Archive for the Supernatural Category

Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Ghosts!, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Johnny Depp Movies, Paranormal, ROBOTS!, Samurais, Superheroes, Supernatural, Westerns with tags , , , , on July 5, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
JULY 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The wild west.  A group of masked OUTLAWS on horseback wait by a train track.  A train whistle shrieks in the distance.)

OUTLAW #1:  Here she comes.  Right on time.

OUTLAW #2:  I can’t wait to see the look on the conductor’s face when our man Willoughby guts him like a pig!  (snorts and spits tobacco).

(Train approaches.)

OUTLAW #2: Here she comes.  Look fast for Willoughby!

(The outlaws hoot and holler as they see Willoughby with a knife to the conductor’s throat. 

OUTLAW #2:  Stick him, Willoughby!  Stick him!

OUTLAW #3 (points):  Wait a minute.  Who the hell is that?

(A man in black appears behind Willoughby and pummels the outlaw over the head with a sledge hammer.  The man in black faces the camera— it is L.L. SOARES.  He continues to pummel Willoughby with the sledgehammer, stopping only to give the outlaws on horseback the finger.)

OUTLAW #1:  What the—?

OUTLAW #2 (points):  Lookee there

(MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed in white with a white 10 gallon hat, walks on the roof of the train.  He smiles for the camera and lifts a submachine gun which he uses to blow away the outlaws on horseback in one swift sweep.)

(Dissolve to the train station)

CONDUCTOR:  That was friggin amazing!!!  Thank you, gentlemen, for stopping the Whippersnapper gang.  That was terrific!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shucks, it was nothing.  What we’re really good at is reviewing movies.

CONDUCTOR:  You don’t say?

L.L. SOARES:  He does say!

MA: In fact, right now, we’re about to do our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for July, where we preview the movies we’ll be seeing in the month ahead; in this case, July!

CONDUCTOR:  You guys are better than the Lone Ranger and Tonto!

MA:  That remains to be seen, but wouldn’t you know it, our first movie in July, opening on July 3, is THE LONE RANGER (2013), Disney’s big budget production, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Lone-Ranger-PosterNow, as much as I’m a fan of the Lone Ranger character, going back to my days as a kid when I used to watch reruns of the old LONE RANGER TV show from the 1950s starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto— I even had a Lone Ranger toy— I simply wasn’t all that excited about this movie.

LS: Hey, I remember that old TV show, too!

MA: I used to be a big fan of Johnny Depp, and I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but lately I just haven’t been into his roles as much.  His Barnabas Collins in the recent DARK SHADOWS (2012) disaster may have been the last straw.  So, the idea of seeing Depp play Tonto does nothing for me.

Now, all this being said, I have to admit that I’ve actually enjoyed the trailers for this one, and although I won’t go so far to say that I’m looking forward to it, I will say that I’m not dreading seeing THE LONE RANGER as much as I was a few months ago.

It’s directed by Gore Verbinski, by the way, the guy who directed the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, as well as American remake of THE RING (2002).

LS:  Yeah, I’m pretty much in the same boat. I’m a Johnny Depp fan from way back, in the days when he mostly appeared in independent movies. I understand him going for the big bucks now that the first PIRATES movie made him a bankable star, but I haven’t been excited to see a movie starring him in a long time. And yeah, DARK SHADOWS was pretty horrible.

The trailers for LONE RANGER don’t look completely awful. I’ll certainly go in hoping it’s a decent movie. But I don’t have a lot of hope.

On July 12 we’ll be reviewing PACIFIC RIM (2013).  This is one of the movies I’ve been wanting to see most this year. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH and the HELLBOY movies, among others, this one has real potential. And what a cool cast. Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, even Charlie Day from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA!

Pacific-Rim-movie-bannerPACIFIC RIM looks like a cross between TRANSFORMERS and CLOVERFIELD, as giant monsters rise up from the Pacific ocean to terrorize mankind, so the humans build giant robots to fight them. If anyone else made this movie, I’d think it was a pretty goofy idea, but with del Toro involved, I think it has a real shot at being an enjoyable flick, and smarter than it sounds. At least I hope so. Like CLOVERFIELD, it looks like it’s trying to make giant monsters scary again.

MA:  You have more faith in this one than I do, and you know what?  I hope you’re right!  Because I would be really into a cool giant monster movie!

But for me, the problem is the trailers just remind me too much of the TRANSFORMERS movies, and that’s not a good thing.  But like you said, del Toro’s involvement should lift this one to a higher level, and I certainly like that Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are in the cast, but I’m guessing in a movie like this, they probably don’t have large roles.

I just think this one’s going to be a monstrous flop.

LS:  Oh, give it a chance! It might surprise you.

MA:  I hope so.  I certainly would be happy if this one turned out to be more like CLOVERFIELD than TRANSFORMERS, but I won’t be holding my breath.

LS:  The horror movie THE CONJURING opens on July 19, and I’ll be reviewing this one solo.  This could be interesting, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a pair of paranormal experts who investigate a haunted house where Lili Taylor lives with her kids.

The-ConjuringMA:  I’m sorry I’m going to miss this one.  The trailers look really creepy, and it’s directed by James Wan, who directed one of my favorite horror movies of the past few years, INSIDIOUS (2010), a movie that I like even more now than when I first saw it a couple of years ago.

I also like the cast, led by Patrick Wilson, who played the dad in INSIDIOUS, and Vera Farmiga, who’s currently starring as Norman Bates’s mother on the TV show BATES MOTEL.

LS: Yeah, I enjoyed the first season of BATES MOTEL, and I’m a big Farmiga fan.

MA: We finish July with THE WOLVERINE (2013), which opens on July 26.  Now, I’m a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies, and I like the character of the Wolverine a lot, and I especially enjoy Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the Wolverine character in the X-MEN movies, so why aren’t I all that excited about this one?

X-Men-Origins-Wolverine-2-For one thing, the title is about as blah as you can get:  THE WOLVERINE, especially considering the title of the last Wolverine movie, X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009).  Here’s a look at some future titles as the series continues:  THIS WOLVERINE, THAT WOLVERINE, WTF WOLVERINE, and THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINE

There you go.

It’s directed by James Mangold, who directed the western 3:10 TO YUMA (2009), a movie I liked a lot. 

I’m not all that excited about THE WOLVERINE, but strangely, I am looking forward to seeing it.

LS:  Yeah, I’m a Wolverine fan from way back when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were the creative team on The Uncanny X-Men comic books. So it’s cool to see the character doing so well in movies. However, while he’s been good in the X-MEN movies, I wasn’t a big fan of his last solo outing in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, which I felt was kind of a misfire.

MA:  I actually liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. 

LS:  You would!

Hopefully James Mangold can get the character back on track. This adventure takes him to Japan, where the character had a lot of storylines in the comics. There’s been a kind of “modern samurai” take on Wolverine for a long time, and I’ll be curious to see how this translates to film.

But man, you’re right, that title is incredibly lame.

MA:  And that wraps things up for July.  (turns to Train Conductor)  So, how did we do?

TRAIN CONDUCTOR:  A very entertaining column.  But I still wish you’d consider catching outlaws on a full time basis.

MA: Sorry.  No can do.   We have too many movies to review.

LS:  And I have a new novel to write.

MA:  Me, too.

LS:  A writer’s job is never done.

(MA & LS ride off into the sunset).

(SHERIFF approaches the TRAIN CONDUCTOR.)

SHERIFF:  Who were those masked men?

CONDUCTOR:  Sheriff, those men were Cinema Knife Fighters, the toughest, meanest, sons of bitches this side of the Mississippi.  And when they’re not hunting down outlaws, they review movies.

SHERIFF:  What’s a movie?

—-END—-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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The Reassessment Files takes a second look at THE PROPHECY (1995)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Angels, Christopher Walken Movies, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , on June 12, 2013 by knifefighter

THE PROPHECY (1995)
A “Reassessment File” by Paul McMahon, the “Distracted Critic”

P - VHS coverIt will come as a no-brainer to anyone reading this that I’m into horror movies. I have favorites outside the genre, of course, as well as a brother who is a full-fledged movie buff who has introduced me to a great many films I would not have chanced without his urging. One memorable night a number of years ago, he showed up at my place waving a VHS box at me. “I have a horror movie you’ve never heard of!” he said. At the moment I would have snickered at his folly, he dropped THE PROPHECY in my lap. “It’s Christopher Walken playing a bad angel. You’re gonna love it!”

The movie held my attention throughout. At the time, I was reading a great many books on the philosophy of religion, comparing theologies between Sky Father faiths and Earth Mother beliefs. While THE PROPHECY didn’t delve into this head-on, it did bring the two together in an interesting way. Not interesting enough for me to remember the specifics, though. Whenever discussion of the movie has come up, I’ve remembered that I watched it, but couldn’t recall anything beyond Christopher Walken playing a bad angel.

Looking back, I don’t remember anything significant about it, so I’d retro-actively rate it a single star. Recently, due to the urging of another friend, I dug up a copy and popped it in to see if I’d missed some deeper worth years ago.

We open with a voice over tale of the first war of Heaven and the banishment of Lucifer along with a third of heaven’s legion of angels. God’s elevation of man over angels precipitated the second war of Heaven, which split the remaining legion in half, leaving the sides locked in a stalemate that has kept the gates of Heaven closed since the beginning of time. The Angel Gabriel has come to Earth—where angels are mortal—with a plan to break the stalemate by stealing an evil human’s “dark soul” and making it fight for his side, thus breaking the stalemate and winning Heaven.

From here, we are dropped into a church. There is Latin, clouds of incense, a Cardinal, bishops, and deacons awaiting Ordination as priests. We’ll choose to ignore the major movie goof of a completely empty church behind them– ordinations are typically SRO.  Deacon Thomas is called. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Sunday School knows that a character named Thomas in a religion-themed movie will lose his faith. As Deacon Thomas lies prone before the feet of the Cardinal, he is assaulted by visions of bloodied angels that make him cry out and turn away. In the very next scene, Thomas is a LAPD detective standing on a rooftop and looking down at the city—taking in an angel’s perspective, if you will.

Now it’s time for more exposition as the Angel Uziel drops in on the Angel Simon, who has been sent by God to keep the dark human soul from Gabriel. Simon throws Uziel out of an apartment window, where he is crushed by an out-of-control automobile that is barreling down that exact dead-end alley at that exact time. By the reactions of the investigating officers, they never expected to find anyone behind the wheel and aren’t at all concerned that no one’s there.

Here comes Deacon Detective Thomas. He pokes around Simon’s apartment and finds an obituary for a Colonel Arnold Hawthorne from Chimney Rock, Arizona; a theological text that Thomas himself wrote back in the day; and an ancient, hand-written Bible that contains a twenty-third chapter of the Book of Revelations. “There is no twenty-third chapter,” he tells the medical examiner. After Gabriel incinerates Uziel’s body on the floor of the morgue, leaving nothing for the medical examiner to investigate, Thomas decides to head to Chimney Rock, because apparently the LAPD has no budget to telephone law enforcement in Arizona to follow up on leads, and, apparently, there are no jurisdiction lines in this movie, so Thomas’s LAPD badge gives him carte blanche across state lines.

Simon steals and then hides the dark soul in a school girl who was nice to him, because nothing displays eternal gratitude like jamming the soul of a cannibalistic war criminal into someone’s head. Gabriel finds Simon and tortures him, but Simon will not reveal the location of the soul. Thomas enters Hawthorne’s apartment and discovers a trunk full of evidence that the deceased Colonel is a Korean War criminal, because criminals like this keep mementos of their crimes out in the open for easy access on the off chance that an out-of-his-jurisdiction cop will show up without a warrant to poke through their belongings. Shaken, Thomas enters a local church to contemplate his situation. Gabriel appears in the pew behind him and freaks him out by knowing things about him that he shouldn’t. Then Gabriel disappears, forgetting to warn Thomas off the case, or fooling him with a false trail, or anything else

Proof that Gabriel is an angel and not a man-- when he gets lost he actually stops to ask for directions. (His assistant here is played by Amanda Plummer, PULP FICTION (1994).

Proof that Gabriel is an angel and not a man– when he gets lost he actually stops to ask for directions. (His assistant here is played by Amanda Plummer, PULP FICTION (1994).

Gregory Widen, best known for writing 1991’s incredible firefighter movie BACKDRAFT, wrote and directed this one. He does everything by the numbers here, using tried and true camera angles throughout and taking no risks, thereby failing to put a personal touch on the work. The writing is circular and hollow, silly in places, and doesn’t hold up to the slightest theological scrutiny.

When the movie ended, I remembered my brother’s words from so long ago. “It’s Christopher Walken playing a bad angel,” and that is part and parcel of this film. In fact, that’s what they should’ve written on the back of the VHS box. Walken acts creepy and delivers his lines in that halting, oddly emphasized way of his. There’s a feeling of “That was cool” when the final credits roll, but nothing more substantial than that. Walken has made a career out of this unique delivery, utilizing it in such films as THE DEER HUNTER (1978), BILOXI BLUES (1988), PULP FICTION (1994), SUICIDE KINGS (1997) and SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)…. He’s got 123 titles listed on IMDb, and all of them have in common the “Walken Mystique.” I’ve heard it said that if you’re a casting director in Hollywood and you need to fill the “Walken Type,” you are stuck with having to cast Christopher Walken or re-define the type. This is his movie, plain and simple.

Viggo Mortensen and Elias Koteas share a moment in THE PROPHECY. If he'd had more screen time in his surprise role, Viggo would have stolen this movie from Christopher Walken

Viggo Mortensen and Elias Koteas share a moment in THE PROPHECY. If he’d had more screen time in his surprise role, Viggo would have stolen this movie from Christopher Walken

Elias Koteas, (LET ME IN, 2010), plays Thomas Dagget. He does a good job with the role, but with 82 titles beneath his name, he hasn’t exactly created a “Koteas Mystique.” Eric Stoltz,(MASK, 1985 and also PULP FICTION), shines as the angel Simon. He’s been in 115 movies, and what little I can find of a “Stoltz Mystique” is not very flattering. As the film rolls along, there’s a surprise role played by Viggo Mortensen, known mainly for playing Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001-2003) and Tom Stahl in David Cronenberg’s HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005). With only 55 titles to his credit, Viggo is well on his way to establishing a “Mortensen Mystique.” Virginia Madsen plays Katherine, the school teacher who teams up with Thomas to protect the possessed child from Gabriel. She will be best known as the protagonist of CANDYMAN (1992). She also played Tommy Lee Jones’s love interest in 1988’s GOTHAM. There is definitely a “Virginia Madsen Mystique,” but it may only affect me….

Altogether, watching this one a second time after so long, I was slightly more impressed with it story-wise, however it still felt like there was way more unsaid and unexamined than showed up on the screen, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Still, there was a lot of interesting acting from both Christopher Walken and Viggo Mortensen, and I’m always interested in watching Virginia Madsen grace the screen. If your aim is to watch any of these actors do their thing, you could pick far better showcases for their work. The story here remains uncompelling and unmemorable.

Original rating: 1 star.

Reassessment: 1 star.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

 P - British cover

The Distracted Critic: SEVENTH MOON (2008)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Demons, Doomed Tourists, Enigmatic Films, Evil Spirits, Paul McMahon Columns, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , on May 1, 2013 by knifefighter

SEVENTH MOON (2008)
Review by Paul McMahon, The Distracted Critic

SeventhMoonb

SEVENTH MOON is a movie that slipped past me back in 2008. It was part of the Ghost House Underground series released by Lionsgate. If memory serves, that specialized line of movies was the main gist of its advertising, so I’m not surprised I never realized Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 1999, and ALTERED, 2006) directed it. I was excited to learn of the film’s existence while I researched his film LOVELY MOLLY (2011) last November, and have looked forward to checking it out.

Eduardo Sanchez is becoming a favorite director of mine. He knows how to develop scary situations and is good at creating characters you can care about. He does that here, too… at least for a little while. The action starts in late afternoon and lasts until dawn. The instant the sun set on screen, though, the most frustrating movie experience I’ve had in a very long time began. But, before I get ahead of myself…

The film opens with a quote, as all Sanchez’s movies have so far. “On the full moon of the seventh lunar month, the gates of hell open and the spirits of the dead are freed to roam among the living.”—Chinese myth.

We meet Yul (Tim Chiou) and Melissa (Amy Smart, MIRRORS, 2008, and both CRANK movies, 2006 & 2009), an American couple on their honeymoon in China. They are wandering a crowded street during the festivities of The Hungry Ghost Festival, marveling at the actions of the locals who are burning papers in the street. The papers signify sacrifice (in order to have the wish written on the paper granted, they have to sacrifice it). After Yul has a debilitating share of wine, they leave the area and meet up with Ping (Dennis Chan, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, 2012), their chauffer.

Ping starts to drive them to Anxian, where Yul’s family lives. Yul falls asleep almost immediately. The sun sets. Melissa falls asleep, too. Ping stops at the top of a hill and Melissa wakes up. He apologizes for getting lost. “These roads are tricky,” he says. He points to a small village down the hill and says he will go and ask for directions. An hour later, Melissa wakes Yul and tells him what’s going on. He, of course, decides they should leave the car and go look for Ping.

At first they think the village must be deserted. Then they find a crowd of animals tied up in the center of town. They knock on doors and shout questions about Ping. In response, the hidden residents yell out the same words over and over. Melissa asks what they’re saying, but Yul’s Cantonese isn’t very good and all he can say for sure is that they’re calling something to join them. Mel and Yul return to Ping’s car and find that he left the keys, so they start it up and try to drive back to civilization.

It isn’t long before Yul swerves to avoid a naked man running across the road. The car bogs down in mud. He climbs out to push while Mel drives. It takes the added motivation of a ghostly shriek from the dark woods to get him to shove the car free. As she drives, Melissa blames Yul for everything that’s happening because he’d been the one that wanted to come to China.

Mel tries to swerve as another man, this one clothed, runs into the road. She strikes him, and then insists on getting out of the car to help. He is more wounded than the car can account for, but he is conscious and says in Cantonese that the Moon Demons are coming. Mel and Yul get the injured man into Ping’s car, but as soon as Yul climbs behind the wheel, four naked men jump on the car and start pounding on it.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: 'Pale Men.' Yup. That's what they're called.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: ‘Pale Men.’ Yup. That’s what they’re called.

Yul guns the engine and drives in reverse because the road is too narrow to turn around. Predictably, he drives off the road and crashes.

Mel immediately realizes that the naked men will follow the car’s path through the brush so she leads Yul and the injured man away from it. The three of them freeze and listen to the Moon Demons thumping on the car, and after a while, the injured man tells them they must find something alive to leave behind for the Moon Demons to kill. That way, they will leave them alone. He might have given Yul a sidelong glance, but it was impossible to be sure, because the thing was so ridiculously dark.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

I’ve enjoyed Sanchez’s work before, as I said, but this film is plagued by shockingly poor decisions. The first is his choice of lighting the film…or should I say, his choice of NOT lighting the film. While I realize the majority of the film’s action transpired in a remote area of China that was without streetlights or any other kind of electricity, the night this all happened was supposedly a full moon. Surely the lighting could have been fudged just a little bit? As it was, the majority of the film was nothing but a mass of dark shadows offset by squiggles and blotches of darker shadows. It was literally impossible to make out what was happening on screen. With a make-up effects man as experienced as Mike Elzalde (DREAMCATCHER, 2003, PAUL, 2011, ATTACK THE BLOCK, 2011 and the upcoming NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR), I’d think you’d want to showcase the work you paid for. Apparently not so much.

The second poor decision is the use of a hand-held camera for the entire movie. There is no reason for this at all. The shaky camera work was an important part of the story in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT because it was supposed to be shot by an amateur film crew (i.e., the main characters did the work). There is no such situation in SEVENTH MOON. Not only is the shaky camera dizzying and hard to follow (especially since nothing is lit properly), it doesn’t stay with one point of view. It jumps all over the place, inside and outside of the car. There are far-off establishing shots and other shots so dark and undecipherable, it seems as if they might have kicked the camera under the car seat.

I’d like to comment on the actors performances, but I have to be honest and admit that I couldn’t see much. There was a bit of screaming and a LOT of heavy breathing, though, and I’ll assume it was all done in the right places. The story, or what I could discern of it, wasn’t memorable. It lacked the element of humanity that’s been present in Sanchez’s other works. Instead of working through problems and confronting personal fears as in BLAIR WITCH, ALTERED and LOVELY MOLLY, in this one it’s just a couple of characters who aren’t very well developed trying to survive the night. It seemed that these characters continually made foolish choices because that’s what they were created to do.

It disappoints me to have to recommend that you ignore a film by Eduardo Sanchez, but truth be told, there’s nothing to see here. At all.

I’m giving this one 0 stars, and although it’s misleading, I’m giving it 0 time outs, as well. Truthfully, I itched to walk away from it for most of the running time, but I knew that if I did I would never go back.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

GHOUL (2012)

Posted in 2013, Cable movies, Family Secrets, Grave Robbing, Horror, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by knifefighter

GHOUL (2012)
Review by Paul McMahon, The Distracted Critic

G - poster

GHOUL is a movie I’d been following since I heard it was in production. Brian Keene’s novel remains my favorite work of his, and one of the more effective horror novels I’ve read. The reason Keene’s novel works is because the main horrors do not come from the creature haunting the graveyard, but from the parents who have the responsibility of raising their children in a safe and secure environment. This means, however, that a lot of the novel’s effectiveness comes from internal dialogues and the inner thoughts of the characters, both of which are very difficult to show on screen. As thrilled as I was that someone was finally filming a Brian Keene story, I thought that they couldn’t have picked a tougher story to adapt. Because of this, I went into the movie with high hopes but low expectations.

We start with Timmy (Nolan Gould, from the TV show MODERN FAMILY) digging his comics out from under his bed. As soon as he gets comfortable, his mom calls lights out. It demonstrates that kids are at the mercy of their parents’ rules and whims, setting the tone for the film. The next morning, Timmy watches cartoons while his Dad demands his attention. “The start of summer vacation doesn’t save you from your chores!” Timmy’s grandpa shushes him, pretending that he’s watching TV as well. Frustrated, Dad leaves the room. Grandpa (Barry Corbin, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, 2007) calls Timmy over and asks what he and his friends are planning to do with the underground clubhouse they’re building near the cemetery. Timmy is shocked because they thought nobody knew about it. Grandpa assures him nobody else does.

Later on, Timmy and Grandpa are working in the garden and Timmy’s friend Doug (Jacob Bila) bikes up out of breath, having been chased by a stray dog. Grandpa offers to finish Timmy’s chores and sends him on his way. Doug and Timmy go to Barry’s house, where Barry’s Dad (Dane Rhodes, DJANGO UNCHCAINED, 2012) bullies them, calling Doug a fag and telling him that’s probably why his Dad left. Timmy responds by accusing him of making Barry do his job while he sleeps off last night’s bottle. Barry’s dad forbids them to play near the cemetery again.

Dane Rhodes, as Mr. Smeltzer, terrorizes Timmy and Doug in Brian Keene's GHOUL.

Dane Rhodes, as Mr. Smeltzer, terrorizes Timmy and Doug in Brian Keene’s GHOUL.

Timmy and Doug meet up with Barry (Trevor Harker) and together they head to their clubhouse. They look at Doug’s hand-drawn map of the surrounding area. Suddenly, they hear Timmy’s Mom calling him. She’s frantic, distraught. “It’s your Grandpa, honey, I’m sorry.”

There are a lot of other things going on, and we get quick scenes depicting some of it. Three older kids on bikes, obviously up to no good, are searching the woods for the clubhouse. A pair of lovers making out in the woods are attacked and presumably killed.

After Grandpa’s funeral, Timmy and his friends are in the cemetery when Doug falls waist-deep into a sinkhole. Barry and Timmy pull him out. Barry says the sinkholes are all over the place because of the old mining operations. While Barry goes for the first aid kit, the stray dog appears, charging and barking. Barry grabs a shovel and attacks the dog viciously, cussing it out while he wails on it. The ferocity of his actions shocks Timmy and Doug. Later on, as they help Barry put away the tools, they discover another sinkhole in the caretaker’s shed, covered by a jagged piece of plywood. That night, over dinner, Timmy asks his dad about the stories of the ghoul. His dad tells him the ghoul is the equivalent of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

Steve, one of the three bullies from earlier, spied Timmy and his friends in the shed. That night, Ronnie and Sammie join him and they break into the shed, planning to vandalize what they think is the kids’ clubhouse. They wonder how Timmy and his friends could have shoveled out the maze of tunnels they find, and then Ronnie and Steve continue on, leaving Sammie to stand watch. Predictably, Ronnie and Steve are attacked. Sammie runs back the way they came, arriving at the hole to see Barry’s Dad staring down at her. She pleads with him for help. “You shouldn’t play where you’re not invited,” he says, then pulls the plywood over the hole while she screams.

It’s difficult to distance yourself from a novel as good as GHOUL in order to take a movie adaptation on its own terms. Part of what makes the book so memorable is that it reaches beyond the usual coming-of-age story. These kids are dealing with some heavy-duty subject matter. Doug confesses that his mother comes to him at night and does things to him. Barry’s Dad regularly and brutally beats on him and his mom. From an acting standpoint, staying true to these emotional wallops would tax even the most practiced actors. The three kids in these roles do all they can, and in some scenes they fare pretty well, but in many others they seem disconnected from what’s going on. It felt like they saved their energy for the “big scenes,” which left many of the slower scenes flat.

Nolan Gould, Jacob Bila and Trevor Harker give their all while tasked with monumental acting challenges.

Nolan Gould, Jacob Bila and Trevor Harker give their all while tasked with monumental acting challenges.

The biggest problem I had with the movie is that it didn’t flow as a whole. It felt bumpy, as if I was watching something that had been heavily edited to fit time constraints. You learn to expect that from a made-for-TV movie, but with this one every time I started to get a handle on what was happening, the scene jumped away, plunging me into something else with no transition time.

Changes have been made to the story as well. Timmy’s parents are not what they were on the page. His mother is more prominent and caring, while his dad is in only two scenes and comes off as simply crabby and overworked. The most traumatic scene of the book has been cut entirely from the movie. If you read the book, you know what scene I’m talking about. There was also a major change to the ending, which I understand kept the focus on the humanity of the story, but it’s not a change any fan of the book will embrace.

GHOUL was a bold choice to put before the cameras, but, sadly, I can’t recommend the finished product. Fingers crossed that the upcoming DARK HOLLOW is a stronger film and more worthy of Keene’s name.

I give GHOUL 1 and one half stars, with 2 timeouts.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

G - tv spot

THALE (2012)

Posted in 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, European Horror, Fantasy, Feral people, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mythological Creatures, Supernatural, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THALE (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

thale

The last few years, we’ve been getting some interesting genre films from unlikely places, like RARE EXPORTS (2010), from Finland, which gave us the truth about Santa Claus and his elves (they’re really scary creatures), and TROLLHUNTER (also 2010), from Norway, about a special government agency focused on keeping Norway’s troll population in check. And of course, the films of Lars von Trier, who has been making unusual films in Denmark for several decades now (including the excellent THE KINGDOM, 1994—which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s underrated TV series, KINGDOM HOSPITAL—and more recent films, such as the distrurbing ANTICHRIST (2009) and the end of the world tale MELANCHOLIA (2011).

The new movie THALE (2012), like TROLLHUNTER, is also from Norway, and once again deals with creatures from Norwegian folklore, although instead of being about trolls, this time we learn about the huldras, woodland creatures that appear to us in the form of beautiful women with tails, that are much more dangerous than they appear to be.

As THALE begins, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) are at a house at the edge of the woods, which is also a crime scene. It’s their job to clean things up after the police are done. The two of them are also old friends, and Elvis is filling in for Leo’s usual partner. The two catch up on news about their lives and joke around, when they are told that only half of the victim’s body was found; the other half was most probably carried away by animals that live in the nearby forest. They have to try to find as much else of the corpse as they can, so they start looking around the property, tearing out the floors of the outhouse, etc., when they find a hidden stairway leading down to an underground bunker, which does not appear to have been used for years. Everything is covered in dust, and the canned goods that are stored down there have long since expired.

Elvis finds an old cobweb-shrouded cassette player, and somehow it still works. When he turns it on, the tape inside plays a conversation between a doctor (the victim of the crime they’re cleaning up, presumably), and a girl. Or rather, the doctor does most of the talking (actor Roland Astrand provides the doctor’s voice). We only hear the girl when she screams during a painful procedure.

Who are these people? It’s not long afterwards that the two men find Thale (Silje Reinamo), who appears to be a girl in her 20s, and who has been abandoned in this bunker since the doctor’s death. It seems that she was the subject of his experiments, and there’s something not right about her. Like the fact that she doesn’t speak, but if she touches you, she can project vivid images into your head that “speak” for her.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

As the men try to figure out who and what Thale is, some strange creatures stalk the woods outside, and at one point some nefarious men in gas masks and hazmat suits (and toting guns) arrive. It seems there are several individuals who would like to have access to Thale, now that the doctor isn’t around. Which ones have her best interests at heart, and which ones want to hurt her? Well, that’s for the viewer to find out. And Leo and Elvis are caught in the middle, waiting for their compatriots to show up (they’re delayed).

THALE is an atmospheric little film,  that gives us a good feel for the woods of Norway. The acting here is pretty good. I liked Leo and Elvis a lot, and Silje Reinamo is particularly  good as the otherworldly Thale. Effectively written and directed by Aleksander Nordass (whose other work is mostly short films and TV movies), I thought THALE was an enjoyable horror/fantasy that reveals that there are probably many Norwegian fairy tale creatures who have yet to be explored on film.

Despite its short running time of 76 minutes, I thought THALE fleshed out its characters well, and has a compelling storyline. My only complaint is that the other huldras we see, which are much more animalistic than Thale, are CGI creations that really are not very convincing. For the most part, Nordaas films them from a distance, or fleetingly, but there are times when they are in full view, and they don’t look realistic at all. I think it actually would have been better to go with makeup effects for the creatures in this case; they are just more visceral and not as cartoony as low-budget computer effects.

Aside from this one setback, however, the movie is original and worth seeing. I give THALE three knives.

It was made in 2012, and was shown in Austin, Texas last year as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival, and is getting a brief theatrical run (mostly in arthouse theaters) now. It is also currently available on cable OnDemand.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

 

(Editor’s Note: I was originally planning to see and review the new Ryan Gosling film THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES this weekend, but it was in limited release and wasn’t playing anywhere near me. When it goes into wider release, I’ll be writing about it here).

LL Soares gives THALE  ~three knives.

The Geisha of Gore Reviews: SHUTTER (2004)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Evil Spirits, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Ghosts!, Supernatural, Vengeance! with tags , , , , on March 19, 2013 by knifefighter

SHUTTER (2004)
A Review by Colleen Wanglund, the Geisha of Gore

shutter

Written and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, SHUTTER is a 2004 horror film from Thailand that was remade as an American film with the same title in 2008 (which they are uncredited for).

The film opens with Tun (Ananda Everingham), a photographer and his girlfriend, Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), celebrating the wedding of Tun’s friend from college, and they are among the last few left at the celebration.  On the ride home, with Jane driving, the couple hit a girl who seemingly appears out of nowhere.  In a panic, Tun tells Jane to drive away, and they do.  Jane is feeling guilt and anguish over their decision to leave the girl lying in the road and we discover Tun has had pain in his neck since the accident.  She goes to see Tun but he doesn’t do much to console her.  Tun is developing photos he had taken of his sister’s college graduation, but discovers they were all ruined by a weird shadow that Tun cannot explain.  The shadow is a face in some of the photos and Jane believes they are being haunted by the girl they hit and left to die.   The couple drives to the spot of the accident, but the only evidence that anything happened is a damaged billboard.  Tun’s friend calls local police stations and hospitals but there is no record of an accident ever happening.

While Tun finally goes to see a doctor about the pain in his neck, Jane finds a magazine about ghost photography.  Convinced of the haunting, Jane and Tun go see the magazine’s publisher who tells them that most of the photos are manipulated fakes, but that some photos are real.  He tells the couple that he believes there are ghosts, because the dead feel there is unfinished business or a message to be passed on.  He also says that sometimes the dead cannot leave their loved ones.

Next we see that Tun’s friend has committed suicide by jumping off of the building he lives in.  Tun and Jane are then told of two other college friends who have died in the same manner.  In the car, Jane confronts Tun with photos from Tun’s days in school, including one of a young woman.  Tun tells Jane that the girl is Natre (AchitaSikamana), his girlfriend in school but he kept it a secret because all of his friends thought she was weird.  He tells Jane that Natre was really in love with him and she took their breakup very hard.  Tun told his friends, who assured him they would take care of her.  Jane believes it is Natre who is haunting them.  They drive out to Natre’s home and are shocked to be told by Natre’s mother that the girl is home but not feeling well.  While the mother is busy Tun and Jane search the house and find Natre’s corpse in an upstairs bedroom.  They convince Natre’s mother to finally hold a funeral and have her cremated.  At the funeral, Tun and Jane are told that Natre had returned from school depressed but wouldn’t say why.  Natre tried to kill herself by taking pills but she was found and brought to the hospital in time to save her life.  She then jumped off the hospital’s roof and died.   Jane believes that once Natre is cremated the haunting will end—that she is restless because her body was not given a proper burial.

Jane later finds time-lapse photographs that Tun had taken of the apartment and sees the ghost.  Putting the photos in order and using them as a flip-book, Jane sees the ghost near the shelves where Tun keeps all of his work.  She finds a stack of negatives hidden behind the shelves and develops them in Tun’s darkroom.  What the photos show is something horrific that occurred while Tun and his friends were in school.  It seems that Natre’s haunting is far more than just a restless spirit needing a proper funeral.  Natre is seeking revenge.

Thailand has a strict code for movies, so you won’t see much gore and blood—some, but not a lot.  As a result, horror films have to rely on a good story and the right atmosphere.  SHUTTER has both.  The story is a bit more complex than it first seems and there are a few strange twists that make the movie that much more enjoyable.  While you may see a typical ghost story, there is also betrayal and the fact that people are not always what they initially seem.  The story is a solid one and the acting and directing are great.  Thongmee does a fantastic job as Jane, conveying her fears and her cultural beliefs in the case of the dead.  We believe that Jane believes they are being haunted for a reason, but because she does not know the whole story surrounding Natre’s death and Tun’s involvement with the girl, she is also somewhat naïve.  However, Jane is the film’s real protagonist, a strong and determined female doing what she can to protect the person she loves, while at the same time showing true concern and empathy for Natre.

Everingham is very good at portraying Tun as a good guy, and then showing the eventual cracks in the surface.  He is a likeable guy who may or may not have made the wrong decisions where his friends and girlfriend Natre were concerned.  Even his decision to drive away from the accident is understandable because he was scared.  Wrong, but still understandable.  Was that fear for himself or for Jane, who was driving?  Does he deserve what is happening to him?  You, the viewer must decide.  Both Tun and Jane are sympathetic and real.  Natre is also a sympathetic character for me.  It seems she has good reason to haunt Tun and his friends.  The friends turn out to be selfish, brutal and callous; and Tun, at the very least, stood by and did nothing.

Natre the ghost, from SHUTTER

Natre the ghost, from SHUTTER

Unlike some ghost stories out of Southeast Asia, SHUTTER is fairly linear and coherent in its telling.  Yes there are flashbacks, but they work to advance the plot and to bring the true cruelty of the film to light.  SHUTTER is also classically Asian, in that the ghost has lost her identity and has only her revenge left to her.  It is grim with an almost vague ending that is typical of Asian ghost stories, regardless of their country of origin.  Natre is a frightening antagonist and I doubt even Jane would have survived if she were among the ghost’s targets.  Natre was sadistically and savagely victimized in life, but she became powerful in death and able to punish the men responsible in the only way she could.  This, again, is a major cultural aspect of Asian horror films and is clearly demonstrated by Jane’s belief that the haunting would end when Natre received proper funerary rites.  What I did find odd is that Natre’s ghost was dressed in her old school uniform, as opposed to the usual white gown.  Even if she died jumping from the hospital’s roof, she would probably be in a hospital gown.  Then when we see her later in the film, the uniform is gone, replaced by something I couldn’t quite identify.

While not an exceptionally great film in the genre, SHUTTER is still above-average and I did enjoy it quite a bit.  It has an angry ghost, a strong female lead, an insensitive guy, and a decidedly unhappy and not-too-predictable ending.  It’s dark and chilling and worth your time.  And it’s only 90 minutes long.

Interestingly, while remade as an American film in 2008, it has also been remade at least a half-dozen times in other countries in Southeast Asia, including two different times in India.  While I have not seen the American remake (I’m generally not a fan of remakes) I can tell you that it was directed by Masayuki Ochiai whose Japanese horror titles include PARASITE EVE (1997), HYPNOSIS (1999), and INFECTION (2004).  Yes, an American remake of a Thai film by a Japanese director.

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

MAMA (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on a Short Film, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Evil Spirits, Feral people, Ghosts!, Guillermo Del Toro, Haunted Houses, Horror, Indie Horror, Scares!, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: MAMA (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

mama_poster

(THE SCENE: A cabin in the woods. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA arrive in the middle of the night. There’s no electricity, so they have to turn on flashlights)

LS: Remind me to come here when there’s daylight next time.

MA: That would be too easy, and smart.  Unlike the characters in today’s movie MAMA, who continually show up at the mysterious cabin in the film at night, and when there’s no power.  Dumb!

LS: It’s just bad writing. Why not just stay at a motel until daytime?

MA: So why don’t you save your flashlight batteries and start our review of MAMA?

LS (shuts off the flashlight): Okie doke. They’re promoting MAMA with a heavy reliance on Guillermo del Toro, but he didn’t direct it, he produced it. Andres Muschietti directed this one, based on his three-minute short film of the same name (if you’re curious, check out the short film here on Youtube) Del Toro has said that when he saw the short, he had to help Muschietti turn it into a feature, and rightly so.  The short film is just one short scene where two young girls are visited by “Mama,” but it’s spooky enough so that you want to see more.

MA: Yes, in spite of the fact that we started this column poking fun at the stupidity of characters visiting places in the dark, MAMA is quite creepy and certainly satisfies in the spooky department.

LS: Let’s go outside. It’s too dark in here, and the moon is up.

MA: Okay.

(As they go outside, LS continues talking)

LS: The expanded movie delves into more weird stuff. First off,  we see a guy named Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who also plays Jaime Lannister, one of my favorite characters on the HBO series GAME OF THRONES), who has just come home after going on a shooting spree at work (and we’re told he just killed his ex-wife as well). He grabs his two young daughters and hightails it out of town, but a car accident cuts his plans short. After crashing into a ditch, Jeffrey takes the girls into the woods, until they find a seemingly abandoned cabin. He brings them inside, intent on killing them and himself to put an end to the nightmare his life has become. But something intervenes and saves the girls from his madness.

MA:  I really liked this opening scene, and it set the stage perfectly for the rest of the movie.  Its sets up a relationship between Mama and the little girls that makes this one a more credible ghost story than most.

LS:  We then jump ahead five years. Some private detectives (they look more like hillbillies) have been searching for Jeffrey and the girls and come across the cabin. How it took five years for anyone to find the crashed car or the cabin confounds me!  You know that the police must have searched the area thoroughly when Jeffrey was originally on the run with the kids. So why did it take five years for someone to track them down?

MA:  Agreed.  While it’s incredibly difficult to locate a body in a vast expanse of woods, it makes less sense for a car to remain hidden for that long, especially when it’s in the open.  You’d think a plane or a helicopter flying overhead would have spotted it at least.

LS:  Didn’t you just get through saying this story was more credible than most?

MA:  I was talking about the actual ghost’s story.  Most of the time, I’m thinking, why does the ghost care about scaring these people?  In MAMA, I understood Mama’s motives completely, and it made her actions all the more potent.

LS:  Fair enough. So those hillbilly detectives find that the girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), who have reverted to a feral state after being abandoned for so long. Victoria remembers basic skills she learned as a younger child (like she starts talking again fairly soon after their rescue), but Lilly is more feral than civilized and constantly hides behind her sister, afraid of the world.

MA:  I thought these early scenes of the girls in this feral state were particularly creepy and unnerving.

LS: Yeah, they’re pretty great. I almost wish we could have seen more of them in this state.

(Two filthy, feral little girls in clean white dresses suddenly appear near them.)

MA:  Uh-oh.  I’m getting creeped out here.

LS:  Don’t be a wuss.  They’re just little kids.

LITTLE GIRL:  Pa-pa.

MA:  No, I think you’re supposed to say “Mama.”

LITTLE GIRL (kicks MA in the knee):  Papa!

MA:  Okay, okay!  Papa it is. Ouch!  That was some kick!

LS (laughing):  I like this little kid.

Anyway, back to the movie.

The girls are taken in by their uncle Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) an artist, and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain, who we also saw in everything from THE TREE OF LIFE, 2011, to THE HELP, 2011, to ZERO DARK THIRTY, 2012), who plays bass in a punk band. They’re not exactly the most orthodox couple to take in troubled kids, but it’s either that or they go to their Aunt Jean (Jane Moffat, who also does the voice of Mama!), and Lucas obviously feels guilty about what the girls have gone through and wants to make things right.

MA:  I liked this part of the story as well, that Lucas and Annabel are such an unorthodox couple to care for a pair of kids.  They’re not cut out to care for healthy and well balanced children, let alone these kids!  In fact, in Annabel’s first scene, she’s taking a home pregnancy test and rejoices that she’s not pregnant.

This set-up was more original than most, and the movie is better for it.

LS:  But it’s not going to be easy. Victoria and Lilly regressed to a very primal state while they were left to fend for themselves, and it’s going to be a long journey back to a normal life. On top of that, there’s Mama. A supernatural creature who took care of them all those years in the cabin and who visits them frequently in Lucas’s house. The thing is, Mama is incredibly dangerous to everyone but the two girls.

LITTLE GIRL: Pa-pa.

LS:  You talking to me?

LITTLE GIRL: Pa-pa.

LS:  No, I’m not your papa, kid.  Scram, you’re starting to bother me!

(Little Girl kicks LS in knee.)

LS (howling in pain):  If you weren’t a little kid, I’d take a hatchet and—.!

MA:  Hey, kids, I think you’ll find some really yummy candy in that cabin over there.  Why don’t you check it out?

(Little girls nod, join arms and skip towards cabin, but not before the second little girl kicks MA in his other knee.)

MA (grimacing):  Son of a bitch!

(Little girls exit)

LS:  Let’s finish this review and get out of here before those brats come back.

MA:  Sounds good to me.

LS:  When Lucas has an “accident” and falls down a flight of stairs , Annabel has to care for the girls by herself. Slowly, she bonds with them, but this incurs the ire of the very jealous Mama, who doesn’t want anyone else taking care of the girls.

Throughout the movie, there are various scenes where Annabel comes very close to “meeting” Mama, but the movie holds off their meeting for a while. In fact, in one chilling scene, Annabel knows there is something in the girls’ closet, but when Victoria warns her not to go in there, she actually closes the slightly open door and walks away (finally, someone in a horror movie who’s not an idiot).

MA (Applauds):  Bravo!

LS:  Trying to help discover the truth is Dr. Dreyfus (Daniel Kash) who is the one who arranges for Lucas and Annabel to get custody of the girls, so they’ll stay close by and he can continue to get access to monitoring them on a regular basis for his research.

MAMA has some legitimate scares, and I liked it. At times, it reminded me of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY moviesthe way you need to pay attention to things going on in the background, etc. It also reminded me a bit of THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012), the way we’re constantly subjected to sudden scares by a creepy female ghost with issues about children. While I thought WOMAN  IN BLACK was okay, it could have been better. And I think MAMA works a lot better.

MA:  I’m glad you mentioned PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.  I saw MAMA in a packed theater with a very enthusiastic audience.  There was lots of loud screaming and plenty of nervous jokes, like the obvious “Why does everyone keep going to these places at night?” and “Wait till daylight, numb nuts!”, and so the experience reminded me a lot of watching a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie.  Granted, a lot of what they were screaming at, I wasn’t, but it still made for a really fun time.

LS: My audience was similar, and it did add to the fun.

MA: I liked this one a lot too.

LS:  My only issue is about the monster. As long as she’s in the background and the shadows, she’s really effective, but Mama looks a little hokey when we finally get a good look at her, up close. She’s a CGI creation (of course), and it’s funny, but she just seemed scarier to me in the “Mama” short film that preceded this one, even though the short obviously had a much smaller budget. She’s not awful in close-up in the movie– she’s still better than most CGI monsters – but I was hoping she’d be even creepier.

MA:  Really?  I liked the way Mama looked. Sure, she’s CGI, but I thought she looked more real than most CGI effects.  I thought she resembled a rotting corpse come back to life.  What I liked about it is I took her rotting self to be symbolic of the pain she felt over the loss of her child.  There was a sadness to her appearance throughout that really worked for me.  So, I can’t say that I was disappointed with Mama herself.  I thought she was an effective and very haunting spirit.

LS:  Like the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films there were a lot of scenes where things (in this case Mama or the kids) suddenly pop up in the background or jump at us. While this works in the scare department (like we were saying, a lot of people in the audience I saw this with were shouting whenever a “scare” happened), it seems to be a cheap way to get scares after a while.

MA:  Yep, that’s when my audience was screaming as well.  I agree with you about it being a cheap way to get scares, but in this case, it seemed to work.  One thing I did like about it was most of the time it wasn’t a “false” scare, like having someone other than the ghost bump into a character and spook them.  I really hate those kinds of scares.  Mama seemed to have exclusive rights scaring folks in this one, and she’s damn good at it!

Of course, the little girls did some of the frightening too, especially early on, but they were pretty darn creepy as well!

LS:  I do think the acting is very good, though. Jessica Chastain is obviously meant to be the lead here, and she does a fine job as a woman out of her element (as Michael mentioned, when we first see her, she’s relieved that she isn’t pregnant, then, suddenly, two strange children are thrust upon her). I really like her as an actress, and it’s cool to see her in a horror movie. She’s just fine here.

MA: Yes, I liked Jessica Chastain a lot. Annabel is actually a pretty well-written character, and Chastain makes her believable as hell.  I found it so refreshing in a movie like this that she wasn’t a “doting” mother type.  She wanted nothing to do with these kids, so as the movie goes on and the bond between them grows, it really works.

LS:  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is good as Lucas (and, briefly in the beginning, Jeffrey), even if he’s not given as much to do. Annabelle is clearly the more compelling character of the two, which is confirmed when Lucas is taken out of commission and she has to take care of the kids herself.

MA:  Coster-Waldau was okay, although truth be told I had difficulty recognizing when he was in a coma and when he was out of one.

LS:  Ouch!  That’s harsh!  But you’re right.

MA:  He was all right, but the character of Uncle Lucas is nothing compared to Annabelle.  He could have stayed in a coma and I wouldn’t have cared.

LS:  Agreed. Daniel Kash is also very good as the not-so-trustworthy Dr. Drefus, who has his own agenda.

But the best acting actually comes from the kids.

MA:  Agreed, although I enjoyed Jessica Chastain just as much as the two girls.

LS:  You’re right, Chastain holds her own. But we already know she’s good. The kids are a revelation.

Megan Charpentier as Victoria seems wise beyond her years and is very mature and controlled as her character. I was very impressed with her performance. Isabelle Nelisse, who plays the younger Lilly, is actually very spooky in several scenes, and downright unnerving. I was even more impressed by her, even though she doesn’t say a lot and does most of her acting with her behavior and facial expressions.

MA:  You got that right!  And she’s such cute little kid, too!  Yet she’s so creepy!  I think director Andres Muschietti deserves credit for capturing this very dark side of her.

LS:  Both girls do a remarkable job here and are way above the average kid actors we see in movies. I think they’re a big part of why MAMA works as well as it does.

The direction by Andres Muschietti is quite good, and the script by Muschietti and his sister Barbara (and Neil Cross) is pretty solid for this kind of thing. And it doesn’t completely fall apart at the end (it falters slightly, but doesn’t fall apart).

Usually January is when studios put out movies that they’re not so proud of, but there’s no reason why anyone should feel that way about MAMA. I liked this movie a lot and give it three and a half knives.

What did you think, Michael?

MA: I’m with you on this one.  I liked MAMA a lot, and I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did.

To me, it starts with the script by Neil Cross, director Andres Muschietti, and Barbara Muschietti.  Its story was more intelligent than most, and other than having people visit places in the dark when they could just as easily visit them in daylight, I didn’t find myself scratching my head at the proceedings all that much.

I liked the background story of Mama herself, felt sympathy for her, and understood where she was coming from when she was being so possessive of the little girls.  I also really enjoyed the story of the little girls.  Their lives begin so tragically I couldn’t help but feel for them as their story continued.

And Annabel and Lucas are such an unconventional couple for this kind of tale they were definitely refreshing.  I enjoyed Jessica Chastain’s performance a lot as Annabel, and she along with the two little girls really drive this movie along.

But the most satisfying part of MAMA is that it succeeds in being scary, and I think director Andres Muschietti deserves a lot of credit for crafting such an effective horror movie.

The film contains your standard “someone-appears-out-of-nowhere” jolt scenes, along with some creepy little kid scenes, and best of all, some genuinely scary supernatural ghost scenes which I thought looked better than most CGI stuff I see.

I did think the film faltered a bit towards the end, which seemed rushed.  How Annabel and Lucas end up together at the cabin in the woods (hmm, that has a nice ring to it!) is a bit of a stretch – I mean, he’s still in the hospital, and suddenly he just gets up and leaves, heads for the cabin, and just happens to be crossing the road just as Annabel approaches in her car.

Also, I wasn’t crazy about the look of the film near the end, as the woods take on a very cartoonish Tim Burton air.

However, I did like the very end of the movie, and I found it satisfying.  It also stayed true to the rest of the story.  There weren’t any “I’m an evil ghost so I’ll just kill everybody for no reason” or “The main characters have done right by me and so now my heart has just grown ten sizes bigger and now I’m going to give everyone a big hug” moments.  Mama’s behavior remains consistent throughout.

Sure, there were a few flaws here and there, most notably towards the end, but I found myself liking MAMA a lot.  I liked it just a tad less than you did, though.

I give it three knives.

LS:  Well, that wraps things up for another edition of Cinema Knife Fight.  We’ll see you next week with another review of—-.
MA:  Uh-oh.  They’re coming back.  Look!

(The little girls return.)

OLDER GIRL: There wasn’t any candy in that cabin. You lied to us.

LITTLE GIRL:  Pa-pa.  (She points to behind MA & LS)

(MA and LS look behind them to see ghostly male figure standing behind them.)

PAPA (growls):  Let’s go girls.  It’s your weekend to be with Papa.

MA:  Hmm.  Even ghosts have custody issues.  Who knew!

(Cabin door opens and MAMA steps out with her hands on her hips and begins scolding PAPA for being late.)

LS:  Let’s get out of here before things get ugly.

MA:  I hope this isn’t a set up for a sequel, PAPA.

LS:  Quiet!  Don’t give them any ideas!

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives MAMA ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives MAMA ~three and a half knives.