Archive for the Suspense Category

THE PURGE (2013)

Posted in 2013, Bad Situations, Cinema Knife Fights, Controverisal Films, Dystopian Futures, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Masks, Suspense, The Future, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on June 10, 2013 by knifefighter

By L.L. Soares (with a brief appearance by Michael Arruda)

The-Purge-2013-Movie-Poster(THE SCENE: Interior of a house at twilight. The annual Purge ritual is about to begin)

L.L. SOARES: Ah, it’s almost time for the Purge, Michael! I can hardly wait. (starts strapping on axes and handguns and chainsaws and hunting knives and chainsaws and shotguns and ice picks and rocket launchers).

MICHAEL ARRUDA; That sure is a lot of stuff.

LS: You bet. I take this holiday seriously. It’s the one time of the year I can get away with murder, literally, without it being a crime.

(LOUD NOISE is heard. The sound of metal crunching)

LS: What the hell is that? (contines to strap on things like battleaxes and longswords and maces and a gattling gun and poison darts and venomous snakes and the shiny ball from PHANTASM)

MA: Oops.

LS: What do you mean…Oops?

MA: I think I accidentally pressed the “Lock Down” button. Nobody can get in now.

LS: That’s okay. I can still go outside, right?

(MA does not respond)

LS: Right?

(MA twiddles thumbs)


MA: Well, you see, I’ve got my system on a timer. No one can disarm it until the Purge is over. So you can’t leave.

LS: You’re telling me I waiting all year long for Purge night so that I can commit whatever crimes I want and not be arrested, and on this momentous night, you have rigged it so I can’t leave your house?

MA: Bingo.

(LS straps on one last item, a little tiny Derringer, and goes to take a step forward, and collapses under the weight of everything he has strapped to himself.)

MA: Looks like you wouldn’t be able to make it ouside with all that stuff anyway.

LS: I could always downgrade!

MA: Look, you can’t join in on the Purge this year. Deal with it. In the meantime, we can make popcorn and review this week’s movie. Which just happens to be THE PURGE. Do you want to start?

LS (starts crying and stamping his feet): But I wanted to do some killing and pillaging!

MA: I said I was sorry.

LS: Okay, I’ll start the review. But you owe me one.

MA: You start. I’ll go put some popcorn in the microwave. (Leaves the room)

THE PURGE takes place is a dystopian future. Or is utopian? I guess it depends on your point of view. There’s low unemployment, a low crime rate, no war, and lots of prosperity. How did society achieve all this, you ask? Well, there’s some talk of “New Founding Fathers,” so I’m guessing a new kind of government has taken over. And part of this new regime is an annual ritual, the Purge, which states that one night a year—from 7pm until 7am the next morning—all crime is legal, including murder (of course, there’s a clause in there where certain government people with a clearance of 10 or higher are exempt and cannot be killed. Those guys always have to cover their asses). There’s also a restriction on the kinds of weapons you can use, I noticed, too. Well, enough about that….the idea is that if society can cut loose and go bonkers one night a year, it will purge everyone’s violent tendencies so they can go back to being model citizens again the rest of the year.

I actually found this premise really interesting. Finally, a horror movie about IDEAS. Most Hollywood horror movies are more concerned with body counts. Could a future like this ever really happen? Who knows. But it’s an interesting theory. I for one have always really dug the theme of civilization vs. savagery; it’s a theme that has even popped up in some of my fiction.

(Pulls out a copy of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents and thumbs through it)

Anyway, our protagonists are your typical American family, the Sandins. There’s the father, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, most recently in last year’s above-average thriller, SINISTER) , mother Mary (Lena Headey, probably best known these days as the villainous Cersei Lannister in the megahit HBO series GAME OF THRONES), daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder). Daddy made big money selling security systems to rich families just like theirs in anticipation of the Purge. The family sits around the TV to celebrate the beginning of the news coverage—like it’s New Year’s Eve or something—and the big lockdown of their home. All seems well in SandinLand.

That is until Charlie sees a wounded man (Edwin Hodge) desperately seeking shelter from a gang of psychos. The kid can’t just sit by and let the guy be murdered, so he opens the doors to let him in. James immediately locks things up again, but there’s suddenly a stranger loose in their house. Meanwhile, up in Zoey’s room, her boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) snuck into the house before lockup, so he can reason with her dad about their relationship (James thinks he’s too old for Zoey). His logic being “He can’t throw me out, he has to listen to me.”

Oh yeah, and there’s a gang of psychos outside, banging on the door to be let in. Seems that they were hunting the wounded man for sport, this being Purge Night and all, and since they’re completely within their rights to do it, they are rather ticked off that someone has spoiled their fun. So they offer the Sandin family a choice. Send the wounded guy out to them so they can finish having fun. Or they’ll force their way in and kill everyone.

The psychos look like preppy Ivy League college kids wearing creepy masks and carrying various weapons. They’re led by  led by a “Polite Stranger” (that’s what they call him in the credits) played by Rhys Wakefield. He’s so psycho, he kills one of his own friends for speaking out of turn during the negotiations. Polite Stranger is also the only one of the gang who removes his mask, so we can see his leering, preppy-boy face.

So what’s going to happen? Is the family going to track down that homeless guy and send him out to be butchered or will they stand and fight? Can the bad guys really get inside when the house has state-of-the-art security that James had installed himself? And what about Henry, will he finally earn James’s respect and the right to date his daughter?

All this and more will be revealed when you see THE PURGE.

(Sound of microwave beeping in another room)

LS: Sounds like Michael is almost ready with that popcorn. I’d really like to hear his opinion of this movie. Hey Michael, get in here.

Anyway, like I said before, I thought the concept of “The Purge” was kind of cool. This is not the first time we have seen something like this, of course. This film has elements of “siege on a house” movies like STRAW DOGS (1971) and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) — both of which have been remade in recent years—the teenage thugs are reminiscent of the Droogies in Stanley Kubrick’s classic, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971); the creepy masks and sense of mystery and menace are right out of THE STRANGERS (2008), and even the concept of the Purge itself is similar to the sacrifices made by the kids in THE HUNGER GAMES, (2012) by just as merciless a government (which in turn brings to mind Shirley Jackson’s classic story, “The Lottery,” and the Japanese movie BATTLE ROYALE, 2000). As I said, it’s not a completely new idea, but it’s a clever spin on it, and it works well here.

(Looks around)

LS: Where the hell is Michael with that popcorn? And he better have stocked up on beer, too.

(LS wanders down the hall and downstairs, heading toward the kitchen. When he gets there, there’s no sign of Michael. And the microwave is still beeping)

LS: Michael, where are yooooou?

That’s funny. (Pops open the microwave and starts eating the popcorn)

Anyway, back to the review. Director James DeMonaco previously gave us the drama LITTLE NEW YORK (2009), which also starred Hawke, and was previously a screenwriter, one of his scripts in fact being the 2005 remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (coincidence?). DeMonaco does a good job building suspense here, and maintaining it throughout. I thought this movie was a solid piece of filmmaking.

The score, by Nathan Whitehead, is also quite good, helping to set the tone and build suspense throughout. (Barry Lee Dejasu interviews Whitehead for his Scoring Horror column tomorrow).

The cast is very good, beginning with Hawke and Headey. I was on the fence about Hawke for a long time, but he’s been in a string of interesting films lately. And it’s ironic that the same day THE PURGE comes out, his other new film BEFORE MIDNIGHT, a smart romantic drama by Richard Linklater, which could not be more different, also opens in several cities. The man is on a roll.

Even the kids are good in this one, although I was cursing when Charlie unlocked the house so the wounded guy could get in. I know he thought he was doing the right thing, but to put his whole family at risk, I wanted to strangle the brat. His is the first of several moral decisions these characters have to make, though.

Rhys Wakefield is also really good as the “Polite Stranger.” He has an almost Joker-like quality to him that reminded me of the late Heath Ledger. Wakefield is suitably creepy here, and I wanted more of his character, and I wanted to know more about him. But there isn’t a lot of room for character development when everything hits the fan.

I also like how THE PURGE deals with issues of class and race. In this future of lower crime, there’s also more poverty, and the evening news debates whether the Purge was thought up to legally wipe out people that society didn’t want. And by society, they obviously mean “rich society.” The wounded man who is given sanctuary in the Sandins’ house is black, homeless and, judging by the dog tags around his neck, a veteran of one of those wars we no longer have in this alternate future, and yet he’s hunted like an animal by privileged preppies in Halloween masks.

I really enjoyed this one. It was well-acted, suspenseful, thoughtful and shined a light on the ugly side of human nature. That’s what good horror is supposed to do! Show us the sides of humanity we would rather not see.

I give this one three and a half knives.

Now would normally be the time when Michael pipes in with his lame-brained review of the movie, but he’s clearly not around. I bet he’s playing some kind of prank on me.

(A MAN enters the kitchen, wearing a creepy mask and holding a machete)

MASKED MAN: It’s Purge night. Time for you to meet your maker.

LS: Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here. And what did you do with Michael?

MASKED MAN: Who’s Michael? I snuck in through a cellar window that wasn’t covered up. And now, say good-bye (raises machete)

LS: And me without all my weapons. Seems like I left them all upstairs…Uh oh.

MASKED MAN: Here I come. Ready or not.

(LS grins and pulls out an AK-47)

LS: Except for this one. (Blows the guy away)

LS: Hey, that was fun. I hope more people sneak in!

(MA enters the room)

MA: What’s going on in here? What’s all the racket? I leave you alone for a couple of minutes and you’re already getting into mischief.

(Looks at the dead guy in the mask)

MA: How did he get in here?

LS: He said something about an uncovered cellar window?

MA: Uh, oh, I better go check that out.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. I just finished my review of THE PURGE. Do you have anything to add?

MA: I was so busy preparing for Purge Night, I didn’t have time to see it.

LS: You’re kidding me.

MA (shrugs): Oops.

LS (looks at the clock): Well, my review is over and there’s still 10 hours to go of the Purge. I just thought of something. I can’t go outside to cause mayhem, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun. I’m in here, after all, with you.

MA: Umm…what are you getting at?

LS: You’re it. I’m going to count to 100 and then come looking for you with a chainsaw. Won’t that be fun? So after you check the cellar, make sure to hide real good!

(MA presses the “UNLOCK” button)

MA: I suddenly remembered how to let you go outside.

LS: Hurray!

(LS then proceeds to strap on guns and knives and chainsaws and swords and rocket launchers and battleaxes, and then topples over when he tries to go outside)


© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE PURGE~three and a half knives.



Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Bad Situations, Disaster Films, Eli Roth, Escaped Convicts, Exotic Locales, LL Soares Reviews, Suspense with tags , , , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L.L. Soares


Originally, Michael Arruda and I were going to see this one and review it together for CKF, but something went wrong with the distribution. Instead of coming to a theater near me, this one popped up only in theaters way out in the suburbs. And it wasn’t playing near Michael at all. I figured we would just have to skip this one, but luckily it is currently showing on cable OnDemand.

I have no idea why this one didn’t get a proper release, but it’s a decent little disaster flick. The one recognizable star here is director Eli Roth, who has appeared in such Quentin Tarantino films as DEATH PROOF (2007) and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009). I guess someone else finally decided to utilize his acting skills. Director Nicolas Lopez puts him in good use in AFTERSHOCK as an American tourist, hanging out with friends in Chile.  (Roth also produced and co-wrote this one, by the way.)

The movie begins with Gringo (which is what the other characters call Eli Roth’s American in this one) and his buddies Ariel (Ariel Levy) and Pollo (Nicolas Martinez) seeing the sights and trying to pick up women in discos. Ariel is the insecure one who has just broken up with his girlfriend and can’t seem to get his dating rhythm going. Pollo is his roly-poly Zach Galifanakas-look alike Chilean buddy, who has a rich daddy and has a much more confident rap when meeting women. Gringo is along for the ride. He’s a recently divorced Dad who is so devoted to his daughter, he’d rather take a cell phone call from her than seal the deal with a horny local girl (in another, slightly humorous scene, Roth comes on to another American tourist, played by Selena Gomez in a cameo).

Eli Roth proves again that he's a decent actor in AFTERSHOCK, here putting the moves on a fellow tourist (Selena Gomez).

Eli Roth proves again that he’s a decent actor in AFTERSHOCK, here putting the moves on a fellow tourist (Selena Gomez).

It’s at one of these discos, an underground club, that the guys get stuck in the middle of an earthquake. But first, they meet three girls who are also visiting from America: fun-loving Kylie (Lorenza Izzo), her uptight sister Monica (Andrea Osvart) who acts like a mother hen, and their Russian friend Irina (Natasha Yarovenko).

When the quake comes, the six of them run for their lives (unfortunately, Ariel loses a hand in the process) and by the time they make it to the surface, the entire town has turned into a violent, chaotic mess. They find at least one ally in a firefighter (Marcial Tagle) who Pollo and Monica save after his fire truck crashes.

Not only are there earth-moving aftershocks that continue to cause injury and death, but a nearby prison has collapsed and a group of marauding, vicious prisoners has escaped, roaming the streets, intent on raping and killing just about whoever they come across.

AFTERSHOCK becomes a study in survival, as we eventually lose more of our heroes, either to the disaster or the escaped convicts. Who will ultimately survive, and who will die? You’ve got to see the film to find out the answer to that one.

The movie begins kind of slowly, with the guys going to a vineyard and various nightclubs, joking around and trying to get laid, before things really shift into gear, but I’ve never had a problem with characterization, and the time we spend with these guys just makes them more believable as people. The trio of girls is equally likeable.

The danger doesn’t seem to kick in until half-way into the movie, but once the first earthquake hits, director Lopez does a decent job building suspense and keeping the main characters constantly on the move. Once the action starts, it maintains a solid momentum until the end. He’s also not afraid to turn on the gore when necessary. The script for this one is by Lopez, Guillermo Ameodo and Eli Roth.

The cast is pretty good here. Standouts include Roth (who acquits himself quite well, and shows he deserves more chances to act), Martinez, who is pretty good as the most extroverted of the friends, and Osvart, who proves herself to be pretty tough when she needs to be. Interesting enough, a lot of the cast here also appears in Eli Roth’s upcoming Amazon jungle horror flick THE GREEN INFERNO, so it will be good to see them again (Guillermo Amoedo also co-wrote the script for Roth’s new one).

Monica (Andrea Osvart) proves she can be tough when she needs to be, in AFTERSHOCK.

When the going gets rough,Monica (Andrea Osvart) proves she can be tough when she needs to be, in AFTERSHOCK.

AFTERSHOCK was filmed on location in Chile, and the setting is refreshing, especially in the small details, despite one character’s complaint that she was visiting the country expecting something “Third World, but cool..” (Note: because many of the characters are native Chileans, about half the dialogue is subtitled, and half is in English, in case that affects your particular movie-going experience).

Not the most amazing film you’ll see this year, but a serviceable thriller that will keep you watching until the end. I liked this one, and wish I had had the opportunity to see it on the big screen.

I give AFTERSHOCK, two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives AFTERSHOCK~two and a half  knives.

The Distracted Critic Enters THE TUNNEL (2011)

Posted in 2013, Australian Horror, Faux Documentaries, Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Suspense, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , , on February 26, 2013 by knifefighter

Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

The Tunnel

THE TUNNEL is an Australian film written by Enzo Tedeschi and Julian Harvey, who have stepped beyond the “found The ” angle by concocting a faux documentary complete with interviews and enhanced screen shots, which reveal images the original crew didn’t realize they’d caught. They’ve crafted a decent story, giving their characters the kind of solid motivations that are rarely found in Hollywood releases. Another way it differs from Hollywood films is that they cast age-appropriate actors who you can believe hold the jobs of their characters, rather than casting pretty-looking twenty-somethings obviously too immature and inexperienced to hold the jobs they portray.

The movie opens with a spin on the “Sleight of Hand Start” (which is when the director reveals a scene from the ending to create tension right off the bat)—a 911 call, complete with subtitles, on a black screen. It tells us very little while it conveys panic and desperation. It’s a popular opening sequence for many documentaries, so it didn’t feel out of place here.

Next, we get a montage of news reports detailing a water shortage in Sydney. The reports cover a government plan to convert an abandoned subway station into a water reclamation facility. This will allow the use of water from a huge underground lake deep beneath the train tunnels. Further reports outline opposition to the plan, including worries that the evicted homeless will flood the streets. Finally, there’s a dismissive report that the plan has been shelved, though no one will explain why.

Now we meet Steve and Tangles, having drinks at their executive producer’s birthday party. Someone is filming the festivities for the hell of it, and Steve is happy to narrate the inter-office politics, while making fun of everyone the camera pans across. We see Pete and Natalie in an intense discussion, and Steve insinuates that Pete is hitting on her. When Natalie moves away warily, Steve and Tangles laugh.

In an interview segment, Steve describes Natalie as: “Just another young person coming in, getting paid too much money, hadn’t really proved herself, but you know, she was ‘the next big thing.'”

Natalie latches onto the abandoned water reclamation project, and when her investigation uncovers stories of people disappearing in the tunnels, Pete is yanked from a story that will take him to China so he can help Nat with her project. It’s a decision that Pete is painfully unhappy with.  He tells Steve and Tangles that Natalie’s: “…treading on thin ice. That’s why John put me onto this, to make sure she doesn’t f___ up again.”

Eventually, Natalie coerces Pete, Steve and Tangles to accompany her into the tunnels, insisting that John knows where they are. They break in through a maintenance gate and wander about using an outdated map. In an interview segment, Natalie confesses that she could not get the necessary permits to film in the tunnel, and she believed that without them the station would cancel her story. “…I put a lot of work into my career and I think it was all basically hanging on this one story. I didn’t really have a choice.”

Eventually, the team makes their way to the underground lake. Here, Natalie tries to record a sequence for her report, but Tangles keeps cutting her off to tell Pete and Steve to quit whispering. They deny doing it, but Tangles doesn’t believe them and accuses them of “punking” him.

Later on they find the “Bell Room,” where we learn that the tunnels were used as a public air raid shelter during WWII. The bell used to alert citizens to a bombing raid is still intact. Tangles complains that it’s too loud when Nat rings the bell, so he takes his microphones into the next room to try and dull the sound. Steve dons Tangles’ headphones and watches the gauges while Pete takes over the camera. The instant Nat rings the bell, Steve screams Tangles’ name and runs into the next room. Tangles has disappeared. They return to the bell room and discover their gear has disappeared as well….

They do manage to locate Tangles' flashlight, however.

They do manage to locate Tangles’ flashlight, however.

Director Carlo Ledesma has experience with real documentaries, having directed both FOOD MATTERS [2008] and HUNGRY FOR CHANGE [2012]. With THE TUNNEL, he has put together a “horror documentary” with a true-to-life feel. We see reporters like this all the time in real life, self-important gung-ho types who believe that their cameras and microphones will magically protect them from danger and keep them separate from anything that happens around them.

The acting is very good. Bel Deliá (THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, scheduled for 2014– I’ll be looking for it), as Natalie, conveys the desperation of someone on a last chance to save her job while trying to conceal her own self-doubt. She is believable throughout. Andy Rodoreda (BLACK WATER, 2007) plays Pete, who is increasingly relied upon to lead the group as Natalie’s composure begins to fracture. Steve Davis (the Australian TV series EVENT ZERO, 2012) plays Steve, the cameraman. It was a surprise to learn that his primary filmmaking experience is with cinematography and camera work, because his acting was fantastic.

Steve Davis plays Steve, a surprisingly good actor for a cameraman.

Steve Davis plays Steve, a surprisingly good actor for a cameraman.

Lastly, Luke Arnold (BROKEN HILL, 2009 and a lot of TV work down under) is excellent as Tangles, who, wearing the sound man’s headphones, gives most of the early tension to the film. There are a handful of moments when Steve focuses on him staring intently into the blackness as if he expects to see someone or something out there.

THE TUNNEL has some frightening moments and above-average suspense, though it does contains one eye-rolling sequence where you have to question the director’s judgement. (It involves the re-appearance of a minor character in a place he has no business being.)

In the end, the documentary format is not a new idea. It was used in the Australian film LAKE MUNGO in 2008, and there have undoubtedly been others. THE TUNNEL is more reminiscent of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the Spanish film [REC] (2007), and even CLOVERFIELD (2008). While it differs from these movies by coming at you like a legitimate documentary instead of a VHS cassette filmed by dead people, you don’t walk away from the movie feeling that difference on any meaningful level. It comes off, all told, like another entry into the ‘found footage’ pantheon. A good entry, but still.

I give THE TUNNEL two and a half stars with a single time out.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon



Posted in 2012, Enigmatic Films, Horror, Madness, Paul McMahon Columns, Possession, Supernatural, Suspense with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2012 by knifefighter

Movie Review by Paul McMahon– The Distracted Critic

Eduardo Sanchez, co-director of the THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) and writer/director of ALTERED (2006), has a new film out called LOVELY MOLLY (2011). It’s an interesting Frankenstein’s monster, incorporating both the hand-held camera work used in BLAIR WITCH and the traditional narrative film style used in ALTERED. The film opens, in fact, with an extreme close-up of Molly, which echoes Heather’s now iconic videotaped confession in BLAIR WITCH.

Molly looks panicked and strung out, or panicked and exhausted, and she says: “Whatever happened, it wasn’t me.” She holds a knife to her own throat for a few tense seconds, before bringing it down and saying “It won’t let me do it.”

Now we’re at Molly and Tim’s wedding, another hand-held shot, and the camera picks up a young boy who looks stuffed into a suit. He walks directly at the camera with a smile completely juxtaposed after the clip we just saw, and as the camera zooms in on the kid’s mouth he whispers “I’m hungry.” We watch snippets of a wedding, picking up little bits here and there. Tim is dissed by one of Molly’s young relatives. One of Molly’s uncles offers a toast to his brother Ben and and his wife Tammy (Molly’s parents): “Who I know are looking down on us right now, and watching their little girl start her new life with her new husband.” You also see the maid of honor giving a tearful apology for any times she let the bride down, while Molly dismisses her apology with a smile and a shake of her head. This last is such a quick exchange you just know it’s going to be important later.

After the credits roll, we put the hand-held away. It’s late at night and shadows are used very well to portray a house in isolation, surrounded by forest without a streetlight to be seen. The security alarm goes off. Molly and Tim jolt out of bed. Tim fiddles with the alarm and it takes him a few tries to get the thing to shut off. There’s a problem at the kitchen door. They creep out to the head of the stairs, hearing something bumping around downstairs. They freak and bolt themselves in their bedroom to await the cops. After a walk through reveals nothing, we rejoin them the next morning, Molly’s birthday. Tim, who drives a truck, is leaving on a job. He’ll be back in a few days. Molly is not at all happy about this. We watch her locking up the house that night, and when she reaches the kitchen door that set the alarm off, it crashes in its frame as if it’s been kicked by a horse. Molly calls the police again and is assured that the house had been vacant long enough that kids must be using the property as a place to hang out. “They’ll stop coming around after a while,” is the most comfort he offers her.

The next night, sounds of a crying child come from inside the house. Molly searches, finally opening the closet in a spare bedroom. She stares. Smiles. Reaches inside.

Next morning, Tim returns. It’s daylight. He calls, and Molly doesn’t answer. He searches the house, and is shocked to find her sitting in the spare room, facing the closet, absolutely naked. He talks to her as he creeps closer and finally sits beside her, and she seems oblivious to his presence, until finally her eyes focus and she turns to him.

“He’s alive,” she says.

Not at all the ‘Welcome home!”Tim was expecting.

LOVELY MOLLY is a horror movie of the “Is she crazy, is she possessed, or is she truly haunted?” trope. There are a lot of possible answers presented here. Molly has a history of mental illness and drug use. She’s spending much of her time alone in the house she grew up in; a house where horrible things happened to her. There are images of horses, and at one point you can hear horse hooves clopping outside the bedroom door late at night. There’s a co-worker of Molly’s who lives with her two small children in a house through the woods, and Molly occasionally sneaks over to film them on her hand-held video camera—that is, when she’s not using the camera to film empty corners as she screams for something, or someone, to show itself. There are hints that she’s possessed by an evil spirit. Through it all, you wonder how all these strands will tie together into a cohesive whole.

Eduardo Sanchez has a firm grasp of what keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. He uses our fears of the dark, of death, of solitude, of other people, to masterful effect here. Most importantly, he capitalizes on what Stephen King calls our natural “fear FOR someone else” because Molly is truly likeable. Newcomer Gretchen Lodge puts forth a tremendous performance here, inhabiting Molly completely in all her permutations of emotion. If the right Hollywood people see this film, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Gretchen in years to come.

Gretchen Lodge as LOVELY MOLLY.

In fact, all the performers have come with their A-games. Alexandra Holden (Maggie in 2006’s SPECIAL) plays Molly’s sister, Hannah. From her tearful confession in the wedding video at the start of the film, you can see Hannah’s concern grow even as she becomes more and more concerned for her own safety. Field Blauvelt (THE INVASION,  2007) plays Pastor Bobby perfectly, nailing that character with every move, every smile, every downcast eye.

The late Johnny Lewis (“Half Sack” in SONS OF ANARCHY) shines as Tim, deeply in love with Molly but without a clue as to how to help her. It’s mentioned that they don’t have the health insurance to get her the attention she really needs. I wish I was comfortable saying this is the reason he and Hannah make such piss-poor decisions, but honestly it felt like the decisions they made were the ones the writers needed them to make to have the story move the way they wanted.

The late Johnny Lewis (“Half Sack” on SONS OF ANARCHY) plays Tim in LOVELY MOLLY.

There are simply too many questions brought up during the course of the movie to answer all of them in a way that feels satisfying. It felt like Eduardo Sanchez and Jamie Nash wrote the screenplay while keeping their shooting budget in the forefront of their minds. It seemed like any aspect that threatened to exceed what they could pay for was dropped without another glance. The movie could’ve used a far less restrictive writing process. I think it would’ve been better for them to just cut loose and write whatever the story dictated, and then edit it down to meet the budget later. There are a couple of instances where the plot felt out-of-control, as if even the director didn’t understand why things were happening.

These drawbacks were relatively small, though. In all, LOVELY MOLLY is a very tense film that keeps you guessing throughout. It’s the kind of movie you don’t finish and forget about. This one will keep you thinking long after your media center powers down. It may even draw you back to watch it again.

I give it three stars with two time-outs.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

LOOPER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Bruce Willis Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, LL Soares Reviews, Science Fiction, Suspense, The Future, The Mob, Time Travel with tags , , , , , , , on October 1, 2012 by knifefighter

By L.L. Soares

(SCENE 1: Somewhere in the future. L.L. SOARES has a bag over his head and jumps into a weird pod-like machine. He’s out of breath from escaping from a bunch of thugs and pulls the sack off his head just as the machine activates and sends him hurtling through time…)

(SCENE 2: MICHAEL ARRUDA stands in the middle of a field, holding a large gun. In front of him is a tarp spread out on the ground. He looks at his pocket watch to confirm the time)

(Suddenly, LS appears on the tarp. MA lifts his gun, then stops)

LS: Michael, it’s me. I know I look older, but it’s L.L.

MA: I don’t understand. I was supposed to shoot whoever came back from the future…

LS: Well, you can’t shoot me. Then there won’t be any more Cinema Knife Fight column. Right?

MA (hesitates): I guess so. But I have my orders.

LS: Screw your orders. (he gets up and walks toward MA). I’m here to review the new movie LOOPER, have you seen it yet?

MA: No, I haven’t. Did you come from the future to tell me about it?

LS: Yes, exactly. (points to his gun) So we’re cool, right?

MA: Yeah (puts down the gun)

LS: Sucker! (pulls out a gun from his waistband and plugs MA)

(As LS laughs, we go back to the future, where LS enters a pod, out of breath, and pulls that sack off his head again. The machine activates, and we spiral down a corridor of time)

LS: Uh oh. I think I got trapped in a time warp this time. My karma has finally caught up with me.

(Looks at audience)

Well, looks like I’ve got some time on my hands. Might as well do that LOOPER review I mentioned earlier.

LOOPER a clever science fiction film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. I actually wasn’t all that excited about it going in. It looked like just another gimmicky sci-fi film, and I felt like I’d seen the whole story based on the trailer. But thankfully, I was wrong. For once, I was surprised and LOOPER was much better than I expected.

The story is told from the point of view of Joe (Gordon-Levitt) who explains that he is a Looper. In the future (30 years from now, to be specific), time travel is illegal, but it’s used by organized crime. Also, due to various tagging methods, it is also near impossible to get rid of a body after killing someone in the future. So the gangsters of the future use time travel to kill two birds with one stone. They’ve sent an emissary to our time named Abe (Jeff Daniels) to set things up. He recruits people to be assassins called Loopers. Victims from the future are sent back in time, the Loopers shoot them and then dispose of the bodies. And it seems to be a very effective way to get rid of unwanted people.

Except every once in a while someone finds that the person they’ve been hired to kill is him or herself, sent from the future to “close the loop.” It’s then that they’re given a big payday and forced to retire, knowing that in 30 years, they’re going to die.

Get it?

Joe’s doing quite well. He’s got money, girls and lots of some weird drug he applies with eyedrops and that keeps him happy. Then one day he goes out in the abandoned field where he kills his victims, and comes face to face with an older version of himself, who he calls Old Joe (Bruce Willis). Old Joe isn’t bound and his head isn’t covered, like most of the victims. He is able to keep from getting shot—since he knows what his younger self is going to do—and cold cocks Joe. When Joe wakes up, Old Joe is long gone and he’s in a world of trouble with his bosses. If he doesn’t track Old Joe down and get rid of him, all hell is going to break loose. But Joe’s superiors are going to think he let his older self go on purpose (some guys just can’t bring themselves to kill their older selves when faced with the prospect), so he’s going to have elude them, too, while he tries to set things straight.

Oh yeah, there’s another subplot in the mix. Aside from Loopers, there’s also a group of evolved people called TKs (as in telekinetics). Most of them can’t do much more than float quarters with their minds, but there’s some guy in the future called the Rainmaker, who can do a lot more than that, and he’s taking over the crime gangs. Which is why so many loopers lately have been coming face to face with their older selves and being forced to close the loop.

That’s the background stuff. But LOOPER is so much more than just a concept. It’s about characters – characters who are pretty well fleshed out for a big budget gimmicky science fiction movie with an A-list cast. This isn’t your average futuristic crime movie. LOOPER is smart, well-written, and well acted.

Aside from Gordon-Levitt (who just seems to get better and better in each movie I see him in) and Willis (people in the audience were actually cheering during any scene where Willis got ahold of a gun), there’s also Emily Blunt as a woman who takes the wounded Joe in after he’s ambushed by his fellow loopers. Her name is Sara and she takes care of a little boy named Cid, who is a lot more important to the story than he first seems. Blunt is excellent here, and Pierce Gagnon is really good as little Cid, who seems smart and inquisitive sometimes and other times is just plain scary.

The rest of the cast is solid and includes Paul Dano, Piper Perabo and the always reliable Jeff Daniels (as I mentioned before).

The movie was written and directed by Rian Johnson  Johnson also made the very interesting “high school noir” flick BRICK (2005), also starring Gordon-Levitt (and it’s so odd, it’s worth checking out), and directed episodes of AMC’s BREAKING BAD and the short-lived FX series TERRIERS. He’s made a compelling little movie with LOOPER and I think he’s going to be someone worth watching in the future.

Because one of the stars is Bruce Willis, and it involves his character being sent here from the future, I guess comparisons to Terry Gilliam’s TWLEVE MONKEYS (1995) are unavoidable, but the stories are very different. They do, however, share the fact that they’re above-average for Hollywood sci-fi films.

I really enjoyed this movie. I thought it was smart and riveting throughout, and it even had a dark humor to it at times. I thought Gordon-Levitt and Willis were terrific here (there’s even one scene where Willis grabs a gun and goes on a rampage in the bad guys’ lair that reminded me a lot of Chan-wook Park’s OLDBOY, 2003).

I give LOOPER, four knives.

(LS is still spinning through time, when he suddenly lands on top of that tarp, in the middle of a field again. MICHAEL ARRUDA stands before him, aiming a gun)

LS: Michael, it’s me. I know I look older, but don’t shoot. It’s L.L.

MA: I feel like we’ve done this before.

LS: Put the gun down. You can’t shoot me. Then there won’t be a Cinema Knife Fight column anymore.

MA (hesitates): Why do I have such a hard time trusting you?

(CLOSE-UP of LS’s eyes, pleading)


© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives LOOPER  ~FOUR knives (out of five).


Posted in 2012, Controverisal Films, Family Secrets, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Mystery, Plot Twists, Scares!, Surprises!, Suspense, Twist Endings, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L.L. Soares

When I first heard about the movie THE TALL MAN, I thought it was another sequel in the PHANTASM series. For those who aren’t fans, the Tall Man is the main villain of that franchise. But this new movie has nothing to do with PHANTASM. So I thought, based on the title and the movie poster (with star Jessica Biel prominently displayed), that this was a standard horror movie. I was wrong on both counts.

Then I found out that THE TALL MAN was directed by French filmmaker Pascal Laugier, who previously gave us the movie MARTYRS (2008), which I consider one of my all-time favorite horror films. It had the same kind of effect on me when it came out as Takashi Miike’s AUDITION did in 2000. Needless to say, I was psyched and immediately sought THE TALL MAN out. It was supposed to be in limited theatrical release, but it wasn’t playing anywhere near me. Luckily, however, it was playing on cable OnDemand, so I was able to see it for myself.

I’m really glad I did.

THE TALL MAN is a movie full of twists and turns that are going to keep you off balance throughout, as you try to figure out who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what everyone here is up to.

It begins in a poverty-stricken small town called Cold Rock, Washington. It used to be thriving once, but the coal mines, the main source of work there, shut down, all the other jobs dried up, and people started losing their homes. Oh yeah, there’s one other reason why Cold Rock is such a sad place. Over the years, there have been several child abductions, and the children have never been recovered. A few people swear they got a look at who took their children, a dark figure that has taken on mythic proportions in the town. Everyone refers to the child stealer as The Tall Man.

It’s here in Cold Rock that Julia Denning (Jessica Biel, who we most recently saw in this summer’s big budget remake of TOTAL RECALL) tries her best to help people get medical care. Her husband was the local doctor, but he’s gone now, and since she was his nurse, she’s able to provide some basic services to those in need. It’s clear however, that even though her husband was respected and loved in Cold Rock, Julia will never be completely accepted by everyone in town. There are some people here who trust her, however, like the mute teenager Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) who will become more important as the film goes on.

Since she’s a widow, Julia has her friend (sister?) Christine (Eve Harlow) babysit her son, David (Jakob Davies) when she’s out making her rounds. David seems to be sickly, but lights up when his mother comes home.

Life is rough in Cold Rock, but Julia does what she can, until the day comes when she returns home to find Christine beaten and tied up, and a hooded figure running away from the house, carrying David in its arms.

While trying to retrieve her son David, Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) falls into a pit of mud in THE TALL MAN.

Julia runs after them, down the street to a large truck that drives away. Determined not to let them get away, Julia grabs on to the back door of the truck, and hangs on for dear life. She tries desperately to retrieve her son in a nightmarish sequence involving the truck, a vicious dog, and an accident. But eventually, she loses the trail, and collapses in the middle of the street, where Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) finds her and brings her into his car. He drives her to the local diner where Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis) is, and tells him to get an ambulance, while Dodd goes back out trying to find the child stealer based on what Julia has told him.

It’s at this point that things get strange. While washing up and changing her clothes in the office of Trish (Janet Wright) who runs the diner, she hears the Sheriff and another man in a heated discussion, wondering what they should do next. It sounds like they mean to harm Julia. What’s going on here?

To give away any more of the plot would be unkind, but let’s say, at this point, THE TALL MAN stops being a typical horror movie and goes in a completely unexpected direction. This is business as usual for director Pascal Laugier, who is used to running us through a maze in his movies, MARTYRS being a perfect example.

The cast here is very good, especially Biel, who is turning into an actress you can count on to deliver a decent performance. She’s actually much better here than she is in TOTAL RECALL, partly because she’s the lead character, but also because THE TALL MAN is a more serious, intelligent film.

THE TALL MAN is out there.

M. Night Shyamalan might still have the reputation as the king of the twist endings – even if it’s no longer warranted and he’s become something of a joke. But Laugier proves here that he deserves the title more, and he delivers the scares along the way.

The other aspects of this film are finely tuned as well, including the score by Todd Bryanton, which compliments the film perfectly. I was very psyched when I found out that Barry Dejasu was interviewing Bryanton about his soundtrack for THE TALL MAN for his Scoring Horror column (this review is being posted as a companion piece to his interview).

THE TALL MAN is so different from the usual horror movies we keep getting, and is so much more ambitious in its storytelling, that it deserves a wider audience simply because it tries to do something different, and I was disappointed to see that this one has been getting such shoddy distribution. But if you look for it on cable, you would do yourself a favor to find it.

While I didn’t like THE TALL MAN as much as MARTYRS, which remains Laugier’s masterwork, I still thought it was head and shoulders above most of the horror movies Hollywood has been giving us lately. THE TALL MAN is in no way as visceral and nightmarish as MARTYRS, but it does deliver plenty of chills and it will surprise you.

One thing about THE TALL MAN, that you don’t normally get with horror films these days, is that you’ll be thinking about it long after it’s over.

I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE TALL MAN ~ four knives.


The French movie poster for THE TALL MAN calls it “The Secret” fittingly enough.


Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Espionage, Heightened Abilities, Hit Men, John Harvey Reviews, Sequels, Spy Films, Suspense with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2012 by knifefighter

THE BOURNE LEGACY Weaves Complexity with Great Action
Review by John Harvey

It takes a great deal of chutzpah to create and release a ‘Jason Bourne‘ franchise movie minus Jason Bourne.  The opportunities for failure greatly outnumber those for success, especially when essentially all of the key players (both talent and behind the scenes) who made the previous installments popular are now absent. This is the gamble undertaken by Universal’s THE BOURNE LEGACY a taut, high-octane, but often confusing spy thriller that seeks to (sort of) reboot the franchise in an alternate timeline to the previous ‘Jason Bourne‘ films.

Gone is Matt Damon’s stoic, intense Jason Bourne who drove THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002), THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004), and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007). Also gone is Paul Greengrass, who directed the second two films (THE BOURNE IDENTITY was directed by Doug Liman).

While this loss of legacy talent is worrying, the replacements are far from being slouches.  Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplays for all three previous ‘Jason Bourne’ films, is now both screenwriter and director for THE BOURNE LEGACY. Gilroy has solid suspense/thriller credentials in directing or writing on such projects as STATE OF PLAY (2009), DUPLICITY (2009) and MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007). Meanwhile, stepping into the superspy slot is Jeremy Renner. Renner has been consistently good in films such as THE HURT LOCKER (2008), THE TOWN (2010) and THE AVENGERS (2012).

THE BOURNE LEGACY‘s storyline essentially runs parallel to that of THE BOURNE ULIMATUM, showing the ripple effect of Jason Bourne’s bad behavior in Manhattan. Powerful people in the United States intelligence community (including Stacy Keach and Ed Norton) have been thrown into a frenzied state of damage control as Bourne threatens to blow the lid on their clandestine superspy program. They coldly decide that the only way they can keep secrets and save themselves is to implement a ruthless, scorched-earth protocol. Translation … everyone dies. Well, everyone but them.

Which brings us to Aaron Cross, a member of Operation Outcome, one of the CIA’s other black ops superspy programs. Different from Jason Bourne’s Treadstone program, Outcome provides its agents with green pills that enhance physical abilities and blue pills that enhance mental abilities. The pills are the leash that keeps the agents under control. In LEGACY, they’re also the MacGuffin that drives most of the suspense and action.

Cross is stationed at a deeply remote training facility in Alaska when the powers-that-be send an airborne drone to blow him up with a hellfire missile, having already killed off the other Outcome agents. Cross (obviously) outwits them, but then finds himself running dangerously low on the power pills that keep him going. His desperation to escape death and get a new supply of drugs brings him in contact with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a virologist/geneticist who works in a top secret medical lab that monitors Outcome agents. Shearing, having barely survived an assassination attempt at the hands of the previously-mentioned powers-that-be, has no other option but to throw in with Cross and help him score a fix.

Ultimately, the established storylines of the previous ‘Jason Bourne‘ films weigh heavily on THE BOURNE LEGACY, sometimes to its benefit and sometimes not so much. While the filmmakers would have you believe that you don’t need to see the previous films for this one to make sense, don’t buy it. So much of the terminology, code names, characters, and other devices get carried over (or at least referenced) from previous films to this one that, if you’re not up to speed with (at least) THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, then you’ll have several “Huh? What? Hey, who’s that guy?” moments in LEGACY. Also, while it’s pretty easy to tell the bad guys from the good, it’s not always easy to keep track of who comes from what agency or their ultimate motives. With THE BOURNE LEGACY, Gilroy shoots for a dense, complex plot, but in reality the movie is often just plain confusing and a bit frustrating.

On the plus side, the action sequences in THE BOURNE LEGACY are a real treat, with the final set piece being breathless and completely captivating. Unlike goofier, pulp action films (ahem … THE EXPENDABLES), the ‘Jason Bourne‘ aesthetic hews closer to a version of reality where the gun battles, fights, and chase scenes could perhaps be real (…if you squint and smear a lot of Vaseline on the lens). In these films, the action tends to be more suspenseful and have more consequences. Also, with Gilroy at the helm, we get a smoother, polished shooting style (via cinematographer Robert Elswit), rather than Greengrass’ shaky camera style.

In terms of acting, I found Renner’s Aaron Cross to be more engaging than Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. Where Bourne was almost constantly laconic and mechanical, Aaron Cross is more expressive, affable, and vulnerable. But, when the action starts, his training and chemical-induced enhancements kick in to produce a complete killing machine. As an action hero, Renner provides more texture and nuance than Matt Damon. In addition, while Weisz could have been given the role of obligatory “female in need of saving,” she provides a much more dynamic and dramatic performance.

The bad guy side of the equation is more disappointing. Stacy Keach, Ed Norton, and Dennis Boutsikaris literally fill suits and provide serviceable, if entirely predictable, performances as heartless spymasters from shady government agencies. Renner’s Aaron Cross deserves a strong nemesis. Perhaps he’ll get one in the inevitable sequel.

Ultimately, THE BOURNE LEGACY is a good, but not great, fork from the core ‘Jason Bourne‘ franchise. With a less convoluted structure and better villains, it would have been far more enjoyable. Still, the action is worth seeing on the big screen and I look forward to Jeremy Renner continuing to perform as Aaron Cross.

Official Website:

Directed by Tony Gilroy
Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, and Stacy Keach
Running time: 135 minutes

– END –

© Copyright 2012 by John D. Harvey

John Harvey gives THE BOURNE LEGACY~three and a half knives.