Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Quiet Ones - Movie Review

God damn it. I was really hoping to be able to recommend this one, given my well documented love of Hammer and given that it seemed to have such an intriguing set of ideas.

The set up is an interesting one. A professor called Joseph played by Jared Harris* believes that mental illness is merely a manifestation of negative energy, and that it is possible to draw this energy out and...capture it? Dissipate it? This part is a little vague. To this end he has enlisted the help of two feisty (read: irritating) undergraduates, a camera operator, and a very disturbed young woman called Jane Harper. His mantra, of "cure one person, cure humanity" actually makes a kind of sense, given that anything they can do to prove that his idea is correct will open up an entirely new area of beneficial research.

Couple of ibuprofen, she'll be right as rain.

Unfortunately, it's not quite as simple as that. Jane has an invisible friend named Evey and it becomes increasing obvious that Evey isn't exactly a manifestation of mental illness, but something else entirely. Exactly what she is can be guessed at around the halfway mark. 

The film overall has a major problem that I will discuss towards the end of the review, but I am going to digress at this point and talk about jump-scares. These are all well and good when used sparingly, but while they make the viewer jump, they can also dissipate tension. They should be sprinkled lightly over the horror movie pie. This film backs a truck up and dumps a load onto the pie, and some of them are so well telegraphed you switch off waiting for something to go OOGA BOOGA. Not good.

The dynamic between the Professor and his patient is by far the most interesting part of the film It is implied to be a co-dependent relationship, but also a mildly abusive one, and Jane is well enough developed as a character for her 'treatment' scenes to be uncomfortable viewing. As the experiment fails to produce results, Joseph pushes ever harder in his 'treatment', even burning her skin. There comes a point at which you wonder if Evey is less of a danger to Jane, let alone everyone else. 

The cameraman acts as a foil to all of this. He is not the believer that Joseph is, but is sympathetic towards Jane to the point of romantic feelings. His journey from being the skeptic to being the first to suggest the supernatural is a thing I feel the film could have developed more. He also adds in a more practical and interesting angle: the ability to use found footage techniques in a non-found footage film. When the camera's rolling, you know bad things are going down, but after watching The Borderlands last week my bar for found footage has been set very high, and despite it being an original idea, I feel that found footage is an all-or-nothing.

"Dude, this thing's heavy. Can we go to an exterior tracking shot or something?"

The problem with the film, the big problem, is that the plot doesn't really go anywhere. Sure, there are creepy moments (a scene in the attic is unbearable) but every time the plot has an opportunity to do something interesting, it shifts back into familiar grooves and into neutral. There is nothing original here and a lot that is guaessable, and the film isn't good enough for it to carry off a story we've seen a hundred times before. On the way home, I listed in my head the ways the plot could have gone which would have re-engaged me, but ultimately I left the theatre disappointed when I wanted to be terrified. After the triumphs of Wake Wood and The Woman in Black, sadly, I would give this one a miss.

Also wins a prize for the most hilariously awkward shoe'd-in title-drop in cinema history.


* AKA Professor Moriarty from Game of Shadows, and the only person I recognized, although one of the others was apparently in the Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Borderlands - Movie Review

I realized as I looked back through my archive the other day that I seem to have reviewed a lot of 'found footage' films - some of which were very good indeed - but what was properly missing was one from Old Blighty. So imagine my surprise when I bought The Borderlands on a whim and discovered not only was it a found-footage (or FF, which I'm sure will catch on as an acronym) it also wasn't crap! Hoorah!

Even though this might give you that impression. Worst. Box Art. Ever.

The plot concerns three men - a team sent by the Vatican to investigate a potentially miraculous event. I have no idea how accurate this is to how they actually go about investigating miracles, but it's plausible enough for the movie to work. In an interesting twist, it is the priests who are the most cynical: they have uncovered too many forgeries and people misguided by 'faith'. It is the third, an annoying techie, who really buys into the fact that the church and it's resident priest that they are investigating are not quite what they appear to be. All of the cast are pretty much unknowns but expertly cast and acted, which goes a long way to making them feel like real people.

The first thing that this film has going for it is that it provides an excellent justification for the same question that dogs every FF - why do they keep filming when bad stuff is happening? The simple answer provided here is that everything has to be documented for the Vatican. Hence, everyone wears headcams at all times, and several remote cameras are put up in both the church and the house they all stay in. 

The second is that it spends a lot of time establishing its characters and exploring their world-views. Most FF characters are essentially meat on the hoof, impossibly attractive audience foils to whom Bad Stuff Happens. All four of the leads here, however, feel like real people, with real histories, sometimes with each other, and personal demons that can never really be overcome. One is presented unsympathetically as a functional alcoholic, for example.

The set design is wonderfully claustrophobic. The mounted cameras cover the whole church, it seems, but still don't seem to cover enough of it. The dark corners in which something could be lurking, the terrible noises coming from...somewhere and the glitches in the recording all add up to moments of unbearable tension. Watch this late at night with the lights off, and you'll soon be creeping yourself out. 

This is the church DURING THE DAY. You'd better believe it's worse at night.

It is a bit of a slow burner, however, so if you put it on during the day or half-watch it I imagine it's effect will be diminished. There are long conversations on the meaning of faith, along with things like the church records and previous incidents. I can see this being a film that bores some people. I, however, loved it and would recommend it to anyone who is a horror fan.

There's another reason I would recommend this - the ending. Without spoiling anything, I had to rack my brains to think if I'd seen anything like it before, but if so, I'm 100% sure this is the first time I've seen someone do it 100% right. Oh maaaaan. Sequel please!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Horror At Sea, Or Andy Watches Terrible Movies Again

I do enjoy championing sub-genres. Whether it be the rash of crappy monster movies that came out in the late 90s (which is definitely something I want to write about at some point) to the amazing variety of Night Of The Living Dead knockoffs, I am always happy to go digging in the crud to find the gold. Recently, having once more savored the sumptuous feast that is Jaws, I felt an overwhelming desire to find other sea-based horror movies. Having watched Deep Rising so many times a fear the disk is wearing out (and fearing that my fiancee might suspect I loved it more than her) I struck out to find horror in aquatic form. Here are the results of my search.



Set-up: An abandoned Russian research vessel is found adrift in a hurricane, with no sign of the crew. The intrepid crew of a tug boards in the hope of claiming salvage. Instead, what they find is apparently the Borg from Star Trek. Hijinks ensue.

Star Power: Kiefer Sutherland and Jamie Lee Curtis, who should both know better.

Opinion: Yeah, no. Even as a fun romp this isn't very good. The monsters are creepy and kind of icky, being cyborgs, but also seem really slow and ponderous. The fact that a couple of the crew die in non-cyborg related ways and none of them seem very bright makes them seem even less threatening. Also, in case you haven't worked it out yet, The Virus Is Man. Yawn.

Best Moment: Undoubtedly the part where they get into contact with the 'intelligence' behind the cyborgs. They ask it what it wants and it starts listing body parts.

Worst Moment: "Wow, that is a really, really large pile of explosives in the middle of the room. And look! They are attached to some sort of rope that is running out. Maybe I should do something abou-" *BOOOOM*.

Sink or Swim?: Probably not worth bothering with. There are much better films that do the same thing. 


Set-up: A sunken Russian vessel (sounds familiar) is found near a deep-sea mining facility, with a sealed safe containing the Captain's Log. Said Captain's Log describes a virus that was genetically mutating the crew before the ship sank, and you better believe he's included a free sample in the safe. Basically, it's what would happen if you blended Alien, The Thing and The Quatermass Experiment in a blender, and then doused it in seawater.

Star Power: Peter Weller, aka Robocop, and the criminal from the Home Alone movies who wasn't Joe Pesci.

Opinion: This one doesn't have an original thought in it's head. Which is a shame, because while the setup is interesting, it constantly reminds you that there are better films you could be watching. You can also pretty much point out the survivors from the first ten minutes onwards. Having said that though, it does get points for knowing not to show its creepy monsters too soon and in too much detail and has lovely set design.

Best Moment: The one moment of true original creepiness comes when one crew member tells another to get well soon, having seen him move under his blankets. Of course, we know he's already dead...

Worst Moment: Any time the company rep appears onscreen it stops the movie dead and kills off any potential atmosphere. She needs to be cut out.

Sink or Swim?: Sink, unless you like deja vu.

Ghost Ship

Set-up: A deserted cruise ship turns up in the Bering Sea after 40 years adrift and a crew sets out to salvage her. After arriving, they decide to not actually, yknow, salvage the ship, and instead wander the corridors having spooky things happen to them.

Star Power: Gabriel Byrne and Karl Urban (the other Robocop). Also, a very young Emily Browning.

Opinion: Hoo boy, this is a dumb one. This ship has been floating the high seas for 40 years in a shipping channel and nobody noticed. Also, nobody noticed a bunch of other salvage crews going missing in the same area. Not to mention the fact that the crew never does anything with any urgency. They all have a serious meeting about the ship sinking at one point, plan a course of action, and go back to wandering about. BUT, it does have a sense of fun, which is a first for this list.

Best Moment: The opening scene, set 40 years in the past, is so over the top it actually makes the rest of the film feel like a let down.

Worst Moment: The ending makes precisely zero sense.

Sink or Swim?: Swim, if you're in the mood for a trash. It's not scary, but it is kind of dumb and fun in the same way something like Python is.


Set-up: A US submarine picks up three survivors of a sunken hospital ship during World War II. Meanwhile, the new commanding officer is struggling because the "old captain just fell off the side" story is beginning to sound a tad unconvincing. And then creepy things start happening...

Star Power: Probably the greates concentration of "Hey it's that guy!" guys in cinema history. Bruce Greenwood, Dexter Fletcher, Jason Flemyng, Zach Galifianakis...

Opinion: At last! A proper creepy, well plotted, thriller, with enough spooks and tension to keep you on your toes. Also, being in such a cramped environment means there's a lot less scope for people wandering off and a lot more claustrophobia. Also has one of the best uses of sound in a horror movie - I can only imaginw how much creepier this would be in a cinema or with half-decent surround sound.

Best Moment: Two scenes are unbearably tense. The first is when a depth charge fails to detonate and it bounces veeery slowly down the hull. The second involves a reflection in a mirror, and is audaciously simple and brilliantly sinister.

Worst Moment: The ending seems a little anti-climactic, but then again, some big effects-fest wouldn't be appropriate either.

Sink or Swim?: Swim. The only one on this list that really creeped me out and the only one I recommend unequivocally. 


So there you have it. If aquatic horror is your thing, the smorgasbord is mostly smeared with dung, but there is the occassional vol-au-vent. What a foul image, I do apologise. Anyway, until next time.