horror

REVIEW: Life (2017)

When a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station are examining the first samples from Mars, they discover a rapidly evolving life form that not only threatens their lives, but all life on Earth.

A lot of comparisons can be made between Life and the original claustrophobic-space-horror-film Alien, but that doesn’t mean Life doesn’t do a good job with that template, and it offers its own spin of certain elements.

The first half of Life is more of the philosophical and scientific side of things as you get to know the basics about the crew and what they are trying to achieve with this life form they are studying. While the second half is more action-packed as naturally when the creature escapes, things get increasingly worse and the intensity never really lets up. It’s interesting how to begin with there is humour in this film, most of it coming from Ryan Reynolds’s character, but as soon as the danger is realised, the tension jumps up a notch and all characters are suddenly a lot more serious.

The camera work and editing make every tunnel and compartment of the ISS feel deadly. As the creature grows smarter and reactionary towards the humans onboard it becomes a bit of a cat and mouse chase around the space station as the crew attempt to contact Earth and stay alive. The dangers are real as members of the crew get injured or die in increasingly gruesome ways and it really is a battle as the creature and the humans onboard have a lot of the same basic needs.

Life is a tense, claustrophobic space horror that leaves you on the edge of your seat, but its dark undertone gets more and more prominent as the film progresses, leaving you drained by the time the credits begin to roll. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Bird Box (2018)

When a mysterious force decimates the population, the one thing survivors do know is that if you see it, you die. Blindfolded and following her last hope for safety, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her children embark a dangerous journey down a river to the one place that may offer sanctuary.

Bird Box starts with Malorie telling her two children the rules about what they’re about to do, the most important one being – never take off your blindfold. As they set off on their journey, the film goes back to six years earlier and that’s where you slowly start to learn how Malorie ended up in this dire situation and how the world started to collapse.

For the most part, the film manages these two plots well as there’s multiple flashbacks and in fact the majority of the film is about Malorie meeting other people and them all learning how to survive together. However, having these two plots does make it a bit over-stuffed and potentially a bit longer than it needs to be.

Sandra Bullock is fantastic. Malorie manages to be strong, desperate, thoughtful and cold all at once. She is the focal point of the film and you can feel her terror. The supporting cast is great too, some have less to do than others – it’s easy to forget about Jacki Weaver’s character – but when they’re on screen they all bring something to this desperate and very different group of people.

Bird Box knows how to amp up the tension and bring the scares when needed. It’s all about less is more, and it’s the fear of the unknown that puts you on edge. An eerie score along with tight direction makes the story which could verge on the outrageous, be more uncomfortable and enthralling.

Bird Box is tense and, at times, horrifying. The performances suck you in and at times it can be a heart-pounding experience. It’s now available on Netflix and is definitely worth a watch. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A short story about a woman who’s staying in a crumbling old mansion for three months. While her physician husband is out of the house almost every day, she spends her time in the room with yellow wallpaper. She becomes almost obsessed with the sinister patterns of the wallpaper as she struggles to deal with her nervousness and loneliness.

I listened to The Yellow Wallpaper on audiobook and it was narrated by Harriet Walter. I shan’t lie, the only reason I borrowed this book from my library was because of its title. I’m taking part in the A-Z Reading Challenge where you read a book starting with each letter of the alphabet and I needed a book that started with “Y”. But I’m happy I borrowed and read it as it was a very interesting read.

Told via the unnamed woman’s diary entries, The Yellow Wallpaper is a weird and creepy short story. At the beginning of the story the woman is very anxious and potentially has postnatal depression as she mentions she and her husband have a baby, though it’s mostly looked after by her husband’s sister, so she can rest. She’s jittery and spending so much time in their bedroom with the yellow wallpaper has her unsettled.

The way the wallpaper is described makes it sound like it’s alive, but only she can see what is trapped inside the patterns. She has been isolated by the people who are supposed to care for her and because of that it makes her anxieties worse and perhaps makes her slowly lose grip on reality.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a captivating and creepy gothic short story. The way the story progresses, and its ambiguous ending makes one unsure whether or not it is a “proper” horror story, but there’s certainly some horrifying imagery in it. 4/5.

REVIEW: Train to Busan (2016)

When a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, businessman Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), his young daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) and fellow passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.

I’d heard a lot of positive things about the Train to Busan over the past year or so, and I had meant to watch it sooner, but you know how these things work. Last week it was announced that there was going to be an American remake and my Twitter feed went slightly mad for Train to Busan, so it gave me the push to finally watch it.

And I loved it.

The zombie element was brilliant. It looked like it was mostly tonnes of extras used rather than computer generated zombies when there was. The actors who played the infected characters must be either contortionists or dancers (or both) because the way they moved their bodies was unnatural and with the added makeup made it very unsettling.

It’s not only the infected people that the passengers of the train have to deal with, but each other. Mistrust, greed and self-interest are a big part of some of these characters motivations. Some put themselves before others, while others learn to work together in order to keep their humanity as they try and survive.

The action sequences are utilised well, and the film knows how to build tension and have a decent payoff. While Seok-woo and his daughter are the characters you’re first introduced to, and are probably considered the main characters, there’s so many other characters introduced that due to performances and the script are instantly likeable and sympathetic. There’s a lot of people you want to survive but due to the nature of the film, you know that’s not going to be the case.

Train to Busan is a zombie-horror film but it is a film that has a lot of heart and there are a lot of moments that pull on your heartstrings due to the tension and the performances. It’s a film with a lot of surprises and it puts your emotions through the ringer.

Train to Busan is exciting, emotional, thrilling and all in all is a fantastic film. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Murders in the Rue Morgue And Other Stories by Edgar Allan Poe

A collection of three short stories, two of them are The Murders in the Rue Morgue and its sequel The Mystery of Marie Rogêt which are creepy and gruesome mysteries. The third is The Purloined Letter which is mystery about a seemingly simple case.

I had an interesting time with this short story collection. It was the first time I’d read any Edgar Allan Poe and I flew through, and really enjoyed, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, but I found the other two stories a real drag.

All three stories are told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator. His friend Dupin is an amateur sleuth so when there’s a crime, he narrates how Dupin gets involved and how he might solve the case. Dupin’s explanations of what happened is where the stories lost me. They’re really long and in depth, with page long paragraphs that I found myself getting lost in as his explanations didn’t intrigue me. They seemed like a way to show off how clever Dupin was but there was never enough to make me like the guy.

The events of The Murders in the Rue Morgue are horrifying and there are a lot of vivid descriptions on the crime scene. Those sequences, in all the stories, are the most compelling. It’s the explanations that ended up boring me instead of making me interested in finding out whodunnit.

These short stories reminded me of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and E.W. Hornung. The style of writing and story-telling is quiet something but unlike Sherlock Holmes or A.J. Raffles, Dupin isn’t a charismatic protagonist that I almost instantly took a liking to.

I’m not sure if this was a good introduction to Poe but at least I can now say I’ve read The Murders in the Rue Morgue. 2/5.

REVIEW: The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)

Orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) moves in with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) who he discovers is a warlock, and in his house there’s a mysterious clock with unknown powers they must find.

When I saw the trailer for The House with a Clock in Its Walls it reminded me of Jumanji (1995) of all things. And after seeing the film I’ll stand by that gut reaction. It’s got the same blend of adventure, scares and great characters and it’s overall just as charming.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is set in 1955 and that 50s aesthetic is a big part of the films charm. The house is eerie with parts of it coming alive – the house is its own character really and that makes sense as such a large part of the film takes place within its walls. It’s a weird and wonderful place, but there’s also a darkness to it too.

Jonathan’s next-door neighbour Florence (Cate Blanchett) is witch, and a powerful one too, but her powers have been unpredictable for a while. Blanchett and Black are a surprising but great comic duo, they quickly fire barbs at one another, but you can tell that it’s a form of affection for them and they have a deep friendship.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls has surprising number of layers, I teared up a couple of times during this film, and it’s got some great messages about not being afraid of being different. Plus, there’s some unexpected serious moments about the affects of war and these are woven into the story so well that none of it ever feels preachy.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an unexpected delight. It’s funny, charming and has some child-friendly scares. All those elements are so well balanced it makes it feel like an old-fashioned family adventure in the vein of Jumanji, Hook or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s a really great time. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Predator (2018)

When a lethal alien creature crash lands on Earth, a ragtag group of soldiers must fight to survive.

The Predator starts off well with the opening sequence of sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) encountering the predator for the first time. It’s an exciting scene that shows how deadly the Predator is and what humans are up against. McKenna takes some of the creatures’ tech and mails it to his home as he thinks no one will believe him. There his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) opens the box and starts playing with it, putting himself and everyone around him in danger.

The actual plot leaves much to be desired with the films own established logic frequently being ignored. For instance, bullets are seen to have little to no effect on the Predator, but these characters still keep shooting it. It also tried to fit in a lot of scientific reasoning as to why the Predator had come to Earth, connecting it to some of the previous films while doing so, but it didn’t really work nor was it needed.

For an action/horror film, there’s a lot of jokes in this film, and barely any of them land. Every single character’s defining trait is “they’re funny” which not only makes it hard for any of these characters to stand out, but when the film tries to have a serious moment between characters it doesn’t work. There’s one moment where something happens that I expect was supposed to be sad and poignant, but people laughed. Sterling K. Brown plays the government bad guy and he’s supposed to be intimidating and scary but because he’s cracking jokes in every scene he’s in, he just doesn’t feel threatening.

The action is generally well shot and exciting and there is a lot of blood and gore as the Predator violently kills just about anyone it encounters. However, the editing was a little odd and inconsistent at times. People and cars move between shots and are suddenly in different places making some sequences hard to follow.

The Predator is an easily forgettable film. Even while writing this review, I was struggling to remember anything that really stood out, both positive and negative. It’s mostly fun, though Tremblay’s character having autism and it being used to further the plot in a stereotypical way is problematic, but it also has nothing to make it memorable in terms of the genre or of the franchise it’s a part of. 2/5.