Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Horror Roundup

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I've been watching some horror films lately.  A friend who I worked with at school is a big horror fan, and we've been getting together every now and then to watch new and classic horror films for the hell of it.  Despite watching several films of debatable quality, it's actually been great getting to see so much newer horror stuff that I likely would have never gone out of my way to watch.  I'll start with MAMA:

To be as fair as possible, MAMA isn't a bad film; it's just not a particularly good one.  It unfortunately suffocates itself through some egregious adherence to the same old tired formula that has so much of mainstream horror profoundly stagnating.  There are a few decent scares in MAMA, some moments of terror that are well-staged and executed, and some incredibly eerie sound effects (I agree with Brandon about how frightening the noises Mama makes are. Yeesh).  I also agree with Brandon that the very ending is quite beautiful in its implications.  The trouble here is that in the buildup to this finale, MAMA again cannot resist some ridiculously contrived scenes of violence involving Mama in a poor effort to fit whatever overused mold studios seem to insist upon for every horror property they shell out (can anyone explain to me why characters in MAMA only visit the creepy deserted cabin in the middle of the night?).  It's just a shame that MAMA is shot, lit, and dialed-in in such a similar way to a film like THE POSSESSION (a horrible film that I'll get to in a second), and I don't think it's a coincidence.  This is the essence of formula without making it seem new again.

THE POSSESSION, I guess, I don't have a lot to say about now that I think of it.  It's complete amateur horror filmmaking.  Just terribly orchestrated in every conceivable way.  It's not even remotely scary (no tension is ever built before cutting to quick, disorienting violence), it's dull and stupid, and even has the temerity to tack on a pointless, undercooked divorce storyline in an effort to make the film "about" something.  There's probably no point in wasting more time on this one.  Just skip it entirely.

I re-watched THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and THE STRANGERS – two terrific modern horror films, in my opinion.  Seeing THE CABIN IN THE WOODS again reminded how fresh and exuberant it truly is amongst a very tired crop of carbon-copy horror films.  It's humor, intelligence, and sense of mischief stand out quite distinctly this time through.  I undervalued just how fun it was when I first wrote about it.  THE STRANGERS I'm not sure if I've mentioned on here before, but I remain a big fan.  It's a terrifying premise that is executed to maximum effect.  It also boasts one hell of an ending with a coldblooded creepiness that is only matched by the sorrow of its inevitability.

I think Brandon and I agree on more in THE CONJURING than we disagree.  But I think our one major point of disagreement is enough to polarize our responses to it.  I truly believe that despite some bumbling missteps in the final third of the film, it still remains one of the scariest films I've seen as an adult, and it is for this fact that I would give it a glowing response.  As a lesson in old-fashioned tension and dread, it really is that effectively wrought.  In a theater full of people, I felt sufficiently creeped out enough during certain moments to want to cover my eyes, and that almost never happens to me anymore.  The audience I watched it with was completely terrified too, which made the experience that much stronger.  Wan certainly makes the film unnecessarily loud and visceral towards the end (I could have done without the possession of the mother and the hair dragging, but I understand why they are there – things need to get amplified for our attention deprived viewers).  However, there are some truly exemplary scenes of terror in this thing that smooth out much of these rough patches (for me, at least).  Wan shows an intuitive sense of what's scary and what is not for much of the running time, and it all becomes increasingly taut and effective as the camera careens and cuts around every crevice of its environment.  I don't really have much else to say about it other than that it basically soars on the intensity of its scares alone.

Fede Alvarez's EVIL DEAD remake (surprisingly) stands prominently alongside THE INNKEEPERS and THE CONJURING as one of the best American horror films release in the last couple of years.  It sort of pummels you into submission through the sheer forcefulness of its unabashed depravity.  Its excessively, hilariously violent and it seems to get off on intensifying its grossness.  It flits with trite formula and makes lame attempts at characterizations in the beginning, but eventually it just abandons all sense of conventionality in favor of unrelenting shocks.  It's essentially the complete opposite of something like THE CONJURING, but I think they are both effective in their way.  EVIL DEAD, instead of being a shot-for-shot remake or sycophantic homage, actually goes for broke in terms of upping the gore ante and damn if that isn't an admirable thing by the time the bloody credits start pouring on the screen.  I agree with Brandon that Alvarez might just have a solid career ahead of him.  He knows how to shoot moments of dread and visceral horror – and he seems to know how to have fun doing it too.  EVIL DEAD is a bloodbath of gargantuan proportions, but it's a rollicking one too.

KILL LIST is the most recent of these that I watched, and I'm still trying to process how I feel about it.  John called it a "mess" but a potentially "glorious mess." I would certainly side with it being sloppy, but would also readily admit that it has got some intriguing grandeur too it, so maybe it is a glorious mess after all.  To its great credit, KILL LIST is never boring even as it builds in piecemeal increments towards its bizarre, grotesque finale.  It's violent and cold, but also an absorbing mystery.  It lays a pretty solid character foundation before it starts to rock the boat, and eventually it just gets so weird and creepy that you are glued to the screen.  I still have to wonder what the purpose of the ending is other than the pure shock value of the reveal, and whether the reveal makes any sense other than the immediate effect of its disquietude.  It may all be a prolonged metaphor for slowly destroying the ones you love through the dangerous, immoral choices you make, but I'm not exactly sure.  For what is worth, this is a pretty damn riveting thriller even if it might not be certain of its motives.

I guess that's all I've got for now.  I was hoping I'd make this longer and more in depth, but I'm having trouble composing original thoughts right now.  Perhaps more later?

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