Week 2 (Oct. 10th – 14th)
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Unfortunately the title is correct and there’s absolutely no reason to be afraid during this movie. While it boasts some great old-school haunted house production design and cinematography, the story is clunky and there’s no internal logic to the supernatural element, leaving the viewer lost, bored, and unafraid.
Based off a 1970s made-for-TV movie about house with dozens of impish creatures living in the basement. Del Toro saw the movie when he was a child and embellished it within his own mind over the years, so that when he saw the original as an adult it was no longer the movie he had in his head. So he hired comic-book artist Troy Nixey to direct a new version, co-written but Del Toro and Matthew Robbins (who teamed up on Mimic in 1997). Much like their previous collaboration, it’s the script which ultimately ruins the movie, relying too much on back story and unneeded mythology, all conveyed through long sections of expositional dialog. In the end, no one really cares where the creatures come from; in fact it’s far scarier if it’s never explained but Del Toro felt the need to align this story with Pan’s Labyrinth and the movie ends up feeling like a pale copy of that 2006 gem.
There is a director’s cut of this film out on blu-ray which claims to be “better” than the 1997 theatrical release, and while I have no doubt it’s more interesting I can’t see how different editing could fix most of the problems.
Del Toro (who directed) tends toward cartoony performances in his straight-forward genre work (his historical/genre blends, like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth are much more grounded), but in this, his second feature film, the characters simper and glare and shout and scream with the dial cranked to eleven. There is an attempt at character development with Mira Sorvino’s character, but her inability to get pregnant never comes full circle within the story, unless you count a painful Aliens knock-off moment when she shouts at the “king” bug in order to protect a child.
Much like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the rules in this storyverse are unclear. In one scene, an evolved soldier of the Judas Breed (a genetically enhanced and rapidly evolving super roach) sneaks into Sorvino’s apartment in order to rescue one of its offspring, hiding in shadows and refusing to be seen. And yet, later in the movie, the Judas Breed soldiers attack at the slightest sound and tear any human apart.
Also, the third act devolves into inanity as the characters figure out they can kill a single bug that will result in the rest of the colony dying out (a painfully overused sci-fi trope) and manage to find a way to explode the subway and sewer lines of an entire New York borough without harming a single person, including the guy who ignites the gas at its source.
Meandering, slow, and boring, the best thing about this film is that it united Del Toro and Doug Jones, whose combined awesome allowed for some of the greatest creature creation in recent (or all of) cinema.
I saw the first [REC] film on Korean Youtube, late at night, huddled in the corner, trying not to wake up my flatmate each time I freaked out. It was a frightening experience and a damn good little horror flick with a simple premise and message: our modern obsession with video recording every aspect of our lives can be dangerous.
Now we have [REC] 2 from the same two filmmakers and it stands as one of the strangest sequels ever made. While I can’t quite decide if it’s genius or madness, or ultimately succeeds or fails, at the very least it’s interesting and extremely bold.
While the first flick is a straightforward infection zombie movie, the sequel turns that on its head and picks a whole new (spoilers ahead!) genre: [REC] 2 is an exorcism movie.
In addition to completely changing the mythology, this sequel also tries to spruce up the old “found footage” sub-genre by stopping 40 minutes through, changing to another camera POV, and starting the story from the beginning again. This technique is definitely interesting but ultimately adds nothing to the story.
The ending will divide some fans when it dives head long into the supernatural, but the gimmick they employ to generate scares is ingenious, even if the “twist” is pointless. All in all, it’s an effective film in terms of scares but lacks that punch of social commentary.
Dead and Buried
From the writers of Alien comes a movie that’s nowhere near as good, a flick with a lot of potential but that is ultimately burdened by an over-complicated and nonsensical set-up. It quickly falls into a far too familiar pattern for horror films: weird things happen that the protagonist can’t figure out, then the bad guy explains everything in the last ten minutes.
From the get-go this movie has a fun, retro feel but the charm quickly wears off. The basic premise is that a mortician uses voodoo to turn fresh corpses into zombies so that he can put make-up on them (yep, you heard right). Eventually the entire town is “dead” so he orders them to kill random travelers.
It’s a fun and kooky idea, but unfortunately none of the scares are actually scary and the acting is mostly atrocious.
Ultimately it’s watchable, but really not worth the time unless you’re such a fan of the genre that a little cold blood covers a multitude of cinematic sins.
I rounded out the week with this simple horror film from Spain. It starts off well, with a great idea (the protagonist is allergic to the sun so he must live in darkness), strong acting and good cinematography, not to mention some beautiful locations.
The problem — and this is something I’m finding true of most horror films — is that the scares are out of order. They reveal the “creature” too early in the film, then later shroud it in darkness or keep it off camera, even though we’ve already seen it. There’s no build up to the reveal, which is essential. Also, if you’ll forgive the SPOILER, they picked a flat out unscary “monster.” Basically, it’s a nine-year-old girl who was raised in the woods. Somehow she can move with preternatural speed and knows how to hamstring people with a piece of sharp rock, which means the wolves that brought her up must have been handy with tools and bipedal hunting techniques.
In the end, all the set-up of the protagonist being allergic to the sun really goes nowhere and the story meanders into Blahsville, making this one to skip as well.