

The first scene of the film immediately establishes several things: tone, atmosphere, music, and suspense – all of which are enforced throughout its entirety, without ever losing steam or focus. And it’s those components that are so vital in making this film so damn effective and probably why it’s been garnering such high praise.

There’s something strange about It Follows that I can’t even explain, something unsettling. Watching it made me feel something. Set in a suburb of Detroit, the residential streets are wide and bare, the lawns are perfectly manicured, the sidewalks are lined with lush, drooping trees. In a way it very much reminded me of my own teen years, endless days filled with a listless wandering of the streets.

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Perhaps it’s the unconventional way the film is shot – during the ‘golden hour’, lots of shadowy night shots, lots of natural indoor lighting – that make it feel real and therefore inherently more scary.

And it’s all of these things which liken it to its other greatest influence (besides Black Hole): Halloween.

Not since John Carpenter’s 1978 genre-defining classic has the combination of dreary suburbia, droning synths, and a widescreen lens created such a powerful and memorable horror flick. It Follows is filled with tons of wide shots, and this is an important and effective technique: it isolates the subject and makes them look (and feel) small and alone. And again, I can’t stress how important the use of natural lighting (and night shooting, and during the ‘magic hour’) is for the film: when the teens sit around the house, with nothing but the dim glow of lamps and a TV set illuminating the space, a chord is struck deep within your brain.

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When The Guest was released last year, director Adam Wingard described it as, “Terminator meets Halloween.” And while I can appreciate that in a homage-y sense, It Follows actually feels like something John Carpenter filmed sometime in between Halloween and The Fog.

Another thing I really appreciated about this film is the characters. For once, I didn’t want any of them to die! And brother, let me tell you – that is a rare feeling for me when watching a horror flick. Usually I find the characters so damn irritating, that I’d be fine with having ’em all wiped out within the first 10 minutes. They’re usually real dum-dums, and when they’re not screaming at the monster, they’re screaming at each other. But the teens in It Follows feel like a real group of teenaged friends. They feel like real teens. They feel like real friends. And that’s important. Empathizing with the characters, rooting for them – that’s crucial.

At the time of this typing, I watched the film about 10 hours ago, so it still has some settling to do – steeping, marinating, coagulating. But how I’m feeling now is that I really, really enjoyed the film. I’m tellin’ you: there’s something about the way it makes you feel. This film is all about feel. It’s…hard to pinpoint. And that kinda creeps me out.

Overall it’s a refreshing take on a subject that hasn’t been too played out within the genre. I definitely want to see it again – as soon as possible, in fact – and rarely do I feel that driving need to want to rewatch a film immediately. There is a recurring water motif that I haven’t quite deciphered yet, but it’s got me thinking – and when’s the last time a horror movie made me think?

There are a few artistic choices I found silly, if not wholly unnecessary, but they were fleeting and not distracting enough to take me out of the movie. That’s another thing I give It Follows credit for: it rolls along at such a perfect pace, you never have a spare second to worry about what has happened – only what’s going to happen.

Oh, and one more thing about Black Hole ‘fore I wrap this up. At one point Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary were attached to a film adaptation. And after they dropped out, David Fincher was signed on. Eventually director Rupert Sanders produced a short fan film in hopes of actually getting a full length release produced. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of it, but fortunately the short exists on Vimeo, and you can watch it (just click the pic!)

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 With its drab and wearisome setting, throbbing synth score, natural indoor lighting, and array of STD-affected teens, I can’t help but wonder if this short wasn’t in some way an influence on It Follows. Or maybe they simply exist within the same creepy, depressing world.

Go see It Follows. And then see it again.

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“Starry Eyes” (2014) REVIEW

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I was compelled to write this critique after seeing so many glowing, positive reviews for the film – a feeling I did not share.

First, the positives:

Technically, the film is sound. It’s easy to watch, nice to look at. Nothing boring or distracting about the visual compositions. It was shot by a competent cinematographer. Same for the editing and sound/music – it was well done.

As for acting, the lead, Alex Essoe, does a solid job as well. It can’t be easy to bounce between meek and sweetly optimistic, to terrified and revenge-filled. She does it all without ever going over-the-top (though, she does come close).

So what don’t I like? Well, two things stick out to me – things I can’t ignore enough to be able to enjoy the film.

First: as the film progresses, the deterioration and degradation of the lead character, is almost beat for beat identical to a film that came out just one year prior, “Contracted”. Now, in the name of fairness, the fact that I HATED (loathed, despised, abhorred) “Contracted” really doesn’t have any sway on my opinion of the merit or worth of “Starry Eyes”, but what happens to both leads is so goddamn identical I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the former film, and that was distracting. I’m talking identical scenes. In the way that you can only see so many night-vision-nanny-cam-ghost-in-the-room scenes before your brain shuts off automatically whenever it sees another one, I just immediately checked out due to the similarities. “Contracted”, boy. I can’t write a bad enough review for that mean-spirited, aimless, derivative drivel.

The other thing that got me tangled about this movie was that it just doesn’t add up. Look, I am all for suspending disbelief when watching a horror flick. In fact, a pet peeve of mine is people who pick apart the believability of some horror films. (Y’know, films about zombies and monsters and ghosts – they need to be believable.)

However, this film uses a logic to get the lead from point A to point B by any means necessary that ignores (and hopes the audience will ignore, too) any sensible conclusions that could have/would have occurred in the meantime that might’ve led the film in a different, exciting direction.

Take an amazing movie like “Rosemary’s Baby”, which this film seems to borrow from heavily. In “Rosemary’s Baby”, the fertile Mia Farrow is conditioned and lulled into a false sense of security by the sweet, loving old neighbors in her new apartment. Little does she realize she’s being set up to be the incubator for the second coming of baby Satan. The warning signs Rosemary sees are dismissed by her husband (a co-conspirator) as just imagination. And we, the audience, aren’t 100% sure, either – until it’s too late, of course. And that’s what makes it such an effective, well-made film.

However, everything about “Starry Eyes” is so…naggingly off and predictable. Every new scene screams at the lead, “Stop what you’re doing. Why are you doing that?”

It’s hard to enjoy a movie when there’s no one to root for.